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Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Epilogue
November 30, 2011

 

Echo woke up to the sound of the snow falling outside. She rolled over in her bed, reaching out to Aiden, who lay, still sleeping, next to her. She closed her eyes, content in the moment, the sound of the snow falling and the warmth of Aiden, happy with each night she spent with him now that she had know the pain of him not being there.

 

Echo glanced at her watch, not wanting to move, but knowing she needed to get ready in order to catch their train back to Stony Oaks for the holidays. Aiden was coming with, Fawn had insisted that he did, wanting to meet her daughters boyfriend, and Alder did too, wanting to meet the Apsu with enough power without training to defeat the Xul. Though they were only going for a couple of weeks, Alder was eager to train Aiden, thinking of him as a sort of progeny, with untold power with the right training. Aiden was not so sure, instead claiming fluke, luck and Echo were how the spell had worked, nothing to do with power, but merely Mick’s perception that Aiden had power. Echo didn’t know. She had seen Aiden’s power for herself, and had jokingly told him that it was her training that had made it. Either way, Aiden did not mind, the Xul knew to keep away for now, though he now lived each day, glad that it was not the day they decided to come back for him, but still waiting for the day that ended up being it.

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Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 20
November 30, 2011

They walked right in. the door was open and the magic must have been working because they just walked straight in. There was no one there to see them, but there were no alarms, and the circle of stones surrounding the building didn’t stop them either. Unperceived both physically and mentally, no one had even sensed their arrival, nothing happened. But now this led to a problem. If they were so sly, so under the radar that even their presence couldn’t be perceived by a Xul with as much power as Mick, how on Earth were they going to find Aiden?

 

Storm had taken the lead, trying to remember his way around, even though there was magic blocking his ability to do so. They walked along corridor after corridor of cold, grey concrete. It looked like a prison, lined in doors with tiny slatted windows that Echo was just about tall enough to see through, stopping to check each one in case it may be the room that Aiden was inside of, but to no avail. As they went, the entire time, Echo was focusing her mind to try and contact Aiden.

 

“Aiden? Aiden? Where are you? Just send out something we can follow. Please, Aiden, listen.”

 

Even as she sent the words out, she felt them being blocked by the edges of her mind. She tried harder, sending the words to the point they were screaming in her ears, but the only mind they were finding to go into was Storm’s.

 

“Seriously, Echo, stop. It’s not going to help. We just need to look, once we see him, and he knows were here, he’ll be able to sense us again. Unless the Masku wears off first, that is.” Storm sent to her. Though the Asarinu was helping them not to be seen, it would do nothing to stop them being heard, so telepathy was the safest way to go. So they made their way along, frantically looking through every window.

 

“Fuck!” Echo whispered sharply, crouching down behind one of the windows.

 

“What?” Storm hissed quietly, crouching down as she did.

 

“Sorry, Mick, he’s in there,” She sent to him, “He didn’t see me though.” She continued, as the kept making their way down the seemingly endless corridor.

 

“That must mean Aiden’s near though. Mick wouldn’t stray too far from him. At least, he never did from me,” Storm said.

 

Door after door of nothing. Some of the doors didn’t even have slats to look through, and Echo was growing increasingly anxious that Aiden was trapped inside one of them, and that she would not be able to find him.

 

“Did you hear that?” Storm asked, snapping her out of her panic. She listened closely and heard a faint whimpering sound, and though she could not pinpoint where it was coming from, she was almost certain that she recognised Aiden’s voice, even in his other form.

 

“Yeah,” She nodded, “I think that’s him. Can you figure out where it’s coming from?”

 

Storm closed his eyes and listened. He still had his other form’s hearing, it was just much, much harder to tap into in his human body. He wished he could just Become, his other form, the giant, white, wolf-like dog would without a doubt be able to track Aiden down, but he couldn’t. He knew Asarinu stopped working in his other form, he’d learned that from sneaking out of the house late at night when he was younger, and they couldn’t risk that the same would go for the Masku. They couldn’t risk Mick finding them, not now, not when they were so close.

 

Focusing as much as he could, Storm began to lead them in the direction of the faint whimpers. Though Echo had enhanced hearing, it was nothing compared to Aiden’s or Storm’s, the dogs had a much better range for that. She walked behind him, slowly, careful that her steps didn’t make too much sound. He stopped outside a door, straining his ears to listen closer. Echo went to check the slats before realising that there weren’t any.

 

“Are you sure? How are we going to get in if he can’t see us?” Echo asked, panic setting in once again.

 

Storm nodded, and shushed Echo, before reaching into his pocket, pulling out a hair grip.

 

“What the fuck, Storm? What are you doing? That is not going to work, you can’t pick a lock that’s locked with magic,” Echo near shouted at him, exasperated, and frustrated with being so close to Aiden but not being able to get him.

 

“Will you shut up? You can pick a magic lock with magic.” He replied, as he lifted the opened out hair grip and placed it on the lock, leaving it hovering in the air and waving his hands around to move it. It was an old children’s trick, along with the Asarinu, mostly used for sneaking around and general trouble making. Echo never had much of a grasp on either of those in her childhood, and as she got older, her and Storm would go places together, and her would always find the ways to get there. He’d used the magic lock pick at school a few times too, getting into locked records, forging better grades for himself than the ones that he had received, and for sneaking out of back doors during the day with the other Apsu children to Become instead of going to a maths lesson. They’d cover their tracks so well with magic that they never got found out.     

 

The whimpering became louder as the door rattled, Aiden clearly becoming distressed at the idea of someone getting in. Just as Echo was about to tell Storm to stop, and that it wasn’t working, the door swung open. The room was bare, grey concrete as everywhere else, a tiny window at the top on one of the walls. The walls were panels that were once white but now a dirty grey, and there was a leak dripping from the ceiling, leaving a darker patch of concrete in the middle. And in the corner, curled up and cowering, she saw Aiden, his black and usually silky fur matted with what looked like blood, and one leg twisted awkwardly, his skin torn.

 

“Aiden?” Echo whispered, so as not to alarm him. He was not looking at her, but had his eyes fixed to one patch of the ground. At the sound of his name, and her voice, he looked up.

 

“I… I told you to stay away, what are you doing here?” Aiden asked, his thoughts a strange mix of anger, confusion and gratitude.

 

“Can you walk?” Storm asked, looking at his leg, “I don’t mean to ruin the reunion here, but we need to be quick.”

 

Aiden tried to stand, wincing as he did so, but eventually got onto his feet. As he did, a high pitched whirring filled their heads. Echo tried to plug her ears, but the sound wasn’t external, it was telepathic.

 

“What the hell is that?” Echo asked, trying to block the noise. It felt like her ears were bleeding, though she knew they were not.

 

“Psychic Alarm,” Aiden sent, his voice just penetrating the alarm, “Mick warned me about it. He can here it too. You two run, I’ll hold you up… go.” He shouted.

 

“Don’t be ridiculous. We didn’t come all the way here to bloody leave without you.” Storm replied, taking hold of Aiden, careful not to touch his bad leg, and almost dragging him towards the door.

 

“Change back,” Storm said, as the got to the other side of the room, “Echo has your clothes, you’ll be quicker changed back, we can help you walk if you’ve only got two legs.” He was shouting now, annoyed by Aiden’s lack of urgency to get out.

 

Echo pulled his clothes out of her bag as Storm kept watch for Mick at the door. It couldn’t be long now until Mick found them, he thought, and he was getting the paralysis charm ready to use in his head. Echo turned her back to give Aiden privacy to change back, knowing he had done so only when she heard him cry out in pain as he tried to get his leg into his jeans. She was about to turn round to help him, when she felt his hand on her shoulder.

 

“Hey,” She smiled, turning round to look at him and throwing her arms around him.

 

“Hey,” He replied, returning her hug, though his arms and voice were weak.

 

“That’s lovely, really, now can we go?” Storm interrupted.

 

“Aiden, meet my brother, Storm,” Echo said, as they followed storm out of the doorway, Aided resting his weight on Echo’s shoulder as he limped. He smiled at Storm by way of a greeting once they had caught up to him, too weak to manage much more than that. Storm took the other side of Aiden, allowing him to lean on both of them as they made their way back through the corridor, the sirens still ringing in their ears.

 

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Sorrel?” Echo heard from behind her. She went to turn round when she felt a sharp pain in the side of her head, falling to the ground.

 

“Take from him as he would from me, bind his legs from movement free. Take from him as he would from me, bind his legs from movement free. Take from him as he would from me, bind his from movement free.” Storm began to chant, the words ready from earlier, rolling out of his mouth and from his mind. Echo, though her mind hazy from the blow to her head, began to chant with him.

 

He had the same scars as a human that he had in his other form, they twitched on the side of his muscular neck and at the top of his bald head. He was so tall, Echo thought. She did not remember him being this tall. Then again, she had barely seen him in his human body. As they chanted, Aiden remained silent, cowering behind Storm and Echo as they cast the charm. Storm wondered if it was working, thinking it probably was or else Mick would not be stood still. He tried to back away, seeing that Mick’s legs had stayed stationary. They took the opportunity to run, Storm pulling Echo back up, and making her press her hand into her temple to stop the blood that Echo hadn’t even noticed the blood dripping down the side of her face.

 

Through the maze of corridors they searched for a way out, slowed down now by Echo’s dizziness as well as Aiden’s leg. Aiden rest his weight solely on Storm now, though embarrassed to be reliant on him for support as he limped along, wincing every time he accidently let his left leg hit the floor.

 

“Hey! I said, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” They heard shouting after them. Echo turned her head fast this time, in time to see Mick and what appeared to be two of his Betas from his pack, them in their other forms, a Rhodesian ridgeback and a Doberman. Mick was still in his human form. Though his Other form was stocky, it was nothing compared to what his Betas appeared to be. Echo wondered for a second how he had come to be the Alpha in a pack that consisted of the likes of these, with their force, before one of them biting at her leg drew her out of her thoughts with searing pain. She screamed, ripping her leg out of the Doberman’s mouth, Aiden seemingly finding enough adrenalin and strength to hit him, sending him flying into the side of the hallway as he whimpered.

 

Finding this adrenalin, Aiden stepped forward, face to face with Mick as Storm helped Echo with the wound one her leg, taking his jumper off to bandage it with.

 

“Gigim Xul, telal uggae, ania simtin alaku. Evil spirit, demon of death, I send you to your fate. Gigim Xul, telal uggae, ana simtin alaku. Evil spirit, demon of death, I send you to your fate.” Aiden began, staring directly into the Xul’s eyes. The other Beta whimpered and ran back down the corridor, Aiden’s eyes fixing Mick to his spot.

 

“Aiden? Aiden, stop it!” Storm was shouting, recognising the ancient verse, “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

 

But Aiden continued, his words becoming stronger with each repetition, his voice becoming more certain, and himself becoming calm at the twisted beauty of the sight of Mick, stuck, falling to the floor as his screamed out. Aiden stopped chanting, and turned back round to Echo and Storm, who were staring at him, eyes wide in shock.

 

“Come on, now, run.” He said to them, leaving storm to help Echo walk this time, his own leg having turned numb for the power he seemed to possess. Through the seemingly endless corridor they went, until they were met by an icy breeze blowing through the open door. Once outside, they paused for a moment to breathe, before continuing on round some corners, terrified of being traced despite Aiden’s magic on Mick. Once they felt they were safe, they stopped, Echo taking hold of Aiden to hug him, replacing her previous anxiety with happiness for him being back.

 

“Okay, how the hell did you do that?” Storm asked, still out of breath but almost shouting at Aiden.

 

“Do what?” Aiden replied, knowing he meant the spell he had cast back at the warehouse.

 

“That spell. The one we get taught how to defend ourselves against in classes as children, the one that cannot be used unless you have more power than whoever your opponent is. The killing spell, of course, Aiden.” Storm snapped.

 

“More power?” Echo asked, confused.

 

Aiden shook his head, “No, not more power. Equal rank. Mick was training me, told me I could be – that I was – an Alpha like my father was. I heard things, while I was their, his Betas thoughts, Mick’s thoughts, the ones he thought I couldn’t hear. His fear that my blood would overthrow his power. I guess I do have something to be grateful to my father for. He taught me that,” Aiden turned to Echo, his eyes heavy with tears, “To use on you. He said it was the same one your father used on mine.”

 

It was, Storm remembered it, it was one of the few things he remembered about his time being held by the Xul was the spell his father had cast that freed him.

 

“Rank and power don’t say what side you’re on.” Echo said, knowing Aiden, knowing he thought he was somehow innately evil as the spell had worked, “They don’t even say that there are sides. There’s so much grey, it’s all just in between.”

 

Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 19
November 30, 2011

“I can’t believe I’m actually going toLondon,” Storm said, as they waited at the station for their train.

 

Echo started to scowl at him, slightly annoyed he could be so happy when Aiden was still trapped with Mick.

“I mean,” He continued, covering his tracks after seeing her face, “I mean, I wish it could have been for better circumstances, but still, Echo, I’ve barely left Stony Oaks, let alone to go to a real city!”

 

“You’ve left Stony Oaks, you’ve been all over the place.” Echo countered. It was true, he’d been around a bit with Alder, up toScotland, across toWalesonce, and around a lot of the country.

 

“Yeah, but never to a real city before,” He corrected, “And never without Dad.”

 

“Yeah, fair enough,” Echo replied.

 

Before long their train began to pull into the station, and Echo glanced down at the tickets in her hand to see which carriage their seats were in, making their way along to carriage D, before finding seats number 26 and 27, both forward facing. They put their back packs in the overhead storage and sat down, Storm eager to get toLondon, and Echo too, though for different reasons.

 

“Once we’ve found him,” Storm began, “Can you show meLondon? All the big city things? And your uni? And can I meet Sophia?”

 

“Yes, yes, yes and maybe,” Echo responded, amused by his optimism and childish enthusiasm.

 

“Only maybe? But she’s so pretty, those photos on Facebook…” He said, sounding more like a teenage boy than Echo had ever heard him sound before.

 

“Ew, no, you’re a kid!” She laughed.

 

Storm pouted, “I’m 16 y’know,” He protested.

