The Orache Stone whispered softly to Kidder. “You would dominate all around you,” it said. “They would kneel at your feet, obey your every whim.”
“I don’t want that,” Kidder said, reacting before he could stop himself. The thought of his friends kneeling in front of him made him feel queasy. A sisterly hug from Carli or a fatherly clasp of his shoulder from Bron would mean far more.
“You wouldn’t?” The seductive tones of the Orache Stone were suddenly more surprised than seductive.
“You got it right the first time,” Kidder said. “I should be helping. But I don’t want to tell people what to do. What if I get it wrong?”
“How could you get it wrong with me leading you?” The Orache Stone whispered.
Kidder regretted letting his guard down. “Well, what do you know about looking after people?” he asked.
“I give them power,” the Orache Stone said. “I can give glory.”
“But that’s not really looking after people,” Kidder said. “It means cheering people up and making them happy as well as protecting them.”
“But isn’t being powerful the same as being happy?” the Orache Stone whispered. “Think about when you were last truly happy.”
Kidder fought to keep his face blank and his posture still, but a brief wave of longing ran through him at a memory. Gareth and Bron had been arguing about how to play cards after Darren had beaten them in a game of Old Maid. Mortimer had brought in a tray with all the good things on it and Carli had started pouring the tea. Sir Philip and Jasmine laughed at the argument as a fire flickered in the hearth. There had been a sense of deep friendship around the warm room and even Mortimer had been relaxed as they had tucked into miniature bacon and egg pies with crumpets and warm apple cake and custard to follow.
“That does not look familiar,” the Orache Stone said.
Kidder felt the echo of the stone’s emotion. He’d known it too much as a young stray. It was lonely and hurting and rejected and yearning for that feeling of belonging. “Are you a person?” he asked.
“I’m a stone,” it replied condescendingly.
“Not really,” Kidder said. “I mean, I suppose your in a stone or part of a stone or from a stone, but you’re not just a stone, are you? You have feelings.”
“No!” the Orache Stone snapped.
“I think I’ll call you Yvonne,” Kidder said. “So, Yvonne, what do you want?”
“No!” Yvonne said. “You can’t ask questions like that.”
“Why not?” Kidder asked. “I’m being reasonable. You’re trying to take me over. If you do that, then I’ll go mad and die. Why? And what do you get out of it?”
“Shut up!” Yvonne snapped back. “Stop it!”
“You’re like a stalker, aren’t you? Kidder said. “You need to control your owner. You need to be needed. You give all that power just to try and take a person over.”
“No!” Yvonne said. There was a long, strained silence broken only by the pattering of rain on the tiny cellar window. “What is the choice?”
“What do you want?” Kidder asked. The conversation was a mistake, but it was also fascinating.
“You should want me,” Yvonne said slowly.
“But you saw my happiest memory,” Kidder said. “Do you want that? That friendship?”
“It is a sort of desire,” Yvonne said. “The desire to be kind with each other.” There was confusion in its voice. “But where is the power? How can I belong without power?”
“So you trade power in return for being needed,” Kidder said. “But you kill those who have you. Mark’s dead, isn’t he?”
“He didn’t really want me,” Yvonne said bitterly. “He wanted little power, just for his wife.”
“I don’t want you,” Kidder said. “I don’t want to go mad and die.”
“And you don’t want power,” Yvonne said, her tone overflowing with confusion.
“Not like that,” Kidder said. “I want family.”
“I can’t have a family,” Yvonne whispered. “But I can have obsession.” Kidder flinched as the full force of the stone’s power hit him. “You should be obsessed with me.”
“No,” Kidder gasped. “I won’t. I want friends.”
The silence was louder now, the tapping of the raindrops on the small pane of glass echoed around the cellar like a soldier’s drum. “There is no such thing as friends,” Yvonne said, its voice thick with emotion. “There are allies and enemies.”
Kidder went to fur to get a clearer sense of the sounds. “Are you crying?” he asked incredulously.
“That room,” Yvonne said. “Those people. That kindness. I want it. How do I make that happen for me?”
“You can’t force it,” Kidder said. “You can’t force people to like you or love you. And it’s not always like that.” He frowned. “You can read my mind?”
“At least the surface of it,” Yvonne said. “I can manage to see images.” There was a slight pause. “I can look deeper if I have to but…”
“It wouldn’t feel good, would it?” Kidder said. “If you forced deeper then we couldn’t talk like this.” Again he flinched at the pang of emotion surging from the stone. “Does anyone talk to you?” He waited for Yvonne’s answer, but after a long, uncomfortable silence, shrugged. “I’ll show you the harder bits.”
