This story is set in the late Spring and early Summer of 1998.
"I can't be pregnant," said Tina.
"I'm surprised," said Lisa, frowning in disapproval. "I didn't think you were the type to go into denial."
"It's not denial. How does this Fey thing which keeps either of use from having children. I can see it maybe failing for one of us, but both?!"
Lisa didn't bother asking if Tina had any other lovers. Instead, the werecougar pulled the test vial out of the rack and held it up for Tina to see.
"No doubt. Unless you've been doing something which messed up your hormone levels."
"Not that I know of," said Tina, looking just a bit hopeful, "but with some of the weird things in my life it could've happened."
Lisa gently placed her hands over the young athlete's belly, and half-closed her eyes. Tina had the distinct impression she was doing more than just feeling with her hands.
"You're definitely pregnant," said Lisa, pulling back. "About a month and a half along."
"Oh..." said Tina, looking stunned, finally accepting it. "Yeah, that's about right. I'm five weeks late for my period."
"And you're only just now checking if you're pregnant?"
"Well, normally I'm pretty regular, but if I train too hard it can make me miss. I thought that's what this was."
"Okay, asking whether anything unusual has happened to you lately is useless, considering your and How's lives," Lisa mused, "but how about anything extra-unusual?"
"Just Luna, in for a visit," said Tina, shrugging.
Suddenly her eyes went wide.
"Luna did something?" asked Lisa.
"She kept going on about how she wanted to reward us for helping her. I don't really think we did all that much, and How and I both know better than to accept magical favors from someone that spacey, so we politely turned her down. But then I noticed her staring at that damn print. Damn!" Tina threw back her head, raised her fists to the ceiling and gave a growling shout of rage and frustration that would have done a werewolf proud. After a moment she calmed herself and continued. "She kept looking at it, asking about it. It's the one that shows me pregnant; I don't think you've seen it."
"I've heard you and Mariah talking about it," Lisa commented. "She has one of the prints, and showed it to me. It's on the wall in her room."
"Damn, damn, damn..." muttered Tina.
"You might try for a little more variety," said Lisa, dryly. "I take it you think she made you pregnant, believing a child would be a reward for you and How."
"I'm pretty sure," said Tina, nodding. "I'll get How to check."
"Does he know?"
"Not yet," Tina replied. "I wanted to be sure myself, first."
"How do you think he'll take it?"
"Oh, he'll be deliriously happy," said Tina. "He loves children, and wants a whole pack. Actually, I want children, too; I just wanted to wait a while longer."
"Well, I'm here if you need help," said Lisa, firmly, "medical, mental or financial."
"Thank you," said Tina, briefly squeezing the older woman's arm. "I think I better go tell How."
"I'm sure he's guessed by now," said Lisa. "After all, most of my time these days is spent running this clinic, and the purpose of this clinic is reproduction. That's why I got my Nurse Practitioner certification, after all."
"This is How we're talking about," said Tina, smirking. "Mr. Clueless. I bet when I tell him - and I'm gonna wait 'till we're home, 'cause I don't feel like driving - he'll be floored."
Minutes later, Tina was dressed and ready to leave. However, she seemed hesitant.
"Mind if I ask you a personal question?"
"Well... when How and I first met you, you just didn't seem - you know - like a people person," said Tina, trying to put her curiosity into words without being too blunt. "You were really aloof. Over the past few years, though, you've changed a lot. Not just with the cubs, either. You were changing before them, and after."
"I am, by nature, a loner," said Lisa, seriously. "But I've realized that even a loner can have friends. And that even a loner can want to help people. Yes, the cubs stimulated part of the change. But I've always wanted to help people, and that usually means socializing with them.
"I've also realized that people need a goal. And I've set myself the goal of helping interesting people bring more of their kind into the world."
Tina nodded, satisfied.
* * *
"We're going to have a baby?" said How, a big, silly grin spreading slowly over his face.
"Well, I'm gonna do most of the having," countered Tina, who couldn't help but smile at his reaction.
"We're gonna have a baby!" yelled How, dancing around the apartment.
Tina started to quiet him, then decided to just let him go. Which she realized might have been a mistake, as he began capering on the walls and ceiling.
