Wolves without Teeth - Chapter 7
I am woken up in the middle of the night, this time not by Wila and her nightmarish dreams but rather by Griffin. My sleep had already been interrupted once but now? Again? He shakes me awake and looks down on me, smiling at me.
"It's time for initiation." He tells me ominously and I raise an eyebrow to him.
I groggily inquire, "Initiation into what?"
"The Ferns." He informs me, "We here at the Wayward House-"
I interrupt him, "The what?"
"Wayward House. It's what we children call the house." He explains, trying to continue on as I ask another question.
"Does Grams know what you call her home?" He nods in response.
"We say it in front of her. It's fitting actually, she likes the term. You and Eredith are the only blood related children that she's taken in since the War on Magic."
"Why Wayward House?" I ask and he chuckles.
"Because we're all unusual children put in an unusual situation." He explains quickly, "Now get up and get dressed."
I do as he says, moving slowly out from underneath my covers while covering my legs which are exposed. Tonight was the wrong night to not wear pants to bed. However, it helped me to sleep and I needed sleep after visiting Wila earlier in the night. No specific nightmare like usual, but I'd heard her crying and I stayed with her until she fell asleep around eleven. Glancing at the clock I discover I'd only gotten about an hour of sleep. Couldn't Griffin have chosen a different night to do this?
I mutter, "Prim and proper, dressed neat, from head to toe, and face to feet."
Rather than finding myself dressed in a robe and a nice sweater, I find myself in a pair of joggers and a t-shirt from a band I liked back home. I needed to ask Eredith how the spell dressed me, I enjoyed its style. I throw on Griffins hand me down robe and dig my hands into my pocket, nodding to Griffin who leads me quietly out of the house.
Rather than mounting his broom like usual, we started to walk in the direction of FernWood. A knot forms solidly at the bottom of my stomach. Where was he leading me at this hour?
I glance up just slightly, it feels like it's daytime from how brightly the huge and full moon shines down on us. There's a cool breeze swaying on the Autumnal air that rustles the leaves near us on the path we travel.
"Do you know anything about initiation? Have any of the others mentioned this to you?" He asks me and I nod my head.
"I don't talk much to the others." I explain and he nods in understanding.
"Besides Wila and Richard." He decides and I agree.
"They're different, though." I tell him, "I met them as friends of a friend, not as roommates."
"So I'm a friend?" He raises an eyebrow, a slight smile playing on his smug face.
"Definitely." I confirm with a matching smile.
He laughs and stops dead in his tracks. "We'll see how you feel after initiation."
I stop, too, startled as he presses both hands against my shoulders and shoves me, hard. I stumble backwards, feeling woozy as I cross over something and discover a cobblestone wall where Griffin was. "Griffin!" I scream, my heart beginning to race.
"Don't panic!" He shouts, "The test of a Fern is to use magic! I'll explain the symbolism after you make it back over!"
My eyes widen as I hear crunching and a low growl from behind me. I turn, seeing exactly why there's a wall where it is. I back up, finding that the wall is solid on this side of things. It would've been a comforting thought if I was still on the other side.
Looking at what stares me down, it reminded me of a wolf but twice my size and it's bones were ripping through its fur like a Halloween costume. Halloween was just a few weeks away, I think I knew what I'd be dressing as. My heart races as it exposes its maw, sharp rotting teeth right at my eye level. I feel like I want to cry.
"Abracadabra!" I shout, thrusting my wand forward as an explosion teems from the end of the wand, the wolf recoiling just slightly.
Glancing down at my wand that I'd been smart enough to bring along with me, I wished with all my heart that it would become a sword. And, the funniest thing happened, my hand begun to tingle and my arm started to droop as my once lightweight wand was now a terribly tough and heavy sword. I vaguely remembered discussing something of this nature during my History of Magic class, but I wasn't paying attention the entire class.
"What the..." I mutter aloud, obscenities may have slipped. The one thing that they never show in the movies or even explain is how difficult it is to use a proper sword. I mean seriously, some kind of chosen one picks it up and can suddenly one hand it?
I stare down at it, knowing full well I would not be able to harm the beast before me. Nor did I want to. It was never in my nature to harm anything.
