Her bright yellowish eye glared at the human, although the gryphon stayed silent, her black beak clenched together stubbornly. Curtis seemed not to notice, or he couldn’t read the bird headed creature’s expressions well enough to sense her mood. Or maybe, she considered, as a vet, he just ignored his patients normally and focussed on his work, as he did now, cleaning out the bloody trench the bullet had left in her hind leg.
Vet. Her sullen gaze shifted to her father, a big bulky man, who seemed rather weary of her moodiness. “Behave yourself, you’re doing fine. If you can’t change just now, then you get a vet, you can deal with that. We’re grateful to him for coming out, imagine if you had had to sit in the waiting room instead?”
Still a vet, Karen seethed. Vets were for stupid animals, she might look beastly like this, but she was intelligent, this was… embarrassing. Another wave of stinging pain rushed from her wounds, the trench, the stab wound in her front left leg, and the other bruises and marks over her dark dirty coat, and she flinched, immense dark grey wings trembling.
“It’s not a problem, it’s interesting to treat her, one of my largest ever patients.” Curtis said calmly, light blue eyes flickering under his glasses, examining her. She turned her head away, trying to ignore him and his watchful eyes. The pain got worse soon after as he stitched the wound up, to the point where Dad had to hold her head down and stroke her soothingly, before she kicked the vet away with her powerful legs. But she had to be careful with humans, her gryphon form was big, nearly four foot high, larger than lions, and she knew from experience her talons could rend with barely a push.
“Alright, there we go.” Curtis said eventually as the pain diminished, “Well done. You look better than you should already, for having that big a wound, hopefully you should recover quickly.”
Karen opened her eye narrowly to glare at him. He might have helped, but it had been painful help. Her father noticed and flicked a finger at her beak, “Hey, be nice. Thankyou Curtis, come on, I’ll pay you in the kitchen. She’s in a bad mood, she can’t wait to get better and go outside again.”
“Good. Be careful there Karen, your legs will be weak for a while, pace yourself. And if you get hurt again, I think I should be able to help more than a doctor.” He said as they left, and she covered her head with a wing, curling up into a tight ball on the nest of blankets and duvets. They let her alone then, and she hissed steadily, letting out her frustration like steam from a kettle. This shape! She’d got shot by a dumb hunter because of it, and she couldn’t change back to human until she was more healed, her parents agreed. If she changed now, the stitches would come loose wouldn’t they, her leg would be smaller. Of course, the wound would be smaller too, and she’d be able to talk and maybe use crutches to get around, but never mind, let’s just leave her unable to do that, even if she wanted!
Most of the day was like that now, sitting and sleeping, impatiently waiting for her wounds to heal. The pain came on and off, and her father stayed at home with some of his work to keep an eye on her, coming through every so often to talk to her. Oliver and her mum came from school and work eventually, although her little brother ran straight back outside to play in the fresh snow- he had become more talkative and playful again recently. Her mother kept a careful distance, not ignoring her outright, but Karen knew she didn’t like seeing her in this form, she probably blamed it for the wounds and trouble.
Dinner was difficult too. She usually ate as a human, with her family, albeit more food to sustain her than a normal person. But now her father brought through a bowl with some cooked meat-fish, they had been avoiding chicken recently as though it was cannibalism for her. To be honest she didn’t mind as long as it was cooked, chickens were nothing like her.
“Sorry, don’t think you can manage cutlery just now. You can come through to the living room if you want too, we’re just watching the news and maybe a film. It’d be like when you were sick when you were little, watching those sea life documentaries, remember?” Dad said kindly, putting the bowl down in front of her.
Karen looked at it, and then at her talons. Then she waited and waited until her father left the room, before she lowered her beak and started to snap up her meal. She wouldn’t let them see her eat like this. Walking on all fours, being unable to speak, having to stay inside, she could deal with those, but she didn’t want to be seen sticking her head into a bowl.
Her patience frayed more and more, as the days passed, and she remained stuck inside the house, unable to spread her wings or speak. Watching tv held barely any interest for her, when she struggled through into the living room, her attention just couldn’t be gripped by it. She would be watching quietly, some news about a hippogriff acting as a mascot or something, and then her gaze would shift and she’d find herself tracking birds in the sky out the window, five minutes later. Only one incident caught her attention, when she glimpsed bronze on a new channel, and the camera zoomed in on an immense bronze dragon.
