Of Dreamer and Dreams

by Prof

A good dozen of them had made it through the breach. I don't know what they had expected. Surely they hoped for weak resistance, believing our forces too far stretched to allow reserves.

Well, my brothers and I are standing here to prove them wrong.

Only a few of us against them. Experienced, battle-hardened mercenaries in heavy armor facing us: unarmored men in simple garb. Like me all of them members of the orthodox wing, true to the word of the founder, Armin the pious, to never use a weapon on the holy ground the academy was built on.

I see it dawning in their eyes, overshadowed by helmets and ventails: they're as good as dead.

We don't intend to give them time to act. Our greatest advantage is speed, we use it.

Gusts of flames and overheated steam lashing out from my left and right side. Brother Camiel and Brother Devon from the fire aspect are striking first, disrupting our opponents' formation, making openings for the rest of us.

My first adversary knows what he's doing. Calmly he's waiting for me to make the first move, to intercept my attack with a swift counter, trusting the greater reach of his sword.

I block the sharp steel with my left bracer, hidden under the sleeve of my tunic. The man's leather gloves discouraging me from sending a shock through the metal of his weapon, instead I fill the steel of my bracer with energy; invoke in it the power of a mighty lodestone.

Like glued on, his blade now clings to my arm and with a jerk of the same I sweep it to the side, out of my way and almost out of his hand. Clearly I surprised him. But instinctively he tries to cover the gap in his defense with his shield. To no avail. It's not his head or chest I'm aiming at. It's the bright patch of bare skin between the arm armor and his shoulder protection.

A slight touch with my right hand there, a not so slightly deep tap into the academy's energy well and his movement stops, as every muscle in his body cramps suddenly. Literally petrified for one eye blink, until I let go and he's falling to the ground.

What follows is a kaleidoscope of horrible, violent images. That stops turning as the enemy retreats.

In the relative silence that falls on the walls and buildings of the academy, there's not a single cheer audible. We all know they will be back soon. Better prepared and with greater force.

No time to linger around and muse. The wounded need someone to aid them. Also the dead.

One Hour later...

I found a shady place beneath the leaves of the only tree left in the garden, the rest felled for building timber. Eager for an opportunity to rest my weary flesh I sit down there.

The extent of my exhaustion occurs to me when I feel a mild touch on my shoulder, seemingly only a second after, waking me with a start. I fell asleep! And there's still so much to do.

"Easy, Brother Master. You have done quite a lot today. I just wanted to ask you if you are thirsty."

It's Brother Grandmaster Marcellus, prelate of the earth aspect. One of the highest ranking preceptors of the academy, handing me a bowl with water. And it doesn't matters how bad I had needed a moment of rest, after more use of elemental powers than healthy for me. Just looking at him makes me feel guilty. Every bet he had not a single minute of relaxation. Not even the time to wash his hands or face.

After the enemy tore a breach into the east wall, Marcellus practically singlehandedly held them up until Brother Master William and Brother Conrad could raise it again. The Grandmaster's robes were in tatters, but under the tears his skin showed not a single scratch. His body, attuned to the very bedrock of our home, isn't easily harmed.

The same goes for his endurance, one could tell. Never one of those who deemed simple handout below their dignity, he had equipped himself with bucket and bowl to tend the parched throats of his brethren.

I gratefully accept the offered refreshment, gulping it down greedy.

"Not so hasty, Brother Master, there is plenty left", the Grandmaster assures me.

And again. The first time I might've just imagined things. But now I'm sure I got it right. "Brother... Master?"

"At last, I almost thought I would have to say it a third time", he smiles. "These are the last days of our community", he declares, reading in my expression I'm unable to follow. "Although there will be no more promotion ceremonies in the great hall, today you fought hard and with great skill. Worthy being called a Master. It may be not much worth, but in my eyes you are a true Brother Master."

It may not, for me this means a lot, though. Never mind we're probably all dead soon.

Marcellus offers me a second bowl. I accept. Lost in thought I look at my reflection in the water...

