•Right Now, Again•

Matt couldn't take the waiting anymore, and left the tent. Outside the Were-folk had made themselves ready for the battle. They had settled themselves at the mouth of the valley, with the arms of the mountain on either side of them, so that the army could only come at them from one direction.

A few days ago another messenger had come from Doshtarin, this time with a letter. When Karn read it he didn't believe it at first, but he read it again and it was still the same. Apparently Ronerin had returned to his people with the tale of the entire tribe of Were-folk attacking him for no good reason, and in response the human king was sending his army to wipe out the village.

So then the Were-folk prepared for war. The blacksmith was put to work, not making weapons as Matt had expected, but special armour. This armour was peculiar, not at all the same as what stirred in Matt's mind at the word 'armour'. This was designed to fit someone in their wolf shape. It was similar in some ways to horse armour of medieval past, only bigger.

All of the Were-folk were in their armour now, Karn and Katherine at the head of their own army, the whole village, only two hundred strong. The human army that approached clearly had greater numbers. Matt had stopped counting at 400, and he hadn't even gotten halfway through. This was the first time that Matt had seen Katherine in her wolf form. Somehow with the thick coat of fur, the lupine ears and snout, and the shining engraved plates of armour, she was even more beautiful to behold. Standing tall and proud by her father, she was still the strong powerful woman that Matt had come to know. Even her grace and kindness seemed to shine from her body, he fancied.

"You're staring." said a voice by his ear, making him jump. It was Natary, still in her human shape. She was wearing a leather harness with all sorts of pockets and little bags hanging from little hooks.

"I thought you'd be out there, with the rest of the village." he said, changing the subject. Natary shook her head.

"I'm too old to be much use as a fighter." she said, and waved a hand over her harness. "But I can still help with little knowledge I have. It's not much, but it will be enough to distract a few men at a crucial moment when the time is right. That is the most crucial factor in anything, human: timing. Why were you staring?"

Her last question was so sudden, with barely any pause, that at first Matt didn't understand. It took him a while to answer without stammering.

"Wha. . . What are you talking about?"

"You were staring at Katherine. Why?"

"I've just never seen her in this shape before. It's quite impressive, y'know?"

Natary glared at him critically. Matt didn't meet her gaze.

"You like her." she said eventually.

"Shut up."

"Hmm, well I guess the summoning chose wisely after all." she said, almost to herself.

"Just because like her, it doesn't prove anything. Lots of people like her, the summoning didn't choose them." he said. There was a familiar heavy ache in his chest that always turned up whenever he thought about women. All the women back home ever gave him was their contempt.

"But you're the only one that she likes." she said smoothly.

Suddenly it was like he was seven years old again, back in school. When girls and boys conspired with each other to toy with the nerds, geeks and spazzes. 'That girl likes you, she told me herself'. 'She said that she wants to be your girlfriend'. Then the pointing and laughing when he actually fell for it, the high pitched 'neener neener' as they all singled him out and just laughed.

The anger came back, but not all at once. Over the past month it had been repressed, held back and held tight deep within himself. Before it had been like a spark trying to ignite, to flare off all at once. Now it was like a large boulder rolling down a hill, slow and cumbersome, but no less unstoppable. His hands began to shake, and all he could see was red. Beside him, Natary could sense it, and touched her hand to his head to calm him, but it was too strong to be held back any more, and the intensity of it burned her, making her yank her hand away and cradle it in her other arm.

Katherine turned and happened to see them there beside the tent, and trotted over on all fours. Her father followed her.

"What are you doing here, human?" he snapped. His voice was even deeper in this shape, and more terrifying. "We have no use to us here. You need to go back to the castle where it is safe."

"I brought him here, father. If we fail here, then the castle will not be much protection to him. He's as safe here as anywhere else."

"He will just be in the way here." said Karn, and finally Matt couldn't hold it in anymore.

"STOP TELLING ME THAT I'M USELESS!" he screamed, red in the face. "And stop talking about me as if I'm not here!"

"Matt. . ." said Katherine, and reached out a hand to placate him, but he swatted it away. a lot of the Were-folk were turning to watch what was causing the commotion.

"No! I'm done. I'm sick of being treated like some THING, a pet that can't possibly understand its master. I'm a person! And I'm so tired of the same treatment no matter where I am."

