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World of Darkness: The Academy - Chapter 9: Everyone's Dirty Underwear

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Ravi wasn't quite sure how to deal with the sudden caressing push of Sylvia's tongue on his shoulders. Instinct fed him the information that as long as she didn't try to assume a dominant position, such as holding him down with a paw, this grooming was acceptable to his pride. And it felt good, that was the short of it. It was a sensation linked with acceptance and bonding, a gesture of affection. But this was Ms Dorn, who Ravi didn't really get along with, hadn't really gotten along with since he'd swanned into her History lesson late and spent the entire session playing eye-flirt with Frida. He didn't respect the authority she'd held over him back on Earth as Lancaster Housemother, the self-assurance bordering on arrogance that was his nature finding little to respect in a live-in babysitter. He had more regard for her as a teacher, and that first lesson aside was actually a pretty good student. The point of all this was why was Ms Dorn, who went to professional pains to be uninteresting to hormonal young men, currently showing such unfeigned affection for him.

Sylvia could feel the powerful muscles of the shoulders untensing under the insistent caress of her tongue, and the (*male*) panther's head turned towards her as she continued to groom him. The large eyes were curious as they regarded her, but the warning rumble had gone, replaced only with the steady breathing of the two animals and, outside, the howl of the wind. Then she felt Ravi's tongue on her neck as he bent his head around and began to groom her in turn.

This was new territory, and a part of Sylvia remarked to the rest of her that it was problematic, dangerous territory. Her sharp nose and keen reason told her that Ravi gave off pheromones with dominance and aphrodisiac properties, a strong allure to females of the right gender-bias. In his human form, to human women that made him hard to resist. In his animal shape, to her increased senses, that gave 'her cub' an almost irresistable primal draw that went to certain areas of her brain without bothering to consult her consciousness. Sylvia tried not to think about the last time she'd... No, that would be a bad idea to think about in here, next to the warm bulk of (*the male*) with his own tongue rasping across her collarbone.

On the other hand, he was calmer now, right? And it felt good, to be close to someone for a little while after what seemed like a lifetime of isolated duty and loneliness. She just had to make sure it didn't go too far, even if he did smell really, really good...

Ravi felt the rasp of Sylvia's tongue become interspersed with brushes from her chin or cheek against him as the pantheress leaned into his body. A small *chuff* of air and flick of one ear asked the question as he continued to groom her: "Sylvia-female: why come? Thought not-friend. Thought not-like."

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Sean had run off before Mari had the chance to say goodnight and the mysterious Swan had vanished into another room. Together with Renata she stepped into the little room. The place was bare and Spartan. But for the bed and the wardrobe, there wasn’t much of anything to look at. Mari pulled her furs from her slender shoulders and piled the borrowed clothing at the foot of the bed. She glanced back as Renata banged the door shut and then busied herself with stuffing her backpack into the simple, sturdy wardrobe.

“This hotel sucks,” Renata observed, sitting on the low, wide bed and poking it experimentally. “There’s no cable, no pool.” She shook her head solemnly, “Service is fucking terrible...”

“I hate that they call him that.” Mari answered. The young girl turned from the wardrobe and Ren could see that despite her attempts at levity, Mari’s expression was still tight with barely controlled emotion. Ren patted the bed next to her thigh and waited for Mari to sit.

Beast-skinned.” Mari elaborated without prompting. She swallowed and bit her lip. Ren could only see her in profile, Mari’s long chocolate brown hair spilling messily all over her shoulders, mussed by the sharp winds and marked with crystals of ice where the snow had fallen and frozen. “It just sounds so...so...”

“Savage?” Ren supplied.

“Yeah. Savage.” Mari sighed and laid down, dropping flat on her back across the bed. Outside, she knew, was a void of swirling snow. He’s out there right now, alone in the cold. But maybe that wasn’t right. Ms. Dorn had gone after Ravi. She’s a panther too... Mari had to remind herself. Maybe she can help him more than I can. It hurt deeply to admit, but truth was more important than pride.