Dustin starts up from his sound sleep. His crisis-honed senses rising to full attention in an eye blink. A noise had woken him, one of the troubling ones.

Not quite certain what is happening, but a careful man after the events of winter assault, he softly shakes his wife awake. "Be quiet", he whispers in her ear, holding a little hand over her mouth. "Something's not right. Stay here, I'll look around."

Almost soundless he slips out of the bed and takes his favorite knife from the nightstand. Unsheathing it, he calls up the beast and shifts into half-wolf form. Anyone who might estimate a family of children an easy target had a nasty surprise coming his way.

On silent paw pads the wolf boy sneaks though the open bedroom door into the living room. Pitch-black darkness fills the apartment. Not really a problem. In his wolf form, Dustin's eyes weren't that good anyway. Nevertheless, his now heightened senses of smell and hearing made more than up for it.

The only noises perceptible are Tamara, slowly opening a drawer on her nightstand; and the soft breathing of Andrei and Lucy from their own room, easy to hear through the half-open door. A little perplexed he's testing the air, but no unusual scents either. Had it all been a dream in the end?

There! Unmistakably someone is also opening a drawer, more like ripping it out of its case. And then scattering its contents all over the floor.

Dustin's head whirls around. It came from Mark's room! It isn't like the big cat to make such brouhaha in the middle of the night. Sometimes you're not even sure he's in there. Could it be really a burglar?

His chaps are sliding up to reveal small but well-kept and very sharp teeth. He all but formally adopted Mark into his household. The slightly moony morph is a part of his family! On winter assault he had to stay in wolf shape for three full days to keep his secret. Some people in the Keep still knew "David Redfield", later named "Redhand". Whoever was in there, if he had hurt Mark, he was about to find out where that nickname came from!

Gently, gently he lifts the latch. Thank the gods Mark never locks it. With the first crack open, the light of a single, lonely candle falls into the living room. Good, a little light makes it easier to aim, the knife in his hand spinning around until he has it by the blade, ready to be thrown.

He risks a peek through the crack. After a moment he opens it wide, not believing what he's seeing.

Mark sits on the floor, naked (never bothering with blankets or even a nightgown), his fur a tangled mess. The content of his desk drawer, his valued drawing supplies carelessly strewn around. Styli, brushes, quills, pens and he in the middle. With a piece of charcoal he's furiously scribbling into his notebook. The look on his face one of plain desperation.

Now Dustin can hear him muttering, under his breath, jittery and short-winded: "Can't let it slip. Can't let it slip. Can't let it slip..."

The knife glides from numb fingers, falling to the floor. Weapons aren't necessary here. But what else? It practically causes Dustin physical pain to see his friend in this state. But he does not dare to approach him, out of fear the snow cat would lose the thread he's so frantically trying to hold tight.

Suddenly Mara is at his side. Quietly she shakes her head and guides him back into the living room, where they sit down in uneasy silence.

It's gone.

Finally I find the resolution to admit it. For a single, fleeting moment I was more than I am now. I had a connection to an entire life that happened before I woke up in that clearing. To a man with a name he didn't give to himself, to a man with old friends, comrades, duties, maybe a family. And a purpose in life.

It's gone now and I am only Mark Dreamer again.

I set my notebook back to the floor where I'm sitting. A crude drawing spreads over one of the pages. It's a human face, that much is discernable, but smeared so much from sketching, erasing and re-drawing, it's almost impossible to tell which gender. Let alone ethnicity. It's taunting me, showing blatantly clear my inability to capture the fast-fading image in my mind. My original, ordinary, un-cursed humanoid face, reflected in a bowl of water.

A spike of red hot anger hits me. The book lies already on the floorboards, so I throw the charcoal piece against the wall. No, I won't cry, I refuse!

I get up and snatch my kilt from the drawer. I need to go out, breathe some fresh air and clear my mind. A door had appeared some when during the night, next to the piece of furniture. This happens sometimes. Usually it leads to one of the hallways (but in at least two occasions to a closet). It is a hallway, thankfully. I don't want to risk walking into Dustin or Mara and explain the ruckus I produced.

