• Thunder ripped through the sky as rain pitter-pattered against the glass of the boarding house windows, mixing gently with the voices of socializing students. The heater had been turned up a bit for the situation, since the temperature had dropped rather uncomfortably with the arrival of the storm. As an extra treat, the school cooks had managed to whip up a batch of hot chocolate and were now passing them out to children from a little hastily thrown-together booth by the main entrance.

    I myself was curled up comfortably on a posh red love seat in the main living area, my own mug of hot chocolate carefully set on the nearby coffee table, steam curling whimsically in the air. I had managed to swing by the library and pick up a book on runic scripture just before the first mist had started to fall, and was currently deep in trying to decipher the rather scientific-y sounding language….

    'Due to a combination of Olden Scandinavian culture being a mostly oral tradition, and the hasty and rather brutal Christianization of the area that was common to the Dark Ages, many original runic writings have either been lost or tampered with. It hasn't been until recently that extensive research by archaeologists and linguistic…'

    From the fragment I gave you, it may not seem like much, but it got worse, so much worse. Rather than getting into the runes' meaning themselves, first the authors had felt a burning need to go on, and on, about the details of where they've found rune rocks, and what tools they'd used to dig them up, and how they knew they were rune rocks, and how they tagged the rune rocks, and how they dated the rune rocks…. Sure, this would have been very interesting and all if I was looking to write an essay the various ways to chip off bits of stone in order to find out just how many bajillions of years ago they were from, but that just wasn't the case.

    I carefully unbuttoned the chest pocket on my school uniform and pulled out my own rune, studying the rock it was carved into carefully, as if everything the book said would suddenly make me rush into complete, total understanding and realization of my finding just by staring at it and waiting.

    No such luck.

    Ugh. I wished Michael was here. He'd be able to explain this stuff in a way that didn't sound quite as… boring. I hadn't been able to find him among the immediate crowd, and personally didn't feel like going through the trouble of searching the entire boarding house top to bottom for him just so he could explain a book that probably read like children's literature to him. Earlier, Luke had seemed to know a bit about runes too, but I was just plain pissed off at him right now, so he was out too.

    If only…

    "Hi Theo," said a familiar voice.

    I looked up and saw the girl from the club sign-up area standing in front of me, the one who had been carrying the papers, smiling at me.

    "Oh, hey," I said, admittedly surprised. "Good to see you… um…" I realized I had never gotten her name.

    "Sandra," she filled in, as if reading my mind.

    "Right, Sandra. Nice name!"

    "What are you doing?"

    Quickly, I slipped the rune into my pants pocket. For some reason, I was still feeling rather secretive about it… probably I was worried I could get in trouble for tampering with school property or something.

    "Oh, I was kind of trying to read up on the history of the school, and country in general. You know, when in Rome and all that…" I said. It wasn't technically a lie, but it wasn't exactly the whole truth either.

    "Well that's great," said Sandra, "I heard you're from America, so I guess it helps."


    There was silence for a while, making things pretty awkward, at least for me. Sandra seemed nice and all, but I was starting to sort of wish she would just go away. Nothing personal, but I could still hear Luke's mocking voice in my head whenever I looked at her.

    "Are you okay?" she finally spilled.

    "Excuse me?" I said. I hadn't been expecting that. "If you mean am I okay with moving here, than yeah, I guess, I mean it was a little shocking at first but…"

    "Not that," she admitted, "I mean about everything, and everyone, and how they're… talking, about you."

    What? No. Theo can't process. What was she talking about? People talking about me? Since when?

    "Huh?" I exclaimed, surprised. "What do you mean?"

    "Well… you aren't exactly very popular around here so far."

    Now don't get me wrong, I never cared much for social standing, especially high school social standing. That could be more brutal than the jungle food chain, so I was always sure to stay out of all the ridiculous drama people created for themselves. None the less, something told me Sandra wasn't referring to the definition of "popular" as described in Mean Girls. She meant that people genuinely did not like me around here.

    "Really, why not?" I asked, not thinking I had done anything to earn scorn.

    "Well," she started, "You started off your year as the lost new kid, have thus gotten into two fights, each with two of the more well-standing students here, but despite this our toughest hall monitor seems to favor you, not to mention the Head Master who has never called you in for your actions… oh yes, and you seem to always hang out with Luke Eldr, who was never exactly a favorite around here to begin with."

    Oh. Oh my.

    Sandra blushed a bit, rubbed the back of her head, and gave a sheepish frown. "When I talked to you though, you didn't seem like a jerk. So I figured I'd, you know, check up on you, see how things were going."

    "Jeeze, I guess I didn't really notice how I was acting…" I copied her head-rubbing gesture, "Wow, I'm so sorry! I honestly didn't mean to be so, so…"

    "… Skunk-headish?"