I was all coming out now, and nothing could stop it. Everyone was watching in awe, they could all feel the anger coming off him as though it was a physical force.

"I'm tired of being bullied, of being laughed at, of being teased and ridiculed. I got enough of that a home! Now I'm here because everyone wants me to marry the chief's daughter, then scoffed at when I'm not good enough for her, when NO ONE EVER ASKED MY OPINION ON THE SUBJECT!"

Karn, out of his depth and unsure of himself, tried to calm Matt down with a hand on his shoulder, but Matt just shook it off.

"All my life I've been told that I'm not big enough, not strong enough. That I'm not GOOD enough. I've been told by men and women alike, all of them judging me, and none of them caring what I felt!"

"So tell us what you feel!" said Natary. "Tell us!"

"I . . . I feel . . ."

"Yes?" whispered Katherine. In the distance the march of many men was getting louder. One of the Were-folk still watching the approaching army gave a yell of warning, but no one seemed to hear, they were all watching Matt. He had tears in his eyes now. His anger was starting to give way to the sadness he held inside.

"I feel like I have something to offer. I can be useful! But only if you judge me by what I CAN do, and not by what I can't do. I can't run as fast as you, or fight as good. I don't know what I can do to help, but there must be something. I know I can help. I know it!"

He felt something touch his forehead, and he flinched. When he looked up he saw Natary standing in front of him, her fingers slick with something blue. Then something wrapped around his brain and squeezed, or at least it felt like that. He could see a bright blue light shining around the peripheral of his vision, and it slowly started to grow bigger and stronger until it was all he could see. Every muscle in his body was on fire, but it wasn't painful. It was hot and intense, but it felt good. Then it was gone, and so was the light. Matt felt different somehow, but he couldn't even begin to think of how.

"You want to help?" said Natary as she wiped her hands clean. "Then do it."

"How?" asked Matt hoarsely.

"Open your mind. Open your eyes!"

He did, and saw the world around him as though for the first time.

When Natary stepped away from Matt, so did everyone watching. They all gave him space, until he was standing in the middle of a wide empty circle. They could all taste the strange change in the air, all of them knew it, recognized it. It was magic, but stronger and more potent than anything they'd ever felt before. It was the old magic, wrapped up and tightly coiled around the body of this human boy.

When Matt stepped forward they all made room. He walked as though in a dream, slow and slightly unsteady. They watched him approach the line of Were-folk that were still watching the approaching army. When he pushed his way past them, he saw the army, and for the first time he wasn't afraid. The sun was reflecting off the armour of the men, off of their shields and swords as they waved them in the air. He held up a hand to shield his eyes.

"It's too bright out here." he said, mostly to himself. All at once the sky darkened, and everyone looked up to see clouds rushing from the horizon to fill up the empty sky. They writhed and boiled above them, dark and grey. The approaching army stopped, and the Were-folk looked up in awe. Everyone immediately felt the coolness of the air. Matt's ears popped with the change in air pressure. As everyone watched, light flashed in the clouds with a dull crack, and there was a long rumble that filled the valley and the hills. Matt looked up and smiled.

The army had halted its march, but it was still moving. Every man in the massive horde was looking up and around, worried and suddenly unsure. Matt walked towards them, and was followed closely by Karn and Katherine. They were walking upright on their canine feet, making them even taller and more imposing. When they reached the front ranks of men, they stopped just as Ronerin reached them on horseback.

"Back!" he screeched, waving his jewelled sword around at them. Matt didn't flinch, and neither did the other two, but just watched him. Matt was looking at Ronerin with mild amusement, and Karn with contempt. The ambassador's eyes were wide and wild, veins were bulging on his head, and his teeth were bared in a vicious snarl. But even in his hysterical mind he gave pause when he looked down at Matt. The boy was smiling serenely, and his eyes were glowing with an unholy, demonic light. At least that's how Ronerin described it much later, back in his home to his brothers. The light that shone from Matt was blue and ethereal, and all the men who could see him tried to back away from him.

"Sorcery." snarled Ronerin, and jumped down from his horse. He brandished his blade with a flourish, and strode over to the boy, who made no move. "I hereby put an end your misery you ungrateful whelp!"

