This story is set in the Fall of 1997.
Tina re-read the scrap of paper, just to make sure. She hadn't even realized this building had offices in the basement before today. Trying to locate this one instructor's hidey-hole was turning out to be very difficult. When other students warned her that finding Professor Finlay was a major undertaking she thought they were exaggerating. However, not only could Tina not locate the office, no-one she asked was sure where it was. More than one person told Tina she was the victim of a joke, that the office didn't even exist. Some of those she spoke to claimed that the elusive instructor's office moved around in the building, or even moved between buildings. That seemed like just another campus legend... until Tina tried for herself to find the room.
According to the way the numbers ran, there should be a hall right there, but all Tina saw was a blank wall. There was a gap in the numbering sequence of the rooms she could find where the hallway with the room numbers that Finlay's was among should have been. As if another hallway had been planned but not actually built. Or maybe built and blocked off. Tina shivered, thinking of old horror stories about people trapped accidentally in sealed rooms.
Adding to the difficulty of the task - and the spookiness of the situation - none of the basement rooms she did find had anyone in them, being storerooms or mechanical rooms instead of offices.
"Okay," said Tina, finally, her frustration giving way to desperation. "Let's assume it's here, but hidden. How do I find it?"
Then she grinned. Mentioning her lover's name - even accidentally - gave her an idea. It was silly, but she'd tried everything else...
Tina looked down the hall, into the distance, and cleared her mind, letting her eyes unfocus. Then, calmly, she turned back to the wall. There was a hall there, now. Still holding the proper mindset, Tina walked into it. The third door on the left had the number she was looking for.
Tina knocked. There was a moment of hesitation, then someone responded faintly from inside. The voice was timid, and she couldn't make out what was said, but assumed it was an invitation to enter so she did so.
It took a moment for Tina's sight to adjust to the dim lighting, but when it did she knew she was in the right place. The large room was lined floor to ceiling with shelves, and where there weren't shelves there were stacks of books. One particularly broad pile of books in the middle of the room surrounded and mostly hid a desk. Behind the desk sat a small, pale man, who peered myopically at Tina through thick glasses.
"Professor Finlay?" Tina said, a bit uncertainly. "I'm Tina Moore. I'm trying to get into one of your classes, and I need your approval."
"Let me see your papers," the man replied, quietly and with reluctance.
Tina handed them over and waited, standing since there was no place to sit. Professor Finlay sorted through the papers several times, repeatedly reading what seemed to be the same parts. Finally, he handed them back.
"Yes, well, you have the necessary prerequisite courses, but 'Creatures of Myth and Their Place in Modern Society' is a graduate level class and you are only a Sophomore."
"That's why I need your approval," Tina said.
"Well, it is a popular class for some reason," he explained. From somewhere he produced a cup and saucer. Holding the saucer in his left hand, he raised the cup with his right to take a sip. "You need more than simple curiosity to justify my making an exception."
Tina thought hard for a moment, considering how difficult it had been to find the office, and the demeanor of its occupant, and the fact that things seemed to flit and hover just out of her field of vision.
"My fiancée is a kitsune," she said, suddenly.
The cup paused for a moment on its journey back to the saucer. Then Professor Finlay seated it with a slight click and returned cup and saucer to whence they came among the books and papers on his desk. He then surprised Tina by smiling.
"Well, in that case," he said, reaching for an antique fountain pen, "welcome to my class."
* * *
"He's a sloughy," said How.
He was busy with a class project, a sculpted bust of a model, but as always paid most of his attention to Tina and what she said.
"A slow what?" said Tina.
How sighed and spelled it.
"They're a type of fey. They have an affinity for dark, dank places. However, they also love to collect knowledge. That means books. That means they need someplace dry to keep them."
"Oh. That explains the class." Tina thought for a moment, then frowned. "Hey, howcome you knew about this guy and didn't tell me?"
How stopped, turning to look at Tina.
"You mean you signed up for this without realizing that it is for and about my kind?"
"Well, it just sounded interesting," Tina responded, a bit awkwardly.
"Be sure to tell him that," How advised her, grinning, as he reached for more clay. "Sloughys are shy and timid, but love attention, as long as it is honestly given. Don't flatter him, just let him know you were interested for some reason other than thinking it would help you understand me."
"Actually, that is the main reason," Tina confessed. "But all this stuff you and Lord Teleomier and the others have taught me has made me curious."
"Hmmff," said How, as he stepped back to look at the bust in profile. "Well, there's a couple of other things you should know about them. If you make friends with one, you've got a friend for life. Likewise as an enemy."
"Sounds like most of your folk," said Tina.
She reached over and skritched the distracted How under the chin.
"Mrrrr..." said How, reflexively shifting to his trueform. He enjoyed the attention for a moment, then shook himself. "I hate to say this, but shoo. I've got to get this finished."
Tina laughed and exited gracefully.
* * *
Susumu Tekua sat quietly at the back of the class, maintaining his usual air of casual disinterest in the other students. That disinterest was challenged when he saw Tina Moore enter. The tall young woman took a seat near the front center.
What is she doing here? wondered Susumu. This course was at least two years ahead of her appropriate curriculum.
