Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A Summoning: Part XI

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Well, this is gonna be an awkward conversation, Jess thought. Maybe you should let me do the talking if you're not any good at bluffing?
Solid plan. I don't think I'm bad at it, but I'm sure you're much better than I am.
...About our explanation, though. This person might be a normal human still under the Veil. What do we do if she doesn't believe us?
Show her some magic,
Zotha shrugged. The Veil takes intent into account. If you just want to use magic to do something then enveiled people will be blind to it, but if your goal is explicitly to show someone magic then it lets you do it. But you can only do that right in front of someone's face, not remotely like through TV or radio, or it'll make itself look fake. I would guess that clause was added as mass media appeared in order to keep things from going out of control.
Well...I guess that's that, then. Jess stepped up to the doorbell, and pressed her finger on it. The two of them waited a moment for the person inside to hear, wonder who it could be at this hour, slowly get up and walk to the front door...and eventually, to open it.

It was a woman, maybe in her thirties, with hair the same shade of brown as the werewolf. She was about average height and build, dressed casually, and had on an expression of deliberately muted annoyance, though at the same time there were clear signs of recent stress and exhaustion showing on her face. “Hello?” She said, looking between the two of them. “Can I help you with something?”
“Possibly,” Jess said, taking the lead as planned. “Did someone who lives here go missing the night before last?” She paused just long enough for a response to almost be formed, and then: “Someone who was also injured within the month prior to that? Especially mauled, scratched or bitten?”
“ you, know something?” she said, a look of surprise quickly turning to suspicion.
“Well—I'm not sure how to put this but bluntly. The two of us were taking a walk by some woods today, when we encountered a werewolf.”
“A—” she started, obviously not believing the story so far.
Jess cut her off: “He seemed mostly feral, but we were able to use magic to subdue him without harming him. Excuse me, maybe we should've introduced ourselves first. My name is Jess, and this is Zotha; we're witches.”
Their host frowned at this point. “Seriously?”

“Jess, I don't think she knows about magic,” Zotha said. “I should give some demonstration that we're serious.” She raised a hand, palm-up, and made a ball of fire appear floating above it, starting in her characteristic purple before shifting down through the colors of the rainbow, ending in a bright red before disappearing again with the closing of the hand to a fist, and then dropping said hand back to her side. The woman at the door watched this closely, intently, visibly trying to reconcile what she was seeing with her own prior understanding of reality and failing.
She stared, mouth agape, for another moment or so, then looked between the two of them, who remained silent, letting her process it. “..Okay, I...guess I can at least tell you...” She sighed. “Come in, please.”

They were led to a living room not far from the entryway; a laptop was sitting half-closed on an end table next to a chair, which she sat down on while indicating a couch to one side for the two 'witches' to use. They took the indicated seats, watching her.

Sure. Okay. My brother disappeared night before last. The police wouldn't even list him as a missing person at first because they said it looked like he jumped out the window himself.” She shook her head. “They accused me of keeping him trapped here or something, but once I convinced them I hadn't...they still couldn't find him. And yes, a couple of weeks ago, I sent him out for groceries and the next thing I know he's in the hospital with a chunk taken out of his arm. Said some kind of bear attacked him out of nowhere, and he got it to run off, but..” She looked down, shaking her head. “I thought that was the worst of it. He recovered fast, and they cleared him within a couple of days.” Then she looked back up. “And you're telling me that—bear—was really a werewolf biting him?”
Bear? Jess wondered.
It's a logical thing for the veil to put in place of a werewolf when it's too big to 'be a regular wolf', Zotha guessed.
“I don't imagine he was looking very carefully at the animal attacking him,” Jess replied.
“I guess not.

“So—what did you
do? After, 'subduing' him?” she said.
“That's why we're here now,” Jess said. “It was obvious he wasn't in his right mind, or in control of himself. Turning into a werewolf the first time is extremely painful and difficult. Zotha tried out an experimental spell to calm him and try to get him back in control. It worked surprisingly well, but there were some..side effects.” Zotha nodded.
“ what?”
Jess held up a hand. “Before we get into that, I should explain why it took us until now to find you. He really did almost go feral. It seems to have wiped a lot of his memory. We're...hoping that's only temporary, but right now he doesn't seem to even remember his own name.”
Zotha nodded. “If you don't mind, I'll...” she stood up.
“Right. Let's get your brother in here,” Jess said, while the demoness went to the front door to get the werewolf's attention.

The woman on the chair watched, leaning herself forward as far as she could to see the 'witch' head out the door briefly before coming back with someone in tow behind her. She followed Zotha nervously, wringing her hands and making a concerted effort to keep herself entirely obscured the entire time—at least until they came into the living room. Once they were there, the demoness stopped, turning her head half around and waving her to come out. She peeked her head out slowly, and then pulled the rest of herself out into view. Her ears were folded back and her tail only giving the occasional nervous twitch.
Her sister watched this with wide eyes, slowly standing up from her chair. Jess watched her expressions carefully, and was surprised to see real, genuine recognition mixed in there. After a long moment looking at each other, she took a couple of steps closer.

“Damon! It's you! Y-you're alive!” she said, taking the next several before grabbing the werewolf girl in her arms, a tight, almost motherly hug, which was returned immediately following a brief shudder of surprise and relief.
“S-sis...” Damon leaned on her shoulder, starting to cry right away. “I-I was so scared you wouldn't recognize me...”
After letting the hug go on for a while, she pulled back and patted the short, wolfish girl on the head a couple of times. “Y-you big goof, you don't think I'd know my own brother?” she said, her voice cracking and her own eyes flooding with tears by this point.
How is she recognizing her, anyway? Jess wondered.
I don't know..some kind of magic? It happened right when they looked in each others' eyes, Zotha replied. I admit I really wanted her to, and I could feel that she wanted to and that Damon wanted her maybe I accidentally made a little miracle?

After sniffling a few times, and wiping her eyes on a sleeve, Damon's sister said. “So you..don't remember anything?”
“N-no..not a whole lot, anyway. I c-couldn't 'member my own name 'till you told me,” Damon said. “And like, I-I know you're my sister but I don't remember
your name, either!” she said, folding her ears back again in distress.
“It's Onida. Got it?” she said, reaching over to wipe a few of the tears off with a hand. “I was..I really thought I'd lost you for good this time.”
“I thought I lost me for good too,” she said sadly. “But Masters helped me with that!” she added, getting a small smile and looking toward the two who had claimed to be witches.

“Uh..'masters'?” Onida said, giving them a suspicious look again.
“Like I said, she's not exactly all there right now,” Jess said. “The wolf side still has a lot of influence, it's just that it's tamer and friendlier right now. So..”
“It's easier for her to make it do what she wants it to do by telling it we're her masters and told her to do it,” Zotha said. “That shouldn't be necessary forever. But I'm uncertain whether the more helpful effects of my spell would disappear if I tried to undo the...side effects just now, which is why we haven't changed her back yet.”
“I see...” The explanation seemed to make sense to her. She looked between the two of them again, and then back to her transformed brother. “And I'm gonna guess there's no cure for 'being a werewolf', huh?”
“Not once the first full moon comes,” Zotha said, drawing from some knowledge granted her as a deity. “It..fundamentally alters a person's nature, more or less making them part wolf for life. That's a big part of why it can be so difficult to control oneself at first.”

She sighed, looking back at Damon. “So I guess you're stuck like that for a while, huh?”
“Yep.'s okay, though. Like, I'm sure I'll get better soon..” she said, looking less certain than her words suggested. “A-at least..with your help...”
“I just wonder what your viewers will think. I guess I could just tell them you're 'sick' though, until you can at least turn back into a guy...”
“Viewers?” Jess said.
“Yeah. My brother's a streamer,” Onida said, turning back to the witches. “He barely got out of the house lately, which is why I sent him after groceries that day. Stupid me.”
“Come on, you didn't even know werewolves were real,” Zotha said. “Even those who do don't generally expect someone to get attacked by one. It's quite rare.”

Damon, meanwhile, had been busy slowly tilting her head, getting a thoughtful expression. “That sounds..super familiar, yep. Streaming's...playin' games for people to watch, right?”
“As far as I understand,” her sister said, nodding. “If you didn't even remember that much, I guess we have a long road ahead of us...”
“There are some people you could contact for help,” Zotha said, producing from a pocket (actually creating, of course) a piece of paper with a phone number and address on it. “They deal with magic-related incidents like this one. Maybe they have better advice on how to help fix lycanthropy-based amnesia than the two of us would.”
She took the paper, staring at it for a long moment, and then nodded, looking back up to them. “Thank you two. Seriously. I thought...I really thought he was dead this time.” She looked at Damon for a second or two, then back to them. “I think..both of us need some time to process all of this. I hate to kick you out so soon, but...”
“I understand completely,” Jess said. Zotha offered another piece of paper.
“Our numbers. If you ever want to get in touch.”
“Of course,” Onida nodded. After that, the two of them politely left, shutting the front door behind them.

