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Wend was skeptical the moment Luke professed his extreme love of sushi. He didn't profess it verbally as much as show it while eating at every meal and mid-meal snack. And it was just the way he fed upon it. "Ravenously" was the only word that properly captured the display.
Wend thought this word while peeking over his book of calculus at Luke snacking on the sushi, in his usual chomping way. Wend cleared his throat. Luke didn't notice.
"Ah-hem," he said.
Luke paused, straightened up, and looked directly at Wend. This bothered Wend. Or, rather, the bright eyed excited expression he got when being spoken to, as if it were a treat in itself. "Yep, Wendal?"
"Must you, what's the word, slurp at your plate like that?"
Luke's expression fell. "But...how will I be able to obtain all of the fishy goodness down to the last fishy morsel of fishiness?"
Wend did not quite know how to answer. This was another thing that bothered him about Luke, his impressive capability to leave him tongue-tied. He shook his head and tried again. "I just need to study. That's all."
"I can go in the closet to eat if you wish."
"No, that's not..."
"I can go outside. I'm really sorry to bother you with my eating habits. Is there..."
"Luke, I don't..."
"Do you not want me to be your roommate? I can..."
"NO!" Wend yelled. He then noticed he had yelled, and Luke had sunk down into his seat, hiding behind his plate.
"I'm sorry, Luke. It's nothing. Really."
"Is it about your dad?"
"What? How do you know about that? I mean, no!"
Luke had sank further.
Wend pinched the bridge of his nose. "You must have just overheard. I'm sorry. College is just not what I expected...I would figure after two years I would have some sense what I wanted to do. I thought maybe getting off campus would be better. Perhaps it would take some of the stress off. And my dad gets all panicked. He wants me to..."
"College is weird," Luke said, slowly getting back in his seat. "I didn't really know what to expect either. It's a fun too. Ooo, do you want to come to that game group I go to? You would like the guys there. Even though their stat sheets on mythical creature are completely out of whack."
Bright-eyed and ever-optimistic Luke, the gleam shimmering in his eyes had not even flickered since that first moment that he'd inquired Wend about the co-rental. The freshman had been a pleasant change of attitude from the usual ragged college adventurer, and Wend took to him quickly, though his personality never quite agreed. He often wondered why he had fallen to Luke's charms in the first place.
“Hi there! I’m Luke. I’m really glad to meet you. I’m going to college here. Is this place for rent? Are you the lord of the house?”
Wend blinked at the zealous freshmen shaking his hand. Only a freshmen could be that cheerful. “I’m not the…landlord. I’m just staying here.”
“I saw this paper and it said that there was space.”
“Oh…I put that up. My last roommate had a nervous-breakdown...I’m Wendal. Most people call me Wend. And…you appear to be hugging me.”
“Oh, sorry. I’m just really excited to be here.”
“…you’re still hugging me.”
“Oh…sorry.” Luke finally released. “So, can I be your roommate?”
He looked at Luke’s face. There was just something infectious in the expression, something around the eyes that just made him melt. Wend found this worrisome on multiple levels. Wend knew he was doomed to say yes.
As a roommate, Luke was actually a good find in the long run. It was just the little things that rubbed Wend the wrong way. The cheerfulness, for one, the odd night hours for another. Usually on weekends and sometimes a few weekdays, at three am he heard the front door squeak open, the padding of boots down the hall, and the clanking of a mattress bend under weight. The day after, before class, Wend would rub down the muddy tracks from the hall with a series of sighs he hoped would wake Luke.
Wend knew Luke would clean up the mud he said something about it, with a smile at that, but he held it as some tangible item to hold against Luke if they ever got into one of those rumored roommate feuds.
It had not come close to that. Except for the long showers. One gasp from Wend at the water bill and Luke quickly agreed to cover all water costs from then on. Wend, though he thought it was silly in retrospect, could not stand how damned /nice/ Luke was.
And now Wend had snapped at Luke, and now Wend felt horrible about it. Snapping at Luke was like slapping a kitten.
"No. That's fine," Wend sighed, "How are your classes going?"
Luke's face brightened again. Wend knew he had opened the floodgates, but he was fine with it. As long as Luke retained such a romantic view of college, he supposed he ought to let Luke bubble about it, even if he tended to tone out Luke halfway though his flowery descriptions of the first class.
"...and do you know the fantastic things you can do with numbers. You can make them bigger or smaller, and there are numbers that can go on forever. Did you hear about pi? Sounds tasty, but even though you can't eat it, you can use it to measure circles and..."
Wend did find it strange how much Luke retained that feeling that only elementary students and strange graduate students contain: a love for school. He quietly laughed at this thought as he turned back to his calculus under the blanket of Luke's narrative.
Wend awoke in a pool of drool on the glass surface of the kitchen table. He slowly came to consciousness, wiping a sleeve across his wet face, then sorely pushing himself up. Ah, calculus and sleep had conspired again to put him into this position. He noticed a blanket had been draped over him. Luke. Of course. He was half surprised his roommate hadn't carried him to bed. The kitchen was dark, the echo of the clock ticking overhead, the soft green glow of the microwave shining 3:00 across the way, moonlight flittering in, giving the sink a strange glow. A click of a key in lock, the squeaking of the front door opening.
Wend got to his feet, stumbled to the kitchen door, and peeked into the hall. A shadow closing the front door. "Ah, the mysterious figure returns," he said in a low voice, words slurred from grogginess.
