/ Language: English / Genre:antique / Series: Elfhome

Blue Sky

Wen Spencer


Blue Sky

An Elfhome Story

By Wen Spencer

Copyright © Wendy Kosak, 2006, 2012

All rights reserved

Cover art by Heather Bruton

Cover design by Wendy Kosak

Two weeks after Pittsburgh became permanently stranded on Elfhome, the war between the elves and the oni reached John Montana's gas station. John had been greasing the CV joint of a Honda he had up on the rack when the bell on the pumps chimed, announcing someone had pulled up for gas. He listened for the sound of his little brother's feet moving across the ceiling above him, but could only hear the rumble of rock music. He ducked out from under the Honda, walked to the old fireman pole that dropped down from their apartment, and yelled, "Hey! We've got a customer down here!"

The bell chimed again and again, like someone was jumping on the air hose, making it trigger. Just kids messing with the air hose, John thought, and headed outside, still carrying the grease gun.

He hadn't been expecting trouble. It had been a summer of hell since war had broken out between the elves and the oni, with humans like John caught in the middle. But with the recent dramatic events, he thought that the elves had won, and the war was over.

Looking at the sea of elves in Fire Clan red massed outside his gas station, John realized that he was mistaken. Most of them were common garden-variety laedin-caste soldiers, but sprinkled among them were the holy sekasha-caste warriors, with spells tattooed down their arms. The elves had been distracted by the chime, playing with the novelty of the air hose like kids. When they noticed him at the garage's third bay door, though, all play died from their faces, and the eyes they turned toward him were hard and suspicious.

"Oooohhhh, shit." John felt his stomach tighten into a cold knot. The evening news had covered what had happened in Chinatown just days before, showing the blood washed sidewalks and the headless dead of the oni flushed out of their hiding spaces. The elves weren't taking prisoners.

They saw the grease gun in his hands and they drew their swords.

"It's not a weapon!" John cried in low Elvish, dropped the tool, and stepped backwards. "It's not a weapon!"

"Get on your knees!" One of the sekasha shouted in high tongue.

John raised his hands, holding them out to show they were empty and got down on his knees. This can't be happening. "It's not a weapon." He continued in low Elvish because he was more fluent in it. "I fix automobiles. It's only a tool for applying oil to the automobiles."

The sekasha nudged the grease gun with his toe and watched it leak. Satisfied it was harmless, he signaled to the laedin-caste elves to search the garage. "Is there anyone else in the building?"

"My little brother. He's just a child. Please don't hurt him."

"If you're both human, you have nothing to fear."

That was the problem -- they weren't.

One of the other sekasha produced a sheet of fine handmade paper, a spell inked onto its surface. John knew what this was. The oni used spells to disguise themselves as humans. The paper held a counter-spell to break the illusion. The elves pressed it to John's forearm, spoke the verb component and a static charge ran over him like low voltage electricity. The hairs on his arms and back lifted and stayed standing.

"John, who was playing with the . . .?" His half-brother, Blue Sky, came sliding down the old fireman pole, landing in the center of the chaos. He stood only chest-high among the armored elves, thankfully looking younger than he was. He glanced around at the strangers, unafraid, until he saw John on his knees in front of the sword-wielding sekasha. "John!"

"I'm not hurt!" John cried. "Everything is -- no, no, no, no!"

Blue had launched himself at the sekasha, shouting, "Get away from him!"

John surged up, reaching for Blue, but an elf caught him by the back of the head, jerked him back to his knees, and pressed a sword blade against his windpipe.

"Don't move!" The elf behind him snapped.

The sekasha dodged Blue and tried to sweep out the boy's legs. His brother back-flipped over the sweeping foot. Without even turning, or looking, the sekasha slashed backwards with his sword.

"No!" John screamed and fought the hold on him. "He's a child! A child!"

The sword hit Blue Sky in the head, smashing him to the ground. John shouted out in wordless dismay.

"Hush!" The sekasha commanded, sheathing his sword. "I used the back of my blade. He's only stunned."

The sekasha held out his hand for another spell paper and placed it against Blue's arm. He activated it and a distortion of air flowed over Blue and vanished. The boy groaned as the sekasha turned him, carefully, gently, to examine him.

