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Lamia - Chapter 30

Published at 4th of August 2023 05:34:08 AM


Chapter 30

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Mark tapped on Christian's open bedroom door.

Christian looked up from the notebook on the bed in front of him, the one that held his ever-growing list of liminal species he'd encountered. Sid lay sprawled across a handful of rough notes like a furry paperweight, from which vantage he'd been watching Christian turn pages with great fascination, occasionally reaching out with a soft black paw to try turning them back. Christian had been getting less work done than he'd intended, delighted that Sid's trust in him was growing so much. “What are you hiding behind your back?”

Mark came all the way in, sat on the edge of the bed, and held out a small box of bright purple-and-gold pasteboard, the top edges folded in towards each other. “Happy anniversary.”

“Anni...” Christian blinked. “Gods, it has been a year since it was just us here, hasn't it? I totally forgot!”

That made Mark laugh. “I saw this and thought of you. It's just a convenient excuse.”

Curiously, Christian pulled the top flaps apart, and they unfolded easily. Inside, in a small bit of tissue paper, something metallic and silvery gleamed. He tipped it out onto his palm and moved the tissue aside.

On a simple medium-weight chain was a metal cross, but not just any cross. It was a Celtic cross, with a ring around the point where the vertical and horizontal bars intersected. Unlike any he had ever seen, however, the centre of the ring had been replaced with an interlaced pentagram, the points touching the circle. It didn’t feel cheap or fragile; it had a bit of weight to it, and there was knotwork around the circle.

Not particularly devoted to any single religion, Christian’s name did give him some affinity for crosses despite occasional concern that people would misunderstand. The pentagram inside shifted the meaning—and he had an affinity for pentagrams and other summoning circles, too.

“This is amazing! Where’d you find it?” Sid patted inquisitively at the chain dangling from Christian’s hand, then relocated onto the notebook entirely, pawing at the edge to watch the pages riffle.

Mark just shrugged and stretched out lazily beside him. “Saw it while prowling, bought it for you. It’s hand-made. I doubt it will have any witchy uses, but not everything in life has to be witchy.”

“Well, yeah. I’ve been telling you a variation on that. There are gamers coming soon and you’re finally joining us, so I guess maybe you decided to bow to my great wisdom or something.” Absently, Christian reached out to stop Sid, who was getting a little too enthusiastic about the game. Paper left lying around mysteriously acquired long narrow scratches, and he'd prefer that the book not suffer that fate.

“Great wisdom, hm?”

Christian grinned at him. “What else could it possibly be? I assume it isn’t just that I’ve become so utterly irresistible that you can’t bear to be separated from me for that long with all my attention on... eep!” Christian flung up an arm to deflect a pillow, which left him vulnerable to further attack. He was further hampered by his right hand being closed securely around his new necklace to keep it safe.

Sid jumped off the bed and disappeared somewhere, probably to the porch next door with its growing jungle of feline-safe plants and the little indoor pool of fish to watch. At least, Christian hoped he was just watching them. Mark wouldn’t keep quietly replacing them without telling him, right? The little elementals that tended to the plants and lived in the garden were quite happy to play with the cat, and Christian had spotted them once all petting him simultaneously while Sid was sprawled in a sunbeam.

“Okay, I surrender!” Christian pleaded, laughing.

Mark tucked the pillow under his head instead. “Being excessively silly can have consequences, y’know.”

Once he stopped panting, Christian rolled onto his side again, slid one leg over Mark's, and gave him his best enticing smile, free hand stroking Mark's chest and belly through his T-shirt.

“How can I ever find a way to show you how much I appreciate a gift like that?” he purred.

Unsurprisingly, Mark wrapped both arms around him. “I'm sure a creative little wench like you can think of something.”

“Guess I'll just have to try my best, even with a time limit...”

They did manage to make it downstairs in time, both of them presentable and Christian wearing his new necklace, though Christian detoured to find Sid—in the porch—and give him an affectionate scritch and a handful of scrap paper he could shred to his heart’s content.

Val and Mark greeted him, in the kitchen.

“Hope this new campaign is as good as your last one,” Val said, carefully balancing half a dozen more-or-less-stacked glasses to take to the dining room. Christian helped Mark collect the large plastic bowls—four empty, one full of popcorn, one of chips. “I mean, I absolutely understand why you’d want to skip one session to have time to work on the new one, and I’m grateful to Will for running that one-shot so we wouldn’t all be bored out of our minds, but I’m looking forward to this. His was good, but not as good as yours.”

“I think you'll like it,” Christian said. “And this one should run longer than six sessions, since I have a better idea now who everyone is and how everyone plays and what gets the best reactions and that kind of thing. I’m expecting it to move fast and be light and a bit silly at times with as many puzzles to solve and NPCs to interact with as there are fights to win. Any thoughts what you're playing? Either of you?”

