She stood before me in a Dirndl dress (the Alpine-style dress you see women wearing at Oktoberfests), her beauty and sexual energy only slightly diminished by the full bearskin cloak she wore, the bloody ritual knife held defensively in her hand, and the large raven circling protectively overhead. Behind her, a mass of amorphous, faceless people huddled in the protection of her shadow… suddenly she was gone, and I was standing in a child’s room, the cradle conspicuously empty and surrounded by unopened children’s clothing and toys… then I was at a raucous backyard barbeque, a well-blackened pig in the pit and large steins of beer being passed through the crowd…
I finally closed my eyes, breaking the soulgaze. I gasped for air, even though it had lasted mere seconds, and re-met the gaze of the woman across the table from me.
“So, is that a yes?”
I crashed onto the floor of my apartment, tangled up in my sheets and drenched in a quickly cooling sweat. Just a dream…
I extricated myself from the remnants of my bedding and padded to the bathroom. Erica’s song of home and hearth at Belle’s party last night had awakened my memories of the Nelson Center – my home growing up. I’d expected to have some pleasant dreams about it, but that… what the hell was that?
I splashed some water onto my face – no way I was going back to sleep after that – and made my way out to the main room. I sat down at my desk for a moment, and was about to pick up my Bible and head for the couch when one of the books I’d borrowed from Arthur caught my eye. I couldn’t pronounce the title; Kinder und Haus-something or other. It was an old book of German faerie tales…
Oh… oh, hell!
Seiðmaðr, since you came into my Lady’s Demense and took from one of her oathsworn; his rightful prize… perhaps one day soon she shall return the favor in thy Realm.
The Alder-princess was going to bring her hunt to the Metroplex, and one of the Fae’s favorite prey was children. And the Nelson Center was full of kids who had no one to claim them…
I quickly gathered up my things, got dressed, and struck out, despite the insanely early hour – I had a lot of ground to cover, and DART didn’t go everywhere that I needed to go.
As I walked, I left a message for Arthur to call me back, and also left a message for the Reverend that I needed to speak with him urgently when he had time. I also left a message for Jamie that we really needed to talk about getting Alice and the kids baptized. The sun was up and the day promised to be sweltering as I ascended the steps of the Purple House on Bell.
Despite being a bit early for opening, I knocked on the door, using a special pattern. Barbara quickly answered and let me in. “Matthew! This is a pleasant early-morning surprise.”
“Hi, Barbara.” We hugged and exchanged the European-style cheek kisses that she was fond of. “Have you got a few minutes?”
“For you? Always. You have time for coffee?”
I took a breath. I had a long day ahead of me and needed to slow down a bit, and the caffeine wouldn’t hurt either. “That’d be great. I need to bend your ear a bit, and see if you can help me.”
She turned jauntily and waved for me to follow. “Ooo.. that sounds serious.” Then she stopped and looked back at me, her light-hearted manner gone. “Wait… is it serious?”
“Probably. That’s why I’m starting here.”
She nodded as we headed into the back room. “Ok, let me get the coffee on, and you tell me all about it.”
Barbara shook her head as I finished my story and drained the last of my coffee. “So Erica and Ren weren’t being over-dramatic last night.”
I cocked my head quizzically. “What?”
“Oh, sí – there was a small dinner gathering of the Freakshow last night before the party. Erica and Ren told us everything that happened after the ghoul attack. Most of us believed them, but figured there was some… embellishment… to the story. But what you just told me matches up pretty close. And you think they’re coming here?”
“I’m sure of it. Her court plays by older rules, and they aren’t bound by the Accords.”
She whistled softly and uttered a couple of Spanish phrases that I couldn’t quite make out, but were oaths, at least. “Madre de Dios… so you’re worried that this orphanage could be a target.”
I nodded. “Yeah, and I’m hoping that the Freak- er, Confederacy might be willing to help out with wards and the like.”
She smirked, “’Freakshow’ is fine, Matthew. But Denton’s a bit outside most of our stomping grounds…”
“I know that, but the Nelson Center is a big target. If enough support can rally around there, I’m sure there are other similar places that would need that kind of support as well.”
She conceded. “That’s a good point. What can I do?”
“Right now?” I paused, relaxing a bit. “Help me find Belle. This can’t happen without her.”
While Barbara made a few calls, I got a call back from Arthur and filled him in. He agreed with my assessment based on what we’d been able to glean from the books he’d found, and promised to put his network on higher alert as they made their visits to the Center. I also spoke with the Reverend’s secretary, and got on his calendar for later in the afternoon.
I picked up my pack and headed for the back door. “Sure. You driving?”
I glanced at her as we stepped outside. “You’re going to slum on mass transit with me?”
