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Jonathan Eris (played by Pengolodh) Topic Starter

“Hmm?” Jon is temporarily sobered, his expression faltering as he hears Gabe’s suggestion. It would seem this dream has come to an end, all he can do now is try and make it a pleasant ending. He sighs, setting down his drink and clearing his throat.

The wizard tries not to let this sudden sadness color his expression too much, let the others think that Gable really is up to something shady. He scans the faces of the crowd, taking in the raucous joy he was able to be a part of, if only briefly, memorizing the taste of alcohol and fresh seafood and the heavy air of the tavern. This is an experience he wants to take with him, living this alternate life for just a few hours, how things should have been, if only he had left Blackstaff be.

Provided he survived the war. Provided everything else turned out the way it had, and wasn’t changed drastically by his absence as archmage. He’s sure Eswell would have done fine in his stead, slinging spells and wards like an expert instead of the bumbling novice that Jon had been. And then Eswell could have gone home to his master’s tower, taken her place, and Jon could have gone home to his family and taken his place…

But that isn’t what happened.

“You’re quite right, Master Kendall,” he says, quite a bit louder, so that some of the folks gathered closest to him, including Gertie and Leeland, can hear him. Reluctantly, he turns toward the door. “We’d best be on our way before we end up sprouting roots for the night… there are still a few things we need to wrap up before this little adventure of ours can be considered a done deal. Nothing nefarious, I promise.”
Besides Gable and the barkeep, Leeland Merriweather is the only member of the crowd who's managed to keep (most of) his sobriety. He fixes that aged face across from him with a frown that borders on comedic petulance, though it's entirely sincere. Unsurprisingly, it strikes Gabe as being reminiscent of a certain toddler when bedtime rolls around. He pities the boy for what he'll lose tonight and prays his Captain returns safely soon.

"You're leaving again, Cap'n? Where are you going?"

Before Leeland or Gertie can protest or insist they stay in town for the night, Gabe stands up and thanks them very kindly for their hospitality. He goes so far as to kiss Gertie's hand, a move which brings their faces quite close together; she is just soaked enough to accept the chivalry with a throaty chuckle. Then he pulls Leeland into a fond embrace to dispense a little wisdom in his ear at a private volume. The boy quickly dons an expression fit for the weighty words, then thanks the familiar stranger warmly.

The night air is clear and sharp when it rushes their hot faces, throwing the pub and its musky dreaminess into sharp contrast. The difference is almost breathtaking, except it has quite the opposite effect: his lungs balloon in gratitude, as if he's been laboring to inhale a thicker atmosphere all evening. And suppose he has; wading through heavy aromas of rich foods, perfumes, and fishermens' sweat isn't an easy task for such sensitive olfactory equipment. Once his senses have cleansed, Gable feels even more certain that the time has come for them to return where they belong. His feet itch to move as if compelled; it takes a great amount of restraint to linger at Master Eris’s side while assessing how well the man can walk a straight line by himself.

With a strange sense of pity for something that's been lost to them, something that he can't fully understand or explain to himself, he squeezes the Captain’s—the wizard's—shoulder. It isn't until after they've left the village and its mellow lanterns behind them that he can speak of it from their Outsider perspective again, with a grip forming on reality. Their own reality.

"You're a mighty gifted storyteller, sir." His smile is soft and admiring, though he would normally frown on such effortless fabrication. Considering the circumstances, it's not too difficult to forgive the temporary mar on his mentor's good character. "I s'pose you just draw off all the things you've already seen and done and read about, but I... Well, it felt real. It really did. Careful of that crater in the road." Gabe knows his way back to the portal, back to home. He all but drags the wizard (gently, like one shepherds a duckling) by his elbow in the proper direction.

He continues in his muted voice as if he's afraid the trees will hear them and report back to Gertie and the rest of her ale-worshiping crew. "Lee loves stories, you know. He'd just eat outa your hand if you'd tell him a few. Especially that one with the sea dragon. He's sort of fond of scary things, so long as they're not happening to him. Nasty Larry is always getting into some scrape with monsters."

Gabe can feel the portal long before he can see it. Some part of him is sure he even hears it, too, but how could that be possible over the grinding of the sea against cliffs? Magic, obviously. It just works differently, he reminds himself, and he'll have to get used to it if he dreams of ever becoming like that brave figure Master Eris had invented.

Recalling his own spinning, heaving experience with the thing, Gabe casts the portal a dirty look before glancing at his friend. "Will you be all right going through, sir?" He offers an arm for the wizard to link with him, not only for his stability, but for Gable’s own comfort. A reminder they are in it together this time.
Jonathan Eris (played by Pengolodh) Topic Starter

“Just to tie up a few loose ends. Be back before you know it!” Jon reassures with a wink to young Leeland, a false promise he hopes his counterpart can keep. He waves a final goodbye to these strangers that have welcomed him, thinking him their friend, and turns toward the door with a little ushering from Gable.

Shambling is a good word for it, he thinks fuzzily as he does just that out into the streets, grateful for his companion’s guiding hand as they make their way back to the portal. The wizard sniffs, nose numb with the chill of the air as he goes, his feet deviating only slightly from the straight path Gable sets. He has to be more careful once they’re off the paved road; pine needles and loose stones are less stable on drunken feet.

“Why thank you, Gabe.” He answers with a smile, failing to suppress a hiccup at the end of the sentence. His voice seems way too loud, now that they’re away from the clamor of the pub, and it makes his ears ring just speaking plainly. He veers unsteadily around the hole in the road the lad mentions. “Well, in some cases yes. I’ve told you before that I’ve been to a good number of very dangerous places, full of unsavory characters. The Court likes sending me places the rest of them don’t want to go. Too afraid to get their robes dirty. ‘Send Jon, I can’t lose two apprentices in one year.’ ‘Send Jon, I have an aversion to the undead.’ ‘Send Jon’… the list goes on. It’s allowed me to see some amazing things. The tuff arches of The Ashen Wastes. Canatorn’s hanging glass sculptures. Massive mammoth herds migrating across the northern tundras. Vampires. Dragons. Liches. Monsters of the sort no ordinary man should see and live to say he has. It makes me feel…”

Disposable is the word he wants to use. It encompasses how he truly feels, like The Court sees him as a tool and little else. An instrument of violence to be unleashed or recalled at their will, unrefined and unwelcome beyond usefulness, incapable of anything beyond that.

