CHAPTER EIGHT: SICK DAY
There was little but the void before the stone formed. As the Earth took shape, these men of stone rose from it. These are the oldest beings which were born from our world.
Finn, more than the other two elementals, turned out to be pretty good at talking me through such an abrupt change. I was lucky that I was able to think through my situation quickly. I guess in the back of my mind, somewhere, I’d been thinking about things since the training in the warehouse. People can get a lot of thinking done in a single day, if they were willing to. As a result, I was more prepared than I’d expected. I spent the better part of an hour talking at Finn, laying out my thoughts on the whole idea of my newfound existence as both an elemental and a hunter. Finn occasionally inserted words to help inspire hopefulness – and, I was certain, to reinforce his calming spell – while Maya answered the questions that popped up throughout my monologue. Cal mostly sat against the wall, eventually relaxing enough that it looked like he was napping.
My main thoughts on my new life were this: I wasn’t a bad person. I knew myself, and what I wanted and what I was capable of. Yeti or not, I wasn’t about to transform into a complete monster overnight. The biggest drawback was that I was intrinsically connected to some powerful natural forces. According to Finn and Maya, those forces would sometimes change the way I think, driving me to satisfy certain desires and impulses, influencing the way I think and act. Finn, who had apparently encountered yetis before, said that it would most likely drive me to be cold, distant, and often selfish. Not only that, but the magic would build up inside of me until I either released it deliberately or the power just exploded out of me all on its own.
When Finn explained that I would need to use my magic frequently and in small ways to prevent buildup, I asked him how bad the fallout could possibly be from a single yeti.
Finn had responded by asking if I’d ever heard the term “ice age.”
One of the most comforting thoughts of the whole ordeal was that I would be able to go to my parents for advice. After all, chances were that my mom was a yeti, too, and my dad had chosen to marry her and then to leave the family business. With all the information in front of me, it would have been a pretty safe bet that he had left specifically because he’d known exactly what she was.
The real progress, though, had come near the end of the conversation, when Finn had asked me to list all the possible upsides to the situation. He’d told me that it was a technique he had used to help someone with depression. The idea was that I wouldn’t need the phoenix song if I was excited about my new circumstances instead of upset or anxious.
So I talked aloud about being stronger, faster, and more agile. I would outshine every other hunter, I could use my powers to protect people from the really dangerous monsters, and I would have the proper perspective to protect innocent elementals from the really dangerous hunters. I could become one of the greatest hunters in history.
Slowly, Finn had stopped renewing his magical hold on me. He let me out of the compulsion to stay calm, and he allowed my newly-awakened magic to run its course in my mind and body. Until then, I hadn’t realized how much he was suppressing it. I felt the cold flow through me, and everything sharpened.
I could have spent hours being drawn into the texture of the ceiling or walls. I could pick out every single scent in the room: Maya’s light perfume, Finn’s scent like wood-smoke, Cal’s heavy cloud of musky cologne covering up a faint stench like rotten meat. Then there were a hundred other aromas in the room underneath those. There were the sounds of the other three elemental’s breaths and heartbeats. There was just so much.
And then…there was the magic itself.
I could feel the magic’s compulsion, more than I could actually hear it, but the voice was powerful and clear. I could feel the power flowing through me like a huge river of frigid water, driving me forward. There were things to kill, things to take and to use. There was a firebird that would make an interesting opponent, a stone man that I ought to kill before he became a threat, and a witch that I could –
I wasn’t sure why, but somehow the violence didn’t faze me nearly as much as what the magic pressed me to do to Maya. I let a growl rumble in my throat, ignoring the way that the others went on instant alert, and I stomped down hard on the impulse to take her and – no. No magic would ever press me into taking advantage of anyone, no matter how beautiful she was.
I realized, then, that I’d let the room fall silent for quite a while.
“I think I can manage the compulsions,” I announced to the room at large. “They’re kind of annoying, but I can do it. Mostly they’re just animalistic things. Like my base instincts all turned up to eleven.”
Finn nodded. “Good. Then I think you can probably go home.”
“Home?” I repeated. “You mean I could go to a house full of monster hunters without knowing how to stop myself from turning into the abominable freakin’ snowman in front of them?”
Finn rolled his eyes. “I can follow you and keep you warm if you want, to stop the change.”
I frowned at him. “Again, house full of hunters. It’s not like you can just waltz in.”
“Two thousand years old,” Finn reminded me, pointing to himself. “Jeremy, if you found out that you would live for millennia, how much cool magic would you learn just for the heck of it?”
“All of it,” I said immediately, “So you have some way to get in?”