“Mari,” Renata said carefully, “let's go to sleep. We’ll look for him first thing tomorrow. I promise.”

__________________

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

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Frida glanced back briefly at the door where Mari and Renata had disappeared, a flicker of irritation crossing her face briefly. Then she turned back to Ray and Yithaja, her expression neutral again, her voice smooth and seemingly emotionless.

"I do, indeed, seem to be able to see ghosts. Should I look around for any such spiritual intruders?"

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Ravi's question wasn't unfair. Sylvia had disapproved of his cavalier attitude in her classes, not to mention the rakish manner with which he'd quickly cut a swath through the female half of the student body. Her displeasure hadn't been hidden; she'd skewered the young aristocrat with the patented Dorn Glare on multiple occasions, and sent him packing from the girls' side of Lancaster House more than once.

But that was a world away, where schedules and rules were the standard fare, where civilization didn't condone fights to the death, where people did not generally turn into animals in a literal sense. Here and now, things were very much different. Including, she thought to herself, that very, very good smell, which made it hard indeed to be objective. Focus, Sylvia... focus. He's your student, your charge. Not your mate.

In the rumbling, posture-laden way of panthers, she explained. "Ravi-male run, leave cubs. Worry cubs. Worry me. Find you, calm you."

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At Sylvia's words, Ravi stopped grooming her as a faint growl reverberated through his chest. She'd come to herd him back to the den like a mother-hen over a stray chick. And if he went, he'd be the boy that ran away for attention in their minds. Yet more judgement and censure, with added ridicule. To follow Sylvia back like a chastened cub... That wasn't him. That hadn't even been his way before he learned his true nature, what he really was. A small voice whispered that this was pride talking, senseless and foolish.

But really, what else did he have? What else is there to Ravi FitzCoventry other than his vanity, cruelty and petty malice, if he doesn't have pride? he mused darkly. A bored aristocrat, trying to be in love like an ape trying to wear Saville Row suits. A lecher and a rake, a spoiled boy-man. Always ready with a clever remark or a witty put-down. Have I ever truly struggled for anything before my Change? It was pride that kept me fighting the Beast that night. It was pride that forbade me to give up the struggle and die, that stopped me killing friend and stranger alike. About the only thing I can positively say of myself is that I lay down for no-one and nothing - because of pride. He shifted his weight away from Sylvia, a clear, albeit polite rejection.

Not cub anymore he grumbled, swinging his head away from her and resting it back on his forepaws. Hunter. Killer. Dangerous. Sylvia-female should go back, look after cubs. They need. He turned his eyes back to her, his outward calm reflected in the sheen on the green-gold surface. I do not need. Look after self.

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The rejection hadn't been unexpected. The shift in pheromones and scents however was, and it hit Sylvia with surprising force.

It wasn't easy to do in the small space afforded, but she turned her sleek mass to face the young male. It would not be easy to convey what she needed to convey in this form, with the limited vocabulary available to cats. But her more familiar form lay stubbornly out of reach. Probably for the best, she realized after a moment of trying to change. I'd probably freeze to death.

Accepting the limitation, she did her best to make her point.

"Ravi-male not cub. Back are cubs. Should protect. Sylvia-female hunter-killer too. Dangerous. But still protect. Sean-fighter not ready. Ryan-runner like rabbit. Mari...." Here, Sylvia paused. She'd seen how the two were when together, and there just wasn't another term for it in panther-speak. "Mari-mate need Ravi-male, protect."

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"Mari-mate..." The larger panther shifted and grumbled. "Mari-mate not-need. Renata-female take care of Mari."