"Oh! Oh! We'll have to set up a nursery!" he said, stopping suddenly and dropping to the floor, but still grinning like a maniac. "Where can we put it?"
"Well, for the first few months we'll have to have the crib in our bedroom."
"Whoa! That'll put a crimp in our sex lives," said How, though he didn't stop smiling. Then he did stop, looked concerned. "Uh... we can still have sex... can't we? Before the baby...?"
"Yes, How," said Tina, rolling her eyes. "We can have sex when I'm pregnant. We'll have to go easy once I get big, but we can still have sex."
"Good!" he announced, seizing her arm and pulling her toward the rug in front of the fake fireplace. "I am so horny right now. Being a father is arousing!"
"How, to you everything is arousing," laughed Tina, allowing herself to be led away.
* * *
"Are you pregnant?" asked Mariah, tentatively. "I mean, this is the second time you've been here in the past month, and Lisa ran a pregnancy test last time and told me to get some stuff ready for an exam this time."
"Well, yeah," said Tina, shyly. "I'm a bit surprised Lisa didn't tell you."
"Wow. I can't believe it. I mean, you're two years younger than me!"
"Well, if you'd settle down with one guy instead of dating half the males on campus..."
"Yeah, yeah," said Mariah, grinning as she waved the comment away.
"It's probably gonna be a Changeling, maybe a kitsune," said Tina. "We think Luna did something which caused a fey spirit to come here and be born as our child."
Lisa noted that Mariah's smile was fading.
"What is it?"
"Well, it's this whole fey spirit thing," Mariah explained. "It makes me feel really uncomfortable. I mean, do they just move in and take over, or what? What happens to the human baby?"
"Changeling babies are extra babies," said Tina, firmly. "Think about How. His parents tried to have children for years, but couldn't, and doctors told them they probably wouldn't. The kitsune spirit which became How - what they call a precursor - came out of the old bastion near their home, and looked around for the nearest compatible family. People who would be the sort of parents the spirit would want."
"How does that work, anyway?" Mariah wanted to know, possibly still not convinced. "I mean, does it wait until they're making love, or..."
"That's something they don't really know," said Tina. She grinned. "Though they won't admit it. Some say the spirit splits in two, part going to each parent. Then, the next time they have sex, the parts are united and you get a fertilized egg. Others say it goes to the woman or man and waits."
"Oops, there comes the patient ahead of you," said Mariah, glancing up as a timid-looking young woman accompanied by a lean, viscous-looking young man came out of the examining room. Neither looked happy. "You better get ready. Lisa will probably call you in just a moment."
Mariah rose and quickly left for the kitchen, and Tina rose - with just a bit of trouble - from her chair. As the couple spoke in quiet, tense voices, Tina turned to reach for her purse. She looked up, startled, at the sound of a hard slap. She saw the woman cowering away from the man, hand to her cheek.
"Another damn miscarriage!" said the main, yelling, now. "Woman, I'm starting to think you do this on purpose!"
He drew back his hand for another slap. Tina reacted without thinking, stepping forward and stopping the blow with a hard block, then moving into a shiho nage. The man went up on his toes, reflexively trying to get away from the pressure and pain. Tina held him just long enough to reinforce the fact that she had him, then followed through with the takedown. A martial artist would have rolled out of this, but the man simply collapsed face-down on the floor. He lay there for a moment, stunned; then pushed himself up, already changing, growing fur and fangs.
"Your pack," he growled, "so I'll know who to tell about your death, and why."
"She doesn't have a pack," snapped Lisa, who had entered the room unnoticed during the melee. "Congratulations. You were just floored by a pregnant human."
She advanced quickly to the werewolf and grabbed his ear.
"What did I tell you about hitting her? Do you remember?" snarled Lisa, as angry as Tina could ever recall seeing her. "You're the one complaining about her miscarriages! Didn't you ever think you might be causing them with this rough treatment?"
The werewolf yelped as Lisa literally hauled him to his feet by his ear, sounding like a cross between a little boy and a puppy. The werecougar quickly led him into the storeroom. There was a brief silence, then about three seconds of the world's largest cat and dog fight. This ended suddenly when the werewolf's head crashed through the wall in a burst of plaster chips and dust. Since the head didn't fall to the floor Tina assumed it was still attached, but he was soundly unconscious, and held tight by the old plaster and lath.
