Monday, October 16, 2017

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Battle Vixens! - 4

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You've probably already guessed this by now, but I've been rather busy and low on inspiration lately. Today however, I discovered much to my embarrassment that I actually already finished writing this part of Battle Vixens and just...forgot to ever publish it. So, here it is!

Blake hadn't come up with a better phone-booth than the men's restroom at the apartment yet, and there wasn't time to think about it now. He needed to go get Gerald's powers back to him/her, and then they had some kidnappers to catch. Blake was in enough of a hurry to not bother with the trash cans, and thankfully that didn't prove to be necessary, as once he spoke his phrase and refracted back to being a small fox-girl, Light didn't hear anyone reacting to the flash outside, much less someone walking in to really see it. She went out with a Blake-image as before, walking as briskly as she estimated he could until out of sight, and then went invisible to rush to Gerald's house.

Once she got there, Light made an image of the inside for herself just long enough to figure out where he was, and then made a little bit of glowing text for him to see: I'm outside and invisible right now. Open the door or a window or something please. He didn't seem too worried that someone was watching him, so he opened the door; she slipped inside and made herself visible again after getting a few feet away from him and letting him close it again. "Okay, so, what'd they say?"
"Well, your guess was right," he said. "They thought the few days it's been was a little too fast for me to have gotten the money together after how I was talking a few days ago. I think they may suspect I got the police involved, and the money I sent online is a ruse to track them somehow. granddaughter is alive, still. I...they let me speak with her for a moment. They want the same amount again dropped off somewhere, in cash, by noon." He sounded slightly panicked in that last sentence.
"Noon, huh..." Light leaned against a wall, thinking. "I uh, hate to ask this but I sorta ran over here almost as soon as I got up and didn't eat anything. I'm not exactly sure how the body-switching works but yesterday I was really hungry after I changed back."
"Sure, I can spare something," said Gerald. "I haven't eaten yet either, and we could probably both use a moment of calm before this begins."

They sat across a small table from each other. It didn't seem like Gerald's family was very big. Light was still thinking about the impending rescue mission, of course. "If you've got something for them to think a bunch of cash is in, we can put that down as bait—no further stealing needed, yeah? If we knock out whoever comes after the cash then I know how to follow the trail back to where they came from and then we can save her."
Gerald nodded. "Well, you can, at least."
"Oh, right!" She sat up straight suddenly, her ears sticking themselves upright at the same time. "I almost forgot. I had a..." (no, don't say I had a dream, she thought) "I had an idea of how we could make your powers work again. I was able to say your phrase to make you turn back to normal just by wanting it to happen, so maybe I can just get things working how they were before the same way." It was dead simple now that she thought of it that way. "I can try it when we're through eating if you want." He nodded.

After the plates were put away, they stood back in the living room where the front door was. "Ready?"
"Yes," he nodded, looking determined.
"Alright." Light spoke Gerald's phrase to him again, this time wanting—no, ordering, she felt as if the right mental switch to flip and make it do exactly what she wanted had somehow been pointed out to her in the dream last night—it to grant Gerald back his powers, including the ability to say his own phrase to go back and forth. No sooner had she finished speaking it than a massive stream of lightning bolted from each of her hands, arcing out into a million jagged lines on the way to his body but all of them landing there. Right away, she saw the old man shrinking and changing just as he had when hit by the strange bolt of lightning outside the day before. As he became a small girl, she smiled, her tail swishing back and forth contentedly, as if it had been uncomfortable to not have access to her powers for a time.

"You remember how to say your phrase now?" said Light.
"Yep!" She nod-nodded and smiled even brighter. But then little sparks of electricity began to crackle and fizzle around her again, which she frowned at. " can hide light, but not sound, right?" she said, looking up at the taller girl.
"Yeah. Can you not...turn that off?" said Light, headtilting slightly.
"Uh-uh," she shook her head. "I've tried, 'cause it seems like it might hurt people who get too close, but it's like I'm constantly overflowing. Like I got too much."
"Hmm. Lemme see if I can just..." Light tried speaking the girl's phrase again, ordering her powers to be just as usable to her but stop being obnoxious please. A tiny spark, like a very long bit of static electricity, passed from the smaller girl back into her, and it stopped.
"Yay! You fixed it!" she said happily, clapping her hands.
"Yeah," Light smiled back. But it was a little strange that she apparently had more control over Gerald's powers than she did herself...or at least, more precise control maybe? It didn't matter right now, though. "Okay, now let's go rescue your little girl," she said, walking dramatically to the door and opening it. Nobody else saw the door open, or the two girls walking out of it, but maybe they could have heard a couple of soft voices a block or so away if there were anyone there to hear.

Gerald was leading the way, carrying with her a big duffel bag, since she knew where the drop off was supposed to be. She said, "Hey, uh, Light?"
"Since you're calling yourself a different name so people don't know who you are, maybe I could do that too?"
"I don't see why not," she shrugged. "I'd say I shouldn't know either, but that ship has kinda sailed. What do you have in mind?"
"Ning," she said immediately.
"Yep! That way, together we're Light-Ning."

"Well I mean..." One of Light's ears sort of cocked to the side. "It's clever I guess, but kind of a big commitment to the pun. far as I knew, we're only working together to get your granddaughter back. I'm all in for this superhero stuff 'cause, well, I have my reasons anyway. But you've got a little girl to take care of, right? Parents..not in the picture?"
The other girl nodded slowly; she was facing forward so her back was to Light but the way her ears drooped told Light what her expression probably was at the moment.
"Right. So I thought you'd like to use your power to protect her. I didn't really mean to rope you into anything bigger than this rescue...and maybe getting the stolen money back to the bank."

"I don't mind. Maybe I couldn't help you all the time, but I like the idea of stopping evildoers," said the smaller girl. "I've seen the news too. There's lots of bad people who got powers like ours, you know, and I can't stand the thought of you having to fight some of them alone after helping me out so much, not when I can do somethin' about it. Anyway, Ning has a nice ring to it all its own."
"Well, I'll call you that if it's what you want," said Light. Her mind was almost immediately elsewhere. Obedient to your every whim, that woman had said. What was this whole idea of being a superhero, if not a whim born of a lifetime of reading comic books and watching movies based on them? Would Gerald—Ning, rather—be quite so willing to work with her if she didn't "own" her power? It wasn't total obedience, no, but the woman had basically said that control over the appearance of a person's body came in degrees, so what if the mind control came in degrees too, starting with the person suddenly wanting what the "owner" wanted as long as it was something they could rationalize as their own desires?

She was pulled out of the thought by Ning saying "Hey!" in a slightly louder whisper than their conversation up until now. Then she repeated herself: "This is the place." They were standing at a bus stop somewhere in the middle of the city. "I'm supposed to put it under the bench and leave."
"That seems like...pretty stupid," said Light.
"Just...if you put the bag here and leave, and there's just this bag of money in a public place, someone's gonna get curious about it and open it up and take the money. Or the bag. I mean, at the very least a homeless person would definitely do that. Between this and thinking you even have a lot of money in the first place, I think we might be dealing with some kind of extra incompetent bad guys. Oh well." She waved her hand, making an image of the bag appear under the bench.