“This is the mystic that has taken up residence amidst the alps, a dragon that is challenging any so called dragon killers to come after it, apparently. Is that correct?” The camera switched to a reporter standing beside a tired looking woman that Karen recognized. T something, Tina, the woman who’d helped old Scevola all that time ago.
“He, not it. Yes, he’s very annoyed that someone mustered up the nerve to kill one of his kind, so he says that if anyone wants to kill Niddhogg’s children, he is here and waiting.” The woman said, with little interest.
“Dragons, correct?” The reporter, a sharp ash blond haired man asked. “How intelligent do you feel these creatures are, if you’ve been working with them?”
“Working for him.” Tina corrected him. “Scevola’s smarter than most humans, and he’ll probably keep learning for another hundred years. Just because dragons look like monsters and act differently, doesn’t mean that they’re not intelligent.”
“And yet, this is how he deals with grief? Flying over peaceful valleys and causing a commotion?” The sentence was punctuated by a savage roar that made the man jump nearly out of his skin.
“He’s attempting direct confrontation. There have been plenty of reports of mystics disappearing or being killed or hunted down, dragons especially have been attacked for centuries. Scevola is a perfect prize for anyone of that nature, and you guys have played into his claws and come and filmed him, spreading the information just like he planned you to.” Tina looked bored. “He says if you stay and watch, you will see the worst of humanity come for him.”
Then there was a bird outside the window, a pigeon maybe, and she glared at it coldly again, losing her focus on the square of moving light. Later, on Thursday Emma and Maddie and talked to her for a while. But the conversation was so one sided that they left after twenty minutes, and she curled back up to sleep, wondering where the rest of them were, how school was, how Al was doing trying to fly. Some teacher she was, she’d managed two lessons. Although, this must be what he’d been like most of his life, trapped indoors, not allowed out.
* * * * *
Karen looked at herself in the mirror cautiously, brushing her hair out of the way. She had finally been allowed to change back on Saturday, when her wounds seemed to have scarred properly, although the pain was still there. The face was familiar, angular and paler than before, her black hair a little longer too. But she had forgotten to change her eyes again, leaving them yellow and black and sharper than any humans. “Stupid birdbrain, all of you, eyes to back, everything.”
“Denrol.” Karen said firmly and tapped the Stone on her arm, “Denrol. Denrol, denrol, denrol. No stupid mystery changing.”
That should keep it in charging mode, unable to use its magic or her magic to shapeshift until she released it. She glanced in the mirror once more, at the loose reddish top and jeans. They’d do for around the house, although Mum intended to take her shopping soon and refill her wardrobe after destroying clothes shifting so many times.
She turned and left the room, limping down the stairs on a pained leg and around into the living room. Then she stopped and gasped, eyes widening at the elderly woman on the couch. She was dressed more casually than usual, although given her normal attire, that wasn’t difficult. It was still strange to see Mrs McAllister, the headmistress, in a heavy flowery skirt, sitting in her house, hands clasped and cold eyes fixed on her.
“Good afternoon Karen.” She said mildly, the wrinkles on her aged face shifting as she spoke. Her eyes watched carefully through rimless spectacles, and her reddish hair seemed to be greying quickly these days too. Karen spotted several new ones, and her eyes looked a little bloodshot, with tiny veins appearing dark red.
She shook her head, you were meant to talk back, remember? Talk. “Uh.. good afternoon Miss.”
Talking still felt a little strange after so long without, but they didn’t seem to notice, and she turned to the other settee. Her parents were sitting there, mum with her dark hair and thin features looked like an older version of Karen, and the smile she gave warmed her heart. Karen grinned back and hobbled carefully over to fall down in the couch next to her, smaller than her for the first time in ages.
“Mrs McAllister’s here to talk about your schooling Karen, and we still haven’t actually heard what happened either.” Dad said, all business suddenly, “You haven’t exactly had a good track record over the past few weeks, missing a lot of your education.”
“Is that my fault? I got shot twice, burned, and the gryphon woke up.” She muttered, crossing her arms and looking outside. The snow was still there, a white blanket over the earth, and a few of the local children were playing in it, even Ollie. He’d barely been hit, his black hair was free of snow, although a few bits encrusted his black jacke-
“We know, Karen. We know you’ve had a hard time of it and you’re not to blame. But we’d still like to hear what happened on Monday. Mrs McAllister’s concerned that if you can’t control yourself, it might be better to stay away from school for a while.” Dad said, pulling her attention back into the room, back towards her parents and the teacher.