Aimless I wander through the keep; there's no better place for it, though.

After some time, maybe an hour, I start to notice a pattern. It's seldom the keep actually blocks your way, but it likes to plant hints, if it wants you to reach a certain destination. Unobtrusively, but very persistent.

The same door, again and again. So I stop to take a closer look. It's too nice for a storage room – and too small, the latch at a similar height like the ones in Dustin's apartment. A small door for a small person. Another age regressed keeper maybe, or one of the short animal cursed – or both, like Kiba. It's not the little coon boy's, though. The carvings on the frame are different.

I hesitate to knock, it's in the middle of the night, after all. But, would Lady Kyia really play me such a prank? Aw, what the heck, the worst that could happen are some harsh words. Without further delay I knock.

The echo of my quick knock fades only to be replaced by the scuffling of shorts claws - definitely a short animal cursed then - followed by the faint ruffling of cloth and a suggestion of metal against metal. The steps come from deep within, and I tense as I wait to see who Kyia wishes me to meet. The door swings inward without delay, revealing an interior lit only by the lantern carried by the keeper within.

Already expecting a short animal, I had been looking down as if I were conversing with Dustin while walking through the Keep. I have to look even further down to reach the head of the Keeper before me. Standing perhaps a little over three feet tall, with large, round ears, big black eyes sitting on either side of a long triangular snout that ends in a wicked array of whickers and two very noticeable incisors, while behind him a long, lightly furred tail danced just above the masonry, is unquestionably a mouse. He's dressed in evening linens and draped in a rich blue robe with a silver threaded sash tied about his middle. He's carrying the lantern as high as he can with the flame as dim as possible, nose twitching as he regards me.

"Who are you, oh knave, to interrupt my studies? It is a beautiful night for watching the stars and perusing old charts. Now you've gone and made me ruin my night eyes." His tail flicks to one side and he set his free paw on his hip, while his head tilts ever so slightly to one side as he looks at me. "So then, speak up! Who are you and to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"

I expected weary eyes, a gruff voice and the loud bang of a closed door. Well, my expectations and the outcome never had the best relationship. Obviously my opposite is wide awake, more than me, in fact. And although annoyed he's trying at least to be polite. Plus, he effortlessly drove me into defense.

"Uhm..." not good, not good. Think faster! I breathe deep and indicate a bow. "My deepest apologies for disturbing your studies, star-gazer. My name is Mark and... Well, the lady of the Keep wants me to meet you." Oh great, did you just say that? You're lucky if he doesn't scream for the guard right now.

No yell so far. Actually he doesn't do anything besides blinking once for a couple of moments.

"And what brings you to the conclusion the keep wants us to meet?" Then his hand comes up, reaching out, intending to shake mine. "Anyways, I am Kindle."

He is not the only one to blink. Maybe this will not end in another stay in the dungeons. Delighted I grab the offered hand - and fight down the disturbing urge to scratch him between his ears (or chase him across the keep). His paw has a comfortable grip, but his fingers are definitely slender. "If I'm honest, it's more a wild guess. You see, I passed your door about ten times this night. Not without a reason, I assumed."

The mouse morph folds his ears behind his head and gestures to the darkened hall behind him. "Well, since the Keep led you here, come inside and we can be more properly introduced. Do you like the stars?" So saying, Kindle steps back inside the hall behind the door, and moves toward an open passage in the back that is even darker. I follow him into the hallway - with a narrow ceiling, my ears almost brushing the boards. Surprisingly the feeling I get it is more comfy than restrictive.

My host pauses before entering the darkened room and chitters. "Could you shut the door? You're letting in all the light."

"Sure." I close the door, and although the torches in the hallway out there were dim, the change in lighting is noticeable. Blessed be my cat eyes, Kindle's lamp is more than enough to avoid stubbing my toes against one of the numerous stables of books and/or crates in the passageway. Definitely a man of the sciences. "If I think about it, I honestly don't know if I like the stars. Actually this might be the first occasion in a long time for me to look at them."