Then the instructor entered, and Susumu stiffened as Professor Finlay nodded and smiled slightly at Tina.
What is going on here? wondered Susumu.
"Good afternoon, class," said Professor Finlay, in a voice which required an effort to hear.
He proceeded to outline, in a quiet but expressive manner, the general purpose of the course, and asked that anyone who was in the wrong room leave. He then passed around a roster.
Once these formalities were satisfied Professor Finlay went straight to work. He talked about the history of myth and its likely prehistory, warming to the subject as he spoke. By the time he began listing the earliest written legends he was a different man. While his voice was still not loud, it was much more assured, and he actually moved around, occasionally even waving his arms.
Susumu found the class over without realizing that the time had actually passed. He shook his head as the other students began shifting in their seats, gathering their bags. Many seemed to have been affected in a manner similar to what Susumu had experienced. He retained wit enough to note that Tina was one of them. As the class began to empty he saw her stand and approach the podium. Susumu casually gathered his books, stood, and walked towards the front of the room, between the rows of desks. Once there he turned left, still moving without haste. He was rewarded with the following exchange:
"Wow! If this stuff is this interesting, I can't wait until you get to Japanese myths. Especially kitsune."
"Are you certain your fiancée doesn't want to attend? I'd allow him to monitor the class."
"I'll ask, but it depends on how busy he'll be then."
Susumu barely made his way out of the class without staggering. He felt dizzy; not only did Tina know her companion was a kitsune, so did Professor Finlay! What did this mean?
Once in the hallway he headed straight for a water fountain. A few moments later he felt a little more collected. Susumu had another class today, but it was one he was doing well in. He decided that thinking about his discovery had priority. And he thought he knew whom he could ask for advice.
* * *
Tina was walking between classes when a young Japanese man she knew vaguely moved to intercept her.
"Excuse me," he said, bowing slightly, manner unusually formal. He seemed nervous, uneasy. "I am Tekua Susumu. I need to talk to you about a matter of some importance and discretion."
"Uh, okay," said Tina, confused but used to having her routine interrupted since hooking up with How.
Susumu led her to a quiet spot between some trees and shrubs, where they were not only out of sight but shielded from the cold winter wind.
"I need the services of your fiancée," said the young man. "And I do not mean as an artist. I feel that after all the tokens I have sent he would be willing to do this for me with no further recompense, but if he is not I am prepared to bargain...
"You're the one!" gasped Tina.
"...to bargain for his services," Susumu continued, looking irritated at the interruption. "All I ask is that you find my sister and help me bring her home."
Susumu raised his hand.
"This is important to me. This is family." He handed Tina a piece of paper with a phone number on it. "I am determined to find my sister, whatever that requires. Even if I have to gain publicity for my cause by revealing to the press that kitsune exist."
He turned and walked away.
* * *
"I don't trust this guy," muttered How. "I bet he doesn't even have a sister..."
"Oh, he has a sister, all right," said Susan Holiday. "Thing is, she's not missing. She's a couple of years older than him, graduated from U of L this past Fall, got a job. She's applied for citizenship."
"Doesn't he know this?" demanded Tina.
"Probably. I'm wondering if the guy might not be fey, himself, the way he holds his cards close. Saying a lot but giving very little away."
"No, he's not," said How. "I checked. Teleomier checked. Bracket checked. He's not fey, or a shapeshifter, or any other sort of supernatural."
"I'm glad How insisted on bringing you into this," said Tina, looking at Susan. "Lord Teleomier didn't think that was necessary, but with you checking the human records while our fairy friends worked their magic..."
"So what do we do with this guy?" asked How.
"I think we ought to check with his sister," said Tina. "Find out her side of the story."
"That's a good idea, Ollie," said How, momentarily taking on the physiognomy of Stan Laurel. "Susan, do you think we need you to introduce us as a teacher and authority figure, or will she respond better to people her own age?"
"Hmmm, well, I've never met her," mused Susan. "I can ask around and find out."
"Aren't most Japanese pretty much dedicated to obeying and respecting authority figures?" asked Tina.
"If this young woman is planning to stay here, I doubt she's much on sticking with that tradition," said Susan. "In fact, that may be why Susumu wants us involved."
"You mean he wants us to force her to go back to Japan?" exclaimed How.
"I don't know; I'm just guessing," said Susan, shrugging. "We need to play our own cards carefully in this, or me might not only be involved in an international incident, but risk Exposure."
* * *
"My brother already knows my answer," said Jun, sounding both determined and irritated. "I have made a life here. I have a career, friends, a boyfriend, and the freedom to run my life the way I want."
Tina glanced over at Susan, who nodded.
"That's... pretty much what we figured," said How. "Problem is, your brother isn't any more likely to listen to us than to you."
"Just how did you get involved in this, anyway?" demanded Jun.
"That's a long story," said How, waving the question away. "Anyhow, if you want to stay that's your business, and I'll just have to figure out how to deal with your brother."
The three visitors left shortly after this. Susan was frowning, Tina looked worried, and How was whistling a merry tune.
"So, what do you think we should do about his threat?" asked Tina, once they were in Susan's car.
