Written by Tanith
Tanith slipped silently through the dark streets of her university at night, unseen and unheard. She stopped near the Reflecting Pool near the Faculty Glade and looked around. In her half-transformed state, she listened and watched carefully around her. Finally, with an impatient swish of her tail, she twitched almost imperceptibly in the body language of the feline race.
*Okay. I give. Where are you Fate.*
Movement. She immediately looked into that direction with her slightly glowing eyes. Despite the darkness, she could quite clearly see the smoky gray cat that slipped out of the underbrush and lounged in the shadows. The cat, who had proclaimed its name as Fate of the Dark Moon, regarded the half-human with an amused expression.
*Impatient, are we not.* She purred.
Tanith twitched again in annoyance. *Look, I've got a bunch of midterms coming up, right on top of my homework and labs. I do NOT need to spend my time crawling about the school when I should be studying... or sleeping.*
Fate sniffed delicately. *Yes, yes, so you've been complaining about for days. As if the education of the humans are anywhere as important as the education of the cats. You might need to use the skills we've been teaching you, you know. Perhaps even... soon.*
Tanith ignored the arrogance of Fate's words and the cat's chesire grin. *Whatever. Let's just get this over with.*
With that, she completed her transformation into her cat form - a darker than usual seal point balinese cat. Silently, she followed Fate into the underbrush.
Written by Tanith
Tanith stared at her textbook, trying to concentrate on her studies. Her pen hovered over a piece of note paper, occassioanlly scratching down a tidbit of notes from her reading.
'...second aspect of composition concerns the timing relationships between inputs and outputs. We choose a particular style of composition called synchrony. This style dictates that each state machine in the composition reacts simultaneously and instantaneously. Thus, a reaction of the composite machine consists of a set...'
Suddenly, her concentration was broken by a large form that suddenly jumped onto her desk. Startled, she fell back into her seat, her pen flying across the room.
She found herself staring into the green almond eyes of a large cat. Blinking, she took in the feline's silvery coat, speckled with a random pattern of spots. A male Egyptian Mau, she recognized, her eyes turning back to meet the feline's gaze.
*Your lesson begins early today,* the cat declared to her imperiously, and slipped off the desktop for the door, as if expecting her to follow. He stopped at the open door to her room, and turned to regard Tanith, who had not moved from her seat.
Tanith sniffed indigantly, her shock wearing off, and spoke to the Mau in the language of the cats.
*I don't know where you came from, or how you got in here, but I do have much to do today. I must study for an exam I have at the human school I attend, and the lot of you have monopolized much of my time lately once on something that I'm still not sure was legal. So there will be no lessons tonight.* Tanith paused for a moment to calm herself, then added, *And what are you called, anyways?*
The cat's eyes glittered. *I walk where I will. This lesson will be more important to you than your human studies. Especially in the near future. You will do well to heed it.* He paused for a moment also, as if mimicking her words earlier. *And my name...*
Tanith listened carefully as the cat gave her it's name. She frowned as she tried to pronounce it. "Bah... Barut... i?"
The cat sniffed. *Close enough, kitling. Now are you coming or not?*
Tanith was about to protest again, when she locked eyes with Baruti again. Looking beyond the superficial layer of those dark green eyes as she had learned from the cats, she saw exactly what the cat wanted her to see...
She sighed in defeat, and gave one lingering glance at her textbook. *Fine. I'll come. But I insist on returning early so that I can study.*
*We shall see.* With that, Baruti disappeared out the door. Moments later, a seal-point Balinese cat followed on his path.
Written by Tanith
*As the month wears on, and Venus disappears off the horizon--*
*Venus's atmospehere is mostly opaque to visible light, right?*
*Reflectively so due to it's albedo, yes. Now, as I was saying, Jupiter's current position--*
*Its got four satellites larger than the Moon...*
*The Galilean satellites, yes. Now. Ahem. Jupiter's current position relative to the Celestial Sphere--*
*Hm... the zenith is supposed to be perpendicular plane-wise to the axis of rotation, right? Or was that parallel...*
"Hey! Watch the claws!"
*Will you TRY to pay attention to what I'm trying to tell you?*
*I am! What's wrong with me studying for my Astro midterm in the meantime? 'Specially since you know this stuff too.*
*Astrology. I'm trying to teach you astrology. That's very different from astronomy.*
*Astrology. I'm trying to teach you astrology. That's very different from astronomy.*
*So my professor says too. Whatever. They're still close enough that I can do both at the same time... what little time I have, anyways.*
*Are you trying to be difficult on purpose, kitling?*
*Me? Why-ever would you think so, Lady Sabra?* *innocent look*
*Nevermind. Let's have a look at this... test material... that you are studying for.*
*Nevermind. Let's have a look at this... test material... that you are studying for.*
Written by Tanith
*This isn't going well*
*You're not holding the image in your mind detailed enough. Try again kitling.*
There was a momentary pause of silence in the room. To senses outside that of normality, the air tingled with energy. Then...
*...... I don't think at worked.*
Tanith stared at her reflection in the mirror, which seemed to be two images superimposed on top of one another. One - the more solid image - was her normal human self. The other was a ghostly apparition that seemed to float around her, blurring in and out of focus constantly. Almost but never quite fitting into the outline of her real image.
*No.... it did not. Concentrate on it. Force into the form within your mind's eye*
Another silence. Another pause. Slowly, the blurry outline coalesced into... onto the form that it engulfed. Tanith took a deep breath. She was sweating a bit from the exertion. Then she took in the reflection that stared back at her. She sweatdropped.
*Um... that counts for something, doesn't it?*
*I see we have much to work upon. Perhaps you might even achieve your first successful glamour spell in time for Samhain.*
*It's going to take that long? I'm not that bad at it, am I?*
*Perhaps when you make your illusions more than two dimensional, I'll consider it significant progress.*
Tanith stared at the painting-like illusion that remained fixed within the mirror while she moved. It was like a full-body mask that only appeared on one side. Definitely not the glamour-spell she'd been trying to achieve.
*Right... back to the drawing board*
Written by Locke
As he chatted animatedly with a friend he had known since the far away days of 1974 when they had shared home room together,Locke kept a wary eye on the still quiet gas station.Never paid to let down your guard in this business,bitter experience had taught him,though paranoid was a label co-workers more then once applied to him.
He wondered sometimes if they were right.
"Ah,gotta run"he muttered into his cell"catch ya later'
And not for the first time he pondered the small irony that neither of his two closest friends-the very women who had expended no small amount of time and effort dragging him out of his shell years ago-would plug into the modern cyber-age,denying themselves the endlessly inventive simple pleasures of a wonderful communications medium.
I guess no good deed goes unpunished,he reflected.
He stepped behind the cluttered untidy counter,wondering what troubled his young conscriptee who looked unexpectedly harried-whatever his limited attention span the kid was normally cool under pressure.The jean-clad middle aged Korean lady who stood there looked calm,unruffled,the very epitome of a respectable trouble-free customer.
"Yes?'Locke asked'How may I help you?Something you're looking for?'He spoke as clearly and slowly as time permitted,a rare luxury for him.Much to his relief-a rather short-lived relief,alas-the visitor nodded in apparent understanding.
Then she spoke and shattered that small illusion.Her dark eyes bored into his, twin orbs of rippling sable fire.Trying to stare me down he thought...friggin' crazies starting early today and every last one of 'em thinks they can back me down so they chisel us outta a buck.Why in the living hell do they do this for?
'Yes'she intoned in that measured yet animated cadence he knew characterized the residents of the Land of the Morning Calm."You can indeed help me,sir.'
Come with me now,and your co-workers will be spared.Refuse and they will perish.
The black fire in those twin pits dimmed ever so slightly.Did he imagine the demon-she could surely be nothing else- had perchance had second thouhts?
Even your slight power cannot be spared in our struggle and nor can you serve our foes.There is no choice in the matter.Choose now,choose wisely.
Yet the decision was simple enough and made quickly.Easily made as well for in truth he had always made the important choices on gut instinct with little real calculation and with marginal consideration for the downside.
And with only passing consideration of the distinct possibility this might be the day the Grim Reaper finally came calling.Live through two tumor surgeries and the thrill-the raw fear-simply wasn't there anymore.Perhaps this was not a tribute to his common sense but there you had it.
No,Locke said as slowly and clearly as he could,so there would be no possbility of misunderstanding.
'I don't think so.'
Written by Tanith
Bah this is boring. Stupid C. Stupid assembly language. Stupid stupid midterm.
Stupid people. Can't they talk softer. It's like a carnival in here. Stupid super-hearing doesn't help a bit either.
Hm... wonder if I can go overhear some answers...
Gah! That didn't work. What the heck are they doing in the other room? Remodelling?
And what's that squeaking sound? Better not be the elevator... Hm... a small look wouldn't hurt.
Eep! What the heck?!
Cool, a mouse... a small... plump... m...
Gah! Stop that. Note to stomach: you are NOT that hungry.
*grumble* *grumble* *sigh*
You just *know* you've been spending far too much time lately as a cat if the feline tendencies are starting to appear in human form. Next thing I'll know, I'll start shredding my homework out of boredom...
Hm... doesn't seem like a bad idea...
Oops! Um... yessir, Mr. TA. I'm workin', I'm workin'...
GSI no baka...
Guess it's back to the code-crunching.
Written by Locke
Locke's head to put it mildly ached
He had not felt this degree of disorientation...we'll at this moment he could not recall when his mind was so fogged and clouded and worst of all empty. Not half a dozen surgeries,a handful of unfortunate drunken episodes in his nearly forgotten university days some twenty years ago,not even what he referred to as the Shift.
No,not change he always thought fixedly...for change implies unasked for permanence,unwelcome transitions into unknown territories and he had always disliked any change into which he had habitually been dragged kicking and screaming.
The term Shift will have to do,he thought.
For the current state of affairs which had entrapped him,he had no precise word and his vocabulary was hardly insignificant.Focus the way he had taught himself,shove the pain aside as an unaffordable luxury and fix his position in the here and now.
Locke could barely open his eyes,the light burned so sharply...he thought that the transition to actual acute vision was very nearly as difficult to adjust to as that previously unknown faculty known as a sense of smell which had been a decidely unpleasant revelation.
Somehow he managed.He was no longer in human form.This was only briefly disorienting for he had learned to expect sudden and unasked for Shifts as he slept,a phenomena which had left the two household cats in an extremely befuddled-and terrified state.Were it not for the gift of deceit,his secret would surely have been betrayed to his housemates.
That much he was not yet ready to share...
He struggled to focus upon his envrioment.A cage.This was not unexpected.First a cage,then a lab.Yes he certainly could imagine what would follow next.
Yet there was something odd about this cage,something familiar.Open space-indeed an open door into a well-nclosed pen...he realized that he had been in this place before.With of course the slight caveat he had been purely human then and of course,most importantly...standing on the right side of the bars.
A single visitor stood there peering quizically at him.
The demon in her faded jeans,the Korean woman he had confronted at work in an incident his mind refused to fix upon.
The demon caught his gaze and nodded.She bore a paper in her hands which he thought might be the Edmonton Sun for he could not read in coyote form.Aphasia of some sort,a price to be paid for this gift..Try as he might he might,he could not make out the picture.
She spoke as before,calmly in her twinkling cadence.
No survivors,Mr.Locke,not a solitary soul lived.We do not make idle threats.
