Jake fiddled with his pencil and sighed, dropping his head on his desk. While he'd been exempt from physical training on Monday, by Wednesday professor Evarian had insisted he run with the group. His ribs were no longer sore, but his head pounded the entire day, either from the still-healing wound or as a remnant from the previous night's visions. Jake shuddered as his thoughts wandered back to those memories and he pushed them away, thinking instead of his mother.
If there had been one good thing about the visions, it was that he'd seen his mother again. He'd nearly forgotten what she'd looked like, the untouched memories of his childhood already aging and blurring over time. But the unlocked memories of that fateful night were clear as daylight, and fresh in his mind. The comforting, and the terrifying.
He smiled as he remembered his mother. She'd been beautiful, kind, loving, a bit stubborn, and sharp-mouthed enough to keep him and his father in check. Jake briefly wondered what his life would have been like if she hadn't died. Would he even know about magi? Or have been placed into Fernwood? Met Naetili, Damon, Mishka, Dresarian?
Jake's gaze wandered to the lycanthrope sitting in the corner of their Intermagi Cooperation class, Professor Karahalios once again in full glamour and droning on about the accomplishments of interspecies relations. He looked bored, thick mane of hair tied back, and doodled on his sketchbook. The lycanthrope glanced up as if aware of Jake's gaze. Their eyes met for a split second before Jake looked away. He wasn't sure how to act around the lycanthrope anymore without a stab of guilt and terror searing through his chest. His own father had murdered Dresarian's entire family. It was no wonder the boy was so pent up with anger toward humans.
But one thing was obvious, at least. Dresarian hadn't killed his mother.
The question remained – who, or what the hell had?
Shuttled back into their partnerships for a project, Jake reluctantly shuffled into a desk next to the lycanthrope and scanned over the instructions.
"Right, well, you want to go first?" Jake asked.
"You could start by looking at me," Dresarian said. Jake looked up, but immediately shifted his gaze to the side, chest tightening. "What the hell is up with you?" the lycanthrope grumbled, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "You've been avoiding me since that PO trip. What happened up there? You came back covered in bruises again, and you won't look at me in the eyes."
"It's not you," Jake said, fingering the instruction sheet. "It's… complicated." Understatement of the century.
"Right," the lycanthrope snorted. Jake glanced up, but Dresarian wasn't looking at him, his jaw set tightly. Jake felt another pang in his chest and was about to apologize when Dresarian thrust out his hand, palm up. Jake stared at the hand in confusion. "Give me the instruction sheet. I wasn't paying attention," the lycan said.
"Oh," Jake mumbled embarrassedly, handing him the paper. Someone opened the door and he glanced up to see professor Finnoire chatting with Professor Karahalios. Karahalios turned around and peered at Jake over his glasses, calling him over.
"Take your belongings, Harrison," the gryphon advised. Jake nodded in confusion and grabbed his bag, stuffing his notebook into it and nodded apologetically at Dresarian. The lycanthrope glanced between Jake and the professor, frowning before shrugging and looking away.
Jake followed professor Finnoire out the door, stumbling in confusion.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"Well, your father woke up a few hours ago," Finnoire answered. Jake's pulse quickened and he hurried to catch up with the faun's long strides. "The director, among other professors, would like to question him before the Committee gets wind of this. Your father is in trouble Jake," Finnoire said, shooting Jake a grave look.
"What do you mean?"
"The group your father's been involved with has been working under a low profile for a while now as part of an underground group of magi Hunters. The organization dates back hundreds of years, a coalition of men and women conscious of the presence of magi but unwilling to coexist with them. They see most species as a threat to mankind, and have spent years gathering followers, hunting and killing them. Both Committee laws and human regulations do not allow for the open revelations of magi existence, so the Hunters have only been recruiting those directly affected by the magi."
"Like my dad," Jake muttered, comprehension dawning on him. Finnoire glanced at him. "My mother was killed by something… some magi ten years ago. My dad went ballistic and killed a bunch of lycanthropes in the area. I think he thought they were just wolves at first."
"That makes sense," Finnoire said. "You'll have to explain everything to the director, and try not to discuss the details with anyone. The Committee is going to find out about this eventually."
"You mentioned he – my dad – would get in trouble," Jake said. The professor nodded as they exited the building and headed across the courtyard.
"The Committee hasn't been able to do much about this group of Hunters for a long time. They're so spread out, and tend to work very quietly and efficiently, that incidents are rarely reported and perpetrators difficult to determine. Most of the time, they're just regular humans with regular jobs. They didn't stir up so much trouble, either. Mostly just went after the rogue magi that the Committee would have to take care of anyways."
"The Committee isn't much in the way of ethics, is it," Jake noted. Finnoire chuckled.