A startled squeaking, a clattering, perhaps the coat rack being knocked over, silence. Then, in a small whisper, "Wendal?"
"I always say call me Wend. That's what my friends call me. If I had friends. I suppose."
"I wasn't doing anything strange."
The words of Luke were half captured by Wend's mind. He couldn't quite separate them out, and his sleepiness was not dissipating, rather, making a comeback. He attempted muzzy grin at the shadow. Odd, seemed a little weirdly shaped. Not what a proper silhouette ought to be. More like what one of a childhood monster ought to look like. Sorta. Wend rubbed his face. "Yeah. Whatever. Just wipe your boots when you come in."
"Alright. You should go to sleep, Wend. Don't you have a test tomorrow?"
"Yeah, I suppose."
An arm went around his shoulders, leading him down the hall, onto his bed, under the covers. He would object, but his consciousness was quickly falling away until he lost it again.
The sun woke him, glittering through the blinds, in turn blinding Wend. He fell out of bed, murmuring murderous phrases under his breath. Memories of three am came to him blurry, making fragmented images. He rose from the floor, trying to piece them together, a puzzle with many parts missing. Mmm...he'd seen Luke. The details stopped there.
He made it to the hallway, down the hall, to the bathroom door, locked. The familiar whistle of the shower fixture rang out, steam flowed over Wend's toes from the doorjamb. Luke's infamous shower. Friday, hence, it would be longer, since it had been agreed, according to the schedule, that since Wend was not required on campus until noon, and Luke at ten. Hence, Luke could take one of his long showers, and then there would be enough time for the hot water to reboot and...this made much more sense when Luke had described it with accompanying charts.
Wend always wondered how Luke managed to keep going, since the hot water couldn't have lasted that long.
Wend placed his head on the door. He needed a shower to wake up though. There was no coffee filters in the kitchen, and he'd learned in semester one that chewing a mouthful of grounds for a quick pick-me-up in the morning was a bad idea. Friday. College paper. Reading grammar-error filled articles of juicy gossip might wake him up.
He wandered down the hall. He looked out at the frosty yard, a rolled up newspaper on the sidewalk beyond. The chill set the hair on his exposed arms and legs on end. Wend grasped at the coat rack, still half-aware, grabbing the first available item. Luke's sweatshirt. Wend glanced at the coat rack. Nothing else.
Go find his own ragged coat. Skip into the frosty morning in a t-shirt and shorts. Or...he took a look down the hall at the bathroom door...he pulled the sweatshirt over his head, it would only take a minute. The warmth was immediate and jarring, like a hug from a bear, without the mauling. He pulled up the hood and scampered outside, breath making a trail of fog on the way. By the time he picked up the paper, the comfort of the sweatshirt fully struck him. No wonder Luke wore this thing all the time. He hugged himself and relished the soft plush warm of the fabric.
"Who made this shirt?" he murmured, looking down at the chocolate brown sweatshirt for some tag. He noticed a word written in thread on the cuff of the left sleeve.
Then Wend couldn't say anymore.
O O O
Luke stopped the shower. He'd felt something. Something on the edge of his instincts. Something very odd.
He peeked out of the shower curtains. No, the toilet had not overflowed.
Luke did not take stopping a shower lightly. He loved standing under this indoor waterfall of warmth until the heat died down and the brisk cold started flowing, invigorating his soul. Not as enlightening as an actual waterfall, but it gave the right taste. He got out of the shower and quickly dressed, trying to place what would cause the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. The something that he'd felt remained a vague something. Luke had felt this something before. It did not feel like a hunter watching from the woods, a fish on the edge of being captured, or the thrill sliding on one's belly down a proper muddy slope.
The something felt almost electric.
Then he realized what the something was, just as a thunder rattled the bathroom. "Fishmuffins," he squeaked, opening the bathroom door. A little late in the year for a storm. Luke rather liked storms. It was in his blood. However, this seemed a little haphazard for his taste, just, something in the way the wind rattled against the house, a little too concentrated and unstable. Not the way he would compose a storm, to be sure. A flash filled the house, immediately followed by a boom of thunder. This was followed by the banging of a swinging screen door. Luke turned to the front door.
He stopped. He saw the empty coat rack. Wait...hadn't he...he'd left his shirt right there...but where...perhaps he'd just forgotten where he'd placed it, humans forgot where they put things all the time. They no talent for perception. They saw the world through a very small scope. That was one of the things Luke had noticed in his observations. He rather pitied Wendal for the fact.
The storm. The missing sweatshirt. No...couldn't be. Luke ran to the front door and looked out into the front yard, through the sheets of pounding rain, and he saw what he feared. He wrenched open the door, ran out, being saturated completely through a moment, he picked up the furry bundle from the middle of the lawn. It had been huddled around a soggy thing that had been a newspaper. Luke ran back inside, and stood there, dripping, afraid to look down at what he held. He stroked the thing, the autumn storm stopped being as erratic.
He slowly walked into the living room. He knelt down and placed the bundle onto the couch. Luke waited. Minutes passed. Eventually, the fuzzy bundle stirred, and uncoiled. Long sleek body, thick tail, streamlined face, a creature made for water that Luke knew all too well, the animal yawned with toothy jowls. It looked around warily until's gaze fell on Luke. It opened its mouth and squeaked. It closed its mouth. It opened its mouth again. It squeaked two more times. The creature seemed disconcerted now. It scratched behind one of its small twitching ears then paused. It turned to stare at the hind paw which was doing the ear-scratching. It's fore paw touched at the hind paw. It ended up staring at the forepaw, then feeling the forepaw to its face. It turned back to Luke.
