Julium 18, 1035 P.W.D.
“It’s bad, Ritrian. Real bad,” Falcon Bendis said over the magic mirror as Ritrian Weiland watched his old friend cradle his head in his hands. “Hawk’s called in Eric Ascot to talk about teaming Wolfsbane up with his boy, Ren.”
His students had been gone for almost two weeks now, awaiting the final evaluation results that would tell them whether they would be promoted next month and what their starting rank would be. It had been a good two years—all of them had survived. Wolfsbane, Blake, and Orin had all gone home to their families, while Emily was staying at the dorms at Regional HQ. Ritrian had asked if she’d like to stay with him, but she’d declined. It had seemed like the ordeal was over until next year, but now…
Ritrian nearly dropped the mirror from his hand in shock at the news. “Ren Ascot?! But he’s a horrible match for the kid!!” he cried. “He’ll crush what little confidence he has and use his spirit for ass-wipe!!”
“That’s exactly what I said,” Falcon agreed, “but Hawk won’t listen to me! You’re Wolfsbane’s rookie squad leader, you know how he works out in the field better that anyone. Please, you’ve gotta come and talk some sense into that idiot brother of mine before he destroys the kid!”
“I’ll be out on the next available train,” Ritrian replied. “Don’t let him do anything else stupid until I get there.”
Falcon looked up and smiled, the usual spark of mischief returning to his brown eyes, and said, “Thanks, man. I knew I could count on you.” Then, the mirror went back to its usual black.
Ritrian put the mirror down on the coffee table and looked over to his dog, Bella, who was lazing about on the couch beside him. “Well girl,” he said, scratching her behind the ears, “it looks like we’re taking a business trip.”
What was to be a day of simple discussion over the idea of having his son team up with the son of a respected friend and colleague had somehow started out terribly wrong. It had started the night before, when Wolfsbane’s rookie squad leader, Ritrian Weiland, had suddenly shown up out of the blue, right in the middle of supper, with that insufferable dog of his in tow. He had told Hawk that he had business with him…which had turned out to be because his older brother, Falcon, had told Ritrian of his intentions in regards to ensuring the stability of Wolfsbane’s future career and had his concerns.
Now, it was ten in the morning and Hawk was gathered together in the downstairs parlor with his wife Eliza, as well as Falcon, Ritrian, and Eric Ascot—who had arrived shortly after breakfast that very morning—to discuss the matter. Eliza was about as happy as Falcon and Ritrian. Her pretty face bore the scrunched-up pout of disapproval, her emerald green eyes narrowed and glaring at poor Eric through their corners as if the man intended to eat their son, as she twirled the end of her strawberry blonde braid like she was about to remove her earrings and start a brawl. In fact, knowing his wife’s attitude toward Eric, he would certainly not have put it past her to do exactly that!
Falcon sat in a similar state of disapproval, with his arms crossed and leaning back in his chair, legs sprawled wide and—and this was the important tidbit—his lower-back-length dark brown hair flying free instead of in the usual unruly ponytail. Falcon never wore his hair that way unless he absolutely meant business, and Hawk had only ever seen it personally on two previous occasions: the air battle between the Spectral Raptor pirate syndicate and the Boxenwolf terrorist organization, and when he and Falcon had gone up against that gang of minotaur thugs in Saffrah. He was sending a very clear message and that was, “I am not fucking around today.”
Then there was Ritrian. His usually neat light brown hair was in a slightly tousled state today. He was sitting in a much more open and relaxed position than Eliza or Falcon, and wearing a loud, hibiscus print shirt, sandals, and blue shorts…with his dog, Bella, conspicuously absent from his side. He had sent her off to play with the children instead. As long as Hawk had known the man, he rarely ever saw him without his current hunting dog at his side and even more rarely saw him wearing anything other than standard hunter black. That one other instance that he had seen him in such a state was when he saw giving the Northern Regional Commander a thorough and piercing psychoanalysis…right to his face…which subsequently led Thurgood Altlia, one of the toughest of the IWHA’s Regional Commanders, to fall to the ground, curl up in a fetal position, and start crying like a baby. Well, at least he was not wearing the slotted shades as he had been that day. Hopefully, that was a good sign.
