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World of Darkness: The Academy - Chapter 8b: Books Are For Nerds

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How come I’m not scared? Mari wondered. She felt the tickle of goose-bumps on her arms as Ravi’s face drew closer. She almost shied back, a vague feeling of unease competing with the budding of her adolescent sexuality, a desire to be touched, to be held, to be kissed. There was violence in Ravi. It shined behind the glitter of his gold and green eyes. It sat, like a hidden promise, beneath the easy warmth of his smile. It waited in the gentleness of his hands. It was animal and it was terrible...and Mari had seen it. She had felt its breath upon her in her dream. She had been spared its savagery by a hair.

The rational part of her not caught in Ravi’s spell sought to assert itself. I just need to stop all this. I just need to get up and get away from him and never look back. But Mari couldn’t move. She felt paralyzed by Ravi’s searching gaze. Some backward instinct, some self-destructive impulse, pushed her to stay. To wait and see what would happen, what he’d do to her...to offer herself in surrender to the lion. She had an absurd image of herself, in a toga, standing across from an enormous panther in a Roman coliseum while Renata watched from the stands and ate a bag of popcorn.

Mari became newly aware of Ravi sitting so close to her, lightly stroking his thumb across her palm. I’m not going to be a sacrifice. And I’m not going to run away. Mari resolved. She blinked at Ravi and then suddenly rose up and put her hand on his shoulder and kissed him on the mouth. There was tenderness and urgency in that kiss. Shyness and eagerness and warm heat from Mari’s soft lips.

“Sorry,” Mari said breathlessly. She was abruptly bashful again, blushing right down to her roots.

__________________

Height: 5'1", Weight: 102 lbs, Hair: Dark brown, Eyes: Hazel, Striking looks 4, Dexterity 4, Presence 4

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"Whatever for?"

That was what Ravi should have said, in a low, intimate voice along with a charming half-smile and a smoldering gaze that would have caused the downfall of a saint. Seducing the innocent, especially those innocent none too enthused with their pristine state, wasn't exactly new territory for him even at his age. Teenage hormones being what they were, by very definition the innocent were usually easier conquests.

But he remained silent, almost grave. There was some other alchemy at work here. As he took in Mari's large dark eyes, her flushed face and breathless murmur he could still feel the tingling press of her lips against his. He could feel the hammering of her healthy young heart through the hand on his shoulder even as his preternaturally sharp ears caught the faint *boom* of it's beat in her chest. He could smell the perfume of her excitement and nervousness on her skin and, beneath that, he could smell the rich blood pumping through her veins. Still unspeaking, eyes locked on hers Ravi lifted his hands slowly to Mari's face, the pads on the tips of his fingers trailing across her cheeks, then along her jawline in a gently caressing touch. His fingertips thrilled at the warm soft skin under them as they brushed into the hair around her ears, exploring as much as stroking. The expression on Ravi's face was rapt.

He wondered if she knew how beautiful, how truly beautiful she was. There had been girls and women before her, and (a small dry detached voice wryly commented somewhere behind the fog of emotion and desire inhabiting his conscious mind) there would probably be more after. Ravi could count on the fingers of one hand how many girls he knew he actually would miss, that stood out from the common ruck and maul through some virtue or quality that attracted him in a more than physical way. Even without sleeping with her, he knew that Mari had made that list.

Aware of the weight and heat of his gaze, Mari met it calmly as she could. She could feel the warm solidity of his shoulder muscles shifting under her hand, the gentleness of his fingers as they wove through her hair and caressed the nape of her neck, turning her insides liquid. In the deep green of his eyes golden sparks seemed to flare and dance like the shimmer over asphalt on a hot day. Finally those handsome lips parted and, pausing to moisten them with the tip of his tongue, Ravi spoke.

"Don't be. Sorry, I mean."

Then he drew closer, even as he drew her closer to him. One hand stayed on the nape of her neck as his other arm slid down and encircled her lithe waist. She felt his breath on her cheek a moment before his lips touched hers.

The kiss was gentle, the urgency caged, but Mari could feel the faint tremor under her hand and around her waist, signs that Ravi wasn't fully containing whatever he was feeling. She slipped her free hand around him and tightened her own grasp, relaxing into him as the kiss deepened, became more eager and more insistent. The kiss was like a dance, one of those learning-to-dance dances where the partner does a move, then you copy that and learn to complement it, and then once you've got that down he changes the dance up a little, keeping what you've learned but adding to it, leading you further each time, until before you know it you're rocking the dance floor and feeling immortal.

The two teens weren't really aware of this on any conscious level, lost as they were in the taste and feel and warmth of each other. The faint rumbling purr was back, deep in Ravi's chest, a scarcely-audible vibration that rose and fell to the rhythm of their kissing.

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Sean thumped his head against the table with a bang. What. The. Fuck! Nobody could wait? It wasn't like they were gonna be at this for hours. The way he saw it, it was just like going over the play-book. Sure, stuff may have been outdated, and even more would break down after contact with people on the other side of the Door, but it at least it would give them a place to start. He preferred action as much as the next guy, but fuck!

Now Ryan flitted of to enact whatever plan he had (and hadn't revealed) and Renata swaggered away like a colossal bitch, as if they'd forgotten Pritchard was out there with her voodoo dolls. And Ravi had gone off with a girl, so everyone knew what they were going to do, and it wasn't going to be looking through the YAC newsletters.