"You know, in the real world criminals are pretty stupid a lot of the time," said Ning. "They'll do things like post incriminating evidence to the internet, or brag loudly about what they did right in front of the police station. If you've just been reading comics all your life for how they behave, you might be surprised by how dumb they can really be."
"You're right." Light put a hand to her chin, thinking. "Okay, if one guy comes alone in this case I'll just hit him in the head to knock him out, easy enough. But if there's more than that we'll be in a situation where maybe they want to fire on us because they're dumb enough to do that in a public place like this. I'm gonna put their targets way away from us or anyone else, of course, but maybe they're so bad they miss or just don't aim, and wind up hitting someone anyway. We can't let that happen. Can you do, like, electromagnet stuff?"
Ning nodded. "I did some of that with the bank vault, to make the lock open up on the inside. I had to concentrate super hard to control it that exactly though. I think maybe it's easier to throw stuff around wildly."
"That should be all we need, maybe," said Light. "Plan on pushing any bullets that appear directly against the way they're going until they lose momentum, or at least turning them aside from hitting someone, and...maybe just tossing guns out of their hands onto the ground." She shook her head. "If you could do more precise control fast I'd say take out the firing pins, but I guess we'll have to allow for the possibility someone gets shot in the foot."

They waited in silence for a few minutes, but it was still a while until noon. Eventually Light said, "Hey...While we're just waiting here and planning ahead, I've had a few thoughts about the whole 'stealing money' thing."
"Well, even though I accept it I'm not totally sure the police will take your reason for stealing the money and just let you go. So...instead we should make them think it's not 'you' who stole it. I think I might be able to use your phrase to make you look slightly just sorta feels like I could...and they only have a few ways of identifying you. The security camera footage or any eyewitness reports were blurry 'cause you were moving so fast, but they know you're short, have gray fur, and have sparks of electricity around you," she said, counting off with her fingers. "Oh, and you probably left fingerprints on the money and maybe a doorknob or two. You already don't do the sparky thing, so what if I try to make you tall, with a different fur color and different fingerprints?"
"Er...I'd rather stay short if that's all right," said Ning, fidgeting with her feet slightly. "I'm only a little taller than my granddaughter, you know. When I found out I could look like this, I-I thought, if I could stop being dangerous 'cause of the sparks, it'd be nice to be on her level and just be her playmate sometimes," she said, blushing a little. "I know it's silly...I'm still a grown man, or—woman,'s another way I could spend time with her."
"Well, three out of four isn't bad. Honestly I think the fingerprints being different might be enough for a lot of them. Is there some hair color you'd like better, though?"
"Mm..maybe purple?" she suggested.

"Okay, let's see what I can do." Light tried saying Ning's phrase again, ordering her body to change hair and fur color toward purple and have different fingerprints. There was more lightning from the taller girl's hands, and the smaller girl's hair did visibly fade to a light purple shade. Whether her prints had changed was less obvious, of course.
Ning brought her tail around front to look at it. "Oh wow, it worked!" She smiled. "Heehee, I might like to try out some other colors later. I kinda miss having not-gray hair, but an old man dying his hair just looks weird and wrong."
"Great," Light nodded, smiling. "So—step two, someone did steal money from the bank, and they gave it to you—to Gerald. So you need a story. That girl shoved a bunch of cash at you and told you to pay off the kidnappers if you ever wanted to see your girl again. The way she said it made it sound like a threat, like she was working with them or like she might kidnap her herself or something, so you only did it under duress. Once we get you and your granddaughter—uh, what's her name?"
"Nadia," she nodded.
"Right, once we get you and Nadia home you call the police and give them that story, because now she's safe so apparently there's nothing to worry about. Probably I'll find some way to call the cops on the kidnappers after the rescue and you can carry her back home while they're busy arresting the bad guys there."

They only needed to wait a little longer before Light spotted a guy in a dark hoodie with the obvious bulge of a gun in the pocket walking up, eyes on the bag. She had a quick look around—no visible accomplices, good—and then moved as quietly as she could next to him. He knelt to go for the bag, and...whack! Flat end of sword to forehead. He fell back, out like a light (ha), and she had to move around to catch him and sit him on the bench. Then she made him disappear from sight and waited a few seconds for any reaction; if there was anyone else with him surely they'd notice this sequence of events and come to do something about it. But there was no reaction.

"Okay...we need to make sure this guy doesn't wake up and get away. can pick up a person, right?"
"M-hm," Ning nodded. "I'm super strong."
"We'll introduce ourselves by leaving him at their doorstep," said the taller girl, nodding. "Now, I'm gonna do my thing to track him back to the hideout. You follow, make sure I don't trip over anything or run into anyone, I can't see both the past and the present at the same time."
Her eyes glowed the way they had before, and the smaller girl got a delighted smile, quietly saying "cooool." Then she picked up the kidnapper—who felt pretty lightweight to her, only tough to carry because of the size difference—and followed along.

Tracking this guy was a lot easier than tracking Ning had been earlier. He didn't go jumping up on rooftops and doubling back randomly over and over again, after all—in fact he didn't seem to have done anything to disguise his route at all. Well, that was sensible enough, he probably had no reason to suspect he was being followed. And he wasn't being followed at the time...just after the fact.

Eventually they reached a warehouse. Light couldn't help but roll her eyes—for as much as this was Real Life and Not A Comic Strip, this seemed awfully cliche. But while she silently directed Ning to lay the man down just in front of the front door, her ears clearly picked up some gruff voices talking.
"Well, won't be long now," said one. "That Mr. Neilson'll regret holdin' back on us before."
Another one answered, "Hey now, we're supposed to be businessmen. He paid up in the end, we can let the girl go."
"No way! A billionaire like that can do with a lot less money. We'll take it in installments..."
"You really think he won't involve the police if we do that?" said the more reasonable one. "I say we wait 'till Jones gets back and book it outta here."

Peeking inside the same way she had Gerald's house, Light observed just the two men, with the third out here. And...a small girl tied to a chair with ropes, a gag in her mouth. On slightly closer listening she was making occasional muffled noises, so...alive, at least.
"Quick plan," said Light. "I'm gonna get their attention, make them come out here and see this guy. You go in around them, still invisible from me, pick up the—Nadia's on a chair, pick that up, get her far enough away you can cut the ropes off of her with one of your swords. There's just two guys, I should be able to keep them busy long enough for the cops to show up."
"Did you call the police?" whispered Ning.
"I'm going to. Ready?" The small girl nodded. "Okay, here we go."

The warehouse was filled with a bright flash of light. "Gah!" the two guys inside covered their eyes; when the light faded and they could see again, there were words on the wall they were facing. Your friend is waiting for you outside.
"What the...what's that supposed to mean?" said mister 'installments'.
"It's—it's gotta be one a' those freaks!" said the more reasonable-seeming one. "From the news?"
He might not live much longer... Light didn't like implied death threats, but it wasn't like she'd really follow them up. Besides, they had threatened to kill a small girl, so screw them.
"I...I'll go check. You guard the—" said the first one, stepping out toward the front door, and then seeing his buddy. "Jones!"
"What happened?" The other one, just behind him. Ning dashed around them, picked up the chair, ran for a visible backdoor the warehouse had.
"Go back and guard the girl!" said the first one, pointing angrily. Thinking quickly, Light made an image of the girl so they'd think she was still there a little bit longer. The second one obeyed, walking back inside.

Now Light made a visible beacon to the sky, with some nice lettering saying "POLICE PLEASE". If that didn't get a cop over here soon she didn't know what would. She moved a little closer to the nearby kidnapper, who seemed to be trying to get Jones to wake up.
"You're next," she said from close by, causing him to shout and jump back, sitting up against a wall. He pulled a handgun, hand shaking wildly, aimed it at her. Guns still killed her, she knew, and so quickly went around behind him, leaving a grinning image in front of him. Not a moment too soon—he fired, and she reacted by quickly summoning her sword and thwacking him in the hand so he dropped the gun. "You're gonna fire on an unarmed girl!?" she said. Keep track of the other guy, keep track...he was looking their way, weapon already drawn. She made him see her running at him from the direction opposite where she was right now, and kicked the guy in front of her down. More shots. And then, police sirens.