“What? No, I want to stay at school! I want to learn and do something good when I’m older!” She protested.
“Yeah, we know dear.” Mum said, patting her back, “Just explain to us what happened on Monday? Can you do that for us?”
She sighed, then looked over at Mrs McAllister, watching through rimless spectacles, although there was a little bit of dust on the right one. No, stop looking like that. She closed her eyes so suddenly she was in pure blackness. “Okay… Okay. Monday morning, I was in the corridor near the younger kids classes. I’d just taken Jess to her class, I think you should know her, seven, kitsune, her mother’s helping the mayor, I think. She’d gotten lost and I know her so I took her there, and on the way back I accidentally changed.”
Karen frowned and then rolled up her sleeve to reveal the Stone, “This is a charm Lorcan made, it lets me be me, and most of the time it stops me changing into a gryphon too. Like, it’s got two modes.”
“Human and gryphon?” The teacher asked sharply.
“No, no, allowed to change, and not allowed to change. It should have been stopping me change, I don’t know why I did. Maybe someone said the trigger word, maybe there’s a problem with it, maybe…”
“You forgot to turn it off that morning?” Dad suggested.
Karen scowled and shook her head, “No, I’m sure. I wouldn’t forget to do that. It doesn’t make a difference, I changed into my gryphon form, and decided I’d better go outside away from everyone. They were panicking and shouting and I was scared in case something worse happened. I’d turned the charm off to try and stop me changing, but it can’t stop halfway and I basically just trapped myself as a gryphon until someone with an actual mouth says the trigger word.”
“That’s the part I’m interested in,” Mrs McAllister said firmly, steepling her fingers. “You caused a great deal of panic Karen, we had to calm several of the younger children that were terrified of you. And it doesn’t seem like you can control this changing very well. Most of the other mystics use veil, which has a definite time limit, and only a couple of the younger ones have to be reminded to take it. But your charm is different, it doesn’t seem as reliable.”
“I can control it.” She replied quickly.
“Your eyes? Was that mutation on purpose?” The old woman pointed out.
“No, it was an accident. I… I haven’t changed since Monday, I had to stay as a gryphon to heal up! I’m just a little out of practice, I’d make sure I was completely normal on a school day, I promise.”
“Karen. I’m not trying to be cruel, but you have to realize how precarious your position is. The fact stands that you could at any time become an incredibly dangerous creature that has poor self control, and could cause terrible damage to those around you. You did hospitalize your friend originally.” Her voice was cold and calm, eyes watching her, and Karen bit her tongue, trying not to say something that would land her in trouble.
“Have you turned away any other mystics?” Her mother said suddenly, and calmly. “Karen’s mentioned another gryphon, school age, did he get this treatment?”
“Ah, Alastair? His teachers have said he’s an excellent pupil very pleasant mannered and mild, settling in well, and there’s been no sign of dangerous behaviour from him.” Mrs McAllister said, and Karen scowled. That liar! Al could put on such a lovely act when he wanted to, hiding the bloodthirst, the rudeness, the bluntness. “But there have been incidents. A gorgon child was bullied and picked on, the poor children somehow ended up petrified temporarily, seven of them for a few minutes. That was an ugly business, but reversible, unlike any damage you might cause. You could kill by accident, or if you were in a foul mood.”
“I’m not a threat! I didn’t hurt anyone did I? I got out of the way, as soon as I could.” Karen snapped, “I even got shot, and the hunter sat down within easy reach of me, without any way to defend himself. If I’m that big a threat, then he wouldn’t have gotten up after doing tha-“
“Karen, don’t say that sort of thing.” Mum protested, and she opened her eyes, balling her fists.
“Why not? I’m saying I’ve got enough self-control to not attack people even if they shoot me? Isn’t that enough proof?”
“And why did you get shot exactly?” McAllister asked, her face betraying no emotion.
“He thought I was a normal bird. He apologized a lot when he found me, and I’d just been flying overhead pretty high up.” She admitted. “But still, like, the dragons would have roasted him for that.”
“The… the dragons aren’t a factor in this.” The teacher said, rubbing her hands. “If someone reminded you, could that make sure you didn’t forget about your charm? Two heads are better than one after all.”
