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Chapter 14 A SECRET SHARED


Everything's a blur. School, chatting with my friends, playing happy families with Dervish and Juni. Life goes on as normal around me, and I take part, the way I always have. But I'm not fully there. Always thinking about the moon, the cave, the tramp, Dervish (possibly) scheming behind my back. Waiting for the change to hit. Going to bed tense every night, lying in the dark, wondering if this is when I'll turn. Stiffening whenever one of my fingers twitches or my stomach growls. Terror when my lips lift back over my teeth in a wolf-life snarl-then relief when I realise I'm only yawning.

I discuss some of it with Dervish but I'm reluctant to share everything. The more I think about it, the more positive I am-he called in the Lambs. I resent him for that. There's no real reason to. It's not like he's washing his hands of me. I'm sure he'll be extra careful, that he won't let them act unless I'm beyond saving. But why summon them so soon? He didn't with Bill-E. He kept them in the dark. Dealt with it himself while there was still hope. I was sure he'd act the same way with me.

Of course, I'm different. We can't work the Lord Loss angle anymore. Dervish didn't call the Lambs in last time because he planned to fight for Bill-E's humanity. If he won, Lord Loss would have cured Bill-E. If he lost, they'd have both been slaughtered by the demon master. Either way, no need for the Lambs. I'm not that lucky. There's no get-out clause in my case.

Also there's the magic. Dervish can deal with a werewolf, but perhaps not one with magical powers. Maybe he's scared, isn't sure what I'll be capable of when I turn, doesn't feel he can handle me solo, wants the security of back-up. Perfectly logical if he does. I can't blame him for that.

But even so, I feel betrayed and the feeling won't go away. I should talk with him, tell him I know he called in the Lambs, discuss my disappointment, give him the chance to explain.

But I don't. Afraid to bring the subject out into the open, like when I first became aware of the magic inside me and kept it secret. Ludicrously hoping that I'm wrong about the tramp, that things aren't at such an advanced stage, that I can still be saved. Figuring if I don't talk about it, maybe it will go away. Grubbs Grady-human ostrich!

A week to go.

Today, at lunch, when we're alone, Reni asks if anything is wrong. I haven't been paying her the kind of attention she expects. She wants to know if I've lost interest, if I'm seeing or thinking about somebody else. She puts it lightly, tries to make a joke of it, but I can see the suspicion and hurt in her eyes.

I lie. Say things are the same as always. Make excuses. Tell her there's a lot of confusion in my life-Loch dying (not that I put it so bluntly), Juni moving in with Dervish. I even mention exams and the future, pretending I'm worried about the direction I'm taking.

She buys it. Thinks I'm going through a mid-teen crisis, that it's nothing to do with her. Willing to wait for my mood to improve. Confident I'll be back looking to put the moves on her once I sort through my problems. Never guessing that they might be the ripping-her-throat-open-with-my-teeth type of moves-if I turn into a werewolf next weekend.

Walking home slowly, watching for the tramp. I've caught glimpses of him since that night at the cave, hanging around school, on the streets of Carcery Vale, once in the trees across from my bedroom window. But he's kept at a safe distance. No follow-up contact. Slips away if I try to approach.

I'm surprised he even spoke to me that once. Maybe it was an accident-late at night, standing guard in the forest, at the scene of a tragedy. Perhaps the mood affected him and he spoke without meaning to. I'm sure even the executioners of the Lambs are prone to human slip-ups every now and then.

Thinking about the tramp and the Lambs as I let myself in. Wondering how they kill the werewolves. I imagine it's clinical and undramatic, probably a powerful poison, injected humanely. But I can't help playing out shock-horror scenes-hordes of Lambs dressed as tramps surrounding me, attacking me with machetes and clubs, a slow, humiliating, painful death.

"Grubbs," Dervish calls as I'm heading up the stairs, disrupting my train of morbid thoughts. "Could you come see me when you're ready?"

"Sure." Up to my room. Toss my bag into a corner. Out of my uniform swiftly, into jeans and a baggy sweater seconds later. Jog back down in my socks to find Dervish and Juni sitting on one of the couches in the TV room, looking edgy and stern.

I take a seat, wary. I look at them and they stare at me. A long, ragged silence. Then Dervish speaks quickly. "I've told Juni about you. About us. The family curse. What's been happening with you recently."

I blink slowly and glance at Juni. Can't tell what she's thinking. Wearing her most enigmatic counsellor's face.

"I thought long and hard about this," Dervish says, leaning forward. "It would have been easy to ask Juni to go away next weekend and keep her out of the loop. Easy and safe." He looks at her. She smiles briefly and lays a hand on his. "But we need her help. I don't know why, but you've stopped talking to me. This last week or two, you've been withdrawn, moody, sullen. Maybe it's just fear. But I think there's more to it. You've cut me out as if you have issues with me and that's not good. I need to know what you're thinking and feeling. I can't help you if I don't know what's going on inside your head."

"You think Juni can open me up," I say stiffly. "Stick me on a couch, get into my brain, worm out the truth."

"Maybe," Dervish mutters.

