Welcome to Mewlips Country - 02 - Were

by Polydicta

I'm not sure how many worlds went into the mix here, but the idea was originally spawned of such things as the childrens' story "Marianne Dreams". Ongoing warnings for smut, language, character death, bashing, torture, mutilation and reader brain-damage. Brain bleach recommended.

Disclaimer:

While this file contains (semi-)original works (Copyright by myself), I cannot guarantee the originality of all of the plot elements - having read so much over the years, some of it is bound to come bubbling out again.

Author's Note:

This is an old piece written in first person, from the point of view of a male shape-changer.; It was heading toward being a novella, but it lost its way. This story owes its literary origins to old European folk-tales, a week of reading some very strange fantasy stories plus (during a later revision) the accounts of the animagus transformation in the Harry Potter series.

-::::::::-

.

Welcome to Mewlips Country - 02 - Were

.

This is my own story. Now, don't get me wrong, this isn't going to be 'True Confessions' or anything, and I dare not present this as anything but fantasy. I'm not actually sure where reality leaves off and unreality creeps in – or even IF unreality creeps in. Come to think of it, is anything here real?

By now, you'll have an impression of me – a skinny, bespectacled geekish female, with short mousy hair, post-adolescent with spots and angst. Fine, that's me, in my worst nightmares. Actually, I'm a slightly podgy bloke with long hair (but thinning on top), greying beard and a touch of rheumatism from too much martial arts at college. The glasses stay, but only when I can be bothered. Oh, yes, and I'm a professional geek – I run the computer network at a local school. And I have a temper – a foul temper set to simmer just below the surface.

So far, so good. That's really me, and any of the students at school will recognise me. Let's round out the description a bit…

I'm married, have one dog and no children. I have my own sword, and can use it. I used to be a re-enactor, but couldn't stand the beer. I don't drink often, except for the proverbial small sherry (port, in fact) at Christmas. I never smoke or use recreational drugs and I live in a cottage in the country.

Just to add to it all, I occasionally have strange dreams. Very strange. Weird. Scary.

Now, I'm all for strange, weird and scary, even eldrich has its place but this is a little, well, you know …

I am, walking across the heath in the half-light of dusk. My vision is obscured occasionally by wisps of rising mist. My feet are sore and the heather scratches my bare legs. Occasionally a bramble catches the fabric of my skirt or the sleeve of my tunic.

I am carrying a long bundle across my back, and the leather strap chafes the skin between my breasts, the constant movement is making my nipples sore. The bundle occasionally catches in taller bushes as I push past.

I duck under a tree, some kind of Hazel or Alder – I never can tell when the leaves are off – and a branch catches in my hair, tugging sharply and forcing a gasp of surprise and pain from my lips. I reach up and try to untangle myself, eventually breaking off a twig.

As I begin slogging along once more, I try to pull out the twig, and pull out a clump of hair – Which wakes me up.

Once more in bed, I can still feel the sting of pulled hair. I reach up to my head, and find a hazel twig about eight inches long caught in my hair. As I examine it, I realise the hairs tangled around it are the colour of autumn leaves – red golden, and long. Very long.

I still have the twig. The hair colour matches neither my own brown and grey, nor my wife's pale blonde. In the morning, I found my (normal, male) nipples to be sore and bleeding, and a red welt across my right shoulder, as if I had been carrying something heavy.

I can't explain what happened, nor do I try. It's just, well, eldrich. It's always the same, but never a repeat performance. I have a few of these dreams on consecutive nights, or an odd one and then just normal nightmares for a while.

Normal nightmares, you know the dreams – can't find the car on the fifteenth floor of the Zoo. The elevator's not working, so you have to take the stairs which turn out to have the same consistency as treacle. Then you find yourself looking for something else, and you seem to have lost your trousers, but a helpful Bear who looks like your old maths teacher points you in an impossible direction. Nothing odd there (or at least any odder than the usual things a human psyche throws at you.)

The dreams started when I was small. The early ones are just like any other childhood memories, but the dreams are always just that bit clearer than the usual ones.

I woke to a feeling of intense cold on my cheek. I was warmly wrapped, and being bounced along on someone's back. I couldn't move much, because I was so bundled up. I opened my eyes to a pale winter's light.

We stopped. Someone spoke to me, putting a morsel into my mouth which I chewed slowly, savouring the smoky sweetness of griddle-bread, feeling the coarseness of the barely-ground flour. The cloth of my hood was pulled across my face, and as I was bounced along once more, I drifted back into a dreamless sleep.

In the morning, I asked my mother about Griddle Bread. I got strange looks but no reply.

It took me another twenty years before I re-lived that taste. A friend ground the grain (a mixture gleaned from several friendly farmer's fields) and we griddle-roasted our mixture on a lump of cast-iron boiler-plate. It was a bit of an experiment, but I relived that moment of animal pleasure.

At school I was an odd lot. Few other children wanted to know me. I was sullen and a trifle bellicose, apt to explode in anyone's face.

Because I was ill (I often was), the quack my mother took me to decided that I needed to be purged of 'all free-radicals' – a meat-free diet for six months. The dreams happened.