His gaze was suspicious when he looked back at John, but he signaled to the others to free him. John didn't bother to stand, just scrambled on his hands and knees to Blue and made sure that his little brother wasn't hurt. As a testament to the sekasha's skill with his sword, there was only a slight bruise on Blue's forehead, and his eyes weren't dilated. The boy glared at the sekasha, so John locked him in a hold.

The Fire Clan sekasha grunted. It was hard to tell if he was amused by Blue's glare or annoyed by it. "What are you doing with this child? Where are his parents?"

"We share a mother." John said. "She is sick. She went back to Earth. His father is dead."

"Who was his father?" The sekasha asked.

The one thing you didn't do was lie to elves. As much as John wanted to say that he didn't know, it would be worse to be caught in a lie. "Lightning Strikes Wind."

Unfortunately, the warrior recognized the name. "He was one of the Wind Clan sekasha?"

John nodded.

"He is -- fourteen?" The sekasha tried to guess Blue's age.

"I'm seventeen." Blue answered for himself. It was a sore spot for him, because he'd been mistaken for as young as ten.

"Shhhh." John hushed him.

"You don't feed him right; he's too small." The sekasha stood and walked about the bay, studying the old fire hall that John used as a garage, from the fire pole that Blue had slid down to the gas pumps outside. He stomped on the air hose, making it chime again.

Blue was shaking with fury in his hold. John, however, was terrified that the worst could just be starting.

"Wolf Who Rules," The sekasha named the head of the Wind Clan. "Does he know about the child?"

"No." John had lived in terror of this day. He didn't know how the sekasha would react to their holy bloodline being mixed with human. Even if they didn't kill Blue Sky outright, there remained the chance they would take him from John.

The laedin-caste warrior appeared to sketch a slight bow to the sekasha. "The building seems clear, holy one."

"Clear!" The sekasha shouted.

Profound silence filled the garage as the elves went still, waiting. John had heard that the Stone Clan, newly arrived to Pittsburgh, was using spells to find oni hidden within the walls of buildings and secret tunnels underground.

"Clear," someone outside shouted. The elves relaxed.

The sekasha signaled for the others to move to the next building down. "If he was not sekasha-caste, I would not care what you do with him. My duty here is clear. He is of the holy blood. His clan must be told. This is no way for one such as he should live."

Blue jerked in John's hold.

"I'll take the child to Wolf Who Rules." John struggled to keep his brother checked. "I swear I will."

The sekasha looked down the street to where his people searched for oni. As John hoped, he deemed it easier to let John handle the problem than to abandon his duties. "I will know if you break your vow. I will not be kind."

"John always keeps his promises." Blue snapped.

The sekasha smiled. "He has his father's reactions."

"What do you mean?" John asked.

"We sekasha -- we protect those we love."

#

"You shouldn't have promised." Blue swung up onto the counter of the old fireman's kitchen as John opened the fridge and dug through it, looking for a beer. "It means you have to do it."

"I didn't want him taking you with him."

"He couldn't have done that!" Blue cried.

"He's a sekasha." John found an Iron City beer, opened it and drank deeply. He was still shaking from the encounter. In the stainless steel surface of the fridge, he could see the line where the sword blade had pressed against his throat. "They're allowed to do anything they want. They're considered too holy to be bound by law made by mortals."

All his life, John had watched the Wind Clan sekasha prowl the city like lions among lambs. Even other elves watched them with fear. Thus, he'd been terrified when his mother brought a drunk sekasha home. At thirteen, he was just beginning to realize that she wasn't fully sane and that he couldn't trust her to keep them safe. John spent the night sure that the warrior would kill her when he sobered.

After Blue Sky was born, their mother grew more and more erratic. The treaty with the elves banned criminals, the insane, and orphans; the elves didn't want the dredges of humanity littering their world. The same treaty, however, meant Blue Sky couldn't travel to Earth. Caught between the two rules, John struggled to keep his mother's insanity hidden until he was eighteen. At that point, John sent his mother to Earth and stayed behind to become Blue's guardian.

Until today, his greatest fear was that the elves would kill Blue out of hand, deeming his human genetics a stain on their holy bloodline.

Now, he was afraid that even a half-blood like Blue was too holy to be raised by a mere human.