He thrust the sword directly at Matt's chest, and both Karn and Katherine rushed to stop him, but they were too late. Something else stopped it. Ronerin gasped as he was seized by a sudden chill, and he couldn't move his arm. The sword was less than a hand span away from the boy, but he couldn't move it, or let go of it. A shrill ringing filled the air, like a wet finger rubbing the rim of a crystal glass, and the edges of the sword were outlined in glowing blue. Matt looked down at it and smiled.

"Go away." he said, and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture to the ambassador. Ronerin was lifted off his feet, and thrown backwards as though tossed by a massive hand that no one could see. He landed far away, somewhere in the mass of armoured men. His sword remained though, still where it was being held by the blue light. It moved, all by itself to turn around and fall gently into Matt's waiting hand, behaving like an obedient pet for its master. He lifted the sword high, and the ring of steel filled the air as every single man before him did the same. Gasps and murmurs could be heard throughout the army, and Katherine knew that no man there had control of his sword arm. Each blade was tinged with the blue glow. As she watched, Matt turned the point down, and thrust it into the ground. Each soldier followed suit, unable to resist. When they were able to move once more, many tried to retrieve their swords, but they could not be budged.

Much later, in the light of the setting sun, Kern and his finest fighters met with the King, and his generals. The army of men had withdrawn to a fair distance from the valley, each soldier having to leave their swords behind, still sunk into the grass of the plain.

Almost all of the Were-folk had returned to the village. Only Katherine, Matt and Natary remained behind, sitting on the warm grass and watching the leaders talk from afar. Matt wasn't really paying attention, but was occupied with the new changes in himself. It was such a strange experience to be able to see the breeze, feel the clouds and hear the rumble of energy coursing through the ground beneath him. The rush of pure power he'd felt before was gone now, but not for good, He sensed. He felt like all he had to do was reach out with his hand, and touch it to get it back.

As an experiment he tried to start a small fire in the palm of his hand. Nothing happened several times in a row. He was about to give up in frustration, but then tried a different approach. He made a tight circle of air above his palm spin, really fast so that it was glowing from the friction with the surrounding air. Then with a small 'poof', a small fire flickered in mid-air. Katherine looked at it with mild surprise.

"Very good." said Natary. "Fire is difficult to create from nothing. Not many were ever able to figure out the trick."

Matt snapped his fingers closed and snuffed the fire out. The hot air smouldered around his fingers, but curiously it did not burn.

"What did you do?" he asked.


"You gave me this, Natary. You tried to before, but nothing happened. What did you do different this time?"

"Different? I did nothing different. The only difference the second time was you."

Matt snorted, unconvinced.

"I'm still the same. No different than before."

"But at that moment you were different. The most crucial factor in anything is timing." she said, and smiled at him. "The recipe brings out the magic within you if your heart is strong. The first time, nothing happened. But the second time it worked, because in that instant your heart was strong. You weren't weak and pitiable as you often seem to think of yourself. You cast that aside, and spoke your mind, what was in your heart. The heart is where all magic resides."

Matt didn't respond, but digested her words as he watched the sun disappear below the horizon.

In the distance, Kern and the King shook hands. The three of them were summoned to the meeting place.

"You must be the boy turned savage that my ambassador has told me about." said the King cheerfully when they arrived. "It seems that his stories have been a bit exaggerated."

The King was dressed differently than Matt would have imagined. He'd been expecting Robes and a long cape trimmed with white fur. The man who stood before him could have been a common soldier. His armour showed signs of heavy use, a dent or a scratch here and there that showed that it had been doing its job. The only thing that served to set the man apart, was a short cape clipped around his neck, that draped over one shoulder.

"It's an awfully big reaction to an exaggeration." said Matt, pointing to the distant army.

"Well yes, it's true that I tend to take anything Ronerin says with a pinch of salt." said the King, scratching his nose. "But this was incident was more than a little too far. Due to my own ambassador's pleas of justice, I was bound by my honour as King to react accordingly."

Kern rumbled a growl, his face like thunder.

"Honour would not have put so much stock in the tales of just one man." he said.

"Well said." said the King with a wide smile. "Honour is satisfied, sir. We will leave you in peace shortly."

"What will become of the ambassador?" asked Katherine.

The King turned to her, and his face was suddenly sombre and serious.

"Yes." he said. "He will be dealt with, don't you worry."

"You're going to kill him?" Matt blurted without thinking. The King looked at him, and Matt felt the urge to shrink back.