To this he had no answer as he tried desperately to wrap his mind around the catastrophe he had apparently ignited with his defiance,the bluff at long last called.
The demon smiled.
We have concluded that you are of no use to us Mr.Locke.This should do quite nicely for you as your new home.
In the distance a voice spoke,familiar to him,the rote speech of the menial functionary a thousand times repeated.A bored guide intoned to what must be a band of schoolchildren.
'Ladies and gentlemen,welcome to the Valley Zoo's newest exhibit.'
Written by Tanith
Tanith rubbed her eyes. She couldn't take it anymore. She had to take a break from her textbooks, despite the sheer mountain of work that still awaited her. Just as she wondered about getting a snack, she felt something furry brush across her feet and a flash of grey from her peripheral vision.
*You weren't here last night for your lesson.*
*Not my fault that family matters came up at the last minute and I had to go home Friday night instead of this morning.*
*You did not think to return here after your parents were asleep?*
*What? From home to here? That's an hour away even by car!*
*And did you not think to use your abilities to traverse that distance within moments?*
*What - you mean like teleportation? Need I remind you that the last time I tried that, I couldn't even 'port past the house to my school? Much less across *that* much distance.*
*Your abilitiy has naught to do with distance. Your range is merely a result of your unfocused mind.*
*... and that helps me HOW?*
*You need further training.*
*Well, duh. You're getting into circular logic, you know that?*
*Sniff. Then I think we should begin now.*
*Whoa! Hold it. Not tonight. Or tomorrow. Got too much stuff to do. Bug me again Monday night.*
*Do not take this lightly...*
*I'm not. But I do have the other half of my life to attend to too, you know. I am NOT budging on this one.*
*... So I see.*
For a moment, Tanith turned back to her computer screen as the screensaver started up. By the time she returned the computer to normal mode and turned back, Fate had disappeared.
Written by Locke
By now the conversation was mere rote,too often repeated,as the Edmonton Police Services detective stood in the yard of Locke's modest home,questioning his housemate.
'No!I don't think he could tell you what a joint looks like much less smoke one!'
The woman known as Cougarmadcat practically snarled her response.After answering this question endlessly,she now refused entry to the home she and her husband shared with a friend now inexplicablely missing.
The detective ploughed on,relentlessly if to little impact.
She snorted in derison.
'A drink every few months when he goes out with a buddy from work.No alcohol here in the house.'
'Mood swings,odd behavior?' v To this Cougar laughed mirthlessly.
'Oh brother!Completely normal'
'You did say he was secretive.'
The officer probed once more seeking a hole in her story and finding none.
'No that's not what I said.He doesn't talk much,no,never has.He doesn't keep secrets from us of any kind and never has in the 20 years I've known him.It isn't the same thing.'
She threw up her arms in exasperation,startling a neighbour who was trying hard not to be conspiciously eavesdropping(and failing)
'Any medications he might be on?'
'Ask his doctor after you get a god-damned warrant!'
Prudently,the detective shifted his tone.In a rant,Cougar was never intimidated and he for one wanted no repeats of the last scene.
'We 're here to help,ma'am.These questions are necessary.Your friend left his workplace in the middle of his shift with an unidentified woman and has been missing for weeks.We're trying to make some progress but we need more co-operation...'
Cougar glared furiouslyat this,causing the officer to look away
'Help huh?Just like you helped with the god-damned stalker,right?Why are you bothering us with these stupid questions when I've already told you everything we know!'
'Was he seeing anybody?'
The detective retreated to other ground although by now,he knew the response by heart.
'No.And yes I'm positive he would have told us.And no,no,no, I don't recognize that woman in the security tape.He didn't leave voluntarily...he'd never screw his boss over like that,not in a million years.'
At this last,the beleagured detective nodded.
'Yes his employer certainly seemed flabberghasted.Stunned speechless when we talked to him.'
'Will that be all then?'
Cougarmadcat's tense unyielding stance made it clear it had better be.
A few more questions.What about his online activities?Is it possible he met with an online aquaintance?
She softened slightly,hoping to jog out a tidbit with which to feed the officer,finding nothing.
'No those people are all geeks...they yak about comic books,that kinda stuff.He writes fanfic as a hobby,does roleplaying.It's his hobby for crying out loud.And no he wouldn't meet with a total stranger without thinking long and hard about it.And he'd never conceal it from us.Never'
Again,the detective nodded.
'So you keep telling us ma'am.No political activities,..unusual opinions,causes he might be involved with?'
Cougar frowned,for the first time uncomfortable with this line of thought.
God-why do I have to be such a terrible piss poor-liar?
'Well..we do keep up with the meta thingy..it's something that would appeal to a comic book geek.But he doesn't get mixed up in the politics or anything...he doesn't even watch the demonstrations on television.Mind you,he gets all his news online now,doesn't hardly watch TV at all.'
Please make this idiot go away
'If you think of anything else..please call us.You have our card?'
Finally the detective appeared to have surrendered.
'Yes.Now please leave us alone if you can't..or won't help.'
Without another word,Cougardmadcat strode into her home and slammed the door shut.Inside,she sat down,shaken by the encounter.Never before had any of the city's police functionaries even hinted that they were peering into a metahuman angle into her friend's disappearance.Edmonton with her half million souls,to the best of her knowledge boasted but a single meta and that one,her now errant friend of twenty years time had been,she thought,discreet.
Now she knew the answer to that.
Not discreet enough
He simply wasn't one to seek out trouble she knew although bitterly,she had to admit,often enough,trouble comes calling on us unasked for.
Locke,what the hell has happened to you?Where are you?
To this soft and somber whisper,the evening wind made no reply.
Written by Locke
Despite several weeks of miserable captivity in the coyote exhibit of the Edmonton Valley Zoo,Locke had not yet begun to despair either of rescue or of escape.
His mind had never quite escaped from the black ennervating fog into which he awoke on that terrible day.Empty was the only fitting word.Whoever it was had imprisoned him-apparently permanently and he knew in his bones with no mere science-had seen to it he had been critically,perhaps irreparablely damaged.
The human speech Locke yet understood,even though that ability appeared to be fading.Some faces he vaguely recalled from his employment with the city when his work took him here.Once he had recognized that kindly gentleman who had hired him on at Fort Edmonton Park years ago.Locke had charged up from his now characteristic lethargy-he seldom stirred from his shelter-and bounded up to the bars,startling a keeper but drawing no more then a glance from the parks manager.
If Locke could have wept even a single,bitter tear in this form,he surely would have done so.
Instead he retreated to what few fragments of still potent memory remained,a not unfamiliar practise from years past.Never had he imagined that his recent gift would lead him here,to this cage.He had never imagined-how could he-that any force could think he would have the slightest interest in-or be of even miniscule use to-whatever cause they professed.
In this place he had been poked and prodded by the zoo vets.Not an unfamiliar experience if you substituted regular physicians for the vet and hence borne with long practised familiarity.He wondered if the creature who had bound him to this prison was eagerly awaiting the results of whatever tests had been performed on him.Likely she had already been provided with the results.
Creature,he thought.Not human,although why he was so utterly certain his true captor was not numbered among mortals was a mystery to Locke.Demon she was.
He paid little heed to the streams of visitors,turning his back upon them,ignoring the pleas and entreaties of the disappointed.Not my problem,he thought.I'm not playing along in anybody's freak show.
Caged in a manner unknown to him,Locke fell back on that resource earlier experience had taught him.Patience.Although notoriously impatient at work,in truth,earlier imprisonment-albiet one that had not involved bars or cages or keepers-had tutored him well in the art of waiting.
And as he had escaped at long last,after a hideously challenging struggle from his earlier gaol,he knew that this pit too would one day be climbed out of.He would escape in one way or another, and he knew,that as earlier,the friends he had made along the way would be there to substain him.
Fixing his mind upon this cheery thought,Locke ventured a glance out of the pen for something had caught his eye.Something vaguely...familiar?
Yes,orange,a blouse,and moreover a familiar blouse to boot,worn by a visitor who now strolled along the sidewalk.
He had never forgotten the demure young lady who wore that blouse and,he knew,she had surely never forgotten him.You rarely do forget the kind of chain yanking he had prankishly inflicted upon her and which they now laughed over whenever they met.Their last such chance encounter,all too regrettablely,had been well over a year ago.
Locke could not smile in this cainine form,but good cheer descended on him as he contemplated the unexpected change in his fortunes.
How sweet,he thought.
The Girl with No Name.
She's come to pay me a visit.
Written by Tanith
Under the dimly lit streets, two small forms sauntered through the darkness, heading up hill toward the residences near the Berkeley campus.
One was a seal point balinese, with a fairly long dark silver coat. The other was a spotted Egyptian Mau.
They were met at the intersection of Euclid and Hearst by another dark grey cat, and paused to converse in the manner of cats.
*Ooooh yes! I feel like dancing all night!*
*She has progressed much in her lessons. Perhaps because she was no longer unfocus by the prospects of her human studies.*
*Told you that I'd do better without having to worry about midterms.*
*Hm... since you're still so full of energy, I suppose we--*
A horrendous clang reverberated down the street. There was a scuffling sound, as if of creatures fighting. Naturally curious, the feline trio headed for the sound as a group, treading deeply in the shadows.
They rounded the corner onto Virginia street, and was met by the smell of blood. As they approached, they could see the half-dead form of a raccoon, which lay unmoving on the sidewalk. A close examination revealed the creature not to be the victim of roadkill, but of something much more familiar to the cats.
*It was Ol' Crudger. You can tell by the toothmarks.*
*The dog that hangs about here. White with black spots.*
*Oh. That one. I've seen him about. He seems mostly lazy to have done this though.*
*Feh. You don't know Ol' Crudger. He's different around humans.*
*I see. So what are we going to do about the poor thing?*
*Do? It's just a raccoon. Half dead too.*
*You're thinking too much like a human again.*
*Well excuuuuuuse me if that's what I am. Also am. Whatever. Besides, I'm sure there's something I can do right? Something that I haven't learned yet?*
*You wish to learn the healing arts right now? Ambitious.*
*Well, I am on a roll tonight. Why not?*
*Hm. As long as it's for your studies, I don't see why I should not teach you. If you can learn it... that will be up to you.*
*Fine. Let's get started.*
Written by Tanith
Tanith quietly slipped into her room, trying to not wake up her roommate, who was already asleep. Fate trailed in softly behind her. With an almost inaudible sigh, Tanith dropped onto her bed and took a deep breath. Fate hopped up and curled up beside her.
*Your own fault for overexpending your energies in your first healing attempt.*
*Pfft. It was worth it. It worked.*
*Perhaps. The creature is alive and moving now, thanks to you. But I suspect it will not get far in this neighborhood.*
*Aww. Did you have to mention that? Poor thing...*
*Sniff. You did an admirable job keeping it alive. For that alone, it should be thankful.*
*I guess... I did do pretty well for a first try, no?*
*Indeed. I'll inform Sabra on your improvements. I'm sure she'd love to take advantage of your new-found focus to get your glamourie lessons down.*
*Mmm...'kay... must sleep now.*
As Tanith drifted off into sleep, Fate quietly jumped off the bed, and left the room. The night was still young, and there was still time for her to hunt.
Written by Locke
Now sitting on his haunches and fully alert,Locke surveyed the young lady who now stood outside his cage peering about with a skeptical eye.
The Girl with No Name
Oh yes,that was how he would always remember her,although in truth of course,he knew her name and a not inconsiderable amount of other useful information besides.