“I think that went pretty well,” Jess said while they walked around to between the buildings to disappear back to their dorm room. “There...are no signs that she was mistreating him or anything, right?”
“I could feel Damon's emotions when she saw her sister,” Zotha. “It was a rush of happy familiarity, all the way down to the core. There would've been at least a tint of anger or fear or something if we had anything to worry about.” She rubbed the top of Jess's head a bit. “We can always check back quietly even if she doesn't contact us. But I think there's nothing to worry about.”

In a swift motion of shadow, their surroundings became the dorm room, the demon goddess's domain. “You know something else? Even though neither of them explicitly know I'm a deity, I could feel the gratitude rolling off of both of them into me, same as always,” Zotha said. “I guess all it takes is knowing I was responsible in some way, if even that—and without needing to really know who or what I am exactly.”
“Um..y-you're hand's still on my head, Master,” Jess said with a faint blush.
“So it is.” The demoness gave a mischievous grin. “I think you've earned some reward today. We do need to get up tomorrow morning for classes, but I'm sure we can play a little first~.” She picked up her little priestess into a close hug, trading out their day clothes in the process—no bra for either of them, just panties and a T-shirt for Zotha, an open, long black bathrobe for the smaller girl. Jess's blush intensified quite a bit while this happened; she squeaked, returning the hug, and then leaned in to gently rub her cheek against Zotha's. It was going to be a fun night.

They talked for what felt like hours. Onida showed the strange, wolf-eared girl her brother had turned into scores of pictures—her former, male self; her parents; some of her online friends. For many she expressed familiarity but wasn't able to identify the names. It wasn't right to expect a lot of progress all at once, but the more the girl recognized people and responded to her the more she was convinced this really had been her brother—was her brother, rather—after being half-accidentally changed into something else. She talked a little bit like a complete ditz, and kept making noises all the time; she was probably shedding all over the furniture; but...she was alive. And—well, maybe not entirely sane right now, but also not murderously insane.

Her brother was alive, and there was a chance to bring her—bring him all the way back, too. A real chance; she could see it. Eventually the adrenaline from the shock of seeing him alive again—recognizing him, somehow, in a small girl's eyes—wore off, and Onida yawned, beginning to have difficulty keeping herself awake. It was no good; she had work tomorrow, too. What was she supposed to do—tell her to stay at home and be a good girl? Well—after all, her brother had disappeared, her friends and coworkers knew that. Maybe taking a day off, citing stress, would be forgivable.

Damon noticed the worry, the thinking in her eyes right away. “What's wrong, sis?” she said.
Onida sighed. “I don't know...what we're gonna do with you. With us. I dunno how to explain to anyone what turned into. I dunno how to deal with keeping it a secret that you've come back, either. And I'm so tired...”
“You should sleep, then! I'll keep you safe,” the werewolf girl said, with all the eagerness of a friendly dog.
“What, are you gonna bark at anyone who tries to rob the place?” she said sarcastically.
“Noo, I thought I might rip their throat out though. Mmh!” Damon's eyes widened, her hand over her mouth for a second or two—not believing she'd said what she'd just said. Her sister didn't believe it either; Damon was—to say the least—not a violent person at all. “S-sorry. I, I dunno where that came from,” she said after a moment.
“I guess you still have a wild animal in your head,” Onida said. “And it...thinks that's the right thing to do to any threats to the pack. So I should feel lucky I count as a member, huh?”
“I-I'm so sorry...I should, shouldn't let the wolf say such awful things no matter what.”
“It's fine. We'll..figure it out as we go.” She still made a mental note to try not to make Damon angry in the near future. If lycanthropy was as contagious as certain myths and stories suggested, even a relatively light attack from her could be a problem. Then again, those witches had only said it wasn't curable 'after the first full moon', so maybe those people they'd given her a number and address for would have some...anti-lycanthropy shots available or something? But if they had something like that, why not include it disguised as part of the regular vaccine regimen that all kids took?

Her head was running away with her again. “Look. The point is, I'm gonna go to bed. You should..try to rest too,” Onida said, getting up. “I'll...probably call in sick to work tomorrow so we can keep trying to fix your memories for a while. If we get you close enough to normal then maybe those witches can turn you...well, sorta mostly back at least?”
“Mm-hm.” She had a concerned look. “But, you can't give up work forever for me! How'll you pay for food and stuff, then?”
Her sister's throat caught for a moment. It was so close to something Damon had said before...back when he was quitting college, coming to move in with her—just before he started getting some real success as a streamer. “I..I know. Just for tomorrow, though, that won't hurt. After that we'll just, work on you whenever I'm home from work,” she nodded. “Good night.”
“'Ni~ight,” the werewolf girl said, waving cutely. Onida stared at this sight for only a moment before turning to head to her bedroom. It was going to be difficult to get used to her brother being...cute, she thought.

The plan was beginning to form. Thursday was April 1, a very special day for Kitsune for fairly obvious reasons. There were still some details to work out, but it seemed like they had a good idea now. As Anika climbed into bed, pulling the covers over herself and solidifying her illusion to stick around while she was asleep, she just couldn't stop thinking about it.

She had never had such a long conversation with her roommate before. It had gone on and on, all the way through supper and beyond. They were trading ideas back and forth, talking not just about the plan but all kinds of things—his life growing up as a Kitsune, laughing together over a number of the pranks he'd pulled on her before she was one...and her life as a magic-oblivious human too. And the more they talked, the more she found she liked him. Before, there had always been a certain amount of liking and trust, a vague understanding that Steph's pranks were friendly, was hard to say that Andrew had ever fully considered him a friend. Now there was no question; they were friends, allies...

Anika's heart skipped a beat. She caught herself thinking about Steph's face, his body. He was...cute. Oh no, he really was, wasn't he? Her stupid girl body wasn't going to stop at being female and saying it was, it was attracted to men, too. Not, like—ravenously attracted or anything, but just enough for it to sneak up on her like this now, directed right at the person she'd just determined she liked as a friend. She gritted her teeth and tried to tell herself no like a bad dog or something, but this was a matter of her body and it wasn't very obedient when it came to attraction. Well—she'd even kept it from herself until now, right? So maybe it wouldn't be so hard to keep it under wraps until she could turn back to normal...sure...

The Kitsune turned her focus back to Thursday's trick, the parts they hadn't ironed out yet. It was easy to keep it occupied with that, and distract her from thinking specifically about the fact that Steph was shirtless in bed not ten feet away from her. Stop stop stop! Dumb pink elephants thing! Anika lightly bonked a fist against the side of her head, disguising the noise from being heard, trying to manually readjust her thoughts. Maybe it would be better to just use magic to put herself to sleep at this point; that was evidently another thing she knew how to do, after all...

“Aaand...done.” Prama set down the last of her textbooks for the semester, finished reading and understanding the contents. She glanced over at the clock: 10 PM, about an optimal time to start getting ready for bed. She stood up, stretched, and tossed off her day clothes, putting on one of her old (boy-type) t-shirts to feel like she was 'decent' even though nobody was really going to see her at this time of night. Part of her thought it would be fun to show everyone else up this coming week—knowing all the answers now, after all—but she knew full well that participating in class at all was going to be difficult. It was so strange how confident she felt alone, and how...not so around a bunch of other people, without magical help. there was something that seemed like it would be worth learning. If she could learn a few spells—or maybe how to brew potions if that was a thing?—it would serve her better than all the mathematics in the world. Bottle fame, brew glory, put a stopper on death itself, she thought, humming quietly to herself as she undid her hair. Depending on what kind of magic system they lived in, this was either a highly realistic career path for her newfound brainpower or a total dead-end, but she wouldn't know until she tried, right?

The only question for now was how to find a reference to read, or ingredients for potions in the first place. Just searching the Internet wasn't going to work...but Zotha's followers did have a few 'magic-aware' people in the ranks. All she had to do was ask...err, get Jess to ask those people where they would go to get potions, then ask the potion-makers where to find a good reference to learn the craft...which still meant asking a complete stranger for something. It was no good, she'd need to engage in some interaction at some point. Well—that was alright, she would just have to learn to cope with it.