    There was another moment of silence. Then we both broke out into laughter.

    My shoulders were shaking and tears welled up in my eyes as all the gloom and doom from the situation just flew away. Sandra calmed down before than me, and wiped her own laughter tears from her eyes.

    "It's, it's not even that funny!" she said between giggles, "It's actually kind of stupid!"

    "I know," I said, "But it's just the timing of the whole thing!"

    "So you're alright?" She smiled, satisfied.

    "I'm alright." I smiled back.

    She then cheerfully held out a fist to me, and after regarding it for a moment, I grinned and lightly bumped my own fist against it. I didn't know girls bro-fisted too! This gal was awesome.

    "Well I've got to go meet up with my brother now, see you around?" said Sandra.

    "See you around!" I responded. Most definitely.

    As she walked away, I realized it was getting pretty late, or at least I was getting pretty tired. All the other kids seemed to be getting along just fine, but then again, they were teenagers… I on the other hand, had next to nothing to do (I had temporarily given up on the rune book), and the shockingly black sky the storm had produced was tricking my inner sleep pattern detector. With that, I packed up my book, mug, made sure the rune was still in my pocket, and headed back to my dorm.

    After all that happened at this school, you would think I shouldn't have been stirred by any more odd surprises. But alas, surprise, surprise! There was Luke sitting in the middle of a pentagram on the floor with the lights turned off, strategically placed candles being the only source of illumination. He was in some kind of meditation position, and had this strange bandana covered in black etched symbols tied around his forehead, looking interestingly peaceful among the tattered remains of his tissue-dolls and discarded thumb tacks.

    "What the hell are you doing?" I demanded.

    He opened one eye and regarded me, then smiled tranquilly. "Ah, Theo, you're home. Good. I was starting to get worried about you, what with this awful storm out and all," he said with calm in his voice, like some uber-Zen yoga sensei.

    "I repeat. What are you DOING, you crazy ginger?!"

    Luke winced, "Oh, Theo-san, you do wound me with the spice-name. And here I was going to make you a cake…." Here he winked and flashed a three-cornered smile up at me.

    "Ugh…" I face palmed hard, "I don't even want to understand that last part, I'm going to bed."

    I flopped on my bed and began to undo my shoes, while Luke carefully put out his candles one by one with one of those old-fashioned fire-smothering tools, with the little bell-shaped thing attached to a metal stick. A whispery vapor rose and curled into the air after each flame died, which he carefully took in the site of every time, before gently gathering up his precious candles into a wooden box, and closing them up in his drawer. By that time, I had already changed into my pajamas, curled up under the comforter I brought from home and was attempting to lull myself to sleep, when he piped up again.

    "Are you angry with me?" It was a genuine question, spoken softer than anything I'd ever heard him say.

    I grumbled. "What do you think?"

    "I think you are."

    "Well there you go!"

    "I don't want you to be mad at me."

    "Jee, why not?" I sat up, "Hmm, Luke? Just why shouldn't I be a little ticked that you deliberately mortified me in front of the entire gymnasium? People talk, you know! Being new is hard enough without you, you… oh, you know what you did! I shouldn't even have to explain it to you!" I performed the classic, flop-roll-cover up-angrily maneuver.

    "It wasn't supposed to get that far…" he said, making that kind of pained sound people do when they remember something really, really stupid they did. "But yeah, I suppose you're right, mate. It was a bit of kick while you were down. I'm sorry."

    I was silent for a few seconds before breathing a sigh, deciding that he did, in fact, sound fairly sorry. "It's alright, man. Just… cool it sometimes, 'kay? Pranks are cool and all, but sometimes you just go overboard…"

    "Alas, it is a curse!" said Luke dramatically, waving his hand, the spark of mischief back in his eyes.

    "Uh huh," I snuggled under the nice cool sheets, "Just be sure to- ACK!"

    The kid flopped on me. Just let gravity pull him straight down on me like I was a trampoline.

    "Jee wilikers, thanks for bein' mah pal, Theo!" he said in a mock 1950's American boy accent, giving me a through-the-blanket hug. Clearly the little sorry boy had crawled back into whatever alternate dimension he'd popped out of, and returned my good ol' pest of a Luke back to me. Goodie.

    "Ah, twas nothun' mista!" I shot back, imitating a Victorian English boy, "Naw have ye seen mah puppy, he's 'ate for tea he is!"

    "Ha!" laughed Luke, "You do have a feisty side. There may be hope for you yet, Toovson!"

    And with that, he finally plopped himself into his own bed and gave me a casual, "'Night!" before putting his ear buds and digging his way into the covers. How anyone could find Rise Against music a suitable choice of lullaby, I would never know, nor would I care. I relaxed myself by staring up at the collection of baseball cards pinned to my side of the wall, illuminated by moonlight, allowing myself to be soothed by the nostalgia they brought on. I fell asleep.