 

“Yeah, exactly!” Echo laughed. She was glad to have Storm with her, without him this train ride would have been unbearable, full of worry and panic and loss and sadness, full of her need for Aiden. And Storm knew. He laughed and joked with her to take her mind off things, hardly mentioning Aiden, and when he did putting a positive spin, saying things like “when we find him” rather than the “if we find him” that Echo felt. As well as being a good distraction for reality, Storm had come with because he thought he knew where Aiden was, the warehouse that Storm himself was kept by Mick and his Alpha those years ago. Mick’s Alpha. Aiden’s father. Echo shuddered at the thought, and at the thought of Aiden really feeling like that was where he belonged to be, to have gone with Mick willingly.

 

“Echo, stop.” Storm said, he always could get into her mind easily, it was a knack siblings seemed to have, though no one knew why really, “We’ll find him, I’m sure I know where he is.”

 

***

 

Storm sat on Echo’s sofa, taking in her living room, drinking the tea she had made for them. It was strange, to him, his sister living somewhere like this. As he looked around, he doubted he would ever live outside of Stony Oaks. It was so busy up here, so many cars, so much traffic, so many people, and so little green space, so little space in general. He wondered how she did it, how she had adjusted, before realising that perhaps she hadn’t so well. He wondered if she’d have stayed had she not met another Apsu, despite what she had said about wanting to live how the Lu lived.

 

Echo was arranging her crystals on the floor, though not for her, for Storm instead. She glanced at the crumpled yellow stained paper on the table, containing her father’s script handwriting. It contained a charm for storm, one to guide him to Mick’s warehouse, it could only guide one back to a place they had been before, but once they had the location, they could work on finding a route. Storm had suggested Becoming in order to get in, but Echo had told him not to be ridiculous, and that she would not allow it, it was not safe. Instead, they were armed with invisibility charms and confusion spells to cast, along with Asarinu spices, to be brewed into a tea and taken with them, drunk as they are said to make one harder to see, though Echo did not believe in them really, thinking of Asarinu more of a children’s game than a real act of magic. But still, Alder had said that they would work, not in making them invisible, but in making there presence seem less of something out of the ordinary, making them harder to pin down as not meant to be there. They also had Masku herbs to be taken, as they had mind reading blocking properties that would work better on the Xul than any spell could, Alder said.

 

“Come on the, are you ready?” Echo asked, standing up from the circle she had made.

 

Storm nodded and walked to the circle, his legs twitched nervously. Though he was trying to be brave, trying to act grown up and manly, the idea of finding Mick, the Xul who held him captive, albeit years ago, scared him more than he could comprehend. He wished it didn’t, and he was going to do it anyway regardless of rather it scared him. He had to, not just because Aiden meant so much to his sister, but also because he couldn’t stand the idea of someone being held like he was.

 

“You don’t have to do this, you know,” Echo said, “I’m sure we can find another way.”

 

Storm just looked at her, with a questioning and slightly sarcastic look on his face, before sitting down cross legged, a map on the floor in front of him and a pencil in hand, and beginning to meditate. Echo sat down on the floor just outside the circle, the yellow paper in her hand, and began to read over it in her mind, sending the charm to Storm to cast.

 

“Guide my mind, so it can see, the place that I need to be. Through the land, across the sky, allow it to find, where he does lie.” It was not her father’s best work as far as charms went, Echo thought, but she knew it would do. Any charm with the blessing of a Zagmi was going to work, regardless of the specifics, as long as ones mind was it the right place while it was being written and while it was being cast.

 

She felt her mind inside of Storm’s, not controlled by it, or controlling it, but just fused slightly, as she sent the magic to his meditation for him to cast the charm. Once she heard him begin to mumble the words aloud she stopped sending them, content that the charm was safe within Storm’s mind, and stood up to go over to the sofa until the charm was cast. She lit a joss stick to cleanse the air in the hope it would help the magic in the air. She picked up the bag of Asarinu spice and it into the kitchen, setting the kettle on and taking a flask out of the cupboard to brew it so it was ready for when they left, which she hoped was soon. She grabbed the Masku herbs as the kettle was boiling to but them in her bag. She looked at them, undoing the hessian wrap that they were in. She had never seen Masku before now, it was so rare to come across as it could only be cultivated by Apsu, what with it needing magic as well as sunlight and water to grow.  She took out a piece, a tiny green leaf, that looked half dried, with purple tinges surrounding the edges, and what appeared to be pink specks of dust coating the surface. She looked at it in awe, before holding it to her nose to smell it. Her nose wrinkled in disgust at the smell, in such contrast to its pretty appearance, the pungent aroma made it clear why Masku was not used particularly often, in favour of charms and spells. She tied it back up and put it in her bag for later, hoping it would taste better than it smelt, before going back to brewing the Asarinu.

 

“Echo, Echo I’ve got it! I know the way!” Storm screamed from the living room, despite the fact he was only a few meters away and the walls of the building were quite thin. Hoping her neighbours hadn’t heard, she walked through to join him. He was standing in the middle of the now-broken circle, holding up the map triumphantly, a street just north ofLondoncircled with the pencil.

 

“Are you sure?” Echo asked, wanting to make certain.

 

“Yes I’m bloody sure, I saw him there, Echo, come on, we have to go, now!” He snapped, urgency and aggression in his voice. Echo looked at him slightly shocked.

 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean… It’s just, well,” He thought of the best way to phrase what he had seen that wouldn’t panic his sister too much, “If you’d seen what I did you’d want to go quickly too, that’s all.” He concluded, his voice lowering at the end.

 

Echo did not need to hear more. She dashed into the kitchen to get the brewed Asarinu, did the lid up and stuck it in her bag with the Masku herbs. She shoved he shoes on and grabbed her coat, before getting Aiden’s clothes to bring with too, thinking he would need them for the journey back if he’d been in his Other Form his whole time with the Xul. Finally she picked up one more thing from the table, another charm, written in her father’s script. This one, though, was not so much a charm as a curse, paralysis of an enemy, to make them loose their abilities, and the use of their body for a limited amount of time. Of course there were other attacking spells, permanent paralysis, loss of limbs, even death curses, but neither Echo nor Storm nor Aiden nor the three of them combined possessed anywhere near the amount of power that would be required of them to do anything like that.

 

Echo looked over at Storm, his shoes were on and he was ready to leave. She grabbed her keys and locked the door behind them, looking at the map to try to figure out where to go in order to get Aiden back.

 

***

 

They sat on the train, Echo practically shaking in anticipation to get to where Aiden was. She kept trying to sense him, but it was harder than she thought. She imagined the warehouse would have some sort of blocking spell around it to shield its location. In fact she knew it did, it was most likely the same shielding spell that prevented both Storm and Alder to remember where this warehouse was without the help of a spell even though they had both been there before.

 

The train stopped and Storm and Echo leaped off, Echo now running as fast as she could though the station. Not far now, not far now. Once they were outside, she slowed down for a second to look at the map, trying to get her baring, before taking off down a side street.

 

“Echo, Echo wait up!” Storm shouted at her, panting as he tried to keep up. Though his other form, his hugeAkitadog, would have had no trouble keeping up, his slightly scrawny, skinny teenage body had it’s limitations with running distances of any sort. Echo slowed down slightly, getting another look at the map as she did,

 

“Storm, it’s the next street over, hurry up!” She shouted back, as she jogged to a halt to wait for him. She took out the brewed Asarinu spices and swigged from the flask, her face scrunching up at the taste before she swallowed it. She passed it to Storm, now stood next to her, panting.

 

“Urgh, why can’t they make magic that tastes nice?” Storm said as he sipped the spices, his face scrunching as Echo’s had done. Echo rolled her eyes and shook her head, before taking out the Masku, putting a small piece of it in her mouth, before reaching back for the spices to swallow it.

 

“I don’t know, but the Asarinu tastes loads better than the Masku does,” She said, passing the flask back to him to help him with the Masku. Echo did the flask back up, before continuing to run to the next road over, now as protected as she could be, trying in her head to come up with some sort of plan as to what to do now, it seemed far too easy to just be able to step right in and take him back, even with the help of magic.

 

 

 

 

Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 18
November 30, 2011

Echo lay in her bed, awake but not wanting to get up. She had missed her old room, her mattress inLondonfelt wrong when she slept compared to this. She missed her sea green walls and bed that looked as though it were made of intertwined sticks. She missed the crystals that hung in her window, projecting rainbows around the room. She missed the crystals that sat in the corners, the ones that had been blessing her bedroom her whole life, making her feel safe. Looking at the time on her phone – while seeing that another night had passed without Aiden contacting her – Echo laid hr head back down to see if she could drift off once more, as it was very early. As she did she heard a knock at her door.

 

“Yeah?” Echo mumbled, her voice course from the night, no sound coming out to start with. She coughed, “Yeah?” She repeated, more coherently.

 

The doorknob turned, and as the door creaked open Echo saw her brothers sandy coloured hair poking into the room.

 

“What are you doing up so early, Stormy?” She asked, knowing that the endearment on the end of his name would annoy him.

 

Storm smirked at her, and then chuckled, “I dunno, just am. What are you up to today? Wanna come hang out in the park? It’s been kinda weird without you around.”

 

“Who’s coming?” Echo asked, even though she knew there was no way Storm would know for definite. She wanted to see her old friends, she really did, but until she found Aiden, she wasn’t really in the mood to socialise.

 

Storm walked over and perched on the edge of her bed, “I dunno, me, Tommy, Sasha, Jo, Dino probably, maybe Clair and Stacey too.” He saw her mind bring up each of these names faces, remembering just how long it had been since she had last seen them. They all had their lives here, it was her who had left. For the last few months they’d all have had been together, without the distance between them that Echo thought she would feel with her old friends.

 

“Sitting around here isn’t going to find him. Dad’s going to be doing research whether you’re here or out,” Storm said, gently but with a slight edge of frustration in his voice, “And everybody’s so excited that you’re back. Come on, you have to come see everyone, you can’t come home and not.”

 

He was right, she knew he was right. For a sixteen year old boy, he had more intuition than most, and far more good sense too, seeming older than his years. Echo smiled, and nodded in agreement with him.

 

“Wanna come watch cartoons?” He asked, smiling, his voice shifting to a more child-like tone.

 

“Sure,” Echo replied, getting out of bed. She’d missed this, being home, being with her family. Sure, her and Storm argued all the time as well, but the time spent not seeing each other had made them both realised how much better it was when they got along, like they knew they did. She followed him out her room and down the stairs, picking up her phone as she went, just in case Aiden or Sophia tried to call. As they passed through the kitchen on their way to the living room, they saw Alder, sat in the same place he had been last night, surrounded by the Lamadu, a pen and notebook next to him, writing down charms and notes. He looked up when he heard his children approach.

 

“Oh, good morning,” He said, looking slightly dazed, “What time is it?”

 

“Eight thirty, or near enough,” Storm replied, pulling up the sleeve of the hoodie he was wearing over his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pyjamas to see his watch.

 

“Oh,” He replied, rubbing at his eyes and looking at the writing he’d done. There was ink smudged on his chin from where it looked like he had fallen asleep on his notes.

 

“Any progress?” Echo asked, sounding hopeful.

 

“Sort of, yes. I have a few things we can try today, a couple of calling charms, the more people you get together to do them the better though. Give me a couple of hours and we’ll get started, okay?” Alder replied, realising how tired he was from not having slept.

 

Echo smiled and hugged her father, so excited by the idea of making contact with Aiden. Alder got up and went upstairs, and Echo and Storm made their way through to the living room, going via the fridge for snacks and making some tea. They sat down on the sofa and Storm flicked the television on, putting on some cartoon that Echo did not recognise. It was okay though, they were not really watching the cartoons for the cartoons themselves, but more as a kind of nostalgia for when they were younger, and would spend hours watching the latest episodes of Pokémon and other such shows. Alder hated it when they were younger and watched fantasy cartoons, ones with mystical characters, and things like Sabrina the Teenage Witch. He had said it made a mockery out of their race, out of the Apsu, though no one else really agreed with him. Those sorts of shows had become Echo and Storm’s favourites, partly because there was a taboo around them in their household, which their rebellious streaks loved to push, and also because, for Echo at least, they were the only shows that seemed real. The cartoon about Lu life, ones without magic, they weren’t right, they weren’t an accurate portrayal, of course they weren’t, they were cartoons. But to Echo, this made them seem strange, a sort of unimaginative fantasy, wherein it was different from the world, but not different enough to be classed as another world. 

 

Echo leaned onto the table and reached for the bag of toffee flavoured popcorn. She ripped it open and took a handful, before holding the bag out to Storm.

 

“Breakfast popcorn?” She offered, grinning. Spending time with Storm was helping take her mind off of Aiden, which, while nice, was making her feel sharp pangs of guilt in her stomach. She waited in anticipation for Alder to be ready to start trying to find him. She tried not to think about where Aiden was, where he could be, and instead focus on the positives, then soon, wherever he was, she would be with him.

 

Storm took the popcorn bag and started shoving fistfuls of it into his mouth. Echo sat, content, with the hum of the television in the background and the sweetness of the popcorn for support. She couldn’t hang on to any feeling for long though, and her content would swing from guilt to sorrow to anger and back again faster than she could notice them changing, filling her with a sense of unease.

 

“We could all cast the charms, y’know, in the park later?” Storm said over the voice of whatever creature the pixels on the TV screen were supposed to be representing.

 

It took a while for his words to register, but once they had she nodded slowly in agreement. True, the youth of the Community may not be the strongest in power, but there were a lot of them, and together they may be able to do some good. There were stories about how spells worked best if they were cast among friends rather than acquaintances, something about how it draws a bond of connection into the spell. If that was true, then the friends of her childhood could really be able to do something.

 

Storm stood up, went over to the shelf in the corner of the room, and picked out some stones and crystals from a wicker basket. They were the same ones as Echo had inLondon, blessed by the Zagmi and the Stony Oaks Community. He arranged them in a circle, and sat inside it.

 

“Why are you meditating now?” Echo asked, slightly confused as to why he had been wanting to watch cartoons one minute and connect with his inner Apsu the next.

 

“What? Oh, no, I’m just sending out a message about this afternoon, getting as many people together as possible.” He said, as if it were obvious, “You’ve been away too long, forgetting things!”