"We all need!" Sylvia insisted, butting her head against his shoulder. "I need. Cannot protect alone." She sounded a little plaintive, even to her own ears. Part of it was the thought of returning to Earth without at least one of the students under her care, of facing the smirking Pritchard and her undoubtedly smug expression when she learned that Sylvia had not been up to the task. Part of it was the very real possibility that, without them all working together, without Ravi's senses and savagery backing up her own, other cubs would stray or die. And there was, of course, the restrained frustration with the young man/panther who was being very much a young man right now. And sharp reminders to clean up his act probably wouldn't have any positive effect on the situation, either. Still, a little tooth and claw wouldn't hurt. "Mari-mate CARES for you, stupid male. Other cubs too. Abandon them?"

Ravi's grumble became a growl. "Not abandon!" He sighed, a massive exhalation that sounded like a bellows. "Need time think. Need time alone."

"No time. Cubs leave in dawn. Cubs need. Sylvia need." Sylvia leaned her shoulder against his, and this time he didn't shift away. "Return. Women-fighters not angry. No punish." For a long moment Ravi was still, thinking as his saucer-sized eyes regarded her. Then he pushed back against her with his shoulder and started to crawl from the den.

"Fine. Ravi return." Clearing the shelter, he turned in the snow and regarded Sylvia as she started to wriggle out herself. A soft *chuff* sound heralded a moment of good humor as he padded forwards and nuzzled against her cheek, his scent once more turning playful. "Try keep up, Sylvia-female." In a flash of midnight black fur and green eyes, he started to lope away, heading back to the settlement.

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There was a pregnant moment. Becor didn’t look at Joram, but the other stood up, shaking snow from his clothing. “I will be going,” he said, glancing at Ryan. “Good journeys to you.” He gave Becor the same farewell before turning to go.

“Wait, you’re leaving?” Ryan asked. He felt a little like he was being handed off to someone else.

“Becor will be instructing you, and I must return to my studies,” Joram told him. “Becor will take good care of you.” With that, he was gone.

Becor blinked at Joram as he left. Something that the other had said surprised him, but he didn’t remark on it as he returned his attention to Ryan. “I should assess your abilities. What else can you do besides see without eyes?” Becor asked.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

“As you wish,” Yithaja said, readjusting the furs about her shoulders. Without a further word, she followed Ray back to the area. Before they stepped onto the street, she took the heavy Morningstar off of her belt and put it into her hand, holding the heavy weapon easily. She had a short knife in the other hand.

“Show us how it happened, Ray,” she said, her green eyes falling on him. “Unless, you see already, Ghost-Touched.”

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Ryan watched, such as it was, as Joram headed off into the Amazon town. After a moment he brought his focus back around to Becor, "Umm... nothin' really." Ryan offered an apologetic shrug, "It's only been a couple few days, I'm kinda still gettin' used to it." Becor was about to reply when Ryan added, rambling, "I mean I can totally do other stuff, like I can climb crazy well, an' jump, an' like I'm totally ninja." He subsided, just long enough for the other to try and seize the opening given, before launching into another blitz of words, "I mean I can kinda see how the door thingy works, it's like bubbles an' they touch an' the door let's you go from one bubble to the other, but that's it really, I don' even know what I'm supposed ta be able to do!"

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Becor nodded. "You are as a child then," he said. At Ryan's look, he added, "Considering that most never surpass our infants, it is a compliment on your skills. You can see as we see, which is the foundation to the rest. All space, all things are made of concrete barriers and formations that you can sense. These barriers no longer impede your eyes-”

“Yeah, no shit,” Ryan said, already bored. This was starting to sound like school.

Becor stared at him for a long moment. “We must teach you to stop the bubbles that you sense from the Door. To do that, you must learn to manipulate, destroy and create them. When you can create them, you will master the Door.” He looked around. “Do you wish to do this here, or wait and attempt this somewhere more private?”

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Ray nodded and walked a short distance before turning around to begin. "I got Renata and Mari to agree to return... and I'm walking back." The part about mocking Renata's bluster was an extraneous detail. Then as he reached the point of being grabbed he stopped short. "Here, something wraps around my legs, lifts me up into the air and turns me upside down and drops me into the snow."