"So, what do we do?" Blue asked.

John sighed and put down his beer. He'd put this off for years. There was one glimmer of hope. "Come on, let's go."

"Where are we going?"

"I'm going to see if Tinker can do anything about this."

Tinker and her cousin, Oilcan, could be called good friends. At one time, when the cousins could still be called children, they played daily with Blue Sky. Eventually they had grown up and grown away. Still, they had the same interests, traded business, knew the same people, and went to the same parties. Like John and Blue, the cousins were orphans and only had each other. John would like to think it created a bond between them -- but he'd learned in the past that when things went horribly wrong in your life, the people you thought could trust sometimes turned their back on you.

Luck, courage and a good bit of ingenuity had landed Tinker in a position of power as the wife of the clan head, Wolf Who Rules. If anyone in Pittsburgh could help them, she could.

But the question was -- would she?

#

The elfin enclaves lined where the Rim used to cut through Oakland. Each a block wide and half a mile deep, the high walled residences acted as both hotels and restaurants. Since everything about the clan head was tabloid fodder, everyone in Pittsburgh knew that Tinker and her new husband were living at the Poppymeadow enclave.

John and Blue Sky passed through three checkpoints on their way to Oakland. Each time they were questioned in depth, searched for weapons, and checked by spell to see if they were oni. It took them two hours to work their way to the enclaves. John parked his pickup and they walked to the tall garden gate that normally stood open, but found it shut and locked. He tried knocking.

A slot gate opened and an elf peered out at them.

"Forgiveness," the elf said. "The dining room is not open."

"I need to see --" John realized that saying Tinker's name without her proper title would be considered rude. Elves set store on that kind of thing. He frowned a moment, trying to remember her new title. "Domi. I beg you. May I speak with Tinker domi?"

"Who asks?"

"John Montana," And then quickly, he added. "It's clan business! I'm here to see her as the clan's domi."

"Wait here."

Blue had been kicking pebbles. When the slot shut, he scoffed. "Clan business."

John smacked him on the back of the head. "Behave."

"I don't like you groveling to them."

"It's not groveling, it's fitting in. At the race track, you fit in by acting tough and saying you've got the best team.  Different place -- different set of rules."

"At the races, we're all equal. Elves are all about keeping people under your thumb."

"You sound like half the rednecks of Pittsburgh."

"I am one, that's why. My father never cared enough to see how I was doing. I don't see why we have to do this."

"Your father didn't know about you --"

"Because he was a murdering psychopath of a sekasha and our mother was a nutcase."

John ignored that little rant. "At the races, you know that if anyone on the pit crew didn't do what I told them, they'd be off the team. Every place has rules -- and none of them are better or wrong -- they just are."

There was a rattle of metal on wood -- the bar on the gate was being drawn. They were being let in.

"Now be polite and don't screw this up -- or you might be staying here when I go home."

Blue gave him a terrified look, but was polite as they were frisked for weapons and once again, checked to see if they were disguised oni.

#

Tinker was just a year older than Blue -- thus John had known her all her life -- and yet, when they were escorted into an orchard courtyard, he barely recognized her. Oilcan had told him about the physical transformation. John had guessed that power would probably also change her -- but he hadn't been ready for this.

He had known a coltish girl dressed in dirty hand-me-downs. She enjoyed her solitary junkyard existence because it allowed her to play mad inventor. Famous for her virginity, she unknowingly blew away all would-be suitors with aggressive intelligence, fierce independence, and stunning naivety.

This stranger wore a dress of fairy silk green that shimmered against her dusky skin. With magic, her eyes and ears -- along with her underlining DNA -- had been changed from human to elfin. She lay on a blanket in the dappled shade, her head resting on the lap of a young male sekasha.  Four more sekasha watched John intently, while pretending polite disinterest. It was difficult to judge the ages of elves, but John thought that all five seemed young, as if Wolf Who Rules tried to match up his wife up with guards who were just "teenagers" themselves. Despite the tranquil setting, the three males and two females bristled with weapons. Whereas the Fire Clan sekasha had been redheads, the Wind Clan sekasha were dark-haired and blue-eyed like Blue Sky. Their spell tattoos and scaled chest armor were in the deep blue which identified their clan.