Light got rid of her beacon; now that they were here no point spending energy and concentration on that. She went over to the car as it pulled up, appearing with her hands up as an armed man came out. "Officer! These guys were shooting at me!" she said.
He looked a little skeptical, but didn't turn a weapon on her. That was a good sign, probably.
"They were holding a girl hostage! She just ran away while they were busy trying to murder me," she added.
"Hey, this is—" said another officer, who had already reached the front door of the warehouse. "You're under arrest!" Apparently that one had a warrant out for him already. The police were suddenly busy chasing after the guy in the warehouse, who turned tail and ran. Light made him see the back exit of the warehouse a few yards to the left of its actual position, and so he ran into a wall. She also disappeared herself, of didn't sound like they needed her as a witness anyway, and this would save her a lot of awkward questions. Not to mention there was Ning and her granddaughter to go check on!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The "Best" RPG Ever-38

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Nora stood in something resembling a grand cathedral, in between the end of two long rows of tall, white candles burning in every color of the rainbow, before a towering statue that threatened to scrape the roof. She was wearing a cermonial dress of some sort that was mostly obsucured by a white cloak on the outermost layer; it made her feel uncomfortable, disconnected from the world around her, but it seemed that dulling those senses was the point of the outfit. She was...supposed to be focused on the statue, or more specifically, who it represented.

A god, of course; one of those she had read about the other day at the library. Specifically, she who goverened nature, shaped like a centaur with a strong horse's lower body and the upper body of a beautiful woman. She had a scar across her horse half's right flank, represented in statue form by a long, deep cut hewn into that part of the stone, traditionally only after the rest of the work was complete. Nora's talent of reading and manipulating nature was like a frail echo of the goddess's own, and at the same time recognized by those here as a gift from her, to be used in her service.

Why was she here now...? Part of her felt as if she hadn't been here in years, and part as if this was just another step in the daily routine. But ultimately, it felt like this was because of what had happened last night, or...earlier tonight? There was noon sunlight coming into the cathedral, but a part of her knew it was really still night. She had meant to use the goddess's power for good, of course, to protect and heal others, and destroy abominations against nature—monsters, demons, undead, anything else like that. But it hadn't gone that way tonight, had it? Instead she'd been used by one, her hand turned against an ally. Was this...supposed to be penitence for that?

No...this experience, standing here in front of the statue, wasn't about apologizing. It was about doubt. This was...the day before she had left. Of course, she wasn't supposed to leave for at least another century, not until...something had happened, the idea of what was vague at the moment. Days before this she had stood here and planned the escape, thinking only of how useless it was to have a power like hers and spend her days here doing little more than gardening, listening to lectures, standing in this place. There were people hurting and dying out there, and even the priests here would be loath to follow her to the frontier, as dangerous as the journey was supposed to be.

This was the last time she stood before the statue, and she was saying goobdye. If the goddess didn't want her to leave, she could leave a message in her dreams tonight, or a vision to one of the priests, warning them to stop her. No such thing had happened, but then, the gods often seemed reluctant to stop a mortal who really wanted something, even to the point of allowing a follower to go directly against their wishes. It was just that if that happened, the god often felt it right to punish that mortal sometime afterward. Nora didn't feel particularly punished at the moment, but in the context of what had happened tonight, the doubt from back then that she should leave took on a new meaning: Should she have waited? Was there a risk of her power, the goddess's great gift, being wasted or misused further just because she hadn't learned everything here? But surely, the good she had done since leaving, instead of waiting around here for longer than some races even lived, was more than enough to make up for a few missteps. Was it?

Nora received no answer; the statue was as silent as always. But as she was about to remember turning and leaving this place, she did hear a dog...barking and whining outside. That hadn't happened before, a part of her said. It was worth investigating. She turned and left in more of a hurry than it felt she really had back then, but as soon as she began running between the rows of candles toward the exit, she awoke with a start, sitting up in bed, the feeling of too much covering her skin fleeing as the covers fell off of her torso.

The elf bolted upright, eyes wide open, and then turned quickly to the source of the noise. Zack and Katherine's beds, next to each other tonight, were empty, the former's looking like a real wild animal had stayed in it recently. And the wild animal the group knew best was on his hind legs, forepaws on Zack's bed, and he was barking and whining in distress, probably at sleeping through his 'alpha' disappearing.

Behind her, the witch gave an obnoxiously loud yawn. "Huueeehh~...what's all the ruckus about?" "Z-zack's gone." Nora stood up and went over to the wolf, bending over slightly and putting a hand close to the top of its head in an offer to comfort him. He paused to growl briefly at her, but then just pushed his head up to the hand and rubbed it a bit anyway.
"Oh, yeah. Kath woke herself up to get him to the healer."
"I see." She fixed her eyes on the wolf's, rubbing its head gently. "He's g-getting help. That's good. They'll be b-back soon." The wolf gave a mollified sort of whine and ducked back onto the floor, out of her reach again. He gave a soft bark that seemed like a 'hmph' and moved over to the door to go out and downstairs. Mika opened it for him.

"So, uh, how'd you sleep?"
"Well, I s-suppose. I had a strange dr-dream."
"Hey, if you don't like those you could ask our resident catgirl to bridge you into the multi-dream with me," she said. "Way more chill than a blast of subconscious confusion."
"Hmn." The elf responded neutrally, uncertain about the offer. Everything about the events and thoughts in that dream had felt so familiar, even though...she'd never really been to a place like that. And the bandits from before had said something about her being a priestess, right?

By the time they got downstairs, the two animal girls were on their way inside, and Zack seemed to be walking normally again, maybe even in something resembling good spirits. The wolf had been waiting at the door and practically jumped over to sniff his alpha up and down in greeting, before drawing himself back to a calm sitting position and pretending he hadn't. The witch ran up to them, Nora trailing slowly behind. "Good morning!" she said cheerfully.
"Morning, sleepyheads," said the psion. "You as hungry as we are?"
"Well, I did just eat last night," said Mika, "but I could go for some normal food too." They sat down at a booth up against the wall the stairwell was behind and started ordering.

After that was done, the witch said, "Now, I have an announcement. I want to call myself Mira from now on."
"Okay," said Zack. "Why?"
"Well, I feel like it fits my new look a lot better. Don't you?" He just shrugged.
"An-yway," the catgirl cut in, "We all have something we need to discuss."
"Last night," the knight nodded. "It didn't really go so well."
Nora looked away from the others, toward the rest of the tavern. "I'm s-sorry," she said softly.
"Hey, it's not your fault," Zack said. "Or.."
"I mean, it is a little bit, but not any more than it is mine," said Katherine. "I should be better than that at defending people against mental assaults."
"Or I probably should've done something about it," said Mira, "I mean, the mess wouldn't have started without my help."

Zack cut in, "The point is that it doesn't matter whose fault it is, or if it's even someone's fault in the first place. We just need to plan on how to prevent something like that from happening again. And.." He waved at Nora, trying to get her to look at him across the table. When she did he gave her a seroius look. "I know what it felt like too, okay? It's...I don't think either of us could really help it."
"B-but you actually did resist it," she said. "I...I c-could feel its frustration every time it looked into your eyes and nothing happened. I just...g-gave in right away. It made me f-feel something that I d-d-didn't understand, I was c-c-confused and...and curious and...I just, let it take over." She looked and felt on the verge of tears at this point.
Katherine tried to comfort her. "Nora, it's.."
"I t-t—" she started loudly, and then much more quietly but with the same intensity, "I tried to kill you! I really t—...tried. How can you..."
"Well, you're sorry, aren't you?" said the catgirl.
"Then I forgive you. Just don't do it again or I'll make your head explode."
"I'll..I'll remember that." She calmed down a little. And then, nervously, the elf giggled a little bit. "Heheheh..."

