Ron found himself in a cozy alcove in one corner of the pub, where bench seating circled a large oak table. The table was covered in words and symbols carved on the surface. He could make out some of the letters, but the rest might as well have been hieroglyphs. In fact, he thought, some of them probably were.
On either side of Ron was Groenveld, who had complained loudly about being on "door duty" for so long, and one of the fairies Ron had smelled earlier. She was a delicate-looking creature who hovered just above her seat on transparent wings that moved so quickly they were just a blur. Ron thought she might have a crush on him as she kept asking him to smile.
On the other side, not needing a seat, was a female centaur, whose long, intricately braided hair cascaded down her back, blending seamlessly with her auburn coat. Beside her was Hamish, who leaned against the table casually, cloven hooves crossed.
On top of the table was the pitcher of beer, four slightly dirty glasses and a large wooden bucket filled with clear water.
Ron's palms were sweaty, which he thought ironic, considering how dry his mouth felt. May waved at him from across the pub, where she and Kay had been ordered to sit. Ron wished she was beside him but thought Hamish might see it as a sign of weakness. Now, he needed to show strength if he was going to convince them he was the person they thought he was pretending to be.
Ron had no taste for beer and dipped his glass into the bucket of water. It looked cool and refreshing as he brought it to his lips.
"Hey!" Said a voice coming from the bucket. Ron dropped the heavy glass. It didn't shatter, but its contents poured across the table and onto Ron's lap, soaking them.
The pub got eerily quiet, and Ron's table companions stared at him in disbelief. Across the room, May hid her face in her hands while her sister smirked mercilessly. Ron had no idea what was going on.
Then he felt something strange in his soaked trousers.
The water began to move. First, down Ron's pants, exiting at the knee, which was touching one of the table legs. The gravity-defying liquid then rippled its way up the leg, across the table and back into the wooden bucket. Ron could feel his pants were now completely dry.
Out of the bucket rose a swirling mass of water about the size of Ron's fist. It was indistinct at first, but then, slowly, the mass of ripply reflections molded itself into a face with a wide smiling mouth and large expressive eyes.
"I'm not for drinking." It said, its watery mouth smiling as it spoke. "But of course, you wouldn't know that, so I forgive you."
Ron was about to apologize anyway, but the viscus face continued without pause.
"I've heard you've been completely cut off from the magical world - don't know a centaur from the Chimera. Not that Chimera's are real, mind you. That would be silly. Did you know that according to Wikipedia, the Chimera was a monstrous fire-breathing creature composed of different animal parts? It is usually depicted as a lion with a goat's head protruding from its back and a snake's head for a tail. Can you believe that! It supposedly is a sibling of Cerberus and…."
"Thank you," interrupted Hamish. "But I think we have more pressing matters to discuss.""
The watery creature's dappled smile drooped, and it slowly descended back into the bucket.
Hamish turned to Ron. "I know this is all a little overwhelming. Well, perhaps a lot overwhelming. But I'm going to ask you to set aside your preconceptions, your disbelief, even basic logic and hear what we have to say."
Ron nodded. Hamish spread his arms wide.
"It's time we formally introduced ourselves. The people…"
"Ahem," interrupted the bucket.
"Sorry." Hamish said, "The entities you see here in the pub are members of the Council of Magical Beings." Hamish, them motioned to those seated around Ron. "We five are the leadership."
Ron looked around at his table companions, who nodded in greeting.
"You've already met Babble," continued Hamish," "who represents elementals from all across the world.
"A pleasure to make your acquaintance, good sir," bubbled the bucket, "or is it madam? You'll now have to forgive me; I'm not familiar with lupin gender conventions…."
"And," said Hamish quickly, "This is Queen Lucinda of the Faery Lands."
"Call me Lucy," said the queen with a flick of her wings and a smile much broader than Ron expected.
Hamish then turned to the centaur, who had been quietly staring at Ron the whole time. But before he could speak, the table rattled as the Groenveld smashed his hand down, nearly toppling the three remaining glasses.
"I suppose you're going to pick me last again, Hamish? Do I look like a sickly schoolboy on the cricket field?"
Hamish exhaled, and Ron smelled the unmistakable odour of frustration.
"I was leaving the best for last, Groenveld", Hamish said with a forced smile.
Groenveld considered this, stroking his beard thoughtfully.
"Well then, that's different," he said with a smile. He crossed his arms and leaned back in the booth. "Please continue."
Ron could feel the tension ease around the table as Hamish gratefully introduced the fourth member.