The creature barked, loudly, as if saying, "Yeah?!" Actually, Luke /knew/ that's what the animal was saying.
"You...put on my sweatshirt, didn't you?"
The animal nodded rapidly.
"You read the inscription on the sleeve, didn't you?"
The animal nodded, slower this time.
"Well, I hope this doesn't put a strain on our roommate relationship or anything, but...at the moment, you are an...otter."
The otter stared blankly at Luke.
"Yes, you're an otter. I can explain, you see-"
Luke didn't have time to continue as the otter leapt at him with bared jaws and flailing paws. Thankfully, the otter had not become coordinated enough with the body, so he just ended up falling to the floor in a flailing ottery heap. Luke carefully picked the otter up, opened the hallway closet, placed the otter inside, and closed the door.
Luke listened to the sound of panicked scratching from within. "I know that Mrs. Henroy is very nice, but I don't think either of us want to explain why there are scratches on the inside of the closet door." The scratching stopped, but plaintive squeaks continued. "Wend, I just placed you in there because you are panicked, angry, and I'm sure you are struggling with some internal instincts at the moment. In all, I don't want you to bite me."
A growl came through the door.
"As a human, you are completely out of your depth, you are not used to dealing with changing into a new body."
A questioning bark.
"I'll try to explain, with you outside of the closet. So I can speak directly to your fuzzy mug. As long as you promise not to bite me."
A hesitant squeak.
"I'm opening the door." Luke cracked opened the door and looked down at the otter tangled in a multicolored scarf that must have been on the floor of the closet. He did not look like a happy otter, the bared teeth told that much, but at least Wend didn't lunge at him again. "I suppose you need some sort of explanation of why you are suddenly an otter."
Wend made an expression made a gesture with his paws that practically said, "Duh."
"Well, for one thing, I'm not technically human, for another, I'm not technically nineteen either. Long and short of it, I'm a selkie."
The otter squeaked.
"No, not like the seals who turn into woman. I'm impressed you know that much, Wendal. Those are actually saltwater selkies. I'm a freshwater selkie, so my neutral form is actually a river otter...as you might be able to guess...but, not to bore you with details...though, I guess you might want to know as many details as possible...considering the situation...that sweatshirt that I usually wear is my otter skin made to /look/ like a sweatshirt. It would look sorta strange if I came to college with a literal otter skin draped over my shoulders. Anyway, the sweatshirt is almost as comfy as and otter hide itself. Admit it, that fur you're wearing is cozy."
Wendal relented and gave a bark in the affirmative.
"Now...the issue is, you're not a selkie. You're not meant to change forms or switch back and forth between species. That is not your skin, and a human wearing a selkie skin is...tricky. That's why there's a certain word a selkie says to activate the skin, which you obviously found. And...you're not going to like this part..."
Wend leaned forward, motioning a paw for "And...?"
"I'm not sure I can change you back to a human," Luke said as quickly as possible, hoping it wouldn't sound as bad if he just blurted it out. He saw the fire alight in Wendal's eyes and he quickly closed the closet door again. He didn't think warnings of displeased landlords would deter the otter's frantic scratching this time.
Luke walked to the bathroom, hands on his face. Part of the reason he thought Wend had been a good choice for a roommate, besides the prime location near a fish pond behind the house, was Wend's lack of suspicion. Wend tended to be in odd moods and appeared to have issues with his father at the moment, but besides that, Wend had not asked why he ate so much sushi, why he went out late at night, or even about his general lack of knowledge about human conventions. Luke was certain that Wend had noticed these things, especially after the run-in last night, but Wend wasn't the sort of human to really poke his nose into business that wasn't his own.
Wend putting on a sweatshirt that wasn't his own did not logically count, Luke decided, he supposed that's just what roommates let other roommates do from time to time. Luke still hadn't gotten up the courage to test if the action of "glomp" was an acceptable roommate action. He'd read about that on the Internet. It sounded fun.
He filled the bathtub until the water lapped the top. He felt the temperature. Nice and cool. Perfect. Luke went to the kitchen and retrieved his stash of sushi from the fridge. He placed four rolls into a bowl, arranging them evenly. He knew if he were going to be around humans, that they frowned upon someone ripping out the juicy entrails of a trout at the dinner table. However, sushi was considered completely innocuous. It did not have the same texture or juices of a freshly caught fish, but it contained a nice flavor all its own that Luke found satisfying when his mouth was under human limitations. Fresh caught fish. The premise struck him and sunk into his stomach like a stone. If he couldn't fix this, would he even be able to catch fish in his own jaws again...
He shook himself. No need to worry about that. He was a selkie, not a human, he did not worry about those things on the horizon. He lived in the moment of now, where everything had a chance to get better just around the corner. He got back to the closet. The growling and scratching had stopped. Luke knocked lightly. "Wend. You alright?"