Locke strove with his utmost to center on this small memory,one of the more pleasant to be found in what appeared to be the fading archives of his once sharp mind,fixing upon a small moment that nonetheless still had great meaning to him.
So shy she had been,so demure the young librarian,scarcely willing to look him in the eye,voice hardly more then a whisper.(he had had to tell her-only once thankfully-that being hearing impaired,he'd appreciate it if she spoke a bit more loudly and slowly)
She had been quite helpful though when first they met,when,he reflected ruefully,I didn't know an abacus from a keyboard.Taught me more then a few things about how to get around their newfangled library systems.
Her reward for this service had been a publicly delivered nagging which Locke thought in admiration,she had accepted graciously.For the young lady was so shy and unsure of herself,she admanantly refused to wear her name tag lest her somewhat unusual moniker draw mockery.
Annoyed to discover he had nothing to call her by,Locke had cornered her at her desk one day,brazenly asked where her name tag was, and received the answer she didn't like to wear one because too many people laughed at her.
'Give 'em the finger' Locke had retorted upon hearing this, and insisted two or three times that she tell him because it wasn't fair that she knew his name and promising not to laugh when she told him.
Naturally human nature being what it is,he had been unable to repress a smile when she broke down and finally 'fessed up.He mangled the name of course, but that she had forgiven,much like she had forgiven the other chain yanking he had impishly inflicted upon her.
You haven't forgotten that,I bet,Locke thought.A nice little memory to have.
I can't play tricks with memory.
But emotion...oh yes...that I can play with...and it helps a great deal that memory can often be jogged by pushing just the right emotional key.
Helps even more that you're wearing something to which both memory and powerful emotion are attached.
That danged silk orange blouse.
Locke lifted his head and caught her eye,startling her.With great effort,he drew upon his power to detect the true emotional state of another being.Power that the demon had not taken from him as she had,apparently taken his ability to Shift back to human.
Cascade of emtions....fear,no small amount of anger...grief too.
I don't need power to tell me that,he thought as he attempted to hold her attention,praying the sight of his grey eyes-unchanged they were from human form-might jog her memory at some unconscious level.
Suddenly she jerked away,clearly uncomfortable at being drawn into a stare-down with the Valley Zoo's most recent aquisition.
And most of all.
As soon as he felt the flash of shy demure shock radiate from her,Locke focused his power to enhance emotion to it's utmost,hoping that a dip into this particular emotional mind-field might cascade into a very important memory.
The blouse,he thought as he pushed and she stepped back in confusion jerking her arm up as she did under stress clearly at a loss as to how to deal with the sudden torrent of potent feeling.
As soon her hand fell to her side,causing her to fidget,then reach to straighten her attire,Locke tried again.
You remember,don't you he thought.
Trapped at your desk again,surrounded by staff,and this bozo you barely know looks you right in the eye and compliments you on the new blouse and you had turned crimson and melted into your shoes.
Oh yes,you didn't have to tell me the embarrassement had been almost overwhelming.Worth a good chortle and much more.
Helped break ya out of your shell didn't it,he knew,for after that day she had eagerly sought out his company whenever he stepped foot into her domain and chided him if he didn't notice what she had just purchased and was proudly wearing.
Do you remember now?He hoped desperately that this old memory had surfaced from the whirlpool of confusion within her,the still surging rise of shocked jarred feeling.Do you wonder why a stroll to the zoo has suddenly turned into a jog down memory lane?
One last thing before my bag of tricks runs out,Locke thought.
Close to the bars now,he reached through with his snout.
The padlock on the chain that had so effectively imprisoned him was within reach.
Locke grasped the padlock-filthy thing never changed since he'd been here last-and drew it through the bars until the short chain drew out.
He lifted up his head and once more waited until he caught her eye and not for the first time,wondered how his young friend would deal with this newest curveball chance had seen fit to lob at her...
Written by Tanith
Sabra the golden abyssinian nodded sagely as the illusory apparition before her shimmered and then disappeared. She regarded her tired pupil solemnly.
*You have improved much, I see. That was your best illusion yet...*
*I sense a "but" in there...*
*The image itself was shifting from its form.*
*I dunno how that happened. I was imagining the right image the whole time.*
Sabra thought for a long moment, her tail lazily swishing back and forth as she stared deep into the eyes of her pupil. Slowly, she rose on her haunches and stepped forward, still maintaining eye contact.
*Tell me... have you been having any... interesting dreams?*
*Dreams? Well, I usually don't remember them. But I do remember a few snippets of last night's I guess...*
*What do you remember?*
*Let's see... I dreamed that the ghost from down the street was playing charades with my Comp Sci TA... then it tried to tell me something with charades, but I was never good at that game...*
*Um... I seem to remember something about a lake... a young lady with a big dog... some generic plains?... reminded me of "Homeward Bound"... except for the stormy sky and tornado warnings.*
Sabra had been staring deeply into Tanith's eyes while she recited her faint memories of her dreams. Finally, she spoke.
*Yours is far from ordinary dreams. They are Portents. Prophecies.You would do well to heed them.*
*They're what? What do they mean?*
*That you must discover on your own. Such riddles are given to you to solve. Not anyone else.*
*Aw great. I just hate this silly cryptic prophecy junk...*
As Tanith sighed at this new turn of events, Fate suddenly appeared from the shadows. She held an envelope in her mouth, which he spat out at Tanith's feet.
*Yours, I believe.*
*What were you doing in my mail? ...Hey, cool, it's from my old high school teacher. But there's no postmark... and why do you have it, Fate.*
*That... you do not need to know.*
Tanith stared at Fate's smug expression. It didn't seem she was going to get much out of her on the subject. Thoughtfully, she turned back to the letter in her hands.
Written by Tanith
Dreams... plays of light on shadow... flickering of lightning and blood, of moon light and raindrops...
She was racing down a long, long road. Tired paws beneath her, stumbling with each step. There was something behind her. She knew not what, but dreaded to turn back to see.
Forward, forward... chasing the full moon as it sank toward the horizon, slowly dissappearing into the edge of the jagged peaks in the distance that belied the plains.
A rustling wind swept through the tall grass stalks. She could feel their green tendrils sliding against her limbs... then curling around them, entrapping them, pull her back.
Vainly, she struggled, but bit by bit, was pulled into the ravenous grassland that seemed to want to engulf her. Her last thoughts...
The Moon! Where was the moon?
--suddenly, with a start, Tanith awakened from where she'd fallen asleep doing her homework. Shaking the fogginess from her head, she stared blankly at her EE textbook. The images would not leave her mind.
Almost absently, she reached over her cluttered desktop to retrieve the letter that Fate had delivered to her earlier that day. Idly, her fingers traced the seal of Montana State University that graced its letterhead.
For the third time that day, she reread the cryptic invitation that her former teacher had sent her, her brows furrowed as she tried to work something through her mind. It was there - some knowledge, some flash of intuition, some deep understanding of all of these puzzling things that were happening to and around her - just elusively outside the reach of her mental grasp.
With a sign, she leaned back into her seat and dropped the letter onto her desk once more. After a small pause, she reached out again, this time, for her scheduler and her pen.
"Fri, Oct. 18 - find maps of the northwest. going to drive up to Montana."
Absently tapping her pen against the desk, she stared at the notation and mused... It's a good thing Mom and Dad aren't home this weekend...
Written by Locke
Twilight had settled over the Valley Zoo.
Had a keeper been about the coyote enclosure,he surely would have been astounded to behold the pen's newest and involuntary resident.
The changeling known as Locke stood on his hindlegs,braced against the bars.The chain holding the padlock had been drawn between the bars,while the padlock itself was firmly grasped between Locke's paws and held up to his snout.
Had the keeper looked more closely,he might have seen something lodged firmly in Locke's mouth.Something metallic.
Not a key,though what Locke was manipulating would serve nicely as a key if he wasn't so damned clumsy and awkward in this form.
His warden had,it seemed dampened the vast majority of his power-including his ability to shapeshift back to human-and done a tap dance on his cognitive abilities.His memory itself was under attack for he no longer recalled how he had come to possess this bent nail with the flattened end...he only knew somehow that this small improvised tool that ended up in his pen was the key to his freedom.
Locke might have sighed if he had been able.This was so much easier,so much simpler when he was hu...
When he was what?
Ears now pinned back,Locke worried the nail in the padlock.He was sure he had done this before with the cheap-ass Master's lock even a child could open...he thought his paws had been more supple then,more useful...like the paws of his two-legged keepers.
Choking back a snarl at the idea he might have anything in common with his captors,hackles raised,Locke furiously worked the nail,more then once dropping the padlock...after an hour he was no closer to freedom...
Unseen,the Korean lady he knew to be a stranger to the mortal realms watched him struggle with the padlock.Locke would surely have been surprised to catch a glimpse of her thoughts.
Who would have thought our notoriously honest and forthright Mr Locke would turn out to be a cat-burgar of sorts?We do not know you as completely as we believed.
Without warning there came the click he had been waiting for...the Master's padlock sprang open.It took another moment for Locke to extricate the padlock from the chain and within another moment he was out of his prison.
With each step away from his pen,Locke's spirits surged and roared.He quickly made his way to that section of the permeter fence nearest the public access road...he was positive he could scale it somehow and break for the river valley.
The sound of...yes the two-legged ones speaking...Locke pricked up his ears to listen,crept forward to investigate.
Three of the...what did they call themselves...oh yes..the humans...two he was sure were female.The man carried bolt cutters and was furiously attacking the chainlink fence.The women kept a close and nervous watch on the deserted road.Locke watched as the man severed the chainlink making an opening large enough to pass through.
Locke did not hesitate.He leaped from cover and burst across the distance,squeezing through the newly made hole and bowling over the man who cursed as he fell.The women turned in surprise exclaiming in their garbled speech.
The short bulky female went to her knees,open,inviting,unthreatening.She held a package in her hands and worked to tear off the wrappings.Locke paused.
After forty years on the planet without a sense of smell,Locke's newly found ability to detect and recognize individual odors still came as a shock...overwhelming sometimes.This odor he had learned to recall.
Food.A bloody raw uncooked steak the woman held up.She garbled something but Locke could not make out her meaning.
He bolted forward and seized the steak,snatching it from the woman's hands.An odd thought wandered across a now largely vacant mind,a mind now mostly driven by instinct.An..old joke of some sort?
Feeding time at the zoo...
He kept a wary eye on the woman(who had now straighened up)as he bolted down the meat.Somehow,he knew,she was more then slightly amused at this scene.Amused and not at all afraid.
His unexpected snack messily devoured,Locke took an unsteady step towards the treeline.Shelter,cover,find a place to rest,to hide.Uneasy now,he stumbled across the road...woozy and unexpectedly weak...vaguely aware he had been tricked somehow...
Without warning Locke fell,having made it across the road,falling onto the grass.Without hesitation,the woman he no longer recognized as Cougarmadcat ran to his side.With a not forgotten expertise born of her two years as a veteranarian assisstant,Cougar felt for a pulse.Locke no longer had strength to resist.
Unasked for sleep seized and dragged him into the depths of merciful if all too brief oblivion.
Written by Tanith
Tanith stared at the lights atop her modem network. The baleful green lights stared infuriatingly right back at her, defying her with their inconstant blinking. Moments passed as the staring contest went on, before finally, with a deep resigned sigh, Tanith turned to the amused Sabra who lounged on top of her desk.