“… it makes me feel alive.” He hopes the lie is less obvious to Gable’s ears than it is to his own. Still, he’s quieter when he continues. “Perhaps if I can get Lee away from his scaly nanny, I might be able to conjure him up a tale or two… although to be honest with you, Gabe, I’ve never encountered a sea dragon. I’m not even sure they really exist.”

Jon can just make out the swirling mass of magic that brought them here by the time he finishes off his admission with a self-conscious chuckle. It burns a bit as it resonates through his skull, but that he knows is his own fault. Magic and booze have never made a good combination. Especially on an empty stomach. Especially with his body’s peculiarities. He shakes his head, making the ground tilt a bit as he reaches out to take Gabe’s offer of support. No need to fall flat on his face if he doesn’t need to.

“I’ll manage.” Jon pronounces, linking his arm through the younger man’s and stepping toward the swirling vortex. He swallows, burying the hollow feeling in his chest as he looks back over his shoulder one final time, to glimpse his beloved sea in the last amber light of the day. Who knows when he’ll have another chance to see her? But home awaits, and he must go, and so he turns back to the gateway before them. “Don’t fret too hard if I’m sick when we come out the other side. It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”

The wizard reaches into the portal, grasping at the thread at its center, the same as he did the first time, although this time, as he pulls himself forward, he also drags Gabe with him as well. Seconds later, they both pop out the other side, into a familiar glade of partially-melted snow and tall pine trees.

Jonathan takes two steps forward, slow ones, in which he tries to master his unruly stomach with deep breaths and thoughts of the fresh tea waiting for him at home… but it’s no use. The roiling in his belly gets the better of him, and he promptly drops to his knees and heaves, the taste of sour ale and iron sitting heavy in his mouth.
"It makes me feel alive."

Gabe turns this sentiment over in his mind for a while, testing its truth against his own soul; would he feel alive being tossed from one place to the next without having a say in the matter? Could he ever enjoy slaying beasts—or other people, or even the undead that resemble other people—in the name of keeping the peace? A surge of awe and gratitude for Master Eris's life of service answers these queries. Realizing the archmage has probably gone unthanked for most of his bravery and toil stirs up something close to pity as well, but not quite; the emotion just misses the mark of pity and lands squarely on quiet, broiling, indignation.

He kicks a stone and watches it skitter off the road into the dark brambles. He glances up at the creaking pine boughs above their heads and the dusky, star-speckled sky that peeks in the spaces between. When he speaks, the resentment he feels towards the faceless masses comes out in the form of determined optimism. "When I'm cured, I think we ought to go someplace lovely to celebrate, sir. Anywhere you want. It will all be new to me."

As for the sea dragons, the smirk he replies with is, by Gable Kendall standards, quite daring. "I s'pose that means we'll have to investigate their existence together. Cap'n."

Gabe does fret when the wizard gets sick, but he knows what to do about it. Even in its withered, dormant state, the cowpoke can identify the remedy lying low in the brush. He prizes a small shrub from the cold ground, twists off a brittle root, and strips its bitter outer coating with his teeth. Still spitting the skin out of his mouth, he bends low and proffers the white flesh. "Chew this, sir, but don't swallow. The fibers are the most helpful part, but I don't know what they'd do to your tummy."

Crisp, defiantly watery and plump for the season's conditions (but with ropelike fibers running throughout) the tuber offers a nutty mild taste and the effect of calmer nerves and a placid stomach. "That's Namon, just like back home. Grows almost everywhere."

While the wizard regains his composure, Gabe takes notice of a few birds and rodents gathered in the skirts of a thorny bush several yards away. With a great show of group effort, they apparently carried away his deerskin bag and teased out the hefty treasures inside. The loaf of bread and thick peppered sausage he'd packed for his own enjoyment lay scattered and deformed. His approach startles most of the creatures away immediately. A lone squirrel defies him for a few seconds longer, then it bounds away to scale a tree trunk and it finds a good, safe height from which to chatter crossly. Gable murmurs an apologetic thanks to the little beings, for without them, he might not have found his belongings until daylight. He shakes out the very last of the food stuff onto the ground as a peace offering, then tucks the rucksack beneath his arm.

He offers an arm to Master Eris, then takes notice of how dark the forest has become and considers that it must look even darker through the wizard's eyes. "We've got a long way to go, sir. I brought us up awful high and... Well, I feel I ought to bring you back down. It would be easier. And faster. But not too fast." Despite feeling sorry for running the man sore on their romp, amusement dances in his eyes.

"I can take you down just like so, if you'd rather." He takes a knee on the damp ground and hitches his thumb at his back.
Jonathan Eris (played by Pengolodh) Topic Starter

Jon leans back on his heels, eyeing the puddle of pinkish froth in front of him before turning his attention Gable’s offered solution. The root is unassuming, but most woodland remedies are, if memory serves. A book of the province’s useful flora had been among the first of Ramona’s gifts to him after she dragged him out of the wilderness. He doesn’t recognize this root specifically, but he trusts Gabe enough not to poison him. More than enough, actually.

“Probably nothing good.” He responds, stifling a burp as he pops the root in his mouth to give it a chew. The relief is almost instantaneous, and the tension in his shoulders evaporates as his aching belly is soothed. Even without the fibrous portion, the juices of the plant are enough. He doesn’t recognize the name of it when Gable tells him, but it could have been called something else in the book.

While Gabe shuffles off, Jon takes a minute to just sit and recalibrate himself. He’s starting to feel less pleasantly loose and more I’ll the more time passes, although the juices of the tuber he gnaws on do help with that. It mutes the buzzing in his skull, makes it more bearable, but he’s beginning to regret just how much alcohol made it into his body, even if he had a grand time while it was making its way there. He should have been more careful, should have asked for some porridge or something to eat beforehand, or just foregone the alcohol altogether… but it was all part of the facade, wasn’t it? This false identity that he wore for a few hours would have drank immediately and eaten that whole fish. Perhaps believing too much in his imagined self had him convinced he could drink like his imagined self too.

“A lift would be… much obliged.” He sighs and pushes himself upright, turning to face the younger man. “Although… I hate to strain your body like that. And… I don’t think I might the wolf quite as much now as I did this afternoon. He’s grown on me a bit, dare I say.”

