Elle 1 - Dawn of the Aurora (Part 1)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
Elle 1 - Dawn of the Aurora
hans rike for hånden (His kingdom for her hand)
kongen lengtet etter hennes bryst (The king longs for her breast)
Kongen sover (The king sleeps)
Heksene venter (The witches wait)
Sirkelen bundet av en ed av blod (The circle bound by an oath of blood)
Dvergene fest med øl og kjøtt (Dwarves feast on meat and ale)
På bryllupsfesten (At the wedding feast)
skjebne oppfylt (Destiny fulfilled)
Sirkelen ubundet fra sin gjeld (The circle freed from debt)...
Fragments of an ancient, nearly-lost epic poem
Den Sovende Kongen - The Sleeping King
Late August, 2006
Like any normal teenager, Einar Arvid Ruud could stand to wait a bit longer for school to start. Summer in Meraker was wonderful, with the lakes, salmon fishing, hiking, and wilderness camping, and the thought of giving up that outdoor adventure for the boring classroom was almost intolerable. For a kid who loved the outdoors, it was heaven - unless the preference was for winter sports, but then again, Meraker was heaven for that, too. Einar's father worked at the Alpinsenter, a facility that was a summer resort and conference center, and in the winter, it was a haven for skiing, cross-country skiing, and ice-skating.
"I'll be back late," he called over his shoulder to his younger sisters, Sara and Thea, who were busy with some girls' game that interested Einar precisely not one little tiny bit.
"Dad said he wanted to talk to you at the center this afternoon," Sara, who at eleven years of age was two years younger than Einar, yelled after him, but she was a little late, and the sound of the door slamming was her only answer. She carefully scooted from behind the game board and raced to the door, flinging it open. "Einar!" she called after the boy who was already dashing away on his bicycle. "Dad wants to see you at the center!" She stomped her foot angrily. "Oooohhh! Dad's going to be furious!"
"He'll get grounded," Thea, the seven-year-old younger sister, said mockingly. "Come on, let's keep playing!"
"Hey, Jonathan!" Einar called out as he pedaled faster to overtake another boy, wind blowing through his light brown hair. He was about average size and build for a boy his age, at least compared to his friends, and all his outdoor summer activities had given him a moderate tan and helped him stay quite fit. "Halvard! Wait up!" Einar had ridden a little over two kilometers from his home to meet up with his friends, but in the summer, bicycling was part of the joy of an outdoor life.
The two friends paused to look over their shoulders to see who was calling them, with Halvard wobbling a bit as he tried to wave while also riding and also looking over his shoulder. "Hey, Einar!" he called back, then scrambled to regain his course and balance, almost ending up falling over. Halvard Jakobsen was a year older and larger than Einar; if he'd had a scraggly beard and an axe over his shoulder to go with his rugged features, blonde hair, and blue eyes, he'd have fit the stereotype of a Viking warrior.
"Your sister called my mom," Jonathan said. "She said you're supposed to go see your dad at the center!" Jonathan Losnedahl was more average - dark brown hair and slightly shorter than Einar, but he seemed to always have a huge, infectious grin, as if life itself existed only to keep him amused or happy.
"I didn't hear it from mom or dad," Einar laughed as he rode between his two friends. "So ... it sounds like Sara is just messing with me!"
"You're going to get in trouble," Halvard cautioned his friend. "Again!"
"Mom'll bail me out," Einar chuckled. "Is it just us?"
Jonathan chuckled. "No. Silje and Ingrid are meeting us at the lake."
"Oh." Einar couldn't hide the disappointment in his voice; Silje was interested in Jonathan, and Halvard and Ingrid were sort-of a couple.
Halvard laughed at Einar. "Guess it'll be you alone, buddy," he chuckled.
"Well," Einar tried to be nonchalant, "it's easier to paddle a single kayak."
"Wasn't Katrine coming, too?" Jonathan asked.
"Nah," Halvard replied, stealing glances at Einar's face, seeing his eyes . "She's going on a hike and picnic with Martin."
"But ... what about Regine?" Einar blurted out, referring to Katrine's little sister, who happened to be one of his classmates. He was also quite interested in Regine Baardsson, which his friends knew only too well and which they razzed him about almost as much as he razzed them about their girlfriends. Not that Einar and Regine were exactly boyfriend and girlfriend. Not quite.
Halvard glanced at Jonathan, grinning from ear to ear. "I don't know," he tried to sound innocent, but he couldn't keep a straight face.
"She is coming!" Einar said with a scowl. "You ... ass!"
"Wait up!" Einar called out as he scrambled across rocks in a small stream behind Regine. If Regine was half as pretty in a few years as her older sister, she was going to be a knockout, and Einar was more than slightly interested in keeping her close to him - at least until they went to college. Having a hot girlfriend wouldn't hurt his social standing.
The group of six teens had spent a few hours kayaking, and then Silje suggested they hike to a nice spot for a picnic; everyone had packed some snacks and light meal in a small knapsack, because they knew that their outings often spanned lunch or dinner - or both, since at that northern latitude, daylight hours were quite long.
"Keep up, slowpoke!" Regine giggled over her shoulder. Trying to be the gallant hero, Einar was carrying her knapsack, too, which slowed him down slightly as he was a little off-balance. "If you can catch me, I'll give you a kiss!" she teased him.
With a smile of anticipation, Einar skipped across a few wet rocks, then stretched himself and leaped across a large gap, intent on getting a reward for catching the dark-haired beauty.
Unfortunately for Einar, his foot slipped as he jumped, and instead of sailing across the water, his leg twisted and he tumbled. He reached out to catch himself, trying to break his fall, but he wasn't completely successful, and as he cried out, his head struck a rock and everything went black.
When Einar opened his eyes, he was startled to see the muted light and colors of twilight instead of the blue summer sky and vivid green of the lands and trees and plants beneath it. He reached up to rub his eyes in disbelief, which didn't help.
Sitting up slowly, Einar was overwhelmed by confusion. It was daylight in the summer, but he saw a fading sun in a white-covered landscape more suited to winter. As far as he could see around him was white, with craggy mountain peaks and broad valleys. It seemed that he was sitting on a glacier or ice-field, and he shivered, but whether that was from cold or from nerves, he couldn't tell.
"I won't hurt you," a soft, female, soothing voice sounded from behind him.
Einar spun and saw a beautiful young woman - perhaps twenty-two or twenty-three - walking lightly across the glacier toward him. Her hair was stunningly white, with highlights of shades of translucent blues reminiscent of glacial ice, and she had stunning blue eyes with green and white streaks in them. As she moved and the wind teased her long, flowing hair, small pointed ears darted into and out of view through her hair, giving her an elfin appearance. Her skin wasn't alabaster, but was less tanned than his own, and she was lightly clad in what looked to be a medium blue wraparound skirt and a blue and white patterned clingy top that showed off generous curves. Despite the setting - sitting atop a glacier - she didn't look at all uncomfortable despite being so inadequately dressed.
"Who ...," Einar sputtered, still quite confused, "who are you?"
"I am called Aegloswen," the girl said easily in her delightful, dulcet voice.
"What ... why ... how ...? The questions were many, and Einar was trying to speak them all at once, resulting in a jumble of words.
The girl was close enough that she put her finger on his lips. "Shhh." She pointed upward, to a stunning aurora in waves of green and white and blue, dancing across the inky sky. "It is the dancing lights of the heavens," she said almost reverently. "It is a sign that you are the one." She turned and smiled at him.
"I'm the one WHAT?" Einar stammered.
"This is a truly beautiful realm, is it not? The dancing lights, the crisp air of winter, the beautiful blanket of snow covering the resting land. The eternal trees ...."
"Eternal trees?" Einar interrupted.
"The eternal trees, those that do not sleep with the land," the girl said with a smile.
"Ever ... green?" The girl pondered his words a moment. "Yes, yes. Ever green. I like that. It fits them well."
"What am I doing here?"
"You are the one. You are chosen by the ... great gods ... to be my vessel, so that I may once again walk the Earth," she said with a smile. "After countless millennia, I may finally awaken." She looked at his startled expression. "Your body is changing," she announced. "Otherwise the great gods could not have brought you to me.
"Your ... vessel?" Einar felt panic rising in his throat. "Like ... you're going to possess me?"
"Would you like to live for millennia, to be eternally young?" she purred into his ear. "To heal quickly when injured? To have power over snow and ice? To be attractive?"
"What ... what are you doing to me?" Einar stammered, backing slowly away from this stunningly- beautiful but obviously mad girl.
She strode boldly toward him with a hungry look in her eyes, as if she was stalking prey. "The dancing sky is a sign. We are to be joined." Her arms encircled him, and as he struggled, she leaned forward, her lips touching his, until his resistance crumbled under her extremely sensuous kiss.
"Einar?" The voice sounded familiar and quite worried.
The boy struggled to lift his head and flinched at the powerful throbbing that reddened his vision with pain. "Wha ....?" he stammered, wincing from the pain that erupted from the tiniest motion of moving his jaw. Slowly, his eyes opened, and he saw a face - Regine Baardsson - looking at him with concern etched on her features. Her head blocked the sun from his face, with the result that a halo-like aura of light seemed to wrap around her head, giving her an angelic glow.
"What ... happened?" Einar managed to say. "I ... I slipped?" That was obvious; falling in the rushing cold water was the only explanation for his clothing being soaked.
Regine nodded. "You hit your head pretty hard on a rock," she explained. While her voice was soft and sweet, Einar noted that it wasn't as pretty as the voice in his dream. The voice of the elf-girl of the glacier.
"It ... hurts," Einar said bluntly.
"Do you think you can stand and walk?" Regine asked cautiously. "Or should we call a rescue team come to get you?"
"Help me sit up," the boy replied hesitantly. With his friends helping, he sat up slowly, wincing at the pain in his head; it felt as if he had been smashed with a sledge-hammer and was now being squeezed in a vise.
"I ... I think I'm okay," Einar said after a few seconds of wobbling visibly, but he knew he wasn't convincing any of his friends. Besides, his head throbbed intensely, and the bright sun added to the pain.
A jacket was draped across his shoulders. "This'll help you warm up," Jonathan explained when Einar tried to look up at him.
"But ... I'm not cold," Einar protested.
Jonathan, Halvard, and Regine exchanged uneasy looks; their friend had to be cold after being immersed in the runoff from mountain snow and ice. "We'll call a rescue crew," Halvard said determinedly.
Near Støren, Norway
In a tiny, ramshackle cabin in a deep, deep valley, nestled almost against the lichen-covered rocks and moss of a steep mountain, an old, white-haired woman hunched over a steaming bowl brimming with foul-smelling herbs. She waved her hands slowly over the mist, chanting in old Norse in time with her hand-waves, peering deeply into the bowl. Gradually, as she focused, her features darkened into a deep frown. For many long seconds, she stared into the bubbling, steaming liquid, as if in a trance.
Finally, she leaned back, quite obviously lost in thought. Finally, after what seemed an hour, she leaned back from the rough wooden table and shuffled to a shelf that overflowed with stuff. It was hard to describe all the shelf's contents - ancient books, small vials and jars, various boxes and tins - and the item the woman took, a small, round, faceted crystal of some kind.
Sitting at the table, Gunhild Pedersdottir carefully, precisely placed the object on the table before her, and once more incanting in the rough but strangely lyrical tongue of the old Norse, she stared deeply into the crystal. "Helka Arud," she called out once the incantation had completed. "Helka Arud, I call upon thee."
"What business interrupts my daily workings?" a female voice sang out from the crystalline object.
"I beg your forgiveness for interrupting," Gunhild apologized sincerely, "but I was making a reading this morning."
