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Sunday 25th December 2005.

Howell family household, Hong Kong 14:19 (local time).

Crystal chinked quietly as the gathered family put thier glasses back on the table, this in itself took some time, as much of Howell clan had gathered in the now somewhat cramped space of Grandfather's dining room. A dozen or so blood relatives, aunts, uncles and cousins were all assembled to celebrate Christmas in the traditional manner (to wit, stuffing themselves with food and alcohol while boring each other to tears with their personal histories to date).

Conversation soon started to flow round the table again, the good silver was out and thus the topic of Hiram's 'ailments' was inevitably going to crop up at some point during the meal.

"I see our young adventurer isn't in cook's good books." Pronounced a voice to Hiram's left. The speaker was a recent addition to the family, he'd married aunt Mary but that didn't mean he was quite the popular man he evidently believed he was. In truth, Hiram dispised the man, loathed nearly everything about him, from hated the false air of superiority he tried to project, to his dry attempts at humour.

"Actually Max it's... ah, something of an allergy." The werewolf replied, biting back the urge to snarl at this arrogant fop before he continued with a light gesture at the other man's fork. "It's the silver, you see. Skin reacts rather badly to it, I'm afraid. Hence..." trailed off with a gentle wave of his own, stainless steel fork.

"Are you really an adventurer Uncle H?" Asked a much younger voice from the opposite side of the table to Max, picking up the conversation from an earlier point. God bless the little ones. Hiram thought, directing a smile at one of his younger cousins. The boy had the pallour of an insatiable bookworm. When he'd taken a glance round the room through two-world-eyes earlier that afternoon he'd seen a knowlege spirit following the lad like a lost puppy.

"In a manner of speaking, I suppose. I've been away for a while, certainly." he replied, habitually side-stepping the buisiness.

"Young Hiram's been off to England." Hiram's grandfather said with something approaching pride in his tone. The man was old-guard colonial and had firm opinions about the Howell ancestral homeland.

That brought some attention from the rest of the table's diners (excluding Aunt Pink, who was more than mildly pre-occupied in feeding her youngest son). Howard Howell Senior rarely spoke at dinner and even less so in that tone. 'Begrudging respect' had been the best anyone could manage the year before.

"The thrilling world of the British library system, I'm sure." Max threw out casually, earning a sharp, yet discrete elbow in the ribs from his wife. Mistake, husband dearest! She would have muttered, were this the kind of table where such behavior was, if not acceptable, then at least forgiveable.

"Not quite. My grandson is rather good at the fieldwork as well, Anderton." the Elder Howell replied before Hiram could speak. A number of people at the table hid a grin, Grandfather's use of Max's surname alone was an indicator that Gods-gift-to-the-world still wasn't earning any favours from the head of this house.

"Isn't that so my boy?"

Hiram attempted to bring smirk into self-depreciating smile, "I had some wonderful tutors, Grandfather. Though I do suppose I should see more of the place..."

Conversation broke up into smaller groups, turning to safer topics without further incident.

Hallegh-bleeding-luya! Thought the Howell family's only werewolf with relief as he was gently let 'off the hook' as it were.


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