"Anyone else takin' off?" Sean asked in a tight voice, running a hand through his short, black hair in frustration, blue-grey eyes roiling tempestuously. Playbook's been thrown in the trash..."Or can we continue to search through our dwindlin' supply of stories for anything useful, then see what we need and what we can get for our trip through the Door?" His strong jaw bunched stubbornly. "We'll probably hafta go tomorrow now, and go over everything again."

Annoyed, his normally easy-going demeanor frayed, Sean picked up the newsletter he had been perusing and focused on it with too much intensity.

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Frida's gaze followed Ravi and Mari as they left the art room, though her smooth expression gave away nothing of her inner thoughts regarding their obvious interest in each other. Then it flickered back to Sean and settled on him quietly through his rant. She glanced around to see who remained - Swan, herself, Ms. Dorn, Brahn, and Brihn - then glanced back at the handsome jock, her expression neutral once again.

"I'll stay and help. Perhaps we could finish by tonight. It might be easier to go through the door without so many students and faculty awake and milling about, anyway. Less chance of Swan being spotted."

Personally, Frida cared very little one way or the other about the Caramine girl. She couldn't remember anything about her, but according to Brahn and Brihn, she was a very bad person. However, with her memory gone, Swan herself seemed completely reformed. Whether she would continue to feel that way if her memory started to come back as everyone else's was starting to slowly, or whether she would turn into some sort of human-killing machine was yet to be determined. But it seemed important to Sean, and she had no real feelings on the matter either way. So she picked up one of the journals and sat down at the table, opening it up to the first page without saying anything else.

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Mari’s eyes drifted closed. Locked in the passion of her kiss with Ravi, the only reality for the lissome teen became sensation. The weight of Ravi’s touch was on her neck and waist. They were drifting together and he was purring at her again and she was trying not to giggle as they kissed. It was easy to forget what that gentle purr meant. It was easy to forget that inside Mari’s perfectly cultured and perfectly smooth and perfectly handsome boyfriend there was a ravenous jungle cat who liked to rip people into bloody streamers of flesh and gobble up their guts. It was even easy to forget the mysterious and inexplicable happenings at the school. The otherworldly conspiracy of the Caramels, Pritchard and her Voodoo dolls, Sean’s soulless and empty-eyed companion, the two zombie twins, Frida’s beautiful creepy painting, Hector and his mad-prophet talk of glows and long arms and boys who aren’t boys, the doors that got opened with feathers and dreams and The Young Adventurer’s Club...all of it was pushed aside by one breathy kiss after another.

Mari’s eyes drifted open. Ravi’s hand had travelled slowly from her waist to her thigh, and then stopped. A moment later his lips pulled away from hers and he sat up straighter. She could see the lines in his face harden and his nostrils flare. She was about to venture a timid “what’s wrong?”, when Mari got her answer.

“Oh, wow. Seriously?” Vanessa Gardener said as she came to stand before the couch. She looked achingly beautiful and elegant. All five feet and eleven inches of her freckled blonde perfection had been poured into a minty green dress, brown knee high boots and a royal blue shawl. Her glossy pink lips parted into an unpleasant smirk. “I guess it really is true. Honestly, Ravi, you can’t do better than a twelve year old?”

Ravi’s eyes grew cold. “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage...” his smile was sweet poison as he plucked a crease in his pants and lightly folded his hands over his lap. “Miss...?”

“Oh, cut the crap.” Vanessa hissed back. “You know who I am.” She flipped her shawl and her hair in perfect synch and glared her hate at Mari, who busily tried to straighten out her hoodie and tee-shirt and un-muss her hair. “Why are you wasting your time with a charity-case like Palacios?” Vanessa added disdainfully.

“I should go.” Mari, stood up, blushing furiously. Her hands shook with anger and humiliation and she shoved them into her hoodie pockets.

"We should both go." Ravi rose smoothly and took Mari's arm. "It's become decidedly unpleasant here." He snatched up their reading material with his free hand and carried the booklets at his side.

"Yeah, fine. Go." Vanessa snarled at them. "Go back to fucking Calcutta or Seven-Eleven, or where-ever the fuck you come from."

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The search for the Chiderans at first seemed futile; while the kids weren’t bad storytellers, they were about as talented as your average bunch of teenagers. Their stories focused on the their cool exploits and were very lacking in actual details about the peoples they were visiting. Images could be gleaned – but in one of the last issues, the group in the Art Room hit pay-dirt.

Quote:
The Light over the Valley by Vanessa Devine

This story was written from a Chideran woman’s point of view. What if one of them fell in love with a human man and made the ultimate choice?

I sat in my robes, considering what had just happened. I had agreed to leave, with a man. I wondered what my mother would say. I hadn’t told her yet – I needed to think. What I had said to Sean I had said in the heat of the moment. That incredible moment that I couldn’t ever have with any other Chideran. None of my ‘spear-sisters’ could do for me what Sean had done last night, in my tent.

Was that why I was leaving? To be able to experience that life-changing event again and again? Was it all just the heat of the joining? Or was I in love?