"Domi, wake up," her pillow murmured. "They are here."

She woke slowly, yawning and rubbing at her eyes. Her actions were innocent, but in the skin-tight dress made them sensual. It wasn't until she blinked at him and said his name that he realized that her arm was braced and inked with healing spells. He hadn't heard that she been hurt -- but considering her last fight with the oni had nearly leveled the city -- he shouldn't have been surprised.

She really shouldn't arch like that as she stretched awake. He glanced away, feeling like a pervert -- she was young as Blue! "Sorry, the healing spells --" She yawned. "They make me really tired. What's wrong, John?"

John had hoped for a private talk with Tinker. Apparently that was impossible. He worked on ignoring the sekasha. Blue leaned against him, glaring at the guards.

"The Fire Clan sekasha were just at the garage. They've ordered me to talk to Wolf Who Rules. I was hoping you could -- be in our corner. We could use some help."

"I don't understand." Tinker ran her hand through her short brown hair, grabbed a handful and tugged at it. The familiar gesture comforted John that something remained of the girl he knew. Under the clean skin and beautiful dress, he could see the core of the compassionate person he knew -- now weighted down with responsibilities. She had gone from being accountable only for herself to having all of Pittsburgh on her shoulders, and judging by the weary sigh, fully aware of it. "Why did Wyverns send you here? To talk about what?"

Blue pressed tighter against John's side, and shook his head.

John sighed. Having promised the Fire Clan sekasha, he had no choice; he had to broach the subject. "Blue's father was Lightening Strikes Wind."

Tinker looked confused but the sekasha attending her went from polite disinterest to staring at Blue Sky with startled amazement. "Stormsong?" Tinker turned to the blue-haired female who had her hand pressed to her mouth. "Who was Lightening Strikes?"

Stormsong blinked away tears and composed herself. "He was killed by a saurus at the faire ground five years ago. He was barely out of his doubles."

"Oh!" Tinker made a little sound of hurt. "I saw him die. I didn't know he was that young. All elves seemed so old to me then -- but I guess that would only make him seventeen or eighteen if he were a human."

Elves became adults at a hundred, when they needed three numbers to write their age. John always assumed it included a much extended 'holding pattern' much like the gray zone for humans between the age of eighteen and twenty-one, where they were old enough to vote but not to legally drink. It suddenly occurred to him that he had been wrong all along. Elves didn't mature quickly and yet remain legally a child. They matured slowly through the ages that corresponded with the human range of twelve to eighteen.

John sat there in shock. He had expected that Blue would continue growing up, slower than humans, but reaching maturity within the next ten years or so. But he was wrong -- Blue would not be growing up for a long, long time. "Blue Sky's half human," he finally managed to say. "He might grow up faster."

Tinker's guards shook their heads.

"If his father had not been sekasha, that might have been so," Stormsong said. "But we breed true; ours is always the dominant gene. He will be his father's child much more than his mother's. He won't be able to deny his nature. I know from experience, it will be better if he accepts it instead of rebels against it."

John struggled with all the implications flooding over him. He remembered how as a teenager, he'd grown like a weed. Blue was seventeen but still looked like a ten year old. "What do you mean?"

The sekasha exchanged looks and then the male at Tinker's side said, "Forgiveness, domi, but as Lightening Strike's child, he belongs to Wolf Who Rules' household until he's an adult. It is the clan's responsibility that he be raised correctly."

At least I was right about something -- this was exactly the reaction I was afraid of.

"Pony!" Tinker cried. "We can't just take Blue Sky from his brother!"

"Sooner or later, domi, it must be done." Pony said. "He will be a child long after his brother dies of old age."

"I am seventeen!" Blue cried. "I'm almost full grown! I'm top hoverbike driver in Pittsburgh, and I put in forty hours of week helping John run the shop."

"I have to say, I know how he feels." Tinker said. "I'm not happy that the queen has said that I have to wait until I'm a hundred before being considered an adult."

"His case is much different from yours, domi." Stormsong said. "There are hormone changes that affect the development of the mind, and those comes with aging. A child, no matter how mature, still views the world with a child's mind, and reacts to it in the same way. You matured to adult before being made an elf, domi, but have been given the protection of a child until you have learned all you need to know about our society. Your lack is from knowledge alone. Much as he wants to be viewed as adult -- as much as he must hurt seeing others his age treated as almost adults -- he will not be one for a long time."