"Tell him to go jump in the Ohio River," said How. "He can accuse all he wants. Proving something is something else."
"That's not good enough," said Susan.
"Well, I'll get together with Lord Teleomier. We'll think of something."
"How, you are entirely too confidant," said Tina. "This guy worries me. I mean, you didn't even know who was sending that stuff until he told us. Who knows what else he's got hidden?"
"Y'know, there's something else going on here, something I can't put my finger on," said Susan. "I don't think what he asked us to do - find and return his sister - is the real reason he came out to you. That was too easy to check, and too easy for How to deny. It's like he was testing the waters, and wants to use your refusal as an excuse to do something else."
* * *
The two young men watched from a nearby table as Susumu Tekua drunkenly groped one of the pretty young things attending him. The taller of the men scowled.
"All week we watch, and all week it's the same," he muttered, expression and tone both sour. "He gets up. He eats breakfast. He goes to morning classes. He eats lunch. He goes to afternoon classes. He eats supper. He does his homework. He goes to bed. Like clockwork. From a boring clock. Then, on Friday, he goes through the regular routine, except that after doing his assignments he goes out for a night on the town that would put a sailor home on leave to shame."
"Hush," said the other, quietly, "we're trying to avoid attracting attention, remember?"
A middle-aged and somewhat shopworn but still attractive Oriental woman approached the men.
"If you two are through with your meals, would you like to try some... desert?"
Her words, her posture and her smile all hinted at just what sort of desert she meant. The smaller of the men smiled at her.
"We're already taken care of," he said amiably. "You don't need to worry about us any more."
The woman nodded, still smiling pleasantly though her eyes were now a bit glazed, and went away.
"Now that is a handy talent," said Tina, appreciatively, watching as the glamoured woman moved on to the next set of customers.
"It's all in the wrist, my dear," said How, grinning. "Or should that be 'my good man'?"
"I can't believe we are sitting in a high-class Chinese-motif brothel watching somebody eat and get drunk before getting laid," Tina groused. "I didn't even know there were such places in Louisville."
"It's an international city," said How. He shrugged. "It's not legal, of course, but, when high-class foreign businessmen, lonely and far from home and with large expense accounts, want something, they usually get it."
Tina cracked a huge yawn.
"Sorry," he murmured. "Keeping up my regular schedule, plus all this, is wearing. Even with you and Bracket and Leyola working that whammy that reduces the need for sleep."
"The operative word being 'reduces,'" said How, covering his own mouth as he yawned in response.
"I can't believe how short-handed we are," said Tina, crossly. "I knew that there were only about a dozen fey in this whole area, but it seemed like more because I hang around you folks so much. Now, when we need to keep 24-hour surveillance on this guy, even with the other fey and their human associates helping, we have to do most of the work ourselves. And that work comes down to us spending long, boring hours watching Susumu when we could be sleeping."
Tina grinned and covertly put his hand on How's leg under the table.
"Or doing something more enjoyable in bed."
"Well, y'know, to keep up appearances we might have to make use of the special entertainment facilities here ourselves," said How, seriously.
"Oh, I have a better idea," said Tina, smiling. He knew that when How was straight-faced like that he was actually most likely to be joking. Being quite bored, he actually decided to encourage him by playing along. "From what I can see, he's gonna have two girls with him when he goes upstairs. Let's take their places!"
"Good idea," said How, still serious. "We'll let him screw himself unconscious, then I can spell him into telling us what he really wants."
"But, gee," said Tina, frowning. "What if he's just too much man for us? I mean, he looks like he's done this before, and there are two girls with him. If he's used to two... Well, you don't have any experience at this sort of thing - At least, you better not have! - and I only have experience with you."
"Hey, between us we could handle just about anyone," countered How, confidently. "So, do you think we should both be Asian girls?"
"Better than that, let's be twin Asian girls!"
"C'mon," said How, starting to rise. "We need to find someplace private to change. Then we lie in wait and..."
"Oh, but we can't," Tina said, face falling, as he caught How's arm. "We have to keep an eye on him. As sure as we leave for a moment, he'll duck out."
"Oh, darn," muttered How, sitting back down. "There goes a great plan. And a great opportunity. I always wanted to lose my virginity to an obnoxious drunk Japanese guy."
"Yeah, right," smirked Tina. "Like you had any virginity left."
There followed several long minutes of silence.
"I really hate stakeouts," said Tina, finally, heaving a great sigh. "It gets to the point where I just wish something would happen."
"Don't say that," How warned. "You never know who - or what - may be listening. And decide to take a hand... or tentacle."
Fortunately, Susumu soon staggered to his feet, loudly announcing in Japanese that he was ready. With the two young women helping him, he started for the back. How quickly put his "mind your own business" effect into operation, and the two men followed the trio. The five of them went through a guarded door, up a short flight of stairs, and into a room with a large bed. Tina shifted uneasily as the women began undressing Susumu, wondering if he and How were actually going to stand there and watch the whole procedure.
As it turned out, there wasn't much to watch. The girls, making snide comments in a mixture of Chinese and fractured English, stifled giggles as they stripped their guest to his shorts. They then put the semi-conscious young man in the bed, pulled the covers up to his chin, and crept out.