"Of course not." said the King in a low voice. "But you can rest assured that his . . . future duties will not have the potential for full-scale war. On that you have my assurance."

The light was fading fast, and a couple of the Were-folk had returned from the village carrying tall torches that could be staked into the ground. They were set up around the group, and a flint was brought to light them. Matt closed his eyes, and his brow furrowed with concentration. All of the torches lit up at once, causing the one with the flint to jump back in surprise. When he opened his eyes, everyone was looking around at the torches except for the King, who was looking intently at Matt.

"For someone who's possessed magic for a few short hours, you have a knack for it, lad." he said. "Our Mages would love to meet you, I'm sure."

Behind him, Natary laughed wryly.

"Oh yes, I've heard of human Mages. They try to nail magic down with words into books, as though it were a tool."

"Indeed, they are quite fond of their books." said the King with a laugh.

"Magic is alive." said Matt, almost to himself. "It's a living thing, and therefor is worthy of respect."

That got the attention of everyone present. Especially Natary, who beamed at him.

"I'm sure there's a thing or two you could teach them, lad." said the King kindly.

"I'm sorry, sir. But my place is here. I will not leave."

"Of course, lad." replied the King with a smile. As he turned to leave, he passed Katherine, and he took a moment to look at her. She returned his gaze with a steady one of her own. Without missing a step or pausing in his departure, he glanced back at Matt and winked. Matt blushed, watching the King's retreating back.

Back at the castle, a feast had been prepared, awaiting the patriarch and his guest of honour, Matt. Kern had guided Matt to the seat next to his, and gently pushed him into it despite Matt's startled objections.

"You have done my people a great service, human." he said kindly. "Tonight we honour you, by feasting in your name."

And honour him they did. Such a meal Matt had never seen before. Whole burkas had been roasted and set in the center of the table, surrounded by steaming roast vegetables. There were pies of different shapes and sizes, piles of smaller cuts of meat presented on platters, a bowl of what looked like mashed potatoes, which Matt eyed with keen interest. Everyone was talking and laughing as all the food was brought out. As the whole roast burka was put on the table, Kern hoisted himself up onto the table, walked over to it and tore off one of its limbs with his bare hands. A cheer rang up around him as he held it aloft and took a bite out of it before returning to his chair. Barrels were carried on shoulders of the biggest of the Were-folk, and put around the table. Their lids were cracked open, and enormous mugs were dunked to be filled, and passed around the table. Matt took one and took a tentative sip as everyone watched. He coughed and spluttered in surprise.

"Beer!" he said. "I can't believe it, you've . . . you've got beer!"

Ever since arriving at the castle, one of the things that he'd occasionally missed was beer. He wasn't a heavy drinker by any standard, but the occasional drink was something that he'd gotten used to. Apparently everyone was watching him carefully, unsure of what he was saying. The whole village was here, at the massive table, and all of them were watching him in an eerie silence. He decided to take a chance, instead of playing it safe once again. He got up on the table, just like Kern, and drained his mug all in one go. When he was finished he held the mug upside down, and everyone cheered, bringing the noise back all at once. Matt sat back down, light-headed, and noticed that Kern was laughing so hard that his eyes were watering.

"Well done, boy!" he said, and slapped him on the back with a heavy hand. Another full mug was handed to him, and he sipped at it this time as everyone concentrated on eating and drinking. Matt couldn't remember being any happier.

The noise in the room was still very loud, because contrary to expectation, no one actually tried to stop talking even though they were eating. Everyone was talking, laughing, eating, and drinking, all in equal measure. Occasionally one of them would catch his eye, and raise their mug to him. He'd always return the gesture, and they'd smile and go back to their meal. Katherine was sitting nearby, and Matt saw that she was deep in conversation with her sisters. The three of them had their heads huddled together, and were talking quietly. Matt contented himself with eating and drinking for a while, until his plate was empty. Before he could reach out to fill it up again, someone put a new plate in front of him, filled with fresh food. The hand was attached to an arm, which Matt followed with his eyes until he was looking into the smiling face of an attractive young woman. She flashed her sparkling eyes at him as he ogled, and her golden blonde hair seemed to shimmer.

"I brought some food for you, honoured one." she said in a husky voice, and it seemed that the noise of the room around him dulled a little. Vaguely Matt was aware of the scrape of a chair nearby. Then suddenly the young woman was shoved aside so hard that she rolled across the floor. Katherine was there, glaring daggers at the fallen woman. She was standing between Matt and the woman, as she got back to her feet. Everyone had fallen silent now, intent on the drama that was unfolding. Matt wasn't quite sure what was happening, or why.