That elicits a short, quiet laugh from him as he guides me back into a small room which opens out onto a balcony. The cool October air is pressing into my fur, not an unpleasant sensation, though. This body was made for it.

The mouse sets his lamp on the floor and then returns to a small chair in front of the low railing. "Well, Mark, I am also just beginning to learn more about them. So I'm afraid if the Keep wants you to learn about the Heavens, it won't be for a while."

Now I'm here, and I feel obliged to take a moment and look up to the object my host dedicates his time to. The stars are wonderful, of course, but... just there. The last time I felt that uninterested was when I tried out a bow on the shooting range. At this point I think it is better to try to change the subject. "Somehow I don't think it is the heavens why I'm here. Can I ask you what you're doing normally?"

Kindle chitters under his breath as he makes a note on the pad before him. "Mostly I spend my time on patrols as a field mage. It's why when I'm back home at the Keep I like to do something peaceful. And what of you, Mark; what do you do?"

"Searching", I reply without a thought. And in reaction to his puzzled expression I add: "For myself. You see, I lost my memories. Everything before the curse took me is gone. My only occupation in the last few weeks was searching for clues about my former, my real life. Dustin meant I should consult a mage. Well, there was this weird incident last night, and... You're a mage!" Winded I stop my ranting. By the gods, I start to sound like Dustin. Self-control, Mark!

Kindle turns away from the stars with a surprised expression, first shocked, and then sorrowful. "I'm very sorry to hear what happened. Perhaps I can help a little. Tell me what you do know. And who is this Dustin?"

I lift my ears and mouth corners to give Kindle a reassuring smile. "Dustin is my best friend here and my host for the meantime. He is age regressed and works as a scout in Skylarks squad. He can testify everything that happened." I stop for a heartbeat to collect my scattered thoughts. Where to begin? How about... "Have you ever rubbed your fur for some time and then touched a metallic surface?"

The mouse runs one paw through the fur on his arm, pushing up the sleeve of his blue robe as he does so. "It doesn't work as well with mice as it does with cats. But I know what you mean."

"You're blessed with your short fur" I say. "Anyways, imagine the flash enhanced by at least a tenfold. That's what hit Dustin when we chinked our jars. And after that when he tried to touch mine with his bare hand. I'm still skeptical, but he suggested I should search out a mage. In most occasions he is right and I'm desperate for answers about me."

"So, you need someone to test you for magic abilities, and if there are some, what kind. Am I right so far?"

"This sums it up, pretty much. Would you be interested?"

"Yes, but not yet."

My disappointment is heavy and something of it seems to seep into my body language, because the mouse adds: "See, it's late, Mark. And you are looking like you haven't found sleep for a while now. Magic isn't something you approach tired out. Besides, there is still this clear, cloudless night for my studies."

"So how about a meeting later, say, tomorrow?" I have no intention to let him off the hook, this is too important.

... "Now tell me what you see."

I open my eyes and it's almost like I lift my lids for the first time completely...

But it's probably better I start a little earlier in my narration.

I met Kindle after lunch, to give us the opportunity to catch up with some sleep. We started with a relaxed talk, back in his study, in which the mouse tried to elicit what I know about magic. A repetitive issue, he usually asked questions and I shrugged.

His conclusion as expected: "We better start at the beginning.

"I took the liberty to use my mage sight on you. There might be some talent in you, but we have a lot of work to do before we know if that's true. And even more than that to determine what sort of mage you might be."

Our first step, to wake my own mage sight, if any. The concentration- and focus exercises the furred mage showed me felt comfortingly familiar. Automatically I reached into my belt pouch to retrieve notebook and pen, breaking concentration on the way. The ink was already uncorked until I noticed Kindle's baffled expression.

I produced something between laugh and an embarrassed cough. "Erm, sorry. I made it a habit to jot down practically everything that could give me a clue about my life so far. A note about each activity I try out, and if it feels like I've done it before - or not. Guess that went a little overboard."

