Out in the Storm
Kirsty made her way through the halls, padding softly and avoiding the other cats that sometimes prowled the corridors, especially the one that belonged to the castle caretaker. She liked the night, how it gave a more mysterious and ancient aura to the already ancient and mysterious stone passages. The sense of height was intensified by the darkness, and her ears twitched at every noise, and the whispers of the ghosts going about their business. The scent of the old castle was very different from the scent of her home, though she knew both grew and shrank as need arose, and that her home predated this fortress. Once in a while, the light footfall of a student breaking curfew hit her ear, and she would take shelter in one of the standing suits or behind the ever rippling tapestries.
White blond hair and pale skin reflected the light of the flameless torch held by Morvan Lilitu, when she came across him making his way out of the dungeon unaccompanied and wearing the green and bronze of his house. She grinned to herself, leaping up onto one of the ledges above the nearest door, and waited, watching. As he stole closer to one of the cases featuring artifacts meant as motivational displays, black kid gloves clearly indicated that he desired something from it. She yowled as if something had stepped on her tail.
He spun around gasping, directing the light at her, and her blue eyes reflected a demonic red in the darkness. She puffed her fur and arched, taking full advantage of the height and surprise to be even more terrifying, and yowled again. A loud clang sounded in an adjoining passage, and there was a cackle as the castle gremlin hot footed for the disturbance. In response, Morvan spun again and tore away, Kirsty leaping after and following close to his heels as possible.
She was passed by the gremlin. When she saw the raggedly legs flash by, clothed in freshly stolen and mauled socks, she slowed to a more moderate pace and continued her trek to the door, flicking her tail side to side in satisfaction. At last, the oaken doors soared in front of her, and the castle heralds did not stir at her presence.
It took some ingenuity to actually get out of the castle, with the wind pressing in on all the doors, mostly in the form of timing her pushes just right after slipping back to her human form, in order to open the heavy doors enough to slip though.
Once out, her travel was not any easier. The rain soaked her swiftly, and the same winds that had locked her in the castle temporarily now thrashed the trees and threatened to scoop up her slight form and toss it around like a hailstone in a cloud. In truth, they did more than threaten to scoop her up, but actually did so on occasion.
The biggest gust carried her hissing and yowling all the way to the lake, where she landed with a splash. The storm exacerbated the lake's currents, to the point that in the normally placid swimming area there actually was a current. She would have never believed it possible if not for this current pulling her out, where normally she was winning swimming races and getting teased for her extremely conservative and old fashioned swimsuit.
The water pulled her under, and once again she took her birth form to better swim, giving up the idea of running around in her cat form, for the time being. She swam across the current, as she would a riptide, and angled herself back toward shore.
A net closed around her in the black waters while the current continued to pull. She struggled, then reached for the pouch at her waist, glad that her parents had taught her to always strap it on whenever leaving for anywhere. Willing the water to be breathable as air, she worked the silent magic that would allow her short periods of water breathability. Her lips and lungs tingled, and the burning from the inhaled water stopped. Kirsty reached inside the pouch for her silver dagger, and began sawing at the braided lake-weeds.
"Nightfish, over here. The alarm went off on this one."
She stopped sawing at the net, and turned toward the voice and the name. She saw the glint of silver scales in the green wisp-lights that the Hunters held by their sides, and the men-fish of the loch were by her in only a few thrusts of their powerful tails, despite the current. They looked more like shark-folk to her, than the fish-folk or seal-folk she could see around the Point at home.
"You caught an airbreathing 'fish,' Carin. Seaswimmer, no less." Nightfish untangled her from the net, then frowned, noticing the hole she had already managed to make. "I hope you feel like weaving a new net. My mate already has several to replace for the village."
"Not my fault, you're the one that picked this spot to set it." Carin crossed his muscular arms and looked Kirsty over. "We didn't expect you till tomorrow night, Seaswimmer."
"I got blown in by the wind."
"What do you expect on a night like this? That's why we're fishing this way, it's got everything stirred up and makes the fish run. It's your own fault for being out of the land-dweller's castle. Even the wind knows the proper place for you is in the water. Why aren't you changed yet?"
"No skin yet. Next summer I get to go."
Nightfish finished dealing with the net, wrapping it up and securing it to his waist. "You should at least have taken a dose of the changing paste. I know our herbalists taught you how to make it."
She looked sheepish, and even in the greenish light her blush was evident. "I forgot it was in my pouch... and since it lasts an hour a dose... and I'm trying to get somewhere..."
Nightfish nodded knowingly. "You're out going someplace you shouldn't. As usual."
"NO!" She blushed deeper.
"Bah... adolescents. When you get to be our age, storm time courting is less important. Taking the opportunity for more food to feed the fry is far more appealing."
"Storm time... courting...?" She stared at the two mermen, who now looked at her with as much perplexion.
"Yes. Isn't that how it works with the land-dwellers too? While everything is stirred up, there is this energy that makes you just want to-"
Kirsty cut Carin off with a disturbed hand motion, and ah-ah-ahed like a pup, before resuming her swimming.