"When a woman brings a man food, it's a sign that she wants to mate with him." said a voice by his ear. He jumped in his seat with surprise, and looked to see Serina eyeing the scene with what looked to Matt like juvenile glee.

"How did you get here?" he asked, and looked over to her chair, where she'd been only a moment before.

"Shh. Just watch."

Matt watched, and as he did, Katherine picked up the plate that had been brought to him, and threw it bodily at the blonde girl, who cowered at the assault. Katherine screamed wordlessly at her, a trace of a growl in her voice, and the girl scampered away. In the silence that reigned, Katherine looked around defiantly at all the staring faces. She picked up her chair in one hand, and brought it down heavily on the ground beside Matt. She sat down and with one hand picked up a large portion of roast meat and put it on Matt's plate, then continued eating her own food as though nothing had just happened. To Matt's surprise, everyone went back to eating as well, and the noise level returned to normal as everyone went back to talking. Apparently what just happened was not out of the ordinary at all. Matt turned to Serina, to ask what exactly had happened, but she wasn't there anymore. She was back in her chair. How did she do that? Under the table, Matt felt a hand on his, and he looked up to see Katherine smiling at him. Matt couldn't help but smile back. Matt heard a chuckle on his other side, and saw that Kern was looking at him, and for the first time, the man was grinning. Sombrely, the patriarch nodded once to Matt, a gesture of approval. Finally.

Something at the far end of the hall caught his eye. In a corner, Natary was discreetly handing something to the girl whom Katherine had just chased away, who pocketed it and left the hall. Natary turned her head, and for a moment locked eyes with Matt. As he watched, she winked at him with a smile, then left as well.

The light of the rising sun was warm in the early morning chill. Matt had an extra layer on against the cold, but Katherine and Kern didn't seem to notice. Before them were the row upon row of buried swords.

"I can't believe the King agreed to leave them behind." said Matt. "That's an awful lot of steel to just abandon."

Beside him, Kern rumbled deep in his throat.

"It was his idea. He said that it was an assurance of his sincerity on his people's peaceful intentions."

"What will you do with them?"

"Our people have no need for weapons." said Katherine. "They are useless to us."

"We could just leave them there, as a symbol to anyone else who passes this way." said Kern.

"A symbol of what?" Matt asked. Kern just shrugged.

"A symbol of anything they like."

Matt looked at all the swords. It was indeed a lot of steel. Then he had a cheeky idea.

He raised his arms and all the swords rose up into the air. The others watched as they all converged together to create one giant bundle. The air was suddenly quite warm, and the bundle began to glow bright orange. Slowly the swords melted and merged with one another, with the occasional flare of a flame as the wooden and leather straps of the handles were burned away. Before long there was a floating ball of molten steel before them. Matt closed his eyes and used his hands to shape something unseen before him. As he moved his hands, the molten ball also moved, shaped by huge invisible hands. Both Katherine and Kern gaped, watching in awe as a shape emerged from the formless mass.

When Matt was done, he let it cool, carefully so that it didn't warp or crack. Then he let it touch the ground, and he could finally relax his mind. His head hurt a little, but it was worth it, and it would pass before long, he could tell. The statue faced outward, away from the valley, and all three of them walked around it to see it properly. It was still warm, and Katherine marvelled at it as she placed her hand against it. Its surface caught the sunlight, reflecting it with the mirror polish of steel.

"Well, what do you think?" said Matt, admiring his work.

The statue was in the rough shape of a man, standing tall and proud, with one hand on his hip, and the other reaching out. It wasn't very detailed, because Matt wasn't much of an artist, but he'd gotten the basics right. It helped that with his mind he'd been able to perfectly create what he'd seen in his head, without having to deal with the clumsiness of his hands.

"Impressive." said Kern, looking at it with approval.

"I agree, it is." said Katherine. "But why is he waving?"

"And why doesn't he use all of his fingers?" asked Kern. Matt just smiled and folded his arms.

"I'll explain it to you sometime. Where I come from it's a powerful gesture."

Then they all went back to the village, leaving the statue standing alone, facing the rest of the world, waving with just one finger.