The Stoat-Away

by Stealthcat

Atherlney sighed loudly and clenched his ribs. He bled in several places on his legs and chest. No one knew he was out here. He’d been so sure of himself. At the very least he could communicate back for help he thought but that fight left him near drained. There WAS another way home, he just needed to find it...

He found his salvation in the oddest form.

Not far off from where he sat, a small creature foraged. It was moving so fast, but the mage knew a few spells to slow it down.

As if jabbed by an invisible bolt of lightning, the animal stopped and shuddered, it then turned and very slowly stalked toward Atherlney, confusion wrought on its features.

“Here... to me.” He whispered.

The stoat looked at him for a long moment, somewhere between fleeing and approaching, just looking at the mage.

Atherlney reached out as far as his hand would extend, until he pulled a muscle and fumbled forward in pain.

He flinched and pulled his hand back when he felt something prodding it. Looking up he could see the stoat sniffing at his fingers.

“Just a bit... closer.”

He coaxed it onto his palm, until the spell failed leaving the stoat wild once more but it no longer mattered as it was right where he wanted it.

Atherlney whispered a single word and the two began to glow. The small animal chittered in fear but it could not move. The mage began to... shrink and fade. His body was being drawn into the stoat. It was taxing on him, but the creature’s own aura would supplement him. With all of the energy he had left, the mage’s essence dissolved into the creature until there was nothing left but the stoat sitting on the grass next to a pile of blood soaked clothes.

“Now go!” A voice echoed.

The animal was off like a bolt.

Coe chittered angrily when a small thing began biting his tail and toes. He eventually grabbed it by the tail and held it upside down, wondering how the bloody thing even got inside. The raccoon found a bucket and dropped the stoat in, placing a large book on top. Even it if were a keeper it was still crazy and dangerous...

The healer sighed and inspected his feet for cuts and bruises. He could hear the angry little thing stirring but never did he expect the bucket to tremble and glow!

Coe gasped and walked backward from the bucket, heading to the door but after a matter of moments the book burst off, its pages fluttering as it spun to the ground. Then a strange white/yellow cloud swirled out. It began to shrink and solidify into the form of a person. Coe couldn’t tell if the cloud was sentient or not as it seemed to ‘aim’ for the closest bed yet missed it, a male human body materialised in mid air and fell to the ground.

The raccoon rushed to the figure. He could tell the man was gravely injured and all thoughts of stoats and magic were banished to the back of his mind as he got to work, albeit vigilant for other surprises.

“Can you hear me? Can you tell me your name?”

“Stupid thing...” The man groaned, “Wasn’t supposed to run all the way here.”

“Can you hear my voice?” The healer persisted. Coe feared infection, fever, and other such nasty things from the wounds he’d seen. And judging from his patient’s first words, he was mindful of hallucinations. “Can you see me?”

“Atherlney is... my name.” He said weakly, “I was ambushed.”

“You’re lucky to be alive, I still don’t know what happened but you’re wounds have been dressed. You still need a lot of rest.”

“Who’s that?” Atherlney pointed behind Coe.

The raccoon grimaced and reached to feel the mage’s forehead... Coe removed the damp cloth to replace it. When he turned around his tongue caught in his mouth. Standing before him was a full grown stoat morph.

“What happened?” It asked in a feminine voice. “I was in the fields.”

“I...” Coe stuttered, “You...Yes, I’m sure of it. You’re Leine. You were reported missing several weeks ago.”

The female stoat stood there for a long time, as did the raccoon.

“It happened to me, I lost my mind. I remember now... I... oh, gods.”

They were both interrupted from a loud groan from behind.

“That’s why you were so difficult.” Atherlney chuckled weakly, “I thought I sensed something inside.”

“I’ll return with clothes.” Coe said bluntly as he looked at the stoat woman’s face, “Please remain here.” He said and retreated from the room.

Leine slowly walked toward the bandaged man resting on the bed. She took his hand in hers and stroked it.

“You brought me back?”

“I was trying to stowaway and coax you back to my village.” He said in a fatigued huff. “Let’s just consider this a trade.”

Atherlney gasped softly when she licked his nose, “your essence, it felt... pure, I mean, not evil or greedy like a bad wizard.”

“Are... you trying to tell me something?” The man asked tiredly.

“Ah...” She blushed. “I don’t suppose...”

“Are you seeing anyone?” He asked for her.