"I'm going to come in. I have something that might make you feel better." He slowly opened the door. Wend lay in the middle of the closet, rolled in a sleek fuzzy ball, face tucked under his tail. Luke smiled. He carefully placed the bowl near the otter, then backed away to watch. The otter slowly moved his head, peeking out over his tail at the bowl, obviously suspicious, sniffing the air. Wend unrolled himself and trotted to the bowl, sticking his muzzle in, sniffing a little more before giving the contents a cautionary lick. The otter shot a brief angry glance at Luke before taking a bite of the sushi. Luke could see at least a little of displeasure fade from the otter's demeanor as Wend continued to chew upon the raw fish delight.
Luke waited till Wend was nearly done with his meal before clearing his throat. "Would you mind following me to the bathroom? Or are you still getting used to having four paws?"
Wend barked, and scampered towards Luke.
"Ah, nice. Your instincts are kicking in." Hopefully not too much, Luke thought.
"I figured if there's anything that would get you into a better mood, it would be a nice swim," Luke said, motioning towards the bath when entering the bathroom, "True, I imagine part you may want to try the pup pool first..." he added, gesturing to the toilet, "but I think the bathtub would be more hygienic." The attempt at humor received a growl. Wend scampered over to the bath, balancing up on his hindpaws, he grasped the top of the bath with his forepaws, sticking his face over the edge to look at the water. This may not end well, Luke thought, just before he leaned down, placed his hands around the otter's middle, and heaved the creature over the edge, into the tub with a moderate splash. Wend bobbed to the surface, barking at Luke, then seemed to become aware he was floating with ease. "Feels nice, eh? It's not a pond, but it does the job in a bind. I'll be right back."
Luke retrieved his book bag and grabbed a little sushi for himself. By the time he returned, Wend was swooping through the limited bath area with the fluid movements and turns only an otter could accomplish. The instincts were catching up indeed. It took saying Wend's name three times before pulling the otter's attention from his new-found swimming talents. "Listen carefully Wend. I need to get to class."
The otter barked.
"I know, leaving you like this sounds callous. But I really can't afford to miss any classes. And there's two exam reviews and a chem lab today. We're making things with explosive reactions and...I guess that's not the point. Just..."
The otter sighed, and then nodded.
"You're alright with me going?"
The otter shrugged, and floated on his back in a circle.
"I have someone I can call to ask about this. Don't worry, I want you out of that skin as much as you want out of it. Trust me. After class, I'll get some answers and we can act like this never happened, alright?"
The otter stuck his tongue out for an obvious "Yeah, right." Sorta just came off as cute. Luke didn't state this.
"I'm going to close the door, you know, just in case someone stops by. I'll leave another bowl of sushi for you right here," Luke said placing a bowl on the floor, "I'll be back as soon as possible." He slowly backed out of the room and closed to the door. The sound of splashing water resumed when he was out of sight. Luke took a deep breath. He could fix this. Maybe. He pulled out his cell phone as he exited the house and dialed Dr. Griff's number. As he listened to the ring tone, he hoped Wend would be alright being alone for the day. What's the worse a river otter left in a house for an extended period could get up?
He knew from personal experience, yet wouldn't admit it to himself now, but the answer was "a lot."
O O O
"Fun" was not the primary word Wend suspected he would choose to describe this situation. At the moment however, it seemed to fit rather well. How else could he describe the sheer blissful sensation of slipping through the water, rolling, spinning, in a limited space, though no less enthralling. Oh, how he wondered what he would do with entire pool's worth of water to swim about in.
The effect of being an otter appeared to be infecting him, making his thoughts more fragmented and smooth and simple and generally…happy. As if he were taking a drug that completely fogged his mind and let his cares slip away (not that he had ever taken drugs to make such a comparison). As much as he wanted to, he couldn't get himself to properly worry about being an otter. Every time he tried to focus on that point, it eluded him, leaving him thinking about fish or swimming.
Only something as powerful as the term "calculus exam" managed to break through the otter hazed mental block. This served as the cold bucket of water for Wend's fading thought process. He slithered out of the bath then slipped across the linoleum floor for the door, before he realized even on his hind paws, the handle eluded his grasp. The calculus exam. How had he forgot?
OK, actually, he had every good reason to forget, being an otter and all, but the point was his grade practically hinged upon being at that exam. Without at least a sub-par grade on that exam, course grade was liable of falling into the black hole of flailing, and then his dad would use that tone to tell him he was "disappointed" and how "expensive" college was and that it required "responsibility" and…he could not put up with that again.
A swim would help make him feel better. He started trotting towards the bath again. No. He stopped. He tried to refocus to what Luke had been saying. Selkie. Otter skin. Not being able to turn back. Perhaps he wouldn't have to worry about college period. Perhaps he would be able to be donated to a zoo and just… No, he would not roll over like that. He would beat this. Wend concentrated. He needed to get to that exam. He needed to think big. He'd seen this sort of thing in the movies. He needed to think really hard about being a human. Human. Human. Human. Fish. Mmm…fish… No…human. Human.
Wend found himself chewing on the sushi. Mmm…but, wait…his muzzle hadn't filled the entire bowl before. He rose his head. Well, the concentrating had done /something/ at least. He stood up on his hind paws, a little easier this time. Wend now stood tall enough so he could reach the door knob. In fact, he stood tall enough to use the sink and reach the light switch. But he didn't appear to be that much more human than before. Just an over five foot tall otter. He looked into the mirror and patted his round streamlined muzzle and tweaked his black nose. "Hello there," he said. The voice sounded a little squeaky and his mouth looked strange trying to say the words, but at least he could speak now. He looked at one of his paws. Still webbed otter paws, though with something of an opposable thumb now. He glanced at himself in the mirror again. Last night came back to him, what had seemed so strange about Luke's suiloilette. It had the odd shape of an otter about it. That explained a little. Sorta...