“Yeah, okay. That’s why I think it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t leave it in changing mode. Lorcan made it, I think he can sense it..“
“It’s your responsibility in any case, not his. Maybe a normal child, someone you know from growing up with, would be better for reminding you.” She sat back, and Karen tried to keep her attention there, not on the birds in the sky, or the snowballs, “And this is a final warning. Any more accidents or disruptions of this nature, and you will be suspended until I trust that you are not a threat to my pupils.”
“But I can come in on Monday?”
“Yes, I expect you to work hard. No mediocrity.” McAllister replied, and turned to her parents, “Thankyou for taking the time to resolve this issue.”
They stood up and started to thank the teacher for taking her own time to come and help talk about this, although Karen stayed staring out the window. Ollie’d started instructing his friends to build a snowman, rolling a small ball across the garden, back and forth.
“Karen? Hey, I’m here, not outside.” Her dad said when they returned from the door. “Well done for being honest.”
“I couldn’t exactly say I didn’t change on Monday could I?” She said quietly, “Quite a lot of witnesses. You barely said anything to her.”
“Well, we still haven’t heard your entire story.” He replied and knelt down, “Now, how is the wound like this?”
“Not too bad….” She said and wound up her trouser leg. The scar there was big, all the way across the outside of her lower tight, the flesh puckered and ridged and going inward a little, from where the two halves had been folded together. “It hurts, but I can walk a little bit.”
“Hmm, maybe I should call Curtis back over.” He joked, and she glared at him, “Well it worked, he may be a vet, but you’re healthy and whole. How are the others healing?”
“The bruises are nearly gone, my arm still hurts lots,” She answered, looking back outside, “How long is the snow here for?”
“Quite a while, it keeps coming back. You can’t go out today, we want you healthy for school.” He said.
“Maybe I’d be better for some fresh air.” She suggested hopefully, patting the Stone again. Her parents weren’t convinced though, and she spent another day inside. It wasn’t as bad as the others though, she felt refreshed in her old body, even with the pain of her injuries. She could speak and use fingers, and just that much was a welcome change.
* * * * *
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Ollie goaded.
Karen grimaced and clenched her fists, “I can walk on my own little bro. Just, slowly, don’t run off.”
“But you won’t need any help, definitely?” He asked, wrapped in a heavy coat.
“Right then, I’m going to go see the camp, see if Bull or Jess or people are around!” He started to jog off, and she shook her head and shivered, wondering why she had bothered coming outside. The snow was slushy and horrid, her face was freezing, and her leg felt cramped and painful still. Her fresh air, even in town, didn’t help much, it was like daggers, hard and fierce and probably brilliant for flying on as her weakened eyes went to the heavens, searching for any of her friends.
That was the main reason for leaving the house, she guessed, company. She fancied finding Lorcan, or Emma again, Maddie, or just someone whose blood she didn’t share, to talk to before heading back to school the next day. The town was quiet though, near bare looking this morning, streets slushy and dirty, and white snowmen of questionable quality stood here and there, falling to pieces. Some childish part of her regretted not making one when it was fresh, as she lost track of Oliver. What would the mystics have done with it? She imagined the dragons burning wakes of it away, or that great six headed monster slithering through it.
A tall man with messy curls stepped out of the shop ahead of her, and she stumbled as she moved around him. Then she was falling, hitting the ground and the snow splattered onto her face. Her breath slammed out of her, and she gasped, snapping teeth shut.
“Hmm, what’s the matter? Thought you were meant to be able to fly, monster?” He said sharply, and a flurry of snow was sent over her head, dirty and freezing. “Hmm, how d’you like that?”
She groaned and rolled over, glaring up at him. She recognized him now, the lean build, the shaggy hair, one of the idiots from school, Dan, one of the firestarters. Then his boot swung into her, smashing into her ribs hard, sending her rolling further through the snow. Get up! Get up and run, fly away! She couldn’t get up though, the pain was all around. Then she felt a hand grab her and tug her backwards. Off the street she realized blearily, down the side of the shop, out of view.
“What’s this one?” Another, calmer man’s voice asked from above, “Dan?”
“She’s the pigeon, the bird monster. Damn, I thought she’d gotten out of town, she’s been missing all week ever since she went wild.” He answered, and swung another foot at her. “You should’ve! Should’ve just flown away with all your filthy little friends!”
“Pigeon? Pigeon!?” She gasped in rage, before the grip on her tightened.
“Yeah, you and your little hoard from the woods.” Her captor said. “Are they coming just now? You’re not that tough, we’re not scared of your kind, all you monsters. You might think you’re so strong and scary, but you were hiding from us for all that time weren’t you?”