Just because her attributes had been traded around didn't mean she couldn't improve the ones that had suffered, Prama reasoned. She could—if she wanted to—exercise to become strong. And she could practice talking to people to get better at it. That was it, that was what she needed to do—she gave herself a determined nod, sitting up on the side of her bed just before swinging over onto her back. Practice. Push herself into it whether she wanted to or not, and after a while it would be second nature..again. Like it was before. And if she did learn to make potions, then maybe the ingredients of a confidence booster wouldn't be too expensive to get together as a...temporary measure, until she really had all that confidence herself. It wouldn't do to become dependent on something like that for her success forever, after all...

Damon sat in the living room, wagging her tail, for several minutes. She was completely and totally awake, either nocturnal now or—possibly had already been nearly so before the whole werewolf thing, and moreso now because of it. The animal part of her was perfectly happy with sitting here all night, keeping a careful watch on the house to make sure nobody mean came around to disturb her sister or mess them up some other way. But...after a few became increasingly clear that her human side was not so happy. In short, she was bored.

Damon stood up, stretching her arms up and making a quiet “Rrr~rf.” Well, maybe it wouldn't hurt to look around the house a little more and see whether she recognized the layout, or if any of the stuff here sparked a memory? She began taking a tour of the house and indeed found the whole place encouragingly familiar. She knew her sister's bedroom door, which was closed, right away, the kitchen and dining area, the extra bathroom...
Her own room was upstairs, the knowledge came unbidden. Before long Damon found herself quietly tiptoeing up that way to take a look. There was just a small hallway there, separating her room and her bathroom, with an attic in the door at the end. The knowledge of where each room was jumped into her head as soon as she saw the hallway, and she quickly decided to check out the bedroom.

Opening the door, she found the room...almost exactly how she must have left it upon the sunset of the full moon. It was a complete mess which every glance at reminded her what had happened when the wolf first appeared: Thrashing all over the room in pain, grabbing things and knocking them over all around, ending just as the transformation did with a sudden tumble out the window. A small path had been cleared through the mess from the door to the window, and the window boarded up, but apart from that it seemed Onida hadn't wanted to be in this room at all, much less clean it up.
The werewolf girl slowly picked her way through the room, trying to remember who..what kind of person she'd been before that transformation. What had she been doing, before she noticed the moon? Her eyes settled on the computer at the desk, a giant desktop with two big monitors hooked up to a tall, fat tower standing between them. There was a microphone on the floor, the cord ripped out and the whole thing thrown there early into the transformation, but apart from that and the chair (of course) being on its back with the cushions slightly ripped, the device itself seemed fine. She reached forward with a sense of half-curiosity, half-familiarity, slowly pressing the power button on the tower and listening to it softly click. The machine whirred to life, both screens lighting up. She tapped the keyboard a couple of times, making the lock screen give way to one demanding a password, and frowned.

Damon..could not remember her password. Concepts, objects, events—those tended to be things the wolf side let her remember almost immediately, once she saw the right cue. But it was words—the names of people, locations, titles perhaps—that she found the toughest. And a password, surely, was a word. She shook her head with a frown, disappointed she couldn't exactly see what she was doing on this thing before. But maybe it was for the best—a computer was the thing that connected her to the outside world, to those people her sister had said were here 'online friends'. They...wouldn't recognize her, and it'd be too weird for anyone to accept, she thought.

Before turning away from the computer, the werewolf girl leaned in, looking at a weird orb-shaped thing sitting on top of the tower; a little red light at the bottom had turned on when the computer did. She reached a finger forward, poked it a couple of times, and shrugged, turning away and toward the miniature couch and big screen TV set up on another side of her room. She had clawed the back of the couch a little bit, but the space between it and the TV was by far the least destroyed from the transformation process, and some unidentifiable part of her felt relief when she saw the shelves surrounding the TV, their contents unharmed and even entirely undisturbed. She looked around and found the thing that was supposed to turn on the TV, and pushed the power button. Then she went up to one of the several devices lining the shelves—a 'Super Nintendo Entertainment System' in its own words printed upon the bricky piece of gray plastic—and pushed the 'power' thingy to turn it on. There was already a cartridge in it, and the game on the cartridge showed up on the TV screen right away, suddenly making a noise and startling her, making her jump back a bit.

The werewolf looked around in a panicked state briefly before identifying the source of the noise and...remembering. The title screen felt infinitely familiar, even comfortable, to her; the volume was, thankfully, quite low, so it probably hadn't woken her sister, either. She knelt closer again, picking up the oval-ish controller carefully in her hands. Her long fingernails made it a little weird to hold at first, but it felt good, familiar, in her hands. She slid down onto her butt, sitting cross-legged and looking up at the screen, and started playing. Her tail wagged happily—this was fun! It was just what her human side had wanted, and...somehow the virtual violence on-screen, filtered through the half-remembered understanding of her human side, even seemed to satisfy that little leftover wild part of her that had wanted to tear an intruder's throat out before. In this way, if only for a little while, Damon felt she was at peace.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The "Best" RPG Ever-83

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Back on Earth, Mira had never actually had a pet. Even though she could have once she started living on her own, she just didn't feel the need for it. It was better not to have one than to potentially neglect it, after all, spending several hours off at work and several more sitting around playing games. Still, she'd had a few friends with reasonably friendly pets—dogs, mostly. Well, petting a fox-girl wasn't at all like petting a dog, was about equally relaxing. It was nice to feel Rayna's hands moving through her hair and across her back as if petting her back in return, and her soft, smooth face nuzzling the witch's cheek. Besides, she was gorgeously curvy, and it would be impossible for her to deny the appeal of that soft, squishy, lovely body pressed against Mira's own.

Rayna's soft churring was almost hypnotizing, and her fur and hair was so fluffy and well-groomed. She could almost go so far as to say she'd missed this the night before. But while the petting might temporarily shut a beastfolk mind like Rayna's down, it left Mira's perfectly intact for whatever came to it to think about—in this case, introspection.

The powers she'd gained since eating that Incubus—nearly everything attached to that branch—all had the potential to be distressingly predatory. It would be so easy, if she were careless, to start taking advantage of them—which meant taking advantage of people against their will. Or, perhaps against what their will would be in their right mind, which was equally bad. She wasn't a complete psychopath, and even if she did slip up things weren't going to end up like what Tsaron had shown her...but even just forcing her will onto someone else was horrible enough to her. She had no firsthand experience, of course, but...enough experiences had been shared with her in confidence for the very idea to make her sick.

Besides just being problematically exploitable, it was sort of obvious her powers could do this, the more one knew about them. Based on Loren's reaction, Incubi were a recognized kind of demon, at least among magic-users, so there could be folklore about them too. It wouldn't be difficult for someone to make the association from what her magic was capable of doing, to misconstrue anything she did as predatory even when it wasn't. Or to accuse her of doing something to them against their will when it hadn't been. It was important only to exercise those kinds of powers around people she actually trusted, as much as she was able to control it at least.

Having the Incubus' soul and powers in her seemed to give Mira a certain set of instincts, too, which hadn't been present before the transformation that had resulted from that third demon. She was more...interested in the female form than she had been since changing into one herself, it seemed; her powers gave her an awareness of where they were...sensitive, and flowery compliments of any pretty girl she looked at popped into her head rather easily, although she usually refrained from actually saying them aloud. It was hard to deny that the way her powers changed boys into pretty girls was fun to watch/experience/perform, too...

Everything could be kept in check, ignored completely if she wanted; the powers were clearly under her command and not the other way around. But as long as there was a willing participant it was almost hard not to go along with said person's desire. She could 'tell' Rayna liked being called cute, pretty, beautiful—so it felt almost wrong not to do it. On the other hand, she could 'tell' Katherine had a certain amount of apathy toward such compliments, and Zack was openly hostile to them, all on a level below the conscious thought that gave her rational reasons for it, which suggested this sense, too, was rooted in Incubus powers, and possibly even reliable. She didn't need to read the fox-girl's mind to know when she did or didn't want was as if she was reading her body instead.

Well, it had been a good while now, she thought. Slowly, the witch dropped her hands away from the tall, vulpine ears and placed them around the vixen's waist, her tail slinking off of Rayna's huge, fluffy one; then she gently pulled them apart.
"Mrrnh~..." Rayna slowly opened her eyes, and looked around, blinking a couple of times as if just waking up. "Hmnh?"
"It's getting a bit late. Think I should go offer to trun Rast back to normal," the witch said, gently placing the fox-girl on the seat away from her.
"O-oh. Yeah..." She blushed slightly, but nodded and stood herself up. "Thanks..."
"No problem~." Mira got up, too. "We can continue afterward, if you like."
"Oh, um.." Rayna's blush deepened for a second, especially when the tip of Mira's tail ran along hers from base to tip. "Mrrnh~..y-yeah, I'd like that," she nodded slowly.
"Okay. Let's go."