"Is it important?" Helka asked, suddenly sounding quite curious.
"She has returned."
"Are you absolutely certain?" Helka asked, her voice suddenly uncertain and questioning. "You know he will know this too, and he will take it as a sign of the awakening."
"I read the signs. She is returning, and she will bring dark times for us," Gunhild said solemnly. "Unless ...."
Helka knew immediately what Gunhild was speaking of. "Call the sisters. We must act quickly, before her power grows too strong. We must find her. If she can be delivered, bound ...."
"The blood oath sworn by our mothers' mothers' mothers millennia ago will be fulfilled." Gunhild nodded knowingly. "He will have no choice but to release us from the oath and grant our favors."
"We will meet at the new moon to begin our workings. We must find her as soon as she appears. Call the others; it will take the whole circle for such a spell."
"Well, Einar," Dr. Kjellsson, the older doctor who ran the clinic in Meraker, said, shaking his head at the boy, "see what happens when you lose your head over a pretty girl! You almost literally lose your head!"
Einar flinched, blushing. "It ... it wasn't ...."
The doctor chuckled in amusement. "Come now, Einar," he teased the boy, "I was young once, too, and I know how easy it is to get careless when you're focused on a girl. And Regine is an attractive young lady, wouldn't you agree?"
"Yes, she ...," Einar started without thinking, then realized to his horror that he'd admitted what the doctor had teased him about.
The doctor shot him a knowing smile before turning back to the subject of the boy's health. "Is there anything else I should note? Is the pain lessening? Do you notice any dizziness or blurred vision?"
"The pain ... is almost gone," Einar said slowly. "And ...."
"Um," Einar realized too late that he should have kept his mouth shut. "I ... I had a ... dream, I guess," he mumbled. "When ... I think when I was knocked out."
The doctor frowned. "A dream during unconsciousness is not normal. Was there anything peculiar about the dream?"
"Er ... not really. I don't think. I ... I was on a glacier," he said hesitantly. "And ... a girl walked up to me."
The doctor chuckled. "You're a normal teenage boy. Of course you dream about pretty girls! There's nothing unusual about that!"
"Um, she was ... like an elf," Einar continued. "And ... she kissed me."
"I asked about unusual things like hallucinations, Einar," the doctor shook his head, still chuckling. "Not schoolboy fantasies!"
"Er ... um .... can I go now?"
"No," the doctor's mood changed instantly as he scolded the boy. "You have a serious concussion. You're lucky you didn't break your skull!" The doc shook his head. "No, you may not go right now. Your mom should be here soon."
"But ... my friends are waiting!"
"And I'll tell them that you're fine, and that you're going to rest for a few days, and that they aren't to bother you."
"But ...," Einar sputtered, visibly upset, "it's the last of the summer! In a couple of weeks, I'll be back in school, and then I won't have time for hiking and biking and such!"
"Would you rather I put you in the hospital?" the doctor threatened. "Or will you promise to follow my instructions and rest for a few days?"
Einar frowned. He knew the doctor was blackmailing him and was enjoying that power. "Okay," he grumbled, "but only because Mom and Dad would have a fit if you put me in the hospital!"
"So can I go home then?"
"No. I'll keep you here for observation for a while."
"But nothing. You have a severe concussion. I won't take any chances that you have internal bleeding that could be very serious. You stay - or you go into the hospital."
Einar sighed heavily. "Okay." He knew when he was beat.
"Good. My nurse will take you to a comfortable room where you can rest or watch TV. But you may not sleep. With a head injury, sleeping is the worst thing you can do while under observation."
"Be quiet, Thea," Anna-Marie Ruud scolded Einar's youngest sister. "You know your brother needs peace and quiet to rest after his accident."
"Mom," the boy protested, walking strongly to her, to graphically display that she should let him alone, "it's been four days! I'm okay! You don't have to baby me."
"I'm just doing what Dr. Kjellsen told me," the attractive, stereotypically-blonde woman said. Even after three children, she had a trim figure - shapely enough that Einar's friends considered her a prime MILF, which really grossed him out. He never considered that they did that just to get his goat.
"But ... summer is almost over!" he protested.
"I'll make a deal with you," his mother replied. "You go to the clinic, and if the doctor says it's okay, then you can go out with your friends."
Almost precisely one hour later, Einar stepped lightly from the clinic, a happy smile on his face and cell- phone in hand as he dialed. "Mom?" he said when the connection was made, "Dr. Kjellsson said I'm okay now, so I can go do stuff with my friends."
"Are you sure?"
"Good grief, Mom," the boy protested. "Do you want me to go inside and take a picture with the nurse or the doctor to prove I'm here? Or have one of them call or text you?"
"Don't get sassy!" Einar's mom cautioned him. Her sigh was audible through the phone. "I suppose you can go. Just promise me that you won't do anything risky."
"Promise me. No kayaking or canoeing. No rock climbing. Light activities only, okay?"
Einar couldn't help but roll his eyes at his mom's hectoring. "Okay. Maybe ... Jonathan and Halvard and I will go hiking a bit." He didn't add that he'd already arranged with his best friends to go hiking, and the girls - Silje, Ingrid, and Regine - were joining them for a picnic.
"Just be careful."
"Okay." Einar hung up, and then quickly dialed another number. "Jonathan? Mo .... The doctor said I can go." He hoped that his friend had missed his almost-admission that he still had to ask his mom for permission, as if he was a little kid. "I'll meet you guys at the school, okay?"
"The girls want to go picnic at Funnsjoen Lake," Jonathan noted.
"Okay, we'll ride our bikes. See you in a few minutes." Einar straddled his bike and began to ride; he'd come prepared, and in hindsight, the fact that his mom let him ride to the doctor by himself indicated that she was already convinced that he was well enough for an outing with his friends. He shook his head as he rode; some days, his mom really surprised him with her understanding of what he, as a teenager, wanted to do.
"Are you ready for school to start next week?" Regine asked as she and Einar walked, hand-in-hand, up a slope toward a rocky promontory which had a beautiful view of the lake and its surroundings.
"No," Einar replied, grumbling. "I missed four days of hiking and stuff because Mom was being paranoid."
"You did hit your head pretty hard," Regine reminded him needlessly. The young couple sat down on a rock, and Regine abruptly held Einar's head and kissed him. Far from protesting, the boy almost immediately overcame his surprise and reciprocated.
"What was that for?" he asked breathlessly when the kiss ended.
"For making me worry about you, silly," she replied before kissing him again. Abruptly, though, she drew back, staring intently at him.
"Your .... your eyes," Regine said slowly.
"What about them?"
"Are they ... darker, maybe?" She cocked her head slightly, puzzled. Einar had very beautiful blue eyes - or had. Now they were a shade or two darker; it made no sense to her.
"I thought you wanted to kiss," the boy protested.
Regine stared another few moments, then shrugged and the teens resumed making out.
The doctor leaned back, frowning, one eyebrow slightly arched. "This is ... puzzling."
"What's wrong with him?" Einar's mom asked, worried at she looked at her son.
"I feel fine," the boy protested.
"But your irises appear to be changing color slightly," the doctor countered. "What's baffling is that there aren't any other changes - your vision is normal, or possibly a little better than 20/20." He shrugged. "It's very slight. If I hadn't seen him the other day, I don't think I would have noticed."
"Is it something from his concussion last month, maybe?"
"Unlikely," the doctor replied. "It's pretty much impossible ...." he seemed lost in thought a moment. "No. It doesn't happen. Not with concussions. Otherwise," he added with a wry grin, "every other footballer would have his eye color changing all the time."
"Why did you pause?" Mrs. Ruud asked, one eyebrow arched, a frown on her features.
The doctor sighed, nodding slightly. "Very, very, very rarely, it happens spontaneously, but ...," he paused, thinking.
The mother's eyes narrowed as she frowned. "What?" she demanded, recognizing that the doctor was thinking about something.
The doctor shook his head. "I don't want to speculate and frighten you about something that's highly unlikely. I'll spend some time looking through medical journals to see if I can find more about cases like your son's. I'm willing to bet there's some ... nutritional deficiency." He sat back a bit. "We'll do some blood tests to make sure he doesn't have any underlying systemic issue, and I'll take a picture so we can watch this."
Twenty-five minutes later, feeling like he was a quart low on blood after all the samples the doctor took, Einar and his mom walked back out to her car. "I don't think there's any reason for you to stay home from school tomorrow," Mom said flatly.
"But ... I felt kind of ... light-headed," the boy protested. "Wobbly and woozy. My teacher said I needed to get checked out before I went back."
"So you got checked out, and the doctor said there's nothing wrong," Mom rebutted immediately. "Besides," she added with an impish grin, "if you stay home from school, you won't get to see Regine."
"Mom!" Einar cried out from the bathroom, where he was busy with his morning routine. He was wincing, touching his ear through his matted hair, which he'd been trying to comb.
"What?" she replied from the kitchen, where she was packing her lunch for work. "What's wrong?"
"My ... my ears hurt!" Einar replied uncertainly.
"What?" In moments, surprised by his reply, his mom was in the bathroom. "What do you mean, your ears hurt? Do you have an ear-ache?"
Einar sighed, an uneasy expression on his face. "Not inside my ears," he complained, "my ears - the outer part! I ... I was combing my hair, like usual," he added, "and ... and when ... when the comb hit my ear, it hurt, a lot!"
"Let's have a look." She tsk'd her son as he flinched from her outstretched hand, and then he allowed her to brush aside his hair. "This is odd," she finally said, sounding more than a little concerned.
"What?" Einar fought the panic trying to tie his stomach in knots.
"Your hair - the roots." Her fingers danced through his mop of tangled, matted hair, letting her see down to his scalp.
"What about them?"
"They're ... white!" his mother reported. "And some of the roots look ... kind of light blue."
She fingered her way through his hair, oblivious to the distressed look on his face. "Strange. Very strange." After a bit, she stopped and gasped aloud.
"We're going to the doctor," she announced firmly. "Your ear ... it's like there's some kind of growth at the top. Like ...." She shook her head. "I don't know." She turned her head toward the bathroom door. "Dear, please call the school. Einar has to go to the doctor!"
"Okay," Einar's dad called from the kitchen. "I'll get the girls to school."
Almost an hour later, the doctor sat back, shaking his head just like Einar's mom had. "Very strange," he muttered to himself. "Very strange indeed."
"What?" Einar and his mom asked at the same time.
"Your hair follicles have changed pigmentation." He shook his head. "It's not unheard of to see a pigmentation change induce by physical stress to the body, but I've never heard of follicles producing light blue pigmentation." The doctor cocked his head to one side, a puzzled expression on his face. "It's not unheard of in nature. Several birds, like a peacock, for example, have blue and green iridescent feathers."
"You mean stress like his concussion?"
The doctor nodded. "It's documented to have happened." He shook his head again. "But ... blue?"
"What about his ears?"
"I would normally do a biopsy," the doctor said, but he didn't sound like he expected any conclusive results from that test. "But ... the growth is bilateral and symmetric. Both ears have the same growth, and they look like mirror images of each other."
"Do you have any idea what's happening to Einar?" his mom asked, definitely worried.
The doctor ignored the woman for a moment. "Do you have any other symptoms?" He saw the boy flinch, and then look worriedly at his mother. "Any other symptoms?" he repeated, slower and more firmly.
"Um, I'm not sure," Einar stammered nervously, with a bit of reddening to his cheeks.
"What do you mean, you're not sure?"
"Mom, can I ... can I ... talk to the doctor ... privately?" Einar asked his mother, blushing furiously.
"Most certainly not," the woman responded sternly, almost angrily. "You're a minor, and as your mother, I am responsible for you."