"You don't have to apologize, I understand" he assured me. "Just let it rest aside for the time being. I could give you pointers when you write it down later."

Back to the present moment. I have vast difficulties to describe what I'm seeing when I'm using my mage sight. Nothing beyond the mundane reveals itself with a distinctive shape or color.

No, that's misleading. Actually everything is clear and defined – until I try to compare it with the non-magical world, then it slips my grasp.

So I see these... shapes and at the same time feel them somewhere behind my eyes. A mixture of almost-seeing and almost-sensing. I guess I lost you here, at the latest. Well, it may sound harsh, but get your own magic eye and you might understand, or not, depends on your personal approach to magic.

Also, that proves there is some magic talent hidden in this fuzzy hull. I now have a direction where to head in my further investigations! I can't help it, I jump up (almost bashing my head on the low ceiling), snatch Kindle in a hug, ignore his startled yelp and whirl in a silly dance through his study. To this I yell the joy of my conquest at the top of my lungs – and gather a good share of spider webs with my ears on the way.

Eventually I come to my senses and the constant stream of "Thankyouthankyouthankyou" trickles down to a lone, mortified "Uhm, sorry." Carefully I set him back to his feet and straighten his disheveled clothing a little. A task I end as quickly as I started it (stop it; he's a grown man, for god's sake!).

The mouse takes it with reasonable countenance. "My my, aren't we excitable today." He smirks. "It is encouraging to see you have enough vigor left to go to the next step. Shall we?"

What else could I do than eagerly agree?

Frustrating hours went by; an emotion that made itself a constant acquaintance of mine. You learn either to deal with it or you go totally bonkers. I'm still here, though (alongside with comrade frustration) with a mind in fairly intact state. But fighting it is tiring. The more for my teacher, who seems not as used to failure. He doesn't speak it out, he is too polite to do so, but his body language betrays his doubt.

"I think we should stop here." I have feared this moment, it's not the patient: "Try it again.", like the previous times. It hurts, but he's probably right. Weird dreams and dancing sparks don't make me a...

"Maybe we are storming too hastily in one direction. You seem to be bogging down."

With most other people these words would have been the intro to a lame excuse to end the torment and resume it "somewhere else" (read: never). Not with Kindle; his supportive smile and his scent tell me of his determination (and of healthy diet, why's my mouth suddenly watering?). This mouse hasn't given up yet.

"Fire and air are avoiding your grasp, that's vexing, nevertheless let's try it with something less likely instead. After the phenomenon you described I surmised an affinity for one of those elements in you. Also, it is easier for most pupils to imagine themselves lighting a candle or summoning a gust of wind. That's the most basic magic, the sort you'd find at carnivals. But it might have come across the wrong way. My apologies Mark, no offense was intended."

"None taken" I answer, already acquainted to his sharp tongue. "Please continue."

"Earth is a sturdy, some might say stubborn element", the mouse declares. "Reluctant to let itself be manipulated. It takes less finesse, but more force to get a grip on it. A novice's store of power is slim, so training with this element is usually scheduled for later lessons. But you, on the other side, are no beginner."

He places a pebble on the table. "See what you can do with it. And take your time."

And take your time. I suppress a groan. This phrase has seen a lot of use during the day, worn thin in a lot of places. Breathing in, breathing out I focus on my mage sight. With intensity, born out of pent-up anger I reach out to the smooth piece of stone before me...

What the daedra I'm doing on the floor?

And who's the idiot who's lifting my eye lid to let the searing daylight flood my head?

Wait a moment, why are my eyes closed? Am I sure I'm not sleeping? Positive, forehead hurts too much. I'm awake, if you stretch the definition a tad.

A warm glow appears within the pulsating pain and spreads from there, soothing the ache and driving away the fog from my mind.

"Mark? Can you hear me?"

Now I do, finally able to identify this buzzing sound as a high-pitched voice. Kindle. The touch on my forehead is his hand and the warm sensation must be a healing spell. Magic can be a handy thing.