"We only have your best interests at heart," Juni says. "This is a troubled time for you. Dervish wants to help. I do too. If you have problems with your uncle-or with me-you should lay them out in the open. Or, if it's something you don't want to discuss with Dervish, perhaps you can tell me in private."

"Patient to counsellor?" I sneer.

"If you like," she says calmly. "I'd rather talk informally as a friend, but if you prefer we can do it professionally, with the guarantee of confidentiality."

"I don't mind," Dervish says. "I just want to help you survive the next week. If I've upset you and you don't want to tell me about it, fine. But you don't have to cut Juni out. Surely you can talk with her if not with me."

"What if there's no problem?" I mumble. "What if I'm just scared to death that I'm going to turn into a werewolf and don't feel like talking about it?"

"That would be entirely understandable," Juni says. "But unless you're sure that's the case, you should discuss it with someone. Talking about your fears can be a highly positive experience. You know that, Grubbs. You're not an innocent child. Going through this alone is a bad call."

"Especially as you might not even be going through it," Dervish says. I look at him with a raised eyebrow. "You mightn't be turning. Juni thinks..." He stops and looks at her.

"Just because people in your family are victims of a disease which alters their bodies-I refuse to refer to them as werewolves, since that's a hysterical term-it doesn't mean you are going to change," Juni says. "From what you've described, it sounds as if you're in trouble, but it's by no means certain. This might be a mental problem, not a physical one."

"You think I'm imagining things?" I growl.

"Perhaps," Juni says. "The mind can play tricks on the most ordinary people-and you're far from ordinary! To come through what you have... to see so much of the world-and other worlds-at such a young age... to lose your loved ones in a grisly fashion, then fight for your brother's life... what happened to us in Slawter... Your resilience amazes me. You're one of the strongest people I've ever met and I'm not saying that to stroke your ego. You're incredible, Grubbs."

I smile crookedly, blushing, tears coming to my eyes. Part of me wants to leap up and hug her. Another part wants me to wave her compliment away and act cool. In the end I just carry on smiling, blushing and crying lightly.

"But even the strongest of us has a breaking point," Juni says. "Maybe Loch was yours. Or perhaps there's something else, a small upset you're not even aware of. It's possible you're turning-but it's also possible you're not. I want to try and find out. In a week we'll know for definite. But we can cover a lot of ground in a week. It could make a real difference if you're wrong about the change."

"And if I'm right?" I ask tightly.

Juni beams. "We'll just have to fire a silver bullet through the middle of your forehead."

I laugh loudly. Dervish does too.

"My sense of humour's rubbing off on her," Dervish chuckles proudly.

"You say that like it's a good thing."

"Boys, boys," Juni tuts. "Let's not get sidetracked. Grubbs, will you accept my offer of help? Talk with me privately if you have something you don't want to say to both of us? Accept me as a counsellor if not a friend?"

I almost blurt it out and tell them I know about the Lambs, which is why I've been so surly. But that would mean a confrontation with Dervish, admitting to his face that I feel he betrayed me. I can't do that, not after all the good things he's done for me. If I'm wrong, it would hurt him to hear me speak that way.

So I take Juni up on her offer, lower my head to hide my thoughts, and mutter, "Yeah, talking with you sounds good."

"Thank you," Juni says.

"Nice one," Dervish adds.

And we pretend for a while that everything's fine and all our problems have been solved.

Long talks with Juni at school in the day and at home in the evenings. Not just about Loch. We cover all kinds of ground-my past, parents, Gret, Lord Loss, the institute, life with Dervish, Bill-E changing into a werewolf, Slawter. All the things we didn't discuss before, when she was only interested in helping me deal with Loch's death.

We spend a lot of time on magic, the buzz of energy I sometimes feel in my gut, what I've done with it, my mind-set when the magic was flowing through me. With Dervish's permission, Juni runs some tests, trying to tap into my magical core, to find out what's going on inside, what I might be capable of doing. But she comes up blank. If the magic's still there, it's buried too deep for her to find.

She also spends a lot of time researching the Demonata, pumping Dervish for information, finding out all she can about them. She's especially hot on Lord Loss-if he's able to cure our lycanthropic curse, she doesn't see why we shouldn't be able to do it too.

"We're not powerful enough," Dervish tells her.

"Maybe it's just a matter of knowing the right spells," Juni suggests.

"I don't think so," he says. "If that was the case, Bartholomew Garadex would have discovered them. He was dogged in his determination to end the curse but he got nowhere by himself. It takes a demon master to overturn the spell."

"But-"

"No," Dervish insists. "Bartholomew was the world's most powerful magician of the last couple of centuries. If he wasn't able to do it, none of us can. We'd be wasting our time if we went down that avenue."

"What if we tried Lord Loss?" she asks. "Maybe you're wrong about him not accepting the chess challenge again."

"No," Dervish laughs shortly. "That isn't an option."

"But if he's the only one who can turn Grubbs back..." Juni persists.

"It's not an option," Dervish says again. Firmly. End of discussion.