I was sat with my family. Father had taken me out with him to hunt. I had felled a deer. We brought it home and Father had set it to roast over the fire-pit. The smoke from the burning wood filled the house, escaping through the thatch as it could. Many of the men and boys of the hunt had come to attend my blooding-feast.

Because it was the thing to do, father had bled the body and anyone in the hunting party had to drink of the blood. I had been revolted at first, but had drunk, finding the taste to be unpleasantly rich, both sweet and salt together. So rich that it revolted me, yet I could do nothing but drink more until I was full.

"See!" My father had cried, "my daughter has drunk of the blood, and taken her fill, unlike many men and boys. Truly, a warrior's blood courses her soul!"

The men had laughed and joined in my praise, painting my face with the hunter's marks in the blood of my first kill.

I woke to blood all over my face and pillow. It looked as though I had been dunked face-first in a blood-bath. I could still taste the rich salt-sweetness of the blood. I was hard-pressed to convince my mother that my nose felt as though I'd had a nose-bleed in the night.

The years passed slowly, as childhood years do. I learned at school, mopping up knowledge like a sponge, but hating the enforced regime of sports and gym-classes. Then we began cross-country runs. Going to a school surrounded by farm and forest was good for that. I had found a sport at which I could excel, unfit though I seemed.

I trotted down the track with my hunting spear over my shoulder, my knife at my belt and a slingshot and stones in a pouch bumping my thigh. I carried a small sack for the things my father had bade me fetch from the forest.

As the village shaman, his was the right to bring his daughter up as something other than a farmer or wife to some tradesman. He had taught me the making of much of the common magic, and had seen that I must needs become a Waecca, a female shaman as well as a warrior.

"Your destiny is beyond the lands of our people, child. I would not send you out without the power to defend yourself."

Tonight would be my initiation into the Lodge of The Huntress, mother of all warriors, and soon I would seek my Totem Animal. Unlike the young men who followed the warrior's path, I would be both mystic and temporal. Tomorrow, I would be given my first sword, wooden for lightness and safety, and I would go to begin to learn the art of the sword.

As I ran, lightly along the track, I could feel the eyes of the universe upon me. I turned under the darkling forest, spear poised for the kill, and faced into the eyes of an ancient wolf, tall as myself and more. Grey of pelt and grizzled of muzzle her intelligent blue eyes bored into mine. She saw the shadow of my destiny drawn on the inside of my soul.

""Hail, huntress, daughter of Wolf and Bear. Tonight, your destiny awakens and I bring you the gift of our Mistress. Give me your arm. ""

I held my hand out, and the She-wolf took it into her mouth. Expecting to lose the arm, I stared into Her eyes, gentle and calm.

""Your strength of heart ennobles you, child. My mistress sends her gift, the gift of changing. ""

I felt a slight pain as the wolf gently bit my hand, drawing the tiniest drop of blood. A fire raced through me and was gone.

I blinked and there was no wolf, but my hand showed the mark where she had drawn blood.

I continued down the track and into the night.

I read up as much as I could on wolves, the next day. There was little enough, other than folk-lore which seemed wildly inaccurate. I noticed a small, indented scar which I hadn't had the day before, right where the wolf had bitten my hand.

Life ground on as before. I moved on to my secondary school. I was lazy, but still learned easily. I excelled at the sciences. I revelled in my explorations of the woodlands and wild coasts close to my home. I found every trace of wild land within a reasonable hike.

I remained a loner. Lone Wolf, they said, but never guessed.

I padded through the forest. The world around me seemed curiously dull and devoid of colour, but the scents and sounds surrounding me were beyond belief.

I scented the missing lamb, followed it and found it trapped in a hollow in the ground. I picked the tiny thing up by the woolly scruff of its neck, and trotted home to the village.

As I approached the village, I hid in the place I had put my clothes, and changed. The sensation was of flowing. My legs lengthened and my muzzle collapsed back into my face. My fingers lengthened and hands replaced the paws I had sported so soon before.

I slipped into my clothes, tunic and skirt, my feet shod in sandals. I buckled on my belt with my knife, picked up the lamb and my spear, and walked back into the village. The family who had lost the creature were grateful, and wished to pay.

"No, I cannot accept payment. I have enjoyed a walk in the forest, and that is payment enough. Thank you, no, I cannot possibly eat with you, I am still full from my own meal."

I didn't tell them that I had caught and eaten a hare not an hour before, just before finding the lamb.

I was still on an enforced vegan diet, and was beginning to look at my fellow school-pupils as a ready meal. I saw birds trussed and oven-ready. I began to see cats as competitors and dogs as lazy bystanders. This time, the dreams came, but differently.

I padded along a road, I could smell food-animals close by. I leaped over the fence, careful to avoid the barbed wire. There were sheep here. I sought out a ewe without a lamb, finding one I leaped, crushing its neck easily in my jaws.

I dragged my kill to a shady place under a hedge, and set to eating. My size decreed that I could only eat half of the meat on the creatures bones.

Gorged and full, I lay and drowsed in the moonlight until I was ready to leave the way I had come. I felt content, all I needed to complete the mood was to find another of my kind, and to mate with her. Ahh, that would be perfection indeed.

