Updated: Jul 8, 2019
This is the second part in a five-part series, written as a series of journal entries. You can find the first part here. Subsequent entries will be published over the course of the next few weekends. Enjoy!
Sunday, 24 September 2023
As is often the case in any experiment, the first round of tests proved inconclusive. Though, here I am, getting ahead of myself again. Once I finished inventorying and reorganizing the lab equipment yesterday, I braved your old library. I stayed until the wee hours of the morning, as much of a night owl as ever, reviewing lore about the faerie stones while my new friends slept. Never thought I’d actually use folklore and superstition as research material, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything. I was surprised how many papers you’d collected about stone circles in general and how many folk have been rumoured to disappear near ours in particular. I wonder if all circles are portals, or just some? I snatched a few hours of sleep this morning, then rose early again to make some breakfast. However, Ruv beat me to the kitchen. He had just put a kettle on the stovetop to boil, and I found him searching the cupboards for tea. Greeting me with that sly, crooked grin of his, he thanked me for the hospitality, and remarked how much he’d missed having strong, black tea at the ready.
After we exchanged some further conversation on the magical properties of caffeine, Ruv told me more about himself, and—well, perhaps it’d be best if I just recount the conversation as it occurred, to the best of my memory.
“So you’re a sanguine,” Ruv said, as if that were a completely normal thing to say.
“Er, I’m Scottish,” I replied, thinking he may have gotten his terms mixed up, what with English obviously being his second language and all, possibly his third. Can’t fault him for a language barrier; I certainly don’t speak whatever it is he grew up speaking.
Ruv’s crooked grin broadened, and he reiterated, “You’re a sanguine, like me, like the others. I noticed right away when we met. What’s your totem?”
“My what?” At this point I’m sure my eyes were round as the teacups we were about to drink from, and I began to suspect it wasn’t a language barrier after all, but rather a completely foreign concept for which I did not possess the proper vernacular.
“Your totem, your animal form,” he explained patiently. “Wolves are common; big cats, too. I’ve met a few bears, but they’re not much fun to travel with.”
“Right, I see,” I said, not seeing at all.
Ruv chuckled and turned his gaze toward the fogged window. “I’ve no idea what your totem is. I can only tell when people can shift, not what they shift into, although different totems have a different sort of scent so I can usually, at least, guess. But with you…” His voice grew quieter as he drew his gaze back to me; quite piercing hazel eyes, he has. Perhaps he’s a teensy bit handsome after all, in a roguish sort of way. “With you, I can only be sure that I have never met someone with your totem before,” he finished.
Just then, as I was coming to terms with having invited into the manor a bunch of loonies who think they can shapeshift, the kettle provided a much needed distraction by whistling. I turned the stove off and set the tea leaves to brew while I collected my thoughts. I was vaguely aware of Ruv saying something about showing me so I’d understand, but my head was too full with possible ways to politely exit the conversation to really listen. I kept busying myself with the teapot (not that there was much to really do at this point but wait) until I noticed, finally, that Ruv had stopped babbling. It was his silence that prompted me to turn around.
And that’s when I saw the wolf.
The next few moments were a little foggy. My entire vision narrowed to the giant predator before me, all grinning teeth and shaggy black fur. I was vaguely aware of a siren going off, and stupidly thought I must have a fire somewhere, only to realize that it was my own scream assaulting my ears. I also must have scrambled up onto the counter at some point, because that’s where I was, teacups shattered on the floor below my feet, when Mari—knife drawn and roaring for a fight—burst into the kitchen with Gren close on her heels.
She stopped short when she saw the wolf, and Gren smashed into her back, causing them both to stumble at the threshold. At first I thought it was fear that made Mari halt her momentum so suddenly (and, terrified as I was by the big bad wolf slobbering in my late uncle’s kitchen, I could hardly blame her), but her face revealed only annoyance tempered by mild amusement. She slipped her knife back into the sheath clipped round her thigh, crossed her arms, and frowned at the wolf. A wolf, I finally noticed, that calmly sat next to a pile of neatly folded clothing in precisely the spot Ruv had previously occupied.
A wolf with scraggly black fur and hazel eyes.
“Dammit, Ruv,” Mari admonished, “you know we’re not supposed to shift on Earth!”
Gren sighed and put his own knife away. “I’m going back to bed,” he grumbled, and shuffled away to do just that.
Mari shook her head, and I thought she was about to leave too, but instead she reached for a broom in the corner and began sweeping up the broken teacups. “Sorry about that,” she said on behalf of Ruv.