Sean had opened my eyes to so many things, things beyond what we’d done last night. He spoke of a world of electricity and television; he told me that you could give people paper, and they would give you food! No hunting! No effort! Just give them the paper-money, and you would get your food. There were even places that would give you cooked food within moments of you asked. Sherry had told me about dresses and shoes and purses – clothing that other people made for you instead of you for yourself. It all sounded so magical!

I don’t know why these doubts assailed me. I had so much here. My people’s strength and power. I’d already passed my test for adulthood; I could choose to have a my children now, if I wished. I had my forests, the high mountain glens – warm in summer and covered in snow in winter. I could build my own shelter, kill my own game – things that Sherry and Rodney couldn’t manage. They were like children, helpless. Was I ready to leave all of this behind, to leave all that I had learned?

There was more to it than that, I knew with sudden conviction. Yes, Sean had shown me so much, but I longed to see what another world was like. It was a place where you voted on leaders and men were equal with women – a place where they existed at all was a fascinating world, to me. It wasn’t just Sean – it was the promise of everything he could give me, in that other place. I would be a child to him; it would be his turn to lead me through his world. We would be bonded – he would be my mate and I would be his. I would follow him and let him lay claim to my daughters, as if they were his own. I would defend his world from the Caramine, as I had defended my own.

As my mother had taught me: Strength of body is good, but strength of spirit is the true gift. I would give that strength to the Daltonites, to Sean and we would stop the Caramine Harvest – together.

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He started to turn towards Vanessa, a half-sneer, half-snarl on his face which, coupled with the murderous look in his eye, transformed him from handsome to demoniacal. This interruption was unwelcome, and now the stupid girl was pushing her luck. There was a strong urge in him to draw blood, and it wasn't entirely metaphorical. Part of him mused on how Vanessa would smell as she ran for her life through the shelving stacks of the library, how far she would get before he dragged her down and tore her throat out...

"He's from England, you... you..." Mari was quicker to whirl on the society-girl, stepping towards Vanessa, her face going from the crimson of shame to the pale flush of anger. How dare she treat Ravi like that! How dare she spoil this perfect moment in the library: Mari's first full-on makeout session too! Ravi wasn't WITH this girl anymore, if indeed he even had been. Stupid stalker chick. "You JERK!" she finished, fists clenched. As comebacks go, it wasn't exactly a knockout blow, but the vehemence of the delivery and the glare in her hazel eyes made up for it. Vanessa took half a step back. Tall, elegant and blonde she might be, but Mari was the lioness in the room right now. Ravi blinked in astonishment, then smiled amusedly as he stepped forward alongside Mari, his glittering eyes on Vanessa's face.

"I think your definition of charity case and mine differ, Vanessa." he said smoothly, his more savage instincts sublimated to cruel, cutting words. "Go back to giving blowjobs to your trust-fund baby frat boys - your blood's a little tepid for my tastes, and they'll date anyone blonde that holds still long enough." His eyes bored into Vanessa's, his tone venomously pleasant as it dropped low. "And you certainly do hold still, Miss Gardener. You kiss like a dead koi that tastes of cigarettes."

"Bastard!" Vanessa blinked back a couple of tears and took a few more steps away. "You total fucking bastard." Ravi kept his eyes on her, smiling, then let his features fall into feigned concern.

"There there." he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and offered it to her. "Dry those eyes. I'm not averse to a bit of charity for the less-fortunate, after all."

With a sob Vanessa fled, pushing past the outstretched hand holding the handkerchief and hurrying off into the stacks. Ravi tucked the folded square of cloth away and turned to Mari, only to see her kiss-reddened lips trembling and her eyes moist with contained tears.

"Are you alright?" he asked, concerned. There was a pang of something painful in his chest as he saw her so upset, mingled with the remnants of the pride he'd felt when she'd attacked Vanessa. He reached for her and she let herself be drawn into a hug, her own arms going around his waist as she buried her face in his shirt.

"I'm fine." she said in a muffled voice, then pulled back and looked up at him. "Just mad. Really, really mad. I mean, I guessed she had a thing for you and stuff, but..."

"Shhh... It's okay. Trust me, she's not as 'all that' as she would like to believe. Diet pills and nose jobs don't cover up for personality, believe me." He held her gently for a moment more, ducking his head to catch her eye and smiling. "Come on. She's nothing to be upset about. Let's go somewhere else and we can talk about it, okay?"

"Okay." Mari sniffed, then blinked as Ravi handed her the hanky, her hazel eyes flicking up to his face to see if he was laughing at her. He'd been really cruel to Vanessa...

But he wasn't smiling, and his expression showed only concern for her.

"It's not charity when it's a friend helping you out." Ravi said softly, his green eyes deep and luminous. Mari sniffed again, but smiled faintly and took the soft hanky.

"Just a friend?" she asked, wiping her eyes. The soft cotton smelled a little like him, and she fought the urge to bury her face in it.

"Goes double for boyfriends." he stated with the authority of a judge, then smiled at her. "Come on, my room will be quieter."

PantherChapterMotif.gif

It was certainly quieter, but the sight that met their eyes as Ravi opened the door was somehow worse than a dozen Vanessas.

The room had been trashed: completely ransacked. Fine clothing lay strewn around the floor where it had obviously been dumped from the wardrobe, the mattress had been overthrown, the computer and stereo system had both been hurled carelessly off the long desk. The bathroom door stood ajar, and the two teens could see bottles of soap and shampoo and cologne had been tossed around on the counter.