It was hard not to see Rayna's disappointment when they found Lynn and her transformed boyfriend already separated, although they were still sitting very close, the wolf-girl's tail wrapped around the back of the Lynn's waist. She looked up, and Rast followed her gaze, slowly turning around; both of them also sported a light blush. "Oh, uh, h-hey," Lynn said.
"Hello~. You two have fun?" said Rayna with a sly grin, her ears rising back toward vertical again.
"You could say that, yeah,"
"Heheh.." Rast giggled, slowly pulling her tail off of her girlfriend and standing up a bit unsteadily while turning to face the witch. "I ah, think I oughta turn back pretty soon," she said, putting a hand behind her head.
"Of course," Mira said with a nod. "Whenever you're ready?"

The wolf-girl looked uncertainly back to Lynn, who hopped out of her own seat, pulled Rast into a close, frontal hug (which was eagerly, tail-waggingly returned) for a moment, and then spun her back around to face the witch. "Okay, thaaat's enough," she said.
"Y-yeah," the wolf-girl agreed, nodding.
Mira gave a quick nod, and chanted a simple dispel, waving a hand toward Rast. In a matter of seconds her breasts deflated, her figure flattening away as she grew back up to male height; her hair lost its spikes, growing back to the usual length while all of the fur and hair resumed its pitch-black coloration. Rast's clothes changed back at the same rate, until he was left standing there back in the exact same appearance he'd had coming in.

"So, you seemed to enjoy yourself, but do you feel any different about the whole experience now that you're back?" Mira asked.
Rast took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "It was ah..little intense. B-but I think I sorta liked it, still." He looked back to Lynn and then to the witch again. "I'd be happy to uh, let ya go again some other time if it'll help."
"Good to know. Well, I'll leave you two to your goodbyes then," the witch said, brushing her tail against Rayna's again as she took off toward the stairwell. The fox-girl visibly shuddered, then responded to a questioning look from Lynn with a shrug before starting to follow.
"Don't have too much fun without me, now," Rayna advised, waving.

Rast watched them leave, slowly turning to face Lynn again in the process. "They're...a little odd, huh?" he said.
"Like either of us can talk," Lynn replied, standing on her tiptoes and wrapping her arms around him. He took the cue to pick her up into a hug, and she rubbed one of his ears with her left hand, keeping the other arm around his waist.
"Mr..rrf!" he barked softly, the blush still present from his time as a woman growing much brighter, and pulled Lynn's head closer, starting a long, mildly passionate kiss that left both of them slightly breathless. After that he gently set her down and took a small step backwards away from her.

"G, guess I oughta leave before I do somethin' I'll regret, huh," he said, looking slightly off to one side.
"You and me both, mister. I'll see you again soon, though," Lynn said, taking one of his hands gently and starting to lead him toward the front door. "I guess since you met my 'family' it's only fair if I meet yours pretty soon, too."
"Hahah...yeah. That's alright with me," he said. "They've already started askin' about you, y'know."
"Uh-huh? What kinda questions?"
"Just..y'know..usual stuff. What y'all are really like, ah. That sorta thing."
"Guess I can hear it from the horse's mouth when I come for a visit, anyway."

They stood awkwardly in front of an open door to town for a moment, until Lynn pulled herself into another close hug, this time burying her face in his chest for a moment and letting him run a hand through her hair, another one across her back briefly. Then they let go, nodded quietly to each other, and he slipped out the door, letting it close behind him.
Lynn allowed herself a satisfied sigh. She still didn't really know what she was doing, where they were going with all this...but honestly that was starting to turn into part of the appeal.

Katherine entered Aria's dream to find her sitting cross-legged facing away from the demon's void. Rather than staring at the usual wall of static, she had one of her memories of a conversation with Loren "playing". Shortly after the psion appeared, she turned, noticing her, and waved. "Yo. Seems like I can put anything I remember up on the 'screen'...well, anything from this world anyway. It's better entertainment than static, at least." The scene in front of them fuzzed out back to the usual visual noise as she spoke. The catgirl came and sat in front of her.

"You're asleep pretty early."
"Yeah, well—I figure I must just be tired in general, after taking an unintentional nap this afternoon," Aria said. "Hey, if it's so early then why're you asleep too?"
Katherine sighed. "Just be thankful you don't have animal ears all the time. Or mind-reading that never stops."
"Aww, are you sure you don't want some head pats?" the shifter teased with a wide grin.
"Someone else should be asleep soon for me to be able to 'fix' the static for the night," she said, ignoring the offer entirely.

Katherine continued: "Anyway, something's bothering you. Right?"
"Yeah. I thought I was doing a great job hiding it, though."
"From a mind-reader?"
"Sure! If I don't think about it then you're not reading it." Aria sighed. "So I guess I must be thinking about it, huh."
"A little bit, at least. You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. But..." The psion looked around. "This is about as private a conversation as we could get. And I have a pretty good sense of discretion, if I say so myself."
"Eh..this isn't exactly something that should stay a secret to everyone," the shifter said. "If...I mean if it's relevant then it's sorta everyone's business. That's kinda the problem."
"Still, you want some kind of advice before making a decision, right? That doesn't have to involve everyone."
"That's true..."

"So..Loren's pretty smart, right? You've seen his mind. I know he's smart, just so we're clear."
"Okay," Katherine conceded this point.
"And I've been acting suspiciously around him this whole time. Saying weird stuff, asking him about terminology he doesn't recognize. More than that, though, I haven't exactly been playing the amnesiac all that well."
"How so?"
"I'm know..together. No angst, no confusion. No...I dunno, worrying I did something horrible he doesn't know about and it could come back to haunt me. I'm not lost in this world. I made a bunch of amazing friends within a week just because we more or less bumped into each other. A person who doesn't remember anything should be..super cautious of anyone that friendly. But I wasn't with you, and I sure wasn't with him. He's had all kinds of opportunity to lie to me about who I was, and if he thinks I'm not stupid then the fact that I haven't questioned anything he's said about my past is just, totally unbelievable."
"How many people with widespread retrograde amnesia do you personally know, anyway?" Katherine said.
"None...or, one, I guess, counting myself? I'm just thinking—how would I really act if I couldn't remember anything. Or like—" she waved incoherently. "—you know, what kinda advice would I give myself in a video recording letting me know I totally forgot who I used to be and stuff."

"My point is, how many do you think Loren knows? Just you, right?"
Aria nodded. "We must be pretty rare, yeah..."
"So even if he expects some specific behavior from someone who doesn't remember anything—if he's smart then he must realize that his expectations aren't based on any solid fact, so it's very simple for them to be just plain wrong. From his perspective, maybe everyone reacts to amnesia differently, and being super friendly and trusting and acting like nothing is wrong is just, your way of coping. Reacting to a new problem with blind confidence is well within character for you, after all."
"That just leaves a few oddball things you've said to him or asked him as gaps in that theory, and there's a pretty good chance he hasn't even thought about them since. I mean, didn't you literally tell him you might never be able to explain those questions you were using as a reference for Rose?"
"Yeah...but still. It's not like I can just stop saying stuff I would normally say, and who even knows how much of it doesn't scan with someone not from Earth?" Aria said.

"I guess that's enough beating around the bush, then," said the catgirl. "You like him, you want to keep talking to him. And you think at some point, no matter what, he's going to get suspicious and at least try to figure out, or even just outright ask you, what's really going on."
"Yeah. Aannd, if I don't have a really convincing lie ready then what's gonna come out of my mouth, whether I like it or not, is the truth. That's not great; I don't even think the truth would make sense to him."
"It might," Katherine said. "He's smart, right? Tsaron understood and accepted that truth, as bizarre as it is."
"He isn't centuries old telepath smart," Aria said, shaking her head. "And he wouldn't be figuring it out through invasive mind-scanning! I'd be the one telling him!" she said with a hand on her own chest. "That's the problem. If I tell him about me then the connection I have with everyone else becomes totally obvious. Or, I dunno, I'll just blurt that part out too. But being from Earth isn't just my secret to tell. You see my problem?"
"Not really," Katherine said. "I mean, if you try to tell him the truth then one of two things happens: Either he doesn't believe you because it's too bizarre for him to, or he does believe you and understands that not very many people would. It's not like you're spreading the information all over, just to one person you already trust quite a bit."

"Still. I don't really wanna spill those beans without everyone else agreeing it's okay," she said, looking off toward the void. "If I end up making me sound like a crazy person then I make everyone else sound crazy too. Or else you all have to go to a lot of trouble to deny it and keep it just me in the 'crazy' box."
"That's fair, you really think anyone here is gonna say no?" Katherine pointed out. "I mean—it's perfectly okay with me, and the only outcome I can imagine from almost everyone else is wishing you the best of luck with it. Lynn probably wants to do something similar eventually, with Rast, so she definitely won't mind. Maybe Nora wants her..nature priest friends to find out the truth about her, too. And I don't think Zack will care..."
"I guess you're right."