*Tell me there's something I can do about this...*
*Get a new one, as humans seems wont to do.*
*That's not quite an option. Isn't there a spell or something that I can cast to make it work?*
*I see we need to correct your conception of what magic is...*
*Ack! No. I meant... isn't there some kind of spell that can... I dunno... tip luck onto my side?*
*If the contraptions that the human world find so fond work upon luck, why do you spend such time studying to build them?*
*Well, okay... not totally luck... but when they break, it's sometimes due to random chance... um... quantum mechanics and all that.*
*Nevermind. Look... I'm not asking for a fix-devices spell here. Just a little bit of luck to get something I *know* which works to... well... work. Can't hurt to try, right?*
*I suppose it's... possible.*
*Sigh. Very well. You'll not be able to concentrate on much else until then, I suppose.*
*Whatever. I just hope this works...*
Written by Tanith
Tanith waited patiently at her desk, happily ensconced with the latest Mercedes Lackey novel. Slowly, she finished reading the last chapter, and closed the book with a light thump. Reaching over, she took out her planner and crossed out yet another item on it.
It was then she felt the presence of one of her feline tutors. Or, rather, Fate's unique scent. Sparing a flicker of a glance at the smoky colored cat, she spoke to her friend in the manner of cats.
*Fate? There's something I think you need to explain to me...*
*Why is the ghost from Treehaven hanging about in my living room?*
Written by Tanith
Tanith cautiously peered into her room before stepping in. She heard the voice of her roommate behind her.
"Uh... is something wrong?"
Whirling, she turned around with a sheepish smile on her face.
"Oh, no. Nothing wrong. Really. Eh-heh..."
She waited until her roommate entered the room, then surreptitiously slipped into the kitchen, toward the screen door that lead to the small courtyard in the back. Opening the screen a crack, she let in the awaiting Fate.
*Looks like the ghost is gone. Did you get rid of it?*
*Him. And no. He just became bored while you went off to celebrate your birthday.*
*Oh. So... he's likely to come back?*
*But Faaaaate... I don't wanna have to deal with spooky ghosts around the house. Doesn't it have it's own place to haunt?*
*He will leave when he is satisfied.*
*Like... with what?*
*You'd have to ask him. It's probably just a message. Ghosts are like that.*
*Uh. But I can't understand a word he says! Heck, he doesn't even make any sound! Am I supposed to play charades with him or something?*
*You could learn the Speech-of-All spell, though I think that is a bit beyond you right now. Or you can find your own way to communicate. You're smart. I'm sure you'll find a way.*
*Thanks for the vote of confidence. Not.*
*I sense sarcasm. Do you have any cream?*
Written by Locke
Sighing,Cougarmadcat sat down before her husband Leopard's PC,the rustle of cloth on her chair the only audible sound in a modest duplex that now seemed silent as the morgue.Even her 13 year old Siamese cat,the irascible Skimble was still,reflecting his owner's black mood.
What more can go wrong?
As she impatiently waited for the balky computer to boot up(her own required maintenance),Cougar wondered how her absent friend of twenty years fared.
Stuck in a cage pilfered from her father-in-law's farm.Tranqued out to keep him quiet on the drive south.And as far as she could observe,whatever remained of the man appeared to have lost the vast amount of his ability to understand much less communicate in human speech.
Irony in there somewhere.Or gallows humor.
Should have went with them she thought.That girl,all alone with a were-coyote caged in the back of her van,going off to Montana of all places,a state she knew nothing about and had not the slightest interest in.Billings,Montana,Annisqua had said,to the State University where she would be interviewing for a long sought after position at some genetics research facility.
Going along with her had not been an option.Letting her leave with Locke had required a bitter struggle with herself but pragmatics had won out.Neither time or money permited it.This desperate roll of the dice would have to do.He wasn't safe here.Surely,this flight out of country offered the best faint hope for their friend.
Still,Cougar thought,Locke's friend Annisqua(,the Girl with No Name he impishly persisted on calling her),had come through.Improbablely,she had grasped the terrible dilemna Locke faced.She had been able to provide him with his improvised key and most importantly,she had been able to quickly track down his housemates.And now,she was taking great risks indeed to find sanctuary for their friend.
Finally,the stubborn PC was up.Quickly,Cougar accessed her E-Mail account,hoping to find a message within it.Annisqua had promised to message her as soon as possible.
Excellent,she got in early
Cougar opened up the message.
"Cougar...I've misplaced...Locke...we made it into Billings okay,got settled in at my motel. When I went to check on his food and water after a bathroom break..the cage in the van was empty."
With hideous effort,Cougar tried to focus on the remainder of the message.
Written by Tanith
Wind... music... a clear highway stretching out to the horizon...
Tanith hummed quietly along with the song playing over the CD player as her car carreened down the road. She was making far better time than she'd expected. A few well place probability spells had enabled her to weave her way through the California metropolitan traffic in record time, always giving her the perfect openings between cars and lanes. Moreover, now that she was on the less busy interstate, she was free to push up the speed of her car, while using a bit of illusion to throw off any police that might be watching.
Okay, she knew it wasn't exactly the safest thing to do; but she really hoped to get to Billings before night set in. She certainly didn't want to spend a night in a hotel room if she didn't have to.
Next to the driver's seat, Fate was napping peacefully among the pile of maps and other junk. Tanith wasn't sure why Fate insisted on going with her, as the smoky cat had never bothered to accompany her when she visited her parents over the weekends. There was a small suspicion in her mind that Fate had an agenda of her own... heck, by now, she knew that Fate always had an agenda of her own... but she had no inkling what that agenda was. Not that it mattered much. She trusted Fate, perhaps more than most other people nowadays. Whatever the crafty feline had planned, it was useless for her to worry overmuch on it.
Still humming, Tanith began to plan out a tentative schedule in her head for the next few days.
Written by Tanith
Neko-Tanith crept silently through the grassland forest just outside of Billings. Every once in a while, she would stop, her ears pricking forward alertly as she sniffed the wind and the earth. Fate followed beside her equally stealthily, keeping an eye of her progress.
The chill of the night did not affect her. In fact the light of the nearly full moon, which can be easily seen from the mostly clear skies of the Montana plains, enegized her. It was a welcome relief from the hours of boring talks and lectures that she had attended in human form earlier that day.
At the moment, they were tracking a unique scent that Fate had discovered earlier in the day. It was one that hinted of more than just the wilderness.
*I still can't identify all the nuances of this scent, even though it's very familiar.*
*Keep trying. What can you tell of it?*
*Hm... well, there's a distinct canine smell to it. And a bit of... magic? Something unnatural to be sure.*
*Yes. Yes. That was already established.*
*Well it would be easier if you'd just tell me, since I'm sure you've already figured it out.*
*Perhaps. But you need practice in these things... I'd suggest you look closer to home, as the humans say.*
*What are you--*
Neko-Tanith stopped midstep. Fate also froze at the same time. In unison, they slowly slipped forward under the cover of the shadows, toward a large mound of jagged rock. Stealthy, and from downwind, they crept up to peer over the largest of the rocks. With body language along, the bespoke each other.
*Is that a... wolf?*
*Coyote, I believe. Half starved and tired to the bone from the looks of it. And look there--he's wounded too, perhaps from a fight with that lynx I scented earlier today.*
*Tough luck is more like it. It's a normal part of nature.*
*No it's n-- Ah! I recognize it now! That scent... I smell it every time I change forms! That might mean... he might be a metahuman like me.*
*Took you long enough to realize.*
*Whatever. We should go help him.*
*Whyfor? If he's not a changeling, you'll just become his dinner. And if he is a changeling, the mere fact that he seeks not help from of those who can easily help him does not bespeak well of him.*
*That's certainly... possible. But I don't sense any... malice from his aura. Just... pain.*
*So? It's not your job to go around succorring dubious changelings.*
*I... I don't know. My instincts tell me that I should help him.*
*Your instincts always tell you that. You're too human in that respect.*
*I AM human. Haven't you, Sabra, and Baruti been telling me all this time that a cat should trust her own instincts?*
*Hm. Fine. How do you suggest you approach him? As a cat - you'd become his dinner. As a human? Well, he'd just have a better dinner.*
*Well true... I never said I would take precautions. What do you make of the magic upon him, by the way?*
*Hm.. most curious indeed. Its aura does not match his. I don't think it's of his own casting.*
*So he's susceptible to magic. A calming spell, perhaps? Then I can try to talk some sense into him in human guise.*
*If you wish... but not here. Too open. And I feel the presence of prying eyes.*
*Curiouser and curiouser... a beguile spell then, get him to follow us to somewhere private. And a stealth spell to cover our tracks.*
*Hmph. You can only sustain one of them at a time at your level. I suppose you want me to cast one of them for you?*
*If you would, please... surely you are curious about this coyote changeling as well.*
*Sigh. I might as well. Goodness knows that you might try to cast both if I refuse, and mess it up royaly.*
*Well, maybe. Let's get started then.*
Unseen by the ailing coyote below them, the two felines worked their magic. Within moments, the coyote stopped it's pain-filled shiverings, and slowly looked up - his eyes blank as he stared into the general direction of the moon and the high rising stones. Rising on tired feet, the coyote began to stumble off, as if following an invisible lure.
And yet, to any outsider, it would seem that the canine had just stepped into the shadows... and disappeared.
Written by Locke
Locke howled,tearing at one ear with a back paw as he strove to remove-somehow-the feverish dream that had settled in upon a too-stressed and overtaxed mind where coherent thought no longer dwelled.
The burning man in his tarnished green garb....wrapped in the fiery blaze...
The feverish changeling dragged himself behind the cover of a bush,shaking his head violently in yet another vain effort to lose this bloody imagery,utterly confused by what it might mean,a nightmare hopelessly beyond his ability to comprehend.
He started,warned by a scent he could not quite identify....as he struggled to make head of this new mystery,a black shape lunged from the shadows and sharp jagged teeth raked one flank.
Had he been a man still,Locke would have instantly identified his attacker as a lynx...yet this one was surely larger and fiercer then it ought to be...jet black fur streaked in grey.The wildcat firmly attached itelf to Locke's right side front leg and most improbablely began to drag the changeling away from the bush he had sought cover under.
Did he imagine that the shadows moved as they should not....did he imagine his improbable attacker was not alone?
He would not die in this manner.
Locke strove desperately to anchor a paw to the ground,to gain purchase and end the dragging.As he did so,digging claws into the dirt...he was startled yet again as the black lynx abrutly released him with an odd yowling and retreated in confusion,clearly frightened.
Locke,grateful for the sudden turn of good fortune howled defiance at the would be slayer as she retreated in apparent unexplained confusion.He rose to his feet unsteadily then yelped in pain as a stone cut into his paw.
His paw...Locke's nearly vacant mind whirled in fresh horror...for a dreadful jarring moment he thought...his rightside paw had been a human hand..the changeling dry heaved at this terrible degrading image,gripped by revulsion,shuddering in terror.
For a black,ugly moment,he nearly wished the lynx would return to finish the job and make a clean end of his unexplained unending torment.He caught no sight nor scent of the wildcat however.After a time,he commenced a cautious trek into the prairies,leaving blood in his pawprints,a clear trail for hunter,slow and vulnerable.
Scents came his way,mostly unfamiliar.He paid them no heed for he knew he could not survive another struggle.He was making his way to what he dearly prayed would be drinkable water when he was assailed by odors that penetrated his feverish spinning head.