He dropped down to a squatting position, no need to go all the way to make the point. "I roll out," he settled back into the original combat stance he had held- even still he could suspect Yithaja was scrutinizing his form and fighting posture while listening to the tale and watching the reenactment- "knife ready. I spend a short time listening and looking for tracks. Nothing heard, no tracks. Then I look against the wind, the snow impacts nothing. Like there is a ghost there indeed. Or was there, it probably left by then."

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PantherChapterMotif.gif

The trip back, Sylvia reflected, could have been worse.

At first, Ravi left her in the dust, her only glimpses of him flashes of tail and haunches as he jinked between the trees in a full-out run. As she powered along behind him, following his (distractingly male) scent she couldn't help but ponder that, for a spoiled pampered rich kid, Ravi took very well to being a panther.

A little too well, she mused five minutes later as she shook snow out of her fur. Ravi had somehow managed to not only disappear from sight completely for a few moments, but had used that time to ambush her from above and to the left, pouncing on the Lancaster house-mother and bowling her over in the snow before darting away again, as light on his feet as a housecat. She snarled at him warningly as he reversed course and came near again, only to brush his head against her shoulder playfully before turning on a dime and racing off, with another silent urging for her to keep up. She tried to stay above the playfulness, recognising the flirt for what it was and ruthlessly jumping up and down on her instincts, which were not the sort of instincts a responsible educator should be having about a student, who was also technically a minor. But on four legs or two, Ravi was good at playing the very Devil with good intentions, and it was with a mixture of relief and disappointment that Sylvia saw the stockade wall of Doorhold ahead.

Ravi didn't even slow down, heading up and over the wooden stockade as a fast-moving glimmer of black and green. The Chideran he went past swore something and raised her weapon, only to lower it once more.

"It's the Beast-Skinned ones." she called to the other sentries. "The female must have fetched the big one back." She nodded at Sylvia as the female panther crested the wall, but didn't move to bar her progress either as she dropped into the town streets alongside the now-waiting Ravi. Side by side, the two cats paced in the direction the scents of their friends led them.

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Mari hesitated at Renata's entreaty, but finally nodded and sat on the corner of the 'bed,' which wasn't much more than soft furs over soft hay or something. Despite that, it was curiously comfortable. They sat on opposite edges, facing away from each other as they undressed, then slipped under the covers. For Ren, it was a struggle...she could feel the fur shift as Mari moved, hear the fabric snapping and sliding over skin. Was she naked? Had she left anything on? Ren didn't know, but not knowing was enough to let her mind run wild. Even so, once they were under the covers, despite being in one bed, it was big enough that any titillating value was much reduced. It didn't really FEEL like the same bed.

Mari was surprised at how tired she was once she started to relax. It was actually somewhat jarring when Renata broke the awkward silence between them and asked, "So...you're an angel?"

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"Stop ... the bubbles?" Ryan had no idea what that even meant, let alone how to do it. "Umm, well do we need a lot of space or somethin'? I don' really know my way around here, unless you can take us back to Dalton, Earth I mean, then here seems as good as any." Ryan shivered and opened his eyes. He realized with a start that the sun had started to go down and dark dusk was moving toward darkness, The air was cold and getting colder. "Actually it's gettin' cold out here, so mebbe we should find somewhere warmer." He craned his head around, "Umm, I think I can find the place they took us earlier."

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Frida followed Ray and Yithaja, trying (and failing) to suppress a shiver at the frigid cold. She didn't see anything initially, but for the first time, she tried - looking around the area, trying to push away the physical and focus on the spiritual. Her appearance, which had before only suggested a vagueness around the edges, became slightly more insubstantial, as if she were fading deeper into the world of the dead and further away from that of the living.

Rolling for Speak with the Dead: 6d10[7,7,9,4,1,6] = 1 suxx

http://invisiblecast...r/view/3161276/

Dawn: I misunderstood the WP rules, thinking it added auto-successes, I must be mixing this up with another game or something. I often forget about burning WP in these games. If it's okay, I'm going to re-roll the whole thing, choosing to burn a WP for the extra three dice (now that I understand how it works). If this isn't okay and you want me to go with the original roll, that's fine, just let me know and I'll modify it and delete the second roll.