Praying for a miracle, I return to sword to being my wand. The creature cocks its head, the glint of its teeth in the moonlight disappearing as it shuts its jaw with a gentle fury. I raise an eyebrow as it begins to recede, bowing slightly before doing so. Had it just bowed to me? I pondered as I imagined myself growing lighter.
Wings sprout only somewhat painfully from my back as I rotate my shoulders, alternating to adjust to the weight of my new additions.
With surprising grace, I flap my wings and fly right over the ridiculously tall wall between Griffin and I, folding my wings as I make gentle impact with the ground.
Griffin grins, "Not a tactic I've seen before. You're a lover, Parks, not a fighter."
I hunch over, tears welling in my eyes as I wrap my arms around myself. I sniffle a bit while rolling those words over and over in my brain, You're a lover, Parks, not a fighter.
"Can we go home now?" I request and he nods, smiling and wrapping me in a blanket that he materialized from who knows where. The ever forming morning dew rests on my skin in the moonlight. There's a dainty fog clouding the air as we walk in the direction of Grams.
He holds me close with one arm wrapped around my shoulder, "I'm happy you consider the Wayward house your home. We call ourselves wayward and we do initiation because we're children of circumstance."
I nod as he explains this, going on to say, "We're strong. We had to be sure you're strong too. FernWood is a rough and tough place sometimes."
"I'm sure." I agree and the rest of our quiet walk is a blur. I fall back asleep with no troubles at all.
I woke up early enough that I wouldn't cross paths with Matilda and I threw on the t-shirt from the night before and jeans, leaving my hair messy. Rushing off to school was the smartest tactic after what had happened the night before.
Everything about the previous day comes flooding back and I try to think of how to solve the mistakes of yesterday. It's lunchtime by the time I finally stop reflecting and I realize how absentmindedly I'd been stumbling through the day. Astryd chatters away with Dylan excitedly and everyone else is enriched in some conversation or other. I sigh as I bite into a grilled cheese that I'd taken from the center of the table and then grab a bowl of tomato soup to dunk it in.
The period goes by quickly and as does every class up until self-defense class. I knew who I wanted to fight right away as I raised my hand when the Professor asks who wanted to go first. I train my eye on Argos who gulps loudly.
"Drathen." I say when I'm asked who my opponent will be.
He removes his robe and shirt, glaring back, "I'm so scared, the girl who Matilda beat to a pulp."
My mind returns to last night as I lie awake and the night before then when I sat up with Wila and listened to her sobs. And of course I was particularly sleep deprived. My encounter with the wolf like creature, however, is partially responsible for the courage instilled in me. I return my rage to Argos, hating his smug face. How dare he mock me. What gave him the right to mock my friends and how scared they were?
Things were about to change as I stepped into the ring and tossed my robe aside.
"You don't have to fight me to prove anything, Jane." He tells me, "I didn't know she was your friend but my opinion still stands."
You're a lover, Parks, not a fighter.
I grit my teeth and as the Professor calls for the match to begin I charge on Argos, my body low crouched in a fighting position as I violently charge at him, the entire class erupting in cheers as my head connects with his gut.
"Where was that fire yesterday, Parks!" Matilda shouts, her nose swollen from a hit I'd gotten in yesterday.
I growl in response and throw an elbow at Argos, which he knocks away with two hands. He's dropped low in a defensive stance as I throw a punch and a jab, both blocked by him. He sweeps my leg and drops me beneath him, pinning me and looking down on me.
"Give it up," He mumbles, "You've chosen your friends here. Now leave me alone and I'll pretend this never happened."
I spit at him as the class counts down, my heart hurting from the time we'd spent together and now he pretended as though I was at fault.
"You can go home, Jane." Argos says to me, "I'm not sure why Griffin brought you here."
Tears cloud my vision as I run from the room swiftly, everyone staring as I go. Richard chases after me, running behind me. Strong arms wrap around my waist as he pulls me against a wall, stopping me dead in my tracks and then pulling me close to his chest.
"It's okay," He rubs my hair and my back, holding me close and comforting me, "He's wrong. Griffin brought you here for... reasons."
I sob a little harder and he clutches me tighter.
He tells me gruffly, "Sorry, I'm bad at emotions."