"I don't believe it," said Tina, his voice barely above a whisper. "All that build-up, then this. And he'll probably wake up tomorrow convinced he had the lay of the land."
Tina turned to How.
"Can you really read his mind?"
"No," sighed How. "I don't know that trick, and even if I did it wouldn't work on someone passed out like that. It wasn't what I was talking about, either. I was going to get him to talk in his sleep, which is something I can do. Well, to someone sleeping normally. Not to someone passed out drunk."
"He isn't faking it?"
"Nope. I can tell that much. He'll be out for hours."
"Damn," hissed Tina. He sighed, then checked his watch. "Well, we might as well tell Broderic and Susan that they can pick up here in a few hours. Then we go home and get some sleep."
"Or maybe some exercise?" said How, shifting into the form of a big-eyed, shapely little Asian girl. She looked up at Tina in a practiced gaze that was at once shy and provocative.
"Don't tempt me," muttered Tina, giving How a doleful glance.
"Yeah, right," the girl tittered, grinning. She coquettishly batted her large, dark eyes at Tina, and struck a temptress' pose. "Like you'd ever fuck a girl."
Tina contemplated her for a moment. Then, abruptly, he grabbed How and bent her into a deep backwards dip, planting his lips on the kitsune's.
How didn't struggle; at first out of surprise at Tina's action, and then from surprise at how good the kiss felt. Tina finally straightened the two of them up and grinned down at the flushed face of his fiancée.
"Do not challenge me," said Tina, putting his index finger on the tip of How's pert little nose for emphasis. "Especially when you've turned me into a man. You know how competitive I get even normally. Right now I've got a lot more testosterone in my system than I'm used to."
"Wow," said How, fanning herself, "I think I need to take you out more often."
"C'mon," sighed Tina, fatigue returning as excitement faded. "Let's get back to our apartment, back into our right forms, and into bed. Tomorrow's Saturday. The Lisater's have watch until ten; barring something weird we can sleep late."
"Uh..." said How, as they started for the door.
"Don't tell me," groaned Tina. "You used so much juice tonight that you can't change us back for a while."
"Uhm, no," said How, mincing a bit as they stepped out into the hall. "I'll be recovered enough by the time we get home for that. But before we leave I need to visit the little ladies' room. All that green tea, you know."
Inside the room, as the odd pair walked away, the shadows stirred. A figure moved to the bed, watched Susumu for a moment, then nodded in satisfaction. Were it not for a need to keep quiet to maintain the presence-concealing glamour, a satisfied chuckle would have echoed quietly through the room.
* * *
Tina trudged tiredly up the stairs to the apartment door and inserted the key in the lock. Even as she opened the door she knew something was wrong. She threw the door open, quickly surveyed the situation, then stepped inside and closed the door. Those already inside greeted her arrival with a startled pause.
"Well, How, Lord Teleomier; aren't you going to introduce me?"
The group was a strange one. Even if How hadn't been in his foxy midform, and Lord Teleomier in his feline one, Tina would have known the visitors were Changelings. For one thing, they all had pointed ears, of various shapes and sizes.
"And who is this?" sniffed a delicate fey woman, apparently the leader of the group of strangers nearly filling the living room/den of How and Tina's modest apartment.
"Countess Glomawr, this is Tina Moore, How's fiancée," said Lord Teleomier.
The dignified elf gave How a meaningful glance.
"You just let her walk in like that, whenever she wants?"
"She pays half the rent," said How, helpfully.
"My Lady, Tina has proven herself both trustworthy and resourceful," said Lord Teleomier smoothly. "I trust her. So does every Changeling who has worked with her."
"Well, I suppose I can abide by your judgment on this," mused the Countess, though she still eyed Tina with suspicion.
"My Lady, may I escort my fiancée over here?" asked How.
She nodded, and the kitsune quickly rose and took Tina by the arm. Soon they were sitting together on the ramshackle couch. Tina was bursting with questions - like how Countess Glomawr had managed to make the ancient surplus recliner look better than it had when new - but she knew that speaking out of turn was considered bad form. Tina remembered her etiquette lessons, and how a formal audience - which this apparently was - went by strict rules. Violating those rules could result in severe penalties.
Looking around, Tina decided that the four big, green guys with polearms were trolls, though they weren't nearly as ugly as she had been told. Most of the rest of the strangers were high-elves. The funny little fellow with the huge book and quill pen was probably an Underhill - a low elf. Tina had never met one before, but he fit the general description, and she recalled that they were supposed to be good at "mundane" things, like crafts and record keeping.
"To conclude," said the Countess, "I am trusting you, Teleomier, to make sure this matter does not reach the attention of the human population at large. We cannot afford Exposure, especially with Fundamentalists of all stripes so influential these days."
"We are keeping this young man under constant surveillance," Lord Teleomier assured her. "So far he has made no attempt to carry out his threat, in spite of How's lack of action on his request."
"And how do you explain this, Pooka?" the Countess asked How.
"Well, my lady, I'd like to think that my excuses and prevarications were deceiving him," sighed How, "but I don't actually think that's the case. He just isn't acting like getting his sister home is important to him. As if he had some other goal. But we haven't been able to figure out what it is."