"They make me want to dance and sing, or knit, or put the Lilitu out in it. I have no idea what they do to you and am a little afraid now to find out." Nightfish chuckled as Kirsty continued. "As for humans, magic or not, most want to stay indoors during the storms. That's why we merfolk all get in so much trouble when a ship is downed in a storm."
"We know, but we're inland so we don't get blamed for that as often." Carin shook his head at her harping yet again on differences. "Here... this is painful watching you, though the teasing is fun."
The pair grabbed her under the arms, then hauled her to shore and tossed her up. She landed in the shallows, and they surfaced laughingly.
Kirsty rubbed her rump. "Thank you. I'd rather not have to sit here and wait for the paste to wear off. I'll be in the water tomorrow night for my lessons. I assume they go on, under Lady Mara's rage against the land or not?"
"Always. What's a little wet to the people of the waters?" The mermen waved their spears, then dove back under to resume their net checking. Kirsty took a look around to get her bearings, making sure that she was still on the grounds, and not likely to attract the attention of anything dangerous, then sought the least windy path to the secret passageway that she could.
It took a bit to find a sufficiently sheltered path, and then she shifted again despite how unlikely it was for anyone to see her.
She slank, belly down as close to the ground as she could get. Despite the storm, the lake called for her, and the salty waters beyond the underground passage out to the sea. The older she got, the more tempting the song of the sea was, urging her to leave her lessons and claim her birthright first. Yet a skin wasn't a right, as she always had to remind herself, but a privilege.
Kirsty continued for the sanctuary passage though, instead of answering the sea's calls. She had somewhere to be. There was not much that she could do to make what David had given her, by protecting her so often, anything close to equal footing. However, she could be there and hold him when he resumed the form that everyone knew, and rest next to him in the meantime so that this part of him currently in its ascendancy would know that there were at least some that were not of his kind that accepted him simply as he was.
Kirsty smiled grimly once winning her way to the cave passage and then through the protective vines that led to where the rare students that were enrolled with his condition were generally sent. It always amazed her how much the humans, herself included truthfully, took for granted that their precious schools were all free of non-human students. While there was the whole, and as she understood it, usual "my family is older than yours" and "we're Pure Blooded human" nonsense out in the open, in her short years in the school system she had found several students outside the "norm." Some of those students knew, and hid, what they were. Others did not yet know, and though she could guess at their ancestry, it was not any of her business.
Thankfully, for now there were those in power that would see to it that those with rights to more than one type of magic would be able to learn it. As much as she wished to be with her mother on the Sea Witch, she was also glad to be here.
Soon enough, she found herself doing more swimming down the passage than walking. When she had gone several meters paddling through the water, she gave up and slipped back to her birth shape. With a wave of her wand, she parted the water in the passage, which constantly was having more added to it, so that even though it was shallower, there was always going to be a bit of water where she walked, even with Imp's help. Kirsty sighed and made a note to lay down some charms that would allow the both of them to pass dryly in the event of another deluge like this, and hoisted the hems of her sopping nightclothes.
She held her breath when she pushed open the plank door at the end of the passage, remembering how the first time she had seen David's secret, fully and without the way he'd hidden it during the strange blood moon their first year of acquaintance, she had been forced to scramble all over the castle's post-room to escape. It was many months ago now, but she still rubbed her forehead where she'd plowed right into the door, when she'd forgotten that a cat shape was not going to open the post-room doors with any sort of efficacy.
The wooden door at the end of the cave passage ended her reverie, and when she opened it, she was able to step up and out of the water. Warily, she drew her wand and mimicked the swirls her mother often used to temporarily stay water when doing some rerouting of waterways, just in case the level rose further than the base of the door. The Selkie hair at the core of the willow shaft sang and whispered wistfully, and she briefly saw glimpses of Germanic coasts and Scandinavian firths.
She heard a faint whoosh behind her. The warmth of the fire that inexplicably started up in the hearth whenever it was needed seeped into her bones, and she was aware of her scent beginning to fill the room. She sniffed delicately, making use of her sharper sense of smell. The smell of wolf hung in the air, stronger toward the stairs leading to the upper level of the structure built in the cave system, trapped by the rock.
No werewolf tore down the stairs of the refuge to rip her up for the crime of smelling human around him, despite how sure she was that her scent had reached him. She closed the door softly, then extracted as much water from her clothes as she could. Her pelt bristled at the idea of going and curling up next to a warm dry bundle of fur and robes as a sopping, stinky, most likely demonic looking, drowned cat. Now, if she could finally go on her skin-quest, then she wouldn't mind curling up next to him furry and wet, as a seal could at least be expected to be wet, and thus be less of a shock.
Though probably not an appreciated one in the middle of the night... She smiled a bit at that ludicrous thought.