An odor he recognized...a familiar and friendly smell that triggered the faintest dying embers of memory within him...
Safe...secure... warm,a haven from all the troubles of the world
Locke lurched forward,given fresh energy by a thought that had settled in upon him,a sudden notion that rescue lay just before him in the shadows that now unexpectedly wrapped a friendly cloak about him.
Written by Tanith
The chill night wind swept through the small glade near the parking lot of MSU. The nearly full moon shone brightly overhead. In the center of the clearing, a slightly confused coyote crouched alertly, if tiredly, upon the moon-lit grass. His grey eyes remained fixed upon the shadows of a tall oak tree that sprawled from one corner of the glade.
Shadows that moved.
Slowly, as if materializing from emptiness, a form slipped forth from the darkness of the glade. A human? No. The scent and movements were not of the race of man. Breathing heavily from his wounds, the coyote warily began to back away from this strange creature - this human who was not...
Then stopped. As a sound reached him. Nay, not a sound. More like... a thought. Some form of communication, one that he could not grasp but nevertheless received, flowed across them.
*Let me help you...*
As she watched the cautious deliberations of the canine before her, Tanith kept her mind focused on her task. It was not easy, as she did not speak the tongue of the coyote, if there even was one. All she could do was to express herself through the more empathic projection of her aura.
A flash. Not of light. But of intelligence, of sentience, flickered over the grey eyes before her. For a brief moment, the animal wildness of the coyote was replaced by the confused pain of human eyes. There was little doubt about it. She faced a changeling. And one who's transformation had gone terribly wrong.
She was brought back into focus from her examinations by a sudden movement from the coyote. Slowly, he lurched forward, and cautiously met her steady outstretched hand with a light touch of his snout.
Of aura. Of spirit. Of magic.
Sighing inaudibly in relief, she carefully settled herself onto the grass next to the beast. Taking a deep breath, she began to weave the strands of magic.
First, came the healing spell. The most practiced and familiar, and therefore the safest of the spells that she would cast that night. Slowly, little by little, the seeping bloodflow from the coyote's wounds ceased to bleed. The largest of the gaping slashes began to close. His breathing became more even, more steady. He was still weak from exertion and the loss of blood, but at least he would lose no more strength.
And besides that, the healing touch briefly flowed across his tortured mind. Not enough to undo the damage that so many days of forced magical corruption had inflicted, but enough to give him some little reprieve from the painful battle of man and beast deep within him. For a moment, the mind of the Beast rested, and the small fading spark that still remained human within his soul flickered with its momentary reprieve.
Returning from her healing trance, Tanith looked over the creature with a critical eye. Her patient now sat calmly next to her, no longer so distrustful or confused of her presence. A quick look to the heavens showed that the Moon had moved on in it's course across the heavens. Perhaps an hour, or more, had passed for the duration of the spell.
A light movement flickered across the edge of her peripheral vision. Fate mometarily slipped from the shadows, and met her eyes in communications.
*You're doing fine. Keep as you have. I'm going to see that you are not distrubed.*
Without waiting for a reply, she disappeared back into shadow once more.
Tanith was slightly puzzled by her friend's final words, but she shook off the confusion. Now was not the time for muddled thinking. Focusing back onto the coyote, she took a deep breath and winged a quick prayer to Diana, the Lady of the Moon. Then, she slipped into a light spell-trance once more, her mind reaching out to weave a intricate spell from the very moonbeams themselves.
Silence descended in the clearing.
Written by Locke
Startled...the lynx turned,surprised to be not merely seen but spoken to in her own tongue.She peered into the shadows,barely able to make out the speaker.
A common house cat,she thought,before dismissing that idea.The smoky dark feline that crouched alert in the underbrush smelled of magic.Potent magic as best she could determine,and not necessarily to be trifled with.
Heed your own affairs...my business here does not concern you.
The feline yawned in the familiar,patronizing manner of her kind before deigning to reply.
The changeling you seek?Our paths do seem to have crossed for the moment.
The lynx snarled although she did not approach.This battle would be a struggle of wit and will,determined as much by nerve as by blows and bites exchanged.Ears laid back,she retorted bitterly.
What do you care about some witless shapeshiter....neither he nor his kind are friendly to us.You will risk your life over that?
The smoky cat paused to clean a paw though her eyes never left the black pits of the lynx.
Curiosity gets the better of me sometimes...the desire to do good.Sonmi is it not?You are rather a long way from home.
At the mention of her name,the changeling lynx hissed in anger,upse that her questioner had so casually gleaned her name while withholding her own.The feline must be a more powerful mage then her cautious reading of aura had determined.Her foe reeked of a self assuredness and confidence she did not care for.
If you know so much...then you surely know he owes a blood debt to us that must be repaid.
At this,the cat lifted up a dainty nose,mockery evident in every line.
You are quite certain you have the right changeling,my youngling friend?I do believe you've gotten him mixed up with someone else...a common beginner's mistake.
The were lynx,Sonmi,snarled at the open insult,showing teeth that still bore renmant's of the coyote's fur.She was,evidently,not terriblely fastidious.
I am as well versed in the Art as any!The coyote -thing belongs to me.You risk much -perhaps more then you know-by concealing him from me.Do you wish a war between our kinds?
If a feline could shrug,the smoky housecat did so.
The shapeshifter belongs only to himself and has no interest in your silly vendettas.Nor would I,in his place.And I assure you,in any event,he is not the one you seek.Your time would be more usefully spent elsewhere.
Sonmi howled and spat her anger at the casual arrogance inflicted upon her.Still,she came no closer for no small amount of fear had settled in upon her.Better,she thought to retreat and try again another time when better prepared.In a moment or two.
I am not mistaken.He is precisely who I know him to be.My enemy,who will perish in this life as surely as he did in his last.As will those who defend him.
The houescat was standing up now,her manner no longer casual.Sonmi took a step back in spite of herself,burning with humiliation.Still,back she moved,yielding in this battle.
Oh..I don't doubt he will die one day..it is the way of all mortal things...but not today...and not at your paws,kitling.He is far stronger then you know.And luckier then you know.I think his talent for finding new friends in the oddest places will be your undoing.
The lynx paused for a long moment before replying.Her sable eyes probed the darkness that enveloped her foe,veiling her in a cloak of darkness she could not penetrate.No matter.Her hand was not yet played out.
My hold on the shapeshifter is not easily broken even by you.Do you think he can be so easily restored to himself?Any attempt to do so will be..most...entertaining
The smoky feline could not frown but her expression surely conveyed that emotion.
To torment another -one who has never harmed you-by tampering with his humanity is not merely unworthy of you Sonmi.It is a hideous crime that will not go unpunished.
The feline known to his student as Fate,hissed and lunged at the black,gray streaked lynx.
Sonmi fled at the sight of this charge.Fate did not pursue,satisfied to have intimidated the witch-lynx from a far off distant land.Her mission had been accomplished she thought.
She had purchased time for her kitling student to assist the changeling chance had just dumped in their laps.The lynx had been put on notice as well,warned that the crimes she attempted would not go un-noticed or unchallenged.
And yet Fate could barely repress a shudder at the final words of the witch-lynx.
The changeling Locke,Fate knew,had faced many a challenge in his forty years,an unending struggle to assert himself against the cruelties of the world,emerging rather the worse for wear and tear but not broken.
What would surely transpire this night would test the strength and spirit of the man as never before.
Fate wrapped herself in the silent shadows of the night and vanished from the sight of man and were-creatures alike.
Written by Tanith
She had not, after all, lived so long in this day and age without an understanding of the effectiveness of cunning over power. For a moment, only the cold night breeze stirred in the air. And then, she felt it:
Tendrils of magic, whispy, almost nonexistent, seeping through the air and the earth. It flowed around the shadows of the land, coursed the currents of the air and flickered over the dewdrops that were just beginning to form on the haphazardly trimmed lawns. If she had not been watching closely for just such a thing, even Fate herself might have missed it.
But, for Fate at least, her confidence in her own abilities were perhaps justified. With a negligent stretching of her mind, she reached out with her own magics, and adroitly blocked the intruding power.
Once the spell (and its caster) realized that it had been blocked, the stymied power gave up any pretense at stealth, and launched full force onto the protections that Fate quickly erected. For a moment, it remained held at bay, storming uselessly against the expertly woven spell blocks. The night became eerily silent as if the wind itself seemed to become subdued at the battle that waged beyond the ken of the material world.
And then, with one last howl of frustration, the power launched one final rage-driven attack, before suddenly departing as quickly as it had come. The haphazardly thrown blast pressed against the protections for one timeless moment before being forced back. But instead of dissipating harmlessly into the spirit realm, it surged instead toward the material realm, breaching the barrier there for a tiny fraction of a moment before Fate's immediate response sealed it back.
Fate frowned, if cats could be said to frown, as she tried to follow the portion of the blast that manifested into the world. That had not been expected, and she distrusted such surprises from her foes. Then, her sharp hearing picked up a sound...
With a muffled curse, she ran toward the clearing that Tanith had been working in... the same clearing that the sound had come from. She came to an abrupt stop just inside the shadows that the trees cast into the small glade, resisting the urge to sigh in relief at her unhurt friend. But then, her eyes sought out the other member that had been present in the clearing, and immediately narrowed again as she saw what had happened. This will be trouble...
As Fate contemplated this newest twist to the night's events, Tanith slowly picked herself up from where she had thrown herself when the large oaken branch above her had fallen. Or perhaps she'd been thrown - her memory was still fuzzy from being abruptly forced from her unfinished spell-trance.
Blinking the bright spots away from her eyes, she looked up to see the concerned gaze of her feline friend upon something just beyond her. Somewhat alarmed, she swung around, and gasped in surprise.
The creature that stood there, tall in the cold gleam of moonlight, could have passed for a werewolf of legend. The former coyote now stood upright upon two still canine-looking hind legs. His two arms were held still against his sides, with curved claws glittering off long tapered fingers. Long, dark fur covered him entirely.
And the eyes... steely gray as the moon, reflecting the sharp intelligence and sentience that was far more than Beast........ but only for a moment, before the wildness of the Beast flickered across them once more. Confusion followed, then panic.
Before Tanith could do more than stare at the unexpected results of her interrupted spell, the were-coyote suddenly bolted from the spot, crashing haphazardly through the trees and bushes, unheeding of direction and stealth.
His action broke the astonished confusion within Tanith's mind.
With a cry, she ran after him. No matter what had happened during the spell or might happen now, she could not in good conscience allow such an obviously dangerous and troubled soul to remain in the dubious wilds of suburbia or the plains to remain so. Tapping into the full hyper-sensitivity of her feline senses, she pushed aside the urge to curse at her ill luck, and ran after the fleeing form.
Fate watched all of this happen in the few hectic moments of her arrival from her spot under the tree. The furious twitching of her tail was the only sign of her... annoyance.
Written by Locke
The man-coyote yet remained alert and cautious.He was not far from a well-travelled road and each passing car was a hideous jar upon his senses.He searched as well for the friendly scent of the two-legged one who was herself some manner of changeling...the one who had succored him...he had some dim memory of crashing away from her and leaving her far behind in a high speed burst through the underbrush.
He would seek her out again as soon as this other one was dealt with...the lynx-witch,the demon woman who had wounded him so grievously reeking far more havoc on his mind then she ever could on his body.
Did he know her?
A fragment of what ...memory,fever-inspired dream...some magick laid upon him?