I avoided contact with humans, my instinct to hide from cars and other traffic. My nose was offended by the stench of civilisation, but I ignored it and headed back to my lair.

It took me half an hour to floss the wool and raw meat from between my teeth that morning. The local newspaper that evening was full of the story of a large dog which had caught and eaten a sheep at a local farm. I belched quietly, remembering the taste of that meal.

I remembered the strangeness of the familiar as seen through the eyes of another creature.

"Father, I dreamed of strange things last night," I said.

"What troubles you, daughter, that dreams are strange to you?"

"I dreamed that I was transformed, but there were things I did not understand. There were monsters with glowing eyes, and which roared continually, and which ran not on legs but on," I paused to marshal the alien word to my tongue, "wheels. Things which go round."

My father balked at the word. "Where did you hear that word, child? It comes not from our tongue?"

"It was the work in my mind in my dream. There were lights over the tracks, but they did not flicker as flame, they were like tiny pieces of the sun, and the track was hard, without mire or rut, and the housed were built of stones – all alike and ugly."

"I know nothing of these things, but they may be things that were, or may be things yet to be. Trouble yourself not on these spirits. Their meaning will be clear in their time, or not."

My parents were divorced that summer, and my father and I went to Derbyshire for a holiday, a kind of celebration. There was a zoo we visited, a private menagerie, where a great brown she-bear (called, originally enough, Bruno) sat in a blue funk in her cage.

Since we were camping, I opted to sleep outside that night, as I often did anyway (but my mother never knew!) I lay in the moonlight, staring at the moon. Eventually, I drifted into sleep, thinking about the brown she-bear.

I ran up the road, my claws clicking quietly on the tarmac surface. I could see the shape of the old castle silhouetted against the moonlit clouds. I left the road and made for the break in the wall I had seen earlier that day.

I scrambled through the blind, ruined window, and down the grassy bank beyond. The security of this place was laughable, even for people. I padded through the aisles of cages until I came to the She-Bear's cage, and grunted a greeting.

She woke and snuffled back to me. I reared on my hind-legs, and because I was on the outside, I could operate the latch to her cage. It wasn't locked against humans.

The gate swung open, and she ambled out, sniffing me as she went past.

I led her out to the grassy banks, and down the hill. We hunted and sported for a while. At the bottom of the hill, we caught fish in the river, which we ate with relish. We retreated back up the hill, into the woodlands.

Her intentions were quite obvious to me, and in my current form I was happy to oblige her. There was a time of physical ecstasy when I mounted her, and then the moment passed.

I led her back to her cage, and she ambled in. I closed the gate behind her, but didn't latch it closed, before I turned and headed back to where I had come from.

I woke confused, and with a taste of fish in my mouth. I also stank of bear. She-bear, to be exact. I was first into the shower, that morning.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, but a few weeks later, there was a news report about a she-bear falling pregnant, and seemingly without a mate. Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.

In no particular order, I completed my exams, and discovered sex (as a human - and I thought my dreams were weird. The dreams were coming with greater frequency, at the moment, and things were changing fast.

I was working out with my wooden sword. I lacked the height and reach of any of my opponents, being small and a woman. What I lost, I made up for is ferocity, precision, speed and sheer mayhem.

"When can I use a proper sword, every one else does, but I'm still stuck with this!" I cried, brandishing the accursed stick of wood.

"You are forbidden because you are a woman. No woman may use a sword, here, because that is the law."

"Then it is a foolish law. Am I not pledged to The Huntress?"

There was a smile, condescending, and then a sneer.

"You cannot be pledged to The Huntress. You are a Woman!"

I saw red. ""The time has come, Daughter. You are unmarried and insulted. You must challenge him, and teach him a lesson. ""

"I challenge you to pay for the insult you give to me, and to The Huntress!"

"You cannot challenge me, you have no husband, and you are no warrior."

"You continue to insult me? I challenge you in my own right, or are you a coward to hide from a Woman?"

The instructor saw red. "Very well. And after I have beaten you, I will take your maidenhead for my prize."

I was handed a sword, short and made of bronze. I rejected that and selected my own – long and narrow, a mere three fingers broad, slightly curved, and heavier than the toy I had rejected.

"So, you think you can gain an advantage by using a longer weapon, do you? Little Girl!"

I sketched a figure in the air, which blazed a red-gold trail behind the bronze blade. "Defend yourself, Man, and pay heed that I don't take your manhood to decorate The Morrigu's shrine!"

He shrieked and attacked. Without thought, I defended myself and cut him down to size by piercing both his thighs and making a neat cut across his buttocks. Not fatal or disabling, but a lesson for his pride to learn. He would not sit again for a time.

I found that I had a talent for hockey, and for martial arts. I learned Judo and Karate (they are generally mutually exclusive, but I managed.) I tried my hand at kendo, but it was too ritualised and artificial. So was fencing, even though I had a real flair.

What I wanted was a better, less formal, less – well, lets face it, less sanitised form of combat. I wanted to be able (without actually doing) to do real damage to people, and to risk them doing so to me.