"Kindle, why am I lying on your floor?" A moment later I add: "It is your floor, right?"

"It is. You and my floor are now officially introduced."

My eyes, a moment ago perfectly comfortable being half lid are open in a heartbeat. Stunned I'm gaping at the mouse, who himself seems surprised about this snarky comment.

I can't help, I just have to laugh, then wince because it makes my head hurt anew, and then laugh even more. "By the gods, mouse, are you sure you don't know Dustin?" I giggle. "To get back to my first question: What happened?"

He nods. "Indeed, but excuse me if I return yours with a counter question first: What is the last thing you recall?"

He's passing the ball back to me. No fair, although helpful to sort out my thoughts. So, what happened? I remember I got a hold on the first strand of earth my mental tools could seize.

"I really did it, right?" I ask, beaming probably bigger than ever in my life. A grin I reduce to a tight-lipped smile, after Kindle recoils from me by almost a foot. The display of an entire mouthful of sharp, feline teeth can be unnerving, all the more if you're a rodent. More restrained I try it anew: "Well, it worked?"

"Erm, it worked, kind of. The definition is rather strained, though. You knocked yourself out with that stone. "

"It did float, I knew it!" No doubt, my triumph-laden expression confuses the mage to no end.

"Float? The crack when it collided with your forehead was loud enough to be heard at the other side of the valley. I was seriously afraid you killed yourself! We have to thank Eli you have such a thick skull."

I raise an unsteady hand to flick one of my fuzzy ears. "According to a certain healer, and I quote her: ‘Everything between those lugs is solid bone, not even the expected hollow space'. Hits on my head don't hit anything vital." Aww, poor Kindle, gallows humor is wasted on him at the moment, so I change subject. With his help – more good intention than actual support, after all, he's a scrawny little snack... mouse! I was about to say mouse! – We're managing it to lie me down on his more comfortable divan.

"Your opinion, Kindle. What do you think?"

For a time he's crossing his arms and looks to the ceiling, then nods. "You have a strong affinity for the earth element. It's awful early and unprofessional to speculate, but you could be a more specialized user of the magic arts; perhaps of southern tutelage."

Can't help it, I have to smirk and also show my fangs again. "Southern, eh? You realize that, from our point of view, practically everything is south?"

"Well, then the possibility of me being wrong is slim", he giggles. "Kidding aside, do you know about the difference between the magic traditions of the northern and southern parts of our world?"

"Now I know there is one."

He sighs. "To make it short and very simple: Northern tradition is mostly generalist, the mages of the south are more specialized on certain aspects of magic."

"Ah, now I follow. Someone like Dustin's ‘firefoxy'."


"A little, gray, grumpy, flame throwing fox mage he knows."

"Oh, that one." Enthusiasm certainly looks different. "He is a special case. In every definition of the term."

We call it a day at this point. We have much achieved and I need to recover from the hit I took. I shall see a physician and inform Kindle when I'm ready to continue our session. And the mage insists I see a healer first. At least it's an excuse to visit Kiba.

I close the door to my room and lock out the noise from Dustin's bubbly household. As much as I would've liked to spend more time with them, exhaustion kicks in hard. Tired enough to not even discuss with Kiba, after he demanded, I have to wait at least three days until my next lesson in magic.

Placing the candlestick on the nightstand, I fall onto my bed, with a pleased, heart deep sigh. Questionable tactical decision, now it's harder to remove belt and kilt. The thought of standing up is crossing my mind, but leaves unnoticed. After some struggling my sparse clothing rests beside me; my gaze falls upon the belt pouch. There's a notebook that demands attention, but for one time I choose to ignore it. Gods, I'm tired...

A good dozen of them had made it through the breach. I don't know what they had expected. Surely they hoped for weak resistance, believing our forces too far stretched to allow reserves.

Well, my brothers and I are standing here to prove them wrong...

Bleary eyes are still not able to look straight, but my hand is already searching where I left my stuff earlier. Retrieving book and writing utensils a series of well-known motions, it practically works by itself. The candle is still lit and had only devoured three hours' worth of wax by now. So much for sleeping.