"Mrs. Ruud," the doctor replied to her, "Einar isn't a little boy any more, and just as you wouldn't expect your husband to be present for some discussions one of your daughters might have with a doctor, especially about ... sensitive subjects, you should give your son the same privacy."
The worried mother shot a glare at Einar, but then nodded to the doctor. "I suppose you're right."
"You can wait outside." After he watched her leave, the doctor turned back toward the boy. "Okay, what's on your mind?"
Based on his expression, Einar was still highly embarrassed. "Um, my ... my ... privates ... seem ... different. A little smaller," he mumbled, "and my ... nuts ... are ...."
Einar dutifully dropped his trousers and shorts, blushing bright red as the doctor examined him. "Hmmm," the doctor said to himself. "I can't really tell if there are abnormalities in your penis. Everything is within the normal range for a boy your age."
"My ... testicles ... feel weird. And ... not as sensitive," Einar reported. Seeing the doctor's eyebrows raise, the boy continued. "My friend Jonathan was goofing around, and he hit me there, like he sometimes does, but ... it didn't hurt nearly as much as it normally does."
"Okay," the doctor made a few notes. "Anything else?"
Einar winced again. "Um, yeah," he answered, pulling his trousers back up. "My chest is a little bit ... sore." He lifted his shirt. "Here," he continued, pointing awkwardly to his nipples while holding his shirt up so the doctor could see.
The doctor felt the area around the boy's areolae, causing Einar to blush even more. "Okay," the doctor said, leaning back. "You can drop your shirt." He stood and opened the door, gesturing Einar's mother back in.
"Well?" she asked, worried.
"I want to do another series of blood tests," the doctor responded. "And an MRI."
"You suspect something?"
The doctor nodded. He checked Einar's file. "In your last lab work, I had a genetic analysis done, based on new guidelines from the Health Ministry and a hunch I had. The analysis shows that you have what's called the Meta-Gene Complex."
"Which means what?" the worried mother asked, not at all happy with the turn the doctor's explanation had taken. Genetic anomalies usually meant trouble, sometimes very serious.
"Which means that Einar's symptoms might be a result of the gene complex activating. Which means he could very well be a mutant."
It was hard to say whose eyes bugged out further - Einar's or his mom's. "A ... a mutant?" Einar stammered, shocked.
"Can you cure it?" Mom practically begged.
The doctor shook his head. "Mutations can't be stopped or cured," he explained. "Simply having the meta-gene complex does not necessarily indicate that the complex will activate and that he will manifest as a mutant. There's no accurate test to see if a meta-gene complex has activated, so we'll have to watch for other changes."
"Like his eyes?" Mom asked, goggling. "And his hair?"
"And possibly the growth on his ears." The doctor pushed a button on an intercom. "Nurse, could you take Mr. Ruud to get an MRI?" After the nurse took Einar from the room to get his diagnostic image, the doctor sat down opposite Mrs. Ruud.
"What do you suspect? Why the additional tests?" Mom was getting more worried by his comments and now his seeming setup to have a private conference with her.
"I want to check his hormone levels, and also look for internal growth." He grimaced, not knowing how to say what he had to say. "Your son complained of decreased ... size ... in his genitals, and also of some sensitivity in his chest. In examining him, I noticed that his testicles seem to be ... either atrophying or re-ascending, and he has breast buds beneath his areolae."
"Sometimes, when a child manifests as a mutant, there are some changes in his or her body. Einar might be one of those cases. His eyes are deeper blue, and with the unusual hair color, ear growth, and other changes, I strongly suspect he's changing."
"Into what?" Einar's mother had visions of him turning into some horrible half-human monster, and that fear came through loud and clear in her quavering voice.
"I don't know," the doctor admitted, "but if the tests show what I expect, then there is a chance that he'll manifest as female."
"Einar ... is changing ... into a girl?"
"Possibly. We'll have to wait and see. I'll try to arrange some more tests. If he is a mutant, then he should be tested by experts from the Health Ministry."
Hell Stasjon, Norway
The boy couldn't help rolling his eyes when his phone rang; he stepped to the side of the small herd of people getting off the train that had come from Meraker. "Hello?"
"I just wanted to remind you that ...." Einar's mom began to give him instructions.
"I have to change trains," Einar rolled his eyes again. "I'm not a little kid!" It was so like his mom to be overprotective, even though he was a teenager - just barely. His birthday had been only three weeks ago, and Einar thought that now he was a teen, he should be treated more like an adult. His parents, though, didn't share his viewpoint.
"You haven't traveled by yourself before," his mom countered, chiding him a little bit. In her opinion, he was becoming a stereotypical teen, and starting to think his parents didn't understand anything. "I don't want you getting lost in Trondheim, or ending up on the wrong train and end up in Steinkjer or Lillihammer!"
"Mom, I've been on this train to Trondheim with you or Dad thousands of times before!" Einar protested, rolling his eyes yet again while he tried, but failed, to control his sarcastic tone.
"It wasn't 'thousands'," Mom patiently corrected, "and you were with your father or me. If your sister hadn't gotten sick and your father wasn't tied up in the board meeting at the resort, one of us would be with you. I just wish the doctor could have set up your appointment for any other day."
"I know what I'm doing, Mom," Einar sighed. "But if you keep interrupting me to tell me what to do, I'm going to miss the train to Trondheim!"
"Then you better get to your train. You have the letter from Dr. Kjellsen?"
"Yes, Mom," the boy said, accompanied by a sigh and shake of his head. "The train is on the other platform. I have to run." Before his mother could object, he disconnected and turned his phone off before shoving it into his pocket, already walking quickly. In a way, he was glad that his parents were both tied up - it gave him a chance to be a little independent, like some of his friends got to do. Maybe in some parts of the world, a teen didn't travel alone, but this was Norway.
His distraction caused him to bump into an old woman who was also on the train platform, but moving another direction. He looked up sharply, stumbling to avoid running the woman over. "Sorry," he apologized quickly. If his parents had been with him, he'd have been in serious trouble for letting himself get distracted.
The woman looked up at him, one eyebrow cocked and a cross expression on her wrinkled, ancient features, as if she was giving him the evil eye in retribution for his clumsiness. "Don't they teach young people any manners ....?" Her vitriolic rebuke cut off, and her eyes both narrowed as she studied the boy.
"I said I was sorry," Einar apologized again. "My mom called and distracted me." The excuse sounded lame, and he knew it, but he wasn't going to let the old bat chide him when it wasn't his fault.
The woman gazed long and hard at the young man, making him gulp nervously. She was white-haired, with a slight stoop to her shoulders, but her expression slowly became one of curiosity. Finally, Einar broke their locked gazes. "I've got to run to catch my train. Sorry, again."
As he scurried off toward his train, the woman shook her head slowly. "That boy felt ... strange," she muttered to herself. "But ... it can't be! It's not possible!" She turned from where the boy had disappeared and continued on to her own train.
Later that day
Einar stumbled off the train to the tiny station - if one could call it that - in Meraker. It was barely a wide-spot on the tracks, with only an automated ticket kiosk under a small roof, and a pair of elevated concrete platforms beside the train tracks. There were no other services besides a few parking spots, but that was enough for the people who commuted the seventy or eighty kilometers to Trondheim or one of its outlying towns. As expected, his parents weren't there to meet him; Dad was probably still in the meeting, he reasoned, and Mom would be tending his sister. That was fine with him; he'd ridden his bike to the station earlier that day, and could just as happily ride home.
On the way, he took a slight detour, setting his bike against a fence and practically leaping up the steps to a house. He couldn't help but tap his foot anxiously as he waited, but soon the door opened, and the girl who peered out brightened with a grin.
"How did your trip go?" Regine asked, a hint of worry in her voice.
"It was fine," Einar lied. "Well, kind of. They took a lot of blood samples and X-rays and scans, and then I had to repeat them for another doctor. And I talked to about seven specialists who I think were totally confused by everything."
"Come in." Regine stepped to one side, inviting the boy inside, not that it was an unpleasant afternoon. "Nobody else is home yet."
Einar didn't need a second invitation; with a huge grin, he slipped inside, and as soon as the door was shut, the girl launched herself at him, encircling his torso while she crushed his lips beneath hers. After a rather lengthy kiss, she eased herself back a half step. "If that's the kind of greeting I get, I think I'll miss more school!"
"Oh, pbthhh!" Regine mocked him. "I just haven't kissed you since last weekend!"
"Did I miss anything interesting today?"
"Not really," she said with a shrug. "Except ...." Her expression told Einar that something had happened, but she seemed reluctant to talk about it.
"What?" he asked bluntly.
She winced; she hadn't intended to tell Einar. "Just ... Lars and Jakob were being smart-asses again!" She gave a derisive snort. "You know them - they make fun of anyone and everyone they can."
"What did they say about me now? More about my hair?"
"No," Regine denied. Then she winced again. "They ... Lars was telling everyone ... that you're a mutant! That's why your hair changed color, he said."
Einar shook his head. "He's an idiot."
"Yeah, but ... with your ears," she delicately ran her fingers through his hair and brushed his ears. "And your hair," she added, looking at his hair, which was now white starting a little over three quarters of an inch from the roots, with some iridescent light blue streaks, or so it appeared.
"They tested me, and no-one said I'm a mutant," Einar said a little more defensively than he should have. "It's ... they think when I hit my head in August, the shock caused some biochemical changes, and that's why my hair is getting white."
"But ... your ears!" she protested. "They're ... not normal!" She saw Einar's reaction. "I think they're cute," she added quickly, "but you have to admit that they're not normal. Getting a concussion wouldn't cause them to grow like that!"
"I have to go back next week," Einar reported, his defensive reaction muted by Regine's gentle attention to his ears, which he had to admit felt very nice. "They ... they haven't said anything, but maybe ... all those tests will tell them something." He backed up a few inches from his 'girlfriend'. "Are you ... would you ...?" he began, not quite sure how to ask the question.
"Would I what?"
"Would ... would it make a difference to you if I maybe was a ... a ...?"
"A mutant?" Regine leaned forward and kissed him. "If you keep getting cute things like your ears and your eyes, then no!"
"What about ... your parents? Or the kids at school? Or ...?"
"Shhhh," she put her finger across his lips. "You're worried about things that probably won't happen." The cute girl followed up with another kiss, easing his fears a bit, or at least distracting him from worrying more.
To any outside observer, the gaggle of women, mostly older, looked like a knitting or quilting club getting together socially; there were smiles and hugs as they warmly greeted each other at the train station like long- lost friends. After a few minutes, the ones with small bags extended the handles and rolled them, or picked them up to physically carry, and led by two bag-less women, they began to walk through the streets of the town.
One would have expected the women to take a cab; of the thirteen ladies, only four looked to be younger than forty, and six of the others were easily over seventy. But they walked with a determination at a pace that belied their years, easily keeping up with the youngest, who looked to be in her early- to mid-twenties.
"Are you sure your husband won't mind our gathering?" Gunhild Pedersdottir asked skeptically as the group entered a large house.
Anika Knudsen , one of the young women, smiled. "I ... persuaded him to spend the weekend in Jonathansend," she replied. "Even though he promised to not bother us, if he accidentally barged into our circle, he might spoil the entire working."
"I swear," Helka, one of the oldest of the women, chuckled, "you must have ensorcelled him, because he gives you everything you want."
Anika struck a sexy pose. "I didn't have to cast a spell on him. His normal desires give me all the power over him I could ever want!"
"Keep your spells ready," Ingeborg Heimdahl, another of the older ladies, chuckled. "Once your looks start to fade, you'll lose that power over him."
"Not likely," Anika laughed as she led the women through the house and up a steep staircase. "I took another apprentice - a cute young girl of nineteen that my husband uses when I do the tantric rituals. They think I don't know about them having sex, and I'm perfectly content to let them continue to think that."
