Just had to write a different kind of shapeshifter story... G (no sex) 1991
"Would you please stop pacing like that?"
Alythe didn't pause in her restless wandering around their campsite. "I can't," she snapped. "I'd like it better than you would."
Kelda watched her fairie-like sword-sister's tall, slender leather-clad form moving from firelight into darkness and back. "We won't get there any faster just because you wear yourself out."
"I know that! Now tell it to the geas that thrice-cursed Drydale...."
"Whatever. I can't believe I let down my guard. But what's a sorcerer doing laying a geas? Especially a theoretically Light sorcerer? That's sidhe magic."
"You aren't the only part-sidhe," Kelda reminded her.
"There are damned few of us. And he's not. Not even I have such imagination, to see him as part-sidhe."
Kelda had to admit that it would be difficult to find anyone less like golden Alythe than the heavily-built gray sorcerer. He looked, to her, more bear than mage.
"Come and eat. The rabbit's done. Think about that and maybe you can ignore it. Do you want first watch or second?"
Alythe smiled fondly at her friend, and came to sit down. "I'm sorry. It's not fair for me to yell at you."
"That's why I'm here, sh'lera. Don't worry about it. I'm very thick-skinned. Besides, you'll know all about it if I get annoyed." She grinned wickedly at Alythe, her eyes glowing briefly as bright as the half-full silver moon, high above with her jewel-like sisters. Alythe couldn't but laugh, recalling the last time she had irritated the were huntress.
"I'm quite sure I will."
* * *
It took them another three days along the forest-road to reach a village. They got more than one wary glance: the tall, fair woman with the sword across her back; her slighter, darker companion whose hand checked frequently the bow across her back. This was a village of respectable size, though, on a fairly well-used road, so it was only looks they were given.
The innkeeper appeared almost as soon as they seated themselves at a corner table, neither one willing to turn her back on the room. "Good even, ladies. How can I help you?"
"Something to eat, if you please," Kelda said. "Whatever you're serving is fine. And two cups of the best wine you have."
"You have the coin to pay?"
Silently, Alythe dropped a silver coin on the table. It spun on its edge for a moment, before losing its energy and wavering to a stop, glittering against the dull wood.
"Enough?" Kelda asked shortly.
The innkeeper nodded, eyes wide, never leaving the silver piece. "It's venison stew tonight, and you get the bread with it."
"Just bring it."
"Humans," Alythe murmured as he left. The ranger beside her grinned.
Their host lingered after bringing their meal. "You are from far away, ladies?"
"Depends on how you define far away," Kelda said neutrally, taking a cautious bite of the stew. Precious little meat, but it was adequate. At least the bread was fresh and of reasonable quality. Humans, in truth!
"The coast, perhaps?"
The innkeeper gave it up as a lost cause, and departed, his questions unanswered.
He returned promptly, however, when they finished eating. There was that to say about arousing curiosity, it brought swift service.
"Is there anything else, ladies?"
"A room for the night would be greatly appreciated."
"Of course. I'll show you up as soon as you've finished your wine, if you like."
"That'll be fine."
He hesitated. "Forgive my discourtesy, but why does your companion not speak?"
Alythe looked at him with silver-blue eyes, outwardly impassive, but he seemed to sense her hidden amusement, and it made him uneasy.
"Because she doesn't wish to," Kelda shrugged. That it was also because Alythe's accent betrayed her as Island beyond any doubt, was no one's business but theirs. She could pass as an unusual but full-blooded human, if she kept her mouth shut. A wise move on Alythe's part for a number of reasons, as far as Kelda was concerned.
"Hey, there," a man said, a bit hoarsely, swaggering over to them as they rose. "Why spend the night alone, if you don't have to?"
Alythe smiled coolly, a smile fit to freeze the ocean around her home, and stepped past him; he reached out and grabbed her arm.
"I suggest," Kelda said levelly, "That you let go of her, and refrain from touching either of us again."
The man—a mercenary, by the look of him, and a somewhat drunk one, by the wine-reek—turned around, and a retort died unsaid when he saw himself facing a knife poised to throw. He was sober enough yet to back off, face a comical mask of surprise and discomfiture.
"No offence meant," he mumbled. "Just an offer." He retreated to the dubious safety of his companions.
"I can take care of myself," Alythe muttered, as they followed the innkeeper upstairs.
"But you won't," Kelda hissed back. "You've got to push back, on the mainland, and you won't. You'd rather let them walk all over you."
The innkeeper glanced back; they fell silent.
The room they were given on the second floor was passably clean, but about as remarkable as the rest of the place. There were two beds, against opposite walls. Nothing else. Alythe checked the window while Kelda bolted the door.
"Pretty flimsy latch," the former commented. "Useless if anyone wanted in."
"Likewise for the door. So sleep with the lady there in reach, if not in hand." The ranger left one of her knives lying next to her pillow on the bed.. Alythe nodded acknowledgement, and unstrapped the falcon-hilted sword from her back.
Alythe always slept touching the sword Caerlialth Stormfalcon at all times, anyway.
* * *
To the west of this village, they'd been told, lay their goal. After a morning of blind searching—they'd gained only blank looks in the village—they changed tactics. Kelda stood wary guard while Alythe settled herself on the ground and closed her eyes, turning her attention in a very different direction..
"A bit more west, a little north," she said distantly. "A tower... glass, or crystal, or maybe ice. Doors, windows... this won't be easy. Damn Dryvan...."