"John, say something!" Blue cried. "They can't do this."

It all matched so well with what John had been ignoring. Blue had dropped out of high school, complaining that everyone suddenly seemed like alien creatures. The problem was that Blue had continued to have elementary school interests, while the others raced to embrace all things adult.

"The problems will truly start when his sekasha nature joins the natural aggression of puberty," Stormsong said.

"We like to fight," Pony clarified. "And we're very good at it."

Blue loved the fierce competition of hoverbike racing. While in high school, Blue came home with bloody noses -- and reports that his taller opponents were worse the wear.

"And he needs better nutrition," Pony said. "He's too thin, his hair is brittle and his fingernails are ridged; all signs he's not eating right. If his diet doesn't change, his adult bones won't be a strong as they should be and his eyesight might be impaired. A sekasha child needs twice the meat and milk as a normal elfin child."

"I'm fine!" Blue shouted. "I'm not too small! I eat fine! I'm not violent, and I'm sick of everyone acting like I'm not here! You can talk all you want, but I'm not living here!"

And he bolted out of the orchard though a gate that John hadn't noticed.

John shook himself out of his daze. "Blue! Blue!" Oh great, so much for showing his wonderful parenting skills! "Tinker, please, he's only half elf. He's still half human, and that part makes us brothers. Our blood has to count for something. I don't want to give him up."

"Domi," Pony countered. "It is not possible to raise a sekasha child alone."

Tinker, however, seemed to be listening intently to the whine of a hoverbike's lift engine spinning up. "That's coming from the motor court, isn't it?"

"That little turd is taking my bike!" Stormsong cried in English, and took off running in the direction Blue had gone.

John's heart dropped down through his stomach. Oh, no! He took off after Stormsong, keenly aware that she had a pistol as well as her sword. Beyond the courtyard was a motor court with a dozen garage bays open showing off a fleet of gray Rolls Royce Phantoms. Just outside the last bay, Blue sat astride a top of the line, custom delta hover bike.

"Blue! No!" John shouted.

The boy maxed the lift and popped the bike over the high demesne wall in one easy leap. On the other side, he dropped all power into the spell chain and roared off.

Oh, god, how could Blue be so stupid? John spun to face Stormsong, holding up his hands to warn off her anger. "I'm sorry. I'll get it back, and fix anything he breaks on it." He edged around her, heading back to the orchard. "I promise you, I'll make things right."

He echoed the apology to Tinker as he passed her, heading for the front gate and his pickup.

Tinker trailed after him. "He'll just go home, won't he?"

"I don't know." John admitted. "But I'll get the bike back. Please don't call the police."

"Fuck the bike." Tinker snapped in English and then dropped back to low Elvish. "It isn't safe for him to be alone in the city right now. There are still pockets of oni troops. The humans are upset at the elves. And if the Wyverns think the Wind Clan isn't handling Blue right, they will take him."

John stumbled to a halt. "But you said that Blue was part of Wolf Who Rules' household."

"The Wyverns are head of the sekasha caste," Pony explained calmly. "They have ultimate responsibility for Blue Sky."

#

John was at his pickup before he realized that Stormsong was following him.

"I'm coming with you." She opened the passenger door.

John stared at the tall, leggy female. "Why?"

"Because I get can you around all the roadblocks that the royal troops have set up, and protect Blue Sky from anyone that might try to hurt him."

She had a good point, but it still seemed wrong to get into the truck with one of them. John still wasn't totally convinced Blue was in no danger from the sekasha beyond being taken from him.

"I'm not going to hurt your brother." She read the disbelief on his face. "I swear to you, by the blood and the sword that makes me a sekasha, I will never harm Lightening Strike's son."

An elf would never lie. To them, there was nothing more important than their personal honor.

"He's really a very good kid." John slammed shut his door and started the engine. "He's just upset and angry. He's never done anything like this before."

"I know that."

"How can you know that?"

"It's why we're considered holy. Virtue is not a choice for us; it's encoded in our genes, on the same level as the color of our eyes. Under stress, Blue Sky might falter, but he'll never stray far from righteousness."