 

“Yeah, well back inLondonwe use Facebook for things like this!” Echo laughed.

 

“Yeah, well, no one here can turn a computer on, let alone navigate the internet.” Storm replied. And it was true. Storm and Echo and, to an extent, Fawn, were the only ones, with the exception of maybe two or three others who learned at the Sorrel household. A lot of the children learned at school, but barely anyone had internet connections in their homes. It was just not the way the Apsu worked, they had no need for it, really. Telepathy does a fairly good job of communicating.

 

“Hey guys, come down to the park at about 4pm, Echo’s back and needs some help.” Echo’s head buzzed loudly with the message Storm was sending out. She covered her ears, trying to muffle the loudness. Sending group distance message in close proximities had a tendency to reverberate in the ears of people closer than the message was aimed for. Echo picked up a cushion from the sofa and threw it at him,

 

“Hey! No need to send me the message too!” She said, rubbing her ears.

 

Storm caught the pillow before it hit him and smiled sheepishly, “Sorry!” He said, getting up to collect his stones back up and place them back in the basket, before rejoining Echo on the couch.

 

***

 

“I’ve got it!” Alder exclaimed, running down the stairs to join his family. Echo and Storm were helping Fawn set the table for lunch, Fawn wanting to spend as much time with her daughter as possible while she could.

 

“Got what, darling?” Fawn replied.

 

Echo ran to meet him, hoping beyond a measure she knew it was possible for her to hope that he was talking about a way to find Aiden. He handed her a piece of fibrous paper, yellow tinged with age and looking like it had been ripped out of the back of a Lamadu. On it was a simple charm written in Alder’s curling script:

 

“Let us know where he may be, let us see his destiny, guide our vision through his eyes, so we may find him across the skies.”

 

Echo looked at Alder, slightly confused as to how this seemly simple charm had taken him all night and half of the day.

 

“It’s not what it looks like. Well, it is, and it isn’t. I’ve never tried anything like this before, but used correctly it should make you able to be inside his head, to speak to him, yes, but to literally be inside his head, to see what he sees, so he can guide you too him, with the right brew made and drank as well, of course. You will need people to cast it on you, it cannot merely be cast on ones self, I don’t believe at least. That was the only way to give you both sight and sound.” Alder explained, using the voice he tended to reserve for explaining spells to children, although Echo didn’t mind. She hugged her father, so glad to finally know how they would be going about finding Aiden. She ran back to the kitchen, showing Storm the charm, and sat down to have lunch with her family, knowing that in just a few hours she would be able to make contact with Aiden.

 

***

 

Echo and Storm sat on fallen tree trunks in a clearing in the woods. This was the park she had been coming to her whole childhood, the place she used to Become, the place that all the Apsu children of Stony Oaks had been coming to for generations. They had arrived early, in anticipation for the others. Storm had sent out the message to all their friends in the Commune, hoping to draw in enough support to make the spell work. Echo sat nervously, picking at the dry skin around her fingernails, willing the time to pass quicker so that they could start. They had come armed with joss sticks to cleanse the area, blessed crystals and stone to make in inner circle for Echo, and an outer circle for those casting the charm, the piece of paper with her father’s scrawled words, and a small silver goblet along with a few bottles of wine. While one goblet of wine was being used in the charm, Storm had insisted on bringing the extra bottles, in anticipation of having something to celebrate after, leading Echo to realised quite how similar Apsu youth were to their Lu counterparts.

 

Gradually, people began to arrive, Dino and Tommy, then Sasha, Jo, Clair and Stacey, each in turn hugged Echo, telling her how pleased they were to have her back. Echo was happy to see her old friends, but something was different, a she had feared. It was not them that was different though, it was her.Londonreally had changed her more than she had thought, and while it was not a bad thing, Echo wasn’t so sure it was good either. But what was will be, and so Echo excepted the differences, and went about catching up with her old circle of friends, hearing all the stories she had missed out on, and telling them about London, and having them all tell her that they must come visit her there sometime, and Echo agreeing even though she knew it was unlikely any of them would venture to the city anytime soon.

 

Others arrived while she was talking, younger ones, friends of Storm, younger and older siblings of her friends, even other friends who she was not that close too arrived. By half past four, about twenty people had arrived, and Storm had attracted everyone’s attention and began to explain what they were going to do; he had a knack for public speaking that Echo lacked. The stones were arranged into the two circles, and Echo sat in the middle, surrounded by her friends. The trick to this, would be separating her thoughts from the thoughts of the group, Echo thought, as she began to hear them humming aloud, trying to connect their minds. She picked up the open wine bottle and the goblet, poured the glass full, and recited the charm over it, before sipping and passing it around. The wine was sweet, different from normal drinking wine, it was ritual wine, slightly metallic from the glass, it was not the sort of wine that was particularly nice to drink. Echo always wondered why blessed wine could not taste like other wine, what was the difference, really? Fawn had always asked Alder to bless bottles of Chablis and Fluerie she had brought back from trips to France, but the Zagmi had refused, saying they needed to be made out of bless grapes. As a result, Apsu wine was hard to come by in a lot of places outside of Communities. She passed the cup to Dino who was directly in front of her, he smiled at her as she did, before he took the cup and said the charm himself, sipping, and passing it around to the next person.

 

Echo said cross legged and closed her eyes as the humming stopped. She knew now they would be going into the charm, starting with Storm it would be sent through everyone’s minds, with Echo focusing on the sight she would be receiving rather than the sounds going on around her. The wine made its way round the circle as she tried to relax, anticipating her vision. She’d had visions before, back during her Zagmi training, but now that seemed like a lifetime ago now. She kept thinking of where she may see Aiden, what he might say, of how angry he could be at her for letting who knows what happen to him. She shuddered, thinking of her morning spent laughing with her brother, and felt more guilty than she ever had done before that it was not spent worrying about Aiden, time that he could be being held somewhere, or lost, or hurt. She breathed deeply, knowing that this sort of panic would not help the charm to work.

 

And then it happened. As the charm went round, she felt herself slowly slipping, flying, seeing her body below her, a hazy glow surrounding everything. It was real and not real, her senses were muffled and she wondered how this astral projection would help her to see Aiden. She felt herself spinning, her surroundings going dark, until light flooded her senses. She saw black paws laid out in front of her on a grey stone floor that felt cold against her stomach and chest. She saw the end of Aiden’s nose, brown pink speckled. It was strange, not like how looking through a dogs eyes should be, it was clear, with the same hazy glow as before.

 

“Aiden?” She asked, softly.

 

Aiden jumped up, alert at the sound of her voice, “Echo? Where are you? Get out, it’s not safe for you here.”

 

Echo’s heart sank as she heard his worry, “No, Aiden, it’s fine. It’s a spell, a charm, no one can trace me. Where are you? What happened? I’m coming for you as soon as I can.”

 

“I’m with Mick. It’s where I should be, Echo. And if I’m here, he wont be coming after you. Echo, my father was the Xul who came after your brother, the one your father killed. Just leave me alone, I shouldn’t  be found.” Aiden said, sadness filling his thoughts as Echo heard and felt them. She wanted to be there with him, to have him know everything was okay, that he was not his father, but she couldn’t find the words to say so.

 

“Echo? Echo I have to go, Mick is coming. Please, listen to me. Do not try and find me, leave me, I am fine here but you won’t be. They don’t hurt me much, and I try to stop them from hurting others as much as I can. Please, be safe. I love you, Echo, it kills me every day I have to spend apart from you, but I want you safe, so leave me.” He sounded like he was close to tears, or as close as a human mind in a dogs body could get to tears. She tried to look through his eyes to see where he was, but all that was there was grey concrete and dirty white walls. She saw a small window, and wished she could turn her head to look at it, but all she had was the direction Aiden was looking in.

 

“Aiden, I will find you, even if you will not help yourself to be found. I love you too, that’s why I can’t leave you there.” As she sent the words, she felt her grasp on Aiden’s reality slipping. She hoped he had heard her, that she loved him, and that he would be found. Her head began to spin, as she send a final message of love to Aiden, hoping it would arrive at some time. The world went black and hazy, before she felt herself land back inside her body. She slowly opened her eyes to feel tears streaming down her cheeks, her eyes hot and stinging from them. She saw everyone sitting round her, the stone circles broken. She felt Storm’s hand on her shoulder and felt Dino take her hand.

 

“Echo? Are you back now? Are you okay? What happened?” She heard, although she wasn’t sure which direction they were being asked from. She wiped her eyes on her sleeve to try and stop the tears, and hid her face in her hands, hugging her knees into herself. She could not find words to answer the questions. She couldn’t think of what to do. She needed Aiden back, but still did not really know where he was.

 

“Echo?” She heard again, this time knowing it was Storm, “Where is he?”

 

“H-h-h-he’s w-w-with… with M-m-m-Mick.” Echo said eventually, lifting her head slightly to see him.

 

“Where with Mick, Echo?” He asked, as calmly as he could.

 

“I-I-I-I-I don’t know.” She stuttered through her tears.

 

Storm sighed and rubbed Echo’s shoulders, “He can’t be far. Don’t worry, we’ll find him.”

 

Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 17
November 30, 2011

Aiden did not come back that night. His clothes were still in the shed the next day. Echo phoned Sophia, asking if she had seen him, to no avail. Echo feared the worst – that Mick had gotten him, had captured him, and htat he was being held somewhere. Echo resorted to the only thing she knew could help. She phoned her mother, and returned to Stony Oaks, leaving a note with Aiden’s clothes in the shed in case he returned while she was gone.

 

The train ride toDorsetwas the longest journey of Echo’s life. Without Aiden, the spark seemed to be sucked out of life, there was nothing left, no point to anything until she found him. The train was bleak, the whole two and a half hour train journey Echo spent staring out the window but not seeing anything at all. She wished she could be happier about going back to Stony Oaks, but under the circumstances, how could she be? She wished that she had left at the beginning, that she’d never had come to London, so Aiden would never have embraced Apsu, leaving him open to threat, to Mick. He was her fault too, Mick’s problem, or so she thought, was with her father, for killing his Alpha, for not letting Storm become one of them.

 

As Storm entered her mind, her mood softened slightly. If it was possible for anything good to come out of this, it would be seeing Storm again. Echo and her brother had been close, they were only a few years apart in age, and had always been both friends and siblings. They spoke on the phone sometimes, or on the computer, Storm was good with computers, but it wasn’t the same, not as it had been before she had left. 

 

If there was no hope, if even her father, if the whole Community could not find Aiden, then Echo had decided she was going to stay. She was going to re-start her Zagmi training, and find him by whatever means possible. Without him, staying at University, staying inLondon, would be intolerable for her. She sat, not moving, for the entire two hours, waiting, numbed, for a time when she would be back to how she was, knowing it would not happen while Aiden, not knowing where he was.

 

Echo almost didn’t notice when the train pulled into her station, she was so lost in her mind. Slowly, she stood up, eyes still glazed over from staring out the window for so long, picked up her bag, and made her way to the doors. She got to the barriers before she remembered she needed her train ticket to leave the station, and rifled through her bag without looking, trying to find it. Once she left, she sat at the bus stop nearby, waiting for the bus that would take her close enough to walk to Stony Oaks. Her family did her a car, or rather, her mother had a car, but Echo had told her she would make her own way to their house. She wanted as much time as possible to be spent wrapped up in thoughts of Aiden. She felt, somehow, that if she thought of him constantly, they would stay connected, and he would know she was trying to find him.

 

Her bus arrived and she got on, taking a seat near the front and putting her bag on the floor. It wasn’t far to Stony Oaks, and Echo’s numbness was slowly turning into nerves. As it did, she tried to push them out, the numbness being preferable, but she could not. She was not even entirely sure what sdhe was nervous about. Not finding Aiden, not getting the help she needed in Stony Oaks, not wanting to leave. She was finding it hard to make sense of much, and decided instead to focus on the here and now, her surroundings, the movement of the bus, and the amount of time left until she was close to home. Doing this, sitting with her nerves, made the bus ride seem faster, and before long she found herself off the bus, two villages over from Stony Oaks. She walked, slowly, with tiny steps, towards the village that only a few months ago she could not wait to get back to. Now though, Stony Oaks was the heart for her of all things Apsu, and Apsu just seemed to mean trouble now days.. She longed for Lu life she had been enjoying, with classes and Kalico and Sophia and Dan and hazelnut lattes. But that life was never hers, really, she thought. That was a borrowed life, borrowed from books and television and from her own fantasies. Her life was Apsu. Her life was Stony Oaks. And her life was Aiden.

 

Crossing the villages, she saw ahead the sign that said she was entering thevillageofStony Oaks. Despite her numbness, and despite her anxiety, a sense of being home washed over her, felling safe within her fears. She was the narrow twisting roads, the ancient red brick buildings, the thatched roofs and the large open fields. She saw the village hall up ahead, used for gatherings of Apsu holidays, and as she rounded the corner next to the hall, she saw her house. The Zagmi house, the most well known house in the village. It was so different here to how she remembered it, and yet exactly the same. It was like she had been gone for ten years, and like she had never left.

 

She approached the front door, looking for her key, before remembering that she did not need one here. No one locked their doors in Stony Oaks, and when they did it was done with magic, not locks. They were far enough out to get away with living their almost completely separate life from the neighbouring Lu without attracting suspicion. Of course, the whole village had a charm case upon it, making it seem unappealing to other people to go there, so as to not attract any attention to itself as an area.  She waved her hand over the door, in case it was locked, and pushed it open, stepping inside like she had never been gone,

 

“Echo? Echo Darling!” Fawn called to her, running down the rickety dark wood stairs, them creaking underfoot. Her mother hugged her, then stood back to get a better look at her daughter, “You’ve gotten all skinny,” She said, poking at her waist, “You need to cook for yourself better, Echo.”

 

Echo smiled and agreed. She was pleased to see her mother, it filled her with a new hope that perhaps everything would work out okay; perhaps she would see Aiden again. She looked at her mother. Her eyes looked tired, like she had been awake anticipating Echo’s arrival home. Her light brown hair was longer than it had been when Echo had left, and b the looks of things, Fawn had appeared to have started wearing olive green eyeliner, although apart from these things, her mother looked exactly the same.