Finn’s mouth moved, and words came out, but they weren’t in any language I recognized, and it felt like they were coming from far away. The incantation didn’t quite match up to the way his lips were moving. Something itched in that current of ice water at the back of my mind, though. I felt like someone had just thrown a big rock into the stream and I was being hit by the ripples. I got the impression that I should have recognized the words Finn said, or my magic should have been able to translate it for me or something, but nothing of the sort happened. I mostly just felt like freaking out because when Finn spoke, he vanished altogether.
I could still feel the fire magic in the place where he had been, but he was gone. No – not gone, just invisible. I could still hear his heartbeat and his breathing. He hadn’t actually moved from his seat.
“Invisibility,” I said, dumbfounded. “That…that’s just cool. Can I learn to do that?”
There was another ripple effect through my river of yeti magic, and Finn reappeared. “I can probably teach you,” he said with a shrug, “But it takes a lot of practice to get it right.”
We didn’t talk much longer than that. I agreed that Finn could follow me home and keep me human, and Cal drove me back to school just before classes ended. We didn’t want Stephanie or Blake to notice that I had been gone. Finn turned invisible again a few blocks away from the school, and followed me silently as I went back to find the twins.
I met up with my cousins, who were a little confused that they didn’t see me for almost the entire day, but I covered it up pretty well by saying that I’d felt sick and gone to the nurse. Everything was kind of a blur as we drove home, but I was hyperaware of Finn at my side. As we got in and out of the car, I made sure to sit alone in the backseat, leaving the door open for an extra couple of seconds, as subtly as I could, so that Finn could get in and out without being noticed.
I even kept up the charade of being sick once I got home by complaining and going straight to my room. The moment I closed the door, I felt a ripple of power behind me.
“Do you think you can keep faking sick tomorrow?” asked Finn.
I flopped down on the bed. “Yeah. Why?”
“We’re going to try finding what triggers your shapeshifting – besides the cold, obviously – to see if we can help you get a handle on it,” said Finn.
I offered to sleep on the floor and let Finn take the bed, but Finn insisted that he didn’t actually need to sleep. Apparently phoenixes only actually needed sleep about once a week, and Finn needed to stay awake anyway if I wanted him to make sure I didn’t change. For my part, I must have been exhausted, because I fell asleep within minutes of my head hitting my pillow. I woke up to Aunt Marlene knocking on my door to ask if I needed to stay home from school, which I insisted I did. The moment she left, saying that she and Uncle Timothy were going to work, the bedroom door locked behind her and Finn materialized with his hand on the knob.
“Morning,” I said groggily.
“G’morning,” Finn responded, sitting down next to the bed and pulling a laptop from his backpack. “I’ve been researching all night. From what I found, it looks like you might be able to control the shift through sheer force of will.”
“That would be nice,” I said. “Any chance that I could change in my sleep?”
“No, that shouldn’t be a problem,” said Finn, “So I guess the sleepover was kind of unnecessary. No harm in being safe, though.”
We waited until we were sure everyone was out of the house before we snuck away. The snow was still falling, but Finn made sure I didn’t change as Cal picked us up in his car and we went back over to Finn’s house. Being conscious this time helped me appreciate a few things about the house. The first thing I noticed was that it was way outside of the town limits. The second was how massive the place was. It was closer to being a mansion than a house, and there were half a dozen cars parked out front. Some were standard cars in average shape. The cherry-red Lamborghini was not.
“Is that yours?” I asked.
Finn smirked. “I think that’s from my twenty-fourth midlife crisis,” he said.
“And he still won’t let me drive it,” Cal complained.
I laughed. “Where’s Maya, anyway?”
“We can’t all be seen skipping school at the same time,” said Finn. “Not when you’re supposedly sick at home. Your cousins would get suspicious. But Cal and I skip school together all the time.”
“Uh-huh. And why are you in school anyway, Finn?”
Finn shrugged. “It’s something to do. Besides, I like to keep up on the times.”
We ended up going to Finn’s backyard – which was nearly the size of a football field – where Finn gradually removed his warmth spell.
“Just remember,” said Finn, “You control the magic, not the other way around. If you decide that you’re going to stay warm and not shift, you will.”
I raised my eyebrows, glancing around at the snow-covered yard around us.
“So to speak,” Cal added, “You might be cold, but what’s really happening is that the cold on your skin is reacting with the winter magic. If you keep your…Finn, what’s the phrase I’m looking for?”
“Keep your metaphorical internal engines warm,” said Finn. “If you don’t let the ice magic respond, you could die of hypothermia before you shift.”
“To be fair,” I said, “that actually sounds like a really bad idea.”
Finn rolled his eyes. “Regardless, you should be able to not only conjure ice and snow, you should be able to dispel it. If you can do that inside of yourself, it’ll prevent the shift.”
I eyed him. “Last time I checked, they don’t put that kind of Zen-yeti philosophy stuff into the research books. Where’d you learn this?”