"Morality is not a genetic trait."

"What the fuck do you know?" Stormsong snapped back in English. "Elves didn't start out immortal. We were made that way while we were slaves to the Skin Clan. For thousands of years, they perfected bioengineering, using what you know as elves as their guinea pigs. Each caste is a different gene pool they set up. They wanted the perfect guard, one that they could trust absolutely, so they made the sekasha virtuous without measure."

"I've never heard of the Skin Clan."

"Because we sekasha carved their fucking evil hearts out -- each and every one of them."

So much for trusting their guards absolutely. "And I'm supposed to hand my brother over to you to raise?"

"That's what we want." Stormsong shrugged. "But you've asked domi to intercede -- so it is possible that is not what will happen."

John studied the female, trying to tell how serious she was. "If she decides in my favor, you'll obey her?"

"Yes." Stormsong saw the surprise on his face, and added, "She's our domi" as if it explained everything.

"I don't get it," John said. "You're these holy warriors of god, each of you hundreds of years old, and you roll over and listen to. . ."

"Do not go there." There was a razor edge in her voice. "I will forgive much, but not a slur on my domi."

John swallowed down anything that could be taken as negative toward Tinker. He couldn't believe that they would so blindly obey her judgment. "After the Skin Clan, why would you listen to anyone? You're the ones who are 'virtuous without measure.'"

Stormsong smiled. "Because we like to fight."

"That's bullshit."

"No. It isn't. We prefer to solve all our problems with violence -- but might does not make right."

"So you let someone less vicious run the show?"

"More or less."

"I still don't see why you would listen to Tinker," John said as they rolled up to the first checkpoint. "Compared to the rest of you, she's just a kid."

"I thought you knew her -- I guess I was wrong."

#

With Stormsong in the truck, John was waved through without the prolonged questioning, being tested with spells, and being searched for weapons. It also turned out that Tinker had called ahead. Blue hadn't been shot at when he ran the roadblocks. The news chilled John.

Let him be home, safe and sound.

There was no sign of him at the gas station. John raced through the building, checking all the rooms. Everything was as they left it.

The bell on the pumps chimed, summoning John back to the garage.

"He's not here." Stormsong said it as a statement, not question. She bounced on the air hose again.  "He doesn't want to bring trouble down on you, so he won't come back."

"Shit, shit, shit." John tried to think of where Blue would run to as Stormsong walked through the garage, giving it the same careful study that the Wyvern had. "Go ahead and say it."

"What?"

"This is no way for one such as he should live." John quoted the Wyvern.

"Actually, this is cool." She touched the fireman's pole lightly. "But there's nothing of us, the people who will still be here when you're gone. The oldest living elf is close to twenty thousand years old -- that's a long time to be alone."

"I've taught him what I could." John headed for the door, trying to ignore the guilt taking root in the center of his chest.

"I told you -- we see things in black and white. What we don't embrace, we reject. We don't do the middle ground. You're teaching him to hate himself."

"I am not!" John cried.

"Yes, you are."

Was he? Everything they claimed to be sekasha had fit Blue Sky so well. Could this be true too? Guilt grew through John like a dark weed. He went out to his pickup and got in but still had no idea where to head.

Stormsong got in beside him. "He's that way." She pointed west.

"How do you know?"

"I'm mixed caste -- much like Blue Sky. My mother is the Queen's Oracle. I spent my childhood trying to deny being a sekasha. I went through much of what Blue Sky is going through now. Even hating myself."

John considered West. A large chunk of Pittsburgh still lay in that direction, from their gas station in McKees Rocks to out past the airport. Even Tinker's scrap yard lay in that direction. "Can you be more specific?"

"He's feeling helpless right now. He's heading someplace where he can feel powerful."

The racetrack.

#

John could hear the whine of a hoverbike being pushed through the curves and loops of the racecourse even as he parked in the big empty lot. As a team captain, he had a passkey into the track.

"It will be important to get him off the bike," Stormsong followed close on John heels. "He might hurt himself."

"He won't wreck the bike by mistake." John assured her. "He's one of the best drivers in Pittsburgh. See."

Stormsong gasped as she watched Blue Sky tear through the complex twists and turns. "Oh shit. I didn't connect the name. You're Team Big Sky!"

