Some people talk about the universe having it out for them. I talk about the universe having nothing out for me. I don't get jerked around by politics and the powers the way some people do. I've always been the shadow in the corner, or the annoying buzzing in your ear. For years I was very bitter about this. Not anymore.
I've watched my brother on the throne for seven years. He has not had an easy reign. First, he does something as stupid as cross both Mandor and my mother. Then he fires ninety percent of his court and plugs the holes with a bunch of brown nosers. Had I still hated him, I would have died long ago from gales of laughter. Now... I feel sorry for him.
It had been ages since I had visited the main house of Sawallways. Lately mom had been on one of her more ambitious kicks, and it was better for me if I tried to keep a low profile. Chance encounters tended to turn me into an errand boy. I don't remember why I was there that particular day, but mom seemed to had calmed down somewhat, and was even being pleasant enough to make me a sandwich (conjured just doesn't taste the same).
She moved about the kitchen, and I noticed she had lost a certain grace to her step. I also noticed she had gotten a bit more bulky, which is very unusual for shape shifters. She caught me eyeing her and raised an eyebrow.
"Anything on your mind?"
I averted my eyes quickly. "Oh no. Not really. You just look a bit... different."
She returned to the sandwich. "Well, that's generally what happens when one's expecting."
I stared at her in disbelief. She had said it as easily as she might have talked about the weather. That was her way. To say the most monumental of things as if they were just another mote in her life.
"You?! You're pregnant? How?"
"The usual way, dear. I haven't found any other means."
"But... aren't you a bit-" She turned, daring me with her eyes to say 'old.' "-busy for that sort of thing?"
"I didn't know you were so concerned about social life, Jurt. But it's unwarranted, I assure you. After all, I wasn't too busy to have you or your brothers, was I?"
I glared. "Why are you doing this?"
She sighed. "Is this your new hobby? I think I preferred you being at odds with Merlin."
"I mean it! You didn't have a single one of us without some other plot in mind! You had Merlin so you could have the spawn of some Amberites, and Despil so you could lay claim to my fathers house with an heir. I guess I got the job of being the back up if either of them panned out. So what do you have in plan for this little brat?" Her eyes flared, and I immediately regretted the outburst.
She regained her composure, though. "I have nothing planned for this child. It wasn't my idea, if you must know. It was your fathers."
"Why would he want another child? He's got three adult ones."
"Adult? Excepting Mandor, I could debate that. But you all are older now, I'll give you that. People tend to want odd things in the winters of their days."
My temper quieted. "Winter? What do you mean?"
She turned and handed me my sandwich, her face a mask of ambiguity. "Your father is not well, Jurt. He grows weaker turning by turning, and he wishes for something new before he leaves. I understand it's a common quirk with the ailing." She walked out of the room. In my shock, I didn't follow, but simply sat, trying to control my stomach.
She gave birth several months later, with Mandor, Despil, Merlin and myself sitting a few rooms down. Mandor auspiciously sat between Merlin and I. No funny business on our siblings birth day. Not that I was planning any, but Mandor is the careful type.
A nurse came in carrying a small bundle in her arms. It moved, and the flap covering its face fell. The younger three of us gasped.
After regaining my composure, I quipped, "Look, Despil, we asked for a little brother and got a puppy." Merlin and Despil glared a bit, but they were too shocked to go any further. Our little sibling wasn't human in the least. It had fur covering its entire body, overly large ears, and small, leathery wings. Its hands already had claws, though still soft, and its gums showed where he would grow fangs, not normal teeth. His eyes were the most disturbing of all. Large, and pupilless, the color of butterscotch. He stared at us, then moved back into his blanket.
A voice wafted in. "You boys are too young to remember..." A shrunken little dwarf of a man shuffled in, and peered into the mess of blankets in the nurse's arms. "This is how it used to be. No one used to be human at birth." He smiled, and somewhere in the blanket, something cooed. "That was back before shadows and all that Amber mess. We used to get wonderful monsters back then." He chuckled.
Mandor bowed slightly. "Suhuy. You honor us and our new brother."
Suhuy chuckled again. "Brother? Oh no, little nephews. This one's a girl."
Staying in Sawallways became much more interesting. Because of Ryoden's form, keeping a nanny was not an easy job. After losing the second in a week due to Ryoden accidentally severing a nurse's hand, my mother raised a demon to watch after her. Needless to say, we all kept in our tougher demon forms around her. Affection from a toddler with razor sharp teeth and nails is hell.