“What! What is wrong with you psychopaths!?” she shrieked, before a hand covered her mouth, closing it. She couldn’t talk. Dan’s fist flew in and punched her in the gut for good measure.
“Psychopaths? Says the thing that butchered a kid and took him to the ambulance?!”
“Shut up Dan. This is just a little taster for you, feathers, for what’ll happen if your kind stick around.” The captor said. “You run away, monster, take my advice. The Hunt’ll come soon.”
“Her? A monster?” An amused voice came from the end of the alleyway, another youth beyond Dan.
“Yeah… what is it to you, freak? Do you want some!?” Dan snarled, reaching into his pocket, pulling out a small knife.
“Well, kinda wanted to see what monster he was going on about. Was it you? I wouldn’t call you a monster.” Reddish brown hair covered the other boys head, and Karen felt a surge of recognition: Al! She squirmed, groaning through her teeth. Al, help!
“No, this girl, she’s a gryphon and a witc-“
“Her? She’s weak.” Alastair frowned, shaking his head, and Karen glared at him, starting to shake and thrash against the strong man’s grip.
“Yes, she’s much easier than we thought. What about you? Whatever you are, humans can deal with you, we will.”
“Me? I’m what she,” He nodded towards Karen, “thinks is a monster. She’s really a bad example of a gryphon. Weak and squeamish and slow and clumsy. It’s a bit embarrassing that you’re so proud of catching her, should get higher standards.”
“You’re one of… one of the bird creatures too?” Dan raised his knife in front of him slowly, cautiously, “You should fly off, crow, before your wings are clipped.”
“I’m not the best example either, to be honest, still trying to learn to fly. But I do like hunting, I’ve been butchering since I was born.” He smiled wide, showing some red stains on his teeth, and glanced down at his watch. “You should scurry off, mouse, before my wings come back.”
“And that’s going to happe-“ Dan started to ask, stepping forward, but immediately Alastair doubled over, grabbing his face as red and brown feathers started to burst between his fingers. Instantly the two attackers turned and ran, giving Karen a parting kick before they were legging it out of the alleyway, into the carpark at the back and out of sight.
A hand tugged her to her feet, and another went under her arms to support her, dropping the auburn feathers from his digits, “You haven’t been teaching me Karen.”
She gasped for breath, annoyed at his sudden change back to the blank, empty voice, “Sorry, I got shot! You could have a little sympathy!”
“No. Sympathy doesn’t help hunt. Move,” He instructed dryly, and she leaned on him, wandering out of the alleyway, towards a shop. Back into view of people. “Were you shot badly?”
“Just my hind leg, I’m not sure I can take off.”
“You didn’t need to take off to teach me.”
“Shut up! Sorry if I’m an embarrassment to your kind, but I don’t see anyone else who’ll help you learn, you might want to value me a bit.” She snapped, pushing him away to stand on her own feet. The pain of her bruises and leg was horrid, and she swayed slightly grinding her teeth furiously.
“I lied to them. You’re not that clumsy.” He said, glancing back behind them. “Any more information on your siren?”
“I think… they must have thought I was in command of its pigeons…. Uh, I meant to ask Lorcan about it, but then I accidentally changed in school… “
“Maybe a little clumsy.” Alastair admitted, “I tried to help.”
“Help? Huh, did you ask him?”
“No, I hunted pigeons.” He said quietly, reddening a little.
Karen noticed and smiled, “Are you embarrassed? Oh yeah, you can’t fly, I guess you couldn’t catch them. I tried that too, before I got shot… maybe the Siren made him shoot me? No… I hate this stupid magic! None of it makes any sense!”
“Are you alright? From those apes?”
“Apes?” Karen frowned, but found herself smiling slightly, “That’s mean Al! Didn’t you have to deal with humans at all before now?”
“I don’t say it to their faces. If they call us birds and cats, then they should be reminded they have cousins too. Apes.” He said, and started walking down another street, her following on painfully. He seemed… not emotional, but comfortably neutral, a little less strange, “I found something else out too.”
“How gryphons talk. How beaked things talk. The phoenix remembered it.” He said. “She says she can teach me the language, and mum and the other phoenix.”
“Diana? How come you guys didn’t know this language before?”
“Noone taught us it. My mum and dad didn’t know it. She says it’s not exact, it’s attaching meaning to sounds. For all we know she might have made it up herself. And there’s not any grammar but it’s better than pantomiming.” He shrugged a little.