"Thank you." I say, my voice muffled by his chest but he nods and I feel his chin against the top of my head as he does so. His words weren't exactly comforting, but his warm embrace and soft cotton robes felt like a nest of protection.
"You're one of us now," He tells me and lifts my chin to face him at eye level so I can see his smile, "You don't need to thank me for being a decent being."
I force a smile that would've been genuine if I wasn't so wrecked over the situation. Internally I note the fact that he didn't refer to himself as a human being.
Richard lets go of me and backs up a bit. "I'll be heading back to class, are you gonna be okay?"
I nod my head, "I'll be fine. Thank you again."
"Don't thank me." He says before meandering back to class.
I walk down a few winding corridors, stopping near the staircase that leads to Mafalda's office where I see Eredith sitting on the staircase. She stands up, her face red and blotchy. I couldn't tell if she'd been crying or if she was seriously mad. Either way I had a feeling I was about to hear all about it.
"How dare you!" She shouts, her legs spread defensively and her fists balled up at her sides. She was wound up tightly into a position that made her feel like an explosive ready to blow. I knew exactly what she was referring to right away. My little fight class incident was hot news buzzing around the campus as we yelled at each other.
"How dare I?" I growl, "How dare he! Why does Drathen get to flaunt around his last name and treat my friends like garbage?"
"Maybe because he's a skilled enchanter who doesn't embarrass himself by sleeping in class!" She shouts and I know she's referring to Wila. Had he even told her the whole story?
I scoff, "Don't pretend like you know her."
"Like you do?" Eredith scoffs back and I ball up my own fists, thinking of any reason not to use it.
"She's been here for me. We've been through..." My defensive wall falls just slightly, "A lot."
Eredith shakes her head and turns to walk away. Then she turns to the brick wall beside the staircase, throwing a punch straight to it. If it hurt, she didn't show it. She mumbles, "Pathetic."
I'm shocked as I hear a scream coming from Mafalda's office and I know Eredith hears it too. We both turn and in unison we bound up the stairs, me throwing open the beautifully engraved door and her running inside.
As we run in and stand by the door and I see a look of fear plastered on Mafalda's face, I recall something she'd told me about. Something she'd told me when I was much younger. A bedtime story, was it?
"Can you tell me a story, mom?" I remember saying and my stomach churns as I recall it now. When did Mafalda earn the term mom?
"Of course, PJ." She told me as she tucks the covers snug around my younger body. How old must I have been? Maybe only seven at the time, possibly older.
I smiled as she sat beside me, her body causing the covers to constrict around my legs. It was a comforting feeling, I loved to be nestled tightly. She starts, "There once was a little girl born with extraordinary gifts.
"At the age of five, this little Enchantress could already do transfigurations and divination. She was extremely gifted, attending a magic school at an age younger than all the other kids. They claimed her power was limitless, like those of the deities. But as word got out about the gifted girl, some were frightful about what she could do; about who she would be." I smiled at her as my eyelids grew heavy.
"But then one day she met two lovely Enchanters who loved her for her and not for her magic-"
I recall that night as some of the best sleep of my young life. Bedtime stories truly were magic. As Mafalda tenses up and sparks of electricity flare from off of her I realize who that little girl may have been. As she struggles against captors, her magic makes a pair of magic handcuffs visible. Had those always been there?
There was only two of them, a woman with raven hair and the brightest green irises that I'd ever seen. She had a forked tongue and an inky, violet aura that shimmered around her. Holding a knife to Mafalda's throat, of course. Because why not make my life easy?
The other was a man with hair of fire. He illuminated the room and cast a dim orange glow upon us all. His irises were black like charcoal, it was rather fitting.
"Take another step and she dies." The woman hisses.
Eredith steps forward, "You wouldn't kill her if you need her for something," She reasons, "And you wouldn't be kidnapping her if you didn't need her for something."
I take a step forward to be in line with Eredith.
The snake woman purrs, "Clever girl."
She spins Mafalda towards her partner, "Heath!"
As he grabs onto her and makes a flying leap out of the window, I look to Eredith. "Divide and conquer?'
"We're gonna have to." She confirms and transforms her wand into a sword. Eredith knew how to use a sword, mind you, as she lunges back into a fighting stance with the blade raised high before her opponent. "Go!"