Mari gasped, but Ravi stood stock still, his nostrils flaring as he tried to do something other than dwell on this outrage. No fresh scents, no-one that hadn't been in the room already today had done this. Or someone with no scent. He moved into the wrecked room, his space, his personal space, and looked around at the devastation. Mari entered behind him and shut the door, locking and leaning against it as she stared at the room, then at the silent youth standing in the middle of it, his back to her. His shoulders were rising and falling as he took deep breaths, but the sound of his breathing was the only one in the room.

"Ravi..?" she ventured, suddenly afraid of him again. Some instinct was causing the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck to prickle. Not going to be a sacrifice, not going to run away. she silently told herself, praying that she was right. "Ravi, are you okay?"

Her answer was the deep, rumbling snarl of a big cat, formed into words.

"Who the fuck DARES?!" Ravi clenched his fists, trying to fight back what he suddenly knew was coming. The outrage, the sense of violation... it called to his inner self. The panther within woke up and began to come forward. Ravi felt his jaws shifting and the muscles of his body beginning to dance and twitch, but it wasn't painful this time. It felt good, like a long stretch fuelled by the heated indignation of what had been done to his... his den. Yes, that was right. His den.

A waft of fear-stink assailed him and he turned towards Mari. She gasped when she saw him, his face lengthening, jaw becoming heavy with large fangs, and the catlike eyes that were the same hue as his human ones. Fur was beginning to sprout along the backs of his arms and under his shirt, and Ravi struggled out of it with hands that were already becoming paws.

"Mari... don't... be... scared." he growled through a throat and lips rapidly becoming unsuited to speech. "Please..." was the last thing he said before the transformation went too far.

He fell to the floor, bones shifting and resettling as his jeans and sneakers burst off his body with an explosion of ripping cloth. He lay there as calmly as he could, keeping his eyes on Mari, watching her pale face as she witnessed what he was. His eyes were catlike, but the expression in them and on the transforming features of his face was very human, somehow.

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“Fffuuuck.” Mari uncharacteristically cursed. The word escaped her like something between a sigh and a groan. It was one thing to be told Ravi could turn into a panther. It was another to see, with her own eyes, that improbable transformation taking place right before her. Mari took a faltering step back and felt the door behind her. She was numbly aware of sliding down to the ground and sitting heavily on the floor. The beast from her dream, the wild animal that had wrecked havoc the night before on the quad, was staring at her from the middle of Ravi’s ravaged room. The green and gold of its eyes unmistakably belonged to Ravi, though they were different now, feline.

Mari was shaking like a leaf in a strong wind. Fear made her stomach hollow, her throat tight. “R-ravi?” she stammered. She reached up, hand against the wall, wrestling against the impulse to jump to her feet and run, to scream, to do anything but stay where she was.

Incredibly, the massive panther bobbed its head. It’s nodding, Mari thought, incredulous. For a long moment Mari simply stared back at the beast. Her lips were dry. She could barely force herself to speak. “Are you going to hurt me?”

Slowly and deliberately the panther shook its head from one side to the other and back. The movement looked unnatural and forced. The huge cat huffed and stood and padded closer.

“Oh shit!” Mari squeaked, curling her knees up to her chest and hiding her face behind her arms. The panther stopped and sat again, watching her. Mari cautiously peered out from between her hoodie sleeves...

__________________

Height: 5'1", Weight: 102 lbs, Hair: Dark brown, Eyes: Hazel, Striking looks 4, Dexterity 4, Presence 4

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One black-furred ear flicked in a gesture that was pure feline frustration, the equivalent of a human sighing and setting their hands on their hips. Mari's normally delightful scent was overlaid with fear, which was an instinctual trigger for any hungry beast to attack.

Good thing that I'm not hungry, and not solely a beast.

Ravi was slightly triumphant, despite the panic he was causing the young teen curled up against his door. He wasn't ravening or berserk, the storm of his unleashed beast wasn't driving him. He was still himself, the new self that was a merge of beast and man. He stood and turned clockwise then counterclockwise, inspecting himself with evident happiness and satisfaction that emanated from him. The long black tail swished as he inspected that too, then he sat down a couple of metres from Mari and looked at her intently.

She was looking at him from over her hands now, rather than between them, her lovely eyes wide with fear and horrified fascination. Ravi got to his feet again and stepped towards her, his head neither high nor low but in line with the great shoulders which, from the sitting girl's perspective, were nearly a foot above her eyes. Mari squeaked again and put her hands down, trying to scooch back through the door, but the dastardly wooden panelling wasn't obliging enough to turn intangible today. She briefly considering screaming and hated herself for it, but the blazing green eyes stole her voice as they came closer. She shut her eyes tight out of reflex...

Only to jump as she felt a velvety brush against her cheek, then a tickling sensation on her face caused by whiskers as Ravi brushed his jowl against her cheek, gently at first, but then with enough force to push her sideways a little. She felt the heat of the massive body near her, smelled the faint musk - not unpleasant, but definitely there - of his scent. There was a noise like thunder in her ears, and with a faintly delirious sense of shock she realised that the huge panther was purring as he nuzzled her like a housecat demanding attention.

