CHAPTER SEVEN: HANDLING THE TRUTH
The hunters descended upon them like servants of death. Though the spirits of winter could rend a thousand men to pieces in an instant, still the hunters gave all beings reason to fear humanity.
I spent a heck of a long time looking at myself in the bedroom mirror. My teeth had elongated into fangs and my limbs were lined with thicker hair than normal. It all turned into a full coat of fur as it reached my hands and feet, and all of it had turned snowy white except for the brown hair on top of my head. Even that had developed some pale highlights, though. My claws were back, and I’d pulled off my shoes to see that my feet had claws as well. I looked like I was wearing some kind of weird novelty boots, with black pads on the bottoms of my ever-so-slightly more animalistic feet. On top of my head, I’d sprouted a pair of short, curving black horns.
Once I was calm enough, Finn loaned me a pair of shorts and a sleeveless shirt so I could examine my new form without exposing myself. Though my fur was so thin that it was almost unnoticeable, it ran all the way up my arms and shoulders, and thickened into a full winter coat as it spread across my chest.
I’d kicked them out while I’d changed, but now the other three elementals were back in the room with me. All three of them had been hovering around as if they weren’t sure what to do with this kind of development.
“Seriously,” I said flatly, “What even the freaking heck?” I couldn’t look away. I was one of them. Me, Jeremy Ross. I was an elemental. “Do you guys…do you know what I am?” I turned around to look at them.
Everyone in the room hesitated for a beat.
“You’re a yeti,” said Finn. His brow was creased and as he took a step towards me, it was slow and cautious. “And you’re handling this extremely well.”
“I’m a quick learner,” I said, “I’ve known about magic my whole life, I just…never really thought I’d be on this side of it. I…alright, I really shouldn’t be this calm.”
Finn’s mouth parted in a grimace that made it look like he’d tasted something repulsive. “Uh…sorry, Jeremy, but I…”
I sighed and made a move to pinch the bridge of my nose, but stopped short with a nervous chuckle as I saw my claw moving towards my eyes. “Let me guess. You’re using magic on me.”
Finn nodded. His expression turned even more sour.
I glanced around the room. Finn was inching closer to me, cautious enough to make me think he was expecting me to flip out and try to kill them all. Maya and Cal were both circling close to the walls of the room. Cal’s hands were curled into fists, and for the first time since I’d met him I could tell that his muscles were tense and his movements were deliberate. Maya was fidgeting with her jewelry. I remembered when I’d seen her aura – the golden energy and glyphs were all trailing from her accessories. Witches were connected to magic because they bound it to their will. Maybe she had good reason to go overboard on her bracelets.
“That’s why your voice pulled me out of the…the fit, I guess,” I said to Finn, “It was a phoenix song. Minus the literal singing.”
Another nod from Finn.
I sighed and flopped down on the bed in the middle of the room, careful to leave my claws facing up so that they didn’t rip the sheets or mattress. “Okay,” I said, “I’m alright with that. I don’t really want to flip my lid anyway. Maybe if I stay like this long enough, I won’t have to. But let’s be honest, there’s probably a lid-flipping of some kind on the horizon.”
Finn sat down next to me on the edge of the bed. “That’s fair,” he said with a small smile, “I might be worried if there wasn’t. What are you thinking about right now?”
“I’m thinking that based on everything we’ve seen – all the evidence that points towards a winter spirit and my family’s records on metaphysics and elementals – I’m probably not the only yeti in town.”
“Why’s that?” asked Cal. I glanced at him. His voice had come out as a deep rumble, almost a growl, but he seemed slightly more relaxed now. At least he’d stopped circling me.
“The snow, the start with,” I said as my thoughts spun. I closed my eyes to block out all the extra sensory information. There was so much now, and it was hard to ignore. I could’ve picked out every single bump on the ceiling. “It eats small animals, sometimes wild and sometimes tame. When a yeti goes wild it eats small animals for food. They create ice and snow and lower the temperature, but usually it’s either because they’re doing it on purpose or because there’s more than one. Too much ice magic in one place, y’know?”
Everyone paused. “Jeremy,” said Maya, “How long exactly have you been training to become a hunter?”
“Since I was a kid,” I told her, “Trust me, once I decided to learn there was nothing my parents could do to keep me out of my dad’s library. Besides, my mom always told me stories about – ” My voice choked off in my throat, and my eyes snapped open as the pieces connected in my head. They’d connected before, in the warehouse, but now that everything was out in the open, and it was all so real –
I heard Finn suck in a breath. His eyes widened as he leapt backwards just barely a second before I jerked upright and the roar ripped out of me.
Cal rolled his eyes and handed ten bucks to Maya, who smirked and muttered, “Mom’s side – told you. Ross family name means his dad’s a hunter, you doofus.”
