I’D BEEN putting it off, but after staring at a pile of half-packed boxes for an age, I knew it was time to do it. Just rip the plaster off I told myself as I dialled Dee’s number.
She wasn’t her usual bubbly self when she picked up and I could hear crying in the background. “What’s going on?”
“Jamie’s upset. Her friend’s Mum died in a car accident this afternoon,” she explained. “Apparently she was like everyone’s second Mum. They’re all taking it quite hard. It’s Wynn I feel so sorry for.”
“Wynn? Wasn’t it her birthday party we went to last night?” I ask recognising the unusual name.
“Yep. Awful isn’t it? One night you’re turning 17 and having the party of your life, and the next day your Mum dies. It’s so wrong.”
“Yeah,” I mumble. I mean, what else can you say to something like that?
“Her Dad died a few years back from Cancer. She’s got no one left. Jamie says she’s staying with her best friend; the two of them are practically sisters apparently. God, it’s just so awful.” She starts to sob down the phone. “And Jamie’s so upset. I’m going to be staying here for a few days, so I probably won’t be around much. I know we had plans to go shopping on Tuesday, but I just don’t want to leave her alone right now.”
“No, it’s fine. I was ringing to cancel anyway. Something’s come up here.”
“Oh. Well that’s good then. Look I’d better go.”
“Yeah, sure. Of course. Go take care of your girl. I’ll call you in a few days, ok?”
“Thanks babe. Luvyaz.” She hangs up.
Jeeze, poor Wynn. What a crabby birthday present.
I’m still staring at the mountain of cuddly toys on my bed and the empty box on the floor, trying to decide whether to keep them or put them in the charity pile. If you’d have asked me an hour ago, before the phone call, I would have said give them to charity – easy. But all I feel like doing right now is curling up with them and feeling sorry for myself, which is just plain crazy; I’m not the one with two dead parents. I start packing them into the box.
The rest of the morning passes in a kind of packing blur. I fall back on my bed around lunchtime, sighing. Everything's happening so fast. Just this time yesterday, I was rummaging through my wardrobes for the perfect dress. I look over at the doors to my dressing room. I haven't managed to pluck up the courage to start packing my clothes, shoes, bags, jewellery, make-up, and the zillion other items I own. I think I've finally found the drawback to being a fashionista I groan inwardly. A knock on the door saves me from venturing into what could quite possibly be termed fashion heaven; or fashion hell if you have to pack it all. “Come in!”
Mums head pops round the door, a huge grin spread across her face, even though she is obviously trying to keep her excitement bottled up, it’s bubbling over and I can almost taste it in the air. Realising my own disturbing instincts brings me up short and I miss her first words. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I said: I have something for you.”
“Is it more boxes? Because I was just about to venture into my dressing room,” I pout.
“Then my timing is perfect,” she smiles. She comes into the room fully and I see she has a pile of laundry in her hands. I groan out loud and she laughs, placing the clothes on my lap.
“Thanks,” I mumble, moving them off my lap onto the bed. She picks them back up and puts them back on my lap. I look up at her and her grin is threatening to split her face. I look down at the clothes and realise that I don’t recognise them. “Umm… these aren’t mine Mum.”
“They are now,” she smiles.
“You’re giving me more clothes to pack?”
“Oh for goodness sake.” She takes the item on top of the pile and holds it up. The bottom of it drops to reveal a hideously old-fashioned catsuit.
My nose involuntarily turns up in disgust. “Please tell me you’re asking me to put that in the charity pile,” I ridicule.
“What? It’s hideous Mum, I mean come on. That is old-fashioned even for your generation.”
“I am going to ignore that comment completely young lady,” she sniffs. “This is a family heirloom… sort of… Anyway, you won’t need to pack all your clothes to take with you. These are all you’ll need,” she gestures at the pile of clothes on my lap.
Confused, I take a closer look at the pile. Besides the catsuit my Mum’s holding, there’s also a shorter knee-length version, several pairs of socks – both ankle and knee-length, some gloves – again in different lengths, some underwear, a hat that look like a swimming cap, and some hair ties. I look back up at Mum and painfully say “Thank you?” The look of exasperation she gives me has me rolling my eyes. “Mum, I don’t know what you want me to say. I appreciate the gesture, but these aren’t exactly couture.”