 

Echo made her way up the creaking staircase to her room, or rather, her old room. She pushed the door open just enough to put her bag inside, before going downstairs to join her mother for a cup of tea. Her father was at work, Fawn told her, on a house call, and that he would be back soon, and that Storm should be coming home within the next hour from school. Echo sipped on her tea, answering her mother’s questions about howLondonwas, and living alone, and university, and telling her about how nice it was to see her, even under the circumstances. Echo could not make eye contact with her mother, and instead sat at the old oak table with her head resting in her hands, her brain only skimming through what her mother was saying, shrugging when she was asked if there was anything in particular she wanted tonight for dinner.

 

Echo felt lost. She didn’t know quite what she was doing here, or quite what it would help, but she couldn’t stay inLondon, alone without Aiden. She hoped more than anything her father would know what to do, he was her Zagmi after all, the person any Apsu would turn to with a problem like this. And she trusted he would know what to do, more so than she trusted any other person, any other Zagmi, even.

 

Every now and then, she would try and trick herself into thinking that she was overreacting, that nothing bad had happened to Aiden, that he had just gotten lost, and lost his phone, and that he was back at his house, sleeping, and would call her any moment to let her know he was alright. She kept checking her phone for messages from either him or Sophia, but nothing was ever there. Her mother could tell she was distracted, but still kept trying to have her make conversation, avoiding the only thing Echo could think of, the only reason she was here, back in Stony Oaks, in the first place.

 

What felt like hours later, but in reality was less than half of one, Echo heard the door twist open. Her mother called and said they were in the kitchen, and Echo saw her father appear in the hallway. He had gained a little weight since she had last seen him, but other than that he looked the same. Same tanned skin, same lines round his eyes, same long-ish grey hair, even the string threaded with a silver feather that he always wore round his neck was still there. Echo got up and hugged her father, pleased to see him, and at the security he brought with his presence.

 

“Hello, Echo, my darling!” He exclaimed when he saw her. He knew she was coming home, but the surprise of seeing her there, in the kitchen like she’d never left still caught him off guard. She tried her best to smile, knowing that however pleased she was to see her father, words would still get stuck inside her mouth if she tried to speak.

 

“Don’t worry,” Said Alder, realising how she was feeling and remembering why she had come back, he put his hand on her shoulder, “We’ll find your friend.”

 

Echo felt her eyes filling up with tears, becoming heavier and hotter, stinging in the corners, at the mention of Aiden. She rolled her eyes to face the ceiling in an attempt to stop herself from crying, while trying not to let anyone notice, but as soon as she moved her eyes back down, she felt the hotness of her tears stinging her face. She turned away from her father and wiped her eyes on her sleeve, her gaze stuck firmly on the floor. She was not even entirely sure why she was crying. It was not for the loss of Aiden, that was more panic than tears, but it was something to do with her father’s confidence in finding him that seemed to overwhelm her ability to deal with not having Aiden.

 

Alder sat down at the table, seemingly not noticing, or at the very least not saying anything about, the tears escaping from Echo’s eyes. He walked over to the book shelf in the corner, taking down book after book, and entire collection of Lamadu, that was the whole contents of the bookshelf. He brought the stack of about seven or eight leather bound books back to the table, and sat back down opposite Echo, silently going through the books systematically, trying to find something that would help his daughter.

 

Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 16
November 30, 2011

Echo hated to see Aiden this way. Since getting back from Samantha’s, he had become more worried than ever about the Xul, barely leaving Echo’s flat except for going to uni. Sophia, of course, just thought that his and Echo’s relationship was going well, and so his housemates did not question the fact that he preferred to spend every night at Echo’s. They had not Become at all since getting back, and Echo was becoming on edge about it, needing to Become to clear her head, and wanting Aiden to because she knew it would do him good to get out of his skin for a while.

 

He had become introverted too, not talking much, spending most of his time with his head in a Lamadu, studying their ancient pages, seeking out wisdom to help him. Echo found herself lost as to how to help him, with his lost so deep inside his thoughts.

 

The answers Samantha had given him had opened uo a whole know load of questions. If his father was a Xul, did that make him one? Was he Evil? Were the Xul evil? Did he belong with them regardless? All Aiden had wanted for as long as he could remember was a family who were like him. Now he had Echo, and along with Samantha he had, what he saw as, a well balanced family, but maybe it was the Xul who were his true family, and if they were, was he obliged to join them?

 

It had taken some time, but, one week after arriving back from Samantha’s, Echo had finally convinced Aiden that it was time for them to Become again. Not in the Heath though, Aiden would not go back there, so they decided to Become like they had done all those months ago, that first time they had really met, and just go through the city, exploring together, just for a chance to clear their minds. It was what they needed if they were going to approach the Mick situation from any angle other than the one they were currently, which wasn’t so much an angle as an infinite curve of a dead end.

 

“It’s getting dark,” Echo said, looking out the window, “We could probably Become soon.”

 

“Nah,” Said Aiden, “Get’s dark so early these days, we should probably wait a little while.”

 

And so they waited, looking through the Lamadu, casting protection spells that Aiden was sure would not work, to try and give themselves some sort of peace of mind before they Became. Over and over, the same chants and charms and incantations running through their heads, being repeated over and over, again and again.

 

They drank tea, still trying to pass the time. They talked about where they would like to go that night, and about how they must go out with Sophia and Dan soon. And, at the same time, in the back of Aiden’s mind, the nagging feeling of inevitability, of hopelessness, of the fact that he was powerless to the Xul. And with this, one more thought arrived into his brain, another that he could not and did not want to shift. What would he do if he lost her?

 

He had come to the realisation, or perhaps realisation was to stronger word, as really he had known all along, that without Echo, he was nothing. Time spent apart from her, he felt like a section of his stomach was missing, and nothing could take its place. He needed her, not just with the Xul, not even just with Apsu. He loved her. But he wouldn’t tell her, not now, not yet. He would wait until all this was over with the Xul first. If he brought it up now, and she didn’t feel the same way, he wouldn’t know what to do, he would have lost his strength. No, after, when the time was right, then her would tell her.

 

“Shall we then?” Asked Echo, glancing at her watch. It was ten in the evening. Aiden wondered how the time had passed so quickly, but he agreed with her none the less, although they’d have to be careful, he’d said, more so than usually, because there would still be people around now. But she was right, they couldn’t wait too much longer.

 

Together, they stood up, and walked out of the flat, holding onto each others hands. It did feel like they were in a relationship, even though it was never officially said, nor did they know when it had started. Although it wasn’t like a relationship at the same time; it was like they were going out, but sex was an unheard of concept. In a way, Aiden was perfectly happy with the way things were now between them, never before had he met someone who understood him quite like Echo did. And yet, he still felt the need to move things along. Maybe. One day. Hopefully.

 

 Once outside, Echo unlocked the shed door. It night was surprisingly warm for early December, although Echo knew without her coat on it would be significantly colder, and her soft cats fur was not particularly thick. Not that it would matter once they had Become. Echo walked into the shed, and Aiden stepped in with her. Faced away from each other, as always, and undressed, folding their clothes into neat piles. Aiden was the first to Become. He exhaled as he let his other form take over his body, relaxing as it did so. He lay down on the floor to wait for Echo.

 

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glance of him. It was different, seeing his other form through her human eyes, because that just wasn’t how she experienced the world in her cat body. She had never before noticed the small flecks of white in Aiden’s coat, on his neck, slightly to the left of his body. She smiled at how cute he looked, before breathing deeply and Becoming as well. She pawed at his face to get his attention, before they left the shed together, to explore the city again.

 

They went carefully this time, not wanting to loose each other, and not wanting to get lost. It was hard, to keep such control while in their other forms, but, for now at least, it was necessary. Echo was finding it easier than Aiden seemed to be, his mind beginning to wonder, as he got distracted by things, taking his attention away from being alert. He wanted to run, to be free; to Become, and then have to tread so carefully, it felt like being trapped. Eventually, he could stand it no longer.

 

“Echo, this is stupid. Come on! Let’s go!”  He said, impatiently, urging her to race with him.

 

Though she was trying so hard to hold onto her rationality, his idea was too tempting, “Okay.” She replied, before taking off over a fence.

 

 Aiden chased her, annoyed at the limitations of his canine body compared with her feline one. She was so agile, free to run just about anywhere, whereas while Aiden was just as fast, his limbs were less graceful, bounding around the city, trying to keep up with her the best he could when she slotted through some small space that he could not get through.

 

It was then, while lost temporarily from Echo, that he heard him. Of course he heard him, he did not seem to be able to Become without Mick being there. But al long as Echo was away, it did not bother him so much. As long as Echo was safe, he could talk to Mick, he could get the rest of the story that he needed so badly to know.

 

It wasn’t words at first though, just a humming, words too far away to hear. Aiden paced around, trying to make them out, and found himself, for the first time in his life, willing Mick to come closer, to speak to him. Soon his wish was granted. It was almost like Mick was looking for him.

 

“Ah, there you are.” Mick said, almost as if he were greeting an old friend.

 

Aiden still couldn’t see him yet, but he sent his message out, “I know my father was a Xul.”

 

“Ah, you’ve found your true nature then, I see.” Mick responded, no longer sounding threatening, but wise and omnipotent.

 

Aiden did not reply at first, not wanting to believe his true nature was Xul. “Did you know my father?” He asked, eventually.

 

“You what?” Mick replied, somehow becoming less well spoken with those two words, “You didn’t find out from that Sorrel bitch?”

 

Without realising, Aiden let out a whimper, “You.. you knew?”

 

“Don’t underestimate me.” Mick barked, angrily.

 

Aiden dropped his tail and crouched, expecting the more dominant Mick to arrive within sight at any moment.

 

“His name was Grey, and he was my Alpha.” Mick said, eventually, strangely to Aiden seeming saddened by the memory.

 

It took Aiden a minute for the words to sink in and for them to aquire meaning. His father had a name. His father was a Xul. His father was Mick’s Alpha. Was, because Mick’s alpha was dead now, now that Mick had become one. Killed by Echo’s father. Aiden knew that this should not change how he saw Echo. He had never met his father, and all he knew was that he was a Xul. And yet, all the same, he felt this rage growing within him. Rage at Echo, rage at her father, rage at his father, and all that he wanted to do with the rage was run.

 

“If I come with you,” Aiden began, “You will leave Echo.”

 

“For now,” Mick replied, “Until you come to your senses.”

 

Aiden left with the Xul. He did not know why, and he did not really want to know why. He just wanted to get away, and going with Mick seemed the easiest way for that to happen. He did not want Echo hurt, he just, for now, did not want to see her, or anyone, for that matter.

 

***

 

Across the city, Echo called for Aiden, where he did not reply. She made her way back to the shed, to find he was not there either, no on her way. She sent out messages, but got nothing back. Eventually, she changed back, got her clothes, and went inside, leaving Aiden’s clothes for him, thinking he probably just got lost.

Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 15
November 30, 2011

“Can I top you up there, Echo love?” Samantha asked, the three-quarters empty bottle of red wine already poised above her glass.

 

“Uh, yeah, why not!” Echo replied, smiling.

 

The three of them sat on the balcony of Samantha’s flat, the night’s air being warmed buy the outdoor heater surrounding the table they were at. They had spent the day shopping, Samantha saying she wanted to get gifts for the two of them. Mostly, the day was spent in fashionable designer clothes shops, with Samantha picking out things for Echo to try on, and Aiden holding her handbag as she did so. Not that he minded, Samantha and Echo were getting along better than he could have expected, which was all he had wanted out of the weekend. Well, almost all at least.

 

“It’s such a shame you two can’t stay longer,” Samantha said, “I’s so quiet here when it’s just me!”

 

“Remember 3 months ago?” Aiden asked, chuckling, “You told me you couldn’t wait to have the place to yourself and not have to listen to metal music all night, or have to clear up after me, or listen to metal music and clear up after I had people round?”

 

“Oh shush,” Samantha said, putting her arm round Aiden, “I miss you here, love, you know that. Christmas can’t come soon enough as for as I’m concerned.” She turned to Echo, “And you’d better come stay with us for a bit then, too!”

 

Echo smiled. She was enjoying her time here, although she was growing increasingly frustrated by Aiden putting off talking to Samantha about why there had really come. She didn’t want to tell him what to do with his own family, but there were only here another day, and to Echo now seemed as good a time as any.

 

“When are you going to ask her?” Echo asked, trying to be a surreptitious as possible, although she wasn’t even sure that Samantha knew about their telepathy.

 

“I know, I will.” Aiden replied, sounding slightly pained at the thought. He knew he needed to ask, and that he needed to know, but he was scared. He didn’t want to upset Samantha by talking about his birth family; she was really all the family he needed, the only reason he didn’t call her mum is because she felt it was disrespectful to Mel – and it made her feel old. He was scared of what she might know, things she might have been hiding from him his whole life, this she may not have even known she was hiding. He just needed answers, he needed to know what Mick had meant, and Samantha’s mind was the only place those answers resided. He inhaled deeply.

 

“Sam,” He began, slowly, softly, his voice faltering somewhat over the sounds.

 

“Mmhm?” She replied, glancing up at him, “What’s up love?”

 

“It’s nothing, really, well, it’s just,” His words leaving his mouth in deferent orders from the ones his brain had sent to it “It’s just, we have a little, uh, problem, I guess, Echo and I, and –”

 

“Oh, god,” Samantha cut him off, “You’re not pregnant, are you, love?” She turned to Echo.

 

Stunned and wide-eyed, Echo was lost for words.

 

“What? No, no.” Aiden replied, almost as shocked as Echo buy this presumption.

 

“Oh thank god.” Samantha said quickly, her hand on her chest as she exhaled. “Sorry, love, I just had a feeling there was some other reason to this little visit.”

 

“Yeah, there is,” Aiden continued, growing impatient, wanting to finish now he had him self psyched up and started, “It’s just and Apsu thing, not a normal life thing.”

 

“Oh,” Samantha said, uncomfortable, “I see,” She leaned forward, “Well, what is it.”

 

Where to start? He’d replayed this conversation over and over in his head for days, trying to figure out the best thing to say, and still he did not know.

