Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 13

“Protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy. Protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy. Protect this space, as it may be, defend it from our enemy.”

 

“Protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy. Protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy. Protect this space, as it may be, defend it from our enemy.”

 

Sitting in a stone circle in the Heath, each wearing their blessed necklaces, Echo and Aiden sent out the defence charm, in their minds and with their voices, to the whole area. They had come at night, so as not to be seen, and in hope of staying out of trouble, although Aiden had said that certain parts of the Heath were not the sort of place they wanted to be at night, so they had chosen their field wisely, in the South East, near what Aiden called “Parly”, and a sign Echo had seen had called “Parliament Hill Fields.” They recited the charm over and over, clutching at their pendants, trying to invoke the powers if the Community for help. They had found their charm in the tan Defence Lamadu, under a heading which said “Defence of the Mind and Protection of an Area”, which had seemed one of the most appropriate charms. Ordinarily, Aiden did not think much of magic, and would certainly not have thought that them saying a poem while holding a necklace would do anything, but in his new found danger he had found a faith in magic that had never been there before. It scared him to some extent, but less so than the thought of Mick, and so he tried, and hoped his belief would be good enough.

 

Echo was the first to break concentration. She raised her head and looked over to Aiden, and waited for a second for him to realise she had stopped, his eyes meeting hers once he had done.

 

“I think we’re ready, are you ready?” Echo asked, although she had already decided that they were. There was no sense in waiting around any longer, it was night and it was cold, and Echo wanted to Become her fluffy cat self and run around, to play and be free and explore the night.

 

Aiden was not even nearly as sure as Echo seemed to him to be. If it were up to him, he’d cast the charm all night if it meant they had a higher chance of being safe, but he trusted Echo knew when they were safe to stop. The idea was for them to Become within the charmed circle, and then to carry the protection out with them in their other forms. Standing up, and turning her back on Aiden, Echo began to undress. Aiden averted his eyes, standing up and doing the same. Next to each other, but with their heads turned towards the floor, Echo held out her hand to Aiden, which he gladly took. The air was cold, and neither could wait to have a coat of fur on them.

 

“Ready?” Echo asked, she did not wait for a response, not giving him a chance to not be ready, “One… two…” She inhaled deeply, giving Aiden’s hand a final squeeze.

 

“Three” She thought, mid-transformation, knowing Aiden was doing the same. Aiden felt her hand shrink, and slip out of his grasp, as he Became as well. They turned to face each other, each faced with then others new form. It was still strange for Aiden to see her as a cat, even though he had been doing so for a while now. As the only other Apsu he had met, it seemed both right and wrong to see her in her other form. It was her, of course it was still her, but it wasn’t, it was like in a dream, where nothing is quite as it seems to beat first, where people weren’t who they were meant to be, but they were just the same.

 

Echo padded her paws over to the piles of clothes, their stones still round their necks, just tight enough to stay. Aiden stepped out of the circle and began to dig, Echo placing their clothes as neatly as she could with her mouth into a plastic bag that she sat on to hold open, before carrying the bag over to the hold Aiden had dug and dropping it in, watching as he recovered the ground back to its original state.

 

“Shall we, then?” Asked Echo, impatient to run.

 

“Yeah, just remember, ‘Protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy’.” Aiden sent back, hoping that their replaying of the mantra would really have an effect, if for nothing else then to make it harder for Mick to get a grip on their minds if they were being filed up with incantations and charms.

 

Aiden could almost see the cat’s head nod, as Echo leaped out of the circle, and took off, waiting as she ran for Aiden to chase her. It was clichéd, the dog chasing the cat, but as there were, it seemed right, with Echo fast and agile, despite her large cat stance, and Aiden’s enhanced sense of smell for tracking with which to follow her into the places she found. Aiden bound after her, his paws hitting the floor clumsily as he galloped, or tried to, his legs slightly too long to be elegant as he did so.

 

They ran in circles, around the field, taking in everything that they could. Though their sight was impaired through their feline and canine eyes, they really hardly noticed, with their other senses becoming so heightened. It created them a new world, with the magic flowing through them, pumping like blood through their ever changing veins.