“Actually you don’t get any more couture,” she laughs, and then shrugs at my blank expression. “Just humour me. Go and put this on.” She passes me the full-length catsuit. I blow the air out of my mouth and take the hideous garment into my dressing room. “And make sure you only wear that, no underwear.”
Avoiding all mirrors, I put it on, cringing the whole time. The material is surprisingly sturdy, almost like leather, yet it has the feel of silk as it glides over my skin. Once I pull the catsuit up entirely, the fabric seems to mould to my body; I’d never worn anything so comfortable. Too bad it’s so ugly I sigh. I reluctantly open the dressing room doors and step into my room. My Mum is sitting on the bed, her grin still firmly in place. I hope you realise I’m taking this off and losing it as soon as possible I smile falsely. “Look in the mirror,” she says, coming to stand behind me and forcefully turning me. I cringe. It’s exactly as I had feared – I look awful. I look to Mum, my eyes begging her to understand, but she just stands behind me smiling.
After the initial shock starts to lessen, I look closer at my reflection. I blink. I must be going crazy I surmise I could have sworn the fabric shimmered. I look down at myself; the fabric did have a slight shine to it, like smooth satin with a hint of metallic thread. “What fabric is this?” I ask, running my hands over it. “It’s so soft.”
“Just give it a minute” she grins.
“For what?” I ask just as my reflection starts to shimmer just like the fabric. I gasp and look down to see that I’m wearing a gorgeous white summer dress, tailored to fit perfectly. I look back in the mirror and see that I am indeed wearing the dress that I had seen in the shop window last week. “But...How?” I stammer, turning in every direction, admiring the impossible.
“It’s a Shifter outfit. It’s made from our own Ancient lineage and it enables the wearer to appear in any garment they choose. It also changes with us when we Shift, so you don’t have to worry about finding clothes when you change back to this form. Trust me, it has saved me from very embarrassing moments in my time,” she laughs.
“Wait! What do you mean it’s made from our Ancient lineage? How exactly? You don’t mean actually made from them?”
“Relax Raven. Your favourite boots are made from what? What is leather if it’s not the skin of animals? You have feathers from geese in your pillow. You eat meat and you drink blood. What’s the difference between that and this?” she asks pointing to my new dress.
“Well for starters, this is made from people,” I say horrified, struggling to get the dress off.
“The blood in PlasmaX ™ is from people Raven,” she states calmly.
“That’s different. I need blood to survive.” I defend.
“And your boots?” she asks.
“Not made from people, obviously.” I roll my eyes.
“But they’re made from the skin of animals. Yes?”
“Exactly. Not people.”
“So that’s ok? To kill an animal for its skin?”
“Well... No, of course not. But, my boots are from a reputable company that only uses the skin of animals that have been culled humanely for food. The skin is just left over’s if you like. It’s recycling.” I smile smugly, proud that she can’t accuse me of helping to murder somebody’s pet cow.
“Ok. So, because the skin is no longer needed, it’s ok to use it for clothing. I see. Well that makes sense. Recycling; like you said.” I would have smiled if I thought for one moment she was done with her argument and was actually conceding to my point of view, but I knew that smile on her face was anything but the acceptance of defeat. “Ancient Shifters are honoured for their skins; no longer needed after their deaths I may add. Non-Ancient Shapeshifters are not able to produce the same quality clothing because they don’t have the strength in their bodies that we do. The stronger the Ancient line, the better the quality of fabric. To recycle yourself into such beauty and quality proves undoubtedly you are of powerful lineage for all of time. The best of the best are passed down through the generations, aiding our own family to lead a better quality of life. Tell me that isn’t something that every parent wants to give their children, and their children’s children.”
“It’s just creepy! The thought of wearing someone else’s skin is just plain icky! Silence of the lambs style icky!” I cringe.
