Chapter 1: Plan B

Moonlight gleamed off the wings of the gilded dragon statue in the seminary square. At its feet a human and winged faery looked up at it with awe carved deep into their idealized faces.

Nathan tenderly ran his fingers down the cold windowpane, watching his breath fog the glass. It should have been raining outside, but the weather rarely matched his mood. Instead of a storm, fire would also be acceptable. Flames so high the gilding melted from those lying images of unity and community.

Tears threatened to escape his eyes, but his anger refused to let them form. Nathan walked over to his desk and plopped into the chair. It creaked from the impact, protesting his lack of care for its wellbeing.

He glanced at the mirror propped up on his desk and sighed. Eventually, he had to call someone, find a place to live and a new life far away from his dreams.

His warring emotions boiled in his chest. Their energy as palatable as burnt tin in cheap vodka. He envisioned the wheel of subtle energy at the level of his heart turning the force of his feelings into raw energy available for him to put it to some productive use.

Nathan waved his hand in front of the mirror on his little desk. He poured the power mined from his emotions down his arm, through his fingertips into the polished glass. Silvery light wafted from his hand like steam off the top of a boiling pot. He needed to see a friendly face.

Darkness swaddled his little room. A solitary table candle carried what little light it could muster into the gloom along with his murmured prayers. The cold air resisted it all.

His sense of failure loomed over him like a demon desiring to drag him away to a dank pit where light, warmth, and hope would never find him again.

The more he gave in to the darker feelings, the less potent his magic. Part of him wanted his powers to dry up and disappear. He walked the giant’s path, if he left it, they couldn’t stop him. The faces of his friends and family drifted through his mind. Leaving the path meant leaving them, not that they would shun him or cut him out of their lives, his oath to the giants would cause him to forget his life among them. Besides, a life without magic was beyond his ability to imagine.

Returning his attention to the mirror, he focused a call to Rouge through the glass. He blanched at his own tear-stained eyes reflecting back at him and allowed his urgency and pain to flow like smoke in a light breeze through the reflection into the otherworld beyond.

Nathan’s image shimmered. His creamy pale face and short reddish brown hair faded, replaced by Rouge’s tussled black mane and angular features. His heart wavered for a moment and the image faded, then returned.

“Nathan?” Rouge’s voice pitched up higher than normal. The image shook, and the sound clicked as they positioned their pocket mirror to talk.

“Yeah,” Nathan grabbed the tears before they could escape his eyes and forced the emotion into the call. “I’m coming home.”

Rouge slid deeper into the oversized armchair and the image twisted into an old wooden ceiling lit by a small lamp then back to Rouge’s face. “What happened?”

“I’d rather not talk about it,” Nathan pushed the memory away. He inhaled sharply and forced a calm expression over his pain.

Rouge raised an eyebrow, “Did you spill something on the herald or forget to follow the dress code or something?”

“Be serious,” Nathan smiled at the irreverence. “Things were said, and the herald...” He struggled to keep the hate out of his voice, but his wounded spirit burned raw. He closed his eyes and breathed slowly. Forcing a smile back on his face, “He didn’t like what I said and used his position to have me expelled from the seminary.” Nathan’s lips quivered.

He opened his eyes, tears welled up, and moved down his face like a funeral procession. They carried his dreams with them. It set in for the first time. They expelled him from seminary. He could never be a curate — never serve his people or his ancestors upholding the covenant with the giants. His fifteen minute sermonette burned that bridge forever.

“Sweetie,” Rouge’s concern reached out and touched Nathan’s heart. “I don’t understand. What could you say that was so bad?” 

Nathan shrugged and shook his head so slow he felt time grinding to a halt. “I said nothing new or novel.” He choked on his sorrow, the loss set in. “I quoted the elders to make my points. None of that mattered. Things are changing. Herald Paul Kincaid,” contempt filled his voice again. “He is pushing a fundamentalist view of the covenant. Everything else is blasphemy. Please, I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

His whole body convulsed with sobs. Hie folgiath se sith thara thyrsa. The ancient creed echoed through Nathan’s mind. We follow the path of the giants. Those words used to bring him so much comfort, but now they lingered like some distant expression he once recited in Old English. They connected his ancestors, his community, his faith. Now, they made the open sore in his heart twinge like a love letter from an ex-lover.

Nathan could still hear the herald’s words, feel the heat, the brand of disapproval. He wanted to grow cold. “Since I have to come home, I need a plan b.” He couldn’t hold it in any longer and broke down weeping. His ragged breath shook his body, and he stammered for a moment. Words bubbled out incoherently between his breathy sobs. “How do I tell my family?” Pain racked his soul, “How can I face them?” He shook his head back and forth like he was trying to erase the event from history, “I’ve almost finished packing.” He examined Rouge’s pained face in the glass.

“That’s bullshit!” Rouge snarled. “There’s nothing you could have done to deserve any of this. If the herald wants to be a bytesheip, then let him.”

A grin crawled across his face, Nathan wiped the tears from his eyes, and drew on every bit of strength he had left. He knew if anyone would have his back it would be Rouge. “I don’t have a lot of time. I need you to do some things for me. I can’t come home in full disgrace.”

“Anything for you, you know that,” Rouge touched the mirror.

“Your name is still on my accounts. Take the money I have in there and rent us a house.”

The image on the mirror rocked around as Rouge set it down on a table and adjusted it. He picked up a pen and paper and wrote.

“And remember that Fetehouse we used to talk about starting?” Nathan asked.

Rouge’s eyes lit up.

“Are you still interested?” Nathan held his breath,

Rouge nodded wildly, “We desperately need one in the area.”

“Find a place, rent it, and get hold of Robin.” Nathan forced himself to smile. “Let’s do it!”