 

“There’s this, um, sect, I guess,” He began, trying to explain himself so as not to leave Samantha confused, “They call themselves the Xul. In short, they’re the bad guys. They’re, um, breed supremacists, I guess would be a good way to describe them.” He glanced over at Echo, who nodded in agreement and for him to continue, “We’ve been having some trouble with one of them, a leader, he, um, he’s been trying to recruit me to them, because Xul are dogs, you see.”

 

“Samantha say there, nodding her head, eyes pinched together, trying to take the information in.

 

“And, he says,” Aiden took a deep breath. Echo had noticed his hand starting to shake and she took hold of it, “He says I belong with them; that it is my birthright, and that I would find out that he meant. So that’s why we came. Well, to see you as well,” He smiled, “But to ask you too, I’m so sorry to bring this upon you, it’s just, you’re the only one who knows anything about Mel.”

 

And he was sorry, more so than he made clear. He wished more than anything that this could just be a social visit, just to see Samantha, to have her meet Echo, and so show Echo a snippet of his past life. Echo held tightly onto his hand.

 

“Well done.” Aiden heard Echo send.

 

It took Samantha a while before she said anything, instead she just sat there, hand on her temples, brow furrowed into itself, a look of thorough concentration on her face, although to Aiden, it also looked twinged with pain.

 

“Are you in danger?” She asked, when she finally spoke, her voice was slow and sombre, a tone Echo had not heard form her before and that Aiden had not heard for years.

 

Aiden looked at Echo, “We don’t know, really. Probably. Maybe.”

 

“There is one thing,” Samantha said slowly, gulping down her wine and refilling her glass, “One thing I wasn’t entirely honest with you about when you were young. It was Mel, she told me not to tell you, made me swear to he that if I was going to take you, I wouldn’t let you know.” She stopped to drink half of her glass of wine again.

 

“What is it?” Aiden asked, “Sam, it’s so important that we know. I know you don’t want to be disrespectful towards her, but, I hope at least, if she knew the situation she’d want us to know whatever she’s hiding about herself.”

 

“No, no that’s the thing,” Said Samantha, almost on the verge of slightly tipsy tears, “It’s not about her. It’s about your father.”

 

“My father?” Aiden was stunned, “But, he was a Lu? What has anything Apsu got to do with my Lu father?”

 

Samantha shook her head, her gaze firmly fixed at the table so as to avoid eye contact, “No. No, I made that up. So I’d have something to say when you asked when you were little.”

“So he was an Apsu?” Aiden asked, becoming excited at the prospect oh having living Apsu relatives, “But that’s good though, why wouldn’t Mel want me to know that?”

 

However, to Echo, clogs were slotting into place in a different order to the way Aiden’s was processing the information.

 

“Because he wasn’t Apsu, not really,” Echo began, quietly, trying to save Samantha from telling the rest of the story that she had started to work out for herself, “He was a Xul, one of Mick’s… So Mick knows you’re second generation, that’s why he’s so convinced you’ll join them. And probably explains how he could get into your head like he did.” She thought out loud.

 

Aiden looked towards Samantha for conformation. Her head was buried in her hands, nodding.

 

“Do you know his name?” Aiden asked. It was the only thing he could manage. He felt his stomach twist and lift above him, feeling like he was suspended in the air by a wire hook through his gut. He felt his hands tremble as he descended back into panic. What did this mean? Was he destined to join the Xul? Were the Xul his family? Did he have a choice as to if it was how he turned out? Was he innately evil because of his father?

 

Samantha shook her head, “Oh Aiden, love, I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, I just, well, I knew you’d react like this, I just thought maybe you’d never have to know.”

 

Aiden sat there, silent for a minute, his hand trembling in Echo’s. He picked up his wine glass with the other hand spilling a little of its contents as he did so, and poured it, gulping, down his throat. Slowly, he stood up.

 

“I think… I think I’m going to go to bed.” He mumbled, letting go of Echo’s hand, and making his way inside.

 

Echo got up to go after him, but felt Samantha’s hand pressing down on her shoulders, “Don’t, love. He’ll be fine, he just needs some time.” 

 

Echo sat with Samantha, allowing the new knowledge she had of Mick and Aiden process through her mind. Eventually, she could stand the thought of him alone no longer, and stood up to go down stairs, saying goodnight to Samantha. She made her way down the staircase, and stood infront of Aiden’s room. The door was shut, something Echo had not seen since arriving at Samantha’s house, Aiden always left his door ajar. Slowly, Echo raiser her hand and knocked on the door, quietly, shyly, so that Samantha would not here. There was no answer, so she knocked again.

 

“Aiden?” She said, softly, “Aiden, it’s me. Can I come in?”

 

There was no answer. Maybe he had really gone to sleep.

 

“Aiden, I’m going to come in, is that okay?” Still no answer. She knew she should leave him if he didn’t want to be disturbed, but she was worried, and he didn’t tell her not to come in. She twisted the handle slowly, it creaking somewhat as she did so, and she peered her head around the crack in the door.

 

The room was dark, though a slight green glow was emitting from the star stickers above the bed, and from this light, Echo could just about make out Aiden’s form, sitting on the bed, his back against the wall and his knees pressed up to his chest, his arms around them. He looked up at the sound of the door opening, wiping tears from his eyes with his hands. Echo walked slowly inside, closing the door softly behind her so as not to alert Samantha’s attention through slamming doors. She made her way over to the bed, and sat down next to Aiden, putting her arms around him.

 

“Shh,” She said, rubbing her hand on his shoulders. He looked so young, Echo thought, crying in this children’s bedroom, so helpless. She wanted to help him, but did not know how, other than to try and reassure him, “Shh, it’ll be okay,” She soothed.

Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 14
November 30, 2011

Echo woke up, the sun streaming through the thin, pale curtains and into her eyes. She rolled over, half expecting Aiden to be there, next to her, to find her bed empty, as it had been when she had gone to sleep. Aiden had been staying at hers quite often, which cause questioning from Sophia that Echo didn’t quite know how to respond to, because it wasn’t exactly as Sophia thought, while a romantic element had emerged, there relationship was still largely platonic, they just had felt safer when they were together at night.

Since Aiden had stopped seeing Mick as quite as much of a threat as he had done before, he had been splitting his nights between her flat and his halls of residence room. He was still wary though, and no where near as confident as he had been that night. He had come to the conclusion, that as long as Mick was not inside his head like he had been previously, he was not so much dangerous as curious, Aiden wishing he knew how he was doing it, getting to him, and what exactly it was that he knew.

They had made plans to see Samantha, they were going today, and staying for the weekend, as it was acrossLondon, and Aiden wanted to spend some time at home. He had asked Echo to stay with him, both because he wanted to spend the time with her and he wanted Samantha to meet her, and because he felt her support would help when explaining to Samantha exactly what information he would be needing from her.

Echo slowly pulled back the covers, the cold air of morning after a night without the heating on hit her, and for all the excitement of the day, she wished she could just get back into bed. Gradually, she dragged herself away from the covers and began to get ready. She had time, but she wanted to look nice for meeting Samantha, she wanted to make a good impression on her.

She turned the shower on, waiting for the water to warm up before adding some cold to take the edge off the hot, and got in. Someone had told her once that to relax at the beginning of a busy day, she should shower, paying attention to every drop of water as it rained over her body, taking the time to feel everything as individual droplets rather than as one shower. She washed her hair with her sandalwood and patchouli scented shampoo, taking note of its texture and scent as she massaged it through her hair. She washed it out, finished her shower, and got out of the tub, taking down her towel from the towel rail and wrapping herself in it, again slowly so as to pay attention to each part of her body drying. It took a little longer to shower like this, but Echo always found the time to on days she thought she needed to take a little time.

It didn’t take her nearly as long as she thought to get ready. Dressed in grey jersey dress, yet another purchase from shopping with Sophia, black opaque tights, and wool-lined lace-up ankle boots, she slipped her black stone around her neck – it was small enough to pass for decorative – and began on the small amount of make-up that she knew how to apply well enough without Sophia’s help. Once she had put on the face powder, eyeliner, and silver eye shadow, and ran a coat of mascara over her lashes, she took out her back-pack and turned her attention to what else she needed to bring with her for the weekend, leafing through jeans and jumpers, trying to decide on what would be best to bring, but not wanting to bring too much, and at the same time worried she would not bring something appropriate for a situation she may be in during the time she would be staying at Aiden’s home.

She was excited to meet Samantha. Though Aiden did not talk about her particularly often, everything Echo had heard about her made her sound like they would get on well; he had even told her so on occasion. She kept glancing at her watch, willing time to go faster and for Aiden to arrive. They were taking the train to her house, to Aiden’s house. It was strange for Echo to think of seeing Aiden’s life before she met him, to see his old house and his home life. It made her think of Stony Oaks, and how she still missed her life there. She had barely heard from her friends back home. Most were working in Stony Oaks, she had heard some were getting married (the Apsu in Communes tended to marry fairly young), which scared her, as it seemed like something that was so far away for her with the path she was on now. She thought of bringing Aiden to Stony Oaks, and wondered what he would make of it, and moreover, what Stony Oaks and her parents would make of him.

Throwing into her back pack her wash bag and make-up, she sat down, ready and waiting for Aiden to phone to say he was there. Almost as soon as she sat down though, it rang. She answered, saying she would only be a minute, and put on her coat and scarf, before picking up her keys, handbag and back pack, and locking her door behind her.

She stepped outside, the winters air colder than she expected, making her cheeks glow red. She greeted Aiden with a hug, and the two of them walked towards the station. The paid for their tickets and went down the escalators to the train. Once the train arrived, they got on, found seats next to each other, and sat down. It was quite a long way to Samantha’s house, they had to change trains twice to get there, but Aiden had told her it wouldn’t take them too long to get there, under an hour, he had said.

On the train, Echo felt herself become inexplicably nervous thinking about the weekend ahead. Her mind raced through thoughts of fear of being in a strange place, albeit with Aiden there with her, through worries that Samantha would not like her, and just general, inexplicable, nerves. She lifted her left hand to her mouth and began chewing at her nails.

“Hey,” Aiden said softy, putting his hand on her wrist, as she lowered it from her mouth, “Don’t worry, it’ll go fine. Anyway, it’s me who should be worried about what she’s going to say, not you!” He half joked.

“I know,” Echo smiled up at him, slightly nervously still, “I can’t help it though. I am excited too, so they’re sort of good nerves. Tell me about Samantha’s, well, your, house. I think I’ll be less nervous if I know what it’ll be like.”

Aiden let out a little half-laugh, “You can’t just wait to see it?”

“Well, I can I guess.” She looked down. She had heard snippets about Aiden’s house before. She knew it was a world away from Stony Oaks. He had said it was quite large, for the two of them at least, and in quite a built up, but still nice, city area. She knew Samantha worked for an interior design magazine now days, and so expected their house to be quite modern and fancy, though she did not know what exactly to expect. She really was excited to be going there to meet Samantha, excited to spend the weekend with Aiden in his home, and excited to see how he lived as a Lu before.

The train pulled into their first stop. They got off, walked through the station and changed to a different line, Echo did not know where she was going in this strange, round, underground, colour-coded tunnel system, but she followed Aiden, as he seemed to. She had not been into the centre on the tube before, and the bustle of people was unbelievable to her. She clutched onto Aiden’s hand like a child would to their mother, terrified of losing him in the crowd. They approached the platform and heard the train approaching, Aiden taking up a faster pace, Echo running along to keep up so that they could make the train before it pulled away again. They jumped on right as the beeping started and the doors began to close.

The rest of the train ride was faster than Echo had expected, two stops on the pink line, and then four on the brown one, until the reached Maida Vale train station. As they tapped their tickets out of the station, Echo was amazed at the sights that surrounded her. Though the area ofLondonshe had been living in was far more a city than anything she had known, this here was something completely different. There was no green, just concrete. High rise buildings and shop fronts, old fashioned looking large buildings too as the walked further down. There were canals too, lined in boats, a sort of boat the Echo had never seen before. Aiden saw her looking at them, quizzically.

“They’re house boats,” He explained, “People live on them.”

“Wow,” Echo replied, “Do you?”

Aiden laughed, “No, Samantha always liked the idea of it, but it’d be too small for her I think.”

Aiden took out his mobile phone and dialled Samantha’s number, to let her know they were on their way. Echo tried her best to listen into the end of the receiver, trying to get a fragment of Samantha’s voice to hear, to see if she sounded like she expected her to, but all she could hear was the wind blowing past the receiver. They turned a corner onto a road lined in cream coloured buildings, each looking the same, with two tall back pillars in the front of each of them. Aiden began to walk towards one of the doors.

“Here?” Echo asked, “You live here?” Her voice was part shock, part questioning. She was surprised to see that Aiden lived in an area like this, it seemed such a restrictive place for an Apsu to live.

Aiden simply nodded, as he turned to the gold entry machine next to the door and punched in a code of four numbers. The machine buzzed and the door clicked as Aiden pushed it open. Inside were corridors lined in cream carpet, a flight of stairs, and a lift, which Aiden walked over towards.

“Years ago, this was one big house. It’s flats now though, we live at the top, on the third floor.” He explained.

They got into the lift, Aiden taking his back pack off his back and placing it on the floor. The lift moved quite slowly, and made whirring sounds as it did so. Echo held her breath, waiting for the lift to get to it’s destination, trying not to think too much so as not to psyche herself out too much. The lift stopped gradually and the doors opened loudly, as they stepped out. Echo exhaled before inhaling deeply, following Aiden to the door in the corner. He reached into the pocked of his back pack to retrieve his keys, but as he did so the door opened.

“Hello there, love!” Samantha voice was lively, happy, and bright. She greeted Aiden with a hug and turned to hug Echo.

“Hello, love,” She said as she did so, “You must be Echo, lovely to meet you at last!”

Echo smiled at Samantha, “Yeah, hello, it’s nice to meet you.” She replied, still somewhat nervously despite Samantha’s welcoming tones.