Lisa, back in human form, opened the door and strode again into the waiting room.
"I want you to take her somewhere," she began, indicating the woman, who was cowering in a corner, back to the action.
"How dropped me off. I don't have a car."
"The keys to the Miata are hanging in the kitchen; Mariah will show you where," said Lisa, unfazed. She pulled a pad out of her smock pocket and quickly wrote something. "Take her to this address. Think you can find it?"
"Yeah," said Tina, though a bit uncertainly.
"There's a Louisville map in the glovebox if you need help. Now, get out of here. I have to call someone about this moron, and I don't need any distractions or complications just now."
"Yes, ma'am," said Tina, quickly. "Uh, what do I tell..."
"Just say she's a werewolf's mate who needs shelter. They'll know what to do. Now move!"
* * *
The woman who came out the door as Tina parked looked familiar for some reason. Once the purpose of the visit was explained she was also very competent and businesslike, reminding Tina of Lisa. She appeared to be in her mid-thirties, and was tall, dark-haired but Caucasian, in good shape. She quickly checked the stranger, and - with Tina's help - got her out of the car. She then bustled all three of them into her house. The patient, silent and unresponsive during the trip, was still acting stunned, almost catatonic. Their host sat her down in a chair and examined her face.
"Not too bad," she muttered. "I should of known that. Lisa wouldn't send someone here if they still needed medical attention.
"Can you hear me, honey?" the woman asked the patient, gently shaking her shoulder. "Do you know where you are?"
"I cain't have kids," was the reply, so soft Tina could barely hear her. "It's my fault. Todd wants kids, and I cain't give 'em to him."
The older woman sighed and shook her head.
"You keep her company for a few minutes. I need to make some preparations."
Tina actually didn't have to do much. She just sat quietly, holding the woman's hand. As she examined the patient's face, Tina could see she was actually younger than first impression had indicated. She looked older than her years, due to anxiety and abuse. Tina felt heart-sick for the woman, and a rising anger at her mate. And also frustration; she'd been lucky with that takedown. Without Lisa or some other supernatural to back her up, she would have had little chance against the werewolf.
Much to Tina's relief the stranger soon returned with a cup of hot cocoa and a pill.
"Here, honey, drink this and take this. You need sleep right now. We'll worry about the rest tomorrow."
Tina wouldn't have just blindly taken a pill from a stranger, but this woman obeyed without question. At their host's gentle encouraging, she then finished her cocoa.
"Good. Now let's get you in bed."
With Tina's help they half-carried her into a back room, which was crowded with four small, mismatched beds. The covers on the beds were also mismatched, though clean and neatly made. Tina wondered just what this place was for. The house was a modest building on the edge of an outlying subdivision, with woods bordering the property. It seemed pretty normal; Tina could even hear children playing out back. But there were some odd things...
"Help me get her out of this," muttered the woman.
They stripped her from her clean but worn dress and shoes and put her between the sheets. She was already dozing off. Tina gasped as she saw the bruises and other marks on her skin, and the slight crookedness in the left forearm from broken bones which had been set improperly... or not at all. The older woman sighed, looking down at the frail figure with a very maternal expression as she pulled the covers up. Tina wondered, again, just what this place was. Some sort of shelter for the battered wives of werewolves? She glanced down at the woman, who even asleep seemed tense and worried. As if expecting to be rudely awakened and punished for resting.
Tina realized the older woman was looking at her. It was an odd, evaluating look, not actually hostile, but suspicious.
"Let's go back into the den and let her rest," the host said, softly.
Moments later they were both seated on opposite sides of the coffee table. The woman was still looking at Tina a bit suspiciously.
"What's your role in this?"
"Uh, I was waiting for my exam, when her husband - I guess it was her husband - hit her. I stopped him from hitting her again, and before he could gut me Lisa arrived. She took him out and told me to bring her here."
"So you're not a werewolf?"
"Nope," said Tina. "My fiancé and I know Lisa, and we know some werewolves, though, so it's alright to talk about them."
"Well, that follows," said the woman, smiling for the first time. She held our her hand. "Joyce Jones."
"I have the strangest feeling I know you from somewhere..." said Joyce.