Now what the heck was he supposed to do now? He looked at the bathroom clock. He had a little under a forty-five minutes to get to the exam.
One baggy pair of sweatpants, one baggy t-shirts, one baggy hooded sweatshirt, a scarf, a baseball cap, a trenchcoat, and some some sunglasses later, Wend looked over himself and realized something: he looked like an uncoordinated idiot.The fact his legs were half the size and his body torso was double the usual length were only a few of the issues this body had with human clothing. His hind paws were not going to be covered, period. Wend hoped they would be brushed off as unusual slippers or something. The fore paws he could cover with the over-extended sleeves. The muzzle was covered by the scarf.
All he could do now was go out and hope no one would dare ask if anything was wrong. Thankfully, the usual brand of college student had about as much reaction to the unusual as a zombie, without any of the motivation of brains (so perhaps a little less possible reaction). This theory held true rather well as he walked in his bow-legged way across campus. Students on the route may have chanced a glance, but besides eye-rolls, little notice was given to his oddly shaped form. He wondered if it would have been better if he had just went without anything on. His tail felt exceptionally uncomfortable stuffed down a leg of the pants.
With minutes to spare, he waddled into the exam room, slipping into a seat in the back. He had underestimated how hard it would be to actually sit down. Otter had the rudder like tail behind them, and as Wend tried to sit, he slipped right off. Growling, he got back up and looked over the class. Everyone was staring at notes or checking calculators, distracted by this exam barreling down at them. The professor entered with a mound of papers in his arms. All focus fell on him.
Quickly, Wend reached into his sweatpants, fished the tail out so it hung over the back of the pants, stuck the tail through the hole of the seat back, and sat down. He carefully took out his pencil and calculator. He then saw the girl, two seats down (every other seat empty, on account of the exam), staring at him strangely.
"You know if you keep staring, Prof Doom might think you're cheating," Wend whispered.
She appeared not to want to take the risk, and turned away. Professor Dominic passed the exams down their row. The exam had begun.
Wend didn't think the exam was too bad. Besides his odd form and limited digit dexterity, he was able to press through most of the problems. His speed was slower than usual, but he thought this actually helped him consider each set of numbers more carefully before getting to a solution. By the time he had finished the last story problem and headed to the front with his test, he was one of the last students left. With only a few minutes to go, he thought, setting the exam on the table where the professor sat.
"Wait right there," Professor Dominic snapped. Wend froze. "Sit in the front there." Wend slowly backed to the front row, his tail feeling suddenly exposed as he remembered he hadn't tucked it back in his pants. He sat down awkwardly, twiddling his paws inside his sleeves. After the last student had finished and left, the professor rose. "You, come with me to my office."
Wend felt his tail twitch at the tone of the voice. He followed warily behind Professor Dominic, out of the building, across the Memorial Building courtyard, into another building, up an elevator, into a hall, into a small cramped office with mountains of papers on both sides, a desk in the valley in between. He had not said a word the entire way. Wend wondered if he should have ran.
"I know exactly what you're up to," Professor Dominic hissed.
"Yes, I run into one of you little snots every semester."
"And you try this same game. Putting on a ridiculous outfit, taking the exam, and then leave, acting as if nobody is the wiser. Well, I'm not buying this rubbish. Take off the scarf."
"I'll tell you, Mr. Keith." Professor Dominic opened up his laptop and jabbed a finger at a photograph, Wend noticed it from his student ID. "I took the liberty to check up on you after you turned in your test. You're not Mr. Keith, are you? You're one of his friends. He /paid/ you to take the test for him. Do you realize how serious an offense this is at this college?"
The pieces fell into place. "Oh! No. Wait, I'm Wendal Keith. This is just a misunderstanding."
"Then take off that getup and prove it."
"I...I..." Wend fumbled for a proper excuse. "I have a horrible rash."
"Then prove it, or I will call the Dean and have both you and Mr. Keith suspended from this university." Professor Dominic's hand hovered over his phone.
Wend felt himself getting very warm. Lightening hit outside, followed by thunder that rattled the room. Rain started pounding against the window. In the sudden fall of shadows, Professor Dominic's feature grew demonic. A sudden storm, like that morning's, and again, Wend could almost feel the energy of the turmoil flowing from his soul, his defense embodying itself. He noticed the mounds of paper on both sides of the office stir. He slowly pulled off the scarf. Drops of water splattered onto the desk's notes, ink blurring upon impact. The electricity in the air seemed to cause Professor Dominic's hair to stand on end. His expression fell as he noticed strange occurrences.
Above, a swirling mass of storm cloud had formed, sparking at the edges. The wind picked up, throwing the papers into waves of rustling white. The rain stared sheeting down on them. Wend threw down his hood and shed the trenchcoat and baseball cap. He rose to his full height and leaned over the desk to the now cowering Professor Dominic. "I. Did. Not. Cheat," Wend growled, in a deep soul-shaking voice from the darkness.
Professor Dominic screamed, jumped to his feet, swam through the cyclone of papers, and made it to the door, before someone else entered. A man in a tweed suit, who looked about at the office storm, as if it were some minor if amusing event. Professor Dominic yelled, "Doctor Griff! The student! The student. A monster. He...he!" he gestured wildly at Wend. "Call the police! Get someone! A STORM!"