My mother stands behind me with her hands on my shoulders looking at my reflection “Raven I can assure you that none of our ancestors have ever been lambs” she smiles and I can’t help but laugh. “Besides, you’d rather walk around naked?” she asks, arching an eyebrow; causing me to laugh even more. “Now, think of something else you want to wear, something you already own in the vast depths of your wardrobe.” I close my eyes and imagine my green jumper and jeans that I usually wear on a first date. When I open my eyes, I see that an exact replica of my jumper and jeans replaces the white dress. “You’re a natural!” beams Mum “It took me four attempts to change my first time, and I think it took my grandmother three and she was the best Shifter I know. I can’t wait to see what animal soul finds you sweetheart.” She smiles proudly.
“I thought it was me who has to find my animal soul, not the other way around?” I ask confused.
“You’ll find each other darling” she smiles and kisses me on the head “Come on, get yourself ready now and I’ll get your lunch.” She starts towards the stairs.
“Mum, wait!” I turn and give her a huge hug “Thanks for the dress” I smile “or the jumper and jeans, or whatever” I shrug. “So what should I pack?” I ask suddenly confused as to whether I need to pack any regular clothes at all.
“Clothes wise? Just those will be fine.” She leaves me to my packing. I turn back to the mirror and conjure myself the gorgeous white summer dress again. This is going to be fun!
I grab a couple of boxes to take down with me. The weight of the boxes isn’t a problem with my strength, but they are awkward and I can’t really see where I'm going. I feel my way down the stairs and add them to the pile that is accumulating in the hallway.
Entering the kitchen I'm astonished to find that almost everything is packed already. “Mum, how did you manage to pack everything so quickly?”
“Your Dad helped.”
I stand confounded. “You let Dad help pack the kitchen?”
“No, of course not. Your Father packed the rest of the house so I could concentrate on the kitchen.” Oh well that makes more sense. “Sit down and eat. The removers will be here any minute and I need to get their payment together. I don’t want grumpy, hungry Werewolves touching my antiques.” She places my lunch in front of me at the table and goes back to mincing huge amounts of raw meat.
Moments later my Dad enters followed by four of the largest men I’ve ever seen in my life. They look like those body builders that can bench press a car; actually that probably isn’t far from the truth. They all have aggressive expressions on their faces, like they're about to kick off at any given moment. I avert my eyes and concentrate on my lunch. A growl has me looking up to find one of the men watching me eat. Fear soaked adrenaline shoots through my veins. The other three men sniff the air and turn their hungry eyes on me – not my food, me. Uh-oh.
“Gentleman,” my Father catches their attention. The fourth Were that had caused my reaction was still looking at me and I didn’t like him one bit, he seemed more feral than the others, his wolf closer to the surface. “Please take a seat and my wife will be pleased to make payment.” They all sit, the feral sitting closer to me than I appreciate. I briefly considered moving my chair slightly further away, but I wasn’t sure that would be considered good manners. I keep my eyes down on my meal and force myself to eat, even though my appetite is long gone.
Mum serves large dishes heaped with raw meat. The meat is drizzled with a sauce and herbs. “What is this?” growled one of the Were’s poking at the sauce. The others sniff their plates and look a little dubious themselves. “Are you trying to poison us?” he accuses my Mother. Fear shoots through me again and the Were sitting next to me moves closer and sniffs me. Eww!
“Poison you indeed,” scoffs Mum. “I would at least wait until you had completed the move.” The head Were grunts and licks the sauce experimentally from his finger. He pauses a moment as the others look on probably waiting to see if he keels over and dies. After a moment he picks up a handful of meat, sauce, and herbs and shoves the lot into his mouth hungrily. My mother picks up a fork and smacks the back of his hand with it. He growls up at her, raw meat juices dripping from his mouth. “Manners,” she chides. He grunts once more, takes the fork from her and continues eating like he doesn’t know where his next meal will come from. The others follow suit, picking up their forks and start devouring their own meals.