"I feel the same way about you," said Tina, frowning. "Well, until just recently I was a shoe-in for the 2000 Olympics."
"That's it!" said Joyce, smiling. "I work for one of the local TV stations, in the news department. I remember seeing you in some sports segments."
Tina still couldn't place the woman, or figure out why she looked so familiar.
"Would you like some coffee?" Joyce asked. "Or a soda?"
"Diet soda, if you have one," said Tina. "Maybe caffeine free, too."
"How about some lemonade instead?" she countered, smiling. "I guess you're pregnant, if you're seeing Lisa and avoiding caffeine."
"Uh, yeah," said Tina, blushing. She still found her new status a bit embarrassing. "That's why I may not make the next Olympics. I'll have trouble getting back into shape in time."
Joyce nodded and left, leaving Tina no closer to figuring out who she actually was. And then, as the woman returned bearing cups, she weaved around a floor lamp, and Tina knew. Put her in a long, black wig and a slinky black dress, hips cocked in an exaggeratedly sexy pose...
"You're Carni Vore!" Tina blurted.
The older woman snickered.
"Not for a long time. That gig only lasted until I could get a better position at the station."
"Well, I still miss you. We used to watch those shows more for you than the horror movies. Me because I thought you were funny, and How because he lusted after you."
"'How'? said Joyce, her smile fading to a frown. "Wait a minute. I remember something... Is he that werefox?"
"Kitsune," Tina corrected.
"It's a small world," said Joyce, beaming. "I've heard Beaty talk about him. And you, now that I can make the connection."
"'Beaty'?" said Tina, puzzled.
"Beaty equals BT equals Bent-Tail," said Joyce, grinning. "Aka 'hubby.'"
"You're... You're Bent-Tail's wife," said Tina, astounded. "I didn't even know he's married!"
"Married, and with 3 kids," said Joyce. "One still in the cradle. Which reminds me, I need to check on little Jackie, if you'll excuse me. Or, you could come along and see what you'll be going through in a few months."
* * *
Back at Lisa's home, Tina found Mariah, but no werewolf or werecougar or anyone else.
"Oh, she had to go with the werewolves who came to get Dingleberry," said the housekeeper. "Seems Lisa's not the only one fed up with him. They want her to testify so they can punish him formally."
"'Dingleberry'?" said Tina, smiling in spite of the situation.
"Yeah. I guess we shouldn't be surprised he's such a bastard, with a name like that." Mariah laughed, and shrugged. "Anyway, Lisa said you'd have to reschedule. Hope you don't mind."
"No, that's all right."
* * *
"I'm really glad Lisa keeps such late hours," said Tina, as she eased herself into the chair. "Between classes, and managing How's art business, and the training I can still do, I just can't get here during regular doctor's hours."
"That's the case with a lot of our patients," said Mariah. "Hey, it helps me, too. I'm in pretty much the same boat as you are. I go to school, then come back here to work."
Tina sighed and leaned back. Unlike the seats found in most waiting rooms, this chair was quite comfortable, provided with pregnant females in mind, as were all the others in the waiting room.
"My fourth visit," said Tina, "and I'm not only about a third of the way through this."
"You're already starting to show," said Mariah, sounding impressed. "Some women don't at three months, but you're so lean and muscular that it's obvious you've put on some weight around the middle. You better switch to maternity clothes soon."
"Yeah, and Lisa has been warning me to get more fat in my diet. Says I'm too lean. Which is strange, coming from one of the few women I've ever met who has more muscle and less fat than me."
"But then, I'm not human, am I?" said Lisa, stepping into the waiting room. "Okay, I'm ready; come on in."
"Well, it definitely has a tail," said Lisa, watching the screen as she ran the head of the ultrasound transducer over Tina's slightly swollen belly. "Though the overall shape and size are human. Remind me, if you ever have another, to ask if this one feels different."
"Well, if How and I get our way, they'll all be Changelings," said Tina, craning her neck to look. "Though they might not all be kitsune."
Lisa finished and handed the transducer to Mariah, who cleaned it and put the equipment away, then handed Tina some paper towels while Lisa stripped off her gloves and scribbled on a form. Finished, the nurse put the page in Tina's file, then turned back to the young athlete.