Samantha was tall, taller than Aiden was. Her skin was tanned in contrast to Aiden’s ghostly white, her eyes a rich shade of mahogany to match her long straight hair. She wore clothes in many layers, with decorative scarves and necklaces dangling in different shades of metallic and earth tones. In her ears she wore long gold earrings with feathers at the ends. Echo noticed that she was barefoot, although next to the doorway was a large collection of various colours and styles of high heels. Echo looked back to Samantha and saw that her eyes were rimmed in green eyeliner, the exact same shade as Aiden’s eyes were, as if to match him in ways their natural appearances could not. She was beautiful, in completely the opposite way from Aiden’s beauty. Samantha stepped aside, and ushered them into the penthouse flat.

“How was your journey here?” Samantha inquired, “Not far, is it? Don’t know why you couldn’t just live at home! It’s just so quiet here without you!”

“Yeah, it was alright.” Aiden replied, “And that’s not what you said when I was leaving! You were looking forward to having space to yourself, you were going to be having parties and reliving your youth.” He jested.

“Oi, don’t be cheeky there, I’m still young.” Samantha rebutted, before turning to Echo, “How are you, love? Are you alright?” Echo nodded in response, not wanting to appear rude but too shy for words. She hoped that Aiden had warned Samantha of this. “Come on, let me show you around.” Samantha said, as bright as ever.

“So, this is Aiden’s room, much tidier now he doesn’t live her.” Samantha began, with the first room there was once through the front door, “And this is where you’ll be staying,” She continued, as she pushed open the doors to what seemed to be a spare bedroom. Echo had to stop herself from gasping when she saw the room. High design, and ultra-modern, the bed frame alone was stunning, rounded and black, it appeared to be levitating off of the ground. The sheets were grey, rimmed in silver stitching. The floor, in contrast to the carpet in the hallway, was white and marble, with a grey rug swirled in silver.

“Wow,” Echo said, as she peered around, “It’s beautiful.”

“Thanks, I love it too.” Samantha replied, taking the time to look around the work she had created.

Echo swung her back pack off of her shoulder and placed it on the marble floor, before stepping out of the room and following Samantha and Aiden for the rest of the tour. There were also two bathrooms, and Samantha’s bedroom on the lover level. Next was upstairs, though Echo was surprised to see stairs within a single flat.

The staircase emerged into an open plan living and dining room, marble stone floors, which as Echo walked on them, having taken her shoes off down stairs, appeared to he heated as they warmed her feet as they made there way across the room. On the right hand side was black glass dining room table with metal legs, fairly long and rectangular, with six black chairs around it. From the ceiling directly above the table hung a red glass chandelier, and red tea light candles lined the middle of the table. The walls were white and glossy, contrasting with the dark furniture. Contrasting with the modern of its adjacent room, the centre piece of the living room was a huge, ornate sofa, black again to match, and two arm chairs in a similar style. Mounted on the wall was a flat screen TV, and below it was an old-fashioned fire place. On the far side were sliding doors to a balcony.

Echo had never been somewhere with such design and style before. At Stony Oaks, their houses were about functionality, often with elements of nature inside, but nothing as high-concept in design as Samantha’s place was. It made her feel slightly out of place, like a little girl trying on her mothers high heels, stepping into a life that wasn’t hers, and yet at the same time it was fascinating, fantastical, elegant and extravagant, alluring to her with its aesthetics.

“You two go sit down,” Samantha said, gesturing towards the sofa, “I’ll make us a cup of tea, shall I?”

Echo walked gingerly over to the living room area, checking over her shoulder to make sure Aiden was following her. She sat down in the corner of the sofa closest to the balcony, and looking out the glass doors could just make out what appeared to be some sort of park directly outside it.

“It’s a communal garden, a few buildings around the square share it.” Aiden said, as he sat down next to her, seeing what she was looking at.

Echo nodded, “So, do you Become there?” She asked?

Aiden laughed, “No, no dogs allowed.” He said.

Echo chuckled, although the idea of an outside area that did not allow dogs seemed deeply sad to her.

“Do you take sugar, love?” Samantha called from the kitchen.

“Yeah, one.” Aiden replied for Echo, knowing the voice she would be able to manage around Samantha would not be loud enough to carry through to the kitchen, situated just off from the dining room area.

To the side, ad slightly behind the sofas, Echo noticed a spiral staircase.

“Where does that go?” She asked Aiden, pointing at it.

“Oh, Samantha works from upstairs these days. You know how she was a nurse at the hospital where Mel had me? She stopped working there soon after, ‘cause she, well, had me. She started doing interior design stuff freelance for magazines maybe five years ago, and set the upstairs up. It’s pretty much just computers and cameras and art-y things up there.” Aiden explained.

He thought it would be stranger than it was, having Echo and Samantha together. He thought it would be strange having Echo in this house, but having no memories of them there together in the past, like he had with everyone else who he had round there usually, all his friends from before. None of them were around now, of course. Either busy with work, or living away, being back had made Aiden realise that his life had changed irreversibly by leavingLondon, and as he glanced over to Echo, he realised that it may have in fact done so for the better.

Samantha came back in, three mugs in her hands, each with a different colour stripe painted around the middle, and the name of the colour underneath, the modern sort of self observant mugs that were used in nice cafés. She handed Echo a mug that said it was 5285 Heather, and Aiden one that said it was 10C Cool Grey. Her own was 520 Grape coloured. Echo found these mugs intriguing, the way the Lu seemed to categorise their colours, rather than letting the colours be. Echo knew that a colour was nothing without room to breathe and grow.

Echo blew on the top of her tea to cool it down, before taking a sip slightly too early and nearly scolding her tongue. She put it back down again to wait for it to be at a better temperature for her to drink. Samantha sat down on one of the arm chairs perpendicular to the sofa. She asked the two of them questions about how their course was going, inquired after Aiden’s housemates, and asked Echo how her flat was. Before too long, Echo started to wonder hoe Aiden could stand this small talk. There was no mention of Apsu, nothing of the sort, no mention of why there really came. Echo wondered how Aiden would turn the conversation round to that, but was sure he’d be able to eventually.

“Do you two have plans this evening?” Samantha asked.

“Nope, not really, I came back to see you!” Aiden said.

“Good, just thought I’d check!” Samantha said, “Anyway, I was wondering what you guys wanted to do for dinner? I was thinking maybe we could go out somewhere? If you guys wanted to, that is.”

Aiden smiled, “Yeah, that’d be nice.” He replied, Echo suddenly very happy she had packed so much, including dresses and skirts and ballet pump shoes. She wondered how she became the sort to worry about fashion so often, but put it down to nerves. They talked some more about university, their new lives, and ask Echo questions like where she was from and about her family, which she answered shy, ad tried her best to get around mention of Apsu, as apparently it was not something that was generally discussed here.

The time passed quickly and Echo began to settle down. Samantha was welcoming, and with Aiden there next to her she began to feel less out of place than she had done to start. She had had no idea that Aiden had come from a background like this, but seeing him here, it was his home, and he acted like it was, slipping back into the life he had before so easily, it was like nothing had changed, aside from the fact that he had Echo with him now. It was like there was no gap where he had been away, like he had been living here for the last few months, like he had no began a new chapter of his life learning to be Apsu, like the was no Mick, no Xul, and nothing to Ask of Samantha. Or perhaps he just wanted to wait, she thought, to make the most of his time back at home.

As the time passed, Aiden went downstairs to retrieve his Laptop, so that they could look up a restaurant for the night and book a table. The eventually decided on a local little Italian place, and Samantha called to make a reservation, before excusing herself to disappear downstairs to shower and change for the evening.

“You really don’t need to be so on edge here,” Aiden said, putting his arm around her, “My home is your home and all that.”

“Yeah, I know, I’m alright now though, thanks.” Echo replied. And she was. Not entirely so, but enough for her to feel comfortable in his house, “It really is beautiful here.”

“Yeah, it’s nice at the moment. Samantha changes it around a lot, trying out new things for the magazine.”

“What’s your room like?” Echo asked, “I haven’t seen it yet.”

“My room? Oh, it’s not like the rest of here. It’s just my room, it’s not all fancy like the rest. Come see if you like?” He said.

They got up, needing to go downstairs to change for dinner anyway. Aiden lead the way, opening the door ti his room for Echo. She stepped inside, to see what looked like a progression of Aiden’s life in room form.

The walls were light blue, with one navy. To one side was a double bed in a modern silver frame, and stuck to the ceiling above it were glow in the dark star stickers, arranged in constellations. On the walls were posters of bands and musicians Echo had never heard of, and along one side were photographs of Aiden, at different ages, with friends Echo had never seen before. She peered at them, seeing a younger, longer haired Aiden, in tight fitting t-shirts and studded belts, black eyeliner rimming his eyes. She looked back to him now, his hair shorter, framing his face, in his long sleeved grey t-shirt pulled over his hands, with brown tinged blue jeans, straight cut but not skin tight as the black ones in the photograph were. She thought of how much older he looked now and wondered how old he must have been in the photograph, amazed by how fast appearances seemed to be able to change. It was strange, meeting new people and then being introduced to their past, especially for Echo, who could not remember the last time she met a friend who she had not known virtually her whole life prior.

“It’s a bit childish,” Aiden grinned, “But I like it.”

Echo left to go change for the evening, and went next door to the stunningly modern styled guest room. Echo shut the door and walked around it, trying to make it feel like home, at least for the weekend, so that she would be able to sleep that night without the fear of waking up, confused by her surroundings. She got her bag and sat down on the edge of the bed, the thick feather duvet plush beneath her. She zipped the bag open, and began to take out rolled up items of clothing, compressed for space, to begin again the process of deciding what to wear. The Lu world may have started to get to her.

Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 13
November 30, 2011

“Protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy. Protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy. Protect this space, as it may be, defend it from our enemy.”

 

“Protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy. Protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy. Protect this space, as it may be, defend it from our enemy.”

 

Sitting in a stone circle in the Heath, each wearing their blessed necklaces, Echo and Aiden sent out the defence charm, in their minds and with their voices, to the whole area. They had come at night, so as not to be seen, and in hope of staying out of trouble, although Aiden had said that certain parts of the Heath were not the sort of place they wanted to be at night, so they had chosen their field wisely, in the South East, near what Aiden called “Parly”, and a sign Echo had seen had called “Parliament Hill Fields.” They recited the charm over and over, clutching at their pendants, trying to invoke the powers if the Community for help. They had found their charm in the tan Defence Lamadu, under a heading which said “Defence of the Mind and Protection of an Area”, which had seemed one of the most appropriate charms. Ordinarily, Aiden did not think much of magic, and would certainly not have thought that them saying a poem while holding a necklace would do anything, but in his new found danger he had found a faith in magic that had never been there before. It scared him to some extent, but less so than the thought of Mick, and so he tried, and hoped his belief would be good enough.

 

Echo was the first to break concentration. She raised her head and looked over to Aiden, and waited for a second for him to realise she had stopped, his eyes meeting hers once he had done.

 

“I think we’re ready, are you ready?” Echo asked, although she had already decided that they were. There was no sense in waiting around any longer, it was night and it was cold, and Echo wanted to Become her fluffy cat self and run around, to play and be free and explore the night.

 

Aiden was not even nearly as sure as Echo seemed to him to be. If it were up to him, he’d cast the charm all night if it meant they had a higher chance of being safe, but he trusted Echo knew when they were safe to stop. The idea was for them to Become within the charmed circle, and then to carry the protection out with them in their other forms. Standing up, and turning her back on Aiden, Echo began to undress. Aiden averted his eyes, standing up and doing the same. Next to each other, but with their heads turned towards the floor, Echo held out her hand to Aiden, which he gladly took. The air was cold, and neither could wait to have a coat of fur on them.

 

“Ready?” Echo asked, she did not wait for a response, not giving him a chance to not be ready, “One… two…” She inhaled deeply, giving Aiden’s hand a final squeeze.

 

“Three” She thought, mid-transformation, knowing Aiden was doing the same. Aiden felt her hand shrink, and slip out of his grasp, as he Became as well. They turned to face each other, each faced with then others new form. It was still strange for Aiden to see her as a cat, even though he had been doing so for a while now. As the only other Apsu he had met, it seemed both right and wrong to see her in her other form. It was her, of course it was still her, but it wasn’t, it was like in a dream, where nothing is quite as it seems to beat first, where people weren’t who they were meant to be, but they were just the same.

 

Echo padded her paws over to the piles of clothes, their stones still round their necks, just tight enough to stay. Aiden stepped out of the circle and began to dig, Echo placing their clothes as neatly as she could with her mouth into a plastic bag that she sat on to hold open, before carrying the bag over to the hold Aiden had dug and dropping it in, watching as he recovered the ground back to its original state.

 

“Shall we, then?” Asked Echo, impatient to run.

 

“Yeah, just remember, ‘Protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy’.” Aiden sent back, hoping that their replaying of the mantra would really have an effect, if for nothing else then to make it harder for Mick to get a grip on their minds if they were being filed up with incantations and charms.

 

Aiden could almost see the cat’s head nod, as Echo leaped out of the circle, and took off, waiting as she ran for Aiden to chase her. It was clichéd, the dog chasing the cat, but as there were, it seemed right, with Echo fast and agile, despite her large cat stance, and Aiden’s enhanced sense of smell for tracking with which to follow her into the places she found. Aiden bound after her, his paws hitting the floor clumsily as he galloped, or tried to, his legs slightly too long to be elegant as he did so.

 

They ran in circles, around the field, taking in everything that they could. Though their sight was impaired through their feline and canine eyes, they really hardly noticed, with their other senses becoming so heightened. It created them a new world, with the magic flowing through them, pumping like blood through their ever changing veins.

 

Echo was always so keen to run, thought Aiden, when he would rather just have the time to take everything in. He had been becoming for years, as long as Echo had, and still every time he did he found something new to love about it: the way damp grass felt on his paws, his tail swishing against a fallen tree, the strength of his back legs as he jumped, the way that the air smelled at 3am, the sound of snow melting. Every time was something new to experience, and Becoming, to him, was never the same twice. It never recycled past experiences, so every time there was something amazing, it would also be the last time he would experience anything quite the same. When he was young, he spent most of his time Becoming wishing that it would never end, now, as he grew older, he had found how to enjoy his time, everything about it, including its transient nature.