"Not really. The magi have a different sense of morality than humans. We're not so generous with our criminals."
"So Naetili told me."
"Anyway," the professor continued, "about twenty years ago, a slew of mysterious killings began, on magi and humans alike. Some thought it was just a vengeful skirmish between a group of humans and magi, but it began happening erratically, all over the world. In particular, a series of brutal murders began sweeping the US and Europe over the past few years, leaving devoured, disfigured corpses." Jake suppressed a shudder as fresh memories flooded his brain and trotted to catch up with Finnoire, who droned on. "But that wasn't the only particularity." He glanced in Jake's direction. "You witnessed one yourself."
"The wendigo," Jake said. Finnoire nodded and held open the door for Jake to pass through.
"Magi attacks began increasing substantially over the past decade. Not just these brutalities, but separate attacks from magi all over the world. Ships being dragged into the sea by hordes of angry water dracs, herds of kelpies stampeding small fishing villages, wendigos descending from the mountains, vampires attacking in daylight – it goes on. In response, the Hunters gained huge numbers of recruits and began retaliating, eliminating entire colonies of magi across the world. Within a number of years they nearly wiped out the lycanthrope populations in the United States, and most dracs and dragons have disappeared. Something initiated all this, and we think it's whatever began those attacks on humans and Magi."
"You mean that thing… it was trying to begin a war?"
"It's a likely possibility."
"You're not a regular professor, are you," Jake said, narrowing his eyes at the faun. Finnoire grinned at him and winked, opening the door to the hospital ward. Jake slipped in and nodded at Madame Laurent, whose eyes flashed in greeting. She jerked her head in the direction of the operating room before returning to the rough tending of a miserable-looking phooka's broken arm.
Jake followed Finnoire to the back of the wing, tensing as the door opened. He padded inside after the professor and closed the door behind him. The room wasn't small, with enough room to fit the adjustable bed and a counter covered in papers, jars of herbs, and utensils with closed cabinets above. Still, it felt snug with him, Finnoire, and Doctor Vaska all standing together.
"Jake," the fae doctor greeted with a smile, "thank you for coming."
Jake stiffened at the familiar voice and glanced at the bed. His father was seated on the bed, supported upright by the bedframe, wearing nothing but a white robe that reached his knees, his hair mussed and disheveled and his short beard unkempt and foreign-looking. His cheeks were sallow, his skin pale and his eyes heavily lidded. His speech slurred as if under the influence of drugs.
"I just took him off the painkillers," Doctor Vaska assured him. "He should be a little more coherent soon." Jake suddenly noticed the leather restraints around his father's arms and legs and across his chest and glanced up at the doctor, who smiled reassuringly. "The restraints are for his own safety. He's not aware of where he is yet, and I should think he will be more than a little shocked when he finds out."
Greg blinked slowly, glancing around, brows furrowing. "Am I in a hospital?" he asked, voice gruff.
"Yes, something of the sort," the fae said with a kind smile. "Would you like some water, sir?"
Greg drained a small paper cup of water and sighed, eyes darting around the room with more liveliness. When they landed on Jake, he jerked upright.
"Jake," he exclaimed, "Jake are you alright? I saw Alastair… I don't understand what happened."
"You got shot," Jake said, voice steadier than he felt. "Maybe you should choose your friends a little more wisely."
Greg shook his head numbly. "I didn't mean for any of that… that shouldn't have happened. Crabb is short- tempered. More than me, anyways." He chuckled slightly. "Your mother was always telling me to control my temper. Said it would get me in trouble one day." Greg quieted and Jake felt something tug at his chest painfully. He looked away. Greg made to lean forward but was suddenly stopped by the restraints around his chest. "What's this?" he said, alarm in his voice. "What are these? What's going on?"
"Please calm down, Mr. Harrison," Vaska said, "they're for your own safety. We don't want you moving around too much right now."
"My own…" Greg stared incredulously at the doctor, and his eyes suddenly widened as he glanced from Vaska to Finnoire and to Jake.
"I'm in the school, aren't I," he said quietly.
"You were badly injured when we found you," Finnoire said. "We preferred to avoid the hassle and questions of human hospital regulation and had Doctor Vaska here take care of you."
"What do you want with me?" Greg asked suspiciously.
"We just want you to answer some questions," Finnoire replied. "We'll let you go as soon as we've cleared up the situation."
"You're lying," Greg spat. Eyes ablaze and hair wild, the man was hardly recognizable. Jake crossed his arms over his chest.
"They're trying to help," he said. Greg's eyes snapped back to Jake, and turned pleading.
"You can't really believe them, Jake?" he whined. "They'll kill me… us… as soon as they're done fishing our memories."