"Yeah, we are."

She laughed. "Oh, Lightening Strikes would have been proud. Team Big Sky has always been the clan's favorite team."

John trotted down the concourse steps, trying to escape the remorse he felt, but it followed him. He should have told Lightening Strikes that he had a son. If it had been John, he would have wanted to know before he died. I couldn't be sure, though, that Blue would be safe!

Blue flashed past, spotted John, and pulled in a sharp loop, heading back toward him.

"What do you think you're doing?" John walked out to meet him.

Blue slid away, keeping out of grabbing range. "I don't want to be one of them! If I can't be with you, I won't be with anyone!"

"Blue, this isn't solving anything. Cut the engine and talk to me."

Blue frowned and started to reach for the keys and then spotted Stormsong tucked in the shadows of the stands. "What is she doing here?" He gave John a look full of pain. "You're just going to give me to them?"

"I don't want to, Blue, but it might be the best thing for you."

Blue twisted hard on the power and shot away.

"Blue!" John shouted.

Stormsong made a sound of disgust. "You know -- you suck at this."

"I'm just doing the best that I can. It's not like I had a great model to work from. When I was little, if I was bad, my mother would say 'I just can't take it anymore, I'm taking you to the EIA. You can go live with another family on another world.' And after Blue Sky was born, it became 'take care of him, or I'm taking you both to the EIA.' Okay, so I'm not the best parent in the world. I really don't have a clue what I'm doing, but I have never, never threatened to give him up."

"You should have given him to us! We would have done a better job than this!"

"I wasn't willing to risk his life to find that out!"

"If you're worried about his life, then stop fighting with me and do something about him!" Stormsong pointed upwards.

Blue Sky raced up the tallest ramp that climbed skyward. At the summit, he popped up and landed on the very rim and balanced there. As the bike teetered on the narrow ledge, Blue killed the engine.

When Stormsong had said "hurt himself" she wasn't meaning by accident.

"Blue!" John shouted. "Don't be insane! Come down!"

"I won't be one of them!" Blue shouted.

Stormsong kneed John in the balls. Surprise made him scream at the pain. He didn't even see the second hit. He went sprawling in the dirt, with black closing in. Distantly he was aware that Stormsong had drawn her pistol and was taking careful aim down at him.

"John!" Blue shouted and the hoverbike's engine snarled to life.

The gun thundered over and over again, the shots echoing off the stands.

Somehow Stormsong had emptied her gun and missed him. John scrambled away from her, aware that she was drawing her sword. Blue was roaring toward them.

"You promised!" John held out his hand, pleading to her. "You promised not to hurt him."

"And I'm not going to," she said quietly as Blue leapt at her. She spun, caught Blue in mid-air with her left hand. As his weight spun her around, she sliced the hover bike's spell chain. The engine's power diverted into the lift and the hoverbike soared upwards on maximum lift. She continued the turn, slamming Blue against the ground and pinned him there.

Blue thrashed in her hold. "You murdering whore! I'm going to kill you!"

"Blue, she didn't hurt me." John's head was clearing, his balls ached, and he felt like vomiting, but he was basically unhurt. "Shut up before you make her mad."

Blue went still in surprise, and then squeaked, "John!"

Stormsong let Blue go. The boy scrambled to him. John hugged him tightly, relieved that he hadn't self-destructed. The sekasha looked on with sadness in her eyes.

"Why the hell did you do that?" John asked her.

"We protect those we love," Stormsong said.

Meaning she knew that Blue would come to John's protection. John supposed this was what she meant by solving all problems with violence.

#

Blue kept himself between John and Stormsong as they pulled down her floating hoverbike, maneuvered it to his pickup and killed the power. After they strapped the bike down, they drove back to Poppymeadows enclave in silence. Blue huddled in the middle, a small ball of hurt. Stormsong cleared them through checkpoints. Thunderclouds gathered, threatening a downpour.

The same servant opened the gate at Poppymeadows, letting them in. "Domi is sleeping in the garden room."

"Again?" Blue sneered.

Stormsong cuffed Blue on the back of the head. "Tinker domi moved heaven and earth to save all the people of this city. She is a good and just leader. But until her injuries are fully healed, she will have to sleep often."

