Ceth tries to help her son get to sleep by reading happy bedtime stories.
It's not going to help, but he smiles anyway. He appreciates the gesture. He finds his mother's voice comforting. "Thanks, Mom."
Acheron's grades are perfect, but his teachers are not pleased. He falls asleep in class, shows little interest in socializing with other students, and when prodded to participate in discussions he tends to sabotage them by bringing up lessons the class hasn't covered yet.
(Acheron's class was assigned to read the first chapter of some crummy novel, and when the teacher asked his opinion on that novel, Acheron spoiled the novel's ending and ruined the whole lesson plan.)
He won't be needing his sleep for school tomorrow, though.
The family is going on vacation.
Since all of the children are now old enough to enjoy the trip, the household visits Monte Vista.
For those of you just tuning in, the old man Carlos is hugging here is his father.
The proud grandparents are delighted to see how their progeny have grown.
Fairuza was only a toddler at the last visit, and Orazia was a shy little girl still broken up about being abandoned by her mother.
And of course, they are meeting Dysen for the first time.
"So this was your room when you were my age?"
"Yep. Looks exactly how I left it."
"I can't help but notice... there's only one bed."
"So there is."
"Meaning... you didn't have to share your bedroom with your brother. Or with Ceth."
Carlos smirks. "Can't you and Acheron just get along?"
"We get along fine! Probably!? Dad, it's so hard to tell."
The only one who hasn't aged... is Izalee.
"What the actual !@#$ did you do to your parents' room?" Ceth questions.
Perenna and Reggie have been dead since Ceth was a teen, but she somehow never expected their bedroom to be altered.
"And... and... you look good..." Ceth's tone changes quickly, as realization dawns on her.
"H-how did that happen?"
"It's good to see you, too," Izalee says, once she doesn't have to talk over Ceth to say it.
"There are many things I couldn't write in my letters to you or to Orazia. Things I wouldn't even dare try to hide tucked in the pages of books I send her," Izalee begins a prelude to what is surely an interesting story.
"Yeah yeah. You're paranoid of being outed as a freaky witch, I get it, I get it," Ceth tries to rush said story along.
"Aside from that, it's... of a sensitive nature. I'd rather have told you in person."
"Told me what?"
"I went to look for my missing cousin. Rain. And for your mother."
Ceth blinks. "D-did you-"
"No. I couldn't find them. But I did find other supernatural beings. Or to be more precise, they found me. They tried to kill me."
"W-what? Why? Did they think you were-"
"Going to hurt them? Some of them did. Though not for the reasons you think. Some of them seemed to think I was an evil spirit, others merely expected I would attack out of self defense. As a cornered animal might attack a hunter."
"Uhhh... did you? Attack them?"
"Of course not. I'm not even certain I'd have survived, if not for... someone else. Interfering. Through her I found friendlier mages..." Izalee sighs, "it is a long story, but it led me to studying more advanced healing magic, as Cayenne must have. I used it to extend my life, just a little while, so I may live long enough to teach the next generation. But I'm not strong enough to do this forever."
"Not strong enough to share with your sister, either," Ceth observes.
" Unfortunately, the technique requires a mage's disciplined mind to really take. Lucida would be incapable of it. I spend more of my time maintaining myself than I spend living."
"Well... by all means, teach the next generation how to live longer. I'll try not to be jealous."
"That's not... exactly what I meant to teach..."
"I learned something my grandmother never taught me. I learned human witches often steal magic from others. As I was born an innately magical creature, they... the people who tried to hurt me... could sense that, and would have used my life to power their own spells."
Ceth just stares at her. So Izalee continues, "This is why it's so important for our kind to learn to protect ourselves. Not just from those who would harm us to keep our existence a secret, but from those would harm us just to become more powerful. There are some who think entire species of magical creature were hunted to extinction by human witches."
"Well I've never been bothered..."
"Of course not. I have always had protection spells on you."
"Unless you begin to use magic, you'll always stay beneath their notice."
"We don't all have the luxury of not using magic. Your psychic son, for example."
"Don't joke around with me here, Mom."
"Have you forgotten what I told you when you first brought him here as a baby?"
"It's just... we have a close relationship. If he were psychic, he would have told me."
The Rossi-Goldbeard home has a hot tub. Acheron has never been allowed to try out one of these before. It really is quite relaxing.
"Your Aunt Iz says you're psychic," his mother shatters the silence.
Ceth looks away before she can see his expression shift from placidity to terror.
She's not supposed to know. Knowing leads to questions, questions lead to answers, answers lead to more more questions, confrontations, danger... vampires, elves, monsters, people he's afraid of, entities he isn't ready to tangle with.
Everyone who cares about him gets hurt trying to protect him. He didn't think he'd have to let that happen. He's seen sequences where it hasn't. What did I do wrong?! Acheron panics in silence.