    It was cold. That was the first thing I noticed about this dream. The other was that I could sufficiently see in this one, and found myself stranded in snowy tundra, white plains stretching as far as the eye could see, the sky itself only a shade from falling from its lovely blue to just becoming one more part of the terrain. The wind cut into my cheeks, and I pulled my cloak to cover it.


    I quickly spun around and was awed by my sudden new outfit change. It looked old fashioned… very old fashioned. Like ancient fashioned. I wasn't an expert on olden day clothes, but I guessed that most of it was either woven from hunter's game or farmed cloth material, died a very lovely springtime green, and covered by a rather heavy brown cloak. There were thick, furry boots set upon my feet, and when I moved, there was the tiny jingling of little accessories set in-between my warm layers. It was altogether quite a bit heavier than my usual wear, but quite cozy considering the environment.

    "Whoa," my voice echoed through the mountains, "I didn't know I could dream up this." The last "this" hung in the air, repeating itself five more times before vanishing. Clutching the neck of my cloak, I slowly turned around in a little circle, continuing to survey my surroundings.

    Something was a bit… off, about the whole thing. I knew little about the science of dreams, but knew enough to know that one couldn't dream up of something extremely detailed that they had no pre-conceived notion of… like these clothes. They looked like something pulled straight from a Renaissance or Medieval fair or something, of which I had never actually been to, nor had I ever taken the time to look through history books about what people used to wear from ye oden days. No, I had only a very vague caricature of what ancient clothing like this looked like, whereas the things I saw with my own eyes looked to be made by a professional.

    Ah well, when in Rome. Or rather, when in Theo's dream.

    Grabbing the edges of my cloak, I swirled around on one foot before falling and plopping back first into the snow, staring upward as the breeze began to settle down, and the faint glow of the sun slowly seemed to fade back into existence after being gone for some time. I cupped my hands around the shape of the big white ball in the sky, feeling like a tame child, letting the serenity of my dream overtake me. Everything felt so real. From the snow crunching under my body and scraping up my cheeks, to the heavy weight of my boots thumping against the ground as I lifted them up and down childishly. Usually my dreams were strange and surreal, often with no real intelligible basis to them, but this… this felt like a normal winter day spent back at home when I was nine years old.

    Well, you know… minus the weird clothes and exotically icy landscape, it'd be normal.

    "Caw!" A fuzzy drift suddenly tickled my face, and I swiped at the thing in surprise. Once I sat up and snapped out of my tranquil state of mind, I could clearly see what had caused the disturbance: a black feather.

    Oh no. Right there and then, I expected the world to shatter and twist itself into a ghoulish nightmare, and I braced myself for a violent impact. But strangely enough, nothing happened, and after waiting anxiously for a few moments, I opened my eyes again, finding everything to be exactly the same as it was before.

    "Theo…" a voice whispered. It seemed to carry a wind of its own, and it sent goose bumps crawling up my neck that my cloak couldn't possibly protect against.

    At the sound of my name I clumsily turned myself around looked upward at one of the snowy hills. Perched on the top was a very tall figure, dark clothing clear against the white, and standing as still and silent as a stone statue.

    For a moment I regarded him, before shouting up. "Hey!"

    No response, he stayed still atop the hill, only moving to stretch a cloaked arm out to one of the black birds for it to land on, its little friend finding a place on what I judged to be the guy's shoulder.

    "HEY!" I cried again, this time louder and with more frustration. So they were his birds, eh? Well, I had more than a few complaints to dish out to the lovely pet owner, and I nearly slipped trying to get the footing to begin climbing up the hill.

    His head turned and stared at me for a moment, before slowly taking his birds and walking down the other side of the hill.

    "Wait you!" I raced my way up my side of the hill, which was no easy task what with the deep, thick snow piled high on an apparently already steep slope. "Don't you run away from me, I've got a few questions for you!"

    So I was more than a bit flustered and angry, but those birds had been nipping and pecking at the edge of my sanity ever since I arrived at High Seas, and now was my only opportunity to demand answers from someone, anyone. It was getting even harder to keep my balance on the hill, and a few times I was reduced to using all four of my limbs to get a grip, which in my rush resulted in me falling face-flat into the chilly white more times than I'd care to divulge.

    After spitting out and partially swallowing another mouth full of snow, I sucked in a deep breath and shouted up with all the power my lungs had to offer. "HEY!"

    The "HEY!" flew and bounced excitedly through the air, before dissipating and giving way to a new, slow and steady rumbling sound that shook the ground itself. My entire body froze, as I dared to hope against hope that I couldn't, not possibly, not in my own dream….