Gunhild frowned. "Does she know?"
"That in exchange for learning the arts and working with me, I'm stealing her beauty and youth?" Anika laughed cruelly. "Of course not! If she did know, do you think she'd continue to serve me as apprentice?" She paused and unlocked a door, then cast a small working. The heavy wooden door creaked open. "You can leave your bags out here in the hall." She entered the room, taking a small candle in a holder, and with another minor working, lit it magically. In the flickering yellow light, Anika gave each of the women in her coven a similar candle as they entered, and when the last was inside, she shut the door again.
The room was larger than it should have been, a magic trick of warping its dimensions. In the center was a large, round oak table, with thirteen chairs surrounding it. One corner was filled by a hulking bookcase full of old, leather-bound tomes, some of which looked to be hundreds of years old. Along the wall opposite the door, a large workbench stood against the wall, a large rack of bottles and vials and small tins filling shelves above the bench, and drawers beneath the work surface.
"Sisters," Helka Arud intoned solemnly, "let us begin. This will take all of our power, and may take a significant time."
Nodding, the women took seats around the table, each setting her candles directly before her.
Hours and hours later, the women sat back in their chairs as one, staring at an apparition that had materialized above the center of the table, a large, translucent head that turned slowly as if looking about the room.
"It is her," Sigrid Haakonardottir said in awe. "She is returning!"
The sisters all nodded as the head turned. The girl was beautifully exotic; her long, wavy hair practically shimmered white, with light blue streaks that seemed to glisten in the flickering candle-light. Her ears were pointed, elfin, and with her large, doe-like eyes, she had a cute, innocent appearance. Her eyes, however, were another matter - slightly almond-shaped, tilted very slightly toward the center, the irises were dark blue or black, with varying thread-like, semi-translucent lines of white, green, and blue radiating from the iris' outer rims toward her pupils.
Helka, the woman who was quite obviously the leader of the coven, nodded solemnly. "Which means if the ice queen is awakening, Dúrnir will awaken as well."
"And he will no doubt want to collect the debt of our grandmothers' grandmothers' grandmothers," Gunhild added. She cast a minor working, and a second image appeared beside that of the girl - a man with similar elfin features, but very dark skin and rugged features. He was older and balding, with a grizzled beard and a scruffy rim of hair around his head, streaked with some gray, and a scar ran down the side of his nose and across his left cheek.
"Seems a shame that such a pretty girl will be bound to Dúrnir!" a grandmotherly-appearing woman, Alva Solberg, said, shaking her head. "I'm sure my great-grandson would like to have such a girl bound to him."
"Bah!" one of the women said dismissively. "We know of the magic debt. We know what Dúrnir looks like. The question is where is the girl?"
"That's why we're here," Helka chided her. She looked at Anika. "Let us begin the workings to find her."
"Hey, how's our mutant doing?" Halvard called out to Einar as he walked with Regine between teasing.
"Just knock it off, okay?" Einar replied; he would have been angrier at Halvard, but with Regine present, he just couldn't be mad at anyone. She had that effect on him.
"Wait up, old man!" Jonathan was running to catch up to Einar.
Einar rolled his eyes; the newest nickname from Jonathan was sticking, and though he hated to admit it, with his hair being nearly completely white - except for the tips of the longer hairs and the ones with faint blue streaks, he did kind of look like he was old and gray. "I'm walking Regine home," he replied to Jonathan. "So ... no, I don't have time for whatever you're planning."
Jonathan flinched as if hurt. "I was going to suggest that we all go to Trondheim this weekend - if you can get permission," he protested with a pout. "Silje and Erica got permission to go! There's a concert Friday night, too! Silje's cousin works at the radio station, and they were doing some big promotions, so he can get us tickets!"
Regine's eyes widened. "Wait, Silje can get tickets? They were sold out less than two hours after they went on sale!"
"So we'll all go then! And if we stay at Silje's cousin's place, we can have fun on Saturday before we come back!" Halvard added.
"I've got to go to Trondheim Friday morning," Einar groaned, "so I probably won't be able to stay. I know Mom won't want to stay."
"Well, let's go talk to her," Regine said with a smile. "I'm sure she'll let you stay with the group while she comes home."
As soon as Regine and Einar were around the corner from the school, she pulled him close and kissed him. After a bit, she backed up, a hurt expression on her face. "Is ... is something wrong? Are you ... mad at me?" she asked, fighting tears.
"No, of course not!" Einar countered quickly. "It's ... it's complicated."
"Does it have to do with all of the changes?" the girl asked, pointedly running her fingers through his hair and dawdling as she brushed the pointier tips of his ear.
"Are you going to tell me?" Regine looked hurt that he wasn't telling her, as if he'd betrayed a trust.
Einar grimaced. "Can ... can we wait until we're at my house to talk about it?" He saw her doubtful expression. "I promise I'll tell you ... everything." When Regine nodded, the two resumed the long walk to Einar's house, which was on the outskirts of the town.
No sooner had they closed the door behind them than Regine physically turned Einar to face her. "Okay, what's going on?"
Einar glanced at his sisters, then took the girl's hand and led her to his room. When he shut the door behind himself, he leaned against it and took a deep breath. "I've ... I've been to Trondheim several times in the past weeks," he explained needlessly. Regine already knew how often he'd been absent from school. "With all of the changes," he closed his eyes and steadied himself, "I've been seeing several specialists."
"Are you sick?"
Einar shook his head. "I think you better sit down." As soon as Regine sat down - on his bed, which was more than a little inviting, he grimaced. "I ... I ..." Finally, unable to find words, he shook his head, and then pulled his shirt up over his head.
Regine looked at him, then gave him a puzzled frown. His ribcage was wrapped with a wide elastic bandage.
"I'm ...." Einar shook his head as he began to unwrap the bandages. "The specialists - aren't doctors. Not medical doctors, anyway," he added. "I'm ...." He dropped the bandage on the floor.
Regine stared wide-eyed at her boyfriend, her mouth hanging ajar, at the small mounds on Einar's chest, capped by puffy little nipples. "What ...?"
"Halvard is right. I'm ... I'm a mutant," Einar admitted, wincing at having to admit it, but at the same time feeling a little relief that he could let someone besides his family know his secret.
"But ... those are ... you're growing ...," Regine tried to find words. "Aren't they?"
Einar nodded. "They think I'm growing ... breasts." He lowered his gaze, feeling his cheeks redden. "And ... I'm ... my ... the doctors say I might be ... turning into a girl."
"A ... girl?" Regine gawked at him. "How ... how much?"
"They did a lot of scans," Einar admitted, letting his shirt fall back down to cover his chest. "I'm ... I'm growing ... some internal ... things. You know - ovaries and that kind of stuff."
"How much ...?"
Einar reached into his pants and pulled out a rolled-up sock. With it gone, the front of his trousers had less of a bulge. "It's ... changing. Based on how much and how fast I'm changing," he admitted, "they think it'll take a few years before it's finished, but they think ... that I'll be ... completely a girl."
Regine's already wide eyes goggled even more. "You mean ... like, having periods and maybe someday getting pregnant and stuff? All of that?"
The boy nodded, obviously fighting tears. "I ... my face ... is getting ... softer. More girly. And my eyes ..."
"Your eyes quit changing a few weeks ago," Regine protested.
Einar shook his head. "Nope." He went to his dresser and got a small case. In a few moments, he'd removed contact lenses. "See?" he said when he turned toward her.
If the girl had been surprised before, she was almost dumbfounded. "It's like ...," she tried to say as she moved closer, until she was only inches from his face, staring deeply into Einar's eyes. "It's like ... almost like ... the northern lights ... are in your eyes!"
Einar knew her description was appropriate - it was exactly what his parents and sisters had said. His midnight-blue irises were streaked and smeared with translucent colors of whites, greens, and blues, with an occasional bit of red. "And ... they change."
"If you took a picture today and another one in a few days, you'd see that the lines are moving."
"Exactly like the northern lights." Regine sat back, almost overwhelmed at the enormity of what her boyfriend had admitted. "So that's why ...."
"They said I've got more female hormones in my body than male ones," Einar admitted. "And ... I ..." He shook his head. "Things ... are different. When we kiss, I mean. And ... sometimes I ... I can't control my emotions."
"Do ... things still ... you know, work?"
"Kind of," Einar replied cautiously.
Regine stepped forward and kissed Einar deeply. "Then you can still be my little elf boyfriend until you can't." She chuckled at his shocked expression. "That is what you're turning into, isn't it? An elf?"
Einar gulped and nodded. "Sometimes, I have dreams - about an elf girl. She's on a glacier, and ... and she kind of looks like ... like what I'm turning into. She says she's something called a Sidhe, and that ... that she's been dead for millennia, but now ... now her soul - or pieces of it - have found me."
"That ... sounds kind of scary."
Einar nodded again. "I talk to her, in my dreams," he said, "but ... when I ask her about herself, she gets ... confused. Like, like she doesn't know completely who she is or who she was or anything. But she said that ... I'm her vessel, that she's in me, and she can walk on the Earth again."
Regine tugged Einar until he was sitting on the bed beside her. "And ... and you're ... okay with that?"
"I don't think I have a choice," the boy said, fighting tears again. "The specialists don't think I do, either. They're specialists in mutations, and they think her soul is kind of grafted onto mine, and that shaped how I'm changing."
"If they're specialists," Regine had an idea, "can't they get rid of her? So you stop changing?"
The boy shook his head. "They had some magic users check me, and they said that if they could get her fragment out of me, it might kill me. It'd destroy her soul, too. So ... no-one is willing to try."
"Wow!" was all the girl could say as she stared straight ahead, hands in her laps, contemplating what Einar had told her. Then she turned and grasped his cheeks between her hands again and kissed him.
"What was that for?" Einar sputtered when she broke the long, very involved kiss.
Regine grinned. "Just seeing if you still like kissing me."
"But ... I ... I might be turning ... into a girl!"
"Maybe," Regine patted his crotch very suggestively, "but you haven't yet, so until then ...." She pulled him into another kiss.
"Einar," Mrs. Ruud stuck her head into her son's room, interrupting his studies at his computer.
"Can you put down your studies for a bit? We want to talk to you."
Alarm bells went off in Einar's head. "Um, I guess," he slid the keyboard back and turned his chair, facing his Mom. Not surprisingly, his Dad came into the room as well and then closed the door with a gentle click behind him. Einar read the nervous expressions on their faces and gulped. "Yes?"
"Um, we've been talking," Dad began hesitantly.
The boy had a sinking feeling that he knew what his parents wanted to talk with him about. "What about?"
Mom shot a glance at her husband, then looked back at her son. "With ... with what the doctors think," she winced, "is happening to you, we were wondering if maybe ...."
"If ... what?"
"If ... maybe it would be better for you to not ... cutting your hair so short, like you're used to doing."
"Why?" The boy was sure he already knew the answer.
"Because," Dad said quickly, "it would help hide your ears."
"And," Mom winced as she tried to figure out how to saw what she was thinking, "if ...."
"You think I should start growing my hair for when I turn into a girl," Einar snapped. "Is that it?" His parents flinched at his words and the tone in which he delivered them. "You ... want me to start acting girly because you're certain I am going to turn into a girl? You want me to be a girl?" He spun away angrily. "What's next? Are you going to get me girl's underwear? Make me start wearing makeup? Give me a new girl name?" Tears flowed down his cheeks.
Mrs. Ruud slipped up behind him, lightly putting her hands on his shoulders, but holding tightly enough that when he tried to shrug them off, he failed. "We don't want you to change into a girl," she tried to soothe him, "but ... but the doctors said ...."