A month ago he would have dismissed that last possibility-in truth the first as well-as the ravings of those whose hyper active imaginations were in need of serious medication.
A month ago before this little ... detour abandoning the well tred path of a once prosaic and staid life of course....
The old mishappen lady in rags crouched before the burning pyre...the black trembling kitling in her arms
Did the tiny kitling weep?Was such a thing even possible?
Did the tiny kitling weep?Was such a thing even possible?
The man-coyote shook this unwelcome guest from his head.A scent had drfited across the stream.An ugly searing odor he had not forgotten.The wretched ugly stench of fear and death hung upon that scent.
The man-thing lifted up his eyes and met the black raging orbs of the were-lynx staring at him across the stream.With a ferocious roar,he bounded across the waters and was upon the demon-creature.Days of frustration and impotent rage burst out as he fixed the now terrified squalling lynx in his jaws.
Perhaps some fragment of rationality yet remained to the man-coyote.Abrutly he leapt back to the stream,diving into the pool,seemingly determined to drown his foe as well as rend her.Never before had he commited-even contemplated-such a searing murderous act of violence against any human being(much less a woman)-but never before had he been thus transformed and been visited with madness either...
An onlooker-had one been present at the scene-would have been highly startled to hear the startled yelp of pain from the man-coyote hybrid.That observer would have been more startled to see the changeling cataputed from the stream and yet more bewildered as the lnnx rose out of the murky pool as something out of horror herself.
Somni the demon.
Did the tiny shard of reason that the man-coyote clung to see in the towering woman-feline some twisted mirror image of himself,some grotesque doubling?Perhaps this was what the uncaring gods might have thought an amusing ironic jest.
The man-coyote stepped back uncertainly,peering into the darkness.Clouds had drfifted across the heavens and obscured the moon.As the moonlight dimmed,he felt some measure of strength drain away...Fear and his twin brother Panic,those murderous sons of Ares,settled in upon him yet again.
The woman-lynx roared herself sensing the confusion in her would be prey.She charged forward,crushing a sapling that lay in her path,bent on returning the injuries done her by the changelingThe man-coyote,now terrified,turned and fled,discretion indeed the better part of valor.He hurtled towards the shadows that lay invitingly before him,seeking the open stretch of road that would enable him to attain maximum speed.
No sooner then he make it to the highway that lay near the MSU campus when a now familiar face greeted him.
The two-legged one who was some manner of beast herself stood by a...car... his mind dimly recalled the contrivance was named...her face strained and worn with her labour.
She garbled something in their speech,holding out an outstreched hand,an open palm..He paid no heed to the jumbled tangled noises for understanding was yet beyond him.
The memory of kind hands tending the wounds of mind and body like...for now this would have to serve as a bridge between them.
Did she cast some some manner of ...spell...some charm upon him?
The man-coyote knew that in those hands and perhaps in that clever mind lay some measure of respite and safety.He halted,paused,peering anxiously over his shoulder for sight or sound of Sonmi.As best he could make out she was a few minutes behind.
He stepped slowly towards the changeling that stood near her vehicle awaiting him with a foolish courage his human self would have admired with great frankness.
A braver soul by far then he.
Had he been the praying sort,the man-coyote would have surely hoped she was wiser then he as well.
Written by Tanith
A car hurtled down the freeway away from Billings, heedless of road signs and speed limits. Inside the car were a human and two animals... or, at least, that was what it seemed like. The young woman driving the vehicle with such reckless abandon had her eyes fixed onto the road before her in singluar focus, though they flickered once in a while to the rear-view mirror.
*Are you trying to kill us all?*
The ironic purr in the speech of cats came from the smoky feline that clung to the seat next to her. Tanith dared another peek at the mirror before responding in the same series of sounds.
*Nay. But that lynx-creature is still chasing us. I'd rather we lose it quickly, than to have to worry about it all the way home.*
Surely enough, the obviously supernatural form of Somni struggled vainly after the speeding vehicle. She was fast, much faster than any normal human, as well as most metahumans as well... but not fast enough for a speeding car.
Slowly, the were-lynx fell behind... further and further until she faded into the gloom. And still, Tanith did not let up on the accelerator. Rather, she turned to address Fate again.
*It's a good thing the illusion I placed on the car to let us park in the offical school lot was still up. It would be bad if that thing had been able to trace the real license plate to me.*
*Indeed. You may slow down now.*
*Not just yet. I want to make sure we've lost her. Um... could you...*
*Yes? What is it now?*
*Can you switch the illusion spell on the car, maybe a few more times as we go on?*
*I can. Though there are other ways to fool the police that might notice your speeding.*
*Well, that's part of the reason. But I figure that just in case we're still being followed, somehow, that would help confuse pursuit as well...*
With that, Fate began to weave an illusion spell. Tanith took another glance into the rear-view mirror, this time not at any followers, but at the coyote that now lounged across the back seat of the car.
She still hadn't figured out just what went wrong with the spell. Although, she did notice that the creature had turned back from its were-form when the misty clouds of early morning had obscured the light of the moon. But that told her little, and she was determined to find out just what had happened, and to rectify things if it were possible, for the meta-coyote. She could only hope that the creature would trust her long enough for her to seek out her mentors on the subject.
Giving a silent sigh, she focused back onto the silent road. It was going to be a long journey home, even with the spell-boosted performance of the car.
Written by Tanith
Tanith shifted on her feet, uneasy under the penetrating glare of her mentors. She'd thought that she had done the best under the circumstances that she'd been in over the last weekend. But evidently, they did not share her optimism.
*You would try an untested spell on a creature that you were not sure would be dangerous. WITHOUT any guidance. WITHOUT the most basic of proper precautions such as to make sure you would not be interrupted...*
Tanith flushed under Sabra's admonition. But knew better than to interrupt the lecture to defend her actions.
*Impulsive. You will need to curb those kittenish compulsions if you wish to last long.*
Baruti was gentler in his chiding, and decided to take pity on his errant pupil. He let out a deep sigh as he focused back on the coyote that lounged warily a bit behind Tanith.
*But first, I suppose it falls upon us to ascertain just what damage you have caused here.*
It was then, when she felt the penetrating gazes leave her, that Tanith finally spoke.
*It's not... permanent... is it?*
Slowly, the two elder cats circled the still-wary coyote, their brightly glowing eyes peering through flesh and spirit.
*It is not. Be glad that you have not the skill yet to cast permanent spells, even if by accident. Nay, this spell of yours was cast under the auspices of the Moon, and it shall near-certainly last for one lunar cycle.*
*What about the... were-coyote transformation? Why did he not return to normal?*
*The True-Form spell might be useful... but it reflects the target's own sense of Self-Form. Have you not considered that this creature may no longer think of himself as Truly Human any longer?*
*Well... I did kinda notice the wildness in him. But I was pretty sure he was human and I'd assume that he'd think of himself as such... And also... I didn't think spell worked by self perception...*
*You ASSUMED. You did not THINK. Tsk. THOSE are mistakes that no mage can afford.
Not to mention that you tried to cast a spell on top of a precast curse - something you had been aware of - rather than the more sensible tactic of removing the curse first.*
Not to mention that you tried to cast a spell on top of a precast curse - something you had been aware of - rather than the more sensible tactic of removing the curse first.*
*Indeed. While a curse removal spell is not easily cast, it would also have caused less unwelcome side effects if wrongly cast.*
*Yes'm. Sir. Um... is there anything you can do for him now?*
*Considering the good mess that you've made by layering transformation spells? It would take a great while.*
*I would suggest we wait until Samhain to sort that through, when the powers are more easily wrought and dispelled. I'm more concerned by the other curse upon him that you have not effected as yet.*
*Yeessss... the one that keeps his Beast forced to the surface of his Mind. Remove that, and there is a chance that, and his Human self might well find it's way back to dominance...*
*If that happens, and his perception of himself shifts back to Human...*
*It'll turn him back into human?*
*Don't be silly. We've just told you that spell of yours won't last. As of now, it will not even activate without the presence of direct Moonbeams.*
*What it WILL do, kitling, is make his transition back into his human form easier, when it comes. It might also make him more stealth-conscious, unless you want your local zoo to come for him.*
*Oh. Okay. So you'll remove that other curse first now?*
*Now is as good a time to start. I can handle that part.*
*Yesss.... and in the meantime, kitling, you'll be needing lessons on curse removal. Come with me.*
Written by Locke
Darkness wreathed the skies over this section of the West Coast, casting many a dreary shadow over the city below. On a late October evening, one such shadow also concealed a wary, first time visitor to this particular, rather forgettable site.
The four footed and black, grey streaked coyote lay shielded from view under the cover of a bush. Since installing himself here since shortly before three o'clock in the afternoon, the changeling had not stirred from his hideaway. He lay there, quite unsuspected by purely human eyes, watching.
What he watched was really quite unremarkable, and would scarcely have merited even a passing glance from any consumer who had no need of the services to be found within. One more gas bar of thousands to be found in this state alone, an aging Texaco, which served the transportation needs of the large student poplulation in a town mostly noted for academia.
Why the changeling coyote felt compelled to make his furtive way to this place each afternoon, he did not know. Certainly he could not fathom in his dulled, fading mind why the pungent odor of gasoline should draw him from the residence of the other changeling each afternoon, a nearly irresistable lure. Nor could he have explained to himself why he watched the trivial goings on with such intent scrutiny, missing nothing as he fixed each customer in turn, making great effort to burn the sight, sound, and scent of each into what now passed for memory.
The coyote had not broken from cover even after the first time, when one young man had departed from the parking lot without, apparently first bothering to visit the solitary clerk with payment in hand. The changeling had only growled softly and zeroed his vision - so sharp now, so clear - into the departing Chevrolet's rear end in an apparent effort to read the liscence plate.
An exercise in frustration of course for in this form he could not in fact read, and most mysteriously, had no conscious idea of why reading the plate might be important.
The coyote knew only that he ought to do so, or at least make the effort, and felt most uneasy, sympathetic even, for the frustrated clerk inside.
After repeated such occurrences however the surely frustrated coyote had given up attempting to fathom the mystery.
For some opaque reason, he also felt exceedingly foolish although the why of it escaped him...
This Monday' evening's furtive exercise in observation had brought no surprises thus far to the changeling. An odd and unexplained thought ran through the shadowed valleys of his mind.
Time to go home. No, not home. The apartment of the other changeling, that two-legged female who was some manner of beast herself, was not his home. A refugee perhaps, albiet one he was not of course permitted to enter and from whose inhabitants he knew must conceal himself.
Still, he had nowhere else to go, and only there in a corner of the courtyard would he find food, and water and bedding, which appeared not to catch the notice of the changeling's friends and visitors.
Magic he might have called it, if the words had not been cruelly denied him, but of course, such comprehension was no more.
For the moment while not home, this place would have to do.
This insistent question as well, the coyote could not answer.
Wrapped up chasing the elusive, ghostly tendrils of vague thoughts that melted away without ever quite being grasped, the coyote quite failed to notice that on this quiet evening, he was no longer as well concealed as he thought.
Wholly cloaked from both mortal eyes and the somewhat keener senses of the coyote, two felines crouched nearby, gripped in puzzlement.