 

Echo was always so keen to run, thought Aiden, when he would rather just have the time to take everything in. He had been becoming for years, as long as Echo had, and still every time he did he found something new to love about it: the way damp grass felt on his paws, his tail swishing against a fallen tree, the strength of his back legs as he jumped, the way that the air smelled at 3am, the sound of snow melting. Every time was something new to experience, and Becoming, to him, was never the same twice. It never recycled past experiences, so every time there was something amazing, it would also be the last time he would experience anything quite the same. When he was young, he spent most of his time Becoming wishing that it would never end, now, as he grew older, he had found how to enjoy his time, everything about it, including its transient nature.

 

To Echo, Becoming was all about the freedom, about embracing the other half of herself, and becoming, as well as Becoming, a cat. She had know other who had retained elements of their human form within their other form, but for Echo, Becoming was like revisiting a world every time she did, where everything was slightly different, yet still the same. She found it hard to explain the feeling exactly to those who did not feel it, and even sometimes to those who had. It was an unobtainable word that would describe both everything and nothing at the same time.

 

They continued on, exploring this new field they had not been in before. They tried to stay as quiet as possible so as not to attract unwanted attention from anyone who may be around, despite the fact that it was unlikely for there to be anyone around so late at night. While they were running together in the same general direction, they were each going their own ways within it, taking off after different things that they took interest in. They were connected not only by shared experience and direction, but by the charm connecting their minds, the same words and rhythm running through both of them, stitching them together through their telepathic bond.

 

As they ran, Aiden’s mind began to falter. Though the mantra from their shared rhythm continued throughout the back of his mind, like a song that was stuck in his head, part of his mind began to wonder, and at the very back of it, a part was hoping that this would be enough. He began to wonder where they were, ordinary things, and other things, like the colours that the grass smelled like to him. He stopped, moving his head round at his surroundings and shaking off his fur. He sniffed into the air, trying to catch Echo’s scent to find where she had gone, and to see if there was anything interesting in the air. As he did, he heard her.

 

“Aiden, where are you?” He heard, her words coming through soft and peaceful. But with them, another sound came too, the same words being thought, but the others from a male voice, darker and callous sounding.

 

“Aiden, I know you’re here.” He heard from the make voice again, stronger and clearer this time. His body froze, he could not run, he could not speak, he could not see.

 

“Echo? Echo? He found us. Echo run, go.” Aiden sent to her, not knowing what else to do. He looked down to see the stone around his neck flashing white, and filled his mind with the spell, sending it out for Mick to hear.

 

“Protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy, protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy, protect this space, as it may be, defend us from our enemy.” He sent the words out loud and clear, not entirely sure what he thought it would do, a part of him hoping they would rebound off Mick, rendering him unconscious, anything to give Aiden a chance to get away.

 

Aiden heard laughter fill his mind, “What a nice little poem you’ve got there, boy. You don’t need defence against me though.”

 

A shiver sent down Aiden’s spine, chilling his body, at the sound of the Xul’s voice. He could not think of what to do as panic gripped his body and his mantra flew straight out of his mind, replaced by the words the Xul was sending him.

 

“Just don’t scream for that pussy bitch, okay? We have no problem with you, I have no problem with you. All I want is for you to be where I belong.” Aiden recoiled at the slur used to refer to Echo, but still found himself frozen. He came to the realisation that this was more than fear, this was controlled.

 

Aiden could not tell where Mick was. The problem with telepathy was there was no way to find out where exactly sounds were coming from. Aiden tried to look round again, and found himself able to move his hear, but the scarred bulldog nowhere in sight.

 

“Looking for me?” Mick asked, as he padded into Aiden’s peripheral vision. Aiden howled involuntarily at the sight of him.

 

“Hey, be quiet now, don’t want little miss kitty coming to find us now, do we. Besides, like I said, nothing to worry about here, I just have your best interest in mind.”

 

“What do you want?” Asked Aiden, finding some hidden bravery and using it to send his first ever direct question to Mick.

 

“I thought you’d never ask. I want you to join us.” Mick stated plainly, the threat drained from his voice.

 

“But why?” Aiden asked. He wanted to ask if it was to get to Echo, but decided against it in case Mick still hadn’t worked out she was a Sorrel.

 

“There is no why about it. You are one of us. You were born to be. It is your birthright.” His voice was clear and precise now, informative rather than intimidating. Aiden did not know what to make of this. It no longer struck him with fear but instead filled him with curiosity. His birthright, he thought, he could not work out the clue. Being Apsu was his only Birthright, as far as he was concerned. And Echo had said to him before, not all Dogs are Xul.