“A fighter's a good class to start off with as a first character,” Val suggested. “Pretty straightforward, until you learn the rules.”

“I learn fast,” Mark said. “I was thinking of a thief, actually.”

“Also works, and they can be a lot of fun. I had a thief last time. I think I'm going to make a specialist wizard of some sort this time, an illusionist maybe.”

“I'm willing to allow monsters as characters, if you can justify it,” Christian said, and grinned at Mark. “You could play a vampire or something.”

“The rest of the party wouldn't last long if I did that,” Mark said blandly.

“We should think about maybe trying that vampire game, eventually,” Val suggested. “Just for a change. Live-action roleplaying sounds like it could be interesting.”

“We'll see,” Christian said. “Although pretty soon it’ll be kinda warm for anything involving moving around much, so maybe this fall we can talk about it. It would mean learning a whole new set of rules, but I could probably do that. Or maybe someone else would like to. I’m not that obsessed with always being in charge. I'll be right back.” He crossed the hall to the den, which made a convenient place to keep and work on gaming stuff, and returned with an armload of books and notes.

“Silly is good,” Val said, pouring herself a glass of root beer from the bottle she'd brought, and leaving the bottle itself on the buffet stand with a couple of others. Everyone brought something, which meant there were usually plenty of snacks and drinks to go around. “And also rarely done well. Now I’m looking forward to this even more.”

Dana and Will arrived together. Christian refused to even discuss the new campaign further until Isaac arrived and everyone got settled.

“Okay. Like I told Val and Mark a few minutes ago, this campaign should be light and fast-paced and a bit silly at moments. There will be some combat, but it'll be limited unless you all get stupid. There will be puzzles to solve and NPCs you will need to impress, charm, seduce, intimidate, or otherwise convince to give you objects or information you’ll need. Minimal dungeon stuff, it'll be above ground, wilderness and towns.”

“Druids, rangers,” Will muttered. “What've we got? I'm easy, I'll take whatever we need.”

Christian leaned back in his chair to watch, saying nothing, but pleased at the way the others accepted Mark and drew him into the discussion as to what they needed for a well-balanced party. Dana and Will's good-natured mutual teasing about their characters ("You'll blow over in a strong wind!” “At least I can walk and chew gum at the same time!") actually made Mark laugh. Christian smiled to himself, certain that getting Mark involved in this was going to be a good thing.

* * *

Okay. After all the hours of practice with the cats, the house shields were hardly any interference at all these days, and the loft was unquestionably the most convenient and comfortable location to work from. Christian could reach specific cats now, and he could share their senses so clearly that it was very much like being right there in the cat’s body with them, an exhilarating experience that he thoroughly enjoyed—in small doses, since longer sessions could leave him with peculiar cravings and impulses for a few hours.

Pearl could be back any day for that promised visit, it was coming close to three months since she’d left. He’d really prefer to be able to show her that her time hadn’t been wasted. Surely by now, he could extend that contact at least to the squirrels that frequented the back yard birdfeeders and used the top of the privacy fence as a highway. Right?

As a warmup, he reached out to Sid, who sensed his touch and streaked off to dive into a cardboard box—one of several that they left around for that purpose, much to the disgust of the domovoi. Christian laughed and watched him dig energetically at the loose newspaper in the box, then gently let go and turned his attention outside.

He tried to link to a squirrel that scampered by along the top of the fence and leapt into the old chestnut tree, but his mental fingers slid right off. He switched to the senses of one of the feral cats, the mature grey-and-white queen who was sunbathing with her son and daughter, and watched for another squirrel that way, but an attempt to leap from there to the squirrel also failed.

Fighting off frustration was difficult, but it would only get in the way and reduce his chances further. He could do this. He’d learned harder tricks. He just had to keep trying.

Which he did. Over and over, every squirrel he spotted.

He finally got up and went out to the back yard, grabbing an old blanket on the way out so he could sit on the ground. It was less comfortable, but maybe it would help if he could see the squirrels with his own physical eyes and wouldn’t have the house shields between them.

He still failed repeatedly.

Until... was that contact?

It was weak and thready, but he could see branches all around, and the world sounded different, full of sounds he’d never heard even through feline ears. He could feel bark under one hand, fingers curled around it.

The contact blinked out, but it still left him wanting to cheer. It was short and faint, but he’d managed it with something other than a cat! And if he’d done it once, he could do it again, and keep doing it until it was no longer such a struggle.

He tried again, and this time the contact was even fuzzier, like trying to watch TV on a station from far away in bad weather, but it lasted just a little longer.