"Then I have a suggestion," she said, "though I am reluctant to bring anyone else into this matter - especially a Sloughy - I feel the boy's teacher should be informed of these events. Though the Sloughy are unpleasant creatures, they have an uncanny knack for uncovering hidden motives and secret schemes."
"It will be done," said Teleomier, bowing.
"Then that is all I have to say," the Countess announced.
She motioned to her clerk, and he closed the oversized book with a slight bang that made Tina jump. The Countess stood, and her retinue smoothly moved into obviously well-rehearsed positions. One of the high elves moved to a door and made a series of grand gestures. Tina started to point out that there was only a closet beyond, but How squeezed her arm warningly. Just before the first of the troll guards reached the door it sprang open, widening impossibly, becoming a gilded portal. Through the opening Tina glimpsed sunlit green fields of tall grasses and wild flowers.
The guests walked serenely through into the strange scene beyond, and the door closed behind them, returning to drab normalcy.
"Wow..." was all Tina could say.
She jumped as Teleomier clapped his hands.
"Now, who's going to tell Professor Finlay about this?" he asked, grinning as he rubbed his hands together.
"I'll do it," said Tina. "He invited me over for tea this afternoon, anyway."
She was about to say something else, but stopped as she saw the effect her words had on the others in the room.
"My dear," said Teleomier softly, "I've known many Sloughys over the years, and even considered some of them to be my friends. I've never had one invite me to tea."
"Oh. Is this a good thing? I mean, that he invited me?"
"Definitely," said Teleomier, his smile revealing pointed teeth. "It means he trusts you. Just be certain you never do anything to make him think his trust is misplaced."
"Okay," said Tina, slowly. "But tell me something. Why did I get the impression that none of the high elves liked the idea of a Sloughy being involved?"
"Partly a matter of simple prejudice," said Teleomier. "They consider the Sloughys to be low, detestable creatures, in much the same way as many humans think of apes. Then there's the fact that they have the annoying habit of being better at both craft magic and spell magic than the elves."
"They are?!" said Tina, recalling what she had just seen a high elf do with their coat closet.
"Yes. They just aren't as... showy about it.
* * *
Professor Finlay took the news as calmly as Tina had expected him to.
"And you wish my help in solving this mystery?"
"If you would, please," said Tina. "Even Countess Glomawr said your help would be important."
"My, she must be desperate," said Finlay, smiling slightly. He placed his cup carefully back in the saucer. "Well, you can assure your friends that I will devote my attention to the matter and see what I can determine."
"Thank you," said Tina, smiling.
Unfortunately, that smile triggered a yawn, which she tried unsuccessfully to suppress.
"I take it that this matter has been costing you sleep," said Professor Finlay, with a look of concern.
"Sleep, privacy and peace of mind," sighed Tina. "If we don't get some relief soon I'm afraid both my grades and my athletic performance are going to suffer."
"Well, we can't have that," said Finlay firmly. "Rest assured, I'll do all I can to resolve this matter quickly."
* * *
There was a stranger waiting in the apartment when Tina finally got back. He was sitting in the still-improved recliner, smiling at Tina as How went to welcome her. How gave her a quick hug, then ushered her over to the dark-skinned young man.
"You'll never guess who got here right after Teleomier left!" exclaimed How. "Go on, try!"
There was something familiar about the young man, but Tina couldn't place it. He appeared to be in his early teens, of Native American stock, but the only Indians she knew...
"It can't be," gasped Tina, eyes wide. "Mihos?"
The boy grinned, revealing oversized incisors which confirmed her guess. He leaned forward, and as his hands touched the floor they became paws. A large young male cougar walked calmly over to How and Tina.
"I can't believe how much you've grown!" she exclaimed, crouching down to touch noses and skritch him behind the ears. "I remember when I could hold you in my arms like a... well, like a house cat!"
Mihos responded by purring like a lawn mower and rubbing his cheek against hers.
"Hey, now, not too much of that," How chastised in a friendly manner. "That's my girl you're flirting with."
Mihos changed back to human, and Tina found herself almost in a kissing position with him. Blushing a bit, she pulled away. She and Mihos both stood.
"Where have you been for the past year?"
"With my grandmother," said Mihos. "She's been teaching me lots of things about my kind. It's sort of a rite of passage most of us have."
"Are you back in Louisville to stay?"
"For a while," he replied, with a shrug and a shy grin. "Mother wants me to have private schooling. She says that what I learned from Grandmother was good, but I also need to have human knowledge."
"Well, I'm just glad to see you after all this time," said Tina, firmly. "I wondered what happened to you, but you know how your mother is. Getting information out of her that she doesn't want to give is almost impossible."
That brought a mild chuckle all around, and the three teenagers moved over to the couch. After they sat, Tina fingered Mihos' shirt.
"I see that you've already learned how to keep your clothes on."
Realizing what she'd said, she blushed, but before she could correct herself Mihos nodded.
"Yeah. Mother didn't learn until she was in her late forties, and she's a bit put out that I know it already." He shrugged again. "It's not that hard a trick to learn, but you have to know about it first. Which she didn't when she was my age."
"So what are you going to learn?" asked How.