Zack said, "What?" Unknown to them, Rose paused in the stairwell, hearing him say it through the wall.
"I d-don't know, this is all still v-very strange. Th-that kind of thing could never be a serious threat back on Earth. This whole s-situation wouldn't even make sense to a-any of us a week or two ago."
"I guess so, yeah." Zack leaned forward onto crossed arms on the table. "I'm really starting to miss having a job that's not 'risk your life and everyone else's daily'."
"Enough about that," said Katherine. "Strategy! I can buy some skills for putting a mental shield over everyone, but first and foremost we shouldn't be afraid to konk each other on the head a little if we get confused or charmed or anything else like that. Worst case we knock an ally out and they stop hurting anyone instead of continuing to come after the rest of us."

The dragon-girl hadn't moved, except to carefully maneuver her head so her ear was against the wall and the horn on that side wasn't inside said wall. The key word was Earth. Not dirt, a location that they'd been "back on" at some point in the past. A week or two? Rose tried unsuccessfully to do the hadn't been an entire week since she'd arrived, she thought. This was not a one player game; they were talking about learning skills, like from a skill tree, like hers. Well, it hadn't felt like a one-player game anyway, every person she'd met had felt quite real. Was everyone she met just another player and nobody mentioned it because it was obvious to all of them? Or was it just...a few people, these four here? What about the other girls she'd met? The dragon-girl wasn't sure whether to bring it up or not, maybe someone would be mad at her for messing up their roleplaying or something. Roleplayers were weird like that sometimes. But here they were talking about it out of character in the in character tavern! But...

It sounded like they were stuck just like she was. Even if she brought up the subject, they wouldn't know a way to go back. Did she want to go back? It'd be nice to have the opportunity, to maybe lift the strange haze that hung over her mind from time to time. Rob wasn't really a fun person to be, though, honestly, and Rose was so much more...everything! There was something else, too...

If not everyone was a player, and if they didn't know who was or wasn't a player just like she didn't know...then they probably thought she was really a dragon from birth. If she asked them about this game business, if she told them the truth...they'd know it wasn't really her. It felt like this was really her, but in the eyes of anyone from Earth she'd just be Rob again. And in some ways she didn't like the idea of being Rob, and certainly didn't want to be seen as him while she was her! She liked being the cute, energetic dragon-girl they'd met, awkwardness and all. Besides, they would...they might not be as friendly to her if they knew who she really was, or had been...? It was fuzzy, she had a memory of being Rose for so long that it was hard to say that wasn't really who she was. So if that's who she was, then telling people she was Rob, from Earth, would then be what was lying, wouldn't it? It would give them the wrong impression, she concluded, and the impression they all had of her now was surely the right one, or at least the much more accurate one.

Grateful nobody had tried to use the stairs in the last few minutes, Rose stood upright again and shook her head slightly. That was right, she thought, that was the good way to think of it if not the only one. Fully convinced of what would be more honest now, she took the last few steps down. Oh, that sounded like the nice people who'd helped her find this town the other day, maybe she could say hello to them!

Lynn stood at the the front of the group, before the counter in the guardhouse. They had a fresh paper from the quest board asking for someone to track and kill a "moderate-sized" pack of goblins. The guard at the counter, a Canis man, nodded after looking at it."We had some trouble with a bunch of goblins destroying and looting caravans not too long ago. Someone spotted some more goblins in the distance on the way into town recently, and we figure, best if they don't get a chance to fill the vacuum. But unlike the ones before, we don't know where their hideout is, or even where they are. You have any experience tracking?"
"I'm pretty sure we can do it," said Rayna, nodding.
"Alright." He dug around behind the counter and pulled out a small piece of paper showing a map with the location of the town indicated near the edge and an X near the middle. Pointing at that X he said, "This is about where the traders saw 'em. Pretty much the only starting point we've got." Then he offered it to Lynn, who passed it on the fox-girl. "Best of luck to you, ladies."
"We don't need luck," said Aria, crossing her arms and grinning. Then, after a pause..."but thank you." It was kind of a trained response of hers, but she realized afterward that it might sound rude.
"Mm-hm." The guard nodded, just seeming to take it in stride. The four of them headed out.

"We don't need luck?" Lynn echoed once they were on their way out of town, Rayna of course leading with the map.
"It's a thing I used to say when I was streaming and somebody wished me good luck, like for a speedrun or a high score attempt or something. I would say—'I don't need luck. I got skill.'"
"It sounds a little...arrogant," said Clera.
"It was always true, though," Aria said. She shook her head, knowing that explanation wouldn't be enough. "It's not about arrogance, see, arrogance is thinking 'oh, I'm better than everyone else'. It's about confidence and hard work. It's saying, I put in the hours, I know this like the back of my hand, I believe I can do it, luck be darned. If I make it because I'm lucky that's not good enough, see?" She sighed. "Folks who watched my streams understood what I meant because they saw all the work and practice and heard me talking about confidence a lot. Anyway, in this case I was thinking, we don't need luck—we just learned a bunch of new skills.

"...Heh, it's a little stupid of me though, I guess, I mean it's a reference nobody else but me was ever gonna get." She made a twirling motion next to her ear. "Blame it on my low charisma and intelligence scores screwing with my personality, I guess."
"Wait, your charisma's low?" said Lynn, headtilting. "Frankly your, uh, default form isn't any less attractive than mine or Rayna's—"
"Hmph," the fox-girl in front protested.
"—well, mine at least, anyway. And even if it was you could literally make yourself as beautiful as you want, because shapeshifting."
"Well, charisma means a lot of things," said Aria. "It doesn't matter how pretty a person is if they can't get along with other people at all. I think what little score I have is just from looks, 'cause I've been super awkward socially ever since getting turned into this. And I wasn't like that before, I mean, I had tons of friends and followers..."
" much is it affecting your behavior?" said Clera, sounding concerned. "Are you able to tell?"
"A fair bit, I think." She nodded. "I'll just blurt out something and then it'll take me a minute to realize I phrased it in just about the worst way possible, or that I shouldn't have said it at all. It's like who I used to be is still in my head, playing catchup with who I am now and going 'Aria, you big dummy, nobody was gonna understand you meant that!' But it doesn't matter." The shifter shook her head again. "I guys understand me, or at least try to, even when my mouth isn't as coherent as my brain. That's enough."

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Battle Vixens! - 3

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"Mnnh.." Her eyes slowly reopened as she recovered from being stunned. "W-wha..what did I feel so...weak."
"I'm not really sure. I didn't kill you though—and I won't." Blake dismissed her weapon (and heard sparking sounds nearby as the other girl's weapons disappeared as if from the same command) and swung back until she was off of her opponent, sitting on the ground with her legs bent backwards on opposite sides of her butt. It was an unfamiliar position but felt strangely natural. Her opponent slowly sat up. "Now maybe you'll just talk to me for a minute, huh?"

"I...I guess so." Her ears twitched, and she looked around.
Blake jumped slightly, realizing they'd just had a somewhat visible and loud fight, and she looked around herself, quickly making both of them invisible. There wasn't anyone visibly here, but surely someone in that house over there, or the houses they'd run over or around, might have called the police by now. "Err, rain check. Let's go somewhere the cops might not be in like five minutes." She hopped to her feet and offered her former-opponent a hand, which she took, rising more carefully to her feet. Well, at least she seemed to be able to stand. "Uhm...This way."