Still there was no sound of him coming, though she was still certain that by now he'd scented her and expected it. That could only mean, or so she thought, that he was either too tired to care, knew her smell enough to not automatically have the stereotyped reaction that folklore (and the increasingly common reports of attacks) would lead one to think... or that maybe she did not smell as human as she had just a year or two ago.
Kirsty shook her head in irritation at herself for so much dwelling. As far as scent went, maybe all that rain had just washed it all off, and it was silly to pick apart that riddle when she needed to rest before his change back. She slipped back to her cat shape, and padded up to the bed, where there would be a warm furry body and a great big paw to lay over her back.
She hopped up on the bed, her claws sticking in the thin, musty blanket as she attempted to pick her way to her favorite spot. When she laid down, she saw the thick white pelt, beneath the too thin blanket and too large robes. An ice-blue eye opened when she curled up on his chest, and she kneaded at him, purring soothingly. She purred louder when he whuffed softly in reply, and put the expected paw over her, grumbling lightly from the awakening. It did not take either of them long to fall back to sleep, and the night passed by quickly.
His restlessness woke her shortly before the howl, and she sprang off of him as he bolted up in bed. David grabbed at himself and howled again, sometimes scratching, and often snapping his teeth, as the fur slid back into his skin, and bones cracked loudly to reform. Kirsty's stomach twisted at the sounds, but she stayed. She threaded around him and rubbed against him as soothingly as she could, purring and meowing loudly till he was sufficiently transformed that he wouldn't be able to bite and pass the infection on.
Though she wasn't so sure it was an infection in his case, no matter what all the books she had read on werewolves stated. Not given what she knew of his background and connection to a certain Lord of the Hunt that her goddesses had interest in.
Once he was transformed enough to not be too great a threat, she transformed and wrapped her arms around him from behind, careful to remain clear of his jaws while he continued his twisting, simply holding him and humming a healing song. She could feel the magic welling up from somewhere inside herself as she hummed, and the way her palms and skin tingled where it passed through to him. He clung once he had managed to turn enough in her tight grip, and though the whimpers broke her heart she kept holding and humming until his pain seemed gone, and he was simply resting in her arms, once more human, if more than slightly disheveled.
He took a shaky breath and looked up at her. Kirsty smiled at David and nodded, hoping he didn't notice how wet her eyes were. She waited on his breathing to even a bit more, laying her head on him, and relaxed when his hand moved on her back. When he was recovered enough, she told him of her aunt's warning, and the new rules for the year...
David eyed her. "So, what aren't you telling me?"
Kirsty blinked innocently. He sighed.
"The Mistress got put in the lake by the wind!" Imp piped up, popping into view and illustrating her flight with his hands. And she got caught in a net again Master. Imp wasn't quick enough, and the wind was too strong..."
David sighed again, and shifted uncomfortably, his bones still aching. "Again? Why didn't you stay inside? Especially with how those things searched the train." He frowned, and gingerly extricated himself from the bed. "You weren't seen by one, were you?"
"No, I don't think so. I'm still here, and not whisked off to one of the reserves or in front of some tribunal. I would have at least had to fight one if I were seen."
David went to change into his normal robes, and Kirsty went down to the lower level while he changed, waiting. While she waited, she thought about the best charms to use in the passage, settling on one that would work only for those authorized to be in the sanctuary. By the time he was done, she had worked out the wording and the way the energy would need to flow, and again decided that using her wand would be the best focus, in her lack of a spear. She was practicing the motions when he descended the stairs, books in hand and the twin ravens of his house emblazoned in silver and blue on his robing.
Kirsty blushed when she realized she was being watched. "I was just getting ready. I had to take this form to get through the passage, I wouldn't have been able to swim far enough as a cat. So I thought that, if I added a bit of a charm to the passage, the headmaster wouldn't be mad, since I'm taking care of something only a waterwitch can do properly..."
"Go on... I'd like to watch you work."
She nodded and entered the tunnel through the bedrock, making her way through and singing softly under her breath. Now and then, Kirsty paused to trace arcane spirals and sigils on the walls or floor, which glowed a brilliant sea green briefly before fading from sight. The entire passage thrummed, the echoes magnifying the song, causing it to reverberate like seals under ice or whales calling. As they moved through the knee-deep water, it parted around them, leaving the floor where they walked dry, but closing again behind them.
Finally, she tapped the walls just shy of the vines, satisfied with her work, sealing it. The storm continued, but now it was a steady downpour instead of a tempest. The mood of the storm had also changed, and Kirsty wondered what had changed the mood of the sea goddess that she had felt in it. She glanced over at David, who smiled at her despite how tired he clearly was, and she found herself blushing when he complimented her work. The blush held for quite some time as they left the dryness of the sheltered cave passage, and pushed through the grasping vines to enter the rains.
Luck was with them, when they won their way through, and into the castle again, the others still slept. The castle gremlin snoozed on a lintel, smugly clasping Morvan's overrobe as he waited on one of the teachers to pass by. Quietly they passed by, careful not to wake him, and went to wash away the scent of the past night, before students or staff would be stirring from their beds.
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