The wizard smiles, still chewing on his wad of root, although the effect is somewhat diminished by his generally disheveled appearance.
Gable smiles proudly, an expression which creases the boyish dimple in his cheek and puts his chipped tooth on full display. "You've grown on him, too, sir. But then again, he almost always liked you... You taste better than garlic-buttered guinea fowl."

After making sure Master Eris has at least one hand on a nearby trunk for stability, Gable hurries through the same motions of undressing, storing his clothes, handing off his rucksack (with his back to Master Eris for modesty's sake) and slipping into his fur as he did in the afternoon, this time knowing it truly is the last he'll ever feel so wonderfully free and powerful. There's something deeply poetic about closing out their golden day in the same way they began it, now under the first dusky blush of starlight... If he'd had only one day left to live, rather than simply one day left to keep this second skin, he wouldn't have changed a thing. Even the portal had been an enjoyable surprise in the end. But there's no time to dwell on sentimentality; he has an aging wizard to bring home safely, and a chief of staff to whom he must grovel, and a little boy he wants to kiss and squeeze and thank the gods there will be no weddings for quite some time...

The wolf's forehead nudges into his master's hand to elicit a pat before they go on their way. Then, as promised, four legs are quicker (and nimbler) than two, but he restrains his pace to an easy, flat-backed trot down the mountain.

It's unclear to him how well the Master can receive the thoughts and feelings and images he shares, but he takes at least half of the journey to think hard about what he wants to say, then does his best to communicate just how much it means to him that the wily old wizard agreed to come along on this farewell tour; he shows him a brilliant sunset over the sea, a little boat, some passing whales, and three figures. The smallest figure holds a miniature fishing rod and the largest holds the fisherman's tiny waist. The captain of their vessel strums a chugging rhythm on his mandolin.

When I was just a lad of 12, I joined a skipper's crew...

Oh, yes.

That tune is definitely stuck in his head now.
Jonathan Eris (played by Pengolodh) Topic Starter

"Well it's nice to hear I'm good for something." He snorts, letting Gable practically prop him up against a tree while the younger man gathers his things and changes himself for the journey back. Jon takes his bag in hand, careful not to leave it behind this time, lest the good caretakers of the estate lose their collective minds with a naked Kendall wandering the halls.

The wizard watches the transformation a good deal more closely this time, observing the stretch of skin over sinew and the lengthening of bones in the boy's back. He imagines how painful it must be, to feel all of that. Unless... he cannot? The other thing he wonders is just how present Gable's mind is during the transformation. Does he understand and experience all of it? Or is his mind so occupied by also warping shape that he cannot process the stress his body is under? He remembers the lad mentioning that the transformations used to be less uncomfortable. So surely he must be at least partially aware...

Soft fur presses into his hand, and Jon leaves his musings behind in favor of running his fingers through it. Over the beast’s head, along his ears, under his jaw, holding that heavy head in his hands for the first and last time. This has been a trust-building experience, riding out here, exploring the unknown, and returning home under the stars…

“Good lad.” The wizard murmurs, knotting his fingers into the fur at the wolf’s shoulders and heaving himself up onto its back. As they travel, Jon droops more and more over the beast’s neck and shoulders, until he practically lays across them. Gable’s gait is quick and smooth, but his brain still sloshes in a slurry of drink and mild regret, and so he figures that hanging onto the wolf with his whole body is a reasonable thing to do. In fact, he is very nearly asleep when an image comes to his mind.

A small sailing vessel. Three figures. A tiny fishing rod. The strumming of a mandolin. And the tune they had just sung in the tavern.

It brings a watery smile to his face, thinking that the vision might come to pass someday. Once they’re through the oncoming trial of ridding Gable of his affliction. Then they can go and celebrate, have a nice trip to the coast, not to Falgate, but maybe Saltport. If Noah is there, he’ll take them out on a proper ship. If not, it’s no trouble to rent a little fishing skiff for the day. Lee will probably love it, seeing the waves, the birds, all the fish down below. If the weather is warm, they might even be able to do a bit of swimming, see the reefs.

In answer, he squeezes the wolf’s shoulder, a single notion pressed back: Soon.

When they near the tree-line bordering the house, Jon finally sits up a bit, then slides off the wolf’s back once it comes to a stop. He’s still smiling, the events of the evening and the pleasant ride home still burning bright in his mind, and he leaves the man’s rucksack at the wolf’s feet before heading toward the house. Gabe will want a bit of privacy to turn back, probably, but he does spare one glance back, admiring the beast’s power and grace, and expressing one more thought to the wolf before he turns in for the night. Gratitude, for a fun evening out, for trusting him when it came to the portal, for getting them both home safely. He’ll say it again tomorrow, with more detail, after they’ve had a chance to digest the evening’s activities.

Jonathan is stealthy as a mountain cat, or so he thinks, as he creeps into the house through the side door near the garden. The house is quiet, but it ceases to be so when he is not ten paces from the foot of the stairs that lead to the third floor.

”Jonathan Paul Eris!”

Maddox shouts from his office just down the hall, and appears, storming down the corridor a moment later. How he was able to know for a fact that it was the wizard lurking in the shadows and not anyone else is a mystery, and one the world may never know the answer to.

“Where in the nine hells have you been? Ariathel and I have been worried sick!

The shouting does nothing positive for the booze-induced headache Jon has been fighting since he spat out the last of the root pulp on the way back here, and he can’t help but wince.

“Sorry, yes, I…” He struggles to organize his thoughts in the face of his angry nephew, deciding that the truth in this case will be easier than trying to fabricate a lie on the fly. “I was out with Gable for a bit.”

“You smell like drink. Have you been out to Three Coons or something?”

“No, we… can you please stop shouting? My head hurts a great deal.”

“I’m not shouting.”

“Then would you mind talking quieter?”

“Sorry, fine…” The redhead lets off an exasperated sigh, and grabs his master’s shoulder firmly, but his voice is at least a little softer. “You just scared us, is all. Come on, you’ll probably be wanting a bath, right?”

“And some tea.” Jon responds as he allows himself to be guided up the stairs toward bed, more than a bit relieved that Maddox has lowered his voice. “Something with peppermint if we have it. I promise I’ll tell you everything tomorrow, but right now I’d very much like to turn down for the evening.”

“I’ll ask Gable—“

“No, no, leave him be.” The wizard grunts, waving him off. “He’ll be pining for his bed as well, when he gets in. Just be patient, I promise I’ll tell you in the morning.”