 

To Echo, Becoming was all about the freedom, about embracing the other half of herself, and becoming, as well as Becoming, a cat. She had know other who had retained elements of their human form within their other form, but for Echo, Becoming was like revisiting a world every time she did, where everything was slightly different, yet still the same. She found it hard to explain the feeling exactly to those who did not feel it, and even sometimes to those who had. It was an unobtainable word that would describe both everything and nothing at the same time.

 

They continued on, exploring this new field they had not been in before. They tried to stay as quiet as possible so as not to attract unwanted attention from anyone who may be around, despite the fact that it was unlikely for there to be anyone around so late at night. While they were running together in the same general direction, they were each going their own ways within it, taking off after different things that they took interest in. They were connected not only by shared experience and direction, but by the charm connecting their minds, the same words and rhythm running through both of them, stitching them together through their telepathic bond.

 

As they ran, Aiden’s mind began to falter. Though the mantra from their shared rhythm continued throughout the back of his mind, like a song that was stuck in his head, part of his mind began to wonder, and at the very back of it, a part was hoping that this would be enough. He began to wonder where they were, ordinary things, and other things, like the colours that the grass smelled like to him. He stopped, moving his head round at his surroundings and shaking off his fur. He sniffed into the air, trying to catch Echo’s scent to find where she had gone, and to see if there was anything interesting in the air. As he did, he heard her.

 

“Aiden, where are you?” He heard, her words coming through soft and peaceful. But with them, another sound came too, the same words being thought, but the others from a male voice, darker and callous sounding.

 

“Aiden, I know you’re here.” He heard from the make voice again, stronger and clearer this time. His body froze, he could not run, he could not speak, he could not see.

 

“Echo? Echo? He found us. Echo run, go.” Aiden sent to her, not knowing what else to do. He looked down to see the stone around his neck flashing white, and filled his mind with the spell, sending it out for Mick to hear.

 

“Protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy, protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy, protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy.” He sent the words out loud and clear, not entirely sure what he thought it would do, a part of him hoping they would rebound off Mick, rendering him unconscious, anything to give Aiden a chance to get away.

 

Aiden heard laughter fill his mind, “What a nice little poem you’ve got there, boy. You don’t need defence against me though.”

 

A shiver sent down Aiden’s spine, chilling his body, at the sound of the Xul’s voice. He could not think of what to do as panic gripped his body and his mantra flew straight out of his mind, replaced by the words the Xul was sending him.

 

“Just don’t scream for that pussy bitch, okay? We have no problem with you, I have no problem with you. All I want is for you to be where I belong.” Aiden recoiled at the slur used to refer to Echo, but still found himself frozen. He came to the realisation that this was more than fear, this was controlled.

 

Aiden could not tell where Mick was. The problem with telepathy was there was no way to find out where exactly sounds were coming from. Aiden tried to look round again, and found himself able to move his hear, but the scarred bulldog nowhere in sight.

 

“Looking for me?” Mick asked, as he padded into Aiden’s peripheral vision. Aiden howled involuntarily at the sight of him.

 

“Hey, be quiet now, don’t want little miss kitty coming to find us now, do we. Besides, like I said, nothing to worry about here, I just have your best interest in mind.”

 

“What do you want?” Asked Aiden, finding some hidden bravery and using it to send his first ever direct question to Mick.

 

“I thought you’d never ask. I want you to join us.” Mick stated plainly, the threat drained from his voice.

 

“But why?” Aiden asked. He wanted to ask if it was to get to Echo, but decided against it in case Mick still hadn’t worked out she was a Sorrel.

 

“There is no why about it. You are one of us. You were born to be. It is your birthright.” His voice was clear and precise now, informative rather than intimidating. Aiden did not know what to make of this. It no longer struck him with fear but instead filled him with curiosity. His birthright, he thought, he could not work out the clue. Being Apsu was his only Birthright, as far as he was concerned. And Echo had said to him before, not all Dogs are Xul.

 

“But why me?” He tried to ask again.

 

I just told you,” Mick snapped, becoming inpatient, “You are one of us, it is your birthright.”

 

“I don’t understand, why me and not any other?” All he wanted to know now was what Mick meant. He wasn’t even scared of him any more, not like he was before, but he was so drawn in now he needed to know.

 

“Well, ideally we’d like all True Apsu to join our packs,” Mick said, his voice regaining it’s sharpness that sent shivers through Aiden, “But you, we have been waiting for you for a long time, waiting for you to be versed enough to join us. You have always been one of us, but you have not been easy to find.” Mick began to walk away, and Aiden felt his body released form the invisible grasp.

 

“I will leave you now, but when the time is right, to find out on your own. You will join us. You will come to us when you know.” His cryptic words left hanging in the air, reverberating in Aiden’s ears as he saw the Xul walk slowly away.

 

Aiden stood there, staring off at the space Mick had left. He wanted to turn back into his human form, find Echo, go home, and forget about his conversation with Mick, and yet, at the same time, he wanted answers. He wanted to know what Mick meant when he spoke of birthrights, he wanted to know what there was to find out. He peered down at his stone around his neck, it was black again, and Aiden wondered at what point it had changed back.

 

“Aiden? Aiden!” He heard Echo calling to him, turning round to see her run towards him. He bounded towards her as a sense of calm washed over him, “Where have you been? I was calling to you!”

 

“Uh, it’s, uh. Can we change back?” He replied, thinking it would be easier to explain without telepathy, his voice sounding distant in her head.

 

Together, side by side, they padded back over to the circle and their buried clothes. Aiden began to dig fast, wanting to turn back, wanting to share his story with Echo, but scared as to what her reaction would be. He didn’t even know what to think anymore. He knew the Xul were no good, he knew Mick was not someone he wanted to be around at all, and yet the fear was gone, or at least, had shrunk to a manageable level with which he could still move and think. Their clothes dug up, Echo turned back, Aiden turning around and doing the same. They got dressing in silence, and turned to face each other.

 

“What happened?” Asked Echo, again, “It wasn’t the Xul, was it? You don’t look scared though, it can’t have been Mick.”

 

Aiden looked at the ground. He took hold of Echo’s hands, “It was.”

 

“What?” Echo replied, her voice sounding confused but her mind was even more so. How could he be so calm?

 

“It wasn’t like last time. He wasn’t in my mind, he was just talking, I guess. I don’t think he knows who you are, though.” Aiden replied, sitting down on the grassy ground, Echo doing the same.

 

“But what did he say?” She asked, becoming frightened for Aiden, starting to feel the fear that he did not.

 

“Something about how he wanted me to join them, but we knew that before. And then he started saying I’d come to them in my own time, and that it was my birthright. I don’t understand though.” Aiden explained. As he said it, running over the words in his head, his bravery began to fade. What if Mick was right and he was really evil, a Xul, one of them? How would he know?

 

“But why does he think that?” Echo questioned, “Just because your form is a Dog?”

“He said it was something else, but I don’t understand. He said I would find out.”

 

“Then we need to look for answers. He said it was your Birthright? My Birthright was the power of the Zagmi, maybe it’s something like that? Some score to settle to do with Mel? I don’t know. You must know someone who knew Mel?” Echo mused, looking for explanations that she couldn’t find on her own.

 

“Samantha. She’s all though, and she didn’t know Mel for long,” Aiden answered, “And she doesn’t like it when I talk about Mel, really. She says she doesn’t mind, but I know she does.”

 

“Maybe that’s because she knows more than she’s told you? I don’t know. It might be worth a shot though.”

 

Aiden inhaled deeply. He put his arm around Echo, keeping her warm in the cool winters night, “Yeah, I guess it might be.” He sighed. Not that it would be bad, going to see Samantha. He had barely been home since moving across the city to university, and he knew that she would love to meet Echo, she had said so every time they had spoken on the phone. He just didn’t want to worry her. She had always been wary of the Apsu in Aiden, she had taught him to forget about it most days, and to focus on normal Lu values. Now, with him living this new style of life, embracing all things Apsu, he did not know how well she would take it, when she saw it in person. But it was going to have to happen eventually, and now was as good a time for it as any.

 

Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 12
November 30, 2011

Echo and Aiden sat on the train, heading towards their meeting. Waking up with Aiden in her bed, Echo felt safer than she had done since she had moved away, just to have someone else around. Humans were natural pack animals, Echo knew that, but Apsu were even more so. To many Apsu, the thought of living alone, or even just of living outside of a Community, was one of the worst imaginable, the lonely life of solidarity that Echo now, to an extent, lived.

 

“Not long now,” Aiden said, seeing how anxious Echo was to arrive, he counted up the stops, “Only about six stops, just over ten minutes left.”

 

Since yesterday, Aiden and Echo had felt more connected with each other than they ever had before. Though he was still annoyed with himself for, as he saw it, being such a mess, the evening before, he was more glad than ever to have Echo as part of his life. He thought of what would have happened if the Xul had come after him before, before he met Echo, or if he never had met Echo. He shuddered at the thought, picturing himself as Mick’s right hand man, thinking how easily he could have been led down their path had he never met another Apsu before. He squeezed on to Echo’s hand, and smiled at her, relieved that the worst had not happened.

 

Leaving the house today had been a challenge. Inside the flat, they had their own bubble of safety, their bubble of each other and meditation and wine and tea, cosy with the protection charm surrounding them. They had cast four different protection charms this morning, each carrying one of Echo’s crystals which they had enchanted with protection in their pockets for an extra boost. Though Aiden was sceptical about these working completely, he was willing to believe if it meant them having protection in the outside world. Though it had taken a while, this was what had eventually persuaded them to break free of their bubble, defence and protection, knowing that without it, fear could keep them inside forever, and as such, Mick may as well have had them at that point.

 

The closer the train got toAshbyGardens, the safer and more relaxed Echo began to feel. Though she knew it was more than likely just in her mind, she tried to trick herself that it was, in fact, the power of the Community reaching out to them. Echo had never sent much time with another Community before, bar childhood holidays toCornwallandWales. She was looking forward to seeing what it was like, and how they did things, atAshbyGardens. She was looking forward to being in a Community where she was not the Zagmi’s daughter, expected to do no wrong, and she looked forward to being in a Community where the Zagmi seemed so embracing of Lu culture so much so that she would make arrangements for coffee over the telephone.

 

Aiden, while terrified of going outside this morning, had too been excited. His first experience of an Apsu Community, something which Echo had said on many occasion that she thought he should have had access to his whole life. She had often said how unfair it was for his mother to leave him without the support of a Community, to be raised by the Lu, not that Echo thought that Samantha had done a bad job, but simply because she felt Aiden would have benefitted from the support and younger socialisation with his own kind. Although, at times like this when they had to navigate themselves around the city, and do other city things, she was grateful that Aiden at least knew what he was doing and felt at home within the crowded space.

 

Although the circumstances had not been good, Echo had enjoyed her night with Aiden in the end. She liked not waking up in a flat alone, she liked that all her suspicions, and Sophia’s theories for that matter, had been confirmed, and she liked the connection she now felt to Aiden, and the fact that both nothing and everything was different now. Through shared experienced of pain and anxiety, fear and worry, that had become closer, gaining trust in one another above all else out of the situation.

 

“I hope she’s nice, Nettie, I mean. She seemed a little off on the phone.” Echo mused.

 

Aiden took hold of her hand and squeezed it, “I’m sure she’ll be lovely, she was just probably a little funny about the phone, like you said you thought she would be.”

 

He was right, Echo knew that. She was just nervous about meeting the Zagmi, and about getting the defence charms that they needed. She was nervous about being in a new Community, both about the possibility of joining and of not joining, the pros and cons of each. The train jolted on, pulling back from each station like it were attached with rubber bands, springing back into shape after being stretched. Echo bobbed along with the train, trying to balance her body in the sideways seat.

 

The train approached their stop. Aiden stood up, and Echo followed, grasping onto his hand once again once they were stood up. She didn’t want to appear too forward, but, especially after last night, she needed to feel that there was someone who she could rely on to be there, physically as well as in mind. They made heir way through the station and into the crowded lift, and up to the ticket level. Aiden tapped his blue Oyster card onto the machine, still within its yellow plastic cover. Echo placed her light red ticket through the reader and collected it from the other end of the machine before going through the small, mechanical doors, leading their way to the outside.

 

They made their way out, the sky was bright and the sun was out, in sharp contrast to last night’s rain, although the air felt crisp and cold. Once outside, Echo realised that they had no way of recognising Nettie Adams. She had phoned off of a landline, so they could not call, and Echo had never met her before, having never even been inside her mind to get any sort of vague idea.

 

“Can’t we just, y’know, telepathize with her?” Aiden asked, saying his newly-created verb quieter than the rest of the sentence.

 

Echo was always astounded by how far Aiden’s Apsu lessons had come, and agreed with him that telepathy would be the best way to locate her. Together, they send out an open message.

 

“Nettie Adams? Where are you? This is Echo Sorrel, and Aiden Darvill.” Echo could not think of what else to say, but hoped that their short message would be enough to locate on.

 

“Yes dear, I know who you are, hello.” Echo looked up to she who she could only assume was Nettie. Nettie was quite a large woman, although not especially tall, dressed in a black and white floral print smock top with matching linen trousers. Her hair was very short, and twisted into tiny rosebud dreadlocks, framing her latte coloured face. She wore a long gold necklace with a red fish shaped pendant, although Echo wondered why, as she had never heard of a purely aquatic Apsu form before, although she thought that they probably existed somewhere, but probably not as the Zagmi of a city Commune.

 

“Oh, hello!” Echo said, truning to face her, “Nice to meet you.” She let og of Aiden’s hand and held it out to shake Nettie’s.

 

“Yes, hello dear,” Nettie replied, shaking her hand, “And you must be Aiden? Nice to meet you too.”

 

“Yeah, same to you.” Aiden replied, shaking the Zagmi’s hand, the first he had ever met in all his years of being Apsu without even knowing.

