The car's tires barely stopped before Jill jumped from the vehicle and ran up the porch stairs, excited to be home. She went straight to her room where her father promised presents and new clothes for the school year. Plopping on her bed, she unwrapped a new navy blue backpack filled with all the books she needed for school, a new iPad and a few other goodies. She went through the clothes next and frowned. She looked again through the tank tops, shirts and skirts, dumbstruck. Gathering a handful of items, Jill ran downstairs to confront her father. She found him with Vrag and Elyen in the living room. "What the hell is this?" she demanded as she entered the room. She saw her father's face and regretted her choice of words. "Watch your language, and your tone, young lady." "Daddy," she said, as sweetly as she could, "What's wrong with this picture?" She shook the items in her hand to get his attention. "They should fit," Elyen said. "And all the kids are wearing them. I thought you'd like them." "They're, um," Jill stopped, not certain she could say the word. "P-p-pastels. Pink and blue and yellow and nothing black in the bunch." She turned to Elyen next, not wanting to hurt her feelings. "I like them but they're not my color. Can I exchange them for black?" she asked. "I'm afraid not," Tom said as he crossed to her. "You are still in a lot of danger. I thought changing your wardrobe would help hide you from the bad guys. If you look like everyone else, it will be harder for them to find you." He kissed her forehead. "Think of it as camouflage." Jill groaned but nodded. She couldn't argue with his perfect logic. A light flashed out of the corner of her eye. A portal opened and Saal stormed through before it snapped shut. Conversation ceased as Saal paced the floor in an obvious rage. His fists flexed causing his muscles to bunch and twitch. As he stalked around, his appearance altered and shifted. He snarled now through a muzzle of razor sharp teeth. He stopped suddenly and stood rooted to the spot looking lost and confused. Jill watched the anger melt way to grief and she actually thought she saw a pool of tears in his eyes. Everyone felt his grief like a heavy cloud that filled the room. Vrag approached first. As he walked toward the jackal he shifted, growing taller, thicker, hairier. Jill thought at first, he'd shifted to a black bear but as she studied the small ring of white fur around his neck and the shortened muzzle, her mouth fell open. He spoke in hushed tones to Saal. Understanding his friend's anger, his own ears burned red in indignation. Elyen approached next, her appearance shifting to that of a doe. She wrapped her arms around the jackal and licked his cheek. Finally her father went to check on his friend and understand his pain. "Jill, why don't you go to your room?" Tom suggested. "No," Jill said. She laid her clothes aside and approached the group, pushing past the creatures surrounding Saal. "Tell me." "The Wolf King has taken my sister and her youngest son," Saal said quietly. "If I don't hand you over, he promises to kill them." Jill's insides turned cold. She couldn't let someone die for her. "Then hand me over," she said. Saal smiled painfully. "Handing one innocent person over for another is not a bargain I will make." "But I don't want them to die because of me," Jill said.
"No, Jill! Don't think like that," Saal said, his anger rising. "Nothing that happens to them is your fault." He turned to Tom, "nor yours. The Wolf King is to blame and no one else. Remember that," he said as he covered Jill's hand with his own. "Besides, he would be a fool to harm them. My clan is now involved and we have powerful allies." With that said, Tom pulled Jill aside and sent her to her room. She put away her clothes and sat on her bed with her new gadgets but they couldn't hold her attention or keep the tears away. A war was brewing in another realm and her father and Saal would be in the thick of it.