Remembering the wolf in the kitchen, I glanced back at him…only to be greeted by the sight of a pale bum squeezing into a pair of trousers as Ruv dressed again. I blushed and looked back at Mari. Finding my voice strained after maintaining such an epic scream, I rasped, “So you really are shapeshifters, huh?”
Mari’s face warmed with a smile. “We are, but we generally call ourselves sanguines; Gren could explain the Latin roots better. See, it’s our blood that lets us shift into our totems. I take it Ruv was trying to prove he wasn’t crazy by just showing you?”
I nodded, then asked, “Why aren’t you supposed to shift on Earth?”
“There’s not enough magic here,” she replied, smile fading. “Sometimes people get stuck in between forms, or else find they can’t shift back. The animal part takes over. The human is lost.”
By this point Ruv was fully clothed again, and re-entered the conversation with a bow. “Only skilled sanguines should attempt a full shift on Earth. Fortunately, I am one of the most skilled there is. I would not suggest you try to change here, though.” He grinned at me again and winked, the sly bastard. “Especially since we don’t know what you are. Not until you’re in Aorea.”
Right. So Aorea is what they call this other world they travel to, where time slows down and magic is common as allergies in spring.
We kept talking as we drank our tea, and then Ruv left to go wake Gren again and check on the siblings while Mari and I headed up to the hilltop, which brings me back to the faerie stones. Mari says there are only three active travelling circles left on Earth (the faerie stones included), but long ago—at the dawn of humanity—there used to be more. I picked her brain about it while we hiked back up, and once we reached the top she helped me scrape the samples. This morning the circle seemed so ordinary, without the swirling clouds or hint of ancient song, that I found it hard to believe only yesterday a portal had spit out my new companions at that very spot. We took samples from the stones, the rowan tree, even the mushrooms after Mari remarked that those are common to all the travelling circles she’d seen. She doesn’t know if the spotted mushrooms are a key part of the magic itself or just a by-product, so I was careful not to actually damage the delicate fungi while scraping cells into a sterile container.
Once we’d gathered everything I needed for the initial round of tests, we hiked back down to the manor. By then everyone was up and about again, and the menfolk had scrounged up some food to cook. By the menfolk, I mean mostly it was Ruv who did the cooking while Gren snored with his head on the kitchen table, and Sam and Sarah sipped on fruity cocktails. I’m not sure who among them was the bartender (or where, for that matter, they acquired a slice of pineapple and tiny umbrellas with which to garnish their glasses), but I was too impressed with their resourcefulness to be mad about them raiding the whisky. I suppose you did have quite the collection of single malts, and I certainly haven’t been putting them to use.
“What’s on the menu?” Mari asked, inhaling the savoury aroma.
Ruv said something to her in another language—his native tongue, I thought—and Mari replied in the same. Sarah rolled her eyes and mumbled, “I hate it when they do that.” She exchanged looks with her brother before loudly adding, “I thought we agreed secrets don’t make friends, eh?”
“For chrissakes, they’re discussing sausage,” Gren grumbled, finally picking his head up off the table and wiping the drool from his chin. Perhaps I should relook the validity of my original assessment of Gren as a pretty boy type.
“Then they may as well discuss it in English,” Sarah asserted.
Mari shrugged and followed me to the corner of the study that I transformed into my lab, where I had already set up the equipment for the first round of tests: my streak plates and hardness pencils, acid bottles and chemical washes, my laptop with its many modelling programs already installed but long unused, the binocular microscope you got me before I started grad school. I wish I still had access to the lab at the university; the electron microscope they have would have come in handy. Oh well. Just have to make do! We deposited our collection of samples on the counter by the sink, then headed back to the kitchen to eat.
After lunch, I spent the rest of my afternoon in the lab, running every test I could think of. I analysed and catalogued the different minerals in the stone samples first, but nothing unusual there, mostly granite, a strand of gneiss and flecks of garnet, thin bands of red sandstone. Nothing I hadn’t already seen before, but I checked again just to be sure. Next I looked at the crystal structures under the lens of the microscope, but nothing unusual there either. I wasn’t sure at first how to test the lichen and moss samples I took, but I looked at them under the microscope as well. Again, nothing out of the ordinary. After hours of pressing, scraping, recording, analysing, modelling and analysing again, I may as well have been back at square one.
Thus, I decided to sleep on it, looking at everything with fresh eyes in the morning. I hadn’t realized how late it’d gotten since I’ve been immersed in the lab! It looks like the sun has already set again, and my new friends have been amusing themselves all afternoon. Auntie Agnes would be mortified. I suppose I’d best track them down and play hostess for the rest of the evening, lest her ghost come back to haunt me for my poor social graces.
That's it for the second entry of "Faerie Stones!" Check back next weekend for the release of part three, and thanks for reading!