    A white wall of terror suddenly began to roll and curve, growing bigger as it rushed down at me like a full-piston locomotive. It stretched as far I could see on each side, so it was clear I had nowhere to run but down, and as fight or flight took over, I had absolutely no qualms with that. Taking a stop-drop-and-roll down the first stretch of the hill, I clambered up as fast I could and just ran, willing the gravity to pull me down faster while at the same time trying not to tumble head first… if that happened, I'd be buried.

    I had been desperately running as fast I could manage, but eventually a powerful weight slammed into my back and winded me. For a few moments everything went black, but then I saw little drifts of light coming and going at varying degrees, and realized that I was rolling with the snow. At that moment I remembered a bit of a conversation with Michael while watching a Mount Everest documentary during a class, something about trying to swim with the snow if ever caught in an avalanche, so I tried to do just that with little success. Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, I felt the snow settle down around me and all was calm.

    Slowly, I opened my eyes and waited for the world to stop spinning. Soon everything settled, and I tried to wiggle my way out the snow… but I couldn't. Panic jolted me back to my full senses, and with horror I realized that half my vision was covered by the snow line; the avalanche had buried me from my feet to just below my lips, leaving just behind my head and forearms on the surface. I tried to kick my way upward, but that obviously wasn't happening.

    "I'd really like to wake up now…" I groaned.

    I did not. The world stayed put, me along with it.

    "Come on… please…"

    It was cold… so very cold… even my heavy-duty warming gear couldn't protect against being submerged in the snow like I currently was. The uncanny realism of the dream had turned against me as I began to feel very real terror at the possibility of freezing here to… what, death? Could you die in a dream? Was… was this even a dream..?


    Looking up, I saw those stupid birds flying above and circling me, cawing loudly. I sighed shakily, and closed my eyes, trying to will them away… I had no idea what they would do to me, but the deep pit in my stomach didn't think it'd be good. Could this get anymore horrific?

    In the distance, I heard the howls of wolves.


    I struggled even more, having no desire to be slowly torn apart and eaten, but the freezing cold had already taken a toll on my motor skills, and it was getting harder and harder to move my limbs.

    "Help!" I yelled, desperate for some kind of miracle. "Please, help me!"

    Too late, I already saw the two gray, canine forms sliding and running down a nearby white slope right towards me.

    "BOO!" I tried yelling at them, "SHOO! SHOO! GET AWAY!" Wolves were scared by loud noises, right? Or was that big cats…? Or was it appearing big yourself?! I didn't know! What the hell! I was going to be eaten alive in a few moments and there was nothing I could do about it!

    Finally the wolves arrived, and I could feel their hot breath on my face as they sniffed by head and hair. One of them threw its head back and howled again, probably calling for company to dinner. The two of them were huger than any other wolves I'd ever seen, and even if by some miracle I did manage to get away, I wasn't sure if I'd have the strength of speed to get away from them. Oh god, here it came, oh god, oh god, oh god….

    They whined and licked my face, then proceeded to dig diligently with their powerful paws into the snow around me. Taking turns, one would dig while the other would slobber affectionately all over my face, which while totally gross, actually did help to un-numb my face. This didn't seem like the kind of, "mmm, just tasting out the food," licking, it was more like… puppy licking, like a dog happy to see a human family member.

    Soon they stopped digging, and one gave me light, non-menacing barks while the other bit gently at the back of my cloak and pulled at it with a growl. I tried to move my legs, and found that the snow was now shallow enough for me to easily to dislodge them, which I promptly did. I was free.

    "Whoa…" I said, looking back and forth between them. "Thanks…."

    Call me crazy, delusional from the cold, or just plain dreaming, but I could have sworn that they actually nodded, like they understood my gratitude. They then whined lovingly even more, covering me in happy doggy kisses, which I laughed off and lightly pushed away. These two weren't so bad… but it was rather strange… they acted like they knew me, though I could pretty safely say that I had never any experience with pet wolves, nor did I think that wolves were like regular dogs in that they just automatically just love any stray human they came across. The wolf was a hunter, not a familiar, yet they had helped me rather than killing me, though I had been such easy prey… why?

    Suddenly they both stopped, and snapped up their heads attentively before running off a short distance away from me. I looked up, and saw the tall, dark figure less than fifteen feet away and approaching closer. The birds cawed and flapped about him, resting gently on his head and shoulders, as the wolves ran up to him cheerfully to receive pleased pats on their heads.

    He mumbled something in a language I didn't understand to the wolves, from the tone and their happy reaction I guessed it was probably an affirmation of job well done. So… they were his birds, and his wolves? And he had ordered them to actually save me?

    I froze for a moment, before gathering up my courage and voice. "Who are you…?"