Blake started moving at a brisk but human-attainable pace, but stopped not long afterward, hearing the smaller girl panting heavily, and turned to see her bent over in exhaustion. She went over, putting a hand on the girl's back. "What's going on? You were running way faster than this before."
"I-I was...but I c—hh—can't anymore. I feel like I'm j-just a normal girl." She managed to stand up again.
"Okay, um..." There were sirens, distant but audible to her ears now. They couldn't just walk away, invisibility or not. Blake tried carefully picking the girl up; it was manageable, but only because she was so small and light. "Alright. Just hold onto me for a minute." The girl put her arms up around her shoulders, and Blake started off again, not a full-tilt run but a little faster than the "human-achievable" speed a moment ago. She found a small patch of trees after a minute or so of running, and stopped in the middle of them, setting her passenger down and sitting down in front of her in the same manner as before.

"Phew. This should be far enough for now," Blake nodded. "Nobody can see us so we're good if we keep our voices down. Now can you please tell me why you'd rather die than turn yourself in?"
"I-I..." She looked on the verge of tears. "They...they took my granddaughter!" she said finally, and did start crying, an immature-seeming sob that juxtaposed very strangely with her just saying she was a grandparent.
"They—? Who did it? You were, you stole money for a ransom?!" Blake said, finally catching on.
"Mn-hnh.." She nodded, and sniffed. "J-just enough to pay it, with what I had in savings. They took her a few days ago, a-and I told them I didn't have enough. They kept saying 'no police' and said I was holding out on them. W-when I woke up this morning and I could, do this," she made a motion to the current state of her body, "I thought, 'this is it, I can save her!'"
"You..?" Blake's left ear fell to the side in a bit of confusion. "I mean, I would've thought the same thing, actually tracking them down and literally saving her, not stealing for it. If they think you can just get money whenever you want they'll keep asking for more! Or—wait, you're not even rich, right?" She shook her head. "What kind of stupid bad guys are we dealing with here?! You're supposed to kidnap rich people's kids if you want ransom money. Or at least someone in government or, something! I mean—"

Her rant was cut short at this point by another loud-ish sniff, and seeing the other girl rubbing a teary eye. "D-do you really think they'll keep asking for more? I d—...I just want to see my baby again." She sounded like she was really going to start bawling now, advice to keep quiet or not.
"H-hey, hey..." Blake put her hands on the smaller girl's shoulders, trying to calm her down. "There's no need for that, alright? Seriously, we have superpowers now. Or..." Her ears went down a little. "...I do at least, I'm sure I can figure out how to make yours work again though. Dealing with 'no police' ransom situations is supposed to be a thing you can do with those."
"I have no idea who they are, or where.."
"Look, I'm pretty good at tracking someone who doesn't wanna be found. I found you, didn't I? You get me to the last place she was seen, or like where their car pulled away or whatever, and I'll do the rest. We can find their hideout, get her out without them even noticing, and then you can like, electro-taze them until the cops get there! And..we'll figure things out with you and the police after that."
She seemed calmer, but still cautious. "Y-you don't even know me, or if I'm even telling the truth..."
"You could've literally stolen all the money this morning, but you only took as much as you needed. I saw it on the news. As for not knowing you, well—that doesn't matter at all! You need help, and I can help you." Blake nodded, giving a hopeful grin.

"Mnn..." The smaller girl's eyes started to tear up again. Then she surprised Blake by a tackling hug, and cried "Awwwhh!" The taller girl returned the hug with only a little awkwardness, patting her back a couple of times and trying to ignore the collar of her shirt getting wet. After a moment, they disengaged, and the small girl drew herself back out of personal-space range, looking a little surprised and confused. "I-I'm sorry, I don't know what...that's not how I normally act," she said, her face reddening with a blush.
"I wouldn't expect so," said Blake. "I think looking different comes with some kind of personality changes. It's okay, I've had some of those too." She nodded.

"Now, this is how we should play it, I think," said the taller girl, crossing her arms and aiming for a serious expression but unintentionally landing at a cute frown. "We could track them down from where they first picked her up, like I said, but there's a quicker, easier option 'cause you paid them already." The smaller girl nodded. "They're gonna contact you soon for one of two things—'here's where to get your girl back', or 'we're greedy jerks and want more money now'. Either way, you send me have a cell phone, right?" She nodded again. "Okay, you'll send me a text that says 'go time' and I come to your house and we go to where they want the pickup or drop-off, and then we can bust 'em from there." Another nod. "Alright, so the first thing we should do is get back to your house. Ready to hold on for a few more minutes?"

They reached the house, still invisible of course, with no problems, and he hadn't locked the door before going fox-girl, so they were able to go inside for some privacy. "Alright, now we just need to get each other as contacts," said Blake. "I left my phone back, uh...somewhere. So I'll give you my number and you can text me?"
"That sounds fine," said the smaller girl, leading the way into the bedroom she'd been a man pacing in before. But when she started to reach for the phone, she paused, lowering her hands and fidgeting a little bit. ""
"They—if they call me they'll expect to hear my voice, not...not this one."
"Well, yeah. Sooo, turn back to normal," said Blake.
"I don't...I don't know how." She looked a little panicky on realizing this fully. "I can't—what I said to change before, to this and back to myself, I can't remember—I know what it sounds like but I don't know how to say it anymore!"
"Oh! Um, wait wait don't panic," said Blake, waving her arms. "When that...whatever it was, happened after we fought I learned how to say it. Maybeeee I can turn you back?"
"It's worth a try," she said, nodding.

"Okay..." With a deep breath, Blake said the other girl's phrase, hoping desperately it would turn her back to normal. When she did, some small arcs of electricty shot from her hands into the other girl, and she started growing bigger and taller again, her ears and tail retracting and her clothes reshaping...and soon, with a sigh of relief, the old man was standing there instead of the small girl.
"This is a relief, at least," he said, and took his phone. "Give me the number."
The remaining fox-girl nodded, and recited Blake's number. She didn't exactly have the foresight (or delusional whim, as it would have been before today) to have set up a secondary one for "being a superhero," and there was no time to do that now.
"Okay, I'll—wait," he said. Then, scratching his head: "We never actually introduced ourselves, did we?"
"Yee-eah, we were kinda busy chasing and fighting and all the other stuff," said Blake, putting a hand behind her head. "I'm...sorta uncomfortable giving out my real name like this, soooo, you can call me Light."

He nodded. "I understand your caution. I wouldn't trust me at this point, personally. Well, Light, it's good to meet you, though I wish it could be in other circumstances." He offered her a handshake, which she accepted. "My name is Gerald Nelson."
"Back at ya. I mean, sentiment's mutual. Umm, anyway I need to go back to normal for a while too, so it won't look like I'm missing. Text me as soon as they get back to you—we'll figure out how to make your powers work again when we meet up."
"I hope so," he said. "Though I suspect you can handle those scum who took my girl on your own if not."
She found herself blushing a little from the compliment. "Erm, yeah, maybe. I'll see you soon, anyway." Light fled from the house then, and returned to her own apartment complex, putting back up a 'Blake' illusion as soon as there were about to be cameras and witnesses. It was late morning, almost lunchtime now, and there was more of a crowd to avoid bumping into, but she managed to make it back to the bathroom without any incidents. It was empty again this time, but it was clear this wasn't going to work as a long-term solution.
Light went to one of the showers and drew the curtain, hoping to block the possible flash from changing back from being seen outside as much as possible, and tried saying her own phrase. It had the expected effect: Her body glowed brilliantly and she began refracting and changing back again, the order of changes from earlier that morning going in reverse until Blake stood fully clothed there in the shower, feeling slightly winded and suddenly very hungry.