It was a feast night, and I had provided the venison for the feast. I had a reputation as a hunter, but I had to be careful to bloody my spear in the carcasses, or else risk everyone knowing that I was a changer of skins.

We were sat around the communal fire-pit in the centre of the village. The beer and mead were flowing freely, and the food was being eaten by all. My father called for tales to be told and boasts to be made.

One of the young men began by telling a boasting story, which became more impossible with each stage. Everyone enjoys his tales, told for amusement alone. One of the young women sang an ancient lay of a hero long past, and one of the young men sang a song of love for his lady, after which there was silence as he asked her to marry him. Her answer was to throw herself into his arms.

Then a stranger appeared from the shadows, having passed our gates unnoticed.

"My lord," she said, "would you permit a stranger to join you, and to beguile you with a tale from beyond your forests?"

My father nodded, rose and handed her his own cup of ale to drink from.

"But first," the woman said, "there is the small matter of a gifting."

She looked to myself, and her blue eyes held my own.

"Child, this is for you, a gift from your Mother, The Huntress." And so saying stepped through the throng, unwrapped the bundle she held, and handed me, well, a sword.

It was three fingers wide, the blade and two cubits long, subtly curved and single edged with a strange guard and pommel. A black leather scabbard accompanied this wonder. But the strangest thing was its colour. Not the red-gold of bronze, this sword was grey, and thinner than any sword had a right to be. There was another device, for which my mind dimly perceived a purpose, armour for one forearm.

Father gasped, "Iron! A sword of iron!"

He cast himself before the woman.

"Get up, foolish man, before you dirty your clothes. Honour not the messenger, but the receiver of tidings. I am but the drumskin upon which is beaten the message. The Huntress brings your daughter this gift, for she has a high destiny."

"Now, this tale I am to tell …"

I could not recall that tale when I woke, but when it was told, it became a dream within a dream.

I left for university, deep in the heart of Wales, a land of mystery and ancient magic, even now. As a student, I became involved in not only more martial arts, but re-enactment. I learned to use a sword. Ha, I had already learned the skills, I just needed to use them.

"You've used one of these before, the way you move it tells me so."

"Okay, I fibbed, but I am awfully rusty. This is a little short for my taste. Do you have anything longer?"

A longsword was produced. I described a few figures with it and won the hearts of several of the ladies present.

I went up against one of the college's best, and trounced him soundly, being careful to pull my blows rather than follow my instinct.

I found someone to let me make some armour, just a single panel for the left arm and wrist, attached to a leather bracer similar to those that archers use. I also made my own sword. But you know the shape, by now. Three fingers broad, two cubits long, slightly curved with a single edge. The shape and weight of the earliest scimitars, heavier by far than the later weapons which evolved into the sabre.

"Daughter, you have learned everything I have to teach you. You have learned everything the weaponmaster can teach you. You have never chosen your totem, therefore you have but to make your final decision as to a husband, and you will be complete. You have nearly twenty winters, and to delay longer brooks no good."

"Father, I deny any husband. I am a tool of destiny, for good or ill. And as to a totem, I find myself torn between Wolf and Bear – my preferred forms for hunting."

His colour blanched. "Your preferred forms?"

"Yes, father. The she-wolf gave me the power to change my skin. Doesn't she everyone?"

He got paler, if that is possible. "A gift of the She-Wolf? You have met The She-Wolf?"

"Yes father, in the forest on the night of my coming of age. She had incredible eyes, and the rime of ages. And …" I choked and gargled. I wanted to tell him that the woman with the sword, who had disappeared as mysteriously as she had arrived was the same person, but the words wouldn't come.

"Don't try. If the words aren't meant for my ears, then they will not come. Forgive me. If the She-Wolf has chosen you, then The Huntress has chosen you also, and your destiny lies outside of the totem. You are a member of The Pack."

He put up his hand as I opened my mouth.

"Your totem is Wolf, with blue eyes … The woman of thgggg!" he choked on the words.

"Yes, father, she is. And you're right, I feel that Wolf is me, but she described me as daughter of Wolf and Bear?"

He had no answer, but he sang me an ancient lay about a hero who had the wit of the wolf, and the strength of the bear. He also had the true soul of a hero, and therefore died stupidly.

The wolf and the bear – two of the most powerful, I now know, totems. Symbol and essence of strength – wild strength, free as the wind. I spent the day letting Geophysics wash round me, and daydreamed of Eagles in flight.

Soon after, I went hunting with one of the local gamekeepers. His job was to cull some of the deer on his patch. He was, as a perk of the job, allowed to keep or even sell his kill. A strange individual, he always used a crossbow, and went for a head-shot.

"It's better, you see. Silent and sure. If I miss, and I do, then I miss completely. If I graze the beast, it'll heal, but a good hit will always kill."

I didn't really believe him, but I was hunting, and he was the expert.

He made the kill, and I was duly 'blooded' – the blood smeared on my face, and we both drank the blood. It was unbelievably rich, both sweet and salt, and I couldn't get enough.

"We'll be calling you a Vampire, if you're not careful," the gillie had joked. I noticed that he also drank much of the blood.

My dreaming took a new twist. I had been thinking lots about raptors, and the great eagles in particular.