The man looked Professor Dominic over. "You seem to be over-reacting."
"ARE YOU INSANE?"
"No. Just appears your student is a selkie," the man waved at Wend. The storm abated as Wend waved back, becoming aware again. wondering who the man was.
"A WHAT? LET ME GET PAST I NEED...!"
The man clicked his fingers. Suddenly, his features shifted, until a large beak graced his face, feathers covered the rest of his head, and his hands looked very much like talons.
Professor Dominic fainted.
"Ah. Much better," Doctor Griff said, turning his attention to the large otter, "Now, you must be Wendal."
O O O
Luke slurped his over-sweet coffee beverage nervously as he paced the fish pond. Dr. Griff had said he would meet him here at four and now it was half past. He looked up at the overcast sky. He'd swore he'd heard thunder in the distance, but had yet to see storm clouds. This made him think of Wend. Perhaps he should have checked up on him. This was all very bad. Why did he have to be a selkie? Why did he have to deal with loosing his skin? Why couldn't he be like a normal shapeshifter, who didn't have that absurd restriction. Tanukis did not have to deal with this. He kicked a stone into the pond.
"Good afternoon, Luke," a familiar voice said. Luke turned to see Dr. Griff walking through the woods.
"Thank you for coming."
"My pleasure, Luke. I am your college advisor, after all. If there is any issues you have with your college experience, I am the one to turn to. For mythical issues at least," he said, with a wink at the end. "You have a breach in your skin's security?"
Luke rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeeeeeah. It's not my roommate's fault, really. He had no idea."
"I did say you could room with another mythic on campus. That kitsune fellow had an opening."
"I know," Luke grumbled, "But...I wanted to get the full college experience."
Dr. Griff chuckled, letting his human form slip away, beak, feathers, grand wings, until there stood a full grown griffin, eagle front, lion back, golden eyes staring down with bemusement. The glasses, his tweed coat, and his messenger bag remained on his visage. "Oh, I can't tell you how much I've heard that line, from both mythic /and/ mortal. The 'full experience' is what is sought when in reality, the full experience is whatever you do in life. There is no easy way through and no water down adventures. Life is life, no matter how you play it."
"I know," Luke sighed, "I really feel horrible what happened to Wend though. I really wanted to be his...friend." He looked over the pond, which reflected the gray mood of the sky and Luke. "I tired to be nice to him, but he just seemed to be so...sad."
"Humans are fickle creatures, and college is tough. That's the short version. The long version is much more complicated and riddled with swearing," Dr. Griff said. "But I'm sure Wend didn't really think badly of you. Just didn't know how to react to you. You are a strong personality in a closed in space, Luke."
"Do you think he'll forgive me? Even if this can't be fixed?"
"Why don't you ask him that yourself?"
Luke turned back to Dr. Griff. "What?"
An otter head popped out of the messenger bag and barked.
"I found Wend in the Math Department today. It appears his calculus teacher Dr. Dominic, you may have heard him by the nickname Professor Doom, awakened a storm within him."
"He didn't. How...?"
"Wend apparently discovered a way to get into mid-form after you left him. Appears the motivation to not fail calculus is an untapped energy to be reckoned with," Dr. Griff said, rubbing Wend under the chin with a talon. Wend squeaked in pleasure.
Luke slapped a hand to his face, "You've got to be...I'm so screwed."
"No, don't fret about it. Professor Dominic will never explain what happened and I don't think Wend caused too much stir otherwise. Much stranger occurrences have happened on campus. Trust me. Anyway, the storm drained a lot of energy, obviously, and he reverted back to his current default form."
"Is there a way we can...you know...remove the selkie skin?"
The griffin rubbed the underside of his beak. "This case is unusual. Selkie skins being stolen and kept is common enough. Being worn and activated, is frankly unheard of. You mentioned what you were told as a pup about the dangers. Most of that is just heresy and stories told by selkie parents to keep them from trusting humans so much. Which is in itself interesting, considering selkies willingly give their skins to humans they love..."
The griffin laughed, deep, beak clacking. This not the time or place to discuss that tangent of selkie lore," he said, using a talon to ruffle Luke's hair. "All myths have their dark and light sides. This case is in the middle, and I've called in a few favors. I have a fellow coming down through the wormhole messenger byways to meet us here. Should be here before nightfall. Why don't you grab some food from your house, I'll make a fire and protective barrier. As for Wend, I will let him have a little swim." Dr. Griff winked at Luke.
Luke smiled back, knowing the full meaning of "a little swim."
"I think Wend would like that."
O O O
Dr. Griff picked the otter out of his bag, like an owl would pick up a rodent, though, thankfully, not with the intent to kill and with less of the element of surprise. Wend, at a nice calm mood now, let his body go limp in the grasp of the talon. In any other situation, he would run at the sight of this massive bird-lion creature, though now, he could look into the golden gaze of this fearsome creature with a quiet amazement.
The griffin's brown flecked feathers glittered in the sun beams and the sharpness of its beak accentuated in the shadows. He let the details settle in, until the griffin tossed him at the fish pond.
He managed a surprised bark before he hit the water.