Eric sat calmly in his seat, however, as if the other three were not all giving off their various danger signals. His military-short brown hair was nearly completely grayed out now, and old age had started to deepen the creases of his brow and about his mouth—which were only slightly softened by his thick but neatly trimmed gray mustache. Still, he gave off that same air of authority at fifty eight that he had when he was in his thirties. Despite being surrounded by the opposition, the man still looked and acted like he was in complete control…which was the only thing settling Hawk’s nerves at that moment.
Hawk finally ran a hand through his short black hair, cleared his throat, and said, “I am so sorry about the crowd, Eric. Honestly, I am quite shocked and dismayed at the level of opposition to this proposed partnership.”
Eric just smiled congenially and shook his head. “No, my friend, it is no big deal,” he said. “If anything, it may give us more insight into the reasons why our sons should be partners.”
“Well aren’t we full of shit today,” Eliza said, rolling her eyes. “I knew something smelled kind of funky in here. Honey, do you mind opening a window?”
“Ah, Eliza. Ever the sassy farm girl,” Eric said. “Is your distrust of me so deep that you must resort to such immature remarks?”
“I’d like to make a permanent mark on your face for those comments you made at Osprey’s funeral,” Eliza replied, “you sexist piece of a piece of trash!”
“Honestly, all that I said was that it was a shame she never had children,” Eric said.
Falcon huffed. “No, what you said was that putting her in the grave was a waste of a perfectly good womb, you bastard!” he said. “You’re lucky Silver didn’t cut anything vital and I had enough self-restraint not to snap your neck…”
“Enough, please,” Hawk sighed. His sister’s death the previous year in the line of duty was still a very sensitive subject…even for him. “Let us just get to the subject at hand. Wolfsbane simply cannot work alone once he receives his full license. Although he has proven himself an excellent fighter and tracker, he is still very inexperienced and needs the guidance of someone stronger and more experienced than himself. This is why I would like for Wolfsbane to join your son’s team, Eric. With fifteen years of field experience under his belt and his impeccable track record, I’m sure that Ren could make an excellent mentor for him.”
This remark garnered eye-rolls and humphs of disagreement from Eliza and Falcon, but Ritrian simply held his peace and Eric nodded. “Yes, I agree. Also, with Wolfsbane’s early track record of crying, freeze-ups, and…spontaneous regurgitation in the line of duty, it seems clear that—though he had improved—he still needs a fair bit of toughening up. Ren would do an excellent job of teaching Wolfsbane how to be a man—a set of lessons which, despite everyone’s best efforts, he is still in desperate need of. Ren has expressed interest in the partnership as well after seeing young Wolfsbane in action at Sirel Hill a few months ago. He believes that the boy has great potential.”
“Potential that would be squandered if he’s put on Ren’s team,” Eliza said. “River and Flood have run into that son of yours and his team too, and they both agreed that they’re nothing but a gang of bullies and thugs! Did you know your boy’s second in command, that Mir girl, was berating a twelve-year-old girl about being flat-chested?! That’s a sign of a triple-A bitch, you know. And Ren was getting in on it and calling her ugly too…while the other two guys were laughing!! If Flood hadn’t gone over and taken the both of them on, who knows how that would have happened next?! I don’t want my son to be their next victim, or constantly have to be exposed to that kind of bile.”
“From what I’ve heard of the incident, Helga and Ren were innocently giving the girl a few fashion tips,” Eric replied, “and that hot-tempered daughter of yours stormed in and started throwing punches. They admit to making a few good-natured jokes, but nothing damaging.”
“You see, Eliza? What did I tell you?” Hawk said. “That incident was all a big misunderstanding.”
“Bullying isn’t a ‘misunderstanding’, Hawk,” Eliza said flatly.
“And I’ve observed some unhealthy behaviors among Ren and his team mates as well,” Ritrian said. “Monty has obviously suffered a psychotic break at some point, Vale is overly fond of describing those deathtraps of his, Helga is always using her sexuality as a weapon, and Ren…he’s a great big can of pressurized negativity looking for someone to vent all over.”
Eric laughed. “Honestly, Ritrian,” he said, “you sound like one of those fake doctors…what do they call them? Psy…something-or-other…?”
