He woke up to find himself remaining in his own body, the spell still holding...but it did not feel like he would revert to his seven-year-old self if he dropped it.
To risk it, or not to...I do feel awfully silly, having a spell intended to make me look like me, active for no purpose...
He strode over to the mirror, speaking a word in High Speech and performing the mudra for Supernal Vision, then stood there, studying himself under the Sight, analysing the spells active on him. The shields still held, and there were...one, two, three patterns resonating with Life, which should indicate that it should be safe.
Willing the spell making him look...exactly like himself...to fade away, he gave a half-smile to his reflection when it did not change.
As he stalked into the kitchen to make himself breakfast, he caught sight of himself in the hall mirror, distorted by the angle, taller, thinner...skeletal?
Is this just my mind playing tricks on me, after last night? The shape...heh, no, that was not what I'd woken up as yesterday...but didn't really feel like showing Silence that...enough memories, or familiar faces, especially as they've now seen my sister, which was perhaps rather careless of me...what next, my father from his wedding photo...or mother? No, it was an exercise in creativity, both shapes last night...curious to note he was sort of...transparent, though.
Putting the kettle on, he dug out some bacon and eggs from the fridge, and started to heat a pan.
The Astral is a strange place, and...how was Viola even trapped there? Talking about carelessness, that Seer now knew his face...or at least his Astral self, close enough to the real thing. How boorish he was...needs more work on his act as an agent provocateur, or...learn to listen. But...should I really try to understand the Seers, and their philosophy? That House guy seems to have been fed a lot of propaganda...how can you, after having sought, after having Awakened...turn your back on all that? Just stop looking, and bend knee to some hoary old, self-grasping tyrants?
Checking the pan was heated, he threw some rashers of bacon in, and made a cup of tea.
What if...I mean, it can't be just that they're bought off with money and temporal power? Not every Seer is a petty tyrant in the making, right? Sure, some kill, some degrade, but...they are all human, like we are all human. We might claim to be Awakened, but we're Awakened humans...mostly. Bar possibly that place I heard of, that Astral thing...the Wellspring?
Taking a sip of his tea, he noticed a piece of long, red hair as he put the mug down again, reaching over to pick it up, and studied it.
Hmm..whose can this be? Not Wraithborn...his hair's brown, and Joe's got way too short...did Wraithborn bring Sophia over? Nah, hers is also the wrong colour. Not mine...oh, no, it is...was...
Shaking his head, he reached over and binned it, resuming his breakfast.
Of course...Jean's hair...my hair...not sure where the distinction goes. Huh...how odd. I can't let the Seers win, though, or that would be denying Jean, as well as everyone else, to their fate...and that's who I'm fighting for, isn't it? Al too, of course, but she...well, I love her, and she's wonderful, and already Awakened, so she knows...could Jean somehow do so? Didn't that happen in Hatfield...Does that Wellspring perhaps hold an answer?
Finishing his breakfast, he cleaned away the plate, and prepared to leave, as his mind kept churning.
I better ask someone who knows, like I should ask if the rotes can be replicated somehow. Possibly that requires a deeper understanding of magic and the Abyss, but...perhaps some things aren't meant to be understood, and from what Tristan had said, the Abyss...no, not good. More luck trying to understand the Seers, as they'd just shoot you, not...change you. Even so...even so, that doesn't mean I shouldn't try. Fear is there to keep you alive, by keeping you safe, but without pushing yourself...you'll never grow.
What does form mean? Silence said she'd had that conversation already recently...what does it matter for who you are, what you do, how others react? Does it matter if they know it is still you, just in different flesh? Who are you, really...does the body matter for that, or merely for what you become, the choices and decisions you make to take you where you are...and isn't that being who you are? A tattoo is a permanent change to the body, a statement...and some of us can add or subtract such at will...perhaps that is the ultimate in self-expression, of sorts...and a privilege thousands...millions might even kill for...not that that'd help. At what price...our humanity?
He woke up himself, or at least the body he'd been using for the last 20-odd years.
Tending to the mundanities of life, he sat down by the kitchen table, fishing out the iron dagger, one finger tracing the lines of the Atlantean rune for Mastigos, then sat back, angling the blade so he could gaze at it, and opened his mind to the communications network...only to find Talks apparently having taken his mostly flippant comment very badly.
Can I blame him, though, judging from my own reactions the other day? Being overprotective...I can understand that, even if it is not healthy...lashing out, especially when someone might not want the protection you wish to grant...or cocoon them in. Well...maybe one day, I'll know him better, and he won't be so hasty, but considering the trigger-happy nature of some of us, I see the concern.