He got himself out of there, and after recovering his breath he hurried back to his own apartment to check his phone, just in case the kidnappers had already called Gerald. Amory had left, so he was free to get his phone with the one text saying just "G" and add the number to his contact list, and then move on to preparing lunch. He hadn't eaten breakfast in all the excitement of suddenly being a superhero, but on top of that...the winded feeling, the gnawing hunger, maybe together meant that running around as Light and using her powers actually used up energy he needed to then get back as Blake. It was a possibility worth watching out for, at least.

Blake was on edge the rest of the afternoon, waiting for the text, but it didn't ever come. Eventually he was standing in his bedroom ready to go to sleep, and decided that setting his phone volume as high as it would go would have to do. They probably wouldn't call in the middle of the night anyway, right? And it was better to get a good night's sleep than risk being sleepy and mentally useless as Light whenever they did call. So he went to bed.

It was another dream like the first one...but he stood not in a grand audience chamber, but in a small, lavish bedroom that seemed to perhaps belong to the same castle. He looked around briefly before hearing something he didn't quite understand, and feeling suddenly compelled to speak his phrase. At once he did, and found himself shrinking down, his hair lengthening and the ears and tail growing back into place. There was no light show with this, just a guy suddenly turning into a small, cute fox girl, complete with his t-shirt refusing to change sizes, tenting out around her and its collar hanging over one of her shoulders, but his boxers choosing to soften and shrink into a pair of panties, tugging tight between her legs as her chest pushed back out to complete the transformation.

She blinked a couple of times, holding up an arm and looking down at herself, feeling a little confused. Was she dreaming about having changed today, or...? "Hello there."
"Wuah!" The girl jumped at a voice suddenly less than a foot away from her, right in front of her, and took several rapid steps backwards while processing the sight of its source, which had also just appeared in that same instant. It was...the woman from before. From the last dream, that is, wearing a nightgown which seemed as elegant and overly complex as the dress she'd worn on the stage. She had the same kind of condescending smirk as before, and her presence applied the same pressure to this room.
She chuckled to herself. "Hmhmnh. You weren't expecting a personal visit, I suppose."
"" Blake..Light said cautiously. Had she done something this woman didn't like, and now..?
"Nothing like that, no," she shook her head. Okay, reading her thoughts then. That was...great. "Just the opposite. I'm here to congratulate you, dear." She held out a hand as if for a handshake.

Light looked at the hand and back at the woman's face, and stepped just close enough to take it if she stretched. The woman just held onto her hand for a few seconds and let go again. "You don't trust me," she said, nodding sagely. "You're wiser than a lot of people for that. But at least you can trust that if I wanted to do anything to you right now, I could have already done it." In a motion Light was unable to follow, she was suddenly standing barely an inch from the smaller girl, her hand on her head, rubbing it and scratching the bases of her ears. "See?" She shivered in spite of herself; she was surprisingly, deeply sensitive there, or perhaps just to the woman's touch, and it felt distressingly good. The woman just chuckled to herself. "Hmhmn, you're a cute one if I do say so myself." Finally Light was released from the hand, and stumbled back a couple of steps, her face burning with embarrassment.
"S-so, what do you, what are you congratulating me for?" she said, trying to sound respectful just out of fear of that power and whatever else it was the woman was willing to do to her to demonstrate it.
"Believe it or not, you're the first—and only one through the whole day—to defeat another I gifted in battle and not kill them." The woman crossed her arms. "Honestly, I thought your world more peaceful overall than this. The trouble hasn't even really started yet and so many lost just to each other. It does raise the stakes a bit, I suppose." The fact that she smiled at this suggested she didn't particularly care about the people who'd died personally, nor would she mind if whatever the "real trouble" was killed everyone as long as it was entertaining.

"Anyway, as a reward I thought I might explain what your spoils are from that victory, and how to use them. It's really quite simple but you can gain a little advantage from not stumbling into it all, at least."
"Oh-kaay..." Light had tried to say something more deferential but that was what came out. At least the woman didn't seem to mind.
"Now, when you knocked down your opponent and demonstrated full opportunity to slay her, but did not, her power—her gift from me—bowed down to you. It became yours, in a manner of speaking." The smaller fox-girl's mind was drawn to how Gerald's body had sent a bolt of lightning into her and then she had known how to say his phrase in addition to hers. "If you actually kill them, you get a much weaker version of their gift tacked onto yours, but gain complete and easy control over it. From a power bowing down to you, the advantages are different. You can call upon her power for brief momentary use as you like, by asking for it by name, and every time it will be at full strength. It's a little clumsier because they're not really yours as long as she lives, they just obey you. You see?"
"Um..yeah." So she could make lightning bolts and things like that by saying Gerald's phrase.
"But that's just the beginning. You can also command her powers to return to her in whole or in part for a time, and to leave her again...and the best part—you can ask them to change her."
"Ch..ange her?" said Light, unsure what that meant. She had been able to turn Gerald back to his original look today...
"Not just that," the woman shook her head. "If you don't like how she looks as a vixen, you can fix it. Taller, different clothes, a better figure maybe..?" She leaned forward a bit, bringing at least her head back inside of Light's personal space. "There's a limit, of course; really the changes you can make right now aren't all that extreme. But the more powers you rule, the greater the variety and intensity of changes you can make. You could even make those whose powers you own obedient to your every whim if you collect enough of them..."

Light's ears were down, her face red again; she wasn't really sure how to respond to this information. "Uh..."
"I know, you wish to be a hero, right?" The woman stood fully up again. "You're a clever girl, I'm sure you'll find virtuous uses for all that control. But I doubt you've never been at least a little bit curious. Either way, good luck to you. I'll be watching~." With that, she disappeared from the bedroom again, as suddenly as she had appeared. And Light was left to look around the room briefly before it too faded from view, and she felt herself lying down on her side, halfway curled up, with covers over her. There was light coming through her closed eyes, and she could feel it moving around in the room...

The fox-girl's eyes opened slowly, fluttered shut, and then opened wide again, and she flung the covers off herself, sitting abruptly up. She was—she was in Blake's room, in his T-shirt and a pair of panties, just what she'd been wearing in the dream. He had...turned into her in his sleep. Speaking the phrase even in the dream had done this..and it must have done it with a bright flash, too. Had Amory seen...?

Her ears twitched and turned around. The TV was on again, the news of course. So he was awake, and there was an unfamiliar girl in Blake's room. More importantly: Light quickly went after the phone and picked it up, and breathed a small sigh of relief that there hadn't been a text sometime in the middle of the night—she hadn't failed to respond when she was needed. That was good, at least. But...back to the problem at hand. There was a girl in Blake's bedroom, Amory was awake just outside of it, and changing back would cause a sudden flash. She couldn't say anything to excuse the flash beforehand because she sounded nothing like Blake; she couldn't walk out silently with Blake's image over her, he'd find it weird when his roommate didn't respond to anything. Even turning on the lights in the bedroom to make the flash seem less bright by comparison would draw a "Hey, sorry, did I wake you up" or something else like that which demanded a vocal response of some kind.

Eventually, the fox-girl decided on a course of action. She went into the bathroom. The fact was that she needed to do that anyway, and...being a girl made it feel a bit different in a way that was kind of, awkward. With the bathroom door closed, she thought while sitting down to take care of the problem, maybe the flash wouldn't be as visible. Maybe...if she whispered her phrase and timed it to happen right as she was flicking on the bathroom light it'd just look like that was what he was seeing. And Blake could explain the light sorta...flashed for a second at first, maybe a power surge or something, if Amory questioned it later. Good. Great.