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Our Father who art in Heaven, please deliver me safe and whole from... Mari dared to open her eyes. Ravi-cat was still nuzzling her, almost toppling her over when it brushed its massive head against her, butting her. ...from my giant panther boyfriend. Ravi purred at her again, rumbling like a motor, loud and steady.

Tentatively, Mari reached out her hand. She didn’t want to get it anywhere near Ravi’s glistening white fangs, My, what big teeth you have. She touched trembling fingers to the rippling muscles of Ravi’s shoulder, cautiously stroking the thick black fur. When Ravi declined to bite her arm off at the elbow, Mari giggled nervously and scratched behind his ear. She thought absurdly of introducing Ravi-cat to her mother, to her sisters. Aw, he’s so cute. Yani might say. Eli could bring him a bowl of milk. Mari’s mother would praise him for being a good eater.

“Um, okay.” Mari whispered as Ravi nudged into her again, petting him. “Okay.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say except, ‘good cat’, but she feared he might not like that.

__________________

Height: 5'1", Weight: 102 lbs, Hair: Dark brown, Eyes: Hazel, Striking looks 4, Dexterity 4, Presence 4

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Sean listened to Frida's calm, clipped accented voice read his mother's story, his cheeks suffused with red. Okay, it was cool that they found out more about the Chiderans, enough to at least get an idea about what they could expect, he really didn't need to hear about his parents doing 'it' for the first time. And she replaced Dad's name with my own, that's... that's almost incestuous or something. Fuckin' gross!

"Enough, enough! Please stop!" Sean pleaded, covering his face with a hand in embarrassment. Hearing the rustle of paper as Frida set the newsletter on the table, Sean placed his hands flat on the table, shook his head, then took a deep breath to compose himself - really, it's not he didn't know his parents had done before, but he still didn't want to hear about it. Finally, when he thought his face wouldn't burn off in terminal embarrassment, Sean looked up at the others.

"Okay, that was... helpful," Sean admitted, though the word almost seemed to strangle him. "I guess we should gather up some campin' and hikin' gear, eh? I got that and climbin' gear too with my sports stuff back at Mars House. We don't how far the Door with be from anythin' on the Otherside, right? Since it sounds mountainous, I'd suggest people bring at least a heavy sweater - it gets cold up there, and if we're there over night, if can get brutal."

For the love of God, please no one mention anything about Vanessa fuckin' my Dad. Just pretend it was never mentioned and move on...

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Swan was a violent shade of purple when Frida stopped. "Are your reproductions always so public?" she gasped as she looked around the table. "It is like a pillow book, but glorifying base relations!"

"Tell me about it," Sean said with a flinch.

"Then what is a pillow book?" Sylvia asked, raising her eyebrow.

"It is a book that tells erotic stories of pure love, as between men or the beautiful stories of women,” Swan said, her voice still vibrating with indignation. “It is not this… tawdry thing!”

“Oh, god, they’re like Rome,” Sylvia moaned, putting her face in her hands. “We’re fighting Rome.”

Click to reveal..
5 xp – I’m closing the chapter here, but Ravi and Mari can finish the going-ons in Ravi’s room first. I just had to end on that remark.

When I start the next chapter, it will be the next morning and you guys can have made preparations either off camera, here or in your first post. Up to you. I just will be starting it and won’t make anymore plot-driven posts here. Though I will post to further relations, such as someone explaining to Swan how things normally work over here. wink

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The scent of fear in the air lessened, speaking more quietly to his predatory instincts, and the panther that was the Hon. Ravi Gregory Marlborough FitzCoventry, cultured English lordling who could, when pressed, recount his ancestry back at least fourteen generations on both sides, settled down next to Mari Palacios and purred, shamelessly seeking further petting by sliding his great head under her hand and lifting it.

Giggling again, her eyes bright from wonder and the vestiges of fear, Mari continued to scritch and stroke behind the idly flicking ears as she stared into Ravi's eyes. Half-lidded, he gazed back with an expression of such lordly content that she had to smile despite the unreality of the situation.

"You scared me real bad." she confided to him, confident that he understood her. "I thought you were going to go mad again and... well, get out of control." she finished in a subdued tone. A thought occurred to her and her lovely eyes widened. "You are going to change back, right? We're going exploring for this Door and stuff and... well, I don't think the others would be comfortable with you like that. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with it." She realised she was starting to chatter as she stroked her boyfriend's velvety neck (and how weird did that sound?), but couldn't stop. "I mean, you're a lovely panther, really. Beautiful, even. But, well, kind of big if you get what I'm saying. And panther-y. Definitely panther-y."

The panther half-rumbled, half-sighed and nudged her again with his head, nuzzling his cheek against her before rising with silent feline grace that was, Mari reflected, a whole lot more impressive in the flesh than on Discovery Channel. She got to her feet slowly, amazed to find that her legs felt like cooperating, and watched Ravi intently.

He turned and paced away from Mari, padding around his room and testing the air, muzzle lifting now to the window, then to the trashed desk. He nosed around the clothes that had been strewn across the floor, the tip of his tail twitching sharply. A low growl quietly rumbling in his chest behind closed jaws, he shouldered fully-open the bathroom door and inspected that room too before coming back out, his tail-twitching still a pronounced indicator of his ire. He walked back and forth around the room for a few moments, head low and slitted eyes gazing at the mess. Then he turned and flowed up onto the bed, the sound of it's creaking under his weight alarming for a moment as he settled down, forepaws crossed, and surveyed his violated demesnes with something approaching a resigned simmer in his green-gold eyes.