Aria didn't seem particularly reassured. She squirmed in place a bit, stood up, stretched, and started pacing. Katherine floated herself back upright, just enough off the ground to match eye levels with the shifter. "I take it that's not really the problem."
"No, no, it is..I mean. It's—part of it anyway. Just...I.."
"You were hoping 'keeping everyone else's secret' would make a good excuse not to tell him anything," the psion said, pointing a finger.
"...Yeah. Lousy stupid mind-reading," she said, turning around and taking a few steps away.
"Your reactions would tell me if your head wasn't screaming it. So it's not the real reason you're so worried about telling him, then."
She stopped, still facing away from Katherine. "It's not."
"So what is?"

"Ffsst..." Aria turned around, putting on an obviously fake, exaggerated happy face. "Okay. Let's play pretend." She made a broad, sweeping gesture with her hands, imitating the arc of an invisible rainbow. "Pretend that you have a really great friend. Best friend in the whole wide world."
"Okay." Katherine crossed her arms, humoring her.
"What the hey, let's say that friend is me. I mean obviously it's not but for the sake of the exercise? So, we've been friends practically I guess since childhood. I wouldn't know for sure because I don't remember my childhood basically. But anyway we're great friends. As far as I know that you know, we basically grew up together and never got tired of each other."
"Great, cool. We can move past the friendship part now," the psion said.
"Sure, but just keep it in mind. That part is super important, okay?

"So one day your friend does something—I dunno, stupid? Brave? How do you even describe what I—what Ares did here, huh?"
"Crazy is good enough," Katherine said.
"Yeah, great! Something crazy, which basically ends in disappearance, presumed death. But about a year later your friend—"
"—Me—" Aria agreed, with a thumb towards her face, "—reappears! Totally alive and well. Doing great. Just a little case of massive forgetfulness. But you still get along with me great! We love talking to each other, I like hearing you tell me who I used to be. Maybe we're making progress with me remembering how great of friends we used to be, or maybe we're building a brand new friendship. It really—it really doesn't matter, because we're both happy and everything is great."
"Awesome, I have my friend back," the catgirl said flatly, playing along half-sarcastically. It wasn't as if she didn't know where this was going.

"Great. So one day your friend reveals they're from somewhere else. Not just they're from somewhere else, but—regardless of where this somewher else is—it's, they remember a whole childhood and life over there. Those memories are real to her, and they contradict everything you know about growing up with me."
"You're losing track of which person you're speaking in," Katherine said.
"I know!" Aria put up her hands in a brief frustrated gesture. "Really not important right now, okay!? The point is—these 'new' memories I see as being the 'old' ones, the 'real' ones, and what you've been helping me remember all this time is fake to me. It's—it's not really fake, it doesn't feel fake, but on factual evaluation I have to conclude that if one set of memories is fake then it's the ones you've been helping me remember all this time. You know—the ones where we're friends? Where we've even met before? All fake. Instead it was some kind of—I don't know, gods-summoned simulacrum golem magical artificial intelligence fabricated dream-memory transcendentally half-physical illusion phantasmal brain-ghost body puppet—"
"You're gonna strain something if you keep that up for too long," the psion said, pointing.
"Yeah, yeah, anyway. So heeeyy, guess what! Everything you ever experienced of me before that 'disappearance' was all fake! Probably everything our friendship, or you liking me at all, is even built on—from my perspective at least it never really even happened! Isn't that just great?!"
The psion folded her ears down slightly, crossing her arms and frowning. "It's really not."
"That's right, it's really not! You win pretend! Take the grand prize of eternal sadness," Aria said, sweeping around and taking several more steps away. She sighed. "You get what the problem is now?"

"I do, yeah. I have to say I'm not really as convinced the memories from this world are 'fake' as you are."
"Well—one of them has to be fake, right?" She turned around, putting a hand on top of her own head. "Or—implanted at least, or something like that. We can't have grown up in two worlds at once!"
"Maybe that's true. I dunno," the psion said. "Usually memories have some kind of temporal relationship to each other. You know, like, 'I did this before I did that'. You would think our memories of being around the same age in each world would feel..I dunno, just like doing two things at once, but they don't. It's more like—there's no time relationship between them at all. Like, I can say my twentieth birthday back on Earth happened before I came here, and my twentieth birthday here also happened before I went to the frontier—so, before I was 'summoned' from Earth by that spell, too. But even though I'm younger here than I am there—so, logically the twentieth birthday there should come before the one here, no. They didn't happen before or after each other, or at the same time, they just...both happened." Katherine shook her head. "This is extremely difficult to put into words, seems to be that way for everyone else, too."

"So what, you think we somehow 'merged' with people who really did exist here? The way Clera's two people sorta 'merged together', but deeper?"
"I don't know," Katherine said, doubtful. "Each 'other person' is so similar to the person who 'remembers' being them, and all eight or, nine of us wound up all in this same place? Too much of a coincidence. It's more like the 'other people' were always a part of us, from the moment we..chose a class and started being transformed. But we weren't entirely aware of that part, or the past that came with it, until the memories of being that other person came flooding in. Because living that whole life personally instead of having some 'part' of us go out, and then come back...would overwhelm our own sense of self, instead of having this more stable sense that the person from Earth is who we really are."
"We're totally without evidence for that way of seeing it, though," Aria said. "Apart from some circumstantial stuff and almost no other explanation making sense at's just as easy to say there's some way it really works that we haven't thought of yet."

"..And, this doesn't really solve my problem either," she added, putting out a hand. "You think I can explain all that to Loren before he understands that I see the memories from here as 'new', 'implanted'...'fake'? Whether or not I do see them that way is, a totally different problem from how he thinks I see them once I start trying to tell him the truth."
"So, tell it to him the other way around," Katherine said. "It's technically no less viable to say that you grew up here, then your..soul or whatever was sent to Earth for uh."
"Thirty two," Aria supplied.
"Thirty-two years, sure. And then sent back here with all those extra memories and your old ones still buried, for reasons we're unsure of. That sword had massive, insanely strong and complex wards on it; Loren didn't fully understand them and nobody else did either, right?"
"True..." The shifter still looked uncertain.
"So maybe they could've done something like that. Dump new memories, or entirely new experiences into a person between drawing the sword and being allowed to use it. Maybe it was supposed to banish you to the demon realm for a subjective thirty-two years and that teleportation spell interfered, sending you to another world entirely instead."
"It's just..that's not what happened. I mean—I don't feel like that's what happened...Do you?"
"Nope," Katherine said. "I'm confident we really are from Earth. No other explanation makes sense, but that we were summoned from Earth."

She began talking a bit more quickly, going through her logic: "Remember that Clera has no new memories—or more accurately, Ian doesn't. Just Clera's extra soul with its memories and knowledge from here. Why would they send seven or maybe eight people to Earth temporarily and then turn around and summon one native? Makes no sense. Plus we remember coming here but not going there! Why would we only remember going one way if we really went both? And I can also conclude that we haven't merged with natives here because—" She held up one index finger of each hand in turn: "Ian has a soul; Clera has a soul;" she put the hands together and took away the left one, leaving her right hand with two fingers up instead. "—they are two souls in a single body, and each of us—" she dropped the middle finger, leaving only her index finger up "—only has one in ours. You merge two different people, you end up with two souls in one body, which we. Don't. Have."

Aria blinked a couple of times, a little dazed from the rapidfire evidence presentation. Then she started to respond, "So then why—"
"Just because it's not the actual truth doesn't keep it from being plausible," the psion interrupted. "You can lie a little bit at first to give him a chance to make sense of what you've been through. Let him sort it all out, make it clear you don't think your relationship with him is fake. That's the real problem here, right? You're terrified he'll think you see your whole friendship with him as a big fabrication?"
"Y-yeah.." She looked down.
"Soo, don't give him a chance to think that. First say, 'hey I got abducted into this totally magicless world, so I remember growing up there', and explain it all to him from that angle. Then you can 'realize' you really are from there and what happened here was 'after'—but not fake, because you don't feel like it is. Or you can tell him you lied because you weren't sure if you'd be able to explain the truth all at once! It's a pretty big, complicated truth," she said. "Whichever one you think is best. I mean, he's your friend."