“Psychologists,” Falcon said, “and I suggest you take him seriously. He really does know a lot about that stuff.”
“I don’t have a degree or anything,” Ritrian said with a smile, “but, yes, I’ve done quite a bit of independent study in the field of psychology. It’s actually very helpful in this line of work.”
“Oh? Is there a special ‘psychology’ trick for identifying werewolves?” Eric mocked. That was a bad idea. Ritrian was a very dangerous person to provoke, so Hawk decided to intercede.
“Now, Eric,” Hawk said, “psychology can be very useful. Knowing your foe’s mind can often times be the difference between victory and defeat.”
“Yes, I suppose that is true,” Eric said, “but it is difficult to take seriously a discipline which always seems to ultimately find everyone to be somehow mentally or emotionally broken. It’s as if they never have anything good to say…”
“You mean like you?” Eliza jabbed.
“Eliza!” Hawk cried.
“What? He sucks!”
Hawk sighed and shook his head. ‘Why must she be like this?’ he thought in dismay.
“Look, Hawk, even if you don’t believe what Ritrian or anyone else has to say about Ren and his crew,” Falcon said, “there’s other mismatches to think about here.”
“What other mismatches?” Hawk asked.
“Well, the kinds of jobs they do for starters,” Ritrian said. “Ren and company do the almost the same sort of job mix as rookie squads, only with a few more upper-level bounties. Wolfsbane does well on Level 4 and up jobs, but anything below that and he starts having a rough time. In the beginning, he’d hesitate or freak out or break out in tears afterward at the very least. Now? He totally shuts down emotionally until the job is done, represses all of those negative emotions, and doesn’t even try to open up and talk about it or cry it out anymore.”
“That’s a good sign,” Eric said. “Given a few years under Ren’s tutelage, he’ll be completely numb about such things.”
“What that is isn’t ‘numbing to the pain,’” Ritrian said. “Wolfsbane is repressing the pain. He still feels it, I see it in his eyes, but he shoves it all down into the same place where he keeps his actual personality most of the damn time!”
Hawk started in shock. “His personality? What are you on about?!” he asked.
“He’s suppressing his personality, Hawk,” Ritrian replied. “I’m sure you’ve noticed it too. It peeks out here and there, like when he orders his steak medium rare or when he’s eating chicken and starts gnawing on the bones, but otherwise…everything the kid does or says is way overthought. It’s like he’s afraid of who he really is…or at least afraid to show it.”
“That’s his fault,” Falcon and Eliza said in unison, gazing accusatorily in Hawk’s direction.
Again, Hawk was shocked. “What do you mean?! All I have ever done was guide Wolfsbane along the proper path!” he cried.
“By burning his toys?” Eliza said.
“And teaching him how to be anything but himself?” Falcon added.
“You may not get this, but it is a father’s job to mold his son into a proper man,” Eric said. “Teaching him to reject feelings and behaviors unbefitting his role in life and society is part of that. I have done it myself with each and every one of my sons.”
“It shows…” Ritrian remarked off-handly, then continued, “In my expert opinion, Wolfsbane needs a breather from the rookie squad routine…not a continuation of it. He needs to have a chance to come into his own and to pick and choose the jobs that are most appropriate for him. That is why I think that it would be better for him to join Silver and Caroline’s proposed team instead.”
“Silver and…Caroline?” Eric asked. “Who is this Caroline person?”
“Caroline Magnus,” Eliza replied. “She’s one of Silver’s squad mates. That girl is tough, skilled, and full of spunk. I like her, and she’s like a sister to the boys. Teaming up with her will be good for them, Hawk.”
“I don’t know about that girl…” Hawk said, shaking his head. “Something about her seems off-puttingly familiar.”
“She’s a good kid, Hawk,” Falcon said, “and she’s in the fight for all the right reasons. If anyone can get Wolfsbane to see what this job is really about, it’s her.”
“Caroline Magnus…Now I remember. Wasn’t she also accused of being a werewolf infiltrator by someone on her original squad?” Eric mused.