"Wow. And I thought Yani got mean when people got into her stuff." Mari said with a little smile as she stepped away from the door. Understanding Ravi's mood helped her with her fears: he was P-O'd because someone had trashed his stuff and that had triggered the change. It made sense - well, as much sense as anything else lately. She approached the bed carefully, studying his profile as he stared at the mess on the floor. "It really is you, isn't it." she stated in a hushed tone, reaching out with her fingertips to his glossy shoulder. She stroked the fur gently as the large eyes turned her way. "You're really real." She sat down next to him on the edge of the bed as, with an odd grumbling noise, Ravi set his chin on his paws. They sat quietly like that for awhile, Mari idly running her fingers through the soft fur of Ravi's shoulders.

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“Who would do this?” Mari wondered aloud. A low and lazy growl was Ravi’s answer. Mari withdrew her hand with a start, only to resume her petting a moment later when Ravi’s giant panther head swiveled toward her. “Oh, right. You can’t talk right now.”

Sitting on the bed beside the enormous cat, Mari crossed her legs butterfly style, and fell into silence again. She tried to settle herself into peace and stillness, her only movement the motion of her hand as she caressed the massive muscles of Ravi’s back and shoulders and trailed her fingers lightly through the downy fur that covered them. Hey Mari, are you dating a panther? Fur sure.

This second stretch of silence was short-lived. “One time I was at this petting zoo in Jersey, it was like one of those class field-trips you get to do, except I think maybe it was Girl Scouts and not just school, it’s weird, I can’t even remember, but anyway we were all there, right—I think it was Girl Scouts—and there was this zoo and they had like prairie, um, prairie dogs, and you know, guinea pigs and rabbits and these little goats—I’m probably like, making you hungry—but um, there were some tigers, too and I got to hold one, but you can only hold them like one way.” Mari paused to breathe, then chatted on, “You have to scoop them up under the arms and even when they’re little their paws are super big, I mean, not as big as yours, you know? But big. And the thing is...their fur is weird. Like you expect it to be soft but it’s not. It’s not really soft. It’s kinda like, bristly. Bristles. Like a paint brush, kinda. Maybe it gets soft later, when they grow up.”

Mari’s quiet voice was a like a lullaby. Ravi could hardly even fault her for ending her sentence with a preposition. A deep, relaxing warmth followed behind her gentle touch and Ravi began to feel a wellness of being that was like waking from a long sleep, like the tingle of invincibility from a good workout, like the restful exuberance earned from a nice hard fuck. He felt tremendous. And then he heard Mari gasp and go “Oh!” and he turned and saw her blushing face and big hazel eyes staring back at him a moment before she looked sharply toward the wall to avert her eyes.

It was then that Ravi realized he was sprawled naked on his bed, furless and very much a man. He hadn’t even felt the change.

__________________

Height: 5'1", Weight: 102 lbs, Hair: Dark brown, Eyes: Hazel, Striking looks 4, Dexterity 4, Presence 4

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"Well now." Ravi's voice purred with surpised, contented amusement, devoid of any self-consciousness or embarrassment as he shifted and sat up. Hard muscles flexed beneath the supple skin under Mari's fingers, and with a start she realised the import of that last fact. I'm still touching him! And he's naked! She snatched her hand away as though his skin were burning her, which wasn't totally incorrect. She felt warm throughout, and was fairly sure that wasn't all the embarrassed blush.

"Aww. You didn't have to stop." he said in a disappointed tone, but this was punctuated with a soft chuckle that set off langourous ripples low in Mari's stomach. She felt his breath on her neck, then the gentle touch of his lips on her cheek before he swung his legs off the bed and stood up. She kept her gaze on the wall, wanting yet not wanting to peek as she felt him moving behind her. He'd been laying on his stomach, thankfully (unfortunately!), but the brief glimpse she had caught of him was surely burned into her retina, along with wondering what it would be like to pet him as a ma- No!

"S-so you're getting dressed, right?" she asked, thinking it might be an idea to check. After all, he might just be tidying up first, then straightening the bed, and then gentle hands would close on her shoulders and turn her towards his smiling eyes...

"Yes." Ravi said, the whisper of cloth underscoring his words as he continued. "Those jeans have had it, though. I know growth spurts are supposed to be hard on the wardrobe, but this is ridiculous. I'm ruining at least one article of clothing a day." He sounded exasperated, but in a good-humored way. "Okay, I'm decent now, mostly." The last word was added teasingly.

Mari looked round and spied him crouching barefoot on the floor, picking up the strewn clothes from his drawers and closet. He'd pulled on another pair of jeans and a snug white t-shirt, and as he straightened he flashed her a brilliant smile, coming over and dumping the armload onto the bed before sitting next to Mari, half-turned towards her with one leg perched up on the bed. He reached out and took her hands in his, his eyes gentle.

"I'm sorry about what happened." he said with grave sincerity. "That must have been terrifying. You handled it well, Mari. I was scared you'd run screaming from the room..." His gaze dropped to her hands in his. "... from me."

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His eyes widening slightly at Swan's indignation passion - and vaguely curious about what she'd think of the pair of Playboys hidden under his mattress that he had bought as a lark - Sean tossed down the newletter and started gathering them all up.