Except, he didn't quite hit the water. Wend flowed into it without a splash, diving under the surface of the murky water. And then the details all changed. The bath had nothing on this. In the bath, he had received a brief taste of what magic water could hold. And the bath in comparison, was just a flash, a tiny spark, of what wonders water could hold. In all Wend's time of swimming lessons and brief fleeting visits to the ocean, he could not have imagined /this/.
Underwater was another planet. His entire body moved through the murky waterscape, slipping through with no resistance, his very movements made for speed and fluid dexterity. Wend did not use his webbed paws as much as he thought he would, perhaps to claw through the water to get speed. No, it was his spine that moved, from head to this tip of his apply-described rudder-like tail that propelled him. He skirted the muddy bottom of the pond, seeing vague shapes of reeds and rocks with his eyes, seeing these same details in shimmering clarity with his whiskers. He stuffed about his snout in the mud, seeking something he couldn't quite compute at the edges of his instincts.
He rose up, surfaced, to replenish his air supply. He idlely floated on his back, looking at the golden hues of the evening sky, which profiled the flying griffin. Dr. Griff waved as he made a lazy circuit of the pond's perimeter. Tendrils of sparking light played off his hide. They arched over the pond, and Wend vaguely remembered the speak of a barrier. His instincts pulled him under and he dove again.
On the way down, his whiskers detected a target. He pulled his forepaws closer to his body and pointed his snout like a laser sight. He spun and banked this way and that, looping and careening, always keeping focus on the target, trying to predict its next move, coming ever closer, closing the gap. His jaws reacted as his snout made contact and his paws came into play. His entire body wrapped around the target as it struggled in his grasp. He broke the surface, splashing, holding down tighter with his jaws, trying to make purchase on the silvery scales. He got the proper grip and bit, hearing the crack of the fish's spine and tasting the flavor on his tongue. The fish stopped thrashing. He was a the master of this pond. A predator. No fish could out swim him. Wend swam slowly to the shore, fish still gripped in his teeth.
Dr. Griff and Luke were waiting there, sitting around a small fire. Dr. Griff clacked his beak. "Ah, a trout. On your first try too. Of course, this pond is populated with a good supply of such fish for the local fishes so you had a perhaps a higher probability of catching such a big specimen...still, brilliant show. Looks like a good meal." His pointed tongue licked poked out of his beak.
Wend growled and hugged the trout to his body.
"You should know better then to threaten a selkie's meal, Dr. Griff," Luke said, rolling his eyes.
"I do, which makes it so much fun to mess with them," Dr. Griff countered.
"Somebeast say something about messing with people?" a new voice said.
"Ah, Noone, you're here."
Wend cautiously lightened his grip on the fish and tried to see the source of the new voice. A figure wearing a crooked pointed cap emerged from the shadows. As it turned out, the odd pointed cap was the most normal part about the figure. It could almost be described as a wolverine, though walking on its hind legs, wearing a light vest and carrying a pack, what appeared to be scrolls sticking out of the edges. He also wore a tall pointed blue cap, somewhat like a dunce cap, but it bent to the side halfway up.
"Luke and Wend, meet Noone. He is a gnome."
"Don't give me that look," Noone growled, pointing at Wend, who didn't know he'd been giving a look, "You were expecting a little human guy with a beard. That was an image propagated by the gardening community. Humans have never properly /seen/ a gnome, only seen our hats, and..."
Dr. Griff cleared his throat. "Noone. Do I need to hear this rant every time you meet someone?"
"It's not a rant! I'm stating truths!"
Dr. Griff rubbed the bridge of his beak. "Noone...please. Anyway, Luke, you know the basic facts about gnomes. As for you Wend, I will give you a brief crash course. Gnomes are basically protectors of the forest and what things it contains. They keep the cycle of life balanced as best they can. Their responsibility in the last few thousand years as been regulating human forest activity..."
"Griff! Why are you giving the spiel. I can do my own introduction, thank you very much," the gnome snapped. He stalked up to Wend and took him by the cheeks. "I make sure humans don't do anything stupid in the forest. Big job, I can tell you. Do you know how many forest laws any given human can break on a single picnic? There is a list as long as your body. So I teach them a lesson or two so they learn if they break some laws..."
"I still don't understand how turning someone into a badger over a thrown away piece of gum is fair retribution," Dr. Griff inserted.
"Do you know how long it takes for gum to break down? Let along how difficult it is to get out of fur?!" Noone yelled, hackles raised. "The forest laws are very complicated!"
"I'm sorry. You're the expert, continue," Dr. Griff said. Wend got the sense that the griffin enjoyed prodding the gnome.
"To cut to the chase," Noone grumbled, "I've been told of your situation. And I'm an expert in the transfiguration from human and animal and back again. Speaking of which, remind me that there's a few squirrels I need to find on this campus. I think I'm overdue at getting them off their sentence...by perhaps a few...days."
"It's more like a few years, isn't it?" Dr. Griff said under his breath.
"I need a proper organizer!" Noone half-growled, "Doesn't matter anyway. With the wards and the reality tangents, no harm, no foul. Perhaps the side-effects of nut obsessions and hoarding and...NEVERMIND. Point is, let me take a good look at you. Lay on your back."
Wend, though nervous, obliged. The gnome felt its claws across Wend's stomach, under his neck, around his face, looked into his mouth, pulled at the tail. "Tricky. Tricky. Though not hopeless. I've never done a hide removal before. At least, not officially, but I think I can manage this one. Just might be a little...messy." He cracked his paws.