“Accused, but there was no evidence,” Eliza said. “Osprey told me it was actually just a case of sexual harassment. One of those nasty little boys in her squad was spying on her in the bath and when she caught him, he went and lied on her before she could turn him in for perverse conduct. He got behavioral probation, she got a transfer.”
Hawk frowned and bit his lower lip in thought. “That is troubling…” he said. “Though she was found innocent…that is still a stain on her record. That definitely counts her out.”
“What?!” Eliza, Falcon, and Ritrian yelled.
“That girl has a flawless field record, though!” Falcon cried. “Plus, she really helped Silver when he first came back on duty after Osprey’s funeral and she’s the only rookie hunter ever to dual-wield machine guns in battle! Between her, Silver’s sword skills, and Wolfsbane’s all-around prowess, they’d be an unstoppable team!”
“Hawk, we both know that what Wolfsbane really needs is not a break,” Eric said. “He has made so much progress over the past two years and shying away from the jobs that he finds the most difficult will only set the boy back…probably even just as much as letting him go back to playing ‘werewolf.’ Can you imagine that? A werewolf hunter running around barking and howling like some filthy mutt? Ren would never allow that, you know…”
The image of his son falling back into the animalistic habits of his early childhood sent a chill up Hawk’s spine. He had worked so hard to get Wolfsbane to act like a normal, civilized human. If he were to begin behaving like that again…talking about becoming one of them the way that he used to…
“I know,” Hawk said firmly. He’d made his decision. “That is why Wolfsbane must join Ren’s team.” That earned him several outraged and dismayed outbursts from his wife, his brother, and his son’s rookie squad leader, but he continued. “It’s for his own good. Wolfsbane will learn a lot from Ren, and he’ll grow stronger with each job he does under him.”
“You’ve made the right decision,” Eric said with a smile. “I cannot wait to give Ren the good news.”
“You’re wrong, Hawk,” Ritrian said. “Ren won’t make him stronger…he’ll break him.”
“The only thing which will be broken will be bad habits and records,” Eric said. “Come, now! Let us celebrate this momentous occasion!”
“Yes,” Hawk agreed. “It’s a bit early for drinks, but who would like ice cream?”
“I’ll pass,” Eliza said, getting up from her seat and heading for the door. “I’ve got work to do.”
Falcon nodded as he and Ritrian followed suit. “Same here,” he said. “Besides, I’m still full from breakfast.”
“Me too,” Ritrian said. “I’ll just go check on the kids and make sure Bella hasn’t squished Inferno…”
The heavy wooden door closed behind them soon after, and it was dead silent for a while. Hawk knew that he had done the best thing. After all, Wolfsbane was his second son, the one who was to become the greatest werewolf hunter among his siblings. Nothing could get in the way of that. But, still, some tiny part of him kept replaying Ritrian’s remark…the one about Ren breaking his son. Was he right…?
Finally, the silence was shattered by Eric patting him vigorously on the back. “Don’t mind them, my friend,” he said cheerfully. “Let’s go and get that ice cream that you were talking about!”
“Yes,” Hawk said as a smile crossed his face as well. “We have a new exotic flavor, you know. They call it Butter Pecan!”
“Ooh! That does sound interesting,” Eric said as they began heading out of the room themselves. “I will absolutely have to try a scoop!”
Well, that does it for this week. I’ll cook up something awesome on the fly for next Sunday (maybe another short story…or something out of that bin of newspaper articles by my desk…). While you wait, you can check out The Star-Runner Chronicles book series on Amazon.com and all international versions thereof (print and Kindle ebook editions available, readable with any Kindle device, the Kindle Reader app, or online via the Kindle Cloud Reader) or spy on me through my Twitter and Pintrest pages. If you’ve already read the books (or, once you finish) it would be really sweet of you to give a review or rating on Amazon, Goodreads, or Shalfari too.
Also, if you’re a Sonic The Hedgehog fan, be sure to check out my Fan Works Spot every Tuesday for the next couple of weeks as I post the opening chapters of my alternate universe fan fic Sonic Hyuminz. Acts 1 and 2 are up now, and Act 3: The Birth of Team Chaotix will be up on April 7th! Thanks for reading, and happy Easter, Passover, and every other spring holiday that you may be celebrating…or have celebrated…or will soon celebrate.