That was exhausting. He was going to have to settle for that, no matter how eager he was to push farther and do better. He’d succeeded. He could do more tomorrow. Right now, he didn’t have the resources to push it.

Familiarity and affinity determined whether he could connect to a target, right?

Oh, that thought was naughty. He shouldn’t. He really, really shouldn’t.

It probably wouldn’t even work.

He probably shouldn’t even try, just in case it somehow did.

Would it work?

Eyes closed, he reached back into the house, unhampered by the shields since they were his own, and did a quick mental search for his new target. This one was much easier to find than the squirrels. Easy as the cats, in fact, though it took a moment to adjust.

He thought at first that it was Mark he’d touched, since the last he’d seen, Mark had been lying on his own bed with a new mystery novel, but when he got himself oriented and into sync properly with the sensory information coming in, the hand that he saw turn the page of the novel was too slender and had long black glossy nails. She seemed to be too engrossed in the story to notice, which was unexpected in more ways than one. He could hear music, the radio was on, and was able to confirm that she was reclining with her weight on one hip.

Lazily, she stretched, laid the book aside, and started for the bathroom, long skirt swirling around her ankles; Chris felt the unfamiliar balance, the unfamiliar way of moving, the incredible strength in that gracefully curved body. He knew he shouldn't be doing this, and yet... he just couldn't resist staying a moment longer. What he was picking up was just so fascinating.

Alexandra stripped and stepped into the shower; familiar-strange sensation, Alexandra's body but he was feeling the touch as well as the touching...

In sudden guilt, he drew back and moved to sever the connection. This wasn't right. He shouldn’t be doing this. Against all expectation, it had actually worked, with astonishing ease, but it was still an intrusion without consent.

Something seized him and held him where he was.

Oh no. She knows. And she's not going to let me go.

Alexandra took her time, soapy hands sliding over smooth skin, working sweet-scented shampoo into her heavy mane and rinsing it out slowly. Finally, she got out, wrapped a silk robe around herself, so soft against her skin, and went back to her room.

*Um, Lexa...* he thought at her, as hard as he could, much the way he’d learned to communicate with Pearl during lessons.

No response. Either she couldn’t hear or she was ignoring it. She sprawled on her back on the bed, let the robe fall open, cupped one breast in her hand to tease the nipple with her nail, then lowering her head to lick it. Hands caressed her body, slipping between her legs, exploring.

*Lexa!*

She spread her legs a little wider, fingers finding the small hard button there, teasing it gently. Caught totally in the trance, Christian whimpered softly, unable to completely enjoy the phenomenal sensations with guilt nagging at him.

Only after her climax, as she relaxed to catch her breath, did she let go.

Christian, suddenly aware of his own body again and nothing else, bolted to his feet and into the house, leaving the blanket where it was. Up the stairs, and to Alexandra’s bedroom door, which was open.

“Get in here,” she said flatly. She was lying on her side, back in that silky black robe.

He obeyed, eyes on the floor. “Um... sorry...”

“Stay out of my head unless you're invited. And don't ever get cocky. I know what you can do and made a good guess about why I suddenly felt like you were watching me, and once I switched I was sure. Lamias don’t do mind-magic but I’ve had to fight something that did and I knew I could refuse to let go, at least for a short time. If you ever tried that with any liminal that has any mind-magic powers at all, they could definitely hold you and probably for a lot longer. And unless I could track them down physically, I wouldn’t be able to do a damned thing to help. And just about anyone and anything is going to be a lot less forgiving about a violation of privacy like that!”

“I'm sorry,” he repeated meekly. “I'll be careful. And I won't snoop anymore.” It was going to be hard to forget how helpless he’d been to escape.

Her tone softened. “I'm not mad at you, not really, I can see why you just had to try, but don't do it again, and don't ever forget the danger. Be good and I'll let you eavesdrop sometime while I'm working, or something.”

“Or hunting?”

She paused to consider that. “Maybe. Now c’mere, nuisance.”

He took her up on the invitation and snuggled against her; she slid an arm over him and tightened it briefly in a hug. “I really am sorry. I just wanted to see if it was even possible, I honestly didn’t think it would work at all, and then...”

“I know. Don't worry about it. But be careful.”

“Pearl should be back soon. I’ll ask her about it. Whether there’s a way to escape a hold like that, and how to hold or evict anyone who tries it on me. I bet she’ll know, I just don’t know whether she’ll be willing to teach me that.”

“She seems to like you. What a surprise that is. I imagine she’ll be open to the idea. I’ll even tolerate her underfoot again for a while if she’ll teach you that, since it will keep you safer. She was willing to respect boundaries last time, I’ll give her that.”

“Thank you.”

“You're welcome. Even if you are an insufferable brat at moments.” She hugged him tight, and for a while they just cuddled, not saying anything.





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