“I’ve helped yetis with this before,” said Finn.
“Then why did you need to do research?”
Finn narrowed his eyes at me. “You try regurgitating this stuff off the top of your head after fifteen hundred years. See how that works out for you.”
“Can’t imagine it would go well,” I said. “Seeing as how I’d be dead.”
Finn snorted. “Alright. Time to get this show started. I’m going to rip off the spell completely. Pull back the ice, fill yourself with fire.”
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to look at the snow the very first time I tried this. “Ready,” I said.
The warmth of Finn’s spell vanished and was instantly replaced by the sensations of falling snow and frozen air. In barely more than a second, the winter magic had slammed through my mind, causing me to gasp in shock. My muscles tensed as a reflex, accompanying my mental brute force assault on the magic. I paid more attention this time – my skin was cold, sure, but the biggest drop in temperature was inside of my body. But I’m a fast thinker and a quick learner.
I imagined all of the magic in my body condensing into ice crystals. I imagined purging it from my system, pushing out every ounce of yeti power through my skin. My teeth grew and sharpened into fangs, my fur sprouted, and my fingers turned into claws. I growled, opening my eyes and digging my claws into the snow.
I couldn’t let this control me. I couldn’t afford to lose everything I was, everything I’d prepared for and looked forward to. Not for some stupid snowman mojo that decided that I was going to be something I didn’t want to be.
My horns grew and I felt the power surge through my body and soul. I roared into the sky. The snow began to fall harder and faster, the wind spinning it around us.
“Jeremy,” said Cal. “Are you okay?”
I growled, louder this time.
Then heat bloomed in my chest, and I blew out a breath of air. I blinked down at my snow-covered hands. The fur and claws were gone. I took a moment to feel for it, but the magic was gone altogether.
“Thanks Finn,” I mumbled.
“You need to try again,” said Finn. His voice didn’t really sound like a seventeen year old. I could hear the years of experience in his tone. “If you can’t get this, then you may as well give up on being a hunter right now.”
I looked up and saw Cal blinking at his friend in shock. “Finn, don’t you think that’s a little harsh?” said Cal quietly. His brow was furrowed in worry.
“It’s the truth,” said Finn, his voice like iron. His eyes bored into mine, and this time the fire seemed to flicker beyond where his irises should be. His voice took on the same layered quality I’d heard when he first used the phoenix song on me. “Stand up, winter spirit.”
I did so, and as I looked at the phoenix I felt an itch under my skin. It was an urge to hunt and to kill. The firebird was my enemy.
“Listen to me, Ross,” said Finn’s multiple voices. “You need to be invincible. Your mind must be impenetrable. You are more powerful than you know, and right now you must be more dangerous than your power.”
Thoughts and theories flew through my mind faster than I could examine them. Even through the phoenix song, I could feel an urge to kill the foe standing in front of me. Even though my body was human, I wanted nothing more than to rip out his throat. There was something else going on here. Something deeper and more significant than just me and Finn.
The heat of the phoenix song evaporated like a puddle before a furnace.
The full force of winter flooded towards me, and I tried a new approach. I am invincible. No part of winter could enter my mind. I am impenetrable. There was nothing in me but that warm spark of humanity.
I almost believed it.
The change was even more intense, now. The claws, fur, and horns ripped out of me. Before I knew what I was doing, I bared my fangs and lunged straight for Finn’s throat. The firebird would die. My roar shook the ground as I jumped, and the air dropped another ten degrees in my immediate area.
But the phoenix was faster than me. He whipped up one arm with his palm facing me, and fire blasted from it. The horrible flames enveloped me entirely, and my roar morphed into a scream of agony. I writhed on the ground, releasing as much ice magic as I possibly could to counteract the fire.
The next moment, I was human again. I stared up at Finn with wide eyes. He still held his palm towards me, and his hand was completely immersed in flame that had no discernable source except for himself. His eyes had changed again, too. Now the flames of his irises had eclipsed the whites of his eyes altogether, and his pupils shined a brilliant white.
“Do not test me, ice beast,” hissed the phoenix, “Control yourself. We will try again. If you attack me, I will not hold back a second time. This is your only warning.”
I gulped and stood back up. My little spark of humanity wasn’t enough. It needed to be a fire. I closed my eyes once more, breathing deeply to calm my nerves.
The warmth vanished for a third time, and I thought of my inner flames burning so brightly that no ice could gather. The cold would have to stay outside. Nothing could get in.
I opened my eyes, staring down at the snowflakes as they landed on my hands and melted. I looked up at Finn and Cal. Finn was slowly allowing his flames to die and his eyes to become human again. Cal had backed several feet away from the both of us, and looked genuinely terrified.
“Huh,” I said, looking down at my hands, flexing them. “That’s kind of anticlimactic, don’t you think?”