"Okay, I think that's 'nough readin' for today. I know I've read more than I wanted to," Sean grumped, the muscles in his forearms rippling as he squared the newsletters, again and again before standing up and stretching his broad shoulders.

"We've found out what we could about the Chiderans, least for now. Not sure about anyone else, but I'm gonna pack up my gear for the expedition then make up a place for Swan to sleep without being disturbed. I'm thinkin' the attic in Mars House should be fine, so Check-In won't find her, then I'll sneak up too."

Swan stood up next to him, Sean hovering close, but managing to refrain from wrapping a protective arm around her shoulder. "Night, Ms. Dorn, Frida. I'll contact Ryan, if you guys can get in touch with Mari, Renata, and Ravi, 'kay? Say, meet back here at six A.M. to share out anything else we find before heading for the Door? Sound Good?"

After getting their responses, Sean and Swan left the Art Room, both of them taking a last glance at Frida's mural, then walked around the periphery of the grounds until they made it to Mars House. It was a Saturday evening, people were still out, so it wasn't too busy. Getting Swan to his room wasn't hard, though there was a tense moment when he realized he had forgotten to check about his roommate, but Micah wasn't there.

Sean started packing up his stuff while showing off his room to Swan - such as it was. She didn't seem terribly impressed. Though when he turned on the XBox and showed her that they controlled the character on the screen, her dark eyes brightened in wonder. Sean was eerily fascinated by that fact that Swan seemed to be kicking ass on Soul Calibur after he had shown her to punch and kick.

Packing didn't actually take long, as he found his big hiking pack already loaded for a trip for some reason. The water in the water bottles was a bit stale so he refilled them, but other than that, everything he wanted was there, except for a couple more pairs of socks and his thermal fleece vest. He even found a pocket full of tiny white feathers and a pad of stick-it notes.

Frowning, wondering what else he had been made to forget, Sean looked around for something that could be used as a Key for the Chideran World. Hmm, leather belt for a leather thong? Might work. Now something arrowhead-shaped... Screw it! I'll just cut some out.

Getting input from Swan, reluctantly as she was focused on slaying 'The Vile Harlot Ivy', Sean sacrificed two DVD covers to make several arrow-head pieces of plastic with an Exacto Knife. It'll do.

"Comin' Swan?" Sean asked, slinging his pack over a shoulder - he'd just say he was storing it in the attic, which he was, if only for a night. "I want to set you up before Bracks comes around. I have an self-inflating air mattress and everything, it'll be comfortable enough, I swear."

"A moment - There! Algol lies broken and defeated by my simulacrum!" Swan crowed.

Sean blinked - Beginner's Luck - then turned off the TV and the console. "Follow me, we're going left then up the stairs."

Continued in Derring Do.

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“It was pretty scary.” Mari agreed. She glanced away from Ravi’s eyes to the door and then looked back at him. “I thought about running. But I knew you wouldn’t want to hurt me, even though Hector said you would. I knew if it was really you in there that you wouldn’t...and I guess I had to know.” Mari blushed as her words sunk in. So, I just bet my life that a giant panther wasn’t going to want to eat me. She could almost hear Rachel adding, in that way which made her blush more furiously still.

“Now you know.” Ravi smiled. He couldn’t help adding, “Does that mean you feel safe with me?” just to enjoy the rosy pink glow his words lit under Mari’s skin, and the shy smile that followed.

“I dunno about safe,” Smart girl. Ravi thought. “doesn’t it hurt?”

“The transformation?”

Mari nodded in answer and Ravi rubbed his thumb across her knuckles, feeling how delicate and small her hands seemed in his. “No, not this time.”

“It looked like it really hurt,” Mari insisted.

“No,” Ravi shook his head. “this time, everything was different.” He released Mari’s hands and stretched his arms over his head, making himself long and tall. “I felt in control. I felt myself and I felt strong and...” Ravi paused, his eyes bright with wonder and mischief as his lips curled up into a grin. “I felt good.” He turned to Mari, who was staring at him, hanging on every word he said. “I felt incredible. I still do.”

“Oh.” Mari answered faintly as Ravi’s face moved closer...

__________________

Height: 5'1", Weight: 102 lbs, Hair: Dark brown, Eyes: Hazel, Striking looks 4, Dexterity 4, Presence 4

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"Mmmhmm..." he murmured, his scent filling the air around Mari, stealing away her breath and her ability to think straight as their lips began to meet-

"Who let the dogs out? / Woof, woof, woof, woof!"

"Damn." Mari opened her eyes to see Ravi looking irritated, unspent passion still simmering in his glorious eyes as he sat back. She felt relieved and disappointed, a delightfully conflicted feeling halfway between wanting to experience more and being afraid to go further. Ravi grinned at her as he dove for his ruined jeans and fished the fancy touch-screen phone from the pocket.

"Hi Sean... Oh, Swan? Ahh, I see. Okay..." he looked at Mari as he spoke and came to sit beside her. "Six?! Damn. Who gets up before six in the morning?! The only time I see six am is when I've stayed up all night." He reached over to Mari and gently ran his fingers through the trailing ends of her hair, annoyance at what he was hearing warring with contentment at her closeness. That was odd, he dimly noted. He wasn't usually so... tactile unless the contact was sexual. "Tell Sean that Mari's here. I think she... wait." He looked at Mari. "You have Renata's number?" She nodded. "Okay, tell her we're meeting at the mural room tomorrow at 6 in the morning." He flashed her a kilowatt smile as she pulled out her phone and began to make the call, then turned back to his own conversation.