 

Nettie led the two of them to a small red car parked a couple of roads over from the station. Once they reached it, Nettie unlocked it, Aiden climbing in to the back seat leaving the front for Echo; she would, after all, be doing most of the talking today, he thought. Echo sat down and pulleed her seatbelt across, as Nettie got in. She thought it strange for a Zagmi to drive. Echo’s mother, Fawn, had one of the only cars in Stony Oaks, the Apsu folk there tended not to have much need for driving, but Fawn had said that if they truly wanted to be progressive, they would have to keep up with the Lu. Oftentimes, Echo thought that the only reason Stony Oaks was progressive rather than entirely Orthodox was in order to keep Fawn happy, as it seemed Alder would do almost anything slightly against his own belief system to do. For Echo, it was almost like seeing the world she could have grown up in, had her mother been the Zagmi of Stony Oaks rather than her more traditional father. Not that she was complaining, she had enjoyed her childhood and adolescence, as much as anyone enjoys their adolescence at least, she thought, and was excited now to be able to explore new ways on being on her own.

 

The car moved much smoother than the train had done. They sat in silence, the dull hum of a man talking on the radio inside the car. Echo did not know what to say, and hoped that wherever they were going,AshbyGardensshe thought was not far enough away to have to make small talk on their way there. Aiden was too nervous to speak, realising he did not know if there was a proper way to behave around a Zagmi aside from generally respectful. Echo desperately wanted to talk to Aiden, to hear his voice in her head, but thought in unwise as she thought it would be rather rude, though all she wanted was to know he was alright, she just wanted the security of the sound of his melodic voice.

 

As it happened,AshbyGardenswas not that far away at all. Almost no sooner than they had gotten into the car, they drove past a sign welcoming them to the suburb borough ofAshbyGardens. It looked so different from the city just mere meters away. The rows of houses, though small, looked impeccable, not terrace as such, but rows of detached houses, surrounded by space and gardens, as the suburb’s name allured to. Echo glanced back at Aiden, sort of checking if he was still there. He smiled at her, and she felt herself relax. She knew she should not be so nervous, she knew that Nettie was a Zagmi recommended by and affiliated with both Stony Oaks and her father, and yet still she could not help but feel scared by being here, in this car, with the Zagmi she did not know.

 

They approached one of the houses, a red brick one with a slate grey roof and olive green front door. Nettie pulled into the driveway.

 

“Here we are,” She said, cheerily, “Welcome to Ashby Gardens Commune.”

 

Echo smiled politely, trying to disguise her anxieties, “Thank-you, are the whole suburbs part of the Community then?”

 

“Oh, no dear,” Nettie replied, “The suburbs are quite large you see, and we are only a small community, not too many Apsu like to live so close to the city, you see.” Echo was beginning to understand why this was, but she still nodded politely.

 

Nettie climbed out of the car and Aiden and Echo followed. Aiden put his hand on Echo’s back once he was out of the car.

 

“Hey,” Aiden said, quietly into Echo’s ear, “Don’t look so worried.”

 

Feeling him touch her back, hearing him in her ear, and feeling his breath talking against her skin did help her to relax. She wished that anxiety was not such a big issue for her, but no matter how much she tried to centre herself, she knew her nerves would always be a problem, so she just accepted them as a fact of her life, and continued on as best she could.

 

Aiden and Echo walked a step or two behind Nettie, letting her lead the way into her home. Echo was pleased that, even though she was from the city, she was trusting enough of them to let the other Apsu in, without first checking, or seeing inside their minds. She let them to the olive green door, Echo getting a better look at Nettie’s front garden now, lined in yellow and pink tinged roses, and long, wild grass bushes. Nettie unlocked the door and held it open for Aiden and Echo to walk in through, wiping their feet on the doormat, before following them in. They stood aside so that she could lead the way through her house.

 

“Welcome, again,” Nettie said as she led them through the corridor and off into the living room. The house had a plush red carpet, and red textured wallpapered walls, a colour theme which, judging by the living room, ran throughout the house. She led them over to the oversized red sofa with cream and gold scatter cushions, and told them to take a seat, which they did. Echo looked around the room, thinking that if she did not know that Nettie was a Zagmi, this room gave nothing of the sort away. There were no Apsu texts, no Lamadu, not even handwritten ones. There were no crystals, and no statues of her other form, whatever it was. The only slight giveaway was the Progressive Apsu Community official statue on the mantle. They had been produced a few years ago for the official member groups, and seeing it made Echo feel at home, reminding her of the one perched on the mantle piece at her house in Stony Oaks.

 

“Can I get you two anything?” Nettie asked, “Tea, coffee?”

 

“Tea would be great, thanks.” Aiden replied, answering for both himself and Echo. Nettie disappeared off into the kitchen to make the tea, leaving the two of them alone.

 

Sitting next to Aiden in this unfamiliar room, Echo had never been happier to have met him. Had she been here alone, she thought, the meeting would have been a lot more difficult for her. It was not that she didn’t trust Nettie, it was just that new situations, new places and new people, when she was in their spaces, was hard for her, but she was learning, everyday that she spent in London she was learning how to cope with this, and having Aiden around made every day that little bit easier. Until last night, she had felt like their reliance on each other was one sided, but after seeing Aiden how he had been, after seeing how much he needed her, she had felt a far more balanced dynamic with him and herself.

 

Nettie came back into the room carrying a tray with a pot of tea, three teacups, and a plate containing an assortment of biscuits. She unloaded these onto the small wooden table, and sat down in a large armchair opposite the sofa, facing Echo and Aiden.

 

“So then, my dears, what brings you two to us atAshbyGardens?” She asked, she turned to Echo, “Your father wasn’t very specific, he insisted on using telepathy rather than the phone, he still lives in the old world a bit, doesn’t he?”

 

Surprised by this coming from a Zagmi, although perhaps not so surprised coming from this Zagmi, Echo nodded, wanting to agree.

 

 

“Not that I have a problem with using our powers,” Nettie continued, “I just think there is a time and a place for telepathy, and when there is a Xul about to get the paths crossed, is neither.”

 

Now that Echo understood her reasoning, Nettie did not seem quite so strange a Zagmi to her anymore.

 

“So,” Continued Nettie, “Why don’t you two tell me a little about yourselves? Just so I can get to know you a little more.”

 

Aiden spoke this time. He had kept quiet so far today, not knowing what to say to the first Zagmi he had ever met, but talking about himself, he could do that, after all, who knew him better than he did. He began with his mother, Mel, and the tale of how she left her Community shortly before he was born. Nettie told him she had heard of Communities strict like that, that would kick out a young pregnant girl, but thatAshbyGardenscertainly was not like that. To Aiden, it seemed she was trying to convince them to join her Commune, something which Aiden had little interest in doing full time. Since meeting Echo, he had come to like being Apsu, having powers, and having their secret between the two of them. To open that up to a wider world, that still seemed like something he would not particularly like to do anytime soon.

 

He told her about Samantha, how she raised him with what stories she knew of his heritage from what Mel had told her all those years previously. He told her how Mel had not told him until he was ten years old exactly what his Mark meant, and how even when she did, she had told him she was not sure if it was even real, as she had hoped for him to be normal. He then skipped forward, to when he met Echo, and their lives inLondonso far, their Sociology course and the friends they were making there.

 

“Alright then,” Said Nettie, once Aiden had finished both his story and part of Echo’s, “And you’ve had a Xul run in since being here? Where were you?”

 

“In Hampstead Heath, I’d Become there before and I thought it was safe, at least, it always had been for me in the past.” Aiden said quickly, trying his best not to let the thought of Mick into his mind for too long. Never before had he experienced such an all consuming fear as his one for Mick.

 

Nettie nodded in acknowledgement, “And do you know this Xul, had you met him before?”

 

Echo was astounded at the knowledge Nettie seemed to possess, “Yes, yes I did, I didn’t tell my father ’cause I didn’t want to worry him. You won’t tell him, will you?”

 

“Don’t you worry, my dear,” Nettie responded, “But tell me who it was? We will need to keep a note.”

 

“His, um, his name,” Echo held tightly onto Aiden’s hand, “His name is Mick. He was the beta of a pack that trine to recruit my little brother, Storm, a few years ago. He looks like an Alpha now though. He’s a bulldog, a stocky one, with scars over his face.”

 

Nettie nodded, seeing how distressed Echo was becoming talking of the Xul, “We have had note of him already, one of out Community saw him a few moons back, around here. We think he’s just a lurker, his pack seem to have disbanded. He should be too much of a threat. Have you seen him since?”

 

Aiden opened his mouth to talk, but no words come out. He felt Echo stroking him on the arm, gently encouraging him, with softly spoken its okay’s flooding into his ear. He felt his body tense, about to go into panic. He longed for Echo to speak for him, so he would not have to, but he knew that he should talk for himself. He tried his best to distance himself from last night, trying to feel like an observer rather than himself.

 

“Yes,” He squeaked out, after what seemed like far to long to wait before answering a question, “Last night, I was, um, I was on my way to Echo’s, and h-h-h-he was th-th-th-there, f-f-f-following m-m-me.” He broke off before he had to stutter any more, hating the was it made him sound, and embarrassed to be talking in this way in the house of a woman he did not know, whom they were trying to ask for guidance from. Echo held onto his hand, trying to help him not return to the panic-stricken state he had been reduced to the night previously.

 

“I see,” Nettie said slowly. “Don’t worry, my dear, things will work out.”

 

Aiden was baffled by her optimism, but had learn, in his time studing Apsu, to just go with what was happening, they always did seem to have a trick or two to rely on.

 

Echo didn’t feel quite as optimistic about the optimism as Aiden did, “But, have you got anything that can help us now? In the meantime, I mean?” It was not that she did not believe in the positive thinking and the attitude about things working out, but she had come for immediate help, and would quite like to leave with rather than without it.

 

“All in time, my dear, all in time.” Nettie said by way of reply, her Jamaican intonation highlighted by the calm and melodic way she said the mantra.

 

Echo was growing frustrated with Nettie’s growing use of sentences without premises or conclusions. Aiden saw Echo’s frustration, he wanted to help, but he had no words to do so. Nettie was so persistent, and had such a air of knowledge, that he felt she must, in some way, be trusted to know what to do, even if right now that looked like nothing.

 

Nettie stood up and walked over to a cabinet at the side of the room. She opened the top draw, reached in and pulled out two objects, which she put into her fist and muttered what seemed to be an incantation over. She picked up a joss stick and lit it, placing it in the red incense burner above the cabinet, before waving her hand containing the objects through the smoke. Aiden looked at Echo, hoping she had seen this sort of think before and had some idea more than he did as to what was going on. Echo looked back at him, her eyes partially confused, but also knowing. She had indeed seen this before, but not quite in this way, so secretive as Nettie appeared to be blessing the objects.

 

Once she was done with her ritual, she came and sat down opposite them again. she held out her hand, open, revealing two silver necklace chains with black stones strung on the ends of them.

 

“For your immediate defence,” Nettie said to explain, mostly for Aiden’s benefit, “Enchanted by our Community, and blessed by myself, for defence against the Xul. You must wear them at all times; they are your links to the Community here. When in danger, the stones should change to white once the message here has been received.” Aiden’s eyes opened wide at the idea of this magic, colour changing stones and blessed messages, but he nodded, and took one of the pendants when it was passed to him, putting in on immediately and putting it under his t-shirt neckline.

 

“Thank-you.” Echo said, relived to have gained something out of the meeting.

 

“You are welcome, my dear, and if you need the support of our Community, we gather every Tuesday, you are welcome to come along if you wish to.” Nettie said, a non-pressured way of inviting them into the Community.

 

Echo was pleased things seemed to have gone so well, she glanced up at Aiden, who seemed to be in agreement with her, although there appeared to be something still troubling him. Nettie seemed to notice this too, as she asked if there was anything else concerning them.

 

“It’s just,” Started Aiden, slow and without much confidence in his voice, “It’s just, when he was in my head, what do I do then?”

 

Nettie looked confused, “When who was in your head?” She asked.

 

“When, um, when Mick was in my head.” Aiden clarified, still having trouble saying the name of the Xul.

 

Nettie furrowed her brow, seemingly confused by this idea. She stood up and began to pace the room, “He was in your head how? With telepathy?”

 

“No, not exactly. Why? What’s wrong? Can they not just do that?” Aiden’s voice became sharper and higher as he began to panic about what he and Echo had been assuming was normal all along. Echo held onto his hand as she saw them begin to tremble once again. Aiden was growing in anger as well as nerves, and wanted to shake Echo off of him, though he didn’t, controlling his rage driven impulses. How had she not known this wasn’t normal? Why had it happened? What was happening?

 

“Don’t panic, my dear,” Nettie tried to calm him, “It is not entirely normal for the Xul to be in the minds of the Apsu, no, but I’m sure it can be explained. The Xul have worked to function as a single mind; what one Xul knows is the knowledge of them all. Perhaps they are learning to branch out, or it could have been the effects of a spell. We will not know, I suppose, until we can study it, and see what works against it.” She paced around the room, looking through the bookshelves. She pulled down a small, tan leather bound Lamadu, and handed it to him.

 

“Mind Blocking and Thought Defence Charms,” Aiden read aloud from the embossing on the faded cover.

 

“Have this. Read it, study it, learn some charms for if it happens again, then think on the charms during it, if you can hold on the one part of your mind make sure it is the part with these charms in. They are all I can think to give you for help on that. But we will look into it, the Community here, we will look into what Mick is up to, don’t you worry too much now.” Nettie assured him.

 

Aiden leafed through the yellow stained pages of the Lamadu. From single words to poem like chants, the book seemed to contain a charm for every possible sort of mind or thought issue, from the simple blocking to telepathy, to ways to get others out of mind control situations. He stopped on one of these more extreme pages, looking aghast.

 

“It is not common,” Said Nettie, seeing what he was looking at, “But we must be prepared in case of emergencies. You never know what the Xul can do. And it’s not just them, there are rouge Apsu, not many, not nearly as many as there are Xul, but it is like any species, each will choose their way.”

 

Armed with their blessed stone necklaces and the mind defence Lamadu, Echo was feeling much more positive than she had done earlier. For all Nettie’s riddles, and sentences that made little sense, she had given them the help they had needed, or at the very least, the confidence in her help that they needed to feel safe. Echo’s mind was racing with gratitude and plans, plans for when they would meet with the Community, plans for when they would next Become, oh how she longed to Become again, and perhaps, armed right, they could even go back to the Heath, although she wasn’t so sure how easy it would be to convince Aiden of that.