Aria looked back up, taking in a deep breath and slowly letting it out. "You're right. This is a good idea. Except—well, the whole plausibility of me going to Earth and back again is from the portals. None of, nobody else here went through any portals that I'm aware of...right?"
"You don't have to say whether we did or not," Katherine pointed out. "If Loren figures out that the rest of us have memories of Earth then he can draw his own conclusions. If he asks you point-blank, then you can pull the 'not my secret to tell' card and let him ask us himself if he really wants to know."
"Gods, you are way too good at this," Aria said.
"Almost as good as you are at playing pretend," the catgirl replied with a mildly vicious grin. "Are we good now? Worries quelled for the moment?"
"Uh...sure. Yeah. This is a great plan, which I can definitely make work," she said, putting on a bit of false confidence in the process.
"Okay then. Well, we've been talking so long that almost everyone's asleep or about to be now, so..I'll invite them in, if you don't mind."
"I don't." Aria nodded. "Yeah, the sooner I can start asking permission to do this the better. I don't know that he won't piece everything together and decide to ask me about it tomorrow!"

Friday, May 17, 2019

A Summoning: Part X


Two women walked into the library of a small, fairly rural town a good two hours' drive out from the college campus. The shorter one, with somewhat shorter hair, led the way to the back shelves, where there were stored some books so old that one couldn't even check them out for fear of their being damaged. She poked through the spines on those shelves, kneeling and standing on tiptoes to see each one in turn, and eventually pried one out, offering it over.

This is it, Jess said silently, watching her Master open the tome and thumb through it briefly.
She replied with a quiet “Hm,” scanning several of the pages. This was your 'raw material', right? But you put it all together. I don't suppose you ever made any notes about that part?
I didn't want to leave any evidence, so I never wrote anything down. Jess tapped her head with a finger. But it's all in here. If I had a copy that didn't look like it was gonna fall apart, and didn't belong to the library, then I could annotate it with everything I know.
So, say, if you could just take this one out of the library, you think you could type up something with just the relevant info and leave out all the criticism and dead ends? Zotha suggested. Jess nodded.

The demon-god closed the book and held it up in one hand. The other she also held up as though there were another, invisible book in it, and then whispered a command: “Cᴏᴘʏ.” Some streams of purple magic went from the book to the empty space in her other hand, gathering themselves together into the shape of a book before the glow burst gently off of it, leaving behind an identical-looking book—if in slightly better condition than the original. Then some shadow wrapped itself around the copy and it disappeared, Zotha handing the original back to her priestess afterward. It's in our room now.
Jess nodded, taking the book and carefully shelving it again. You know, Master, there are some people who would pay you a lot of money for helping with old book preservation...
I bet. It's probably worth a look, I suppose.

They walked out again, and around to the same hidden spot they had appeared in, disappearing back to their dorm room as quickly as they had left. The copied book was waiting on top of Jess's desk, next to her laptop.

“Well, I guess even I'm giving you homework now,” Zotha said.
“Heheh. I know how important this is,” her priestess replied, going to sit in her chair. “I'll have it done by sunset, for sure.”
“Good.” The demoness turned toward the werewolf girl still asleep in their extra bed. “Hmmn...”
“What is it?”
“I just wonder if our genius friend might have some better idea of how to help get her memory back. Or at least—find where she was before this happened.”
“I've got her number,” Jess said, offering over her phone.

After a brief ring, a quiet, shy-sounding voice responded: “H-hello?”
“Yo, this is Zotha.”
“Oh, you,” Prama said, her confidence seeming to return instantaneously. “What's up?”
“Well..” She described their having 'discovered' a werewolf running around through their forest (leaving out the part about Fox telling them so), and her attempt to 'tame' him turning him into an at least much friendlier girl. Then she explained the problem—amnesia, and not being able to track where she came from.
“Just in case I'm assuming the wrong thing about werewolves—she can turn into like a wolf form, right?” Prama said. “With senses just as good as a real wolf?”
Zotha glanced at the sleeping girl for just a second, and immediately perceived that she could. “Certainly.”
“Yeah, so. Duh. Just give her a good whiff of her former self and tell her to track that past where you can't. The trail might be a little cold after two days but unless she crossed a bunch of rivers on the way there she should be able to trace it all the way back to wherever she first 'turned' or whatever.”
“Oh, yeah, that's pretty clever,” Zotha said, nodding to herself.
“Naturally. If that's all—I'm kind of in the middle of doing the rest of my homework for the semester. So, call me back if you need any more obvious questions answered.”
“Will do, little miss genius.” That, at least, drew a brief giggle before Prama hung up.

“Well,” she said, placing Jess's phone down on her desk, “once she wakes up, we'll ask her to track her former self down by scent. I think it's better if she's had her sleep first, though, after what she's been through.”
“Mmh.” Her priestess was already concentrating pretty hard on her work, so Zotha decided to look for something else to occupy herself with to avoid being a distraction. Speaking of homework, though...there was a bit of it she'd been planning to get done over the weekend, when she (Zeke, rather) had gone to bed the night of the kidnapping. Maybe it'd be a good idea to take care of it now. Sure, she could probably cheat and 'order' her homework to be already done, but waving her hands like that to solve every problem of her own just didn't feel right. It wasn't exactly the best way to really learn things, at least.

Not long after sunset, Zotha rose from her own desk to go place a hand on her priestess's shoulder, looking over her head at the screen. “How's it going?”
Jess gave a small sigh. “Well, I'm not exactly finished, but the big stuff is there. You could read it if you want to.”
“Maybe it's better to take a break for now. The eight hours I set for our guest to sleep are almost up.” Jess swiveled the chair to face the bed the werewolf in question was, for the moment, still sleeping soundly in.

“You know, Master..isn't there a more direct way to fix her problem? Can't you just 'order' her memories to come back?”
“It'd be very convenient if it worked, but I don't think it will. What I learned while 'taming' her is that a person's mind and soul is extensively complicated. Plus her wolf side has a will of its own, and if I try to do something to her mind that that will doesn't want, then it'll fight me the entire way, perhaps damaging the battlefield—which would be her mind. Trying to force her memories back by pumping a bunch of magic into her brain would probably hurt much more than help.”
“I see...I guess we'll try Prama's idea, then.”
Zotha nodded. “Once she wakes up on her own.”

“..Until then, we really need to come up with a decent cover story in case she does lead us to someone and we need to explain that she's...him. Whoever she was before. I don't think 'hey I'm a new goddess in town and the moon god told me through the fox god to help him out' is gonna cut it.”
“Ah, I can help with that, Master,” Jess said with an eager nod. “Cover stories come pretty naturally to me, after all.”
“Again, scary. But fine. What's your idea?”

A short while later, the werewolf girl squirmed in place, made a couple of soft confused barks while tangling herself up in the covers further in an attempt to get out from under them, and finally throwing them violently off of herself (and the bed entirely). Then she slowly pulled herself up, looking around blearily and blinking her eyes a couple of times. Her ears flapped a couple of times, as if experimentally, and then went to their more normal turning and twitching behavior as she seemed to start to remember where she was.
“Hey, sleepy,” Zotha said, getting up from her desk and waving to her.
“Morning!” She said, hopping to her feet with her tail wagging. “Uhm, is it morning..? I feel super awake like it is..” Her stomach growled. “And hungry. Nnn, I haven't eaten anything but some—gross—some squirrels and stuff.”
“Well, lucky for you we just finished making dinner. I'll get it out of the kitchen,” the demoness said, heading that way. She made a bit of food out of the girl's sight while Jess led her to a table.

“It's actually evening right now. I guess being part wolf makes you nocturnal or something?” the priestess reasoned. “Or, it could just be you were so sleep-deprived that you needed sleep, but now that you've slept you're not tired right now.”
“Actually. I feel like being awake really late is sorta normal for me,” she said. “Even before all this happened. Wonder why...”
Taking a cue from the somewhat altered tastes of Cameron and Anika over the past couple of days, Zotha brought in a plate with a fairly large portion of meat on it and just a little bit of vegetables and bread. She also had some food for herself and Jess, who she'd just remembered hadn't had supper and probably wasn't about to ask for it of her own accord.

The werewolf girl tore into her food wildly, ignoring the utensils and ripping at the meat with her sharp teeth. They tried to not to be bothered by it, Zotha reasoning that she was both hungry and not used to suppressing...say, some new instinctive predatory eating habits. After a little while she paused, swallowing the bite in her mouth. “I um...I had a dream,” she said. “It was really nice...” Her ears drooped. “..But also kinda sad? I'm sorta surprised I can still remember it so well, 'cause like usually you forget whatever you dreamed about as soon as you wake up, right?” She went back to eating.
“Yeah,” Jess said. “What was it about?”
“Shmw Mn wnns...” she started to answer immediately with her mouth still full, but gulped it down at this point. “I was, like, me, y'know, looking like...this,” she waved vaguely to herself. “And I was looking up at the full moon, in that forest you find me in? But it didn't, hurt, like it did the first time, when I really looked at the moon and the wolf came out and got angry and took over.” She paused, inhaling a bit more food. “I felt really nice instead. The wolf was calm and happy, I felt like I was really in control of myself again, looking at that moon. I even...felt like I was, who I'm s'posed to be if I remembered everything the wolf made me forget.”