"It's about the right size for a human fetus at three months," said Lisa. "I'd say you'll have a normal term. That is, another six months. It's probably a little girl, though the tail makes it difficult to tell. All the tests show it's healthy."
"You're gonna get huge," teased Mariah, grinning as she took the towels from Tina.
"Gee, thanks," muttered Tina. She sighed. "That means it'll be born early next year. Which means I'll probably have to skip that semester."
"Well, that's not so bad," said Mariah. "Your grades are good and you have a good advisor. And that'll give you the Spring and Summer to get to know the baby, and find a way to arrange child care for when you do start back."
"As long as you follow a reasonable diet and exercise program and don't have any severe traumas, there shouldn't be anything to worry about," Lisa said. "And, like Mariah pointed out, the extra time postpartum will do both you and the baby good."
"I just hope we can keep How's and my parents away from the delivery," muttered Tina. "How's dad want's us to videotape it. Now, How or Teleomier could doctor the tape, so it doesn't show anything weird, but I really don't want anyone to see me like that who doesn't have to. And even Lord Teleomier said something about attending."
"Don't worry," said Lisa, smiling ferally. "It'll be just you, me, How if you want him, and maybe Mariah, depending on how things go. Anyone else who wants in will just be out of luck."
"How's okay," said Tina. She smirked. "And we better have Mariah in here, to catch him. He'll probably faint at least twice."
They all laughed at that.
"Well, we'll keep on with the exams as scheduled," said Lisa, "but right now I don't see anything which would prevent an easy delivery. You're in excellent health and physical condition. I doubt you'll even need much medication. Barring something I can't predict, you'll certainly not need any magic."
"Ooh, I just realized!" said Mariah, grinning. "We have to give you a baby shower!"
"Oh, please, don't bother," said Tina, quickly.
"Actually, I think that's a good idea," said Lisa. She frowned. "Do you give those before or after the baby's born?"
"UH..." said Mariah, looking confused.
"Before," said Tina. "At least, that's the way people I know have done it."
"That's probably the best in this case," said Lisa, nodding. "You two will be busy enough with a new baby without having to put up with hosting strangers, or going out somewhere for a party."
* * *
Tina moaned in her sleep. She thrashed a bit, making vague, half-word sounds. Suddenly, she sat up with a cry. A cry echoed by How. They stared at each other for several seconds, in the faint light of their darkened bedroom.
"That couldn't..." began Tina.
"I think we better get out of here," said How, quickly rising.
"But... Hey!" She was suddenly dressed, as was How. If he was expending magic on getting them clothed instantly, then he must be serious.
"I mean it. That kind of warning isn't sent lightly."
The pair scrambled out of the apartment and down the stairs. How helped Tina into the passenger seat of their car, then hurried around to the driver's side.
"So, did Luna..." Tina began, as they drove away.
"Uh-huh," said How.
"And you think..."
"I got the impression from the dream that there's more to our baby than just being your ordinary, everyday kitsune," said How.
"Oh, great," muttered Tina. "It figures Luna would do something like this. So, where are we going?"
* * *
Only Lord Teleomier's wasn't all there any more.
"What the Hell..." said Tina, as How slowed their car. Both were gaping at the structure. "Where's the rest of it?"
"I think... it's in the realm of the Light Elves," said How, sounding as stunned as Tina.
"But... won't that make a mess when they put it back? I mean, they will put it back, right?"
"Maybe. Teleomier's a local Council member, and otherwise influential, so even the ljosalfar won't just keep him."
"This is all happening too fast!" wailed Tina, staring at the ruined home, feeling helpless for the first time in a long while.
"According to what I've heard, those folks take a long time to make up their minds, but once they do they act quickly," said How, briefly hugging her.
"Where can we go now?"
"Uhm, I'm not sure," said How, shivering. "We could try another Council member's place, but even if they haven't gotten the same treatment yet, they might while we're there."
"Professor Finlay's," said Tina, firmly, straightening with sudden resolve.
"Yeah," said How, nodding. "Not only might he not be connected with us, he's about the only Fey in the area powerful enough that even the ljosalfar would hesitate to cross him."
* * *
"You just missed him," said Finlay, only a slight tightness in his voice and a bit of a frown indicating the irritation he must surely be feeling at having his solitude disturbed. "Fellow named Wolyarm. He came here with only a moment's warning and demanded - Demanded! - that I tell him where you were. Hmph."