"They're wrong!" Einar snapped again. "I don't want to turn in to a girl! I don't wanna be a girl!"
Mom squatted down beside him and pulled his head onto her shoulder, feeling the wetness spread through her shirt as it soaked up the boy's tears. "I know, honey," she said, gently stroking Einar's head. "But ... sometimes we don't have a choice. Sometimes things happen outside our control."
"I'm ...," he started to say, but quit when words failed him. "This is ... it's ... scary! I ... I don't know what to do!"
"Then remember that we're here to talk to you, and to listen to you, and to help any way we can," Mom reassured the boy.
The boy sat on the glacier, staring off into the valley below, waiting. The object of his wait was soon present; the elvish girl walked to him, barefoot, across the ice with not a hint of discomfort. Einar turned as she sat beside him.
"You like coming here?" she asked.
"No," Einar protested, but weakly. "Why do you keep bringing me here, Aegloswen?"
"You think that I bring you here?" she asked, jaw hanging in surprise at his words. "I thought you came of your own accord!" She looked back down the valley. "I thought you liked coming here, and talking to me."
"But ... you're changing me!" the boy - or more precisely, the changing boy - replied. Here, he still looked like Einar had several months ago - not a bit of white in his hair, and his ears looking perfectly normal. "Who are you?" Seeing her confusion, he decided his question was inadequate. "Aegloswen, you said you would walk the Earth again. When did you last walk in a real body, in the real world?"
"It was millennia ago," the elf-girl answered. "I think. I'm not sure." She looked down the valley again. "Or am I just dreaming, and you're just a vision in my dreams?"
"You're not making any sense. Why won't you tell me anything? Who you were? Where you lived, your family and friends, where you got your powers? You ... you haven't told me anything about yourself."
Aegloswen stared at him, and her mouth opened to speak, but words wouldn't come to her, and after an awkward few seconds, she tilted her head forward into her hands. The sound of her sobbing was accompanied by her shoulders visibly shaking.
Einar's heart was moved with compassion for the girl; he pulled her onto his own shoulder, his arms wrapped comfortingly around her. "I ... didn't mean to upset you," he tried to reassure her.
"I can't remember!" she wailed softly. "I ... have dreams, visions, memories, but they're all ... fragmentary. They're all just ... bits and pieces, and I can't tell which are real and which are just ... illusions!"
She looked up at him, her big, innocent eyes moistened by tears. "I want to remember," she said. "But I can't."
"Tell me your dreams, then," Einar said in a soothing voice. "Maybe if you talk about them, it'll stir more memories, and you will be able to remember."
The girl stared at him for several seconds, and then she nodded. "Thank you."
"For ... not mocking me. For listening." She lifted her lips toward his, kissing him again. When their lips parted, she leaned back on his shoulder. "I ... I think I had three sisters," she said hesitantly. "Or I dreamed I had sisters. And we lived ... near ice, and snow." A tiny smile flitted across her face. "Maybe that's why I'm so comfortable here - because I lived in the ice?"
"I dreamed of monsters, too," she added. "Terrible monsters, misshapen, evil creatures which ...." She broke off. "I ... can't remember more. Except ...."
"A crown," she said. "I ... I think I dreamed that maybe my mother was a princess or something." She looked back at him. "And .... I am certain of one other name, although I can't think of why it's so important."
"What name is that?"
"What did you do, work out over the summer?" Per Lund, one of the boys on the skiing teams, asked Einar as a gaggle of boys paused to catch their breaths in the crisp morning air before they entered the school building. The team had a workout early in the morning before classes, before most of the teachers had even showed up. On nearly-freezing mornings such as that day, most of them wore at least sweat pants, if not sweatshirts.
"He went hiking a lot," Kristian replied, chuckling. "Except when he was trying to break his head open!"
"Very funny!" Einar shot back sarcastically. Unlike the others, he was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and looked quite comfortable even on the cold winter morning.
The physical education coach joined the group outside the school before more teasing could occur. "Einar, I see your time has improved quite a bit. Very good."
"Suck-up!" Per snapped at Einar softly.
"If your skiing has improved as well," the coach ignored Per's little interruption, "I'd like you to think about trying out for biathlon team."
"Yes!" Grinning, Einar clenched his fist in front of his chest. Biathlon was what he'd wanted to do for years.
"Lucky shit!" Per said, roughly bumping Einar aside after Coach had left and they were walking into the locker room to shower before class.
Most of the boys stripped and went into the showers, but Einar simply pulled off his shorts and stashed them in his locker. Several of the boys looked suspiciously at him, but since showering wasn't required, nobody said anything.
"It isn't fair to compete with a mutant," another boy snarled unhappily as he wrapped a towel around his torso after stepping out of a shower. Einar recognized him immediately as one of the kids who, like him, had hoped to get on the biathlon team. "I thought that the coach and principal knew better."
"Hey," Einar snapped back, "I'm not a mutant!"
"Sure," Per said mockingly, as most of the other boys snorted derisively. "So how come you're not freezing dressed like that? How come your hair is white?" He stepped face-to-face with Einar, and since he was half a head taller and quite bulky in build, he was more than a little intimidating, and he knew it. With a sneer on his face, he reached for Einar's head. "How come you've got those ... fairy ears?" Einar tried to back away, but a couple of Per's friends had crept up behind him, and he was pinned against them.
"They're not fairy ears!" Einar shot back angrily. Despite feeling angry, he was also starting to get worried; Per's taunting had stirred up the others. And somewhere inside his head, the slight pressure he'd been feeling for several days increased sharply; fortunately it didn't feel like a headache, but it was a different sort of feeling he was unfamiliar with.
"Why aren't you taking a shower? Afraid we'll see that you're a mutant?" Per snarled. At his head-nod, the two behind Einar grabbed his arms, while Per yanked up Einar's shirt. He paused, and his eyes bugged out at the elastic wrapped tightly around Einar's chest. "What the hell?" he demanded.
"I ... I hurt my ribs," Einar lied, thinking quickly, while the pressure grew, "and the doctor said I need to wear the elastic for it to heal right."
"That should have slowed you down," one of the boys holding Einar's arms shot back.
Per stared at him for several seconds, while one of the boys turned on several shower heads. "Throw him in the shower," Per snorted. "Make sure it's real cold!"
Struggling against the two holding him, Einar fought back, determined to not cooperate, but Per and a couple of others joined in, almost physically carrying Einar into the tiled shower area, then pitching him, clothes and all, into one of the cold showers.
If they were expecting Einar to yelp or flinch from the cold water, they were disappointed, because he seemed to relax in the shower. Energy burst out from him as he somehow released the energy that had been building up within him.
Instantly, the streams flowing from the showerheads turned into giant icicles, while the water on the boys, in their clothes, on the floor and walls, indeed, all the water anywhere near the boy, turned into ice, and the mist in the air condensed into snowflakes that swirled angrily about the room, restricting visibility.
The half-naked boys who'd been manhandling Einar were suddenly shivering, covered with ice and with some of their feet frozen to the floor, while others slipped on the sheet of ice that had moments earlier been water. Einar, not in the least bit cold, backed away, then turned and fled from the locker room.
"Mrs. Ruud," the stern but very attractive, young principal, Anja Næss, leaned forward, her elbows on her desk, "the ... incident ... this morning ... was unacceptable." She sat in her chair behind her desk as if it were a throne, making Einar and his mom sit across the desk in 'visitor' chairs, a sign of her authority that she often used to enforce her will. It hadn't taken long at all for Einar and his mom to be summoned to the principal's office. Most students hadn't even arrived at school yet.
Einar's mom sighed. "And according to Einar, he was bullied - again - about his changes. That is acceptable?"
"We have zero tolerance toward bullying, and are actively investigating all of the incidents that have been reported," Ms. Næss countered angrily. "We also have zero tolerance toward major disruptions and ... attacks on other students." She glared at the boy.
"I told you," he complained, sounding more than a little whiny, "I didn't do anything! It just ... happened." He had to focus his attention on some papers on her desk; Anja Næss was a MILF by any standards, and there was much locker-room talk among the boys about her. She was the object of more than one teenage fantasy. Right now, though, was definitely not the time to be fantasizing about the principal.
"Nevertheless," Mrs. Næss replied, "you caused a significant incident, and because of that, for the safety of the students and the maintenance of good order and discipline, I have to suspend you until you have a report from the Ministry of Health office in Trondheim that your ... condition ... is not a threat to the student body." She looked directly at Einar. "It's a shame that I have to do this, because your grades have shown a significant improvement over last year."
"Are you telling me that you are denying Einar an education right now?" Mrs. Ruud asked bluntly.
"I have to suspend him for the safety ...."
"I heard your pontificating," Einar's mom replied harshly. "And yet you did not suspend any of the students involved in earlier bullying and harassment, which also created a negative learning environment." She sat back in her chair, her head cocked slightly. "I'm sure that will look good on a report to the county government in Steinkjer, or the Ministry of Education."
The principal's nostrils flared and her eyes narrowed to slits. She took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "Mrs. Ruud, I am responsible for the safety of all the students in this school, and until the government tells me otherwise, I have the discretion to suspend Einar if I think it necessary."
"But you will allow him to participate virtually in classes, won't you?" Mrs. Ruud appeared to be backing down a bit, but Einar knew his mom's strategy, having been the unwitting victim of her ploys on many occasions. First, a threat to try to rattle the other person, then de-escalation, followed by an offer of a 'reasonable' compromise. "If the medical tests that he's already scheduled for in Trondheim show him to be no danger to other students, then you wouldn't want him to fall behind in his education, would you?"
Ms. Næss started, arching her eyebrows. "Well, no...."
"And it is acceptable for students in ... unusual situations ... to be allowed to participate virtually, isn't it?" Mrs. Ruud had done her homework about education policy years ago when Einar first got into school - and into the first of his many little incidents.
"I suppose that we could allow Einar to participate in class virtually," the principal wavered in her determination, "since all the classrooms are set up with the technology." Thanks to the generous government revenues from Norway's offshore oil production, schools did not lack for money to properly educate students in the use of computer technology.
After getting his books, Einar trudged out of the school building as the remainder of students filed in to start their day. Regine's jaw dropped when she saw Einar leaving school with his mom. She dashed to his side. "What's going on?"
Einar sighed heavily. "Per and some of the others were teasing me," he admitted, "and ... they threw me in cold showers. I ... something ... happened." He shook his head. "I don't know how, or why, but ... something felt like it released in me, and all the water turned to ice."
Regine's eyes bulged as she gawked. "All the water? Even ...?"
"The showers were like icicles, and everyone who had a wet head had frozen hair. Towels, floor, walls - everything wet froze," Einar admitted. "So Mrs. Iron Bitch," Einar glanced toward his mom and got the glare of disapproval that he expected for referring to the principal in such a way, "suspended me until I get tested."
"You're ... suspended?" Regine gawked. "But ... she hasn't suspended any of the boys that have been bullying you!"
"You better get to class so you're not late," Einar urged her. "I get to participate through the Internet," he added. "And after my next appointment in Trondheim, I should be back in school."
Regine nodded. "Can I come by ... after school?" she asked, then saw Mrs. Ruud staring unhappily at her. "I can bring ... homework assignments and handouts and stuff that we cover in class, and ... I can help you study if you need," she added with a confident, almost superior, air about her, and a barely-suppressed smirk.
Einar nodded. "That would be nice."
Regine gave the boy a quick hug, then followed all the other students into the school building. Behind her, walking to the car, Mrs. Ruud looked at Einar.