Rolling for Speak with the Dead: 9d109d10[9,8,2,1,1,7,10,6,5] = 3 suxx.

http://invisiblecast...r/view/3161280/

On a funny note, I accidentally hit the "Roll the Dice" button twice, and accidentally did two rolls. Obviously for fairness, I listed the first roll (since the second one was unintentional), but here's what the second roll came up:

[8,8,9,9,9,9,6,9,9] = (76)

http://invisiblecast...r/view/3161281/

Talk about seeing dead people!!! LOL!

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“I’m not an angel.” Mari answered after a long pause. She wasn’t even sure she’d heard right at first, and then she wasn’t sure if Renata was teasing her. Her friend’s tone didn’t seem to suggest it, but sometimes it was hard to tell with Ren. Mari cast a puzzled glance over her shoulder, then turned back to face the wall, clutching her feathery pillow more tightly.

“If it wasn’t for me, that woman wouldn’t be dead. I got her killed.” Mari blamed herself unfairly. Strangely, though she felt a deep sadness that reflected in her voice, Mari had no urge to cry, no irresistible sting of tears behind her eyes. The fatigue in her body was bone deep, and it seemed to wipe away all other concerns. The oddness of the question, the awkwardness of climbing into bed and lying next to Renata in nothing but her panties, the ache of Ravi’s…mistake, all of it was crushed flat under the weight of Mari’s exhaustion. “I’m not an angel.” She repeated, so quietly that Ren could barely hear.

__________________

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

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"You didn't see yourself," Renata said without looking around. "This beam of light shot in through the roof right onto you, and...you sounded different. Kind of echoey. And your eyes..." she trailed away, her voice turning a little dreamy. "...they looked like fire. If that's not an angel, what is?"

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Mari flopped onto her back, pulling her end of the furry blankets up to her chin. Some of the sleepiness had left her. “What,” she asked Renata, her eyes on the ceiling, “are you talking about?”

__________________

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

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There was nothing around that Frida could see, and no clear targets for Yithaja and her chunk of metal. With a shrug, the Chideran put away her weapons. "I sense nothing, Ray sees nothing, and the Ghost-Touched has no ghosts. It is time for bed. I will walk you back, Frida." Ray didn't ask for an escort; he wasn't really considered a guest here anymore. Besides, he should be able to defend himself, right?

Yithaja and Frida returned, picking their way through the snowy streets. For all that Yithaja had seemed dismissive of the attack on Ray, she remained at a heightened state of alertness on the walk back. They met two great panthers at the door; Frida jumped instinctively, but Yithaja merely smiled. "I will have clothing brought for you," she told them, "unless you are Beast-skinned who preserve your garments?" Both cats shook their heads and Yithaja nodded. "Come, follow me to your rooms."

Sylvia's room was first so Yithaja showed her first, then led Ravi to his room. She tapped on the door before pushing it open. "Your other mate is here, Light-bearer," she announced without looking within the room. She waited for Ravi to enter, holding the door for him.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

"Yes, somwhere private," Becor told Ryan. "I would prefer somewhere indoors, away from other people. Led the way back to the place you were before." Ryan nodded and started his trek back, leaping and juking his way across walls, roofs and rarely on the ground. Becor followed, his long coat snapping behind him. But where Ryan used his legs and jumped or climbed, Becor teleported the short distances between places. It was like what Ryan did, but way easier. Ryan also noticed that the alien used bubbles similar to the Door; it seemed that the two talents were linked.

Back at the mess hall, Ryan found he'd been left behind. "Typical," the kid snorted, ignoring the fact that he'd made it impossible to find him. The food and drink were gone and the fire had been banked; the shadows were long in the hall and it was very unlikely that they would be disturbed.