"Human stuff; mostly reading and writing and driving a car. Y'know, normal city stuff."
Tina was amazed. Mihos already fit in better in human society than many Changelings, or even his mother. That was incredible, considering that he was only two years old.
"Well, I'm just glad you're here," she announced.
"Yeah, me, too," said How. "You can help us with a problem we're having."
"How! That's a terrible thing to do." Tina glared at him. "He just got here after being away a whole year, and the first thing you do is ask him to help us with a problem that has nothing to do with him."
"What problem?" asked Mihos.
Tina sighed and explained, with some additions from How.
"Okay," said Mihos, nodding.
"'Okay,' what?" asked Tina.
"Okay, I'll help. Seems like you folks could use it. And I need something to do besides study."
"Okay, buddy, you're in!" exclaimed How, clapping him on the shoulder.
"I just hope you don't regret this," muttered Tina.
* * *
"I am so glad Mihos is helping us," groaned Tina, as she threw herself prostrate on the bed. "With Lord Teleomier back in Ohio, the Lisators away on a magazine assignment, and everyone else being just as tired and fed-up as we are with watching Susumu, his help is really - uhm - helping."
She realized how clumsy that sounded, but was too tired to care, just as she was too tired to construct the sentence right in the first place.
"Yeah," sighed How, as he plopped down beside her. "With our cat watching the mouse we can rest easy for a while. Mihos isn't likely to lose him, and if anything happens he can probably take care of it himself; or if he can't he has the good sense to know that he needs to call in."
"That boy is amazing!" said Tina, as How began unbuttoning her blouse for her. "Not just his physical abilities; his mother has those, and so do some other people we know. He's just so... easygoing, easy to get along with."
"Yeah, but you need to be careful and not assume too much about his social skills," said How, as he Glamoured Tina's bra into a front-closure type to save her the trouble of rolling over. "He is only two years old, after all. If you show him too much affection he might get the wrong idea, and you'll come home to find a cougar sleeping on your bed."
"Well, I think he'd take a polite 'no' for an answer," said Tina, shivering a bit as the bra came open and the cool air tickled her nipples. She absently scratched behind How's foxy ears as be began fondling her breasts. "Y'know, one of my neighbors had a cat like him, when I was a little girl. Big yellow tabby. He loved being around people. You could do just about anything you wanted to him, as long as you were paying attention to him. He loved everybody... except for the occasional uppity dog or bratty kid who decided he'd make a good target for abuse."
"Gee, d'you think he'd let me do this to him?" teased How.
"Whoop!" said Tina, as her breasts ballooned outwards. She laughed, as How sat astride her belly and dove in with both hands. "How, you are incurable!"
"Hey, I'm a guy; I like playing with women's tits. And the more there is to play with, the better."
"Well, shrink these to about half this size," groused Tina. "I can't even see all of your face!"
"Actually, I was thinking they were a bit small..."
"No!" said Tina, firmly. "No way."
"How about a bet, then?" asked How, leaning forward so she could see his grin. "If we clear this problem up within the next three days, you wear these tits all day Saturday."
"All right," said Tina, after thinking a moment. "If you agree that if we don't clear this up, you wear them all day Saturday."
"Hey!" How protested. "That's not fair! You're a lot more likely to win than I am!"
"That's the bet," said Tina, firmly. "You get to choose the rest of the body, but these tits."
"Oh, all right," muttered How, "but if I win, I get to choose the rest of your body, too."
"Wait a minute," said Tina, suddenly wary. "What do you have in mind?"
"Well, either way, you'll see Saturday," was How's mischievous reply.
Tina thought for a moment, then nodded.
"Okay, deal. Now, make my tits smaller."
"That wasn't part of the bet."
"Okay, okay," muttered How, as Tina's breasts shrank to a size somewhere between her normal B-cup and the J-cup they had been.
Before they became too focused on their lovemaking for further rational thought, Tina decided that she didn't really mind that How might have some prank in mind for Saturday. Whatever it was it wouldn't be malicious, and she did like surprises. Well, some surprises...
* * *
The electronic trill of the phone jarred Tina awake. The thing was on the other night table, on How's side of the bed, because Tina had a habit of knocking it onto the floor when she tried to answer it at night, and then going back to sleep. How, on the other hand, was a light sleeper, and good at waking quickly and completely. Hoping the call was something innocuous, she lay there as her lover answered, resisting the rise to full consciousness. That hope was quickly shattered.
"Hold on, let me put you on the speaker phone," said How.
"Like I said, I lost him," said Mihos, sounding very contrite. "He got out of bed in the middle of the night, got dressed, went outside, and walked into an alley. He stopped about halfway down, and I heard him talking to someone. I mean someone talking to him; he didn't say much."
Tina glanced at the clock on her night table, and saw that the time was a bit after three in the morning.
"Go on," said How, looking over at Tina as he felt her move.
"Well, I remembered you two talking about how there was something wrong about the way the guy was acting. I snuck closer, and heard this other guy talking in a low, calm voice, about you two, and realized he was controlling Susumu. Giving him orders. I think he might be a vampire; they do that."
"Yeah, go on," said How, anxiously.