They were standing in his basement office, which looked just like it always did. Only Finlay was different, in that he was wearing an old-fashioned nightshirt and cap, with houseslippers on his feet.
"Uh, what did you tell him?" asked How, timidly.
"That I knew you, and considered you honorable and worthy people, and that I had no idea where you were currently located."
"Thank you," said Tina, smiling.
Finlay smiled back, an expression rarely seen by his students.
"No thanks necessary," he assured her. "Besides, I was simply telling the truth. I do not know where you live, do I?"
"Ooh, good one," laughed How. He quickly sobered, though. "Did he say anything about why he's after us?
"Something about you and that Luna person conspiring to steal one of the great Fae spirits from its slumber in the land of the ljosalfar."
"Eep," said How, stunned.
"I have received word that two other local Fey besides Lord Teleomier and myself have been questioned," Finlay continued. "The community is up in arms, worried enough to seek even my help. Unfortunately, there is little any of the others can do to resist the efforts of the ljosalfar , and my domicile will almost surely be visited again. While you are welcome here, I cannot guarantee being able to provide protection from those who seek you. I suggest you seek refuge with someone not affiliated with any of us."
"Great," muttered How. "They're bound to find us, eventually, so we need someone who can hold them off until the Council can get its act together. Who can we go to?"
"Lisa Dawnwind," said Finlay.
"Huh?" said How and Tina, together.
"She's physically powerful, but we need someone magically powerful," said How.
"Have you ever tried to enter her property without permission?" asked Finlay, raising an eyebrow. "I'm certain I couldn't. I've heard from some who have tried, and they couldn't. Whether she would be able to keep this ruffian out I don't know, but she has a better chance than anyone else in the area."
* * *
Lisa had just gone to bed, was not even asleep yet, when she felt a presence entering her domain. Two of them, actually, both familiar and both friends. At first she simply smiled and continued to drift off to sleep. But something nagged her back awake, an awareness of and concern about the time of their visit. Lisa shook herself to full consciousness, and she dressed hurriedly, worried that something might be wrong with that strange baby of theirs.
"Oh, Lisa!" exclaimed Tina, almost in tears, as the kitchen door opened. "Thank God!"
"What's going on?" Mariah asked, sleepily, as she entered the kitchen behind Lisa.
Lisa urged How and Tina inside. The duo - mostly Tina, with some interjection from How - quickly explained their problem and their need.
"You don't even have to ask," said Lisa, holding up a hand. "Of course you can stay."
"Thank you," said How, relieved. "But what's this about Fey not being able to enter your property?"
"Not just Fey," said the werecougar, a bit smugly. "Nothing enters without my knowledge and permission. This is a holy place, and protected by higher powers."
She put her hands on her hips for emphasis, striking a proud pose, which allowed the robe she wore to open enough to reveal that it was all she wore. How stared, until Tina elbowed him.
"Want me to put on some coffee?" Mariah asked.
"Yes," decided Lisa. "I'd say we need to stay up for at least a while. If this... this..."
"Wolyarm," How supplied.
"...is working as quickly as you say, he could be here soon." She paused a moment, and smiled. "That is, if he can find you. That's another part of the protections on this place."
They all stayed awake for about an hour, then took turns with one keeping watch while the rest dozed. Lisa claimed the recliner, Mariah the couch, and How and Tina curled up together on and some quilts on the floor between. With How in his foxy midform, the young couple didn't need much in the way of covers, settling for a light blanket, even though Lisa habitually kept her house quite cool. Which was fortunate, since Mariah - complaining about being cold - hogged most of the blankets and the afghan. Dawn was well under way, with Mariah watching, when Lisa suddenly sat up in her recliner, for a moment appearing to listen to something. She then stood, flowing smoothly and quickly to her feet.
"There's someone prowling around outside my land," said Lisa, quietly.
As the others stirred, she threw off her robe and, unconcernedly naked, walked out of the room. She went down the hall, through the kitchen, and outside. The others followed at a distance. The situation was so tense that How barely gave thought to Lisa's bare body.
There was an odd sensation in the air, a sort of menace. Lisa was staring down the driveway at the main gate.