"She's just going to help me study, Mom," Einar protested, knowing what his mom was thinking, or at least guessing - and pretty accurately, too. "Since ... since I started changing," he added hastily, "she's ... not really interested in me that way!" He looked down, suddenly morose. "And ... I ... couldn't do anything anyway. Not anymore." For some reason, perhaps the doctors' reports, she didn't look like she believed him.
Near Støren, Norway
Helka Arud, Gunhild Pedersdottir, and Anika Knutsen, three of the members of the coven, huddled around a table in Gunhild's remote cabin. Since their meeting in Molde, the coven members had taken turns doing the spells necessary to locate 'her'. It was Gunhild's turn to host the weekly working.
"There!" Helka cried out as the complex working caused a strange-looking map to appear like a hologram on the table between the ladies. "She uses her power!"
Anika nodded. "It is the first positive sign!"
"But ... why is it so ... muddled?" Gunhild asked, expressing the concern that all three of the women shared. Instead of a clear, bright flash, it was dull and muted, nothing at all like they expected. Then again, it had been countless generations since the coven had seen the signs, so there was a possibility that they misinterpreted the old tomes.
"Is it a mistake?" Anika expressed all their doubts in that one simple question.
"It cannot be!" Gunhild replied sharply. "We have seen the signs. It was foretold that she would come. She is here!"
"We must find her," Helka stated the obvious. "Because the sign of her power is not clear, telling us only that she is somewhere to the north of here, we must find a way to get a better location."
"We must move the circle," Anika said resolutely, "and wait for her to use her power again. Then we can narrow down where she is. Each time she uses her power, we can move closer, more precisely narrowing her location, until we have her."
"Assuming she doesn't move around," Helka cautioned.
"Do we have another choice?" Gunhild asked. "When she comes, he will come as well, and he will demand payment.
Mrs. Ruud looked at the doctors, back and forth, focusing on one and then the other, as they pored over notes on their tablet computers. Finally, she could take no more. "Well? Do you know anything?"
The two doctors exchanged a glance, then the female doctor looked back at Einar and his mom. "These test results are ... what we expected, based on his last examination," she reported. "His testosterone level is extremely low - in the normal female range."
Einar couldn't help but wince at the news, gulping at further confirmation that what he feared was happening.
"And his estradiol level is highly elevated, again in the normal teenage female range."
"Which explains the chest ... development."
"Breasts," the male doctor corrected Mrs. Ruud. "Einar is developing breasts. It is not uncommon for teenage boys to develop temporary gynecomastia during puberty; it usually resolves itself. However ..."
"But ... this isn't going to go away, is it?" Einar pouted.
"Not likely, no," the female doctor replied. "There are two types of gynecomastia," she began to explain. "Pseudo-gynecomastia, which is really fatty tissue accumulation in the area of the breasts, and true gynecomastia, which is development of the actual breast tissue. Einar's case is true gynecomastia, and with his hormone levels, indications are that it is not a temporary issue."
Einar lowered his head, sighing heavily as he closed his eyes. "So ... I'm growing boobs? And they aren't going to go away?" He looked up at the doctors in the hope that they would give him some assurance that things would be normal. They both shook their heads, dashing any meager hope that he had desperately clung to.
"And ... the other changes?" Mom asked.
"Highly unusual," the male doctor replied. "I'd like to examine Einar, to see how the changes are progressing."
Einar's mom knew it was time to leave the room, as usual during his increasingly-frequent medical examinations. This time, the female doctor stayed in the room. "Strip to your underwear," the female doctor commanded.
Blushing bright red, Einar followed her direction, and then sat down on the examining table. The woman focused on Einar's chest, at the growing mounds thereon. "I would like to palpate them," she said, to which the boy nodded.
Closing his eyes, thinking of skiing and outdoor sports as a much-needed distraction, Einar felt the doctor probing and feeling his chest, knowing that without clothes on, his nipples - now much larger than they had been months earlier - were erect in a quite embarrassing way.
"Definite breast buds," the doctor noted to her colleague. She pulled a small ruler from her lab coat pocket, and held it up against Einar's chest. "Areolae are ... twenty-two millimeters."
"That's a growth of three millimeters," the male doctor noted as he recorded the data.
"Please step on the scale," the woman asked, and Einar, clad in only his skivvies, complied. "Hmmm. You've lost another half kilo." Knowing what was coming, and not waiting to be directed, Einar turned so his back was against a measuring device. "And you've grown a half centimeter," the doctor stated after taking the measurement.
The male doctor frowned when he looked more closely at the boy. "Is ... something wrong with your skin?" he asked hesitantly. "Have you been scratching?"
"Um, yeah," Einar replied with a nod. "It itches. A lot."
"All over?" the woman asked as she looked at him. "Hmmm. It doesn't seem to be red on your face or neck or hands," she observed.
Einar nodded, then rolled down the elastic band on his underwear. The area beneath was quite red and irritated. "It's worst here."
The doctors scrutinized the inflamed areas for a while before their curiosity was at least dampened enough to move on. "I think we'll have to get some allergy tests."
"Okay," the female doctor said after squaring herself toward Einar. "It's time to examine your genitals."
"And your prostate," the male doctor added, which only increased the redness in the boy's cheeks.
Dutifully, trying hard to think of anything except girls, Einar dropped his shorts, and the doctors, after donning latex gloves, began to poke and prod.
"His testicles are definitely re-ascending," the one doctor said. "They're almost withdrawn completely from the scrotum."
"His penis appears to be smaller." The woman looked up at Einar, smiling apparently at his discomfort. "We'll skip measuring anything this time, but we will need to take measurements at your next visit."
"Are you still getting erections?" the male doctor asked bluntly.
Einar's skin turned redder than crimson, although he'd been examined frequently enough that he shouldn't have blushed. He told himself it was because of the female doctor. "Um, yeah, kind of," he replied softly.
"Have you noticed a change in size of your erections? Or frequency?" the woman asked very clinically.
Her extremely professional manner was the only thing that kept the boy from becoming a blubbering, humiliated, curled up ball of embarrassment. "Yeah," he mumbled. "Both. They don't happen ... as often, and I'm sure they're ... smaller." She made some notes. Then Einar got a prostate exam - from the male doctor fortunately.
"Did you notice something, Doctor?" the woman asked as the male doctor peeled off his latex glove from the intrusive exam. "His skin has a general irritation - only in areas covered with clothing, except beneath his underwear."
"Hmmm," the male doctor looked. "I wonder ..." He pondered the oddity for a few moments. "Let's do some allergy tests. I have a hunch. There are documented cases of people developing allergies to non-natural products - plastics, synthetic fabrics, and so on. That might be something you are experiencing - either because of or concurrent with your other changes."
"You may put your clothes back on," the woman interrupted. Then she looked him over once more, a curious expression on her face. "You don't look like you're chilly!" she observed.
"I'm not cold," the boy reported as he pulled his trousers back on. "It's funny - I haven't felt really cold since ...." He shook his head. "I don't know, since ... I hit my head." Seeing the puzzled expressions on the doctors, he explained, "I've been out very early in the morning running with only shorts and a T-shirt, and I haven't felt cold. I was thrown into a shower that was cold, but I wasn't uncomfortable at all."
"Interesting." The woman made more notes. "Anything else?"
"Yeah," the boy admitted hesitantly "My ... hips ... kind of hurt."
"Like ...," the boy sought a suitable description for the feeling. "Like, when I had a growth spurt. It feels like that, but it's only in my hips."
"Okay. Let's get X-rays, and while we're in radiology, let's go ahead and get a mammogram," the female doctor said. Seeing him goggling at her, she smiled. "You get to be one of the very few men who understand why a woman complains about a mammogram."
"I have to keep track of what I wear and how much it itches," Einar grumbled as he and his mom sat in another doctor's office, although this was far from a regular clinic. Instead of standard medical equipment and an examining table in a small office, this space was large, with some odd crystals, and several alien-looking contraptions hanging on the walls. Unusual machines and gear squatted on the floor.
After Mom and Einar had finished with the doctors and with lunch, they had come to this place, to another appointment with a specialist who focused in mutations and powers.
Across the room, reading a file of reports that Mom had brought from the regular doctors, a man who looked entirely too much like the eccentric Dr. Brown from "Back to the Future," with his whitish hair unkempt, in an unbuttoned, white lab coat with a few grease stains, and wearing a very strange pair of what appeared to be Steampunk goggles, muttered to himself as he occasionally consulted his computer. "Ah, okay," he mumbled from time to time.
"Okay," Mom answered Einar. "Do they have any suspicions?"
"Yes, they think I may have developed allergies to some synthetic and man-made materials. Evidently, it happens sometimes. And I have to experiment with being outside and in cold showers and baths to see what my tolerance is," he added.
"Very interesting," the mad scientist, Doctor Sjurd Holgersen, said before dropping the file noisily onto he desk / workbench. He turned toward Einar. "Well, I have a ... theory ... to test," he announced. "But first, let's do some preliminaries. Please go to the weight bar," he indicated a bar with no weights, but which was attached with thin cables to various other points of the bizarre-looking machine. "We'll test your strength first."
Einar's upper body strength was tested doing a variety of exercises at the contraption, all the while the doctor fiddled with knobs to adjust the resistance and read the results. Then he pulled a bench over, had the boy sit, and had him do some leg exercises to measure his lower body strength. A very strange contraption with a VR helmet tested Einar's reflexes, while a heavily-modified treadmill tested his speed. Then the doctor did some kind of psychic tests, which apparently Einar failed miserably.
Then the crystals came down. As Dr. Holgersen held the first toward Einar, it began to glow soft green, gaining intensity as it got closer to him. The doctor waved other crystals around Einar, saying 'hmmm' a lot as he observed the results. "Okay, you said you made water turn to ice?" He got a glass of water from his workbench. "I want you to focus on this water, trying to turn it into ice, like you did in the locker room."
"But ... I can't ...!" the boy started.
"Do it!" the doctor commanded impatiently.
With a shrug, Einar picked up the glass and concentrated on its contents, thinking hard about the water turning to ice.
The pressure inside, which he'd felt off and on, suddenly burst forth, and the water instantly froze so quickly that its expansion shattered the glass it was in. Einar jumped in shock at what had happened, while his mom goggled at him.
Doctor Holgersen wasn't looking at their reactions, but instead focused on a curious array of three crystals he was holding, all of which were glowing. After noting something about their various glows, he set them down, then noticed for the first time the shattered glass. "Oh, my! I didn't think you'd do that!" He took the ice from the boy and tossed it into a shop sink in a corner of the lab, then grabbed a broom and gave a desultory sweep to get most of the glass shards out of the way - at least for the moment. "I wonder ...." He filled another glass - a paper one this time - and handed it to Einar. "Focus on making the water hot."
This time, nothing happened. The doctor's crystals didn't glow, he didn't feel any pressure build and release, and the cup of water stayed a boring, room-temperature cup of water. The doctor took the cup, and after feeling its temperature, drank it and tossed the cup away. "Okay, there's one more thing." He turned on his chair and rummaged through a drawer, finally finding a metal bar of some kind. "Here, hold this," he said, handing the bar to Einar.
With a shrug, Einar took the bar. Instantly, his hand burned in pain, and the bar clattered to the floor as Einar stared at the reddened palm and fingers, some of which were starting to blister. "What the hell ...?"
The doctor turned back to his computer and typed frantically. "Okay," he finally said, "I know what's going on here, at least some of it."
"What?" Mom and Einar asked after a few seconds of silence, during which the doctor was fiddling more with his computer.
"Oh," Dr. Holgersen answered, as if realizing that they were waiting for him to say something. "You are definitely an active mutant," he said to Einar, which elicited a gasp from his mother. "So far as I can tell, you don't have enhanced strength or reflexes, so it's unlikely that you're an exemplar. I don't have the equipment to measure whether or not you're an avatar, which this 'voice' that speaks to you in your dreams might suggest."