"This is Hylonome, Chieftan of the Great Herd. She's as fierce as she is beautiful. You won't find a stronger warrior among centaurs."
Hylonome looked at Hamish, tail bristling. "You flatter me, husband, but let us begin our meeting with honesty, not hyperbole. Her gaze once again fell on Ron, and he felt its weight. "It is true I am Chieftain of the Great Herd, whose numbers once darkened the plains of Thessaly and whose hood beats rattled the gates of Thebes."
"HA-OOH!" Shouted the two centaurs Ron had seen playing darts earlier. They stamped their feet at the "OHH," and Ron could feel the vibrations in his feet.
"But," continued Hylonome, "this is not Ancient Greece, and our numbers now would struggle to darken a football pitch. This is true for much of our kind, though they are loath to admit it. We are dying."
The bluntness of her words hit Ron hard. May and Kay had told him this before, but now it seemed more real. More immediate.
"My husband calls me a warrior, but how do you fight an unseen enemy that steals the very life from our bellies? We are desperate.
The table shook again as Groenveld slammed his hand down, this time knocking over the remaining glasses and threatening to tip over Babble's bucket.
"You say too much, Hylo. This wolf is not to be trusted."
The centaur snorted and stomped angrily at the floor, her front legs banging the table. This time the bucket did topple but was set right by a watery hand that extended from it.
"Can we please STOP BANGING THE TABLE?" asked Babble loudly, the force of his shout spraying Ron's face in a wet mist.
This time the room became so quiet Ron could hear the heartbeats of the patrons. Most were beating wildly, except for Hamish, who looked more amused by the emotional outbursts.
Hylonome snorted again as her tail swished vigorously, but, Ron noted, her fists had unclenched. She looked directly at the former doorman.
"The time for caution is over, Groenveld. We all know our history with wolf-kind. We have fought with them for centuries. And what have we gained? Nothing. Their numbers continue to grow, their power and influence on the affairs of man increase while we're reduced to hiding or acting in travelling shows. Pretending to be who we actually are. How many of your brothers and sisters have you lost this year? How many have we all lost?
"Too many," Groenveld answered.
Hylonome reached out and grabbed Groeneveld's hand. "Wolf-kind has never helped us, my friend, because they've never had a reason to. But now we know the rumours are true. They're suffering as we have suffered. Their women can no longer sire children and share the pain of children never to be. Soon they, too, will start dying for no earthly reason. We must work together before it's too late for any of us.
Groenveld was silent and seemed to withdraw into his own beard. Hylonome released his hand and looked away. The room was silent for several rapid heartbeats until Hamish spoke. His voice was calm, an eye in the hurricane of emotions surrounding him.
"Wolf of the Faoladh Clan, what you said when you arrived was right. We need you. But I think you also need us. What's happening to wolf-kind now has been slowly happening to us, to all of us, for centuries. We may not have the knowledge of wolf-kind, but we have experience. We have tried almost everything, almost everywhere, with no success.
Ron didn't know what to say. He knew he was in over his head. Luckily it seemed the others took his silence for stoicism.
Lucy landed lightly on the table in front of him. Her gossamer wings folded neatly behind her back. "If we can meet with your elders, perhaps telling them what hasn't worked will help us figure out what can."
"Yes," rippled Babble. "We also have resources you don't have access to. Knowledge from the bottom of the deepest ocean or from the heart of the hottest volcano."
The lights hanging throughout the pub flashed, seemingly in agreement, and Ron started to realize he was only seeing the tip of the world he'd discovered three days ago.
"I'll do what I can," Ron said, at last, feeling the eyes of everyone on him. "I can't promise anything. I don't hold as much influence as you might have hoped. But I can promise to do my best to help you, all of you."
Lucy smiled, Groenveld harrumphed, Hylonome saluted, and Babble gurgled. Hamish held Ron's gaze for a moment longer before nodding. He then turned up all four beer glasses and filled them with the pitcher, which had miraculously stayed upright.
"Normally, in a moment like this, I would say, let this be the first step, but we don't have time for more steps. So instead, let me raise a glass to the last step of our journey. To the Wolf of the Faoladh Clan!
"Wolf, wolf, wolf," chanted the crowd.
Ron cleared his throat, "Actually, my name is..."
"RON!" roared a voice as an enormous mass of fur and fangs crashed through the ceiling, showering everyone in shattered glass and splintered wood. Landing heavily in the middle of the pub, it looked around, eyes burning red like the fires of hell itself.
Ron brushed glass from the top of his head and turned toward the red-eyed demon.