I was high above the world, I could see the land below me, I could feel the wind in my feathers. I could see cars moving along the roads, people in the streets of a town. There were farm animals all around, my mind salivated at the idea of fresh-killed lamb. I could see the story of the world written in the geology of the place below me.

I adjusted my wings to take better advantage of the thermal lift. I saw a rabbit idling in a meadow. I flipped lazily into my stoop.

As I sped groundward, I knew that the stupid creature had no idea of my existence. I arced above the doomed lapine and caught it up, breaking its neck with the force of my capture. I flapped lazily toward a cliff-ledge to eat my prize.

Sated, I preened my feathers and drowsed in the summer sun.

""Well, so we are an eagle, now, are we? Eagles haven't been seen round here in nearly a hundred years. What will the shepherds say? ""

The voice was gone, and I was alone in my own head, and a bit disoriented.

I woke with indigestion. So much for having a midnight snack. The moon was approaching full, so I knew that I would be having the dreams more frequently. I was beginning to conclude that I was some kind of lunatic, but the presence of the tokens of my dreams was the strongest evidence against.

I took a couple of indigestion tablets and went back to bed.

I was working on making some piece of metalwork for my father, the shaman.

"I was some kind of bird, father, big. I was hunting. It was like the other dreams, strange things, made things, hard roads without mud, buildings without wood. It was a bit confusing, but I wore the skin of a great bird, but I was in another's body."

"I think it was the young man I have occasionally dreamed of being. The one who attends classes in," a pause to rehearse the word, "jie-oh-fizziks. The whole thing sounds so boring. Not like the, ah, kehm-mist-ry. That was fun."

I thought to myself, 'yes it WAS fun studying chemistry at school, and yes, now it is boring.'

"Father, did you speak?"

"No, daughter. What did you hear?"

I felt fear. It couldn't be. HE was here, now, in my mind?

"Father, HE is here, I think. The other one. The one from my dreams, who I occasionally am."

"What do you want with my daughter? Speak!" He raised his voice in a note of command.

"I am here, and I mean no harm. I don't understand why I'm here, but I have been often in your daughter's mind as my body sleeps. I have no control over this thing, but the dream she describes was shared by myself not an hour past as I slept."

"What do you want with her?"

"Nothing. She is as dear to me as my own life, even though I have no idea what she looks like. She has been a part of my dreams since as far back as I can remember. And I have no knowledge of why I am suddenly able to communicate with you myself."

"Do you have a name, Demon? What are the evil magics you have poured into my daughter's mind? Do you have a face?"

"Yes, they call me Lone Wolf, but my given name is Adam Fenris. The evil magics are the technology of my," I paused on a thought, "world? Time? We don't have proper magic anymore, just science, like chemistry and geophysics and such. As to my face, you should ask your daughter, whose face I have never seen either."

"But I have seen your face. In your … Mirror?"

I felt the blush beginning. ""We have both spied on each other over the years. I'm sure your body hold few secrets, nor mine for you? ""

""No, Adam Lone Wolf, very few secrets. Tell me, why have you not taken a wife? And how is it you have taken women without committing to them? ""

""I am unlikely to find a partner, I'm hardly the world's first choice. As for the other, it's the magic of modern medical science – the chemistry of the human body. For use in my world, sex is a social thing, not necessarily for procreation. Tell me, do you have a name? I have never heard you referred to by any? ""

""We take the rule of names seriously. In the village I am called 'Little Bear' after my father, but my true name is my own. I am … ""

I woke before finding out what she looked like or what her name was. But, my insanity had finally turned the corner – I had fallen in love with a figment of my subconscious's imagination. Padded cell, here I come, I thought.

I was sat in a palaeontology class, when I heard a tiny noise.

""Hi, Little Bear. ""

""Hi, yourself. Hey, I'm thinking in your language! What's this class about, huh? ""

""Creatures long dead and buried. And I think I prefer your language. It's much nicer than 'Huh?'; 'Hey' and 'Hi' – so, you're asleep, then? ""

""Yes, but I'm here with you now. Did I manage to tell you, yesterday, that I love you? I do, you know. ""

""No, you didn't, but I love you too. Do you have any idea about the voice in our head when we were an eagle the other night? ""

""It sounded like the She-Wolf, but not quite, sort of, uh? ""

""No, you're right, not the woman with the sword. The Huntress, perhaps? ""

I was alone in my head. I was starting to drowse high in the back of the warm lecture theatre. The low light level didn't help.

"Hi, Little Bear."

"Hi, Lone Wolf. So how come we're both here and looking at each other?"

"I guess I dropped off to sleep. The lecture was pretty boring, I'm afraid. Uh, I have to ask, but why are you, uh?"

"Wearing no clothes? I could ask the same thing. Say, you're better looking than I thought."

"You're pretty good looking, yourself. I always liked muscular women!"

I could feel myself becoming excited. I always liked redheads, but this angel had hair the colour of autumn – a red-golden river cascading in loose waves to her knees.

"Since we're both here, I suppose there must be some other reason, we must have slept at the same time before?" She said.