“Over breakfast?”

“Over breakfast.”
Once upon a time, Gable caught a glimpse of a deeply disturbing illustration that depicted a man strapped to a device with his arms and legs being torn from his body. A 'rack', it was labeled. It was in one of Allerick's books, his special books, and his half-brother had been desperately furious with Gabe for finding it. Hating the abhorrent image to the point of feeling physically ill, Gabe's brain must have buried it for all this time because he hasn't thought of it in years… but right now the lycan feels like he just climbed down from one of those evil-looking pieces of furniture. He's positive a skeleton is not supposed to sting.

One transformation is asking for discomfort, but two cycles in one day—four shifts in total, come to think of it—is begging for ruin. And ruined he feels. And a bit misshapen, too, as everything takes its time shrinking back to its normal shape and size, and not all at the same rate. This part of him is lean, and this part is puffy; this hand is much too short and the other is still bristling with guard hairs. It's repulsive and unnerving, a reminder that this wolf is not really a part of him.

Still, Gabe feels the stretch of his own broad smile more than he seems to register the throb of swollen joints, micro-tears, and lengthening nail beds as he weaves himself back into his clothes. Soon. The promise rings in his mind and heart, accompanied by images of sea and sand and other realms. And Master Eris's parting remarks—wordless, pure feelings of gratitude and bonding—warm him even as the cold bites his exposed skin.

"Papa?" A sleepy, wispy voice in the dark of his bedroom. Its youthfulness is a relief.

"Hmm? Scoot over, honey." With all the ups and downs and nightmares the boy has experienced since they arrived, it's no wonder why he still hasn't moved to his own cot. But it doesn't make lying down on the narrow thing very easy for Gabe. He squeezes the boy's doughy cheeks and kisses his forehead, his nose, his eyelids. Lee accepts the enthusiastic greeting with a wrinkled face.

"You smell funny."

"Like the forest?"

"No."

Like ale, probably. It was the last thing Gabe ingested before they left the tavern behind. Before he can explain, Lee speaks again. Confidently.

"You smell like Mama."

Gabe freezes. The saloon. Of course. He can feel where Lee's thoughts are racing and he knows he must put them to a stop, firmly, but gently. He draws a slow breath through his lips, sighs it out his nose. "She isn't here, honey. I just went somewhere with Master Eris and we had grown-up drinks. We met a real dwarven woman, and sang pirate songs–"

"When's she coming to live with us in the castle?"

Gabe sighs again. It leaves him feeling hollow, and now it's clear to him just how sluggish and tired his body and brain have become. He can't think of anything. No fairy tales, no gentle excuses to explain the messy adult world... Telling him the outright truth is sure to bring on a fit of sadness for the boy. And maybe for himself, if he's honest. He'd much rather have Alice here with him, raising their boy together, making a new start of it all. But she lashed their son with her words for heaven knows how long, and turned Gable into a fugitive without a second thought... Whatever Alice wants, it wasn't them. "I don't know, cucciolo. But it won't be tonight. We can say a prayer for her."

Lee says nothing, but Gabe can feel a nod against his shoulder. He clears his throat before murmuring his way through an unfocused but sincere request for peace, safety, contentment, love, mercy... Lee sniffles and the prayer trails off. Gabe pulls him even closer and speaks softer. "Your birthday is coming up real soon. What kind of cake should we ask Ms. Ari to make?"

There is a long silence. Then the answer breaks his heart.

"I don't want cake."
Jonathan Eris (played by Pengolodh) Topic Starter

An alternate reality?!

“Please, Maddox.” Jon groans, rubbing his temples. “I know I’ve tried to explain multiversal theory to you before and it was a catastrophe. We both know you don’t have the head for it. Please just accept what I’m saying at face value and don’t try to read any more into it.”

The wizard had woken late in the morning to find his chief of staff already present, seated at the table and reading through a letter, with a spread resembling “breakfast” laid out before him. A bowl of paste, of course, was present for Jon, although his stomach made a generally disagreeable sound upon discovering it, but a promise was made, and he came through to fulfill it. With pounding head and aching body, he shambled over to the table and began his tale, making sure to leave out the truly incriminating details, like the three bites of fish, and the fact that he had no idea what kind of drink he was served, and the fact that he threw up on the way home.

Maddox makes a noise in the back of his throat at the story’s conclusion, seeming to ruminate on everything he’s been told, and whether or not he really believes it. Or if he believes Jon has told him everything, or just the parts that don’t make him out to be a hooligan.

While the redhead mulls over the information, the wizard himself keeps sending sidelong glances toward his bed. This isn’t, by far, the worst hangover he’s experienced, in fact given all he got up to the previous night, he’s feeling better than expected. But it’s still the first hangover he’s had in many years, and it isn’t comfortable. He’d love little more than to crawl back in bed and sleep off the rest of the night’s lingering effects, but he knows there are more important things he needs to do today than lie in bed.

“Well, I suppose as long as there aren’t any lasting effects, there was no harm in it.”

Maddox’s verdict breaks him out of his mournful thoughts of bed like a bucket of cold water. It’s a relief though, knowing the chief of staff is apparently placated. It brings a smile to his face that he hopes doesn’t resemble a mischievous smirk.

“Of course, and I don’t believe there will be any lasting damage.” He does his best to look healthy and well-rested, which apparently raises his nephew’s suspicions if the raised eyebrow is anything to go by. “Another day to sleep off the fun, and you’ll never know I was gone.”

Maddox snorts, but gathers up his papers and the last dregs of breakfast and leaves him be, which means that Jonathan has run out of excuses to dawdle. So he gets up with a groan, washes his face, and gets dressed for the day. He selects something in deep violet and gray, without much in terms of decoration. The robe is plain, but the colors are vibrant and highly saturated. This isn’t one he wears often, but he’s in an odd mood today, caught between basking in the joy from the previous night and the dread of what must be done today.

The crate of vials, having been relocated from the table to the floor for breakfast, is hesitantly returned to its original spot. He pops the lid off again, and almost reverently takes one of the silver bottles out of its nesting place, and puts it in his pocket. It sits heavy like lead against his body, like it contains all the fear he has for the coming days within its glass walls. But this will be Gable’s salvation, his freedom from this other wolf that has taken him hostage in its jaws and refuses to let go. This will be what lets him return to himself. Hopefully.