Coming home from work, he shrugged out of the raincoat, hanging it to dry, he stalked through the currently empty house, listening for the sound of cats. Hearing nothing, he stalked over to the laptop. Leaving it to boot up, he slid into the kitchen silently, and boiled the kettle, returning with a cup of tea and logged into his laptop.
Nothing particularly interesting there, bar Jupiter's response to his elaboration...no matter how enlightened, this was still a society of paranoia, and some questions were better asked in private.
He half-smiled curiously at the line staring back at him, the black letters that said "It will probably not reassure you to know that my response is: Fascinating, I have no idea!"
Still...if it can be done, it can be done again, and sure, a price to pay, but that was only to be expected. Hopefully Jupiter could suggest some places to start looking into the matter, at least.
He woke up in a body that felt instinctively natural, and it was not until he stalked over to the door that he discovered, to his surprise, a vexing problem.
Oh...I'm a panther...that'd explain why this at once feels so natural, so natural that I didn't even notice, and why...<hunt, hungry, feed>...no, yes, hungry, will deal with it.
Turning, he looked round the room, pacing, leaping up on the bed, then down again, returning to the door.
<Trapped!> No! Not trapped! Let me just...
Approaching the door, he placed one paw on the door handle, and tried to pull inwards, the door slowly moving an inch. Down on the floor again, he tried to drag the door inwards further, one paw reaching between the frame and the door, and managed to wriggle it in sufficiently to do so after some trial-and-error.
Stalking out into the living room, he glanced back towards his bed briefly, shaking his head as he took in the remains of his duvet, and the shredded pieces of black material that had, just a few hours earlier, been a pair of boxers.
Note to self: sleep naked until this is resolved, and...put aside money for a new mattress. Possibly leave the door open slightly, too...
Distracted by a sound outside, he realised it was a car passing on the road, the familiar sound odd to the expanded frequency range of the panther.
<Hungry!> Can't feed like this...nothing to hunt, and I'm not risking a portal just for breakfast. Can wake Wraithborn, if he's...no, no one's in. Can't phone... <Hunt!>
Instinct and reason warring, the panther stood perfectly still, only moving when a car backfired outside, slightly startled. It was at that point he noticed the absence of cats...he could sense them, nearby, and hear them...and their fear. He was the predator here, more so than ever, and they kept their distance.
Stalking over towards the ritual chamber, leaping up and pulling down on the door handle, the door slid inwards.
Glancing round the room, the panther studied the room, taking in the feeling of the Hallow, the sensation of being a wolf in sheep's clothing...curiously lessened, being as he was a wolf in wolf's clothing, so to speak.
Yeah, this'll be interesting...never tried a ritual as a panther. Let's see...
Trying to work his jaw sufficiently to utter the words of the High Speech repeatedly, only to be met with growls of various pitches, he eventually gave up on that track, and thought about the other components.
Can't scribble a drawing...not really what claws are for. Clothes...can wait. Pacing...can do. Oh, paint for glyphs...nah, not going to work, so...
Flicking out the claws on one paw as he moved it closer to his other leg, he jumped, and almost fell over, scrambling so fast he hit the wall with a loud *thud*. Shaking his head, the pain quickly receding, he slowly stood up, breathing slowly, then lay down, closing his eyes, trying to meditate, centre himself.
Rising a few minutes later, he walked over to the centre of the room, slowly reaching one paw towards the other leg, bracing for the instincts. As soon as he extended the claws, there they were again.
<No harm. Weakness!> No! Not weakness! Necessary! <No harm!> Look, we'll heal! Not harm...for long. Just some blood, some runes...and it'll heal!
Steeling himself against the self-preservation instincts of a wild beast, he sheathed his claws long enough to distract his senses, before slashing at his leg with lightning speed. Stumbling slightly, he heard the noise as claws dug into the floor, the body restless, wanting to move, get away...but there was nothing to get away from. When he was sure he was in control, he shook the leg, letting the blood fall to the floor, drop by crimson drop, until finally there was enough. Focusing briefly, he felt in his soul how the flesh knit together, the flow of blood stopped...it was not a spell, but still, not something he could have done in the middle of a ritual casting.
Extending a claw again, he ran it through the pooled blood, and started to, as best he could, trace the rune combining the Practice of Compelling and the Prime Arcanum onto the floor in front of him, the paw moving in large swirls.
As he did so, he began to form an imago in his mind, slowly building up an image of himself...his human self, in his mind, but not as last time. No, this time there was the panther, not becoming formless and re-shaping, but shattering, leaving behind the body of a man...himself.
Minutes later, done with the crude rune, he took a step back, and with a paw dipped in what remained of the blood, made a larger glyph, with deft strokes.