"...to Alyndra's Revenge. We can find it today." She opened her eyes, got to her feet. "We'll definitely have a better chance after dark. Slap me, or tie me up, or something, if I say differently."
"Or something," Kelda agreed amiably.
Cautious scouting around the glittering white spire, smooth and narrow and very high, turned up no spells that either could sense.
"There has to be more to this than that," Alythe murmured. "Something's keeping me from Seeing into it, or sensing anything inside."
"Don't worry," Kelda said calmly. "We'll manage. We always do."
Sunset took an eternity to come. Moonrise—the largest, silver moon—was starting on a second forever when it came.
"There's only one door," Kelda said logically. "And no windows for three floors, and we can't climb glass. So we'll have to sneak in. Or can you will yourself? Didn't think so. Are you sure you can find this book he's so hot to get?"
"Mmhmm. Plain cover, the colour of the blue moon, as long as your forearm. Don't open it, he said."
"I have no desire to."
Both grew increasingly nervous at the lack of challenge as they slunk across thirty feet of open grass.
The door opened easily when Alythe frowned at it.
Fear hit them both in an almost tangible wave. Alythe moaned, buried her face in her hands.
"It's not real," Kelda hissed. "It's a spell, magecraft, 'cause I can feel it too."
Shuddering, the swordswoman forced herself to lower her hands and straighten, to strengthen her mental shields until it was bearable. Kelda winced from the thought of how great a strain it was for her, hurried her through the door as quickly as she dared, and closed it behind them. The terror eased immediately.
"Not the fairest of barriers," Alythe murmured.
Kelda shrugged. "Keeps people out without creating heaps of dead bodies."
Carefully, Alythe opened her mental senses, searching for the book they were after. "Up."
It was even more odd that they met no one as they made their way through the tower. The tower itself was the strangest thing yet. Though the halls and stairs were shadowy, there was still a luminescence that came from the very walls, light that seemed to be moonlight. Refracted through the glass, Alythe speculated, and wrenched her thoughts back to the task at hand. Kelda led the way, more at home in the darkness than her sword-sister, even.
"Here," Alythe whispered finally, touching one door. It opened for her effortlessly.
The blue-bound book was visible across the room, in a glass chest. They entered the room close together, ready for any threat.
And found themselves standing outside, under the moons.
Kelda cursed. "Now that's a sneaky spell."
"But it worked," Alythe said tiredly. The geas' strain was beginning to tell on her visibly, on her pale drawn face. "Think we have enough time left to try again?"
The ranger considered the silver moon doubtfully. "Possible, but it's risky. Can you wait until tomorrow night? We'll have to manage it then. The moonlady's getting too close to new for comfort. We can't wait until she comes back around."
Alythe smiled thinly. "Truth, sh'lera. Forest or village? I think forest."
* * *
The second night, Alythe had her shields up before they opened the door. That necessitated Kelda picking the lock, but that was negligible. They had no difficulty making it back to the right room.
"I think I have enough of a focus to will myself in," Alythe whispered. "If that doesn't work...."
"I'll listen for you. Go."
Alythe closed her eyes, laid one hand flat against the door. A few breaths later, she wasn't there.
*I'm in,* her voice murmured in Kelda's mind. *And there it is. Now, I just have to figure out how to break a spelled lock.*
*Don't take forever. I'm getting jumpy.*
The ranger counted breaths, waiting, and watching down the hall either way. She'd just reached sixty-three when Alythe reappeared, holding a book to her chest.
"Let's go," she murmured. "Pray I don't need my gifts again. They weren't meant for countering human magecraft."
They got to the stairs safely, Alythe slipping the book into a bag she'd brought and fastening it so it would ride at her hip.
Luck turned there. Coming up the stairs were six armed fighters, four men, two women.
Kelda hissed something vile, drew her bow, loosed. One man fell, an arrow buried in his throat just above his armour.
Alythe drew Caerlialth, and found herself fighting two at once, that was all that could reach her here. Thankfully, she'd been in front of her sword-sister. She killed one, but the sword of the other tore across her thigh. She killed that one, too, but the wound was deep, bleeding freely, and she dared not trust her weight to that leg.
One of Kelda's knives whipped past her to bury itself in the shoulder of another attacker.
Three more were now coming down the stairs from above. Where had they come from, all of a sudden? Well, they could hope that the master of the tower wouldn't get involved....
No luck. A man in a crimson cloak started fearlessly down the stairs.
Kelda hissed again, but it was in pain Alythe felt an echo of past her own. The ranger's form blurred and twisted, startling the fighters into stillness briefly.
Alythe shifted her grip on her sword to one-handed and crouched, using her other arm to shield her face. The red-robed mage paused, and smiled mockingly; Alythe felt his scorn against her mind.
The ranger stabilized as a small black and white ball of fur, that faced the mage with tail raised warningly. It took him too long to recognize the nature of his diminutive attacker. Much too long. And there were things even a mage couldn't shield away.
Then the skunk was Kelda again, shivering in pain that quickly faded, untroubled by the overpowering stench of the hall. She helped Alythe to the nearest door, dealt with the lock, and they were back outside.
Kelda vandalized her over-tunic to bandage Alythe's leg. "Can you walk?"
The swordswoman tested it, nodded. "I think so. But we'll have to find a river before we go back to the village. Their Healer won't appreciate having to treat anyone who smells this bad."
Kelda gave her a wicked grin. "It won't be pleasant living in that tower for some time to come." She managed to look contrite. "I really must learn to keep my temper."
Alythe laughed, and draped an arm over her sword-sister's shoulder to support herself as they started back towards the village.