""Yes, you are here for a reason. Born in different times and of different worlds, you are yet soul-mates. It is necessary that you be bonded in fact that you may fulfil your joint destiny. Here, between, time has no meaning. Your bodies are pure spirit, you may be joined without the obvious consequences, but be prepared to know more than you would wish for. ""

Together we turned. There was a woman, radiant with a sad beauty. He long black hair sprinkled with silver. Her blue eyes dark with sorrow. Across her shoulder she carried a sword, her left forearm bore an armoured bracer.

"Lady … " My lady knelt, bowing her head.

""Get up, child. We have no time for such foolishness, here. I will have none of this. It is I who should bow before you! ""

My lady rose.

"That's better! Now, you must be joined. When you are ready, I shall return and give you the marks of your bonding, and instruct you in your duty. Anon! ""

She disappeared. I turned to my lady.

"You never did tell me your name …"

"My name, Adam? Oh, in your tongue? Mrs Ahdam Fehnriss, of course. In my own, Charlah con Ad'hnati bint Beren. Little Bear for short."

"Call me Wolf, and come to me, my love."

She entered the circle of my arms, and we kissed. We entwined our bodies and souls, and made ourselves as one. There was a moment of shock and horror, then revusion and finally acceptance as we assimilated each other's pasts. There wer no longer any secrets between us. Every sordid detail and cruel thought was on display, and I put those memories aside. They were someone else's private matter, and I would not, could not pry. I felt a smile behind my back. I had faced The Huntress's test and had put aside the knowledge. ""I Pass "" I thought.

I have no idea of how long the pleasure of our joining lasted, but as good things do, our lovemaking finally came to an end. We lay together amongst the pile of furs which had provided our marriage bed, and slept. Together, for the first time since coming to this place.

We were awoken by a voice.

""It is done. Now, you must be apart again for a time. Though it be for a lifetime, be assured that you will be together again, and never be parted. ""

There was a burning pain between my eyebrows and above my heart.

I woke to the lecture theatre slowly emptying. I could still feel the burning sensation. There was a slight whiff of singed hair.

"Come on, Wolfie, there's a bomb alert!"

It was Lizzie, a redhead on my course. Suddenly she seemed a lot more ordinary.

"Huh? Bomb? Eh?" I couldn't shake the sleep from my mind.

"Just hurry up. You can doze off later!"

I shifted myself, and heaved my notes into my bag, and left with her.

That evening, the bomb hoax behind me, I began to plough through my notes. At some point, presumably when I had dozed off, someone else had taken over my note taking – in an immaculate, precise hand, and in a script I had never seen in my life, but which conveyed the information directly to my memory.

I started making notes on other subjects from the day, and found that I could condense my notes into the strange alien script. It was as I hunted through my bag that I found the book. A leather-bound volume the size of a paperback. The writing inside was minute, and another script again. I could read this with difficulty. It looked a mixture of Arabic and Elvish, with little punctuation. Some pages defied reading, others flowed directly into my consciousness. A book of Magic. Real Magic.

When I stripped for bed, I saw on my chest a scar, a brand, resembling a wolf's head. On my forehead above my nose was a second, thin scar about an inch long running from brow to brow. I concentrated on that line, and it widened. There was a curious doubling of my vision, and then it faded.

"I found a book of magic in my stuff. I don't know how I can read it, but I can. Sort of."

"I've got a copy of 'Advanced Level Physics.' Likewise. What's a reversible adiabatic change?"

I recognised the most popular school physics text in Britain, a pristine copy unlike my own battered one.

"I suppose we'd better start at the beginning …"

I left University with a degree, and went and got a job as a computer programmer (who wants geophysicists, anyway?)

Days and nights passed and I learned Magic, and my lady learned sciences, technology and computer programming. We both worked at our sword-skills and I taught her karate (by proxy).

Then one day, or night …

"You have to take a wife in your own world. You are a pariah until you do, and you need the security of a proper place to live, and a proper, socially acceptable lifestyle."

"But I don't want one. I want you."

"It isn't going to work like that. We have years and years to wait. We'll both be old before The Huntress needs us. I can live alone, here, but you can't. Trust me as I trust you."

Of course, I gave in. The nature of my meeting with my future, worldly wife bears the telling.

I had gone to a zoo with some friends. Mainly to meet some wolves, but they had tigers and such there, too. While we were touring the site (a vast area with habitat-enclosures rather than cages), one of the tigers got out.

You can guess whose party he made a bee-line for. The others scattered like grasshoppers. I didn't make it, I got slammed into a railing. Head-first.

I opened my eyes and waited for my vision to clear. Colours seemed muted, but smell was enhanced, and I could feel air movements on my face. I squinted down, expecting to see a wolf or bear-muzzle. Nope, I seemed to be something else.

There was an extremely attractive male tiger in front of me. I could smell his confusion.

"Wherrrr toooy?" he growled.

"Toooy goorrrn" I grumbled back. "We plaaaay?"

"mrrrrrrrrm" he purred. He really was extremely handsome.

I twitched my tail, turned and padded off in the direction of the tiger enclosure. There was a keeper cowering in a bush. I stuck my head into the bush, and gave her a good rasping with my tongue.

I turned to make sure that the male was following. He was.