"Well, I tried sneaking close enough to get a good scent of the guy, but he somehow spotted me and bolted. I chased after him but lost him. I'm not sure how, but vampires can do that, too. Anyway, when I got back to the alley Susumu was gone. I tracked his scent to a bus stop."
"Did you check his apartment?" asked Tina.
"That's where I'm calling from," Mihos replied. "He's not here."
"Well, get over here," said How. "We'll talk about what to do, maybe call some other folks in on this."
"Damn, damn, DAMN!!!" snarled Tina, as she quickly began pulling on clothes.
"Don't blame the kid," said How, already up and dressed, though only through cheating with magic.
"I'm not," snapped Tina, "but this is the first break in this mess, and we just can't blow it!"
"I just hope it's not a vampire," said How, shivering. "I know, Lisa and Mihos say they're not all completely rotten, but I'd much rather deal..."
He was interrupted by the apartment door buzzer.
"Any odds on that being Susumu?" asked How, as he and Tina bolted out of the bedroom.
How Glamoured the lights on as they went, a courtesy to Tina, who didn't have his fox night vision. He yanked the door open, to reveal a very disheveled Susumu, a startling look for the usually neat student. He stumbled into apartment, eyes wild, as Tina quickly closed the door behind him.
"What... have you done? I can't think straight... Stop messing with my head!"
There was more, but it was in Japanese.
"Hey, we didn't do anything to you," said How, defensively.
"Susumu, listen," said Tina, more sympathetically. "We think someone is using you to get at us..."
"Leave me alone!" the young man wailed. "Stop making me do those things! I'm not like croak..."
"A frog?!" said Tina, shocked as she looked down at the now-green and small Susumu.
"It was the first thing I could think of," said How, almost apologizing. "I had to make him quiet."
"Okay, okay," said Tina, quickly thinking. "Listen, we can't leave him like this, but for now it'll have to do. We have to call someone! It's obvious that someone..."
"Has been influencing his actions," How finished, nodding. "Yeah. We need to talk to an elder, especially if there's a vampire involved."
"And there's only one elder available close by," sighed Tina. "Professor Finlay."
"Think of the time. How do we find him? Do you know where he lives?"
"His office," said Tina. "Don't you remember what Lord Teleomier said? Sloughys only leave their places of power when they have to."
"Okay, we go disturb the Professor," said How, resignedly, looking thoroughly uncomfortable. He scooped up the frog, which was clumsily trying to escape, and held it up eye-to-eye. "Listen to me. This is temporary, to keep you from causing a fuss. We're going to take you to someone who can help us figure out what this mess is all about."
"What do we carry him in? It's cold out and he's an amphibian."
How focused for a moment, and a small terrarium appeared on the coffee table. How carefully placed the frog inside, closed the cover, picked the terrarium up and handed it to Tina.
"Good thing it's not far," she muttered. "I don't like the idea of carrying this on a bus at this time of night."
"Oh; we better leave a note for Mihos," said How, materializing paper and pencil. "Let him know we found Susumu, and that he can go on home."
* * *
"First time I've been in the basement of this building," muttered How, shivering, his three tails held low. "Can't say I like it."
"I think Professor Finlay did something to make it spooky," said Tina. "You know; so people wouldn't bother him."
"So where's this hall?"
"Right there," said Tina, her gesture hampered by the terrarium.
"I don't see it."
"Well, it is hidden," said Tina, exasperatedly, as she walked towards what - to How - was a blank wall.
The kitsune actually winced as they walked through.
"That's... I don't know how you ever found that! It's worse than Broderic's place!"
"Maybe he's made it stronger since I found it," said Tina, absently. "Or set it up so I can visit."
She stopped at the door, handed the terrarium to How, and knocked. There was an immediate response. Taking a breath to steel herself, Tina opened the door and led the way in.
The office looked precisely as it always did, right down to Finlay sitting, dressed in his usual tweeds, behind the nearly hidden desk. Tina knew his wards would have warned him that he had visitors, but how had he dressed so quickly? Oh, right; the same way How had. Or maybe... maybe some of the stories she had heard from other students were true, and he never slept, instead sitting there all night, working.
"I assume this is important?" said Finlay, in a stern tone.
"Uh, yes, sir," said Tina, startled out of her speculations.
"Very important," said a new voice, from near the door.
Tina and How whirled around, to see a tall, blond man. A tall blond man with fine features, pointed ears... and a gun.
"Alanterin," breathed How. "Suddenly, a lot of things make sense."
"This is all your fault, you know," said the sidhe, as if making a casual comment about a particularly unremarkable spell of weather. "I play a simple joke - a prank on a pooka - and you blow it all out of proportion."
"A simple prank," said Tina, all the irritation, worry and frustration of the past weeks coming to a sudden boil. "You mind-control an innocent third party..."
Alanterin made a brief gesture, and Tina's voice cut off. How quickly put the terrarium down and went to her. Fortunately, the effect was only affecting sound, and not air.
"Since you refuse to keep your pet quiet, I did it for you," said Alanterin. "Oh, and don't try any of your tricks on me. I am quite thoroughly protected by spells. I even have a True Seeing up, so that you can't use an illusion."