Forgotten is the crushing tiredness that forced me down. A nervous, giddy energy makes my body shaking in eagerness to bring down to paper, what occurred to me in sleep – again!

This time, though, I'm able to keep most of it.

Pensively I read through what I've written during the last two-or-so hours; several pages, filled with my awful, haste-driven handwriting. The gaps in the descriptions are gaping holes to me. No, still no clue what my human face once looked like. And the academy, what was its full name or mine, damn it?!

I bury my mouth in a pillow to stifle a cry of frustration. Calm down, Mark! You made great progress today, don't be so bloody stupid. See the glass as what it is: Half full instead of half empty! And it is, I mean, that's totally awesome! Suddenly there isn't just a stranger with no past, protagonist of so many tacky adventure stories. My memories are coming back.

Oh, I'm surely grinning like an idiot now. It's a small miracle I'm not jumping around, screaming like a donkey. I'd like to, though. Oooh yeah, but I don't want to wake my hosts up. Tomorrow is early enough to break the good news to them, maybe reinforced with research in the library.

Tomorrow is tomorrow. Now I'm in the mood to visit the Deaf Mule. Gods, listen to me, I can't stop giggling. Screw it, I don't care! Let them look at me funny, I hope they will have more reason to, when I'm coming back from the tavern.

With a bounce unthinkable a few hours ago I jump out of the bed and toward the drawer. My good kilt, the one made from dark blue wool seems proper.

The cold tiles beneath my paws sparking (or re-evoking) another recall, letting me pause on my way to the door. The one about this grandmaster who gave me water, who called me brother master. About him, attuned to the solid rock under his bare feet. A strong affinity to rock you said, Kindle? I somehow know what to do. It's exactly like the painful experience with the piano. Only this time my clumsy fingers won't be required.

Finally an art my body will not stand in the way. Kiba said I have to wait, but I can't, I have to try it out or it will rip me apart!

I close my eyes and focus on the stone all around me, going through the mental routines which flowing, one by one, back to me. At first it's weird, the longer it goes, though, it's like slipping on an old shoe (would be rough on those furry paws, but I guess you get my picture). I start to sense the hewn granite on floor and walls on a level I cannot define (again this magic-versus-mundane thingy), its age, its hardness, its portly weight.

Slowly, slowly it becomes a part of me. I feel heavy, but not the heaviness of exhaustion, more like accumulating bulk, together with the additional strength it brings. With the power comes coldness. Well, that's a little unsettling. Stone is the opposite of warm, living flesh, but does it have to feel so uncomfortable? And a slight at first, but rapidly increasing numbness climbs up my legs.

Wait, what?!

With a start my eyes are open. I would have stumbled around for a few steps, because with concentration equilibrium left me likewise. Emphasis on "would", since My. Legs. Don't. Move!

It's like my paws are bolted down to the tiles. Doesn't matter what I'm trying, I get not even a flinch, like everything below my hip turned... to... stone.

Merciful gods, I didn't, did I? Relax Mark, breathe. Panic won't do you any good. All right, with a moment of relative calm I realize that the numbness is still creeping higher!

Serenity gets kicked out of the estate, as I let loose the most embarrassing, girly scream everyone will ever hear from me again. Somewhere on the way I'm running out of air, just in time to hear the patting of little feet, nearing swiftly.

Dustin, of course; wide eyed, bed headed, fluttering nightgown, knife in his clenched fist. After noticing I'm alone and no monster jumped out from nowhere, he assumes a less stressed posture and lowers his weapon. "Sheesh, Spotty, what happened now?" And because he is Dustin, he simply has to ask: "Don't tell me you're afraid of spiders?" He does it with this annoying smile, dancing on the edge between provoking the urge to laugh alongside and the wish to slap him

I don't think of either one, arms now frozen, too. "No time for jokes, get Kindle!" I bark, returning his perplexed expression with a more urgent: "The mage, quick!"

Argh, no! I can't move my jaw anymore!