Kidder could sense the unease as he tried to remember the awkward parts of living with a paladin and a brownie. He remembered Mortimer having a screaming fit because the chimney in the living room had become blocked and then dislodged with soot all over the newly cleaned carpet. He remembered the fear as Sir Philip had been carried in after a bad fight and how he and Jasmine had spent most of the night checking on him. He remembered the worry as Darren had been swaying with exhaustion as he drove out another dark spirit. He remembered the argument with Rhys, the nerves of trying to fit in with the people at the mill and the terror of being rejected and thrown out like he had been before.
“You could force them to like you,” Yvonne said softly.
“No,” Kidder said. “I could perhaps make them respect me. I could certainly make them fear me. I couldn’t get friends by power.”
“Why did you call me Yvonne?” it asked.
Kidder grinned. “I’ve always liked the name,” he said. “But I don’t know anyone called that.”
“It’s the name of a female,” Yvonne said. “Do you desire a female?”
Kidder blushed to the roots of his hair. “Well, yes, but you can’t force it,” he said. “I mean, if it’s going to be worth it. You need to be something more. Do you know how Mark felt about Claire?”
Yvonne sighed. “I could see quite a lot of his love for Claire,” it said. “It was desperation. He felt that she made him safe and kept him on the right path. He feared that without her, he would be nothing. He was not wrong.”
“I don’t want that,” Kidder said. “But sometimes when I see Carli and Gareth together, and they seem so relaxed and working it all out. Or I see Darren and Jasmine and she just glows with happiness when Darren walks in. I’d like that.” He looked directly at the stone on its plinth. “You can’t force that.”
“I’m sure that there are ways,” Yvonne said. “So you like the name Yvonne?”
“Yes, I’ve always liked the name,” Kidder said. “And you can’t force me to like you.” He flinched back as pain spiked from the stone. “But you could be a friend.”
“Is this manipulation?” Yvonne asked.
“Probably,” Kidder said. “I don’t know. Do you like Edragor? He’s the one who really wants your power. Perhaps you should link to him.”
“He’s too scared of me,” Yvonne said scornfully. “He would use others like a tool.” It paused for a moment. “My owners have done bad things,” it whispered.
“Yes,” Kidder said. “You were with Fang when he left me for dead.” There was another long silence.
“I’m sorry,” Yvonne said.
“It’s okay,” Kidder said. “It wasn’t really you. To be fair, it wasn’t really Fang either. It was the whole mess of how you were together.”
“I remember,” Yvonne said, its voice barely above a breath. “It must have hurt.”
“Yeah,” Kidder said with a grimace. “But that’s when I ended up with the paladin and my friends.”
“But you were friends with Fang,” Yvonne said slowly. “And he knew that you should be protected. Fang knew that you wanted to do the right thing.” It paused. “And the fear of being attacked, the fear of being weak drove him to attack you.”
“I don’t want that,” Kidder said.
“Edragor wants bad things,” Yvonne said, its voice still a soft whisper. “He wants power and is indifferent to others. He doesn’t crave friendship.”
“He seems half mad already,” Kidder said.
“It’s a different type of madness,” Yvonne said. “They have all been mad, in their ways,” she added softly. “Right from the start. There was a madness craving power. That’s what I remember at the start. The hunger for power was a desperation.” Its voice rang with sorrow. “Fang was mad. His mind was wandering through drink and other things. He was desperate and feared being challenged.”
“I remember,” Kidder said.
“Mark was already deep in his madness,” Yvonne continued. “His madness was his obsession with Claire and his fear of failing and being a monster. He was far gone before I even touched him.”
“He had good friends and a loyal pack,” Kidder said. “He should have trusted them.”
“He feared them,” Yvonne said sadly. Her tone changed. “But your fear is different.”
Kidder shook his head. The conversation was spiralling in directions he couldn’t expect. “Are you manipulating me?” he asked.
“I don’t know how,” Yvonne said. “Please…”
Kidder could feel the ache of loneliness in its voice. “If you promise something, will you stick to it?” he asked.
“I was made by the elfen,” Yvonne said. “I have to keep my word.”
“Are you as tricky as the elfen?” Kidder asked. “If you give your word, will you keep to the spirit of it, the intention of the words? Or will you twist it?”
Yvonne hesitated. “If you promise me something, will you keep your word?” it asked. “You’re a werewolf. You could lie.”
“Trust is hard,” Kidder said. “You can’t force it. But why don’t we try. Let’s make a deal.”
You can read the story from the beginning here