He turned his gaze toward the furious Tina, making sure she saw that the gun was on her. Despite his disparaging remarks about the young woman he was not discounting her combat abilities.
"In the first place, he wasn't an innocent," said Alanterin. He glanced at How. "He discovered your true nature, pooka. You were careless. I won't go into the details of how I connected with him. I guided him into contacting you with a useless task, and sat back to watch the fun."
The elf's face and voice hardened.
"Only you panicked. Called in an elder. And he called in the Council. And now, to save my honor, I must close the joke in a way that eliminates you troublemakers, and leaves my foil to take the blame."
How, can you hear me?Tina mindcast, as Alanterin paused in his rant.
Yeah, but I don't know if he can. So don't use this unless you have to.
Tina's eyes went briefly wide, and she nodded slightly. How turned to Alanterin, stepping slightly away from Tina.
"You mean that you started a half-thought-out revenge plot, then lost control of it and you panicked when we took the reasonable course of action of calling in help."
"You know, pooka, I'm going to feel regret in killing these other three," said Alanterin, raising the gun and aiming right between How's eyes. "You, however..."
"That will be quite enough, young man," said Finlay.
"Really, sir; I don't know what your relationship with the pooka is, but..."
The elf glanced toward the desk... and froze. And then began slowly backing away, looking first surprised, then terrified. Tina jerked around to look at Professor Finlay, and saw why.
She had been frustrated by the vague terms her friends used in describing the trueform of Sloughys. Now she saw that the descriptions were vague because the trueform was vague. Finlay was shifting, becoming something large, pale and formless, so big that the desk was being pushed away. Something less like a slug than an eel of some sort, but vastly more massive.
A slight expression of what might have been annoyance seemed to cross the thing's... well, not face, but physiognomy. Alanterin gave a scream which went abruptly upwards in pitch and cut off. Tina tore her eyes away from the fearsome sight of the Professor and whirled around.
Alanterin was still standing there. And it looked like he would keep standing there for quite a while. His body and clothing and even the gun had turned into what appeared to be a fine, pale marble.
"I wish that settled it," sighed Finlay, his voice sounding quite normal, "but now I suppose I'll have to call this Teleomier fellow and have him contact someone on the Council which means I'll have even more visitors and bother."
He was back in his usual human form when Tina turned to him again, looking as unruffled and imperturbable as usual. After his transformation and casual display of power How and Tina were neither.
"I'm really sorry about this, Professor," said Tina, timidly.
"Oh, I don't blame you, my dear," said Finlay, almost smiling. "I did, after all, offer you my help. Neither of us had any way of knowing it would be needed in this way."
There was a sudden commotion of door slamming open and excited cat boy charging into the room. Mihos slid to a stop beside Tina and How. He looked at them, looked at Finlay, looked at Alanterin, and winced.
"Oh," he said, sheepishly. "Never mind."
"And who is this?!" demanded Finlay, his voice almost a shriek. For the first time in Tina's experience he seemed about to lose his temper.
"It's all right, Professor," said How, grinning. "He's a real pussycat."
* * *
"I don't believe this day," groaned Tina, as she staggered into the apartment. "After weeks of worry and not knowing what's going on with Susumu, we not only find out but get it all settled in less than three hours."
"Well, it's not all settled," said How. "The doctoring they did of his memory is just temporary. They may eventually decide that the simplest way of dealing with him is letting him remember everything that happened, and make him swear to keep quiet about it. I mean, he did keep quiet about me for all those months."
"And he did send you all those treats," said Tina, grinning as she knuckled How's head. Her mood quickly faded, though, turning somber. "Any idea what they'll do with Alanterin?"
"Some. Probably involving changing him into a very unpleasant form for a while, with his magic damped. Maybe even a geas or two. And the elfin equivalent of psychotherapy."
He looked over at Tina thoughtfully as she stripped for bed. Dawn was not long in coming, but neither of the young lovers had early classes, so they could get a few more hours of much-needed sleep. Only there was something he couldn't let go.
"I noticed that you didn't seem too - uhm - repelled by Finlay. That you were still willing to get close to him, after..."
"How, I used to be a tomboy..."
"'Used to be'?" said How, grinning.
"I collected things like slugs and tadpoles and split open rotten logs to look at termite nests. I can't say I find his trueform appealing, but I know better than to let what he really looks like affect what I think of him."
"That's my Tina," said How, giving her a brief, affectionate kiss. "I don't know whether you're the strangest human I know, or simply the most."
"You just say that because I do think your trueform is cute," Tina replied, returning the kiss with interest.
They settled into bed with mutual sighs, and How Glamoured the lights out. There was a blessed moment of stillness. Which lasted less than two full seconds.
"Oh, shit!" said Tina, sitting bolt upright in bed as she suddenly remembered something. "You won the bet. I have to wear those stupid huge boobs all day Saturday."
How rubbed his hands together and gave vent to his Patented Matinee Villain Sinister Laugh.
Copyright 1999 Rodford Edmiston Smith, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Permission is given for this story to be placed in the Transformation Stories Archive. Anyone else who wishes to post this story or use it for anything except personal enjoyment must obtain the author's permission.