"So ... what's he changing into?" Mom asked, her worry-meter pegged anew. "He is changing, right?"
The doctor nodded. "Based on what I see of physiological changes, with the apparent reaction to synthetic materials, you," he spoke directly to Einar, "seem to be mutating into a Sidhe, a ... mythical ... race of elf- like humanoids."
"If they're so mythical," Einar shot back, "then how come I'm turning into one?"
"Good point," the doctor smiled. "But there are a number of mutants who have manifested as ... as what the experts believe are Sidhe," he continued, ignoring Einar's question, "and they have the characteristics you are developing - pointed ears, allergy to synthetics, and especially, as we just confirmed, allergy to cold iron."
"You could have warned me," Einar grumbled angrily.
Dr. Holgersen ignored him. "Your ... ice and snow power is strongly correlated with the use of magic, which is a little peculiar. I thought it was an energizer trait, but you don't show any signs of that." He bit his lower lip and stared over Einar's shoulder, his eyes unfocused. "Unless .... You haven't had any magic training?"
"And yet ... you manifested these magic effects without trying?"
Einar shrugged. "I guess...."
"This wouldn't be the first time that a Wizard-class mutant has an affinity toward a 'natural' spell, one that he or she can do without trying. You might have that ability." He turned back to his computer. "I'm putting together a list of some reading material for the boy. They have some exercises he can do to learn to control his magic, but that's only a stop-gap measure. He's going to need to learn true control, which will require a magically-trained tutor or a special school."
Einar, now looking more and more female like Aegloswen, peered down from above on the scene as if a ghost watching some spectacle. Beside him, Aegloswen hovered as well, holding his hand and looking rather uneasy.
Hundreds of Sidhe - that's what Einar had assumed they were - were gathered in a light, airy, stone and stained-glass palace or cathedral-like building, standing like the triumphant final scene of Star Wars: A New Hope, where all the rebels stood in the massive gathering hall. The scenes on the glass were all winter- related - snow, skiing or some variant thereof, hunts in the snow, some important Sidhe woman standing beneath an Aurora, and more. It was not clear whether the building was a church or a palace; if a church, then the closest equivalent Einar could conceive of was that the stained-glass panels depicted important events in the Sidhe religion. If a palace, then past kings and queens were immortalized in the panes.
Einar tried to estimate the number by counting a small section of the hall, and then guessing how many such sections there would be, but the number he got was simply unbelievable; there was no way that a stone-and-glass palace such as this - airy like a Gothic cathedral with flying buttressed, high-arched walls and ceilings - could hold thousands and thousands of the elves, and yet it did. Old, young, male, female, they all crowded, standing, watching and waiting for something.
"What is this?" Einar whispered to Aegloswen softly. They were up by one of the arches, in a place that would most likely be unseen if anyone happened to look up, but no-one below seemed to want to.
"I ... don't know," Aegloswen replied sadly, shaking her head. "It ... feels familiar, but ... I don't remember."
On a high dais at one end stood two massive, gilded chairs, and several elves stood around them, one young woman front-and-center, while another, younger woman - girl, really - stood back and to one side. If expressions meant anything, the young girl was angry about something.
At the sound of melodious chimes, the people all turned toward the back, and in a rippling wave, they knelt, bowing their heads, as three very regal women strode imperiously down the aisle, the one in the middle wearing an ornate tiara and looking like she ruled the realm and everyone should bow before her. She barely acknowledged the crowd as she strode majestically down the aisle, until she came up the stairs to the elevated dais, directly to the woman in the center. The two were turned, so both profiles could be seen by the crowd in what was obviously some formal affair.
"I grieve with you, Daughter," the newcomer said to the woman. She leaned forward, hugging the woman, and speaking some words that were not audible, and then she straightened again. In the meantime, the attendants who'd accompanied the queen picked up pillows or covered trays and stepped behind the queen.
The woman on the dais nodded at the Queen's words, then wiped tears from her eyes. She knelt before the queen, who took something from one of her attendants. "By this crown," she said loudly and clearly, "you are Queen of the Ice Realm, Daughter of the Aurora, Seventh of the Nine Queens of the Courts." She placed the crown upon the head of the kneeling woman, then the standing queen took another item from her other attendant. "By this scepter, you are Keeper of the Frost Crystal, and are given power to rule this realm on behalf of the Nine Queens and the Five-Fold Courts."
The people, standing again, erupted into thunderous applause as the newly-crowned queen, looking a little shy at the responsibility she'd just been given, rose to face the people. To her side, a couple of steps behind her, the younger girl stood, trying her best to look happy, or at least neutral, but it was clear she was angry or jealous or some combination thereof.
"Ninimeth!" Aegloswen exclaimed softly.
"What? Is that one of the women?"
The elf girl beside Einar shook her head. "I ... I can't remember why, but ... that word is very familiar." Moments later, the scene faded, and Einar and Aegloswen were again seated on the glacier under the dazzling aurora. "I ... can't remember what that means," the girl slowly admitted. "I want to remember, but I can't!" She was nearly in tears out of frustration, so Einar leaned closer and clutched her tightly, pulling her head against his shoulder.
Harald Ruud glanced up from the tablet on which he was reading the morning news. "You don't have to do this right now," he said to the boy. "Ms. Næss said you can keep attending school through the computer."
Einar sat at the table, picking at his breakfast. "I know," he grumbled, "but ... I have to go back."
"You do know that the boys and girls will probably tease you a lot," Einar's Mom cautioned him. "You don't exactly look like you used to."
Einar pouted. "You mean I don't look like a boy anymore," he grumbled.
His words were painfully accurate; his hair no longer had even a hint of brown, but was all white with the translucent, iridescent blue streaks, and upon recommendation from a counselor a couple of months ago, he'd quit trying to keep it in a masculine cut and just let it go, which meant it now looked androgynous. His eyes were almond-shaped, seemingly larger, but that was because his face was slightly smaller, finer, and much less ruggedly masculine, and with his weight loss and rounding of his body, there was no way anyone could mistake his body for male. On top of that, he found, to his dismay, that his chest had swollen enough that he really needed to wear a bra, and even then, small tell-tale bulges showed through his shirt. And if that wasn't humiliating enough, his private parts were still shrinking; Dr. Holgersen estimated that in a year or so, he'd have no trace of male genitalia, and a year or so after that, he could expect his developing female organs to begin that special rite of passage of girls into womanhood, menstruating.
"Some kids, like Per and Katrine, will tease you pretty badly," his dad cautioned. "Maybe you should wait until after the Christmas break to go back?"
"Besides, Silje and Regine come by to visit all the time," Mom added. "It's not like you're a hermit!"
"But ... they treat me like I'm ... weird! I used to kiss Regine," he protested, "and now she give me 'friend' pecks on the cheek and girl hugs like all the girls do, and she wants to talk about what it's like changing, and what I think of fashion, and stuff like that!" He shook his head. "It's ... it's weird!"
"I agree with your dad," Mom said. "You should wait until after the Christmas break."
"Okay," Einar grumbled. "I guess." Inside, he celebrated a tiny bit - the thought of facing all his classmates now that he was turning into a girl was frightening.
"Oh, and before I forget, Sara told me what you did to her bath last night. You're grounded for a week, and no visitors for three days."
"What did he do?" his dad asked between bites.
"Einar, tell him."
"I ... made an iceberg," the boy muttered.
"That's not so bad."
"Tell him where!" Mom commanded
"In ... Sara's tub," the boy muttered.
"An ... iceberg ... in the tub?"
Sara was beside the door, putting on her jacket. "He made the water freezing cold!" she cried out. "I couldn't take a bath in it!"
"I didn't do it while she was in the tub!" Einar protested.
Harald Ruud shook his head. "That's ... that wasn't very nice," he forced himself to say while he struggled to keep from smiling or chuckling at the prank. After getting 'the look' from his wife, he schooled his expression. "I agree with your mother - that wasn't very nice."
"Does that mean I don't have to go to Trondheim on Friday?" he asked hopefully.
"No, you'll keep your appointments. But apart from that ..."
A horrifying thought occurred to Einar. "But ... Silje and Katrine and Regine and I were going to a concert in Trondheim Saturday night!" he protested.
"You should have thought of that before you decided to play with your powers!"
"But Mom!" Einar complained, "Dr. Holgersen said I have to use my powers, so we don't have another bunch of ... what did he call them? The ... little white snow-bunnies with fangs that happened last time?"
"Hobgoblins," Mom sighed. "True, we don't want more of those."
Dad looked up from his tablet. "Let him go to the concert. Just not being able to talk to the girls during the days will be punishment enough." He got a wicked grin. "Or maybe ....!"
Einar goggled at his dad; he knew what that look and tone of voice meant. "What?"
"Maybe to punish him, you go with him and the girls early Saturday and go shopping in Trondheim!" Dad chuckled. "With his friends and Sara and Thea!"
"I like that idea," Einar's mom said, a wicked grin creeping across her features. "We can go get your hair styled, and maybe get manicures, and ...."
Einar groaned, letting his head sink down onto his crossed arms on the table. "Oh, shit!" he mouthed softly.
Gunhild picked up her phone on the fourth ring. "Hello?" she said, not hiding her impatience at the interruption.
"Gunhild? It's Judit. Call Helka as soon as you can!" the voice on the other end said urgently.
"Why? What's going on?"
"We got a hit! Margrethe, Ulla, and I caught her using her power."
"Where were you when you did the reading?" the old woman asked, shuffling to a table that had a map taped to it.
"We were in Molde," Judit reported.
"And the direction?"
Gunhild put a pie-shaped wedge of translucent colored paper over the map, centered on Molde. "Well, that helps some," she said unenthusiastically. "She could be in a thousand square kilometers, including across the border in Sweden!"
"What are we going to do if we find her in Sweden? I don't think the Swedish government will look kindly on us
"And we're assuming that she isn't moving," Gunhild grumbled. "The way this is working, we're just going to have to get lucky to catch her using her powers. She's obviously not entirely in this world yet. Unless ...."Her voice trailed off as she speculated about something.
"Unless what?" Judit asked, quite curious at the older woman's pause.
"Unless we summon her!"
"What?" Judit stammered, her jaw quite obviously having dropped at the suggestion. "Summon - her? You're joking, aren't you?"
"No. It will be a very complex working, and it will take time to gather the essence, but I believe we can do it."
"But the alternative is not pleasant to contemplate. What do you think Dúrnir will do to us if he comes to collect his debt, and we don't have her bound to give him? What then?"
"I ... I don't know," Judit answered hesitantly.
"Yes you do," Gunhild countered sternly. "We all know. He will take one or more of us. He will bind us. He will enslave us to him," the old woman explained what didn't need to be explained.
"But ... most of us are old!" Judit protested. "He would not be ...."
"He wouldn't care! He knows our magic. He will sacrifice as many lives as necessary while he forces us to do what Anika has been doing - to steal youth and beauty, so that we will be young, beautiful ... sex slaves ... to him - forever. And when we grow old and he no longer appreciates our looks, he will do it again ... and again, and again, and again. The blood of thousands will be on our hands to satisfy his insatiable lust."
"Silence! You know I speak the truth! You have heard the old tales, handed down from generation to generation by our mothers."
There was a hush on the phone line. "I know you're right, Gunhild," Judit admitted. "I'll call the others. I know we'll have to do a lot of rituals to gather essence for a feat this large."
Gunhild nodded, even though Judit couldn't see her. "It may take us two or three months to prepare, but the alternative ...."