"Here?" Becor asked, looking around.

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Ray trudged through the snow, returning to his humble and most small abode. His thoughts were heavily fixed about what had just happened. Had he tripped and imagined the interference of something that wasn't there? No, he decided firmly, something had did something to him. So either it was a ghost (one that had vacated the area of the incident beforehand), or something else entirely had been responsible. Either way, not much good could be done about this, unless it happened again and he reacted quicker.

The creaking door opened up, as Ray pulled it through the doorway. He was amazed that it was still holding up to the winds at times. He shut it behind him and looked over his hovel. The one room living space had a bed with blankets in the corner, and the hearth where the fireplace and food cooking took place was dark, he noted, the fire having not been re-lit recently today. That would not do in these cold nights. Using his knife and some flint stones, he knelt in front of the fireplace and scratched out enough sparks to light up the wood.

After spending the time to stoke the flames to produce enough heat to assist the furs and blankets as needed, Ray got onto his bed, thoroughly exhausted at this late hour. He pulled the blankets tighter over him and the furs closer... and Morpheus claimed him quickly.

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Frida berated herself for her reaction - she was on edge, her senses strained from searching for ghosts, and the fear of having to interact with them again. She started to say something to Ravi, but he walked past her towards Mari and Renata's room. Frida's lips pressed together slightly - after all, it wasn't as if she hadn't been rejected for the little Catholic girl already - but at the last minute, as Ravi was about to pad lightly into the room, Frida called out to him with the unearthly, chill, echoey sound that was her voice on this side of the door.

"Ravi?"

He paused, turning those green-gold eyes towards her, studying her intently. She lingered for a moment, and it almost seemed as if she had nothing else to say save his name. But then finally she spoke, her voice sad but sincere.

"We are who we are. I'm glad you came back."

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Renata had her mouth open to reply to Mari, was forming the sounds, when Yithaja popped in to announce Ravi as if he was friggin' royalty or something. Annoyed now, Renata decided she'd had enough of the 'mate' thing.

"Look, Yithaja, Mari hasn't got a 'mate' yet, alright?" she said. "Where we come from, she's considered too young. Hell so am I. Ravi too, not that he really worries much about that. Anyway, the point is that I'm Mari's friend and Ravi's..her boyfriend, I guess...which is not the same as a mate."

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At Frida's words the sleek black killer paused again, paws the span of a man's head shifting him around noiselessly to half-face the ethereally lovely girl. He considered her for a moment, then padded to Frida's side and raising his great head half-butted, half-rubbed his cheek against her chest, sliding the unwounded side of his body against hers. Frida braced herself against the 'hug' - though gentle it was still sufficient to put her on her backside in the snow if she hadn't steadied against the nearest solid object... which was Ravi himself. He rumbled softly as her hand alighted on his back, the top of his raised head almost level with her chin as he turned his face to her. Frida could see the gash Selih had made with her sword on his other shoulder, but the wound was nowhere near as severe as it had appeared at first, now seeming to be a scabbed over day-old wound rather than one inflicted merely an hour or so past. Large green-gold eyes blinked lazily at her, and he turned and butted / rubbed the other side of his face against her before stepping away, the tip of his tail twitching slightly as Renata's waspish tone carried out into the night air.

Someone's being very defensive. he thought with a mixture of amusement and irritation. Ahh well. Like a wise girl said, we are who we are. In Renata's case, that's frustrated and afraid to voice her own feelings. Not my problem.

"However you would have it." Yithaja replied to Ren's assertion with a touch of steel in her own voice as Ravi approached the open doorway. "It is not for you to say. It is for the Light-bearer and the Beast-Skin to decide what is between them... Just as it is for you and the Light-bearer to determine what is between you." Sensing the faint brush of Ravi's presence behind her, the striking Chideran moved aside a little.