Written by Tanith
*He's been coming here regularly?*
*Yes. One wonders what in this... disgusting place would hold such attraction for any creature with noses more sensitive than a man's.*
*Hm.. do you think it might hold a clue to his human identity? Maybe he's remembering things?*
*Maybe. That's no concern of mine.*
*Y'know... the whole gas station thing reminds me of something too... I just can't remember...*
*Perhaps you should look to your own mind first, then, before you try to guess his.*
*I guess... It'd be easier to concentrate without so many distractions going on.*
*Upcoming midterms... stupid stupid homework... the extra lessons that Sabra 'n Baruti insist on foisting on me... that ghost down the street who still tries to bug me ever so often... our coyote over there... the same old.*
*Hm... then I think you should get to it. Didn't you say that you had an appointment to go to with your roommate in ten minutes?*
*Ack! I almost forgot. Gotta run. ....Keep an eye on him for me?*
*If you insist.*
Unseen and unheard, the dainty balinese cat slipped from the shadows and headed in the direction of campus.
Written by Tanith
Tanith looked up at the sharp crescent of the waning moon, and hoped that the light was enough to work by. She felt a furry form brush against her legs, and looked down to see Sabra making herselp comfortable on the crisp grass of Memorial Glade.
Already in her half-feline state, her sharpened senses immediately picked up the faint rustling among the bushes. She turned, and her faintly glowing eyes picked up the two blurry forms coming toward her. One she recognized at once as Fate, and the other... the other was the star of tonight's "show".
The lack of moonlight kept the were-coyote in canine form, and the beast relunctantly lumbered onto the lawn, into the middle of the circle of runes that Tanith had put down earlier under the direction of her tutors.
Making sure that the coyote was still, Tanith took up her position on the Eastern edge of the circle. Sabra took the western edge while Fate remained outside, watching the proceedings with languid calm.
As she felt the ambience of magic rise up all around her, as if from the very Earth itself, Tanith closed her eyes and reached out a mental link to her teacher. Then, the two of them began to focus on the weavings of magic of the creature between them.
As Sabra carefully began to disperse and reweave the spell strands that hung there in their mind's eye, Tanith carefully observed her work. She was present to provide the energies that Sabra needed to do this delicate work... and to observe first hand the skills of a master.
Slowly, after a timeless eternity in their trance, the last strand of magic was put back into place. The extraneous energies of magic were carefully released back to the ambient environment that they came from. The mind link slowly dissolved.
Tanith opened her eyes as she emerged from her trance, and looked for the first time on the person behind the coyote.
Written by Locke
That which wore the form of the coyote shivered uncontrollably in a circle beyond which he could not move, dry heaving. His eyes burned with the apparent discharge of energy beyond the circle, lightning streaks of potent...force that jolted him with every shift across a haze of fractured color. Ever sensitive to noise, the roar of raw craclking power threatened to undo the last remaing shard of coherent thought.
Caged within his still sundered mind, the changeling found himself voiceless as the heat enveloped him, hair smouldering and skin charring, tendrils of smoke wrapped about his trembling limbs, ethereal chains that seemed to bind him as firmly as any mortal-forged manacles.
He had always thought death by fire to be the most terrible and fearful of all dooms...
Within the sacred circle, the changeling burned, seemingly suspended by unseen hands and held within the crimson fire that shot up from the ground. Robbed of voice, the changeling had no means with which to express his terror in these last moments, denied it seemed, even this.
Black ashes falling to the now despoiled earth, charred flaking remnants of the beast burning a ghostly afterimage into the ground,even the bones themselves dissolving as if dipped into acid and collapsing soundless.
What arose from the blackened debris of a beast that science had only a few short weeks ago assured the world could never exist?
Where...where am I?
The man, Locke, lay upon the ground of Memorial Glade, with thought, that too easily derided sweet gift, drifting back into focus at long, long last.
Jesus, my back is killing me.
That thought alas, was a complaint typically uttered upon waking.And not alone either was this snippet of coherent thinking.
God-damned,it's freezin' in here.
The man, Locke, craned his neck and started. Stars?
Stars, I can see stars...on the ground, campin' trip...don't remember goin' on a campin' trip.
He grimaced as he became all too acutely aware that if this indeed be a camping trip, he had neglected to bring along even a sleeping bag.
Drunk...no this ain't a...hangover...twenty years at least, since I've been intoxicated...
With effort, Locke raised himself to a sitting posisition, rubbing what he hoped was merely sleep from his tired eyes.
Sick...yeah that's it...musta got sick and lay down here and went all nappy
Comforted by this thought, Locke looked about. It had just occurred to him to wonder where *here* might be.
Here? Where is here? Don't look like anyplace I normally go.
He glanced about what appeared to be a park of some sort and was gratified to see a sign near a well trodden pathway. Memorial Glade.
Now that don't ring a bell...Memorial Glade
A dream,he thought, yup just another dream. Wake up any minute now and find myself on the couch with Sasami tryin' to lick my nose off. A comforting thought that if a bit of reality had not insisted upon a rude intrusion.
Dream...no, can't read in a dream..this can't be one...I got sick and passed out, that's all.
Still, as always, the thought of the pugnacious, tailless young kitling roused his spirits.
Cats..got 'em on the brain...dreamed about 'em too I think...smoky one was some kind of smartass.
Locke grunted to himself and looked at the park sign again, more then a little puzzled by yet another little mystery.
Sign is clear as day...Christ, I never read anything that clear even with my glasses
As Locke puzzled over this small oddment, he was interrupted by a clear twinkling voice.
"Sir, how are you feeling? May I help you?"
Locke looked up to see the speaker. A young lady approached him. Late tweens maybe, he decided, then revised that estimate upwards. Her eyes burned with rare intelligence, seeking, probing.
Asian gal too,he realized. No, not Japanese, not Filipino. For a moment, he'd thought this might be Ange...no, not her.
This young, brave soul was Chinese and he knew only a few of those but not she. Certainly, she could be no one he knew even vaguely.
"Sir, You are in need of assistance. Please allow me to provide it."
A firm voice , now insistent and commanding. Definitely not taking no for an answer.
Oh brother, not another one I can't say no to.
Locke chagrined, nodded. He'd always had a considerable talent for reading people quickly. And in this visitor to an as yet unexplained episode, he felt a rare strength.
Most importantly of all, he felt quite safe and secure with her.
Just the kind of person he loved meeting and knowing, although he would have greatly preferred that these first meetings occur under more...dignified circumstances. Odd what we think of, in such moments.
Dang, now I know how Odysseus felt when he met Nausica...
Locke met the eyes of the young lady stepping to his aid and spoke as clearly and slowly as he could, highly anxious to be understood with as much clarity as possible.
"I'll be very happy to accept your help ma'am...please forgive my state of undress..."
Written by Tanith
"I wasn't sure about your size, so I just got the large sizes just in case. Cal might be loose in it's dress code, but I'd figured you'd at least be cold." There was a hint of humor in that last remark.
"Ah. Thank you." Locke replied, non-plussed.
For a moment, there was only the rustling of cloth. As Locke hurriedly dressed himself, he took the time to glance around his surroundings. A curious series of circles and runes were drawn on the grass around him with some kind of powder. They centered on him, and he had the vague feeling that they were important somehow. Out of the corner of his eye, he noted another creature in the clearing, a smoky colored cat that seemed to be an extension of the shadows across the glade, but for its brightly glowing eyes.
"May I ask where I am?" he asked hesitantly when he was done.
"Memorial Glade, at the University of California in Berkeley." Tanith paused for a moment, before slowly turning around and scrutinizing him with a strangely cat-like expression. She nodded absently, as if to herself. "Well, it's not a perfect fit, but I suppose it'll do."
A cold wind blew through the clearing at that moment, and both humans shivered from its chilly breath. Tanith turned to walk away from the clearing, motioning for him to follow.
"Come on. We can talk somewhere warmer."
Holding back his own questions, which had only been compounded by the revelation of where he was, Locke followed her. As they walked on, he noticed that the cat from the clearing following them closely. Moreover, he found that he wasn't surprised at this unusual behavior from what he'd thought to be a wild cat, a fact that vaguely troubled him.
They walked on for perhaps 15 minutes or so, mostly on an uphill path that branched along large concrete buildings and tree-choked glades, until they reached a main road. Without bothering with the intersection lights, the girl led him right across the road when no cars were in sight, and toward the twin cubical buildings directly opposite.
It didn't look like an apartment building, so Locke could only assume that it was a school building. Or perhaps an office building. It seemed closed, though, and nary a light could be seen from the windows that faced the street. As they walked between the buildings, Locke could see the sign above the two doors on the sides of each building.
As Tanith headed toward the door to Soda Hall, she reached into her pocket and took out her keycard, flashing it in front of the detector near the door. With a crisp *beep*, and a dull *clank*, the door unlocked. She pulled it open and motioned Locke (and Fate) in. Then, repeating the procedure once more to turn on the elevator, she took him down to the first basement level.
There, warmth still filled the building. And the three lab-rooms were still brightly lit for the computer science students who were pulling all-nighters on their studies. Quietly slipping by the lab rooms, she headed for one of the discussion rooms that the TA's would use for their meetings. With another flash of her card, and they were in a soundproofed room with no windows to the outside corridor. A safely private place. She dropped into one of the three seats in the room, and motioned for her guest to do the same.
As Locke looked around the room he had been led to, his eye caught a small bundle in the corner. Of blankets, he realized as he slid into one of the other two chairs. Another piece of the puzzle. He was very confused now. And quite worried.
Tanith saw the worried look in his eyes and spoke up first. "We should be secure here. It's quite soundproofed, so no one will overhear us. And the TA's don't use it much, and I'm sure they won't be using it in the near future either." She smiled slightly at that last part, as Fate jumped into her lap. The cat settled itself and began to purr, her tail swishing hypnotically.
Locke nodded. He wasn't sure what to say to that.
"So... now that we're here... you must be confused." Tanith regarded him with an intent look. "It's probably best to start from the beginning. Just what do you remember?"
Written by Locke
Wonderful. Just what I need, an anxiety attack.
Across the table, his companion peered expectantly at him, waiting. The smoke hued feline in her lap continued to stare at him. Locke retrained an urge to reach over and pet the cat, which under happier circumstances would have been his first impulse.
'Um, you did say we're in California, yes? Berkeley? I'm a bit hard of hearing, so perhaps I misunderstood you?' Locke ventured hesitantly, stalling for time.
"Berkeley,yes. Where might you be from?"
'Uh...really confused...I don't...recall...' Locke admitted.
"What is the last thing you do recall? Before waking up?"
'Park...went for a walk in the park...dog...I think...I seem to recall being bitten by some wild dog..,tried to take my hand off, too..sitting on the bench...bleeding...now I'm here.'
The girl reached over and took Locke's left hand by the wrist, turning it over for inspection. Then she once more looked at her guest.
"Yes, you have some scars that might be bite marks, but they're quite faded now. When did this happen?"
Locke pulled his hand free of her grasp, pausing before he replied.
'Um...leaves were turning color...fall I guess...if the scars are old...how long have I been without my memory?'
"No need to worry...maybe five weeks if that. You were bitten near the end of September. Like I was."
'A dog bit you? Excuse me, now I'm really lost.'
"Not a dog. In my case it was a cat. I'll clarify as we go along. And to be perfectly accurate, a dog didn't bite you. A coyote did."
'Coyote? Yeah...I guess it might have been a coyote... bite burned like a sonuvagun.'
Locke ran a hand through unruly grey streaked hair, searching for traction of some sort. Any port in this storm.
'Um, how did you know it was a coyote? And uh...you know me right? I mean, you were waiting for me with those clothes...'