Once completed, he started to pace restlessly, letting the panther move as his mind focused on building the Imago, not wanting the instincts to intrude and disrupt the spell...and he kept pacing, and pacing, and pacing, clawing at the floor, walking round in circles, clockwise, counter-clockwise...until another hour had passed, the Imago complete...pulling on the Supernal, he felt power coursing through him...and a second later, he was standing there, his normal self again, bloody glyph on his inner arm, and stark naked.
Good thing none of them have returned yet...and man, I must avoid doing that in the future. What if an instinct had snapped me out of the spell...better clean up this blood too, but first...breakfast.
Stalking out of the meditation chamber, he swiftly headed into his room, glancing at the mess that was his bed before pulling out a new pair of boxers, getting dressed, and finally, moved into the kitchen, starting to make breakfast.
He woke up shorter, and, after nearly falling on his face climbing out of the bed, he realised also with a lame left arm.
Shuffling over to the mirror, he squinted, trying to make out the reflection.
Near-sighted, clearly...what's that...purple thing on my face? Hair doesn't come in purple...oh, that's some sort of...skin condition?
Reaching up with his right hand, he felt the skin, and traced an outline round most of the right side of his face, raised and definitely rough, pock-marked.
Wait...that's...that’s Mr McKerrell. Too bitter by half...
Struggling into clothes, he fashioned as best he could a sling for the left arm, as he’d seen his physics teacher wear, to remember to keep it out of the way, then disappeared into the bathroom, cursing as he struggled with other mundane tasks.
Eventually emerging, he settled for a cup of tea and a bowl of cereal for breakfast, seating himself by the table.
I do wonder why I dreamt of him last night...was this a nightmare, perhaps? I have little love for him. Sure, when he did teach, he was good, but too often...is it hate, then? But...hate of him? Hate of what he is, what he represents, his deformities? My fears of being trapped in a body not my own, a body ill-suited to what I do? A subtle warning to not do what I do, perhaps, or a reflection of my soul, if I keep employing violence...No, I'm reading too much into this. A nightmare, sure...and why wouldn't it be scary...as they say, though, walk a mile in a man's shoes. A learning experience...one does not judge a book by its cover, and perhaps...compassion for all. Not, of course, a shape I would ever have chosen consciously, but there is just so much to understand...so many uncomfortable truths to face...will we one day see a society where everyone can change their shape at will...or where we can exist, formlessly, disembodied minds?
He stood up, slowly, and walked over towards the dishwasher, trying to carry everything in one hand...then put it all down again, so he could open the dishwasher with his one good hand, putting everything away with some irritation.
That completed, he made his way over towards the stairs, and then down to the training room.
Just because I am wearing a different body doesn't mean I shouldn't practice...as long as it still has a purpose, and surely it will? Keeps my mind honed, if not the muscle memory...or does it? Could I, when shape-shifting, include a muscle memory in the Imago of the spell? Do I even understand the body well enough that that'd be a wise idea? Hmm...Adaptability is Strength.
Reaching out to hit the light switch, he stood there for a few seconds, wondering why the light wasn't turning on, then remembered...the light switch is on the left side of the door.
Well, this will certainly be a learning experience...I do hope I can take that with me later...no matter whether form matters or not to us, it does to...everyone that isn't willing or able to undergo surgery, or quite adept with the Life Arcanum. But...where are we going, as a species? Has evolution stopped, or can it be guided, to build a stronger...more adaptable humanity?
Lights on, he looked round the room, and set about adapting his usual routine for his current physical state.
I think I see, perhaps, why Mr McKerrell was so bitter, and I understand that...but we cannot accept that bitterness, we must shun it...
He woke up, and was satisfied to find that he was, in fact, himself.
Today...today, we banish a demon back to hell for eternity...or at least a millennium. Glad I don't have to worry about any distractions...
He got out of bed, pulled on a pair of trousers, and stalked into the bathroom.
Finished, Hunter headed for the kitchen, and started frying some bacon and eggs, putting water on the boil for tea.
Stalking over to the door, he grabbed the newspaper, and scanned the headlines as he flipped the eggs, then sat down with the meal and focused on the newspaper properly.
Breakfast done, he did the washing up, and returned to his room.
Once there, he pulled the rifles out of the large sports bag, checking they were all in working order, and that he had spare bullets. Moving on, he pulled out a shirt, and a spare set of clothing, just in case, adding it to the bag.
Checking the outer compartment, he made sure the flashlight batteries worked, the coil of rope was whole and not fraying, and the food and water were there.
Strapping the bowie knife to his belt, he then grabbed the bag, and strode out into the hallway, nodded once to Joe and Wraithborn, grabbed his hat, and strode out.