"What do you mean by that?" Luke said, "You'll wreck the skin?"
Wend barked what he hoped translated to "Yeah, thanks a lot."
"No, no, no. Not messy as in bloody. Nooo. More messy as in mentally jarring. Can already feel that in the mental some selkie elements have burrowed in. I bet you're feeling a little drained, as if you're forgetting some things? Eh?"
Luke stared at the fire. "A little," he said, just a bit over a whisper.
"Now, pulling that away from this fellow is not like pulling off a velcro strap, this is more like...you know that wax human's use to remove hair?"
Uncomfortable silence and shuffling.
"I'll take that as a yes. Pulling this hide off might do that. How it might do that, I have no idea. He might forget who he is, his personality might change, he might think his name is Frank. I just don't know. What I do know, is the hide needs to come off now, rather than later, or you might not get your skin back period."
"I...think that's up to Wend."
"Really? The human?" Noone eyed the Wend. Wend rolled into a ball, tucking his face under his tail. This felt more comfortable. He didn't want to think about everything that was said. He just wanted to enjoy his fish. He wanted to swim. He didn't want to go back to college. And he didn't even know if that was what he really wanted. He couldn't remember what his father had yelled over the phone. He couldn't remember why he was so worried about college. The memories were fleeting as he tried to focus and his recognition of the faces around him and himself were fading.
"Wend. Do you want to go through with this?"
Did he? He didn't really know now. Perhaps he could get another fish. Then he would know. Just one more fish.
Luke knelt next to him and rubbed Wend's back. He looked up at Luke. He saw the expression. Luke knew how this all felt. He was giving Wend the choice. How could he give him the choice? He knew how being an otter felt. He knew everything. He could see it. And he thought, in a moment of clarity, if he stayed like this, it would pull away Luke's very lifeblood, his entire world.
He'd experienced this for these fleeting moments, to have this experience taken from someone who'd lived as this?
Noone came forward. He placed a paw on Wend's chest. "This might sting, like taking off a bandaid," he said.
And it did.
If magnified a few thousand times at least.
Thankfully, afterwards, Wend didn't remember a thing.
O O O
Two Months Later
Wend hung up his phone and wandered into the kitchen.
"Was that your dad?" Luke asked through a mouthful of something.
"Yeeeeeah. He'd doing...better. Not sure if he agrees with my choice of degree."
"Awwwww, what's wrong with forestry? They have those awesome hats."
"I think you're thinking of park rangers."
"They have the hats with the built in ear muffs?"
"I think those are Canadians. Which is to say, close enough," Wend said, snickering. "What's for breakfast? Widening your pallet yet?"
"I made an omelet."
"Are those...sardines in that?"
"Yep. Want some? I made enough"
"I suppose it can't hurt," he said, pulling out a chair. Luke pushed an over-full plate of fishy egg mass towards him.
"How goes classes? Are they fun?"
"Oddly enough, not too bad. Calculus has been much better since Prof Doom took a sabbatical. Yeah, really wish I knew /that/ full story. There's a rumors flying everywhere. He may have had a nervous breakdown. I dare not consider the student that'd be able to give Prof Doom a breakdown." He took a bite of the omelet. "This is oddly good."
"How is the new teacher?"
"Dr. Griff? Really good actually, though he really can make you squirm with that gaze of his, he literally must have eagle eyes. I hedge all bets and just sit in the front row. Ya know, almost seems like he knows me. I've went in for help in his office a few times. Though...he does have dead rats in his mini-fridge...don't spread that around. A good calc prof is a good calc prof."
"My maw is sealed. By the way, you got a package in the mail. Looks important."
"Really? Mmm..." he glanced at the counter, a wrinkled package sat there. He took a final bite of omelet, crunching on a sardine, before getting up to investigate. "No return address. No postage either. Someone drop this off? See who?"
"Nope, just found it in the mailbox."
Wend brought it to his room.
Luke stared at the bedroom door. Wend would open the package, he would find a piece of paper, he would read it, confused, then he would open the door again.
The door opened, "Hey, Luke, did you apply me for something?"
Luke shrugged. "Why?"
"This says your the..." Wend looked down at a paper in his hand, "What am I candidate for?"
"Ooo, there was this contest for a fishing boat that I wanted another chance to win and I put your name in could that...?"
"No. That's not. Just a moment."
Luke took another bite of omelet. Ah, the application had went through. With the help of Dr. Griff, of course. He didn't know if the Mythos Council would let it pass, but after they'd heard the circumstances and some testimony from Noone... Wend would return to the package. Find a sweatshirt with the logo of the college. He would look at it a moment, he would shrug and pull it over his head. He would exit the bedroom.
Wend emerged from the room. "You got me a sweatshirt? That's really nice, Luke. Thanks. I'm sorry about being snippy a month ago. I really feel bad about that still. After that...what was it, fishing trip you brought me on? Really turned stuff around. Wish I could remember it actually..." He hugged himself. "This sweatshirt is really nice. I best get ready for class."
Luke smiled as Wend entered the bathroom. Wend would have a feeling of de ja vu. He would look at the sleeve. He would see an inscription. He would read the inscription aloud.
Luke heard the startled bark.
Luke got up, walked into the bathroom, picked up the confused otter, went out, placed the otter in the closet, and closed the door.
"Don't worry Wend, I've done this before."
Luke went to start the bath, smiling.