"Well, he's an arrogant bastard," she muttered. "Any reason I shouldn't just take this son of a bitch out?"
"Well, you probably can't," said How, agitated. "Even if you destroy his physical form - and that wouldn't be easy - he'd just reconstitute back on his home plane, and return with reinforcements."
There was a flare of energy, something felt rather than seen or heard. And a figure was suddenly visible at the gate, backing away, shoved away.
He was definitely Fey. Tall, lean, eerily handsome, with pointed ears, white hair and pale skin. He was dressed in an odd fashion, archaic but not completely identifiable as anything from human history. However, there was no mistaking that his garb was intended for combat. Part of it was armor, and he carried a sword.
"You can't come in here," said Lisa, raising her voice a bit. "These people are under my protection. Go away."
The man sneered, and approached the gate. He raised his hands and shoved at nothing. Again came that feeling of unseen forces at work; this time he did not rebound, but leaned into whatever was barring him.
"Okay," said Lisa, shifting to her midform, "have it your way."
Lisa's transformation seemed to give him pause. It was hard to tell from that distance, but he might have been surprised.
"Damn," Lisa muttered, looking up. "Clear skies. Too difficult to call lightning. Oh, well; I'll just have to do this the hard way."
Now there was something visible happening at the entrance, a sort of distortion in the air around the figure's hands, like heat waves. Lisa stood there, defiant, black-tipped tail lashing, staring at the main entrance.
"All of you but How, into the house," said Lisa, her voice calm but firm.
Tina and Mariah glanced at each other, then quickly obeyed.
"You, kitsune, have a job. If I fall, I want you to go, fast as you can, to that big willow and yell for help."
"Huh?" said How, confused. "You mean that one you won't let anyone come near?"
"Yes. I'm giving you special dispensation."
How noted the unusual phrasing, and felt his hackles rise.
"Yes, ma'am," he said, meekly.
"Now, get over behind those bushes, at the corner of the house, and wait. Don't move unless you see me go down."
"Yes, ma'am," blurted How, turning and dashing for the cover indicated.
The battle which followed was non-physical, but still obviously quite strenuous. For long moments Lisa stood there, straining, while the ljosalfar fought against her defenses. The distortion increased, growing to become a shimmering wall of translucent, flowing colors, which appeared to be part of an invisible dome around Lisa's land. How found the tension nearly unbearable, and fought hard against the urge to do something. But, no. Lisa presumably knew what she was doing. He'd wait.
Wolyarm, surprisingly, seemed as strained as the werecougar. He also appeared both angry and determined. With a cry, he threw himself at the barrier. Lisa staggered, recovered, and suddenly yelled in rage, her voice a mixture of cougar cry and human scream. The elf now staggered, falling back, surprised and possibly hurt. The effort had cost Lisa much, though. How could tell she was on the edge of exhaustion. And still Wolyarm came at her defenses.
In the end it was not effort which felled Lisa, but cunning. Even How missed the fact that as he strained against the barrier, Wolyarm also cast spells. Finally, one of them worked. A bright light flared around Lisa, and she dropped without a sound. The elf allowed himself perhaps three seconds to recover. Then he started for How, who was in fox form and already fleeing for the willow.
How ran faster than any fox, 4 legs churning as he ducked under and jumped over obstacles a human would have had to go around. Unfortunately, his pursuer was not human. The ljosalfar simply blasted away anything he couldn't fly over. However, that still delayed him, just a bit. On top of his tiredness from battling Lisa that was enough. How reached the willow first, shifting to his trueform in mid-air as he jumped inside the sheltering branches.
"Lisa needs help!" he gasped.
There was a moment of stillness. How suddenly felt silly, and afraid. What was here which would answer his call, and could stand against Wolyarm? Then he saw the altar in the shadows, and felt the power gathering around it.
Wolyarm flew towards the willow, expecting to pass easily through the curtain of hanging branches. Instead, he was thrown back. Startled, he directed his mystic senses towards the obstacle, and found the same sort of barrier which surrounded the cat's land. Snarling, he directed his energies at the barrier. It resisted, easily, more easily than the larger one. Then, it parted... from the inside.