“We’re going through the Nevernever?” I looked askance at her. We’d hardly even talked about the Nevernever during the lessons she gave me. “It’s not very pleasant…”
She stamped her foot, put her hands on her hips and glared at me. “Matthew Consprite. Just because I’m not a member of your little Scooby Squad doesn’t mean I’m an idiota.”
I held up my hands defensively and took a step back. “Ok, ok. It’s just that you never-“
“Mentioned it during your lessons?” She smirked at me. “Arthur paid me to teach you evocation. Other supernatural lessons weren’t included – adrede. Some things you have to learn on your own.”
I nodded. Including that there’s more to the Freakshow than meets the eye – exactly why I’m here. As I lowered my hands, something hit me. “Scooby Squad?”
She laughed. “Ask Pallas. He started using it a few months back, and it stuck. Big threats in the area, and it’s always the same group of you involved.”
“Well, at least it’s a Buffy reference.”
Barbara nodded, and before I could say anything else she grabbed my arm and suddenly we were in the Nevernever. I hardly felt the transition, and she didn’t make a tear or anything. I glanced at her, but she just smirked and set off down a cobblestone path from a mirror image of the Purple House – except here it was neon yellow. I followed quietly. I knew from my on-and-off trips that silence was the better part of valor in the Nevernever, and Barbara obviously agreed with that sentiment. We followed the well-worn cobblestones for what seemed like an hour, and then Barbara stopped at what appeared to be an alley next to a vacant lot.
I stepped up next to her, and whispered, “I thought we were going to-”
She grabbed my arm and suddenly were back in the real world, in the alley next to “-Atwater’s.”
She smirked again as I looked up and down the alley. “I’m not used to that big of a difference between the Nevernever and a real world location.”
She nodded. “The wards at Atwater’s have been in place for long enough, the place is pretty much invisible to the other side.”
I nodded sagely. “Nice.” I pulled out my old “brick” cell phone and powered it back up, waiting for it to connect to the network. “Whoa… five mintues?”
She grinned again. “Told you it was faster.”
“Well, yeah, but Atwater’s isn’t open yet.”
“We’re not going to Atwater’s.” She started walking towards the street.
“Of course…?” I just shook my head and started after her.
Belle arrived shortly in her old truck and ferried us over to a local Waffle House to discuss my request over breakfast. I once again spun my tale.
“Oje…die Erlkönigs Tochter… so Erica and Ren weren’t being over-dramatic.” Belle rubbed at her right eyebrow, like she had suddenly gotten a mild headache.
I cocked an eyebrow at the odd sense of deja-vu, and Barbara just smiled.
“So what do you need?”
I paused awkwardly. I hardly knew Belle, and invitation to her party aside, what I was about to ask her for was a lot. But I had to ask. “Help. The Nelson Center needs wards, alarms… heck, just folk in the area keeping an eye open.” I paused. “If the … Freakshow can pull together for this, there’s plenty of other locations in the Metroplex that probably need similar attention. The Nelson Center is just… well, it was my home for years. And those kids don’t have anyone else.”
She nodded with understanding as she took another bite of her breakfast. “What about-” she waved her fork, and I understood that she was focusing on my clerical collar, “-your folk? If I recall correctly, the Nelson Center is a Lutheran concern.”
“Yes, and I’ve already make some of my … folk … aware of the situation. But supernatural abilities aren’t that common in the religious community – you’re probably as aware of that as I am. They are doing what they can, but as I’ve come to discover, the Freakshow has a more diverse community available.”
Belle read right through my flowery speech. “We’re a better resource, in other words.”
I sighed. “Yes, we are. Whatever your opinions of religion or me specifically, I’m as much a part of the Freakshow as anyone else. I’ve put my life and reputation on the line to protect this city, and made myself available to the Confederacy at large. If you want to be crass about it, I’m calling in a marker. If you want to be more opportunistic, I’m asking for a favor. But if you want to be realistic – I’m simply asking for help… for those that can’t protect themselves from what we know is out there.”
Belle threw her napkin down on her plate. I glanced worriedly at Barbara, but she just gave me a small nod. Belle just stared out the window for a long time before turning back to look at me. She pursed her lips together and sighed, mostly through her nostrils. Then she raised her eyes and met my gaze directly.
I immediately felt the soulgaze lock, and realized that once again, I wasn’t prepared for it.
“So, is that a yes?” I gasped.
“It’s a yes, ErzengelMacht.” Belle sat back and looked at me carefully from across the table. “You had me at ‘orphanage,’ Matthew – the soulgaze was mostly for peace of mind, and part curiosity. I didn’t even need the sermon.” She smirked. “Although that was a pretty short one, you sure you’re Lutheran?”
I snorted. “Modern times… short attention spans. I’ll work on that.” I put my napkin on the table as well. “Seriously… thank you, Belle.”
She held up her hand. “My turn for a sermon, my grandfather’s Lutheran, let’s see how I do.”