“I’d like to learn that too. Do you think we can go by the police station?” She asked quietly.
“You want to tell them about those apes? It won’t do anything, they won’t trust you, they’re humans.” Al said, “Waste of time.”
“Waste of time? They were saying it’d get worse, saying a Hunt’d come, telling me to get out of town. You think the police would just ignore that?”
“You’re the witch-girl who turned into a monster in school. I don’t think they’d listen.” He tightened his jaw, a tiny bit of anger there, “I just had veil a little while ago. It’s sad you get in trouble if you fight apes.”
Karen shuddered, that wasn’t helping her like her rescuer. He was still the hunter, the red gryphon. “What were you doing here anyway? If you hadn’t been here, done that… the trick with the feathers, I’d have had to take more time off.”
“I wanted to get something from the shop, you were lucky. Don’t get attacked like that again please, there won’t always be someone around to help you, and if you keep getting hurt then I’ll have to drag you out to teach me.”
“That was almost touching for you, Al, was that really sincere? It’s nice to know I’m valued for that much at least.” She laughed and decided to keep going. Her wounds hurt, but… but if she went back it’d mean another day or longer stuck indoors, and she was keen to see the others by now, speak to them. And as much as her pride was wounded by it, she had to be supported by Al when she ran out of breath. “Maybe when you change back I should ride you. We make good ambulances.”
“No, you should just change back to normal, you’re too weak like this.” He said bluntly, killing the conversation until they got near the caravan where Lorcan lived. By then, Karen’s feet were aching and felt frostbitten, some snow in deeper drifts had seeped into her shoes, and she was hugging herself tightly as she knocked on the door. A muffled shout came from inside, and then Lorcan opened the door, red faced, but he grinned quickly.
“Hey Karen! How are you feeling?”
“Cold, can we come in?” She chattered.
“Uh, okay, it’s a bit crowded. Al, you’re not changing soon?” He said sharply.
“Nope, no, trust me, I’ll stay stuck like this and not trash your place.” Alastair said, immediately shifting into his relaxed and amiable voice as they climbed inside. Instantly a wave of heat washed over them, and Karen winced and looked at the huddle on his couch. Three children were there, and it took her a moment to recognise them as the dragons. Hex was a lean, gaunt-looking boy with dark hair, then Nessie was red haired and a little thicker but smaller, and Shen looked Asian, the youngest at only about six.
“Hello… I didn’t expect you three here.” Karen admitted, and glanced at Lorcan curiously. She’d never seen the three all veiled together before, they were even covered in a large knitted blanket and sipping what smelled like hot chocolate from mugs.
“They got cold.” He said simply, smirking.
“It’s not funny! We just wanted to play for a bit, do snowballs.” Hex said, rubbing his nose. “I’ve never done snowballs before!”
“Well, you should’ve found good clothes.” Lorcan replied, “Coats or scarves, or…”
“We know, we know. Stop gloating doggy.” Nessie whined, her face looking bright red, and a few wisps of smoke rising from her. “We just wanted to play, we can’t make snow things normally, with claws. How come the gryphon hasn’t been playing?”
“Which one?” Karen asked as she sat down opposite them, beginning to pull her soggy boots off.
“You. You can fly.” The young girl pointed out, and Karen smirked over her shoulder at Alastair.
“See, the dragons think I’m a good gryphon. I was shot, so that’s why I couldn’t be outside, I was stuck inside all week, healing.” She explained, “Do you like the snow?”
“No, its just wet and cold and horrible and boring.” Nessie replied. “I told Hex it would be.”
“Well, Shen and I’ve never been out in snow before, sorry.”
“Yeah but you’re meant to be the smart one.” The smallest said quietly, and Karen smiled as they started to argue and tickle one another under the blanket. Same as always, although normally she missed out of what they were saying, the two bolder elder children, and the younger sneakier boy.
“Yeah, Karen, what happened on Monday by the way? Why did you change?” Lorcan asked once they started to quieten down.
“I don’t know, accidentally. Maybe something wrong with the Stone, or I forgot to say Denrol earlier. I thought of my gryphon form and activated the change accidentally, and I tried to stop it by shouting denrol, which just trapped me like that. Then I panicked, flew off, and got shot. Mrs McAllister says I’m on my last chance.” She explained.
“You weren’t suspended? Wow, lucky you.”
“I… yeah, thanks then. We actually came because we wanted to ask you about the Siren.”
