Wakefulness came upon Murikeer in a sudden rush as his senses alerted him to potential danger not far away. There were voices within his cavern room, just beyond the limits of his small sleeping chamber. His eyes sprang open, only to encounter the same darkness that had graced his rest. No moonlight, not silvery silhouettes of trees across the clearing revealed in the illusion he had placed on the far wall of his room.
Something, or someone, had nullified his magic!
Trying to steady his breathing and still his hammering heart, he twitched his ears, trying to locate and discern the voices beyond his chamber. Oddly enough, they were coming from the wrong direction. Rather than the main chamber of his cavern, which should have been to his left and a little lower, these voices were coming from some distance past his feet. They were muffled and indistinct, since the speakers were apparently within the very stones of the mountain itself.
Yet the smells that came to his nose were not the scents of his home, nor of one or two intruders to his cave. The scent of some form of canid creature he could not identify, mingled with another odor he had never known before were dominant among the hundreds of mingled smells filling his nose. His alarm rose at the sudden onslaught of new, unfamiliar scents, causing his fur to stand. Pushing aside his covers, he reached to the right, for his pickaxe.
His hand smacked into the stone wall of his sleeping chamber, bringing a startled gasp from his lungs. His room was all wrong, his bed had been switched around. That was, of course, utterly impossible even for Grimshori to accomplish, as his bed was nothing more than a fur-padded slab of stone. Nursing his wrist, he reached for his magic and summoned a witchlight. The risk of discovery would be almost immediate, he knew, but he had to see.
He merely hoped that whomever had nullified his illusions had not blanketed his home in cancellation magics.
Much to his relief, a wan candle-flicker of light filled the room with a warm yellow glow as his witchlight flared into being a few inches above his head. The sight that met his startled gaze was totally alien to him. The rounded cavern walls of his sleeping chamber had been replaced with flat, featureless grey stonework which defined four walls and a ceiling. A age worn rug of some faded pattern was laid upon the stone floor. An actual wooden door was set into the middle of the wall at the foot of his bed.
A real bed, made of wooden framing and consisting of a thick cotton mattress filled with, most likely, straw.
He chuffed, shaking his head at his panic. He was no longer in Grimshori's cavern, he had abandoned his home of two years in the depths of the unmapped northern forests. He had come to a city, a place named Metamor, where creatures like him had chosen to live, fight, and die in the vain effort to protect the soft midlands from the predacious incursions of the Lutins.
Perhaps 'vain' was not the most appropriate word, for these Metamorans were doughty, tenacious warriors that had kept the north separated from the south for centuries, despite their low numbers. With the recent curse that had been laid upon the place, that job had become ultimately far more undermanned, and perilous. There were very few new souls to replace those lost in defending the Keep, for to be recruited into the ranks of Metamor Keep was to suffer some drastic change to one's body, if not their very soul.
After taking Murikeer before a disgruntled seeming alligator the evening before, who had introduced himself as Thalberg, Llyn had procured this small cell of Murikeer to sleep in until he chose what he would do. He had yet to make his decision to remain at Metamor Keep, or find a home elsewhere, away from the stultifying masses of living beings that populated the huge castle. His room was one of many along one long stretch of hallway deep within the bowels of the main keep of Metamor, used by many other visitors for temporary living quarters. Were it not for the four walls that surrounded him, Murikeer would have found himself in true barracks surroundings.
The skunk sat up in his bed, rubbing the back of his neck, which had become stiff some time during the night. He took a quick, unconscious survey of the items stacked in the opposite corner of his room, verifying that all of his possessions were still there. His pack was there, with his pick propped against it. The pack Llyn had been carrying as well was set nearby. A handful of bags and pouches scattered to one side, and his bandoleer. The gleaming steel and jade of Keletikt's gift dagger still gleamed from its sheath on that bandoleer.
The voices, Muri finally understood, came from one of the other rooms in the hall, if not the hall itself. They most likely had nothing to do with him, so he finally pushed them from his consideration. Crossing his legs, he sat in the center of his unkempt bed, curving his long, thick tail around to one side as he let his hands rest limply over his knees. Taking a few deep breaths to steady his frayed nerves, shutting out the assault of new sensory stimuli as he fell into a light trance, centering himself.
Finding the balance of his center of calm, he closed his eyes and let his spirit expand outward, finding the energies around him. To his spirit sight the power of the place was a blinding coruscation of shimmering, bright white/blue energies. This keep, Metamor, was ancient and magical, or so he had been told. At his first examination of the place the day before, he could believe every word, no matter how fanciful they seemed.
The place was not only magical, but the magic of the place had created a true nexus of power. Normally such nexi were the home to all manner of few, magical beasts. Many were the purview of Lilith, the dark goddess of the land, Artela's nemesis. Yet this place, Metamor, was something altogether different. The magic of the land was focused here, not drained away into the heart of the world as was normally the case.
The magic here was stored, used in ways which Muri could never hope to comprehend. Yet he would become a part of that force, he could make use of the vast magical energies inherent within the keep. With so much power at his fingertips his magic would be indefatigable. Though his spells were of minor note, he now had all the power he could ever need, he had but to reach out and take it into himself. He could only hold a certain amount of the energies, but so long as he remained within sensing distance of this place he could draw upon more at need.