I led him a merry chase, making sure that he followed me and stayed out of trouble. I was beginning to feel rather strange, and he really was a magnificent creature. I found myself purring with pleasure.

I ducked into the tiger enclosure, through the open gate, making sure that he saw, and followed.

The human I had licked was following behind, aware that the male was more interested in me than a meal. I heard the gate clang shut and the bolt slide home.

The male caught up with me, and started play, biting my back. Eventually I couldn't wait any more, and let him mount me. The pleasure was.

I woke up in a pile of straw and half dressed (my shirt was ripped off, with just the collar left intact – fate does have a sense of humour.) I was being eaten alive and ripped to shreds by about a dozen tiger kits. My face was being rasped by an enormous tigress.

"Hrrrrrrrm" I said.

"Mrrrrrp Hrrrr" said the tigress.

"Don't move, I'll dart the cat and you can get out," said a voice.

"Sod-off," I replied, "I haven't finished my bath yet! Besides, I'm in no danger."

"Hrrrr Mrowwwl?" said the tigress.

I reached up and scratched behind her ear. Her eyes crossed and she started to relax.

"Mrrrrrr Hrrrrrrm Hrrrr" I said.

She batted her cubs away from me, and rolled over for a better scratch. I obliged.

"Hrrrrm Hrr Mrrr" I said as I stood up.

She just lay purring as I left through the prudence-gate in the enclosure.

"How the f-hell did you do that? And what were you doing in the cage, anyway?" demanded the bemused keeper.

For an answer, I growled deep in my throat. A tiger growl. His eyes grew wide and fearful.

One of the other keepers saw, and heard. The girl I had licked. She alone had realised that the tigress on heat hadn't been one of their own. She guessed, and in the fullness of time, I told her the whole story.

The years advanced. I learned the skill of consciously shapeshifting to become the creature of my choice, and delighted in coursing the countryside as other creatures. We moved to London, and I had to curtail my forays.

After a few months, I began to get ill – a state I had never suffered. I was pale and weak. The doctor suggested that I was anaemic and put me on a course of iron tablets which made no difference. I began to suffer weakness and debility.

"Father says that you must hunt for fresh blood. Without the living warmth of the prey, you will sicken and die. You have lost the space for the change. Your soul is sickening for the open spaces. Please don't die, I love you. I need you."

The next morning, I contacted a kosher butcher and explained that I was suffering from pernicious anaemia, and that fresh blood had been recommended. He seemed unfazed by this, and I arranged to meet him to discuss an arrangement.

"You are the Were seeking fresh blood? No, don't answer, I can see you are. Please, come in." I entered his establishment.

He handed me a pint glass. A beer glass. Full of fresh blood, still warm from the letting.

"The first is on the house! After that, everyone pays until happy hour."

I downed the blood in one, and immediately felt myself revive. The fire came back to my heart and the colour to my skin.

"How long?" he asked.

"Almost a year," I answered.

"I'm impressed, most Weres would have been incapacitated within a month and dead before six passed."

"But, how do you know? I thought I was the only one …"

"There are many Weres, mostly wolf, many only partial and lunar-controlled. You, I see, are a strong one. How many forms do you have?"

I confessed that I didn't know, having never found a form I couldn't take.

"But like all others, you are restricted to natural species and to your own gender in your were form."

This was what had worried me for years. I could become a creature of either sex as I wished, even though as a human, I was male.

"Not entirely. This is my native form, and as a human, I am male. When I shift, I can become either sex, as I wish."

His eyes bugged, but not much. "And, unnatural forms? Chimerae – dragons, pegasi and such? Have you ever tried? Or even a Vampire?"

I shook my head. "It never occurred to me to try. And vampires? Bram Stoker's Dracula?"

"Don't knock it 'till you've tried it. The days are awful, but the winter nights are long and dark!"

"I'm sorry, but this is a bit new to me. You mean … ?"

He bowed and smiled. A toothy smile of narrow, wide spaced, pointed teeth.

"Forgive my asking, but your dentition – is it entirely practical?"

"My wife objects if I nibble – they are too blunt to use humanely and too sharp for intimate comfort, but a ceramic knife never offends. And frankly, I get fed up with biting my own lip. Before you ask, it's true about the garlic – it just doesn't go with the blood. Don't even think about the French black-pudding." He pulled a face. "And the guff about religious symbols is utter rot. I'm a good Jewish boy, I spend time at the synagogue. My friends are mostly catholic church-goers."

"Well, thank you for being candid. I suspect we'll be doing business?"

He handed me a business card (with his strange opening hours printed on), smiled, bowed and disappeared in a tiny wisp of smoke as I let myself out.

My wife, Janice, was agog at my description, and frankly suggested that I'd been drinking. Or something. She couldn't ignore the fact that I was more or less my old self.

The next week, I put in my resignation. We sold up and moved to Cornwall. Near Launceston, and a short hop onto Bodmin Moor. I took to roaming the moor as a panther. I wasn't alone – there were about a half-dozen of us, plus a whole load of wolves.