"Mari's calling Renata." Ravi frowned again, then sighed. "He did? Wonderful. More talky-talky. Well, if he says he's got news then he's got news. Ryan's the last person to waste time when he could be getting up to something fun. Are you staying safe?" The answer to this caused a grin to spread across his lips. "Oh really?" he purred archly, grinning like... well, like a cat. "No, not at all. Sean's an excellent choice for a protector." His voice dropped a little. "To tell the truth, I think he feels very protective towards you, Swan. I'd go as far as saying he was sweet on you, even. Oh, he is, isn't he? Oh hello Sean. We were just talking about you." Ravi's shoulders shook with silent laughter as he listened to his friend. "And you. Have a lovely night."

He waited as Mari finished her own call to Renata letting her know of the meeting and assuring her that she was fine. Ravi privately reflected without rancor that Renata Hodges would probably rather Mari feel in mortal danger around him than feel fine. He wondered if Mari suspected the depths of the older girl's feelings toward her, then shrugged. It wasn't as though it were truly his business, and other than the possible rivalry, he quite liked the ascerbic Hodges.

"Well, I suppose our plans may have to change." he smiled at Mari, enjoying the shy grin she returned.

"Can't say I'm not relieved." she said with a nervous laugh. What popped out next was unguarded honesty. "When I'm close to you like this it's hard to think straight about what I should do. Especially..." she gulped at his smile "When you lean in and-"

"Like this?" Ravi asked innocently as he leaned close, his eyes seeming to take up the universe. Mari felt tongues of flame licking around the fabric of her civilised moral fibre as she felt his lips brush across her cheek, then along her jawline, his breath scalding her nerves with pleasure.

"Eep... Yes... Like that..." Mari said in a slightly dazed voice. "And... and then when you... mmm... please... mmm... stop?" Don't stop! Don't stop! She'd meant it to be a demand, or a plea, but it came out as more of a question. Ravi turned his head and kissed her lips, then straightened up to a safe(?) distance and smiled at her.

"I said I wouldn't hurt you, Mari. And that includes this. If and when you feel you are ready, and not before. First times should never be causes for regret." He was smiling, his expression still slightly mischievous, but there was a strong note of sincerity in his voice. "Never be afraid to say no to me. Or anyone." he added as an afterthought, and winked.

"Okay!" Mari beamed at him, a delicate pink blush highlighting her beauty. He'd said 'if'. He'd said 'when you feel ready'. A moment of doubt assailed her. "You don't mind? I heard a lot of guys dump girls that don't... you know."

"Have sex?" Ravi suggested with a grin. "Oh, many do. It all depends on what one is willing to wait for." He gave her another direct look, the golden flecks in his green eyes shimmering. "But no, I don't mind."

"Oh. Good." Mari smiled back. "Because the kissing is really good and... well, I was hoping we could do more... of that?" She blushed again. "I haven't really kissed on a guy before... before you." Ravi's smile became a grin.

"Well, in that case more kissing is in order." he scooted closer, wrapping an arm around her waist and lifting her onto his lap. "I'm glad you told me that, because I wouldn't have guessed." he told Mari seriously as he looked into her eyes. "You kiss very well."

"I do?" Mari asked shyly as slid her lithe arms around his shoulders, feeling the muscles under the shirt shift under her touch.

"Oh yes." Ravi said as he kissed her again. "But after this kissing, you've got to go. I've a room to put straight and we have to meet up early." He said with mock-severity. "So that means no more than..." he pretended to count. "Four hours of making out. Got that, young lady?"

Mari's giggling accompanied the creak of the bedsprings as the two hormonally-overactive teens settled in.

PantherChapterMotif.gif

She'd left after three hours, her lips full and red from a lot of kissing, her hair mussed, and feeling a little loose-limbed from all the endorphins coursing through her frame. Ravi lay on the bed a while after Mari had left, breathing in her scent and trying to quiet his raging libido.

Gods! What was it about her? When Mari was near, he felt as though a bright shard of his own being reflected the light inside her, it's illumination chasing away his baser self, soothing his anger, replacing animal lust with tender desire. But the light faded to a memory when she was gone, a glimmer in the red darkness of his self. He really didn't mind waiting until Mari was comfortable enough for sex... because it was Mari. Every other girl expressing similar reluctance he'd encountered he'd either worked on a little, seducing them halfway out of their virtue and letting them complete the trip, or moved on from in the case of those who had tiresome adherence to their prudishness. Though sometimes the prudes were fun to play with, because their bodies were not prudish. Flesh wasn't moral, or prissy. Flesh didn't care about ethics. The body wanted what the body wanted, and though the mind could deny it, that only set up disharmony between the two.

"Deep thoughts. Damn, I need sex." he muttered aloud before sitting up and looking around his room. "Either that or the person responsible for this and five minutes." Half-sighing, half-growling he slid from the bed and started to set things in order. He would have to bathe before bed. No way in hell was he waking up earlier than strictly necessary.

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