After a few months, it became apparent that Ryoden's oddities went further than her looks. She was fast to walk, but not to speak. She often chose not to make any noise if she could help it. We found out that her form just wasn't capable of language. Only high pitched screams and clicking. She was also put together oddly. Sometimes she could walk like a normal person, but suddenly a few joints would pop and she would be off on all fours (this made her very, very fast). Despil tried to study how she did it without shape shifting, but she wouldn't sit long enough.
Her affection for the lot of us was overpowering. She hated to play alone, and always seemed to be able to track one of us down. We did a lot of sister-juggling in those days. Despil and I cursed Mandor for having his own ways. All the energy she took kept me from being too upset about being deposed as the baby (not that I loved the position all that much). Our mother made sure she kept friendly with her, but didn't do what I would consider mothering. It was our father, Lord Sawall that really gave her the parenting she needed. He had been interested in Despil and I, but with her... I don't know. I wanted to say that he loved her more, but by then the game had worn thin.
After a while, I had to admit my mother had not been lying about my father. I realized the stiff and formal way he had moved for years was to mask a hoard of aches and pains. He kept to his daemon form more, and avoided shifting if he could. One day, I received the Trump.
Mandor stood before me, silent as his card. He simply held his hand out to me. I let him pull me through. We were standing in front of my father's room, where he had been staying as of late. "Talk to him," he said, "Then meet us in the purpling room." He walked away briskly.
I entered the sick room. Immediately, I saw why I had been called. My father lay in his bed, scales barely clinging onto his skin, eyes clouding over as they refused to take shape into iris and pupil. His hair was long gone, and muscles slack and tired. Shifting cancer. His body could no long hold a form, any form. His cells were breaking down.
Oh, God, let me die by blade. Or by fire. Hell, a dump truck. Don't let me die like that.
I bit back my tears (yes. I cried. It was my fucking father, okay?), and took his hand. "Jurt?" he rasped.
"Yes. I had no idea it had gotten so bad..."
"Put not a thought to it, boy. There are other things to worry about..." He coughed, and I saw his chest heave and sputter. For a second I thought it was it, but he recovered. "You think... you're not useful. You think being a king or the head of a house... buys your worth..." He fixed his swirling eyes on me. "You... are needed. I do not care if there is a king of Chaos, or if this house has a head. That... is up to my heirs, and the rest of Chaos. My job is done there." He grimaced. "My job is not done... with the girl. You know how her mother is. Her brothers are busy... too busy to be of help. You... take her. Guide her. Don't let her be like her mother..." He gripped my hand tightly, not a reflex, but a show of some emotion he had never had the words for.
What could I say? "I will, father."
Walking to the purpling room, I head the scream that I knew was Ryoden's. She hadn't used that one in a while, having learned how to shift to human form, but you don't forget something as soul piercing as that. I saw Despil trying to keep her calm, and more importantly, out of our father's room. "Let her go!" I yelled.
Despil looked up from his struggle. "She's trying to go to the sick room."
"Then let her!"
Mandor stood up. "Its inappropriate. She's far to young to..."
I clenched my teeth. "Fuck appropriate! It's death. Not some stupid ceremony where we walk in a line and toss a body in a pit, okay? No matter how much you formalize it, you can't make it better. You can't erase what's happening in there." I pointed back at the sick room. "So let her go, now!"
They stared at me, shocked. I've been known to have my outbursts, but, well, they usually didn't make much sense. Despil let her go, and she ran down the hall. I followed.
In the sick room, she laid curled up by my father, crying. He pet her hair, and whispered to her. I don't know what he said, and to this day, she won't tell me. But finally her sobs subsided, and she sat up and touched his face. He let out a shudder, and I knew he was gone. The shifting in his body stopped, and he was at rest.
I carried her back to the purpling room, and as the odd family we were, we made the necessary arrangements. I was right. It didn't make it better.
From that day on, I was Ryo's keeper. Despil, Jurt, hell, even Mandor and mom deferred to me when it came to her. She and I moved to one of the smaller ways of Sawall to grieve and to heal away from the masses that flock in times of despair. In time, we moved on, and when Merlin took the crown, I started to push her into the courts to make friends. She needs friends.
Mandor stopped by once. He watched Ry playing in the lower fields for a while, then looked at me. "The child is the father to the man."