Meraker Alpinsenter, Norway
"Tell me again why we're here," Regine grumbled to Einar as they rode to the winter sports center where Einar's dad worked. It was, as expected, cold, and there was some snow on the ski slopes; with the coming Christmas break, the center would be busy. Maybe. As Einar's dad pointed out, there were places where the snow was sparse.
"I have to help out a bit, or the center will have to close some trails just at the break," Einar replied.
"Help out?" Silje, riding on the other side of Einar, asked. Lately, the three had been like the Three Musketeers, always together, it seemed.
Einar nodded. "Yeah. They need some snow on some cross-country trails. Or else, they'll close some trails, and my dad won't have as many hours to work."
"But ... the snow machines!" Regine countered.
"Don't cover the cross-country trails, or the upper slopes in some areas," Einar completed her thought. Unlike Silje and Regine, who wore winter jackets, gloves, and hats, Einar wore only a light jacket and he didn't need mittens or gloves. His hair was longer, though not as long as either girl, and with the styling he'd undergone, under duress from his mom, sisters, and the girls, he looked more feminine than masculine. His features had continued to slowly soften, and his chest to grow; the elastic bandage was barely keeping the bouncing under control. He had managed to keep his sisters and Regine from dragging him into a lingerie store during that infamous Trondheim outing; fortunately for him, his mother and Silje hadn't observed the little 'discussion'.
The trio parked their bikes and walked around the main building - which housed an ice arena, to a work and maintenance building. "Hello?" Einar called as they walked through a large, open garage door. Even his voice was changed, but it had happened so slowly that neither his friends nor his family had noticed.
One of the workmen at the center stuck his head out of an office area. "Einar?" He immediately recognized the boy. "Your dad said you were coming again today."
"Yeah. Where to?"
The man led Einar to a wall-mounted map. "How much do you think you can do today?"
Einar thought. "It's pretty humid, and I haven't done any exercises for a couple of days, so ... probably about a soccer field."
The man, Ole Torgersen, scratched his heavily, gray-streaked beard a bit. "Can you control your snow to a narrow trail?"
Einar shrugged. "I don't know. I can try."
"Let's see if you can lay down snow on cross-country trail 2," he pointed to the map, "here. Snow has been light, and it's not ready for skiing yet."
"Okay. I assume your friends are going to go out with you?" Seeing the boy's nod, Ole shrugged. "Okay, I guess. Give me about a half hour to finish some important orders, and then I'll drive you out."
"I can do that," Einar protested. "I know how to drive the small snow-cat."
"I don't know ...."
"If you have to go, we'll lose daylight, and you won't be able to finish all your orders and records and stuff! But I can drive, so you can keep working here!" Seeing the hesitancy in the older man, Einar pressed. "I know you've been working on a few of the snow makers around the red lift, so you can do that, too, while I'm on the cross-country trail! If you have to drive me ...."
Ole sighed, scratching the back of his head. "Okay," he finally relented. "Just be careful."
"I will!" Einar replied eagerly. "You know I will."
Minutes later, Einar drove the small, tracked snow-cat away from the center into the woods, following a well- marked trail.
"I didn't think you were going to talk him into that," Regine laughed loudly to be heard over the engine and the wind. Unlike its big brother, the small snow-cat didn't have a cab - just a windshield and seats. The two girls were hunched down to keep their faces shielded from the cold breeze, but Einar was sitting erect, face in the wind, relishing the cold as it whipped his hair around.
"I can't believe you're not cold," Silje said, shaking her head in disbelief. "The way you're driving, it's freezing!"
Einar just grinned. "It feels great!" he cried aloud.
In minutes, they were at an area where the snowpack on the trail was lighter than it needed to be; years of hanging around the maintenance shed with older workers and with his dad, and skiing, had given Einar a lot of insight into good versus bad snow conditions. He shut off the snow-cat and climbed down. "I'll do some snow here," he explained to the girls, then walked around until he was in the center of the area that needed the additional snow.
"How do you ...?" Silje started to say, then her eyes widened and she began to look around in awe. Snowflakes were crystalizing from the moisture in the air, condensed from the humidity by Einar's power, falling around the trio like a good snowstorm.
"As long as there's a light breeze," Einar said, still focusing on his power, "more moisture in the air comes into range of my ... magic, and I can keep making snow. It stops when I run out of magic energy, or when all the moisture in the air has been condensed out."
"This is really, really neat!" Regine said, dancing around in the snow like a child. On impulse, she scooped up some snow and tossed it at Silje. In seconds, the two were throwing the white, fluffy snow all around themselves, giggling and laughing and playing.
Glancing at Regine, who was at that moment scooping up snow to toss at Einar, Silje scooped up some snow, found it was a bit moist, and compressed it into a snowball. "Hey, Regine!" she called, and as the girl spun, Silje threw the snowball at her. Regine managed to duck, and it hit Einar in the back of his head.
"Hey!" he exclaimed to the giggling girls, surprised enough that the snow stopped. "If that's the way you want it ...."
Silje's and Regine's eyes widened when Einar focused on them, and immediately, the snowfall increased drastically and a wind whipped up, driving the snow at the girls like a miniature blizzard. "How do you like that?" Einar challenged them as they ducked away from the howling wind and stinging snowflakes.
"Okay, okay!" Regine yelled, her voice muffled because she had turned away from the wind and buried her face in her hands to shield out the blowing snow. "We give up!"
Chuckling, Einar relaxed the wind, and the snow resumed its gentle fall, at least gentle compared to the tiny snowstorm he had unleashed.
"Next time we have a snow fight, I want you on our team!" Silje chuckled.
"How do you do that?" Regine asked, laughing at the silliness of the whole situation and also in awe of the power Einar had displayed.
"I ... I don't know," Einar admitted. "It ... just happens! Dr. Holgersen ..."
"Dr. Holgersen? Is he one of the specialists in Trondheim?"
Einar nodded. "He's a specialist in mutants. He said it's kind of a built-in magical ... power. Like ... like ... I don't know how to describe it."
"Like breathing? Something you just do without knowing that you even do it?" Silje proposed.
"Yeah, like that," Einar nodded. "There's some ... energy ... that just builds up, and I have to let it out, or ... bad things happen."
"What kind of ... bad things?" Silje gulped nervously. The way Einar had spoken worried her a little bit.
"The ... essence, Dr. Holgersen called it, releases when it builds up too much and I can't hold it, but if I just let it go, it comes out kind of unpredictably." He grimaced at the memories. "They're called 'hobgoblins' - little self-contained bundles of energy that ... are kind of wild. One time, the hobgoblins looked like ... little bunnies with fangs. They ... caused a lot of trouble before they evaporated."
"Little bunnies - with fangs?"
"Snow bunnies. Another time, they were little green furballs that ran around kicking and biting everything in sight."
"Snow bunnies? And green furballs?" Regine snorted, then broke out laughing.
"It wasn't very funny when they tore up my homework and tipped over the stew Mom was cooking!" Einar tried hard to be upset, but failed. "At the time it was a mess, but in hindsight, it was pretty funny. So I have to use my power from time to time to keep from making hobgoblins."
"And ... like at school, you can make water into ice? Is that another power?"
"Nah, it's the same thing. When I make snow, it's just freezing the water in the air. So Doc thinks my magic power is like ... like an instinctive spell."
Silje glanced at Regine, then looked sheepishly but questioningly at the boy. "Is it true - what everyone is saying? That you're ... changing?"
"Who's saying that?"
"It's pretty obvious - your eyes have changed, and your hair," Silje stated with conviction. "And your ears."
Absently, Einar reached up and touched his ears; by now, he was used to them - mostly. "Yeah, I guess it is."
"And losing weight? And wearing an elastic bandage on your chest?" Silje arched her eyebrows at the look of shock on Einar's face. "So ... it's true what Per said? That you were wearing an elastic bandage? Is there ... maybe more?"
"No!" Einar answered immediately, too quickly he realized. "Nothing else!"
"Einar!" Silje pressed. "Come on! Tell!" Seeing Einar's stubborn frown, she continued to badger him. "Come on, you can tell us!"
"Actually," Regine admitted sheepishly, "he told me, but I kind of promised I wouldn't tell!"
"Not even to your best friend?" Silje exclaimed, wounded. Then she saw the look between Einar and Regine. "Wait a second," she said as she thought. "On the trip to Trondheim ... you ... your Mom had your hair cut - and ... and ..." Her eyes widened as she goggled.
"Wasn't the haircut a giveaway?" Regine smirked.
"But ... I thought ... it was ...." The girl gawked at him for a moment. "I thought he was just ... getting one of the new ... non-gender-specific haircuts!" She stared, slack-jawed, for a few moments. "But ... it's not, is it? It's ... it's a girl's haircut!"
Einar winced, but Regine chuckled. "You ... aren't going to tell ...?" Einar practically begged.
"And ...when your Mom and I caught up with you ... it was outside the lingerie store ... because ...?"
Einar nodded sheepishly, blushing. "My sisters and Regine wanted to buy ...."
Silje's jaw dropped even further. "O. M. G! You're ... changing ... into a girl?" she squealed. She practically leaped to Einar's side and wrapped him in a hug, a 'girl and her BFF' hug. "That is SO cool!"
Einar winced enough that the snow stopped, while Regine gave him a look. "I told you she'd figure it out!" she said, rolling her eyes involuntarily.
"How could I have missed that?" Silje gawked, holding Einar's shoulders at arm's length and staring at him "O. M. G! You're ... you're cute! You're really, really cute!" Without taking her eyes off her study of Einar's features, she spoke to Regine. "But we have to do something with his hair! It's ... it'd look so much better if it was long, don't you think? And those bluish streaks - they're sooo kyoooot! I'd die to have hair that looks that cool!"
"You should see his ... her ... eyes!" Regine said, smiling at Einar, whose scowl at her choice of pronoun - emphasized, no less - was not something he wanted to hear.
"What? What about her eyes?" Silje shot back. "Have your eyes changed, too?" she turned on Einar. "Have her eyes changed?" she asked Regine when Einar scowled at her.
"I'm not a girl!" Einar snapped, almost stamping his foot in frustration.
"Yet," Regine and Silje retorted, grinning.
The boy closed his eyes, shaking his head slowly. "Why do I get the feeling you two are going to make my life miserable?"
"She used her powers again!" Margrethe Ottosen exclaimed triumphantly.
Helka Arud and Alva Solberg nodded. "Yes. Now let's see where we think this comes from." A map was already posted on a wall, the same map she carried and was plotting any and all 'findings' the coven had read.
"The crystals read her power as ... somewhere between south-southwest and south-southeast," Margrethe reported.
Helka looked at the map, her face screwed up in contemplation. "This ... doesn't make any sense," she said. The map now had four triangles sketched on it, counting the one Helka had just added. "Gunhild's reading was toward Bergen, and the reading from Molde was toward Trondheim. Your last reading was to the southwest."
Margrethe inhaled noisily through her teeth. "She must be moving."
"But why?" Helka spat angrily. "Why would she be moving like this?"
"And every reading we do takes essence we need for the summoning!" Alva reminded her compatriots needlessly.
"And we need more essence to watch for Dúrnir," Margrethe added.
"And we need enough essence to call down the moon in less than two weeks," Helka said, a frustrated sigh venting as she spoke.
"We need to budget our essence, then," Alva decided. "We need to figure out how much we need for each reading, for reading Dúrnir, and for doing the summoning."
"And the amount we must invest to call down the moon," Margrethe chimed in.
"Okay, I'll call our sisters," Helka announced. "No-one is to do any working until we have a plan. We must save all the essence we can."
"What about individual essence gathering spells?"
Helka rolled her eyes. "Well, of course those are okay! Just ... no workings that spend essence!"