Apparently they were now considered trustworthy as they weren't searched, nor escorted through the enclave. The garden room turned out to be a small conservatory filled with a riot of blooming flowers. Tinker slept curled on a chaise with only Pony in attendance. Stormsong knelt beside Tinker, and kissed her forehead to wake her. "We're back, domi. We found the child and brought him back."

"Hm?" Tinker opened her eyes sleepily. "Oh, good." She yawned and reached out for a hand up. "I was worried. Thank you for keeping him safe."

Tinker hugged the female sekasha. The depth of Stormsong's affection showed on her face.

We protect those we love.

The sekasha weren't standing guard over Wolf Who Rule's wife -- they were protecting their beloved domi. She had won their hearts. Nor was the fact all that surprising. Blue had always bordered on puppy love for Tinker. She was courageous in a fight, fiercely loyal, never lied, and kept all her promises.

John supposed that if Blue had to go to someone else, at least it was someone he knew he could trust. "Tinker, I've thought about this, and I'm willing to do whatever is best for Blue Sky. I ask that he stays in Pittsburgh and I want to be able to see him."

"You don't want me?" Blue fought to stay stoic in the face of news.

"This isn't about wanting you, or not wanting you. This is about what's best for you. They're right. You've probably would have been better off with your father from the start."

Tears filled Blue's eyes and he bowed his head to keep them hidden. "Why does everyone want me to be an elf?"

"Because you are an elf." John tapped him on his pointed ear tips to remind him. "And without meaning to, I've poisoned you against yourself. I know this hurts, but I really think you should come and live with Tinker."

Blue bowed his head lower, shaking it. "If I become one of them, you'll be afraid of me. You will hate me."

"Blue, I swear to you, nothing you can do or say or be will ever make me hate you."

"I don't want to lose you!" Blue whispered.

Tinker put her arms around Blue. "When I was thirteen, and Oilcan was seventeen, he moved out. I felt like I was losing him, but I wasn't. We're even closer now, because we don't have to fight over all those little annoying things that come with living with someone. What to watch on the TV and whose turn it is to take out the trash. He's still there for me anytime I need him.  You're not losing John. You're gaining a very large family."

Blue scoffed. "Just what I need, a dozen more people to tell me what to do." But he turned and hugged Tinker tightly.

#

The elves had said that Blue was free to come and go as he pleased. John expected that Blue would put it to the test. He didn't expect that it would be so soon. Close to midnight, Blue sulked into the shop.

"What are you doing here?" John moved his bowl of popcorn so Blue could sprawl on the couch beside him.

Blue made a sound of disgust. "Do you know that Stormsong is the only elf in Tinker's household that speaks English?"

"You're fluent in Elvish."

"It's a pain to have to speak it all the time. And besides, there's so many things in Pittsburgh that Elvish doesn't have a word for!"

"True."

"What are you watching?"

"Something Oilcan loaned me." John suspected the loan had been an excuse to make sure he was coping with Blue being gone. "It's a season of a reality TV show called American Chopper. This family custom-builds motorcycles."

Blue usually disliked gear head shows, so John was surprised when he exclaimed, "Oh, cool," and settled in to watch, apparently contented. Two handfuls of popcorn later, Blue added, "You know, the enclaves don’t have TVs, CD players, flush toilets, or electricity."

"Barbaric," John said.

"And get this! No showers! You suppose to bathe in this big heated swimming pool with everyone else. Male and females together!"

John laughed at the disgust in Blue's voice. "Was there anything you liked?"

"I got to watch them sparring with practice swords. It was really cool." Blue gave a sigh of happiness. "You should see how they can move. They say I'll be able to fight like them someday. And they gave me this cool bow. I can't wait until you see it. You should come eat breakfast with me tomorrow. The food is amazing."

"Sure, sounds good." John mussed Blue's hair. "So, are you going to be backup ride for Team Tinker instead of main ride for Team Big Sky? Or is racing totally beneath a holy one like you?" Blue's scowl was answer enough, and the cold knot in John's stomach dissolved. John was pretty sure that as his brother aged, the sekasha would come to regret their decision, as often as not. Which, so far as he was concerned, was all to the good.

Elfhome Books by Wen Spencer:

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