I rush towards the window and, without thinking, plunge myself out of it. Glass shatters all around me, none of it cutting me as I fly out and picture wings sprouting from my back once more. They emerge and I powerfully fly towards the man that the snake had called Heath.
I drop down like a bird of prey and sprint towards him, drawing my wand and firing off small bolts of magic.
He turns, only agitated slightly. He drops Mafalda and she begins to crawl away, her eyes seeming to grow heavy.
Heath turns his full attention to me, his eyes animalistic. A fire begins to swirl around both hands, converging and then launching at me. I held my hands up, hoping some magical force would deflect the blue and red spiraling blast but to no avail. The flames take me in, singeing and searing. The feeling is overwhelming, my body can't quite get a sense for what's happening to it. I hear laughter in the background above all the crackling and the hissing of the flames as they ravage my body.
How had I allowed this to happen? How had I learned so little that I didn't even know how to save myself? Maybe it was the fact that I'd only been a student for two days with a hardly functioning Alec muscle- just maybe- but at that moment nothing else mattered but the sting of my flesh. The smoke seeps into my nose and corrupts my lungs.
I hear screaming and commotion in the background, both of the screams that I hear are masculine as I writhe on the ground in pain, rolling in the dirt to attempt to extinguish the flames.
"Put her out!" Shouts a voice that's undeniably Griffin as a large amount of water surges over me.
Richard shouts, "I'm sorry!"
I scream in pain as the water hits my skin, stopping the cooking process of my aching, raw body. My mind wanders back to a Chemistry class the year prior and how we discussed the differences between chemical burns.
A chemical burn, I recall as Griffin picks me up, will practically digest and break down your skin. He carries me away as I recall the symptoms, the rash you'll get or the treatment needed.
He sets me back down as I scream in anguish. Gently he removes my robes which have stuck to the ooze and slime of my charred skin. It felt like tearing off a bandage as chunks of my skin go with it. Griffin throws it aside and Richard kneels above me.
Flame induced burns are caused by the heat destroying my bodily tissue. It was hard to realize what would become of me, what I would look like. The burns hadn't hit my collarbones, the flames hadn't worked their way up my entire body. I'd say only up to my chest was burnt to a crisp and from there the skin was wrinkled and only slightly burned, tapering away in my soft skin that I used to apply lotion to daily.
I sizzle like a salt dipped snail, writhing on the gravel road in pain.
"What do we do?" Griffin panics and I feel strong hands attending to me.
Someone, I would assume Richard, rips my robes wide open and pulls them off my body, my charred flesh burning even more as the air hits it.
The pain was the kind that caused me to convulse and foam at the mouth. It was one kind of pain to actually be the girl on fire, but another altogether as the oxygen bounced on my skin. A breeze blows and I scream in pain, tears in my eyes clouding the sight of the sun going down.
I scream and look down at myself, my skin looked like wax as it secreted something pus like; my body was trying to save itself.
In a moment of realization beyond the pain I was feeling, I choke out, "Eredith... She's still inside, in the office."
My eyes flutter shut, no longer able to contain their own weight as Griffin rushes away from me to Eredith's aid. Richard stays by my side, combing through my hair with his fingers.
"Stay awake, Parker. Stay alive." He softly urges. I nod, trying to stay strong. "We'll get you to the infirmary soon."
I cough out, "You can't take me there. Those goons took Mafalda, we can't let any of the school administration know about her absence."
He frowns and lifts me into the air. It seems like only minutes later I'm lying on Grams kitchen table. Bright lights swing in my face and above me stand all of my roommates and Grams, who's taking care of me.
"Where's Eredith?" I choke and she frowns.
With a sigh she tells me, "Resting upstairs. She has a nasty head injury."
My worries are put to ease. Tonight had been too close of a call, and even still they had taken Mafalda. How were we going to operate without her?
"Parker..." Grams looks down at me, her frown lines set deep. "We're gonna put you to sleep for a few days while you heal, okay?"
My heart rate accelerates as I try to sit up, "You can't! There's so much to be done. So much to deal with."
She tsks and then gives me a sweet smile, soothing my worries before her features turn hard.
Grams presses me back down forcefully and whispers, "Sleep."
Moments later, I'm gone. I'm coasting through the cosmos and all my earthly pains drift away. I'm at peace.