"Stop pretending like they're the monsters, dad," he said coldly. "You know very well that's exactly what you've become."
Greg froze, staring at his son in shock. "You really believe that?"
"Yeah," Jake replied dryly. "From my perspective, Doctor Vaska here isn't the bad guy here. It's you and Hawke. I've been nothing but happy here, happier than I've been for the last ten years. Yeah, so a couple people tried to kill me, but I actually feel like I belong here. I have real friends, not just people making friendly conversation with the temporary transfer student. Then your lot kidnap and interrogate me like I'm some kind of criminal – it kind of puts things into perspective, you know?"
"Jake, please," Greg pleaded. "I know it's hard to believe, but they're deceiving you. I know we didn't treat you like we should have, but Alastair is a bit impatient, and things have been tense lately. But you can't treat them like people, Jake. They killed your mother. They murder people."
"It's just a bunch of kids here, dad," Jake said. "There aren't any killers or murderers or whatever. The thing that killed mom? That wasn't a lycanthrope."
Greg paused, eyebrows furrowing in rising confusion. "Of course it was, what are you talking about?"
"You were probably blinded by shock, anger, I don't know. But that… the black creature that killed mom wasn't a lycanthrope. It was something else. Something worse."
"You're lying," Greg said, but the words were barely above a whisper. Jake shook his head. "But how would you know? Your memories –"
" – came back last night," Jake interrupted. "I had Doctor Vaska remove the barrier yesterday. I saw everything, dad." Jake felt the nausea bubble in his stomach and the memories threatened to resurface again, but willed them away in anger. "I saw what you did. Those people you murdered –"
"They weren't people!" his dad insisted.
"They were!" Jake screamed. The room was silent as his words hung in the air for a split moment before he continued. "They were just a family of starving lycanthropes who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Greg closed his mouth, jaw working as if trying to form a reply, but he said nothing. The doorway suddenly opened, jerking Jake out of his anger, and he saw Madame Laurent pop her head in. Jake saw Greg flinch at her shocking shade of skin from the corner of his eyes.
"I've just handled the last student," she informed the fae. "The wing is clear. Unless some emergencies come up, we should not be disturbed."
"Thank you, darling," the doctor said with a smile and faced Greg. "If you promise to behave civilly, I will remove the restraints," he said. Greg looked up at him numbly and nodded. "If you try to escape, or attempt to hurt anyone in any way," the fae continued, "I will be forced to restrain you, but it will not be gentle." The doctor's voice took on a threatening edge that made Jake glad he wasn't on the receiving end.
Greg's eyes widened slightly, but he nodded once again. "I promise," he said quietly. The fae nodded, satisfied, and unbuckled the restraints. Greg rubbed his wrists and shifted over the bed, pushing himself to his feet. Jake watched as he wobbled and wavered unsteadily. Vaska held out a hand to steady him, but Greg shied away from his touch and lurched toward the doorway, supporting himself against the wall. Jake sighed and approached, taking his father's arm with one hand and guiding him into the main wing. Greg looked surprised, but nodded in thanks past a wince of discomfort.
Greg was sat down in one of the patient beds, the wing quiet and empty. He glanced around nervously before facing the fae doctor.
"What are we waiting for?" he asked.
"The director," Finnoire replied evenly. "We're going to try and clear up the past events, and we hope you will be compliant in helping us. We're not asking you to divulge where your companions are – we only want to avoid future conflict. This petty feud between humans and magi is getting out of control."
"They started it," Greg growled. The faun narrowed his eyes.
"What are you, five?" he snapped. "As I said, petty. This has nothing to do with who started what. We aren't enemies, but we may have a common enemy."
"I'm not telling you anything," Greg said, shooting the professor a defiant glare.
"Do you know why you are here?" Finnoire asked. "The Committee would love to get its hands on you, Mr. Harrison. And they're not nearly as lenient about your misguided intentions as we are."
Jake's father paled and looked away. There was an abrupt knocking at the door and someone opened the door.
"Madame Laurent? Professor Karahalios told me to bring him here. Looks like his partner got a bit violent during the last project."
Jake stiffened as he recognized the voice and whirled around. Dresarian ambled into the room, dragging along a whimpering selkie with a nasty-looking vampire bite in its left arm.
"Didn't you see the sign?" Madame Laurent exclaimed. "Unless it's an emergency, we're not to be disturbed."
"The kid was making a racket, where else was I supposed to bring him?" Dresarian uninterestedly handed over the phooka to Madame Laurent's care, his eyes scanning the room until they met Jake's. Then settled on Greg.
Jake hardly had time to cry out a warning before Dresarian was replaced by six-hundred pounds of extremely angry lycanthrope, murderous gaze locked on his father.