The werewolf girl's expression was genuinely happy for a moment as she ate some more, recalling this. After another few bites, however, it darkened again. “But then I, remembered...that I forgot. That I'm not really, myself right now, not really even totally in control. So, I did kind of a funny thing. It made sense to me at the time, 'cause it was a dream, y'know?”
“What was that?” Zotha prompted after watching her eat a little more.
“Well—I got mad at the moon. I asked it why. Why am I, like this, with this—animal—trying to take over my mind?!” The emotion visibly coursed through her while she repeated the question—a panicked, angry confusion that made her voice crack and left her nearly in tears. She stopped eating, slowly raising a napkin to her eyes and sniffling—the outburst had clearly taken her by surprise too.
“Are you okay?” Jess aid with a look of concern. “You can stop if you need to.”
“No, no,” she shook her head. “Th-this is, it's important, Master! The moon, it—it answered me. Not in words, but...”

The werewolf closed her eyes, envisioning it. “It showed me what it was: A dark side and a light side. Everyone can see the front, but the back, wild and mysterious—it's just as important. For either side to try to deny or take over the other is—nonsense. They have to exist and work together to ever be truly happy. They're totally different, but they're of the same whole. If there's balance between them, then...there's peace. I think I understand, but...mmh...” She trailed off, opening her eyes again and eating much more slowly for a moment., thinking about it some more. The demoness and her priestess looked on silently, not wanting to interrupt.

“I was still upset,” she said finally. “I said, something like, 'If that's what you want—if that's what I'm supposed to be, then why...Why did it hurt!?” She raised her voice, getting a pained expression again, but not quite as bad as before. “Why did the wolf take over and try so hard to hurt me, and others too? The moon..showed me something else. It showed me the tides.” Her face calmed again, her eyes staying open this time.
“The moon pulls the tides. They go in, they go out. The balance is there is, over time, instead of all at once like the sides of the moon,” she said. “But it also showed me, a flood. Water rushed in from the ocean, overflowing a huge area—forests, towns. It drowned animals, stranded people, destroyed so much...” Her tone and expression were clearly more stressed saying this, her ears folded back against her head. “And the moon—the moon was there, pulling the tides the other way—back towards the sea. The moon was strong, but nothing compared to the forces of nature behind the flood. Sometimes nature taking its course is good, but sometimes it needs help not to hurt people...and sometimes, there just isn't enough help,” she said.

“But—you helped me. Right?” she asked, looking between them with a much more hopeful expression.
“Of course. And we'll keep helping you until you can get everything back under control,” Zotha said. “In fact, while you were asleep we've had an idea of how to do just that.”
“Really?” The werewolf's tail thumped against her chair, wagging eagerly.
“Well, how are you with scents?” Jess said.
“Umm—pretty okay, I think? If I look more wolfy I think I can smell better though,” she said. “I think it's easy for me to look more wolfy, but I didn't wanna before 'cause..that was how the wolf wanted to look. Puppy's a little calmer now, though...”
“I had a little trouble tracking you back to where you came from,” Zotha said, “but we're hoping you can track yourself. I managed to get a scrap of what you were wearing before I did the 'taming spell' on you,” she said, producing a small piece of cloth (actually “copied” from what her own power remembered of the girl's clothes pre-transformation). “Maybe we can find enough of a trail this way to locate your home or something.”
“That's great!” she said. “Um..c-can I finish eating first though?”
“Of course.”

Soon after, the three of them appeared (Zotha keeping them invisible) at the edge of the forest, near the spot the goddess's power was able to trace the girl back to. After a small nod from Jess, the girl in question began changing form. Soft, dark brown fur puffed out all across her body, and then she made a soft “Rrr~ruff!” noise as she stretched upward, gaining a couple of feet in height; her hands and feet changed back into paw-like shapes, her breasts grew about a cup size larger and her figure overall enhanced enough to start audibly tearing both of the pairs of shorts she had on. Zotha noticed this in time to wave a little bit of magic toward them and make the clothes repair themselves again and grow with her.
Her changes also included a visible gain of muscle strength, granting her a six-pack visible even under the fur and visibly strong (though still fairly slim) arms and legs. She gave a few louder barks as her face pushed forward into a long, canine muzzle lined with razor-sharp teeth, completing the transformation. She knelt onto all fours after that, sitting like a dog and looking up at Jess with a grin in her muzzle and her tail wagging, but after a moment she tugged on her top a bit, seeming to find it quite uncomfortable.

“,” the demoness said, kneeling a little closer and tapping the vest. Its sleeves retracted to short sleeves again, and it billowed out into a T-shirt big enough to drape over her body and long enough to reach her hips.
“Um, thanks, rrf..” She pulled around on it a little again. “I still don't totally like this cloth stuff all over my fur but I don't wanna be indecent either...”
Zotha nodded. “Here,” she offered the bit of copied cloth toward the girl's muzzle. She sniffed at it. “Think you can track that?”
“Mm-hm! I know this scent super well already,” she said, standing up on all fours. Her tongue slid out of her mouth for a second, wetting her nose, and she lowered her head to the ground, tail wagging up in the air. After a second or two she lifted her head again. “I think I got it! Follow me, masters!” With that, she started eagerly walking, like a dog, in the direction the scent lead her.

'Masters'? Jess questioned.
Let it be. I think it helps her 'stay obedient' to think of us this way, and she wants to find some way to remember what she forgot too.
They followed the werewolf girl's lead.

So...I guess that dream was La Lune's 'less direct' way of communicating, Jess said.
Seems so.
What was she trying to say to us with all that? Or was it just to encourage her, for now?
I think she was telling me more about what her nature is, and re-emphasizing for me that no deity can go completely against their nature, at least not effectively.
So..what, balance and nature I guess? The moon? Werewolves?
All involved, certainly,
Zotha nodded. Seems like not 'balance' in that stupid morality balance way where you don't want good or evil to win—because that makes sense—but more like in the sense of peace, with opposites working together in harmony. But it's complicated—sometimes conflict and destruction is inevitable, no matter how much one pushes against it. On the other hand, that conflict can be an important part of how balance later comes about, too...
Maybe I get it. Cycles, Jess thought, just like the moon. Constant balance might be impossible, but it's more about balance over time. Push down one side of a scale and let go, and it'll put itself right again when you let go, unless you break it.
I can't imagine she's very happy about pollution, Zotha thought. Maybe even anti-technology?

They paused their conversation for a moment, both watching the werewolf girl continue to track herself. They had cut through a few smaller wooded areas and across a couple of roads by now, Zotha sensing for cars and ready to stop the werewolf if needed—though it hadn't been yet.
Clearly werewolves are 'her' race, just like Kitsune are Fox's. Or maybe in a slightly different way. She might have actually made them or something. But wolves are predatory, Zotha pointed out. They don't exactly live in harmony with their prey.
Predators eating prey is 'natural', Jess replied, and you get a kind of equilibrium in the ecosystem where they keep the prey from eating too many plants, but the limited supply of prey keeps the predators from getting too populous too. Caring about nature and the overall balance is different from caring about the life of a single deer or sheep or whatever. Also, dogs are sorta like wolves, they share most of the DNA at least; and they act as companions to humans, totally different but working together? Werewolves are both—wild animal and human master all in one.
La Lune isn't 'nature to the exclusion of people', Zotha concluded. She wants people and nature working together, in harmony. Werewolves represent that ideal to some extent, maybe even to a fault? Sometimes the 'nature' gets too strong and starts destroying the person, but there's nothing she can do about that. It's the opposite of what usually happens, people destroying too much nature. Maybe she isn't so anti-tech, as long as the tech in question isn't destroying the environment.

They arrived in a small suburb, and the werewolf girl slowed her pace, looking up a bit more frequently. After a bit, she got back up onto her feet/hind legs, really looking around with a wide-eyed expression, her tail tense and her ears sticking straight up. “Something wrong?” Zotha asked.
“Um..I-I think I know this place. I
know I know this place,” she said.
“Great! One of those houses stick out as 'yours'?” Jess asked.
“Um...” After another look around, she nodded, and turned in the direction of a nearby house. “I think that's it?”