She leaned forward and looked me directly in the eyes. “I will help you. I will ask other members of the Confederacy to help you. What they choose to do is up to them.” She watched as I reacted more than I thought I did.
“Matthew… you’re right, we are in this together. The work you’ve done with Juno alone has proved that to me and others. I’ll do what I can. However I don’t rule the Confederacy. Its name was not arbitrarily chosen. These are free people and they look out for themselves. Now you’re asking them to get directly involved in something very big. Let me be crass about it; that paints very, very large targets, Matthew. Unlike you and your friends, many of us try very hard to not punch great powers directly in the nose and then dare them to fight. Maybe we’re just not opportunistic enough. Granted, we watch what you do and have been doing with awe and we cheer you on; but we’re also afraid. Not all of us have the power to defend ourselves every hour of the day, and there aren’t enough of you to do that job either regardless of what you may think. Don’t kid yourself into thinking otherwise. Men like to talk the white knight protector, it’s only natural and it’s cute… but when the monsters knock at the door and seconds count… they’re usually minutes away. That’s just me being realistic. So, I’ll help. I’ll ask the others to help as well. It’s all I can promise. Amen. How’s that for a sermon?”
Confederacy. Not Freakshow. Remember who these people are… and aren’t. I nodded and smiled a bit. “Not too shabby. I seem to need more Law than Gospel lately. I have gotten so used to my obligation to stand up to things since I have the ability, that I forget to consider that others have different priorities and obligations. If you think it would be better for me to be with you, or even do the asking myself, that’s fine. I came to you because you’re the closest thing the Freakshow has to a leader, and you’re the best connected to them. They also trust you – that was made clear from the turnout last night.”
I took a sip of water as Barbara and Belle exchanged glances, but they waited for me to continue after I collected my thoughts.
But also don’t discount what they are capable of – for good or bad. “And you’re right – the Confederacy doesn’t go looking for trouble. But consider this: despite that, trouble can – and will – come looking for them, because of who and what they are. Or they may become trouble for the same reasons – you only have to look at Raven or Eric to see that.” I shook my head. “There’s a lot of power in this community. Just because ‘white knights’ aren’t always right around the corner with their shield and sword doesn’t mean that the ‘small folk’ can’t band together with their pitchforks and torches just as powerfully to push back the darkness. But they need to unite with common cause.” I shrugged and looked at both of them. “Maybe I’m preaching to the choir on this, but perhaps this will be the cause they need to do so?”
“We’ll see I guess. But if you’re looking for some kind of army I think you’re going to be disappointed. Not every boy that played cops and robbers in the backyard becomes a cop and chooses to get shot at. In the movies, the villagers rise up with the torches and pitchforks… in the real world, Frankenstein eats a couple of them and the rest run away. Not every member of the Confederacy wants to stand up and get involved, Matthew. That’s why they support those that do. They just want to live their lives in peace. Like I said; I’ll ask, I’ll personally help, that’s all I can promise.”
I wanted to argue with her more… to make the point that they don’t have to be cops to stand up for themselves and each other. But she had a point too. The Freakshow was appropriately named, by societal standards. The occasional outbursts that my friends and I experience (and sometimes cause) can be rationalized away with time and clean-up. A full scale uprising of the supernatural community would probably bring on a new Inquisition, and that would be beyond ugly. So I conceded the point … for now. “I’m sorry… I hope I didn’t sound ungrateful. I really appreciate that you’re willing to try – even if you’re the only one that steps up.”
Barbara slapped my arm. “You know she won’t be the only one.”
Again, I found myself raising my arms to ward her off. “I was just trying…” I stopped as they both burst into laughter.
Belle looked at me as she picked up her drink. “You’re so serious, Matthew. Lighten up – its not the end of the world – yet.” She arched an ominous eyebrow at me over her glass, and then she and Barbara started laughing again.
I managed to laugh along this time. “You’re right. It just seems like there’s a lot of work to do.”
Especially today. I stood up from the table and shouldered my pack. “Don’t let me cut short your breakfast, ladies, but I’ve still got a lot of travel ahead of me today.” I nodded to Belle, and exchanged kisses again with Barbara. “Thank you both for your help. Barbara has my number once you get some news, or if you need me somewhere.” I grinned. “Then again, I might just be in the neighborhood when you need me. Happens that way sometimes.”
I was a bit surprised when Belle stood and came around the table to give me a hug goodbye. “Like I said… you’re one of us too.”
The images from the soulgaze still burned fresh in my mind, and I whispered. “Thanks … Mama Bear.”
As she pulled back from the hug, she looked at me again. “Get outta here, ErzengelMacht.”
I nodded and made my way to the door, slipping the waitress enough cash to cover our meals and tip. It was a small price to pay for the support and promise I’d just been given.