I'm enjoying my time alone with Juni. She's different than when she was merely counselling me. Magic is her thing, what really interests her. She's more open when we're talking about spells and demons. She lets her guard down and stops treating me like a patient. Sometimes it seems we talk more about her and magic than we do about me and my problems, but that's fine. She still sees Bill-E and some of my friends in her professional capacity, but not as much as before. She's due to finish at our school at the end of the week. Misery's not returning but he's being replaced by another counsellor. Juni's done what she set out to. Time to move on to another job, another challenge. But she's not thinking about that until after the weekend. First she wants to see what happens to me when the full moon rises.

Thursday. Testing for magical potential again. In the TV room. Dervish is in the kitchen, keeping out of the way. Juni's trying something new. Up to this point she's probed carefully, gently, just scratching the surface. Tonight she wants to go deeper.

"Relax," she says, standing behind me as I squat on a stool. "Clear your mind." She puts her hands on my head. "I'm going to provoke you." Her fingers slide to my neck and her nails scratch the flesh there, lightly. "I'm going to pick and poke at your flesh while I jab magically at you. It will be more irritating that way. I'm hoping something will stir within you in response, drive me out and stop me hurting you."

" 'Hurting'?" I repeat uneasily.

"Don't worry." I sense her smile. "I won't really hurt you. Trust me."

She massages my shoulders. At first it's nice but then she digs her thumbs in. Works her way down my arms, pinching, scratching. Nothing too severe. Just irritating, like she said.

She mutters spells while she works. I feel magic seep into me, a weird sensation beneath my skin. It's like having a dead leg, only I'm itchy all over.

Minutes pass. Juni works. Down my back, my chest, my legs. Very prickly now, twitching and jerking, wishing she'd stop, wondering if I should say something or just grit my teeth and bear it. Finally, when I'm on the point of calling it quits, she releases me.

"Nothing," she says, sounding disappointed. She puts a couple of fingers on my left cheek. "You can open your eyes."

As I blink my eyes open, I catch her looking at me. A strange look. As if she thinks I'm lying and disapproves of me. There's even a shade of hostility in it.

"It was definitely there before," I tell her as she takes her fingers away.

"I'm sure it was," she says, the suspicious look disappearing.

"Maybe it'll come back tomorrow or the next night. When the moon..." I nod towards the window, where the curtains keep out the light of the almost full globe.

"Perhaps," she says. "Magic is certainly affected by lunar movements. Most mages experience a surge of extra energy around the time of a full moon. But it's strange for you not to be showing any signs."

She sits beside me. Brings a hand up and ruffles my hair. Smiles fondly, then whispers, "Tell me your secret. The thing you won't talk to Dervish about. I haven't asked before and I won't ask again if you don't answer. But I think you want to reveal it."

Mouth dry. Heart beating hard. I wasn't going to tell her. I meant to keep it secret. But now that she's asked, I realise she's right. I want to share it with her. Hell, I'm suddenly longing to spill the beans.

"He called the Lambs," I croak.

"Lambs?" she frown. "What have sheep to do with this?"

"No. Family executioners. The Lambs. When one of us turns... if the parents can't bear to keep them alive, but can't kill them by themselves, the Lambs do it."

"Ah. I remember. The dream in Slawter. Their laboratory." Her frown deepens. "You think Dervish summoned them? That he's plotting against you?"

"Not plotting," I mutter. "But if I turn and he can't control me, I think he wants them to kill me. He said he was going to ask a magician for help, but he didn't. He called in the Lambs instead. And that's... y'know... not fine, but I know why he did it. I just wish he'd waited. Or told me he was summoning them."

"He hasn't told you?"

"No."

"Then how do you know?"

I explain about his conversation on the phone, the black folder, the tramp. She asks me to describe the tramp but I can only give her a very general description.

"You're certain he's a lamb?" she asks dubiously.

"Pretty sure."

"He never said?"

"No. But he's been hounding me. I've seen him outside this house. And at the cave." We've told her about the cave, how Loch really died. Dervish took her there to get a sense of it. One magical whiff of the place and she agreed he'd done the right thing, that it needed to be hidden from the world. "Why would he be following me if he wasn't one of the Lambs?" I ask.

"There are all sorts of people in the world," Juni says. "Some follow boys for dark-but very human-reasons."

"I know." I shift uncomfortably. "But it'd be an awful coincidence, this tramp taking an interest in me at this precise time."

"I sometimes think the world runs on coincidences." Juni pats my hand. "Don't worry about the tramp. I'll keep an eye out for him. And I'll do a bit of work on Dervish and find out if he really contacted the Lambs."

"You won't tell him what I said, will you?" I ask, alarmed, not wanting him to think I've been bad-mouthing him behind his back.

"I'll be discreet," Juni vows and gets up to leave.

"Juni," I stop her. "When you find out... if he did call them in... will you tell me the truth?"

A long pause. Then, "Do you really want to know?"

"Yes."

"You can handle it if he did?"

"Yes."

She smiles and touches my cheek again. "You're so brave," she whispers, then draws the fingers away. "I'll tell you what I find out. I promise. No lies. You can trust me always, Grubbs, about everything-even if you can't trust Dervish."

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