“Stay behind me for a moment,” Zotha said, walking up to the place and, rather than approaching the front door, coming to one side. She pointed toward a second-story window. “Broken. Boarded up too.” Then toward the ground: “Most of the glass is gone, but there's trace amounts and I can 'tell' it used to be here. So—window was broken from the inside,” she said quietly.
“Anybody home?” Jess asked.
“...One person, female. Not too far from the front door. Your scent here?” she asked the werewolf girl, pointing toward her feet. After scurrying over, she bent down and sniffed a bit. “Mm-hm! It sorta, stops here actually.” She stood, looking up at the window; her ears folded down slightly and her tail lowered. “I..I feel like I fell out. Like the wolf threw me out when I wouldn't open the door for it,” she said slowly.
“Mm. Guess we've probably got the right place.” The demoness turned to her. “Perhaps you should take on the more human look you had earlier for this,” she suggested.

“Okay!” The werewolf nodded eagerly, and started shrinking back toward the human form. Zotha twirled a finger, keeping the shorts fitting her but only shrinking the shirt slightly so it would stay on. Before long she was back to the look she'd had just after being 'tamed', with only the ears and tail of a wolf.
“Now then, we're going to have to try to explain what happened to whoever's inside,” Zotha said. “I'd like you to stay hidden out here until we've had a chance to confirm for certain we have the right place, and..prepare whoever for how different you look right now. Understand?”
“Mm-hm...” The werewolf girl looked a little sad from the reminder that she looked different, the realization that whoever was inside might not even recognize her.
“Okay. Now..stay right here,” the demoness said, coming to a spot near the corner of the wall between the side of the house they were on and the front. “I'll get your attention when it's time to come inside.”
She nod-nodded, going to the place and standing there while Zotha and her priestess went around to the front door.

There was a vast garden under a starry night sky, bathed in silver light. The paths between the flowers and trees were short, soft grass, pleasant to bare feet. Apart from the careful, artistic organization of the plants themselves, no sign of civilization was in sight—no concrete, metal, or unnatural stone, with the distant edges of the garden marked only by interminably high hedges.
The source of the light, not nearly so bright as daylight but more than sufficient to see and walk by, could not be so easily placed; it came from above, but not from the stars, and no moon could be seen in the darkened sky. Indeed, the light's origin sat in the midst of the garden—the moon itself, amidst the flowers.

Near the center, where many of the winding grass paths met, lay a gigantic wolf, big enough to swallow a normal one whole. His fur was a bright silver which gleamed in the moonlight; his eyes, not visible just now, a fierce, bright yellow. He was curled up, relaxed and even seemingly asleep, the only real clue to his true alertness his ears raised to listen intently to the surroundings. Atop that wolf, as though on a great fluffy throne, sat a beautiful woman: Tall, curvy, with deep blue eyes and brilliant silver hair long enough to pool on the grass beneath her and blend with the wolf's fur where they met. She reclined, legs crossed before her, wearing a dress that seemed woven from the nature surrounding her which, while quite long, left precious little to the imagination.

All was still and serene, quite and unmoving in a seeming eternity of peace, until the wolf's eyes suddenly opened, his head rising slightly off the ground and letting out a quiet, low growl. A small puff of dark smoke had caught his attention, a little dark cloud floating in the air a few feet off the ground where it had appeared: A polite request for audience. The woman raised a hand and ran it across the top of the wolf's head, gently pressing it down; the animal replied with a submissive whine, closing his eyes and relaxing again. Then she nodded to the cloud, giving permission, and so it began to grow and expand, pouring itself in from elsewhere. Soon it took on a humanoid shape, then solidified into a tall, voluptuous woman in a long kimono with fiery red eyes and the ears of a fox. While the remaining smoke dispersed on the wind, a multitude of tails streamed their way out from her back, writing around and across each other like so many tentacles.

“Welcome,” the woman on the wolf said once she was fully formed. “What brings you here, little fox?”
“Well, I can never resist a look at you around the full moon,” the fox-goddess said, gliding slowly forward before taking a seat on the ground just in front of her host.
She chuckled in response. “You say that about every phase.”
“Only because it is true, La Lune,” she replied with a mischievous grin.
“But there is something else on your mind,” said the woman on the wolf.
“Oh, you know. Curiosity, the same as always.”

La Lune nodded. “Well then, what would you like to know?”
“Everyone was astounded when you announced your disposition toward the new arrival—no less myself. I fully expected you to take your brother's side on this matter. After all, since ascending she's done nothing but sow the seeds of chaos and change all around herself. Her actions defy and distort the natural state of things—and hardly seem like any sort of promotion of balance.”
“Hmn. Why are you on her side?” the moon goddess asked, rather than answering the implied question right away.
“Me?” The Kitsune smirked. “Because she's fun! You know that's all I need. I look forward to seeing what she'll do without restrictions or shackles, how she'll develop with minimal meddling or especially attacks from all the rest of us. Besides, it'd be nice to have another of our number who still remembers what it's like to be mortal. I think she has the potential to spread some real chaos far and wide, maybe even make the Veil itself untenable given enough latitude.”
“You never were in favor of that thing,” La Lune commented.
“I warmed up to it for a while. My people were certainly more able to flourish in a world not so keenly aware of them. But then we all saw the disaster that it led to half a century ago,” she said. “Some still blame me, despite your assurances that I couldn't have been responsible, because it was just as I predicted. We wouldn't be needing to keep it up to prevent a repeat performance if we'd never committed to creating it, or making it so strong, in the first place.”

“So—why are you on her side?” the fox-goddess said, returning to the topic at hand by asking the question directly this time. “Do you know something I don't?”
“A great many things, little fox,” La Lune said teasingly, with a small smile. “I can't tell you everything, or I'd lose that air of mystery you like so much. But as for her—I've been watching the world most carefully this past several years.”
“Hmn. You never seem so keen to make grand plans and schemes, and you don't have to answer 'your people' quite so constantly as I do mine, so I suppose you've had more time to be so attentive.”
The woman on the wolf nodded. “I began to notice something, and paid special attention to see whether or not I was right.”
“What's that, now?”

“Have you noticed—despite not having a part in her followers' pre-emptive descriptions, and despite not being naturally or obviously a result of their beliefs or her own original personality..she has a strong propensity toward change? Some who desire it, unconsciously or not, found themselves drawn to her for that reason, before she even was.”
“That hasn't entirely escaped my attention; it's part of what I like so much,” the fox-goddess said with another smirk. “But—” it turned to a thoughtful frown—“no, I suppose I didn't think much of it.”
“The world, at least that part of it beyond the Veil, has been more interested in change than it ever was before,” La Lune said. “People desire and enjoy finding ways to change themselves, or sometimes others. In the time of relative peace and convenience, it's something magic can give people that the mundane world truly cannot. Your kind is no small part of this, but—even if none of you were around, or cared for its like, the number involved in such things would remain staggering, compared to previous centuries.”
“Hmm. And change—of course—is a small part of any of our aspects, if a part at all. Alteration of form is a natural part of my kind's powers, always has been, but that could never account for a multitude of other people looking to do the same.” The Kitsune nodded, thinking to herself more. “So—correct me if I'm wrong but—you believe this is an 'inevitability'. That the world 'desires' it?”
La Lune nodded. “Remove her, and another will only rise to take her place. While there was a particularly rare alignment of events and persons leading to this particular person and appearance taking on that nature and aspect, it would have been less than three decades, I believe, even without their help.”

“And you've been watching her as well, I trust,” the fox-goddess said. “She is awfully 'nice' about everything. At least for now, she appears to be friendly, and likely to want a good relationship with the rest of us eventually rather than to attempt to destroy or depower us.”
La Lune nodded. “An aspect of change and reversal could be dangerous to even us, in the hands of someone who bore hatred. I think that I would likely be beyond the reach of such a thing, but many I like—such as yourself—would be well within it. At any rate, it appears foolish to me to worry about her in view of what else appeared just last week.”
The Kitsune's eyes gleamed slightly. “You've been keeping an eye on that too, have you? I'm very interested to know how it progresses. He's bound to find out about us eventually if his power keeps peeling the Veil off, and anyway I hardly think a power like the one you described 'cares' whether its owner knows about something or not.”
“Much like the new arrival, however, he seems nice,” La Lune said. “In view of something which was able to simply tell my brother 'no' and preemptively repel any further interference from the rest of us—all in an instinctive response while he was asleep—seeing it in the hands of someone who wants to be harmless could only be a comfort.”

“..Well, that's as much business as I think I can stand,” the fox-goddess said, rising to her feet with another smirk. “Shall I take my leave, or..?”
La Lune nodded—to the latter option. The woman leaned back entirely onto the wolf and sank inside its fur, causing it to shrink and change to the shape of a green-eyed werewolf woman with similar proportions to her, though with a bit more height and a lot more muscle. She pulled herself up onto her feet, standing a head and a half or so taller than the Kitsune with her tail wagging eagerly. “You know I can only stand to be formal for so long too,” she said, and pounced, knocking her guest over onto her back.