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PART TWENTY-NINE

Arm and arm with the two sisters, his clothes tight beneath his skin, Ron once again felt invincible. He still wished to be found by his shadow but not to be put out of his misery. No, he was confident he'd put them out of their misery after ringing out a few answers.


His revelation to May and Kay that his brother and the other clan Alphas had been poisoned was precisely the explanation he needed. Even Kay was convinced, and both agreed to take him directly to the Council. They wouldn't tell him where it was, only that it was "this way" and "a little further."


As they strolled through the city, the street performers were still in full swing. Fire breathers and jugglers, contortionists and musicians, but Ron barely noticed. He wondered whether he was handing himself to the very people responsible for poisoning his brother, but the thoughts flailed in his head, drowning in the sister's heavy perfume and twin embrace.


One performer winked at them as they passed. He played a very odd-looking instrument, a cross between a guitar, accordion and violin.

May and Kay stopped to listen.


"It's a nyckelharpa," said May, sensing Ron's question. She closed her eyes and swayed to the music. I haven't heard it since..."


"Siena," Kay said. "Never cared for it myself."


May winked at Ron. "Except when it was played by a certain stone mason's son."


"Whatever," Kay said under her breath. She covered her ears with headphones hiding beneath her scarf. Death metal replacing the folksy sounds being enjoyed by the crowd.


"He broke her heart." May confided as they continued down the narrow, well-lit streets.


Ron's belly was starting to believe they'd never arrive and was loudly calling out for him to stop a food truck called Routine Poutine. The name didn't make sense, but Ron didn't care as he inhaled the delicious scent of gravy, cheese curds and fries or chips, as the locals called them.


"May, I think we should stop for..."


Before he could finish, Ron saw an all too familiar sign behind the food truck.


Eddie O'Donnell's Headstones.


Ron's shoulders sagged. He knew he couldn't escape it. He uncoupled his arm from May.


"Sorry, May. I have to go."


He walked purposefully passed the food truck until he stood in front of the old stone building. Up close, he realized it wasn't old but was covered in weathered concrete to look like a mausoleum. Unfished headstones, propped up against the front, completed the effect.


He tried the door. Locked.


"Come on, Inn. Stop playing games." He shouted. He didn't know she could change forms, but it wasn't much of a stretch if she could change locations.


He tried again, but the door wouldn't budge.


"I know I shouldn't have left. Tell my brother I'm sorry."


"Ron?" May asked.


Ron turned and saw May and Kay looking at him. Their faces contorted in a single question, which they asked in unison.


"What are you doing?"


Ron knew the truth had to come out eventually. But it was nice, even for a short time, to live inside the lie. Inside the skin of someone important who did make a difference. Not some shiftless loser who runs whenever they're embarrassed.


"I didn't want..." he stumbled. "I mean, I wanted to..."


Ron jumped as the door behind him opened, and a short, hairy man wearing green pants and suspenders stepped out. He held a tobacco pipe in one hand, smoke curling around his green, buckled top hat; in the other was a small axe.


"Get in already, or are you just gonna stand there flapping your gob?


Ron looked back at May and Kay, his own face now contorted with a single question.


May was the first to speak, "We've arrived."




#


"You're late." Grumbled the doorman.


"And hello to you too, Groenveld." The sisters chimed. "Come on, Ron. This way!"


The sisters breezed by the imposing doorman, their sweet perfumed scent following in their wake. Ron followed as if attached to an invisible leash.


As he crossed the threshold, Ron was sure of two things: this wasn't the Scratch and Sniff Inn, and it wasn't Eddie O'Donnell's Headstones. It was somewhere new.


At first glance, it looked like a typical Irish pub, not that Ron had much experience with bars. But tv, movies and video games have given him a good idea of what one should look like. In the center was a bar of polished wood and brass surrounding a pyramid of bottles, their contents filled with liquid in all the colours of the rainbow and a few Ron didn't recognize. A two-inch groove in the floor circled the bar as if made by centuries of footsteps. The smell, Ron assumed, was a stale beer, stains of which would be seen on most surfaces. It was, in every way, precisely what you'd expect to find in a pub in Waterford.