I was riding a pony. I was wrapped against the biting cold wind. My sword, slung from the saddlebow, slapped against my leg rhythmically. The forest was bleach-white with the snow. I could feel the weight of the torc around my neck, a symbol of my rank and office.

""Where are we going? ""

""To the High Lord. There is trouble afoot – demon mischief. There have been unnatural creatures seen in the forest, and I am the only one qualified by rank and power to make the journey. ""

Our silent conversation continued for some time on more personal matters.

I woke with saddle-sores and a slight frostbite. My Lady's journey continued in the same vein for some time, until she was welcomed by The High Lord.

""This doesn't look like the opulent quarters you were given before? ""

""Technically, I suppose I committed an act of treason by kneeing The High Lord in the groin when he tried to rape me. ""

""I would understand if you wanted, or even needed to have a man – I'm not exactly close enough to be able to oblige. Or even to fulfil my husbandly duties. ""

""That's not the point. He's a, what's that word of yours, yes. He's a Dork. ""

""And he's thrown you in clink. ""

""That's where the theory falls down. I can't even shift. ""

""Why? ""

""There are enchantments all over the place, preventing any magical effects from taking place. ""

""Then relax, enjoy the peace and quiet, and let me do the shifting. ""

There was a change in vision, and we flew through the grating of the window, shifting to a hawk, my lady guided us to her late quarters. Resuming human form, she quickly gathered her belongings, and some clothes and made ready to depart.

There was a knock at the door. I prepared a thunderbolt as my lady called the visitor to enter.

The 'Dork' entered – a foppish little man, skinny with a nervous twitch and spots. Lots of small, red spots.

""Don't go near him, he's got smallpox. "" I told my lady.

""What's that? ""

""A deadly disease. A mass killer, like the Plague. ""

I remembered what I could about the extinct virus. I remembered what I could about health magic. I remembered a spell from a novel back home.

"Have you been given a red, sweet-scented rose recently, Lord, by an admirer?"

The High Lord nodded. I wove the syllables of a spell using the sweet voice of my love, and released a cascade of tiny red poppy petals over the sick man. As they touched him, the spots disappeared.

"And how can you weave your spells here, enchantress? These walls are proof against spell-casting within their spaces."

"My spells are being cast from another world. Only their effects may be seen here. And even though you would have robbed me of my power, I have saved your life. You owe me a debt. I have no time left to negotiate."

"What is it you wish?"

I never found out for myself. My love showed herself an apt politician, and an excellent general in the service of The High Lord. The demon mischief was dispatched with some effort, but dispatched it finally was, and resulted in the unification of the Weres and of the Magi in the land.

For the first time enchanters, wizards, warlocks, witches and spell-casters of every sort met in relative peace, without the need for fireballs, thunderbolts and the other trappings of magical disharmony. On the whole, though, they still distrusted the Weres and shape‑shifters.

Of myself, I spent time testing my shifting skills. I found that I could adopt most forms natural and mythical. I also found that I could take the shape of vampire and half-were - Wolf-man, Cat-person, half-boar etc. I also found that I could occupy the shapes of the ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses – looking like something out of Stargate!

""Father found an illustration in an ancient text. It appears to be a Were shifted into a part-machine. I tried it, but it didn't work. He also found a description of what we once called the Drune, or Drya – people shifted as trees and other plants. It sounds yucksome. ""

""Our word for the tree-worshippers, people who were said to be able to turn into trees is Druid, tree-spirits are Dryads. The machine-Were sounds horrid. ""

""The High Lord tells me that there is more demon mischief coming out of the hills, and that people are fighting incessantly because of it. ""

I thought quietly to myself for a moment. ""There has been more trouble here than before. Existing troubles have flared up, and there is unrest where peace has prevailed for years. ""

""Father thinks that there is big trouble brewing, for both our worlds. I trust his vision in this. ""

I trusted her father's prediction. The old man had visions – prescient visions – visions which were rarely anything but absolute truth. Those which were false were clear warnings: If you do this then this will happen. If he said that trouble was brewing, then it was so.

""Does he have anything to say about my world? ""

""Yes. There is a hill. It stands almost alone, steep on one side shallow the other. From the caves therein issue forth much trouble. The Wizard who sleeps there will wake the village and save the people. The Moon, he says, will run with blood and be riven asunder. There is no saving this vision, but … ""

The world shook violently.

I woke with a sense of dread in my heart. Janice was sat on the edge of the bed.

"What's wrong, love?" I asked

"There was another 'quake. You slept through it, Pig!"

"No, I didn't. That's what woke me up. I'm a geophysicist, remember, quakes are my field."

I switched on the light, but nothing happened. I shifted slightly, and padded across to open the curtains, to let in the pre-dawn light. Janice gasped as the curtains revealed the moon, still high in the sky, and blushing pinkly.

I padded back to her side, and put my furry arm around her shoulders. She buried her face in my silken pelt, and began to sob. By the time she was calm again, we were both ready to make love. We made love as though we were saying goodbye.

When the power came back on, we found what had happened. Simply, a piece of space-debris had come to earth not far from us, knocking out the power and lofting enough dust to turn the moon's face red for a few hours. The air, once the clouds built up and the rain started, stank of burning flint. I took it as a hint.