The sun shining in her eyes woke Sasha from the best night’s sleep she’d had in what seemed like years. Looking around the unfamiliar, yet comfortable room, she spotted Mariel, just beginning to regain consciousness herself. Slowly reorienting herself as she came fully awake, the events of the last couple of days paraded through her mind like a caricature of people and places, not quite real, but close enough to be disturbing. Having Mariel beside her made the absence of explanations and her temporary–for-who-knew-how-long home seem less like a punishment and more like one of the camping trips they’d shared for as long as she could remember. The personal touches they'd spent the previous day adding did a lot to make this place feel more like a pleasant holiday than the uncertain and frightening imprisonment her imagination could easily conjure based on the whirlwind that had landed her here; a whirlwind named Tess.
Her eyes sparkled as a smile spread slowly across her face when her best friend in the entire world gave her a bleary-eyed look while reorienting herself. She leaped off the bed, wrapped Mariel in a hug and danced her around the cabin with the wild abandon of someone who has been denied the simplest pleasures for too long. Since they’d slept in their clothes, they wasted no time dressing. Sasha dragged Mariel out of the cabin after a quick stop in the small bathroom occupying one corner, which some thoughtful person had provided in case nature made an unwelcome call in the middle of the night. Their new cabin mates must have risen early as they were greeted only be several messy cots when they stepped through their curtained doorway. They ran to the mess hall, the frigid morning air hastening their steps. Reaching the doorway they halted, mid-dash while they surveyed the room.
The mess hall no longer resembled the huge, empty cavern that greeted them when they arrived. It was now nearly full, and they had to look around for a table which still had space for two hungry girls. Apparently, Tess and her friends had been busy while Sasha and Mariel slept. Most of their table mates were teenagers like themselves, as were the majority of the room’s occupants this morning. Conversation was sparse as everyone concentrated on the familiar; consuming eggs, bacon, sausage and French toast from the platters on each table. Most looked shell-shocked, much like Sasha and Mariel had when Tess first dropped them in the clearing.
Whoever was in charge of the kitchen appeared to be familiar with the teenage appetite, especially when it was augmented by crisp, mountain air. As quickly as the platters emptied, they were replaced with new ones, steam rising from food which was hot off the stove, mysteriously appearing on the tables rather than being delivered by a human hand. Though disconcerting to many of the newcomers, so much had happened since Tess made her dramatic appearance, Sasha and Mariel were already becoming desensitized to things for which they would have demanded an explanation not 48 hours earlier. Though they were far from accepting the bizarre world they’d been dragged into, they were no longer sweating the small stuff…and most things were beginning to fall into that category.
As everyone finished their breakfast, a silver wolf, easily topping six feet on his hind legs stood next to the enormous, rock-faced fireplace. He waited silently for the clatter of dishes and utensils to stop and the room to be quiet as one by one, the occupants of the room noted his presence. His bulk was clad in a charcoal grey, three-piece suit with a gold chain stretched between two small pockets in his vest. The slacks were fitted around the great, bushy tail he held as erect as his spine.
Though everyone knew, at least by reputation, who he was, his presence and human-like appearance were enough to command attention from the an audience already stunned and confused by recent events. Given the average age of his audience and their hasty relocation, his appearance set off a series of gasps and whispered comments. The sight of a giant, clothed wolf accompanied by an oversized, also upright house cat just added one more element of strange to a world that had already escaped the boundaries of their collective imagination. Deferring to a cat who was less than half his size was sufficiently astonishing to quell the last of the murmurs.
Sasha noted how Tess stood beside Sebastian, her ears flat against her skull and claws protruding slightly from the ends of her forepaws and felt a twinge of sympathy for Sebastian. His stiff posture said more clearly than words he would have preferred facing a clan of dragons to addressing the group before him. Sasha was quickly learning nobody crossed that infernal cat, making her wonder why Tess wasn’t the one who led the Council.
As the last fork clattered onto a plate and the last voice stilled, Sebastian took a deep breath and looked around the room at the expectant young faces, wondering just how to explain the upheaval that was coming into their lives when he wasn’t even certain himself how far it would go. Tess stood silently at his side, giving him a look which assured him he would find the right words to say what needed to be said, or answer to her. Her eyes, narrowed to slits, warned him not to panic these children who had been far too sheltered by their well-meaning families. The fact that the sheltering was ordered by the Council they were supposed to be able to trust was a discussion for another day, though Sebastian knew Tess’s feelings on the subject had a lot to do with why today’s message had to come from him.
Some of the teenagers were clearly enjoying this unexpected adventure and vacation from school but most were frightened and confused despite the silent efforts of the quickly assembled staff to infuse a sense of calm into the area. He identified the children of the missing Star Guides as those who hunched over with arms clutched to their bellies or wrapped around each ot...