 

“But why me?” He tried to ask again.

 

I just told you,” Mick snapped, becoming inpatient, “You are one of us, it is your birthright.”

 

“I don’t understand, why me and not any other?” All he wanted to know now was what Mick meant. He wasn’t even scared of him any more, not like he was before, but he was so drawn in now he needed to know.

 

“Well, ideally we’d like all True Apsu to join our packs,” Mick said, his voice regaining it’s sharpness that sent shivers through Aiden, “But you, we have been waiting for you for a long time, waiting for you to be versed enough to join us. You have always been one of us, but you have not been easy to find.” Mick began to walk away, and Aiden felt his body released form the invisible grasp.

 

“I will leave you now, but when the time is right, to find out on your own. You will join us. You will come to us when you know.” His cryptic words left hanging in the air, reverberating in Aiden’s ears as he saw the Xul walk slowly away.

 

Aiden stood there, staring off at the space Mick had left. He wanted to turn back into his human form, find Echo, go home, and forget about his conversation with Mick, and yet, at the same time, he wanted answers. He wanted to know what Mick meant when he spoke of birthrights, he wanted to know what there was to find out. He peered down at his stone around his neck, it was black again, and Aiden wondered at what point it had changed back.

 

“Aiden? Aiden!” He heard Echo calling to him, turning round to see her run towards him. He bounded towards her as a sense of calm washed over him, “Where have you been? I was calling to you!”

 

“Uh, it’s, uh. Can we change back?” He replied, thinking it would be easier to explain without telepathy, his voice sounding distant in her head.

 

Together, side by side, they padded back over to the circle and their buried clothes. Aiden began to dig fast, wanting to turn back, wanting to share his story with Echo, but scared as to what her reaction would be. He didn’t even know what to think anymore. He knew the Xul were no good, he knew Mick was not someone he wanted to be around at all, and yet the fear was gone, or at least, had shrunk to a manageable level with which he could still move and think. Their clothes dug up, Echo turned back, Aiden turning around and doing the same. They got dressing in silence, and turned to face each other.

 

“What happened?” Asked Echo, again, “It wasn’t the Xul, was it? You don’t look scared though, it can’t have been Mick.”

 

Aiden looked at the ground. He took hold of Echo’s hands, “It was.”

 

“What?” Echo replied, her voice sounding confused but her mind was even more so. How could he be so calm?

 

“It wasn’t like last time. He wasn’t in my mind, he was just talking, I guess. I don’t think he knows who you are, though.” Aiden replied, sitting down on the grassy ground, Echo doing the same.

 

“But what did he say?” She asked, becoming frightened for Aiden, starting to feel the fear that he did not.

 

“Something about how he wanted me to join them, but we knew that before. And then he started saying I’d come to them in my own time, and that it was my birthright. I don’t understand though.” Aiden explained. As he said it, running over the words in his head, his bravery began to fade. What if Mick was right and he was really evil, a Xul, one of them? How would he know?

 

“But why does he think that?” Echo questioned, “Just because your form is a Dog?”

“He said it was something else, but I don’t understand. He said I would find out.”

 

“Then we need to look for answers. He said it was your Birthright? My Birthright was the power of the Zagmi, maybe it’s something like that? Some score to settle to do with Mel? I don’t know. You must know someone who knew Mel?” Echo mused, looking for explanations that she couldn’t find on her own.

 

“Samantha. She’s all though, and she didn’t know Mel for long,” Aiden answered, “And she doesn’t like it when I talk about Mel, really. She says she doesn’t mind, but I know she does.”

 

“Maybe that’s because she knows more than she’s told you? I don’t know. It might be worth a shot though.”

 

Aiden inhaled deeply. He put his arm around Echo, keeping her warm in the cool winters night, “Yeah, I guess it might be.” He sighed. Not that it would be bad, going to see Samantha. He had barely been home since moving across the city to university, and he knew that she would love to meet Echo, she had said so every time they had spoken on the phone. He just didn’t want to worry her. She had always been wary of the Apsu in Aiden, she had taught him to forget about it most days, and to focus on normal Lu values. Now, with him living this new style of life, embracing all things Apsu, he did not know how well she would take it, when she saw it in person. But it was going to have to happen eventually, and now was as good a time for it as any.

 

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