Chapter Twenty-Six: Crow and Humble Pie

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"Group, we have a visitor. Please, seat yourselves." 

Okay, that's new. I don't ever remember Father Moss being so formal. Maybe he's worried the others will take one look at the still absent Maxx and go screaming out the front door. I know I would if I didn't know any better. 

I totally underestimate them. 

"Maxx, please join us." Father Moss says. 

The bull sized dog steps out of the shadows, his ears pressed to the back of his ginormous head. He's nervous. And if he wasn't the size of a small car, it'd be cute. 

A chorus of "Oooooo..." and "That's a hell-hound!" echo around the sanctuary as everyone, including Noelle, stares at him.

"Is he safe?" Albin asks. His paws are still paws. I wonder if that's a permanent condition. If so, that sucks. 

"You'll have to ask him," Father Moss replies. "His name is Maxx and he came with Isis. He'll only be here a few weeks, so be polite, everyone." 

Albin is the only  one brave enough to actually approach Maxx. "Can I touch you?"

The big dog shakes his head. "I am sorry, but in this form I would burn you beyond recognition. Wait a moment." 

The air bends and in Maxx's place is a beautiful husky with his same golden eyes. "Now you may." 

The half-were smiles. I get the impression it's not something he does a lot of. He stretches his hand out and Maxx strides forward until he's underneath. 

"Where'd you come from?" Albin asks. His tone is almost reverent. "Are there more of you?" I don't know if he expects a reply or not, but the entire church seems to hold its breath for Maxx's answer. 

"I am from Hell." Maxx's voice is dry. "As all hell hounds are. And yes, I do have a pack." 

That starts the whispering. I get the feeling not every half there believes in either Heaven or Hell. I don't really blame them. 

Albin's paw sinks deeper into Maxx's fur. "But what makes you, you?"

The hound cocks his head sideways. "You are very curious."

"My dad's a vet," Albin says. "I guess you could say I was born curious." 

I ooze out of my seat, and shrink backwards, away from the crowd. I know, once they've gotten their fill of Maxx, their attention will turn to me and my empty sleeve. 

"What's with the empty?"

Dear Mother of...I close my eyes, say a small prayer for patience, then open them again. I just don't have it in me to be polite. "What do you want, Noelle?" It's like my brain's completely forgotten I promised Father Moss I'd talk to her. 

She leans toward me. "Look, Father Moss said I need to help you, and so did Daniel. So here I am, ready to help. Now, what's with the empty sleeve?"

I tell her the same thing I told the little boy at KFC. "It was an unfortunate dog walking incident." 

Her eyes immediately fixate on Maxx. "Seriously? And so you brought him here?"

"It was an accident. He's not vicious at all." She raises one eyebrow. "No, I swear. I mean, just look at him."

Noelle swivels to stare at Maxx, who looks as far from vicious as a dog could possibly get; flat on his back, accepting belly rubs. The half-fae laughs. "I see your point," she concedes. 

"So what kind of help do you think you can give me?" 

"I have ties to the community my boyfriend doesn't. I used to be a dancer. I still dance, on occasion. That takes me places. Places your runaway vampire might be." 

"Hold up. Daniel's your boyfriend? He never said anything to me about it." 

"Not everyone advertises their relationships," she says, but the look in her eyes tells me it's pretty much one-sided. "Focus, Isis. As I said, I'm a dancer. I can ask questions; see if anyone's seen anything." 

"You mean you'll help me as long as I stay away from Daniel." 

She stares at me. "That's the deal, yeah." 

I shake my head. "I won't agree to that. If you can't accept my friendship with Daniel, that's your problem, not mine." 

Her eyes begin to glow, but I refuse to back down. "This is ridiculous," I say instead. "Noelle, get your yourself. You can jinx me all you want, but seriously. I'm not staying away from Daniel. He's pretty much the only friend I've got in this place. He likes me and I like him. Deal with it." 

The half-fae's eyes dim back to normal. She looks thoughtful, and not at all inclined to turn my fingers into snakes again. "I don't like you, you know." 

I shrug. "That's okay; I don't like you, either." 

Noellle bites her lip before continuing. "I actually think you and I might be friends someday." She laughs. I can only imagine it's at my dumbfounded expression. "Not today, and not tomorrow. But someday. The truth is, there aren't many halves I like." 

I want to say something sarcastic, but she's making an effort and so should I. The problem is, I have no idea what to say. 

"Why do you live here?" I finally ask. "You look pretty normal; you could get away with living outside." 

"Really? Have you seen my eyes?"

It's weird, having Noelle confide in me. "Just tell everyone you've got contacts. No-one's going to care." 

"You really don't get it. How old do you think I am?"

"I don't know, eighteen?" She certainly doesn't look much older than me, and definitely doesn't act it.

"Not hardly. Add around one hundred years to that guess." 

I blink. "A hundred and eighteen? Really?"

"Fae age very, very slowly. So do witches. That lovely fact leaves me pretty much stuck looking like a teenager for the next hundred years or so. That's not exactly conducive to living a normal life." 

Wow. At least I can move around in the real world. No wonder Noelle's such a...pill. She's right. We might not be friends now, but we're not exactly enemies anymore, either. 

"Noelle, can I steal Isis away from you for a moment?" Father Moss startles me. I'm so involved with my conversation with Noelle, I don't even hear him coming. 

The half-fae shrugs. "Sure, I'm not her keeper."

"Everyone is wondering what happened to your arm," the gargoyle continues, "and how you came to be acquainted with a hell-hound."

I take a deep breath. Regardless of how much the church feels more like home than home does. I don't know if I'm ready to tell every half there my story. But it looks like I don't have much choice. Maybe I'll actually get some friends if I start to confide in people. If nothing else, it'd make my mom worry a little less about me. Luckily, it doesn't take long to tell the story, not with Father Moss and Lydia ensuring there are no interruptions. By the time I finish, saying "and so I brought Maxx here," I'm emotionally worn out. Lydia seems to sense that, because she motions me to follow her. I do. 

"You look flustered," the witch says. "Why don't you take ten minutes in the cemetery? The air will do you good, and I'll make sure you're not bothered by any of the halves." 

I literally trip over a tombstone. When I look down, I notice it's one I've seen before. "What happened to the half-wendigo that's buried here?"

"She was killed by a half. Not all of you are safe to be around other people." Lydia states. "There are rooms below us which house the more dangerous ones." She glares at me. "Do not go down there without express permission and a powerful escort." 

That sounds like a challenge. 

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