"Yes, honestly...I do believe I know you...Gordon."
'That...would be my...name I take it? Um...why is it...you believe that you know me? How can you not be sure?'
The young lady paused herserself, clearly searching carefully for just the best way to express herself.
"Well....we've never actually met RL. We're online aquaintances."
Locke started at this revelation, now hopelessly confused. And embarrassed as well. He flushed red as an extremely unseemly thought pushed through his mind. As if reading his mind, the girl smiled mischievously.
"No need to panic about having done anything..improper...we hang out at a place called Comic Book Resources, arguing about Batman and playing make believe."
'Make believe? Arguing about..Batman?'
"Yes...we spend ungodly amounts of time in online roleplaying... pretending to have superpowers. Lots of people think we're insane...but hey, that's our hobby."
'Uh... okay. If you say so.That doesn't quite explain how we...um...ended up here. I take it I'm not from Berkeley?'
"Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. That ring a bell...?"
'Maybe...Edmonton...Fort...something 'bout the park where I was bitten?'
"See...I think your memory loss is...pretty transient, not deep at all. You mentioned your hearing problem...that's one reason I'm sure of who you are."
'I guess...any idea at all of how I got here?'
"Yes. I collared you in Billings, Montana. You weren't yourself. I was worried that your life might be in danger so I took you home."
Locke knew somehow, the *collared* remark was a gentle dig but let it slip by.
Look at this picture I took of you...in this state. Look at the ..eyes.
Locke examined the photo she handed him. A very large, grey streaked coyote...staring unhappily into the camera...
God..how I hate having my picture taken...
"He has your eyes...even in coyote form...grey...you'll note one of them is miscast...I guess the nose job was a bust as well?"
Locke stared at the picture, his hands sweating. Extremely unpleasant memories of hack jobs by the criminally incompetent were queing up...along with something much deeper and blacker.
"Ah...I thought that might jar something loose...you..do realize what I mean when I say this coyote is you?"
'Lemme guess...we're...no longer...pretending to have superpowers...'
"Yes..that's it, in a nutshell. Media reports of similar incidents are exploding...we're not quite alone in this."
'So I must have told you or vice versa and we met up in Billings?'
"No. We certainly have a pleasant, respectful friendship but we're not terribly close. I..had a vague...warning that...going to Montana was advisable...I never realized that the..uh..changeling I found might be you until I actually saw you...as yourself and heard you speak.And..smelled you."
"It was the faint faded reek of gasoline and diesel...when you have a cat's sense of smell...kinda hard to miss.As a coyote, you kept going back to this gas station near my house..watching it as if you felt responsible for it somehow.And I did know that's your job."
"I guess so...Awfully thin reed to hang a case on...'
"Well...that line you mumbled about Odysseus and Nausica...just the image he would have used to express the dilemna of an older gentleman meeting a young lady under...awkward circumstances.And just the kind and considerate behavior we've come to expect from you."
Locke took several deep breaths, calming himself. He continued to stare at the picture. Sympathetically, the girl patted his hand. He laid the picture down on the table and was silent for a long time. His host said nothing, waiting patiently. Finally, Locke spoke...barely above a whisper.
'A cat...that's what you are....'
She nodded, grinning. A mischief maker you are, he thought with a surge of affection, and knew this was not the first time he had so labelled her.
'Something about my life being in danger?'
The grin vanished as reality came rudely knocking at the door.
"Yes. I believe so. You're safe here, I think, at least for the moment."
'Well...you seem to know my name...I haven't been introduced to you properly....'
"Sure. I'm Tanith, around the boards anyhow. And the name we know you by is Locke."
'Locke...odd choice of handles...'
"Not at all. You are a bit of a mischief making trickster yourself...suits you very well."
'Now see here, young lady...this is no way to treat your elders.'
Locke protested in mock indignation as the girl rose to her feet. Abrutly, he wondered what would happen now.
"Oh, really uncle-senpai....wait until ya get tackle hugged..."
It was a very good thing the room was sound-proofed and windowless, he decided.
I hate people seeing me cry...
Written by Tanith
"Err... right." Tanith seemingly spoke to the feline, with a hint of chagrin. She turned back to Locke, serious once more, and took up the conversation again.
"Anyways. I can't really explain you away to my roommates at my apartment, so I guess you'll be staying down here for the nights. Don't worry; you're not the first person to spend their nights here down in Soda, and I know quite a few people who can vouch for the... comfort... here.
"There's a map of the building and of the campus in that bag along with some blankets and clothing. My... friends... and I have, ah, made sure that your presence here won't draw any undue attention from the students and staff.
"In the mean time, I guess we should notify someone about your presence here and see about getting you back to your former life. Well, if that's what you want to do, anyways... I'm still not sure how you got into this mess in the first place, and it seems we won't know for sure until your memory returns completely.
"But if you want... I could AIM Cougar later tonight when I get back to my place...?"
There, she pause and looked at Locke in askance, awaiting his response to her rush of information and suggestions.
Written by Locke
'Um...Cougar...yeah, she must be worried sick...I'll give ya her e-mail addy....she isn't likely to be on AIM.....think she knows about...this changeling bit...yes, go ahead...'
'These digs will do fine...it ain't like I haven't crashed at uni myself in the past. And I think I imposed on you enough these past few days. Point me in the direction of your library and I'll be happy'
'Um...I am wondering though....I got no money...no plastic....no papers....no job history here...nothing....I'm gonna have to ask for a bit of help there, I'm afraid...'
Tanith frowned unhappily, then opted for forthrightness.
"I'm not in a position to spot you, an um, loan or anything..."
'No,not money...what we gotta do...this...magic you got....is it enough to...uh...persuade a prospective employer not to look too closely at the resume I hand him....or the personal info we'll have to dummy up?'
"Thinking of staying awhile?"
'I can't endanger Cougar or her husband by returning home...so here is as good a place as any to recharge...'
"I'll see what can be done. Thinking of applying at that station?"
'Yeah...unless the Berkeley university library is hiring....'
"Honestly, I have no idea...guess you'll have to find out..."
'Sure...once we get the mundane details of life outta the way...'
'Then we can start worrying about this...who exactly is trying to kill me again?'
To this, Tanith could only shrug helplessly, unable to speak what she did not know.
Written by Tanith
Tanith paused a moment, waiting for a reply, a memory, that never came. Shrugging, she spoke on.
"I've got a whole slew of midterm exams next week, so I might not be around too much. But I think I can pull of a temporary fake ID to tide you over.
"Getting you a library pass would actually be harder... but I think my... friends... could arrange it."
She glanced at her watch and sighed.
"It's pretty late now. You should get some rest. I'll go back and AIM Cougar before I go to be myself. Good night."
With that, she slipped out of the room, the cat on her heels, leaving Locke to the empty silence of the sterile room.
Written by Locke
The wine dark sea
Cool....so this is what an ocean looks like...
The changeling known as Locke stood upon the beach in West Berkeley and for the first time in his 43 years gazed upon the majesty that was the Pacific. In a lifetime spent living in the middle of the great continent that was North America, he had never managed to make it to either coast, every plan to that effect having fallen by the wayside for one reason or another.
Never had he expected that he would end up in temporary residence a few scant miles from the Pacific, much less that he would do so as the result of a murderous attack by some unknown creature whose very name yet eluded him...
That the Phlat Gods had seen fit to have him succored by an online aquaintaince who was herself some manner of changeling was too ironic for words...
Shaking this thought out of his head, Locke ventured near the thundering surf. He had always immenesely loved great bodies of water, and still counted it a priviledge that he had grown up only a few scant miles from the world's largest body of fresh water, Lake Superior. For the first time however, he must now grudging admit that his beloved lake was the tiniest of puddles compared to this peerless spectacle.
He was very nearly tempted to shift into coyote form and go for a swim had the chill waters not deterred him.
Definitely not a good idea for this time of year. Hypothermia I bet, even as a were...Haveta settle for just lookin' at it, instead...
Contemplating the surf breaking upon the beach was definitely preferrable to deciding what to do about his circumstances here. The best course of action under his current circumstances to take yet eluded him.
Given that exactly no progress had been made in identifying his would be attacker, Locke was unwilling to depart California and return home to Edmonton where his enforced departure had left things chaotic, to say the least. Cougar Madcat and her husband were struggling in his abscence while a brief and exceedingly bitter conversation with his employer - no, make that former employer-had made it clear that he was not welcome to return to his old job absent copiously documented proof of alien abduction as an excuse for his AWOL status. In brief, his career and his future with the company was ancient history. He ought to return however, if only to do what he could for his friends, if so doing would not endanger them.
Of course, naturally, he found himself a bit reluctant to leave his temporary home here. Always an adventure to see new places, meet new people, try your luck in a new setting...and unquestionablely he felt safe here....safe and secure...
Too secure maybe...and perhaps too dependent.
If there was one thing Locke wished to do in this life, it was certainly never again to be dependent on others, nor to ask to impose upon them. Certainly,rightly or wrongly, he felt his stay here to be an imposition that ought to be terminated...
Trapped in these dark thoughts, Locke paid no heed to the soft voice that drifted into earshot. Only the whinny,unmistakeable to any horselover, broke through his introspection. He looked up and chagrined, and stood speechless.
The horse....defiinitely was no breed he was familiar with. A mare she was, near dainty as any Arabian he had ever seen, but none of that desert-bred lot had nearly transculent hooves that might have been seashells, nor a mane that might well have been seaweed of the greenest hues...a tail to match....and a wraithlike pale skin tone he could have sworn was scaled...
Yet this horse was not remotely as striking as it's rider who rode side-saddle, and looked on Locke with unconcealed amusement.
Jade hair with eyes to match...petite...hardly five foot six...clad all in lavendar in a design he did not pretend to recognize....and hopelessly unable to guess her age which he thought might be twentish but knew immediately to be wrong.
He made eye contact, seeking to gauge her character, and was somehow, not surprised to discover the power that flowed and curled within those orbs.
"The very sea itself, primeval and measureless dwelled in those eyes"
Needless to say, Locke found himself quite speechless.
His vistor gifted him with a faint smile and spoke again.
"She's quite friendly. Thoosa is her name."
Moved by this ever so gentle hint, Locke stepped forward to make friends with the mare. As he stroked her neck, his mind churned.
Thoosa? What kind of name is that for a horse? Who names their horse after a danged nymph?
Locke however, thought he knew the answer to that question.
This visitor, this strange woman reeked of familiarity.
In some odd way, she was known to him, if only second-hand.
And if what he had read was true, if this was indeed she...it was even remotely possible she might be friendly.
My manners...musta left 'em back in Edmonton
The changeling moved to the mare's side and lifted up a hand, offering the stranger assistance. She took his hand with an easy strength he thought must approach his own, newfound might and stepped down from her side-saddle. For a moment, she contemplated him with that quirky, ever shifting smile, then released his hand. Her quicksilver voice was equally exotic....an accent he could not place.
"You must be a bit curious as to what's going on..."
Locke nodded to this understated quip and responded, hazarding a forthright manner
"You'll pardon my manners and my staring...I've never met a princess before"
He did not add the second thought which he kept to himself.
Much less a fairytale princess
She tilted her head, meeting his gaze, and her wane smile finally settled in place.
"Princess? Ah, you've guessed who I am. Good. Then this conversation will go a bit more easily for you."
Not for the first time Locke groaned at his lot in life.
I don't like the sound of that one dang bit