With nothing else stopping him, Jon sets off, barefoot, to find Gabe.
Gable tries his luck again in the morning. While they change their clothes and wash their faces, he describes every kind of cake he can think of to entice the boy's imagination. Moist, rich, fruity, chocolaty... Each is met with a firm shake of the head. Gable understands why, and he respects his son for sticking to his guns. But what Lee really wants, Gabe can't offer to him. They can't go back and she can't come here. Not ever. Not ever.

Gabe starts offering pies next. Pies may not be meant for birthdays, but birthdays are very important days, and therefore anything you eat on a birthday becomes important, too. Lee follows this line of reasoning but starkly rejects pies as well. That's when it hits. There's too much newness and uncertainty involved with cakes and pies, Gabe realizes. So wise young Pa casually sighs and mutters that Ms. Ari's 'plain old' apple tarts will have to do, then.

This trusty, familiar option rouses a little more consideration from Lee. He'd still rather have Mama there, of course, but they agree that everyone else should get to have apple tarts to celebrate his birthday (it wouldn't be fair to take dessert away from everybody), and he'll eat them, too, if he's feeling up to it. Yes. Deal. They shake (and hug) on it. But if the way Lee drags his pine-figure family's bag across the floor as they exit the room is anything to go by... the birthday boy is far from cheered.

Lorelei almost looks frightened by the melancholic cub as Gabe hands him off for breakfast. Lee clings to the young woman's neck and buries his face, ignoring Gable's soft goodbye before he leaves in the opposite direction of the dining hall. Despite the fact his last shift left him with an appetite that only grew throughout the night into a pit this morning, he can't even think about food today. There's too much else to think on, too many loose ends to tie up before...

Hopefully the recovery period will be as short as a few days, then back to work. Back to study. Back to future thoughts and future hopes, free from a cycle of forced transformations and the anxiety leading up to them. Free from making a constant burden of himself.

When Master Eris's shadow falls across the workshop door, Gabe is threading, knotting, and braiding a multicolored mane onto the wooden birthday horse. His expression is grim and distant, with a thin line denoting his mouth and one long, furrowed brow knit together where there used to be a handsome set. His glassy eyes bounce up to the wizard's face, then drop right back down to his work. He smiles tiredly. His hands keep moving. He sniffles.

"I'd just like to finish this before we get started, sir, if it's all right. Nearly done. Have a seat?" Without looking at it, he nods toward the same stool upon which Master Eris had taught him about the whales. The nautical helm book ends stand within arms' reach on another work surface.

"What color silk do you want for your armor lining, sir? The purple you had is nice, but blue is also flattering on you. I s'pose it doesn't matter too much, on account of no one actually seeing the inside... but I thought I'd talk to Mr. Rex this morning about that Lockgate Armorworm lady, so she can get a bolt of it to us before we go to the sea next time. I figure we'll probably be taking the long way, so it'll be good to have fresh, comfortable armor for the road." His voice is light, chatty, distracted. Sort of like someone trying to make conversation while crossing through a graveyard.
Jonathan Eris (played by Pengolodh) Topic Starter

It doesn't take long for Jon to realize that he must put on shoes if he is to find Gable, to his regret. The house is devoid of the large man, and so it is off to the barn, and then the wood shop when the barn turns up empty as well. Even Tehani has made her way off, likely early in the morning before anyone else was awake, leaving her stall with nothing more than a centaur-shaped depression in the straw bedding.

The Gabe he walks in on in the workshop is practically thrumming with anxiety, with no trace of the carefree youngster he had spent the evening socializing in a tavern with the night previous. It makes his heart hurt to see just how quickly the change has come over.

"Of course." He nods, solemnly, matching the dour mood of the room. Now is not the time for meaningless platitudes. This is a heavy topic they're about to address, and making light of it would be... unwise. The wizard floats over to the stool he occupied the last time he was here, having a seat as he waits for Gable to finish up. "There's no rush. If you need a day to get your head in the right place, there's no harm in postponing until tomorrow..."

He sighs, picking up one of the nearby bookends to turn it over in his hands, running his fingers over the carvings. Jon recognizes the anxious chatter when he hears it, but calling it out for what it is won't be any help, and so he indulges it.

"Blue is fine. I prefer it over the purple, but that was what was available, and purple is the tint my arcane aspect tends to manifest in, so there are no small number of people who assume that means I have an affinity for the color. I don't. Or at least, it's nothing special to me. Perhaps we can make the trip this coming spring, if we can get the silk quickly. I'll have to make my annual trip to Glimmertarn, of course, but that won't be until summer time, and it'll take me in the opposite direction. Shelcana has its own coastline, but the province is mostly one large floodplain, and the coast there isn't anything particularly striking... just muddy silt and shellfish burrows."

It could work. Head to the western shores in late spring, have a nice little holiday, then head back to Black Pine for a rest, and then on to Glimmertarn in the east for the annual hearings and a mandatory visit with Ramona to make sure his guts are all still in order and not liable to malfunction any time soon. It would make for a long, exhausting ordeal, but it's far from outside the realm of possibility. And if not this year, there is always next.
The offer to postpone doesn't tempt Gable. He shakes his head while pinching a lock of horse hair between his rounded lips and answers once he's removed it. "Thank you, sir, but I'd rather not wait. Lee's upset with me today, he'd rather have his mother, and I think it would be kinder to him if I'm indisposed while he's still mad than to wait til he's feeling clingy. I hope by tomorrow he'll come around again, and I'll feel well enough to hold him."

Gabe listens actively to the wizard's reply, managing a polite expression of interest and a couple of nods, but without adding his own comments about the assumption of his favorite color, the travel, or the floodplain. He shows no interest in hearing more about the muddy silt and shellfish burrows, nor Glimmertarn and the wizard's business that carries him there annually, nor does he exude much excitement at the prospect of a trip to the coast so soon in their future. But Master Eris's words do work their way down inside of him, and even as his hands continue their steady pace, his rigid shoulders soften. Little shellfish wiggle underneath the sand, the water rises and washes over them, then the waves roll back out to sea…

At length, he fastens one final knot with a firm tug, then sets aside the remaining tufts of unused horse hair and the awl he'd been using to push them through the tiny holes in the horse's neck. His gaze rests on the toy for another minute, not inspecting his work, but just… staring through it.