Tall and angry, green cat eyes glaring and black cat tail lashing, Bast strode out through the drooping branches. Trailing well behind her was How, a smirk on his face.
"Wh.. what are you doing here, cat goddess?" demanded the ljosalfar falling back.
Was it How's imagination, or did Wolyarm actually seem frightened, as well as surprised?
"Protecting mine," said Bast, ominously.
"The cat is not harmed. If she had not put herself between me and what I came for, there would have been no trouble."
"There is nothing of yours here," said Bast, eyes glowing ominously green.
The light elf hesitated, might even have been considering retreat... but then focused his resolve.
"One of ours foolishly gave the mortal girl a high spirit. We intend to return it to it's slumber."
"You shall not."
"This is none of your business!"
"The children are friends of my priestess. And they have previously aided a charge of one of my avatars. This spirit is a reward given them by one of yours for aiding her. Since they have been denied by other Fey rewards properly due them, I have chosen to support this."
"This is none of your business!" yelled Wolyarm, summoning his power, surrounding himself with a glowing shield as he prepared to fight.
Bast raised a hand, open, relaxed, unthreatening.
The ljosalfar vanished.
How cheered, actually jumping into the air and triumphantly raising his fist. His mood quickly became timid as the cat goddess turned to him.
"You have done well, little fox," said Bast, smiling as she echoed the words of the cat spirit who had awarded How his third tail. "No; don't protest. You were intelligent enough to know what you had to do, and brave enough to do it in spite of great risk. For that, and many other things, I give you what you should have had already."
How felt a strange tingly warmth at the base of his spine. He didn't need to look to see that he now had a fourth tail.
"Thank you, Mother of Cats," said How, quietly.
Bast smiled at him for a moment, then winked, and turned to walk back through the screening willow branches.
Lisa was already standing by the time How reached the house. She was shaking her head, snarling.
"Hey! We won!" yelled How. "Bast came and..."
"I know, I know," growled Lisa, hand to her temple. "She told me."
"Oh. Well, I bet she didn't tell the others!"
He ran inside.
Lisa sighed, and shook her head again. Then smiled, in spite of being dazed, tired and suffering from a headache which would have killed an ox. They had won, indeed. Not just decisively, but in a way which made it clear that a higher power approved of the kids having the baby. Which meant the ljosalfar were very unlikely to continue interfering.
She sighed again, and paused to look around. Not much actual damage, and most of that was to underbrush in the woods. Still, she'd have to work on reinforcing her protections. There was no way she'd let something like that happen again.
* * *
By the time she entered the kitchen, How was just finished his energetic retelling of the battle, and showing off his new tail. Tina was holding him, grinning and sobbing with relief. Mariah was hugging both of them. As Lisa entered, the kitsune suddenly broke free, ran to her, grabbed her in a fierce hug and gave her a quick but firm kiss on the cheek.
"Get away, you crazy fox!" laughed Lisa, caught up in the young folks' happiness.
"Talk about you're deus ex machina!" How cried, as he ran back to Tina.
"Well, it wasn't, actually," said Lisa. "More like appealing to a higher court. I thought I could hold him, but knew better than to count on that. So I simply prepared for the worst. I must admit, I feel a bit humbled, but Bast told me they sent one of their best, so it's only a bit."
"Can we go home, now?" asked Tina, tiredly. "I mean, not that I don't appreciate your hospitality, but I need to know if I can sleep in my own bed without endangering my baby."
"Yes," was Lisa's simple reply. "The matter has effectively been kicked upstairs. If the loose... lyoose... Light Elves want to take this further, they'll have to go through one of their own gods. Even if some of them become interested, they'll go to Bast directly. When she says no - and believe me, she will - few of them would try to act against her wishes. She's very old, very respected, and very powerful."
"So we're safe," said Tina, sagging a bit with relief.
"Well, from that particular threat," said Lisa, still smiling but a bit more sober now. "Though you'll still have a lot of problems to deal with. Like how to handle an infant with a powerful, ancient fey spirit inside."
"Uhm," said How, momentarily looking worried. Then he shrugged, and grinned. "Well, we'll cross that bridge after the kid's born."
This work is Copyright 2000 by Rodford Edmiston Smith. Any one wishing to post or otherwise use this work must obtain permission from the author, who can be reached at: email@example.com.