When they have finished, my Mother clears away their dishes which they had literally licked clean. Their personalities are completely different now that they have food in their stomachs - more Human-like in nature. "Thank you Mrs Drake, that was the best meal I've had in ages," compliments the head Were. "I'd really like the recipe of that sauce if it wouldn't be too much trouble," he smiles in what I suppose is to be a friendly way, but to me it just looks predatory. I guess he can't help that though. I feel a presence at my side and turn to see Were number four licking his lips and smiling his own predatory smile in my direction. I can't help the shudder.
"Raven." I turn to see my father standing in the doorway, a shadow emanating from him like a dark aura. "I wish to speak with you."
"Yes Father." I leave the kitchen and visibly relax once I'm away from Mr Creepy. We walk to his study and he shuts the door behind us.
“Raven you must control your reactions better. Especially around the Werewolves, they smell your fear and they equate it with prey. You are behaving like prey and they are not able to separate the beasts instincts. You must remember they are not like Shifters, they do not live in harmony with their beasts, but are one and the same – their soul is split and the animal is always close to the surface. They cannot control themselves, you must.”
“Sorry Father. I’ve never met a Werewolf before.”
He softens somewhat. “You are right, I apologise.” He wraps his arm around me. “You need to understand that you will be meeting many different races soon enough and there are certain traits that each species have that define them. Your reactions to those species can in turn influence their reactions towards you.”
“Well can’t you just give me a quick run-down on what to expect?” I whine.
“No Raven. I would want you to learn for yourself, to make your own decisions and judgements and not be influenced by me and any misconceptions I may hold towards a species. My opinions may be somewhat jaded by my own experiences. You must make your own opinions based on your own experiences.
“You must have noticed the way in which the Were’s regarded you when you felt fear?” I nod. “Why did you fear them? What caused your reaction?”
I thought about the question. What had made me feel scared? What had they actually done? “Well I could tell they were ready for a fight as soon as they walked in. Anyone could see that they were huge, strong, aggressive… I guess they were intimidating. Then the last one, he seemed worse than the others. I don’t know, more feral I guess. I didn’t like the way he looked at me – like I was a meal,” I explain.
“The others… did they look at you like you were a meal?”
“Yes,” I conceded. “But that was after I’d felt afraid. The other one made me feel that way.”
“Good. You must analyse the reasons behind your feelings, then you will be able to recognise them before your reaction, thus lessening the effect.” I nod in understanding, it was much the same way he had explained keeping my face neutral when discerning whether someone was lying. He was looking at me while I thought things through and I could tell he was waiting to ask me something else. I could see the curiosity on his face. I rolled my eyes “What?”
He laughs. “How did you know I wanted to ask you something?”
“You had that look.” He frowns. “You have a look when you’re curious about something.”
“Then that is something I will have to work on,” he laughs again. “I wanted to know why you feel afraid of the feral wolf. He is only a Werewolf after all, hardly a match for an Ancient Vampire.”
“How would I know that? It’s not like I go around picking fights with Werewolves on a daily basis. Actually I’ve never had a fight in my life, so I wouldn’t even know what to do if he did decide to eat me,” I shrug.
“I will ask Baron to put you in fight classes, it is about time you learned how to defend yourself. I have been lapse in not teaching you and for that I apologise.”
“Don’t worry about it Dad, it’s not like I’ve ever had the need to learn before. I mean, what problem is a Human going to be for me? Hardly a match.”
“Nevertheless, I will rectify the situation.” That dealt with he loads me up with boxes of books and opens the door for me. I take them out to the removal truck where Mr Creepy happens to be waiting. Just my luck.
“Did you know that wolves and ravens have a very close relationship? They often play together,” he licks his lips as he looks me over.
I slide the boxes onto the back of the truck while I gather myself remembering Dad’s words ‘He is only a Werewolf after all, hardly a match for an Ancient Vampire.’ “Then I am glad that Raven is only my name.” I turn my back on him – one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, and return to the house. As I pass the head Were in the doorway, he nods respectfully and I give him a friendly smile.
Four Werewolves, an Ancient Vampire, an Ancient Shifter, and an Ancient hybrid make fast work of packing up an entire house. By late afternoon, I take one last look at the only home I’ve ever known. Then we are on our way to the Gateway.