"On one hand, the woman wouldn't lie to me, right?" Ceth muses. "On the other, she has to be mistaken? Or what? If you're psychic, what exactly can you do?"
Oh. She doesn't know. Of course not, he chides himself, why would she know?
"Sometimes I think I can hear other people's thoughts," he says, leaving out any hint of the precognition. Izalee may be able to sense his psychic receptiveness, but there's no way for her to know the extent of his ability. "But it's never real clear. I thought I had an overactive imagination."
"Right, well, Izalee wants to teach you how to be a warlock or something. Hope you're excited. It sounds non-negotiable."
Aside from the hot tub room, this house has a lot of other spacious rooms, like this nursery with lots of cool old toys in it! (It was Milo's, but before that it was a nursery, and it became a nursery again because Ben and Lucida have wanted their grandkids to visit for like forever.)
"That's our Grandma with the Grim Reaper," Fairuza says proudly, pointing to the blurry photo on the wall.
"I bet Acheron doesn't have any cool grandmas," Dysen lays on a sick burn.
Um. Not every toy in the house is cool.
Hey, look how much space there is to play video games!
Wowww! Why did their parents give this up?!?!
"I've been teaching him about potionry at least. Like you asked me to in your letters," Orazia says. "I know you wanted me to wait until he's a bit older and more mature, but-"
"No, he seems like a bright enough child, it's a good start," Izalee nods approvingly.
"He's really shy around strangers," Orazia finds herself apologizing for Acheron, as he sits there listening to them with his back turned.
"Come here, little one," Izalee gently pulls Acheron off the sofa. "I know studying isn't what you may have had in mind for your summer vacation, but-"
"Yeah I know what you're going to say. I HAVE to learn or you're going to get mad and scream. One weak link can make the whole chain fall down blah blah no choice."
Acheron punctuates the end of his little rant with a sharp salute.
Izalee can tell she has a lot of work to do.
Dysen may be a werewolf, but Izalee thinks he might have an inclination towards magic and should participate in the lessons, too.
Maybe Izalee is just an unhinged old lady...
Fairuza would feel left out, but she's too busy enjoying Monte Vista pizza.
Sniff. Sniff. The smell of old hunting grounds.
After all that crap with Guadalupe, Milo thought he'd never want to see Monte Vista again. He let himself forget how beautiful it was.
Orazia keeps on a smile for her grandparents, but she's not having much fun. She's worried about running into people she knew when she was a little kid. Every time Lucida suggests going somewhere out on the town, Orazia feels sick.
Lucida shows off for the children.
Ben still has his oh-so-important job in politics, so he and his wife dress up from time to time for minor events.
Just a cute family scene.
They're roasting marshmallows, and various other things...
Faiuza wanted to roast a fish she caught.
Acheron frowns. Deja vu again. He's certain he has lived this moment before.
Lucida brings the kids to the farmers' market because why not.
That's when Acheron... catches sight... of...
Sensing Acheron's distress and finding it pretty funny, Dysen beckons the robot closer.
Acheron bursts into tears....
...and runs off.
Good job, Dysen.
Dysen realizes he has messed up. "Aw, no. Dad's going to ground me again."
After a while, it's clear Acheron will not come back on his own, so Dysen sets out to look for him and hopes no adults notice they are both missing.
Maybe he can catch Acheron's scent from this high vantage point.
He sniffs around. No... no, this is stupid...
Wait! There's a reddish jacket way over there across the river.
Acheron is in a completely different park. Still crying!
Dysen kneels down in front of him. "Hey, what's wrong?"
"I don't know! I... I can't remember!" Acheron can't remember why he's afraid of the plumbot. Maybe there is no reason. Maybe he is losing his mind. He cries even harder. "Go away!"
"My Dad's grandpa made the robot. Well actually she's a gynoid. That's like an android, only made to look like a lady," Dysen rambles, trying to sound smart and scientific. "Her name is Ani. She's nice! She was happy to meet me. I could introduce you. I'm sorry I tried to scare you. Please don't cry."
"You just want to make fun of me..."
"Yeah," Dysen admits, "but I don't want you to be scared for real! You're part of my pack. I won't let anything hurt you."
Acheron sniffs, drying his tears on the back of his hands. "...I know."
Dysen tilts his head, confused. "Let's go back before they miss us."
Oh, and this happened.
Yep. That's a bunch of werewolves, in their dumb pack hunting animation that we will never speak of again. I'm sure there's a reason they're tromping around conspicuously in front of their house instead of in the woods or something.
"A Gno-mercy poster?! Mama, this means so much to me."
Some time between now and Milo's last visit, Lucida replaced one of her many Roos posters with one supporting her son's team. He's genuinely touched.
Etc.: A whole chapter without dream filters! Cool!