My breath, instead of being shallow and quick like an upset human’s, was deep and powerful. I squeezed my fists together and let my claws cut straight into my palms. Some background part of my brain noted dully that I could sustain nerve damage from that. Another part took note of the blood dripping onto sheets that weren’t mine. The rest of me just screamed in frustration.
Even though I’d already guessed that the magic was from my mom, I’d just realized something else: she must have deliberately allowed me to go hunting without telling me what we really were. Not only was I one of the monsters to be hunted, but this time through what I hoped was just extraordinarily bad luck, I was the exact species we were hunting. The hunters were getting closer to figuring out what we were dealing with, and I had very little idea how to control the transformation. All I remembered from my studies was that low temperatures could trigger it and high temperatures would reverse it. There were other ways, but the dumb book hadn’t mentioned what they were.
Things started slotting into place as my memories floated to the forefront of my mind. Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, wherever it was warmest at the time. My mom had always stayed away from the cold and I’d always just thought it was a personal preference. But no, it was because cold weather was a catalyst for a yeti’s shapeshifting.
I took a few deep breaths and squeezed my eyes shut again. Finn pat me hesitantly on the back before just letting his hand rest there. Warmth spread through me again, helping me think more clearly and keeping me calm.
Maybe there was a good reason that my mom had sent me to be trained. Most likely, she wanted to make sure I knew all about our family’s hunting techniques in case I ever had to defend myself.
I sighed and closed my eyes, focusing on the definitely-supernatural waves of warmth that Finn was sending through me. “You’re going to be okay,” Finn muttered, “It’s not the end of the world, Jeremy, you’re going to be fine.”
I started repeating that thought to myself. I’ll be fine.
“You’ll figure out what to do about this,” Finn continued.
I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.
“I can help with the transformations, if you need me to. I can keep you warm so you don’t change by accident.”
My internal mantra spluttered and died as my brain shifted instantly into problem-solving mode. I opened my eyes, aware that my body was back to its normal temperature, and I looked down at myself. The fur and claws were gone, and I was completely human again. I glanced at Finn, who was staring back at me. Where he should have had irises, he had two pools of flames, and I could see the faint aura of incorporeal fire flickering around him again.
“That’s…some pretty powerful magic you’ve got there,” I said.
Finn’s face remained impassive. “I’ve had a long time to practice.”
I nodded and looked around the room again. “So your parents don’t care that you’re home from school in the middle of the day?”
Finn started laughing. “Well it’s not like they have much choice in the matter. I own this place. Even with phoenixes, we tend to move out once we’re adults. Usually after a couple hundred years.”
I blinked at him. A few times. “You – what?”
“I’m almost two thousand years old, Jeremy,” said the boy that was obviously seventeen.
I just stared at him for a minute, a frown fixed on my face. Two thousand years. “So you own this house?”
“Bought it in the eighties,” said Finn, looking around fondly.
“And no one noticed that you’re still the same age you were back then?” I asked.
Maya scoffed. “Well, it’s not like he’s going to use the same face. Not after all this time.”
“…you lost me,” I said, “Can phoenixes change their faces or something?”
“Of course,” said Finn, frowning as if that should have been obvious. “We’re not completely immortal. We die, we burn, and we come back. My powers are connected to life and healing, but more so to rebirth and regeneration.”
“Uh huh. So which regeneration are you on now, Doctor?”
Finn tilted his head to one side and repeated, “Doctor?” Over by the wall, Cal snickered, and Maya turned away so Finn couldn’t see her grinning. Finn looked at them. “What?” said a very confused phoenix, “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” I said, “So how many languages do you speak? I mean, you’ve been around longer than English has.”
“Lost count,” said Finn, still glancing at Cal and Maya. “Seven or eight hundred, I think. I learn a new one every year or two.”
“Wow. What other stuff have you learned? Like, can you play instruments? Can you fight?”
Finn looked back to me. “I know how to play more instruments than you’ve ever heard of, and I could probably take any mortal alive in a fight with any weapon they could name, and a hundred they couldn’t.”
Dang. But… “You said, when I first saw you, that Cal is more dangerous than you. Why’s that?”
Finn’s eyes narrowed. “How did you hear that conversation?”
“Stephanie bugged her dad’s phone.”
Cal barked out a laugh. “Of course she did.”
“Well, for starters,” said Finn, “If I’d blown up that gas station, Cal would have walked out completely unscathed.”
“You know this from experience?”
“A lot of it,” said Cal. He smiled, but it looked more like an animal baring its teeth for a fight. “Not sure what I am, but whatever it is, I can definitely take a hit.” I believed it. Whatever Cal was, he’d looked scary as heck when I’d seen his real face.
As the conversation came to a lull, I mentally listed questions I needed to ask. My life was permanently changed and there were things I needed to know.
“Alright, guys,” I said to the other elementals, “Get comfortable. I’ve got questions, and I need answers.”