The plan worked just fine. When Blake came out the door of his bedroom, the only thing his roommate did was look over at him and say, "Oh, man—Did I wake you up again?"
", I was kinda planning to get up early today anyway." He went over to the chair Amory wasn't on and sat down; the news was still about the fox-girls—and yes, the anchor noted, they were apparently all girls. The crime spree had kept up, it seemed, and in places gotten much worse, but there were also several reports of them fighting against each other, or the bodies of some found stabbed, chopped or torn in half, headless, frozen in ice, charred beyond recognition...and on top of that, dozens of people going missing.

"The world's goin' crazy, man," said Amory. Footage started up now: A bunch of police had closed in on a girl next to a fire hydrant; with a wave of her hand she pulled a flood of water out and formed it into a globe around herself with tentacles that lashed out at them all at once. They replied with volleys of gunfire that just bounced harmlessly off the globe, and as many of them were choked or picked up and thrown away by solid arms of water the girl laughed insanely...until one of the shots, by luck or chance, pierced through the shield and got her straight between the eyes. She went limp and the water all fell to the ground at once, resuming its normal obedience to gravity. The man who had shot her stood there still in shock, his hands shaking, as something blue and fluid flowed out of her unbreathing chest and into his.
"Makes what's happened in our town seem tame by comparison," his roommate continued. "I mean, there were some reports of two of those girls fighting out in the suburbs but nobody found a body or nothin'."
The TV cut to an interview with the man. He said something unpronounceable—his phrase now, Blake knew, and probably the phrase of the girl he'd killed before that—and changed at once in a brief fluid-like motion, becoming a light-blue-haired girl. "I don't know how to explain it," she was saying, "but I pledged my life to protect and serve the people. That hasn't changed."

Blake jumped back to his feet, hearing a brief but extremely loud jingle from his phone. He got up and went back to his room to check. It was from Gerald; it said "go vine". A second later, a second text arrived which said "go time".
"What's up?" Amory called from the couch.
"Uh—I gotta go," he said back, pocketing the phone and heading to the door right away. "Catch you later."
"'Kay. Stay safe out there, man."

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A War's End

While this is yet another story, it falls under the category of "extended caption" rather than whatever the other category of stories I post here is called. So if you were longing for a caption this will hopefully fulfill that want.

Mero awoke, and quickly realized he had gotten himself captured. Only a week ago he had proven his mettle and become the new alpha, and in that capacity had scouted a less-traveled part of their forest territory where some humans had recently been sighted. He had gone alone because if there were humans there, he had wanted to try and speak with them instead of just perpetuating the seemingly endless war between the two races. If he could just achieve a temporary truce, he had thought, that at least would be something.

For as long as Mero had been alive, some twenty-odd years perhaps, it had been on and off again: Skirmishes, fights, full-scale battles. The humans had their fields and pastures, and the Lupin (Mero's people) had their forests, and through all the fighting neither side had gained ground, or really anything at all. It was just an old grudge match nobody remembered the reason for; it was pointless, and it only lost to both sides people and resources that would be better spent elsewhere. Mero had recognized this for a long time, and his drive to become alpha was the opportunity to seek an end to the bloodshed.

But he had just gotten himself captured instead. Some human trick had produced a mist when he came to that part of the forest alone, and he had been a little too slow to hold his breath; it knocked him out, and now he awoke bound in tight ropes, with even a muzzle fixed around his head. He was a tall, strong, valiant Lupin, fully covered in thick gray fur, with sharp claws and sharper teeth...but little of that was going to help in his current situation; the muzzle barely allowed his mouth to open, and the ropes were stronger than he was. Really, it was surprising they hadn't just killed him if they were able to do all this.

He actually looked around the room he was in for the first time. He was sitting on stone floor (lying on it before waking) with strange markings all over it; there was no sunlight here, but a dim glow from th ceiling, and it smelled faintly of ash. A large door a ways in front of him was the only apparent way out of here...and as he looked at that, thinking maybe he could find a way to wriggle to it and out, it swung inward, opening, and a human man in a dark red robe walked inside.

"I thought you'd wake up by now," said the human, coming a little closer but not in the Lupin's reach even if he weren't still fully bound. He was a young man; as far as the Lupin knew of human age they were probably close to equal. Mero just growled, and the human knelt so their faces were opposite each other. "I'd like to apologize for my rudeness first of all. Or...well, I suppose you'd say that term doesn't even begin to cover it. But—I couldn't see any other way to ensure we could talk in complete privacy, and you not just tear my throat out."
Mero glared. "You have good reason to be afraid," he said; the muzzle did allow him enough space to speak at least.
"I know, you are the newest alpha. My sources suggested that you feel differently from how the old one did. About this war and hatred business, I mean."
"That would have been true before you did this to me."
"Oh come on, this is bigger than your pride. Isn't it? Years of hatred and death, for what?"
"You're just trying to deceive me. What, you want a pet? I'll die first!"

"No, no no no..." The human shook his head, looking distressed. "Look, I—I promise I'll get you back to your forest as soon as we're through talking, no matter what. Or, I'll untie you and you can do whatever you want to me. Just—hear me out. Talk to me as if I hadn't had to do all this, just for a moment."
"...Fine." Mero shook his head, and said something he'd been meaning to say to whatever human he found who would listen: "The fighting is pointless. When we fight amongst ourselves it is to grow stronger as a people, and there is a ban against killing. When we fight you, our strongest die and are maimed for nothing."
"Well, I share most of the same sentiments." The human moved to a sitting position. "I was recently elected—err, it's sort of like being alpha but we go about it differently. The point is that I'm the leader of the humans now. I want peace as badly as you do. But I think our people will have a hard time accepting it. They'll just elect someone else—or, in your case, you'll have an endless string of challengers for alpha—unless we can get both sides to stop hating each other."
"I do not fear such challenges," said Mero. "I would not be alpha if I were not already the strongest."

The human gave a serious, searching look. "You think you can change your people's opinion of us if the fighting stopped for long enough?"
Mero nodded. "They will bend to my will."
"I don't have the kind of power over my people you do. I have to get them to see your people as people before they can begin to understand. I want...I need your help with this. That's, the real reason I brought you here specifically."
"...How is it you wish me to help?"
"I'm...a wizard," said the human. "I know a lot of magic, 'human tricks', you might say. I studied it for a long time, and I found a spell which can...well, frankly it would make you appear more like a human. Not entirely, and not permanently; to be more accurate it would give you the power to change between appearing largely human and looking like your own kind. Humans are shallow; they'll listen to you if you use the form this spell would provide."
"Hmm." Mero detected something about the man's wording. "It would not give me the power to look exactly as I do now," he challenged after a moment's thought.

"Well, uh." The human shook his head, apparently trying to think of the right way to put it. "You would lose none of your strength and skill. But the spell is called the Maiden Ritual. It would...make you female, and that wouldn't be something you could go back and forth with."
"I see." There was a long pause as Mero thought. "Anything is worth it to stop the killing of my people. I still do not know whether I can trust you, as much as I want to."
"Maybe, uh...think of it this way," said the human. "My people elected me when I returned from learning a lot of magic, believing initially that I would use my powers to escalate the war and end it in the worst way it could for the Lupin. The mist spell I used could've as easily been deadly poison, but it was purely an ultimately harmless sleep effect. The floor in this room is inscribed with markings for the spell I mentioned; I could've cast it while you were asleep, or done any number of other things really. I didn't; I only restrained you so you'd hear me out instead of attacking me right away. I had to carefully adjust the sizing of what's on your mouth right now so you could still speak with it on.
"...You could have come to that part of your forest with a few of your best warriors, in case a human was really there. But you came alone. wanted to talk, right? In the same way, I chose at every point the least hostile action I felt I could, because I want the same kind of peace as you do, and just as badly."