Gabe's face is sharpened by focus and resolve when he locks eyes with Master Eris again. "I'm ready. Let me clean up, then… I'm ready. Where will we do it?"
Jonathan Eris (played by Pengolodh) Topic Starter

Jon releases a long and heavy sigh as the younger man explains the origin of his disquiet, nodding as his understanding dawns. Ah. Lee. Yes, the toddler’s mood would certainly color the day a certain way, just knowing how close the two were intertwined on an emotional level. And it would explain why not even the thought of a holiday at sea is eliciting a reaction from the man. But it doesn’t make what he has to say next any easier.

“I understand.” He fiddles with the vial in his pocket, but leaves it there for now. “I suppose we can do it wherever you like, although I imagine you’ll want to find someplace quiet and comfortable to rest eventually. The treatment will take seven days total; the cure needs time to build up in your body before there is enough to wipe out the disease. The first dose may or may not produce much of a reaction, but by the second you’ll likely start running a fever. After that it will have to get worse before it gets better, I’m afraid. Body aches, nausea, muscle spasms, the list of potential effects goes on, but none of them are guaranteed, except that you will probably feel very sick before the end.”

The wizard’s own posture has continued to droop as he explains the process of curing Gable’s affliction. He doesn’t want to say it, but he’s scared. He doesn’t want Gabe to have to go through this ordeal. But if he’s determined to do it, then Jon will do everything in his power to ensure that everything goes as smooth as possible.

“If you’d rather not stay in the quarters you share with Lee for this, I understand. It probably won’t be pretty, and he is still young enough he might not understand what’s happening or why, and I’m not sure I’d be able to explain it well. We can find a spare room. The library is also an option, I suppose. It’s quiet enough. If… If you truly wish not to be disturbed, we can arrange for you to stay upstairs. With me.”
A whole week? The news stuns Gable into an unmoving silence outwardly, but his mind reels and whirs. A blink of math confirms his disappointment: they won't be celebrating Lee's birthday on his birthday… but what will that matter to a four-going-on-five year old? Days blend together at that age, and maybe without Gabe's constant reminders, it will pass out of the boy's mind again for a little while.

Unless… could they wait to start the cure after?

No, of course not. Another week of wasted time isn't an option. If this doesn't work for some reason, if he gets too ill to finish the course or he simply loses his nerve, then they'll need what little time they have left in the lunar cycle to enact a Plan B. The sooner they know for certain what needs to be done to protect the rest of the household, and to please Blackstaff before she gouges the Master's brain to smithereens, the better.

Master Eris's voice had dropped off into a muted drone for Gable as soon as he heard how long this would take, but now he backtracks over the list of warnings and mournfully nods his understanding. He knew that stripping himself of an entire identity wouldn't be easy, but he'd hoped for a more sudden suffering that he could push through all at once, not a slow and gradual decline to eat away at his courage.

He agrees firmly that Lee should not see him during the treatment course, but the reality of the separation sends Gabe adrift. His resolve begins to slip again as he feels lost and small and worst of all, like a coward. He'd sought work in the presence of a great mage with the hopes of finding a cure, but now that it's knocking on his door and gift wrapped with compassion, everything in him screams to tuck tail and run. To take Lee, go back on the road, burrow down into the forest and save himself the trouble. But Black Pine… Master Eris… the community and stability for Lee, and for himself, it's… it's all he's ever wanted. If this is the price he must pay to belong, so be it.

It's clear from the way Gable pauses that he wants to accept Master Eris's most gracious and comforting offer, but his upbringing admonishes him for it. He knows his place, and even a night of drinking and singing arm in arm doesn't make him lose sight of their respective roles. He smiles as he declines. "No, sir, thank you. A spare room would do me just fine. I don't want to take up your space or any part of the house as public as the library. …I've already told Lorelei, in a way, but I'll make sure she understands I'll be decommissioned for longer than I thought."

Professional. Level-headed. Taking it in stride. This is what has been expected of him for many years, and it's in this self-control that he prides himself. Especially in front of an employer. Gable rises from his stool and cleans up the shop in an efficient manner, not dallying to prolong the inevitable. He organizes the space with great respect as though he's setting it up for someone else who will come after him. He tucks the unfinished bookends into a bin and removes all traces of himself except for the rocking horse. He pushes that aside against a wall.

When he's finished, Gabe nods to the wizard and holds the shop door open for him so they can make their way up to the house.
Jonathan Eris (played by Pengolodh) Topic Starter

Jon’s brows come together, knit in concern as he hears another change in Gable’s tone and posture, but he nods his understanding of what he hears. He sounds… detached. Defeated, afraid. It’s warranted, he feels: he would feel that way too, if their roles were reversed. But it still saddens him that the measures he’s trying to take to make things easier on the lad don’t seem to have had the desired effect. And he would be lying if he said that the sudden distance between them doesn’t bother him either.

“That’s fine.” He gives a small smile as he watches Gabe wander the workshop in a daze, cleaning up his projects. “I will go and prepare a room for you while you talk with Lorelei. Two doors down from your current room, toward the great hall, I think. If not, just look for the open door, I’ll probably be in there cleaning things up.”

They walk through the snow in silence, back up to the house. It feels so final that it hurts, even if the chances of Gable coming away from this with permanent damage are extremely slim. Then again, the cure wasn’t designed for hunt-blooded folk. Inherited lycanthropy is so rarely encountered that it must have seemed silly to ever think of testing these elixirs on them. In truth, Jon has no idea what will happen when Gabe begins treatment. All he can do is give him an estimate based on what others have experienced.

“One last thing,” he says, just before they part ways. “Stop by the kitchen and grab something to eat, if you can. This process is going to be hard on your body, Gabe. You’ll want to keep your strength up as much as you can.”

With that, they part ways, Gabe off to find Lorelei and Jon toward the residential halls. True to his word, he finds an empty room two doors down from the current Kendall residence, and immediately opens the window to let in some fresh air while he cleans up the dust (it takes but a wave of his hand for it to all disappear out the window) and blinks himself away to the vault a moment after.

He returns to the as-yet-empty bedroom, one gold cuff in hand, mere seconds later, and pauses only just as long to set the gold band on the nightstand before making his way to the supply closets.

A set of clean sheets. Three pillows. Two, no, four quilts. Two extra knitted throws. And one old-but-still-serviceable bear pelt. That last one he has to drape over his back like a cape to carry it back the room, which in turn makes it look like he’s on his way to build the world’s strangest pillow fort as he totes his spoils away.