To Renata and Mari's eyes in the dim firelight of the hut, their first glimpse of the returned prodigal was the flames of the hearth reflecting in emerald-gold eyes roughly three feet from the ground. As Ravi stalked into the building, it was for all the world as though the night outside had taken solid form around the sparks of his eyes. He regarded the two girls with his head low and the tip of his curved tail swishing slightly, the powerful muscles under the glossy black hide rolling as he approached the fire, and settled before it as Yithaja shut the door, leaving the three alone. Getting comfortable by the hearth, Ravi returned to watching the two of them, head raised and eyes intent as he lounged as only cats can.

It was the eyes that shattered the illusion that they were in a hut with a normal, albeit oversized beast. The eyes were intelligent, imbuing the feline features around them with an animus that was more than a simple predator. They were Ravi's eyes, and in their gold-and green shimmer was wry, patient watchfulness that masked a taut defensiveness and expectation of... something.

PantherChapterMotif.gif

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“Ravi!” Mari had blurted as soon as the panther strode into the room. She sat up sharply, forgetting for a moment that she was topless. And so it was, as the furs that blanketed her slipped to her waist and pooled there, that Ravi saw his girlfriend’s breasts for the first time...as a panther. They were small, as he had already surmised, but they were perky and perfectly shaped, and Ravi would have happily continued devouring them with his eyes, had Mari not slid her legs out of the bed, grabbed the faded green BAYSL 2005 tee, and pulled it over her head. The shirt left a mess of chocolate colored hair in its wake, and robbed Ravi and Renata both of further contemplation of the Light-bringer’s breasts.

Thus, clad only in panties and tee-shirt, Mari sprung from the bed and approached the panther lounging by the fire. Eagerness gave way to caution as she came closer, her apprehension no doubt increased by Renata’s hissed warning: “Mari, be careful!”

“It’s okay.” Mari said, as much to reassure Renata as herself. This was Ravi again, not the ravaging beast that killed Selih and fled snarling and roaring from the hall. How she knew it, Mari would not have been able to say. She simply did. She felt it in the prickling of the little hairs at the back of her neck. She felt it as tightness in her stomach and her throat. She felt it in the green gold glow of the panther’s eyes as she knelt before them. Those were Ravi’s eyes.

Mari sucked her breath in with a start as the enormous panther lifted his head off his paws, but it was not fear-stink Ravi sensed, but concern. She was looking at his wound. “Oh...Ravi...” What have you done? When she reached out for the blood-matted fur, Ravi tensed the thick muscles in his shoulders and gave a short warning growl.

“Can I touch it?” Mari asked meekly as she met the panther’s unsettling gaze. And though his little girlfriend was kneeling before him in front of a fire, slender brown thighs enticingly bare, her midriff showing between the waistband of her panties and the hem of her shirt, when Ravi had dreamed of hearing her speak those very same words, he hadn’t pictured it quite like this.

Edited for lameness

__________________

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

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She wasn't afraid of him now. Mildly cautious on the approach, which was understandable, but above all of that was the eagerness and excitement she'd felt seeing him again, and concern as she saw his wound. She wasn't lecturing or preaching to him with teary eyes: Sylvia had been right - Mari cared. And so did Frida. Her calm acceptance of him and Mari's tender concern were a balm to the troubled werepanther's twinned soul. His warning growl sank to a low grumble as he pressed his head against Mari's chest, forcing the slender teen to grab around the corded neck with one arm to steady herself against his nuzzle. Her other hand traced the wound with delicate fingers, outlining the curving slash made by a sharp sword. It was already scabbed-over, as though a day or so old rather than recent.

"Does it hurt?" she asked, the hand around his neck unconsciously stroking the sleek hide as she hugged him close. Ravi made a contented sighing sound and remained still as she tended to him, watching Renata through slitted eyes as Mari cradled his head to her chest. There wasn't malice so much in his gaze as wariness - he knew (or thought he knew) that Renata disliked him, and as far as the young nobleman was concerned the only proper response to hostility was to return it with interest. But Ren was Mari's friend, and that complicated the situation. So he just watched her as Mari fussed over him, now and then turning his head to nuzzle the girl and gaze into her eyes, the deep noise in his chest halfway between a grumble and a purr.