Letting his personal energies flow outward, he attempted to touch the bright flow surrounding him, but it recoiled. The shock of it almost threw the skunk out of his trance entirely, unsettling him so greatly that his magical influence snapped back to him, leaving him reeling in brief terror. The energies had refused to be touched! Never before had he ever experienced such a reaction, even when tapping the energies associated with an earth spirit's very home node. Steeling himself, forcing his center once again, he regained his calm, and sent out a single tendril of questing magic.
Yet again, the bright energies around him recoiled, sliding away from his touch like oil on water exposed to soap. A trilling, rolling churr of consternation rippled up from Muri's chest as he reached out and grasped at the energies, but they flowed through the fingers of his seeking power as effortlessly as quicksilver. Heiorn had never spoken of this sort of occurrence, he had always revealed that magic was a static thing, there was no polarity to it. Magic was a force, like air or water, that could be felt and influenced, even controlled by those with the ability. Like any other element that made up the world, it did not have its own sentience. Magic did not choose to touch or not be touched.
Yet this magic did, and Muri was horrified.
Like a sailor upon an ocean, surrounded by all the water they could ever need, but unable to drink a single drop.
"What are you doing?" a female voice, close at hand, intruded upon the skunk's rising panic. He sensed the magic about her, attuned perfectly with the surrounding magic of the Keep, it was a part of her as she was a part of it. Another mage, but her power was so blinding bright that Muri had to banish his spirit sense even to look in her direction.
Muri started, jerking as his center of calm vanished like a fragile morning mist, he blinked his eyes and looked toward the woman.
A human woman, sitting at the foot of his very own bed, in his room, watching him with curious grey eyes. Muri's rising fear surged as he scrambled as far from her as the limits of the bed would allow. Somehow he found himself unable to raise a hand against her, his spells were banished, his instinctive urge to spray the intruder quashed.
She was slim and small, more a girl than a true woman, but there was a mysterious intensity about her that hinted at an age well beyond her apparent years. She wore a shimmering, diaphanous shift of silvery white satin that draped upon her slender form like a frozen waterfall illuminated by moonlight. Her eyes were warm and compassionate, but there was a hardness there as well; the hard consideration of a person finding an intruder in their home attempting to make off with valuables. The look did not calm the frightened skunk one whit.
"What were you doing?" she asked again, her voice a soft, calming contralto, with a depth to it that defied her frame. She did not move from her seat at the foot of his bed, her hands crossed upon the lap of her shift. Muri had never heard her enter, which caused him some consternation. Even within his trance he had always kept his senses aware of the world around him.
"I was meditating." He offered, his voice breaking upon almost every syllable. He grimaced and cleared his throat, forcing some calm upon the cold knot of fear crushing his heart. The woman merely nodded, his explanation clearly not satisfying her. "Rejuvenating my magic." He offered at length, his voice once more under a modicum of control.
"Why?" she asked quietly, her eyes curious, the hardness fading slightly.
"I am a mage, it is the only way for me to cast my spells."
"By taking the magic, the life, of the land which surrounds you?" she raised one eyebrow slightly, one corner of her slim mouth curving up in a rueful smile.
"It was how I was trained." He responded. Heiorn had actually taught him very differently, not to see and sense the magic, merely to reach out and grasp it, as it was always there. Muri did not understand, at this point, if the magic he found was the same magic that the old mage had shown him. For if that were true, the land surrounding Heiron's hamlet would have been drained swiftly by the practices going on within the old man's little school. Yet the forest around the place was healthy and strong, the ground fertile.
Keletikt had actually been the one who revealed to him the magic of the earth, of the life forces within the land around him. The magic that Muri could 'see' was the excess, the life force created by all living things beyond what they needed, and was given to the land, which sustained the life of the earth itself. Unwise expending of that energy would swiftly tap out the free flow of magic, then would begin sapping it from the living creatures surrounding the user.
"So, without regard, you take that which you find?" she asked, her voice touched with a hard edge. Muri could only nod, he had never before found a challenge to his touch upon the life surrounding him. He had never been able, or desirous, of more energy than the surrounding land could provide.
"I had not thought that permission would be required." He offered with a slight shrug, the fur of his tail flattening in consternation, whiskers folding back against his muzzle. "And I had not thought that my touch would unbalance the greatness of the magic of this place."
"Every touch, like yours, is felt." She nodded.
"There are others whom use magic as I?"
The woman shook her head negatively, "They find their magic elsewhere. Your method is one of the old ways, and the Lutin ways." Her eyes narrowed as she looked at him, then across the room directly at the blade Keletikt had given him. Muri winced, sucking his teeth.
"I learned what I needed to for survival." He said, his voiced edge with defensiveness. "Who are you?"
She returned her deep grey gaze upon him, the shimmering blue-white of the surrounding energies plainly visible within her eyes. "I am Kyia."
Muri merely stared at her, uncomprehending. "I am Murikeer."
"You are Findahl, son of Justin Windseeker."