Jon starts making the bed as soon as he gets back, stuffing the corners of the sheets under the mattress until the whole thing looks tight and crisp, then draping a faded quilt in shades of forest green and seafoam atop it. He arranges the pillows in an inviting shape. He lays one of the throws, a soft gray like the one that frequents the library, along the foot of the bed. The bear pelt is rolled up, fur-side out, and positioned in front of the pillows, to be unrolled and used at the occupant’s discretion to provide a warm, toasty cocoon when the fever inevitably strikes. Everything else goes in neat little stacks along the top of the dresser, ready for use whenever things become soiled or extras are simply needed, as things go.

The wizard steps back after closing the window, hands on his hips, to survey his handiwork. Yes, this looks like a nest worthy of waiting out a lycanthropy treatment. Very comfy. Very cozy. But…

“Oh!”

That’s what it’s missing.

Books.

Jonathan quickly turns on his heel and jogs up to the library to collect a few tomes, and hopefully return before Gable arrives.
Gable finds Mr. Rex exactly where any diligent chief of staff should be found: tucked into a corner, sheltered by heaps of papers, but easily accessible to the workers he cares for. Gabe does his best to make the interruption brief, to take up as little space and time as possible in order to explain what he wants and why he needs it, to confirm that his manager is aware he won't be tending to his duties for the next week or so, and to thank Mr. Rex (again) for not persuading their master to kick him out at the first sign of trouble. He just barely stops himself from adding, "I'm determined to be worth the trouble. Honest, I am."

Before leaving the office, he pauses at the door and tries to offer something valuable in return for Mr. Rex's time. "When you make contact with Misses Khurir about the silk, you might ask her to send some gower-lilies from her greenhouse with the order, sir. They only bloom when you touch them with your bare hands. Ms. Ari might like that."

Tracking down Lorelei is a bit more challenging, seeing as how Lee tends to scatter his day from one end of the house to the other, towing the nanny all the way there and back, but eventually Gabe thinks to ask someone for help and they direct him to the dining hall windows. Out in the garden, the fair woman's bright hair glints in the sunlight as she supervises the tiny gardener crouched at her feet. Lee's mouth runs constantly while digging in the mulch of a soggy flower bed. Every few seconds, he adds new pebbles and oddly-shaped bits of ice to several piles—a sorting system only four-nearly-five year olds might understand, but is no less logical to him than Mr. Rex's piles are to the chief of staff.

Gable's spirit lifts a little. He wants to get a closer look at those pebble piles and join his son in playing with something besides lonely pine figures. He heads for the exit through the kitchen, gets as far as putting his hand on the door, even pushes it open by an inch… but thinks better of disturbing them at the last moment. If Lee sees him now, forgives him, clings to him, overhears what he needs to tell Lorelei…

Gabe reluctantly enlists the help of another servant instead. He writes a brief note on a piece of butcher's parchment for the nanny: He'll be 'away' for longer than he thought. Please speak to Master Eris. With a heavy heart, he hands the note over.

The wizard's advice comes back to Gable while he's still standing absently in the kitchen. He doesn't feel like eating, he really doesn't, but his stomach is panging with emptiness and he knows better than to ignore it. 'Weak' doesn't begin to describe the hollow, wilting feeling that hits when he's pushed this oversized machine too far, and that's without the added stress of stripping a cursed disease out of his veins. Anyway, something does smell rather good.

He's munching his way through the last bites of a braided sweet loaf (with raisins) when he finds the open door where Master Eris had promised it would be. Blinking at all the coverings and cozy-looking pillows from the doorway, his immediate impression is that this room is already occupied—and by someone who's had a great deal more time than he has to accumulate belongings in one place. He steps back, looks down the row of doors in one direction, then the other. There isn't another open door in sight. And no wizard, either.

He's still hovering around the opening, peering inside with equal parts interest and confusion, when Master Eris returns with a tower of books. Gabe audibly gasps and hurries forward, thinking of the strain on the man's bandaged arm.

"Let me take those for you, sir. Where are we going with all of this?" Surely not into the room he just saw. It's all much more than what he needs.

He knows better than to be too nosy regarding other peoples' reading materials, but he does glance through the titles in his hands; he trusts Master Eris won't reprimand him for it. Travel, nature, history, art...! His brain salivates in the presence of so much delicious information at his fingertips. A funny feeling comes over him unexpectedly, light and warm and floaty in the midst of so much heaviness and dread. "This isn't… for me?"
Jonathan Eris (played by Pengolodh) Topic Starter

Jonathan flits from shelf to shelf in the library, much like the small dragons he keeps for company, collecting his stack of reading material for Gabe. Now that he knows the lad has a taste for the world and all its wonders, he knows exactly what to bring him: Everything.

A History of Deep Elven Art and Architecture. The Fall of the Tower of Guard. Traveler’s Guide to The Ashen Wastes. An Account on The War of Frozen Fires. Felakgundu and The Wolves. Flora and Fauna of the Kerrona Mountains. Exile and Epidemic: The History of Dwarves in Vokune. On The Lineages of Elves. Observations on Ancient Hill Giant Rituals. All of this and more go into the stack, anything he thinks Gabe could possibly find interesting. If the boy has an appetite for knowledge, then Jon plans to spoil him rotten with fuel for that inner fire while he’s recovering.

His arm protests as he hoists the stack and heads back down the hallway, but only minorly. Maddox made sure to wrap the thing back up after the bandages from the previous day had been lost on their grand excursion, which was just as well, given that trying to explain an injury to his fictional friends was liable to go poorly when they were already suspicious of him.

Luckily, help arrives in the form of Gable, who had previously been standing out in the hallway looking lost. Jon grumbles, but passes the stack into the taller man’s arms without too much additional fuss. He opens his mouth to answer the question, Yes, just right in there, on the nightstand probably, within arm’s reach… but the second question comes quick enough after that he doesn’t get the words out. So instead, he answers the second question first.

“Yes, Gabe. Those are for you.” The smile that graces his features is genuine as he gestures toward the open doorway. “Go ahead and set them wherever you like. I imagine you’ll want at least a couple of them within arm’s reach. Surely you didn’t expect me to feed you medicine that makes you ill and then give you nothing to do while you recuperate? That would be just plain cruel. And! if you burn through that stack, I can always bring more.”