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Frida had smiled at Ravi's response, her fingers enjoying the silky feel of his fur even as she steadied herself for balance. She glanced at his shoulder with a touch of concern, but he didn't seem bothered much by it. And as he'd butted against her again with his cheek, she'd let her fingertips gently massage his non-injured shoulder the way one would a giant house-cat. But then he left.

Yithaja closed the door behind Ravi as he disappeared into the room, and turned back to the ghost-touched girl. Her fuzziness had faded now, a mere whisper of the spirit world still reflected in her appearance. It was always such, with those who spoke to both sides of the vale.. when they were connected more to the world of the dead, they resembled more closely the spirits they communicated with. But when they were more immersed in the present, then the touch of death was light upon them, and they could almost pass for a normal person.

Ravi's presence had obviously pulled Frida solidly back to the realms of the living, and as her eyes lingered on the door that Ravi had just disappeared behind, the reason was as obvious as the longing on the young artist's face. Yithaja moved towards her, to resume the escort, but Frida shook her head slightly, cutting the Chideran woman off.

"No.. no thank you. I remember the room. Please excuse me."

And with that, she made her way past the door behind which Ravi and the two girls were concealed towards the room that she and Autumn shared, the jealous side of her whispering that at least there would be nothing happening there tonight, with Renata present.

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Meanwhile, in her own small hut before her own small fire, the panther named Sylvia collapsed in a bone-weary, mentally exhausted and thoroughly discomfitted heap. It didn't help things worth a damn when, after mere moments within the shelter of the room, the werecreature found herself involuntarily pulled through a series of changes that left her human -- and thus furless and cold.

With what strength remained in her, Sylvia scrambled for the furs that largley comprised the bedding, burying herself and her frazzled nerves within their warmth.

There was every chance in the world that a nervous breakdown would have followed, had not sleep swept her away into nothingness.

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When Mari went to Ravi as if nothing had happened, the bottom fell out of Renata's world. She sat up in the pile of furs and watched as the room spun around inside her. When Mari hugged the panther, and it looked right at her as if challenging her to do something about it, she felt as if she were the one standing in the inn with her insides falling through shredded skin into a pile on the floor. She couldn't stay for this. There'd be nothing of her left by morning.

She retreated under the covers and grabbed her clothes where she'd dropped them, then dressed before emerging out from under the furs. Mari was still fussing over Ravi, who seemed perfectly happy to enjoy it in panther form. Renata got all the way to door before Mari noticed her and piped worriedly, "Renata, where are you going?"

Ren paused and forced a smile before looking around. "Getting some air. Annnd...I don't think you guys need a third wheel hanging around on your big reunion."

"It's freezing out there though," Mari protested.

"I've got my furs. And I won't go far."

"But..."

Renata sighed. "I'll see you soon."

She walked out into the night.

For a moment Mari wavered, not wanting to let her friend go out alone. But then the panther nudged her and growled plaintively, and she got back to paying him attention. Renata could take care of herself, and she seemed fine. If more than a half hour passed, then she'd tell the others. Including Yithaja and everyone. Then they'd go find her.

But first...Ravi was warm and soft and purring, and needed a hug.

(To be continued in a fic!)

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"Umm, sure?" Ryan sullenly poked the fire and threw a couple of logs on it, "Bet they forgot I came with 'em." He turned to Becor, "Like I said, I dunno what all is around here. So unless you wanna go to Earth, here's all I got." The logs started to blaze up. "They didn' even leave a note or something," he complained. "Whatever. OK, let's do this, show me how to do that stuff you did, that was awesome."

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"We will start simply," Becor said. "You will push this." As he spoke the last line, an invisible sphere of 'something' appeared on the table. "Reach out and move it without touching it. As so." The sphere rolled back and forth. "Manipulate what is there."

And thus began the longest class of Ryan's life.

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