“She wants me to help kill it.” Al said, taking a drink of coke from some bottle in his coat.
Lorcan looked surprised, frowning, but nodded slightly, “I guess you are that mad with it. You might have to join the queue, Hex has dibs on it.”
“No, he’s got dibs on its eye.” Nessie objected, “We’re still allowed to do the killing, he’s too weak.”
“I’ll kill it when I get its eye, it’s not very big.” Her brother added. “Why are you helping her, red gryphon?”
“Only way to get her interested in hunting.” The older teenager explained, someway between his dry self and happier lies.
“Right, I did do a little research on it after Halloween.” Lorcan admitted. “But can I test some veil on you some time? I’ve almost figured out another part of the spell, to make it painless, and you won’t freak out Karen.”
“Painless? Okay . Siren?” She said quickly. If that was what it took to please Lorcan, then that seemed alright, she was more interested in hearing about the Siren, right now.
“Good.” He nodded and sat back against the counter of the cramped caravan, “So as much as we have seen so far, it’s got a lot of different magics. It can control pigeons, or things that look like pigeons. It can fly. It can turn…. It can hide basically, sometimes it looks just like a shadow or a patch of smoke, and other times when it wants to, it solidifies, or reveals itself to talk. It can use mist and trick the senses, but the main thing, its strongest power, is that it just makes people a bit less restrained. When it’s around, fear becomes terror, annoyance becomes hatred, happiness becomes euphoria.”
Karen nodded. She could remember getting incredibly annoyed with a pigeon on Halloween, for no good reason, that might explain it. “It showed up when Scevola came, it was asking how you three were for your brother.”
Hex scowled and breathed out a long breath of smoke, “Alten knows it too. They’re friends, we could go and ask him about it.”
“No, we don’t know where he is. Scevola said he found him with some of the other Keeper hatchlings, but you three can’t sense yet, you couldn’t find him.” Lorcan told them, “I did find a story about the myth of the sirens too. I mean, it called itself the Siren, it might just be lying or being metaphorical, but if it was telling the truth then this might be important.”
“The story goes there were three siblings, the names for them, the story used Boreas, Alkonost and Ekek as the names. They were haughty and spiteful, and the mystics weren’t hiding yet, your kinds were just running around free, hunting and stuff. There were good wizards back then though, great even. We’ve been hiding for so long we’ve forgotten almost everything, but those guys must have known each other, had studied magic for centuries, they were really powerful. So, basically, the three siblings trick a mage for whatever reason, and they’re cursed as revenge, cursed to be the sirens. They got wings, and they’re cursed to lead people astray. Lead ships away, with mists and sounds like the legend goes, like he did on Halloween.”
“Then, at some point the three of them argued, fought one another. It says one of them Boreas, lost his wing, so he couldn’t fly anymore. He killed the others and took their four wings for himself. Boreas was cursed to live on his own from then on, somehow living all this time as part of the curse, picking up other curses and wounds over the centuries until he became what we saw.”
“So… you think it’s as old as Scevola?” Hex asked as he swallowed some hot chocolate.
“We’re talking thousand years, Scevola’s not nearly that old. I don’t know, that was a story I found that matched up really well, but it could still be wrong.” Lorcan shook his head and offered a steaming mug to Karen.
“What would kill it then? Would ripping it up work?” She asked, taking the warm drink. “And… what about the feeling? Whenever I see it, it just feels completely wrong.”
“Yeah, he feels bad!” Nessie confirmed.
“I don’t know. You never landed a blow Hex?”
The dragon-boy shook his head, and Lorcan frowned, “I don’t know what would work or not. He’s solid in some way, he can use a syringe, but then, glamours could do the same thing. If you can’t hurt his body, then there’ll be a condition. Curses and spells, you can’t ever make a perfect one, they either wear out after a certain amount of time, or there’s a condition, a weakspot. All those fairy stories, with true love undoing curses, or certain weapons killing invincible beings, they’re all examples.”
“Right, so if we can’t hurt him, then there’s some way to, out there? He won’t be completely immortal?” Alastair asked, “That just leaves… the entire world.”
“No, no, it’s proportional. Say you were changed into a being by a curse, you might be changed back by a certain symbol, like a square in a circle. For all these curses together, lasting a thousand years? The Siren’ll have an absolutely gigantic weakness, that’s all you need to find.”
“What like?” Hex asked eagerly. “Fire?”