The wizard steps past the threshold, taking the gold cuff in hand so that Gabe can put the books on the nightstand if he wants, then situates himself in the corner near the window so as to be out of the way.

“Have you had a chance to look the place over?” He asks, genuinely, as he turns the gold band over in his hands, almost fidgeting with it. “I hope it’s all to your liking. Despite how serious this process is, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable. There are certain unpleasant things that cannot be avoided, of course… being away from your son, the illness that the treatment brings on… but if I can make the rest of it a little easier… well. I owe you that much, for being willing to go through with this at all.”
Bewildered, Gable's feet follow before his mind catches up with the reality of this generosity. It feels anything but real. While Master Eris's pleasant voice rambles on, he stands in the middle of the bedroom's floor and he looks at the bedside table where his new library might rest, then he stares at the bed itself and takes inventory of the bear pelt, quilts, and throw blankets without moving any closer to them. Everything is folded neatly, not tossed down. The room is not merely decorated, but well-stocked. Full of forethought. Prepared for whatever needs might arise.

When his eyes move back to the wizard, they are wide and blank. Master Eris owe him? Gabe shakes his head with parted lips, wanting to protest but finding no words to express how deeply wrong that notion feels. He could say in all honesty that this is more care than his own mother gave him when he had the flu. More care than any one person has shown him in his life. Master Eris owe him?

Belatedly he realizes some time has passed since the wizard stopped speaking. He wills himself to respond, but everything (old neglect, new fondness, shame, elation, guilt, joy) rushes Gable all at once, making it impossible to string together words. His throat tightens. His vision blurs. He tries and fails to stifle a hiccuping sort of noise, followed shortly by another one, and a gulping that turns into an honest-to-goodness weep disguised as a whimper. It's a soft sound, muted immediately by the back of his hand pressed firmly to his mouth. But that doesn't stop the tears from flowing. And squeezing his eyes shut to slow their course only makes them fall twice as fat and hot.

"Sir, I owe you my life." He nearly sobs, but sobbing would be much louder than what rasps out of Gable's lips. The stack of books tremble, balanced precariously in one hand while he wipes his face repeatedly with the other. "Do you realize anybody else would've killed me by now? Even your big stick wanted to—and she's right. I'm a mongrel, so far as anyone's concerned. A threat to society. I was w-waiting to die before I came here, just hours from it, and the only reason I didn't was 'cause I broke the law." Disgust for himself drenches his words, screws up his face. "I bit you, Master Eris; I scared Mr. Rex halfway to his grave, I've made a fool of myself and a nuisance and…"

He can't safely hold onto the books while drying his face, so he sets them on the bed, then crumples to the rug beside it on his knees. "This is too nice. It's all too nice." He hasn't stopped shaking his head. "I can't ever pay you for it."
Jonathan Eris (played by Pengolodh) Topic Starter

For a long time, Jon waits, barely breathing while the younger man takes in all that he's done with the room. The complex series of emotions he sees fighting for dominance in Gable's expression aren't encouraging, and even less so when his face folds into a grimace and the man makes a noise like a broken animal. The wizard's own expression falls, hearing it, drowning in a sudden wave of worry that he's done something to offend.

And then the tears begin to fall.

"Oh Gabe..." Jon slowly makes his way over, coming to stand beside the younger man where he kneels next to the bed, his bandaged hand laying across broad shoulders and squeezing them gently, gathering him up and pressing him close, like a hen guarding her chicks. "What you are and what has happened to you are two very different things. You are a magnificent creature blessed with two skins, a loving father of a beautiful boy who shares your gifts, a talented young mage with an affinity for enchantment, and the only stable boy Revyn hasn't bitten within the first week of working here. What happened to you didn't change who you are in your heart. It took away the control you had over yourself. You are no fool, and certainly no nuisance. You are an intelligent, valued member of my household."

By now the older man is fighting off tears himself. It isn't as if it's hard to say the things he's said about Gable: they're all true, and he really believes them. But it is hard seeing the lad's reaction to what he's done, and what he's said. It's unexpected, and the exact opposite of what he had hoped to achieve. Instead of soothing his fears and helping him be comfortable with what they're about to do, he's caused him to burst into tears.

Well done, Jon. Well done.

"I am not asking you to pay for anything." He sighs softly and gives the younger man's shoulder another squeeze before letting go. "You're putting a tremendous amount of trust in me by allowing me to help you, Gable. I hope you understand that. All of this? I suppose it's my way of thanking you for that trust. The next few days are going to be rough. I don't know for sure what will happen, but I do know that much. Providing you with a comfortable place to rest during that time is the least I can do."
Magnificent, loving, talented, a mage of all things! intelligent, too (that's a first.) Valued, a member of a household he never could have made up in his fondest daydreams... And above all, although the word is not used, it is deeply felt: he is wanted. No one would go through this much trouble for someone they didn't like at least a little bit. Probably much more than a little bit.

"Please, sir…" The sincerity and kindness of these words warm Gable's heart to a molten state and he just can't bear it. The large boy hides his reddening face against his master's robes and he melts into him. A happy laugh bubbles through his tears, like the winter sun shouldering its way through heavy clouds. He rests his forehead on the man's hip for a little while, momentarily and utterly blinded to any embarrassment that such a familiar and surrendered embrace like theirs should normally force upon him. When the wizard eases away again, Gabe sits back on his heels and fishes out a handkerchief to wipe his face and nose on something other than the man's robes. The tears haven't stopped, but they've turned sweeter.

"It's far from the least, Master Eris. But I'm not one to argue. Not if it can be helped." Gabe sounds more defeated now than ever, but in a good way. A peaceful way. He sighs out the last dregs of tension and lifts his chin. "Thank you, sir, for all of this. And for what you said. If you're in my corner, there's not a thing in the world I can't face. Or any other world, either." Even intimidating dwarven women can be managed when someone believes in you.

Gabe transfers himself from the floor to the bed, and lovingly transfers the books onto the nightstand. The ones that cover The War, The Wolves, and the Hill Giant Rituals receive special favor closest to the pillows. When there's nothing else to fidget with, Gabe rubs the tops of his knees in his palms.

"I've only been to the doctor once, I'm pretty sure. I was about, oh, maybe six years old. Broken arm, 'cause I fell off a plow. Should I... lie down, do you think?"

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