Mero considered his words for a long moment. And then he said, "...What is your name?"
"Oh? Uh—Terin Asuron. I'm sorry, I meant to introduce myself before I went into all that."
"My name is Mero," said the Lupin. "You have my permission to use your spell, Terin."
"I—I do?" he seemed briefly shocked. "I mean—okay. I'm, I'm glad you're choosing to trust me. Let's try and make a peace that lasts., I want to say hold still but the ropes are still there. The spell will get rid of them, though." He stood up, walked to the edge of the markings, and then turned again to face Mero. Then he began to speak in a language the Lupin did not understand, though evidently something in the room did since the outermost markings began to glow.

Mero watched with some interest as Terin waved his hands around a bit in the air, a white glow trailing each one. While he did this he continued to chant, and the glow spread inward through the markings steadily until reaching those just under the Lupin, and finally the glow spread upward along his body itself and the ropes on him. And then...the magic began to do its work.
The Lupin felt a curious tingling all across his body, and then he felt the ropes starting to loosen slightly. Looking down, he realized that most of his fur was starting to get shorter and thinner; then, the muzzle fell off, clattering a bit on the ground when it landed. Examining his snout now, Mero realized that it was slightly smaller and shorter than before, and indeed it was still shrinking.

The ropes loosened further now, and Mero could see that the cause was his body actually becoming smaller; his broad shoulders were narrowing, his frame diminishing, even his height was beginning to decrease. He looked up briefly to see his view of the world sinking. By now his body fur was little more than a thin coating, and he felt his hind feet starting to reshape themselves, the back part sinking down to the level of the front and reforming to the shape of human feet. The pads disappeared from the palms of his forefeet too, and all of his claws shortened and grew less sharp. And Mero's muzzle...he could barely see it before his eyes, and then he couldn't even see it at all. He felt a burst of tingling all across what had once been a snout as the fur fled it entirely, leaving soft, smooth skin. That burst spread downward, bare skin appearing on his shoulders, arms and chest, stomach, down through his lower body and legs. Some of his scars from past fights and battles remained, much more visible on bare skin than they had been through fur. His tail tingled too, but its fur had never actually shrunk, and now seemed to grow slightly thicker, at the same time turning fluffier and softer.
The upper part of Mero's head tingled next, as the fur there (which had also remained) suddenly grew up and out, becoming steadily longer and longer. The same tingling hit his ears, and they changed just as his tail had. He saw gray head-fur before his eyes, felt it tickling the strangely sensitive bare skin of the sides of his face, and then felt it spreading its way downward along his shoulders and then back.

The shrinking had continued to progress this whole time; when he looked down to see the long, soft locks of hair he now saw a slim, small, effeminate body with ropes loosely hanging off of it. But he also saw that what he had grown used to having between his legs his entire life was much smaller than it had been before, and as if in reaction to this realization it suddenly was hit with its own sharp burst of tingling, and began to shrink much faster.
"Aaah!" Mero surprised himself with an outburst in response to this; it felt...good? And his voice was higher than he was used to, maybe as high as it had been when he was a pup just inside of puberty. He wriggled on the floor slightly, his face starting to burn with heat, as he felt it shrinking more and more, slipping steadily inward. Now his hips pushed their way outward, his thighs grew thicker, and at the same time his stomach shrank still more, gently curving its way inward. "Ah..mmnn...Rrrf!" Higher and higher his voice went as he made increasingly wild, animal-like sounds, and then...
The Lupin's ears lowered, his tail beginning to wag faster and faster, as his sex now fully changed. The appearance of womanhood came along with an unexpected gift: a burst, a sample perhaps, of the kind of pleasure she was newly capable of feeling. Her whole body seemed to burn with warmth and pleasure as she felt her hips expanding out further, her stomach pushing in more, and now a new sensation of her chest gently tingling. "Aah..arf....rrf!" She let out a series of high, excited, girlish barks as her nipples grew slightly larger and taller, and then began to push forward, dragging surrounding flesh out along with them into a pair of small bumps. And then, as she let out a high, deeply feminine howl, those bumps rapidly bloomed out, becoming a nice big pair of womanly breasts, completing the change to her body.

The ropes, now in a loose pile on the floor around her, glowed faintly from the magic, and suddenly drew themselves upward, wrapping themselves around her bare body into a small, torn-up assemblage of close-fitting clothes. Lupin needed no clothes due to their fur, but now Mero was no Lupin, and the tight, soft bits of cloth felt strangely right on her new form.
Terin approached her cautiously. "Did it all work? How do you feel?"
Between sharp, rapid panting she said, "I..I feel.." Her mouth, still wide open as she kept panting, gained a hint of a smile. With a small wave of her will her hands became covered in fur again and gained claws, and then changed back. It was simple to control, and she felt she knew how to go back to a Lupin form just as easily.

"I..." Her blush deepened again and her tail began to wag again as her gray eyes turned up to the human leader. He was...nice-looking, and she rather liked his scent. More importantly, he was the first human she'd seen willing to try and forge a peace with her people. He had been so honest and kind this whole time, and she was...attracted to his intelligence, his thoughtfulness, the cute little nervous way he tended to talk.

Mero caught her breath finally, closing her mouth in a way that still showed off a couple of her longer fangs and letting it turn upward into a grin. Again her ears lowered to the sides of her head, and her tail's wagging by now had grown faster even than before.
The human seemed uncertain about this expression. "Um.."
With no further warning, she jumped and tackled him, knocking him to the ground under her. She would have been much taller than him before, but now they were just about the same height, maybe an inch or so to his advantage if you didn't count her ears. Her strong, slim arms were wrapped around his body, her new breasts pressed against his chest, and the instant her face was close enough in the middle of the tackle she had pressed her lips directly against his, an expression of deep affection which a Lupin's long muzzle never would have been capable of. He hesitated briefly in her arms, but in seconds he began submitting to her, returning her kiss enthusastically with his arms wrapping around her small waist and holding her as tightly as he could.

Only when she was fully satisfied, probably several minutes later, did Mero finally release him from the kiss, pushing herself up with her elbows just enough to put a tiny bit of space between them. They panted for a long time, her enjoying the scent of his breath for a while. Then she gave him a teasing grin. "You did say I could do whatever I wanted with you after you untied me."
"Err..will the other Lupin, recognize you?" This issue hadn't really occurred to Terin before, by the way he said it.
"My scent is still the same. And if they do not, I will retake the position of Alpha again. This form will appease humans enough for them to listen?"
"I-if it doesn't, I don't know what would," he said, his blush brightening a bit.
"Good," she nodded. "We will bring peace to our people. And will be my mate."
"You do not like this plan?" she said, tilting her head slightly.
"I, just really flustered is all," he answered. And then, "I...Yes. I, I like this plan a lot."
Mero responded by giving him another kiss, this one longer and deeper than the last one. She felt his hands wander up through her soft hair, all the way to her ears, and then start to give them a good rubbing and scratching, and let out a few muffled barks through the kiss, her still-new womanhood bursting with more pleasure than she had known possible before.

When it was over, they separated, sitting opposite each other on the floor. Mero's tail was still wagging furiously, and both of them were giving the other a goofy, blushing grin. It was a while before Mero was able to stand again, and they took that time to work out a more detailed plan. After a more gentle parting kiss, Mero reformed her fur (though, she noticed, the long hair from the top of her head remained) and left to return to her people for a time.

A truce was agreed upon within a week. The wounds of war and hatred took far longer than that to heal, of course, but the truce being sealed by the marriage of the Lupin's alpha with the town's mayor made the tensions die down much faster than they otherwise would have. It was only a few months before some of the Lupin asked for the kind of power to change that their alpha had, a wish the wizard became good at granting, and within a few generations the two groups had largely become one, a new race neither human nor Lupin who came to call themselves werewolves.