Murikeer twitched, his eyes going wide in surprise. "Who are you?" he hissed, his panic rising once more. Only the spirits knew of his true name, and none had ever mentioned the true name of his father.
She smiled at him, "I am Kyia." She reiterated. "I am Metamor."
The skunk's jaw dropped in sudden realization. The blinding intensity of the power that surrounded her, her sudden unheralded appearance, and the mysterious sense of age about her. She was a spirit; the spirit of the very castle. He had never considered that a building would have a spirit, despite the awe inspiring amount of magic within its walls. He had never read of a castle spirit before, only castle ghosts, such as those which cursed the halls of Chateau Marzac. On an afterthought, those ghosts might actually be the spirits of those castles as well.
He bowed his head to her, pushing aside the last of the fear her human guise had imparted upon him. She was no more human than the stones of the wall at his back were, it was merely the guise she had chosen to manifest herself in. "I am most apologetic then, Kyia, for heedlessly attempting to steal the magic of your demesnes."
Her light cascade of laughter brought his head back up, to find her smiling warmly at him. "I have not felt such an attempted convergence of powers in many centuries, Murikeer." She said, her voice utterly devoid of the disciplinary hardness he had sensed in it moments before. She surprised him by using his assumed name, rather than his birth name as every other spirit had done. "You piqued my curiosity."
Muri pulled up one corner of his muzzle in a rueful expression, "And ire." He commented. She let out a soft chuckle and shook her head.
"No, young Murikeer, not ire. Your touch, even had you had the power of Magus or Rickkter, could have done nothing to lessen that which flows through these walls." She stood from his bed, brushing the thin, gossamer fabric of her shift, "Your touch is welcome, my magic is yours." She winked at him, "Be sure to use it wisely."
"I shall, in your name, Kyia." He replied as he slid from the bed and stood as well, offering her a deep bow. She laughed again, the sound bright and free, yet did not echo from the cold stone walls as Muri's own voice did.
"I am Metamor, young one, I am not Eli. You need not prostrate yourself before me." She walked around the bed and laid a light hand upon his shoulder, banishing the last of his fear as a summer breeze might banish a morning fog. "Be well, and safe within these walls." Murikeer straightened, placing his hand upon hers where it rested on his shoulder.
"My thanks." He replied quietly as she drew her hand away, "Wait." Turning away, she paused at his hasty word and turned, her eyebrows arching, grey eyes soft and curious. "You named my father, which none have ever done before. Indeed, I had not thought a spirit could name one they could not perceive. You knew him?"
She nodded, smiling. "I knew your father, yes, as I knew you as a child." Murikeer could only nod, his tail stilling behind him. He had spent some years here as a child, he remembered, during the battle of the gates. He had been born elsewhere, but he did not remember those early years. "A hard man, but a kind one." The slender spirit explained, her voice pitched somewhere between child and woman, yet containing a power common to neither. "He left you in the care of those here while he traveled into the north to watch the Lutin hordes."
Muri sat on the edge of his bed and Kyia sat nearby. "Whose care was I left in?" he queried curiously. It would be far easier for him to fit in if he could find those who might have known him as a child, should they still live here.
The spirit laughed quietly, a bright sound that failed to echo from the hard stone walls of the room, "You were a hellion, young Murikeer." She placed a hand upon his shoulder, "Few could keep you from wandering, even in the most dangerous days of the war." Her warm grey eyes narrowed with humor, crows' feet splaying from the corner of each. Strange, he thought, how those small changes to her face made her seem far older than her apparent years, and gave her a much more matronly visage. "You always found your way to the storage levels below the Keep."
"I had no friends, no one that watched me, even then?"
"You were watched over, lad, even then."
"By me, child." She explained quietly. She smiled, her grey eyes shifting as she focused upon each of his own dark eyes in turn. Muri could not hold her gaze long, his eyes dropping to her hands. Slender hands, clasped one over the other in her lap. He found himself staring at those hands, so human, yet they held no weapons. There was no threat in her hands, no threat about her person. Mayhap it would be such with the many other humans he might find here.
There was only one way to learn if that thought was true, and that was by experience.
"I do not remember those days with clarity, Kyia." He said truthfully, they were more a blur to him. Broken images of dark passages and stone, very few memories of sun or stars. Memories of the sky were always accompanied by memories of his father. Those of dark, stone walled passages were memories of loneliness and curiosity; memories of discovery. He had to smile at some of those passing thoughts, turning that smile on the quiet spirit watching him with calm regard. It was by her care that he had found his cavern home less frightening than may have otherwise been the case.
"Few do, child." She said in turn, "But there are some memories you have that you can cherish, regardless. It's better that they not be perfectly clear memories, else the outlook granted by age and wisdom would view them with a jaded eye."
"Too true." He smiled, and nodded, glancing up at a quiet knock upon the heavy wooden door.
"Muri?" Llyn's voice, muffled by the heavy wood. The skunk's ears swiveled toward her voice, his tail curving to one side. He glanced back toward the castle spirit, blinking in surprise to find that he was alone.
He had only looked away for the briefest of moments. He chuckled to himself as he stood; such was the prerogative of magical beings. "I am awake, Llyn." He called, crossing to the door and drawing it open.