On the other hand, the patrons were the wildest collection of individuals Ron had ever seen. Many he recognized as members of the theatre troop he saw earlier that evening. A mangy satyr, sitting on a stool, nursed a tall pint of brown ale, his cloven hoofs swinging a few inches off the ground. Two centaurs laughed uproariously in the corner as they threw darts. Three brightly coloured fairies, right out of a children's storybook, flew back and forth behind the bar. Together they mixed drinks for a group of impatient dwarfs, who pounded the bar with their giant fists rhythmically. Sitting on the floor was the street performer Ron had seen earlier, though now he saw she wasn't wearing stilts but was, in fact, a giant. Her spindly arms and legs bent awkwardly, knees banging the warm lights which hung from the ceiling.


Ron dutifully followed May and Kay as they approached the bar. A few of the patrons raised an eyebrow, horn, scale or wing as he passed but made no move to stop him. The red-nosed satyr looked up from his ale and snarled - or smiled. Ron wasn't sure.


"Well, if it isn't Bling One and Bling Two," he said.


"Shut up, Hagen", said Kay curtly. May said nothing, but the look in her eyes provided the same sentiment, and Ron could swear he felt the room get slightly colder.


"We brought him," May said finally. "As promised."


Ron didn't like the sound of that, but he tried not to show it. He knew their meeting two nights ago wasn't a coincidence; he wasn't that naïve, but he had decided to come here, despite the risks. May's words made it sound like he had no choice. And that wasn't true. Wasn't it?


"So this is the brother?" Hagen said, hopping off his stool, his hooves landing heavily on the old hardwood floor. He was just about Ron's height if you included the eight-inch horns, which spiraled impressively from just above his forehead. His belt was fighting a losing battle with his belly, and Ron imagined if he'd ever had a six-pack, he'd drunk it long ago.


There was an uncomfortable silence, and Ron realized the bar had quieted. All eyes were on him.


"Yes?" He answered.


The satyr looked the young werewolf up and down. Ron noted the oaky bouquet of distrust waffling off him, cutting through the nose-blinding scents of tobacco and stale beer, which seemed to saturate every inch of the pub.


"Welcome, Wolf of the Faoladh Clan." The imp finally said, wrapping his muscular arms around Ron. They were unusually long in proportion to the satyr's body, and it felt to Ron like he was being held by a very hairy snake.


With the embrace, the pub patrons returned to what they were doing. The smell of anxious uncertainty was replaced with general disinterest.


"You have to forgive them," Hamish said as he released Ron. "They don't have much faith in wolves."


"Neither do I," Ron said once his breath returned. The answer surprised Ron as much as it did Hamish, whose left eyebrow commuted to the top of his forehead.


"Why are you here?" He asked.


In truth, Ron didn't really know. He re-played the events of the last four days in his mind and had difficulty figuring out how he got there. Everything was happening so fast. One minute he was the charity member on a quest to save wolf-kind, and the next, he was, what? Someone pretending to be someone who could bridge the gap between werewolves and the other magical creatures?


"Why am I here?" Ron repeated to Hamish. "I'm not sure."


Hamish's other eyebrow rose to greet the first as the silence grew between them. May stepped forward and rubbed Ron's back supportively.


"But what I am sure of," Ron said with sudden renewed confidence, his voice dropping an octave. "Is that you need me. Otherwise, you wouldn't have gone through all this trouble to lure me here."


The strength Ron felt earlier was returning with a vengeance, but not just physical strength; all his senses were enhanced. He could smell the week-old chicken grease that had evaded washing inside the beard of a nearby dwarf, the decayed molars that hung from the necklaces of two fairies playing billiards in the corner.


Hamish studied Ron, who was now at least an inch taller than when the conversation began.


The satyr's exhaled, his shoulders drooping. To Ron, it looked like he'd just shrugged off the weight of the world. "You're right. Whatever is happening, whatever is killing your people and mine, it's not a problem we can solve alone.


"Sit." Hamish continued, motioning to a nearby table. "And we can do something our two peoples haven't done in centuries."


"What's that?" Ron asked.


"Talk."


#

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