© 2011 Marvin E. Fuller
"Sounds like they're still going at it," Marty leered at Dilly. In response, his wife merely stuck her tongue out at him.
Baksrit shut them out of her mind as she set her pack onto the spare bed the rabbits lent her, once used by one of their older kits before he had moved out on his own. She took off her bonnet and tossed it beside the pack. Perhaps someday she might be able to afford a hooded cloak that didn't feel like it was clutching the back of her head. Until then, she would need the bonnet so as to have a base for her protective wards.
"You're the Wizard Solomon's apprentice, right?" Father Evan asked. Baksrit looked up at him and noted he didn't seem as annoyed as he had earlier.
"I am," Baksrit introduced herself. She offered her paw the wildcat took after a moment of getting his own paw reoriented. Like her mother and sisters, the ermine shook paws like males did, with the palm facing the side rather than the allegedly more feminine orientation with the palm facing down. Some people needed a moment to adjust.
"From what I hear, you seem quite competent," Father Evan awkwardly said, as if unsure how best to start a conversation.
"So I'm told. I suppose we'll find out today," Baksrit hoped the wildcat wouldn't prove troublesome should she need to probe Changy's thoughts. Baksrit already found the prospect daunting enough without some priest hovering over her with ill-informed judgments.
"I guess we will," plainly uncomfortable, Father Evan fiddled with his rosary, clicking the beads back and forth with a claw. For a moment, he seemed on the verge of saying something, but finally just lamely waggled a paw towards the door of the bedroom. "I'm – I'll just leave you be, then."
Baksrit glanced after Father Evan as he retreated out of the bedroom, but dismissed him from her thoughts. She picked up the book she had brought along for her studies and flicked idly through the pages before setting it down on the bed beside her pack. She wasn't worried about anyone else reading the book. In the unlikely event any of the rabbits happened to be literate, they still wouldn't be able to understand the book's contents. Father Evan probably could read, as a member of the cloth generally had their own esoteric texts to study, but unless he knew more about spellcasting than he let on, he wouldn't be able to make heads or tails out of it either.
She stared down at the pack and wondered what to do now. She couldn't do anything with Changy while the rabbit was occupied, especially not during that. She didn't want to study. She didn't feel comfortable with wandering out of the house to see the village yet, and she felt too wound up from her journey to try to get some rest. Fortunately for her, Marty chose that moment to interrupt her woolgathering.
"Am I interruptin' anything?" the rabbit asked.
"No, not a thing," Baksrit replied. "I'm just waiting."
"Ah. Well, wait no more, 'cause they're done for now," reported Marty. "Dilly's gettin' the boy to go out on an errand shortly, so you should be able to talk to Changy soon, no problem."
"Thanks," Baksrit said. Marty bobbed his head and retreated from the room, leaving Baksrit to stew on her worries in peace. Would Changy prove cooperative? The ensorcelled rabbit was clearly insane, but that didn't make her stupid. If Baksrit treated her disrespectfully just because Changy hung onto a delusion, getting useful answers out of the rabbit would be nearly impossible. Unfortunately, the rabbit would be playing the role of Chang'e, not who she really was, so getting the truth would be difficult.
Marty put a stop to Baksrit's continued ruminations when he popped in again to tell her his son had left and that Changy would see her now. Baksrit followed him to Changy's room, wondering just how she would go about her task.
"Why have thee disturbed me?" Changy didn't seem very pleased to see Baksrit. The ermine felt a pit open up in her stomach. This didn't seem very promising.
"O, wondrous Chang'e," Baksrit forced herself to start talking before she chickened out. "I have come because I wish to know more about your child. Who is the father? Why have you come here, to this humble abode, to have your child? How did you get here from your home?"
"Mah beloved is the father," Changy replied. "I rode my chariots from the moon to be here with him."
"But great Chang'e," Baksrit pressed on. "You met your beloved five days ago. What of the five days before then?"
"It takes time t' seek out one's intended e'en for one such as me," was that a touch of stubbornness in Changy's voice? Baksrit thought so and, as she carefully, perhaps timidly, poked for answers, she began to suspect the real reason for Changy's unhelpfulness was that the rabbit didn't want to admit she didn't know what answers to provide as Chang'e.
"Thank you, marvelous Chang'e," Baksrit decided to stop her fruitless line of inquiry. "I fear I have been clumsy in my questions. Will you grant me leave to take a few minutes to contemplate this matter?"
"Ah so grant it," Changy inclined her head in dismissal. Baksrit curtseyed to her and withdrew from the room.
The ermine took the opportunity to step out of the cottage so she wouldn't get in Dilly's way. She ended up standing in the middle of the path, staring at nothing, her mind a blank. The nervous clicking of beads at her side drew her attention back to reality. She blinked and shook her head.
"Have you any luck?" asked Father Evan. Before she answered, Baksrit glanced significantly down at his paws, causing him to stop playing with his rosary.
"No," Baksrit shook her head. "She doesn't remember how the spells got on her. I don't think she even knows who she used to be. She's definitely not in her right mind."
"That was pretty much a given from the start," Father Evan gave a momentary feline smirk.
"It's like what I want to know is blocked by her delusion," complained Baksrit. She had the distinct feeling she was overlooking something. "I guess I'm going to have to go into her head after all. I'll tell you this much. I'm not looking forward to it."
"You can do that?" Father Evan looked mildly alarmed. "You can muck around in someone's head and change what they think?"
"Of course not," Baksrit said, nettled. "Well, yes I could, but why should I? The mind is at once a remarkably resilient thing and very fragile. If I don't proceed with care, I risk damaging not just her mind but mine as well. Unfortunately, I don't know how deep I'll need to go to find what I want, and I don't think she'll give me permission to try, not if she's afraid to face whatever happened to her."
"I see," Father Evan looked doubtful.
"I've never done this before," Baksrit admitted. "At least, I haven't outside of a controlled environment."
"Hold on a moment," Father Evan batted a paw at the air, as if testing to see if something would bite him if he took a swing at it. "You have done this before? Sorry. I mean, you've done it before on people who were willing to let you into their heads?"
"Sure," Baksrit shrugged. Some small part of her mind wondered if telling a layman about the doings of mages was a wise idea, but the rest of her was too busy worrying over her problem to care. "We have practice sessions all the time over in Loma so we can learn mind magic spells reliably and safely. If someone isn't comfortable with it, they don't have to participate."
"Hunh," Father Evan considered that for a moment. "So a person has to consent to it?"
"Ideally, yes," Baksrit frowned thoughtfully through her whiskers. "But that's so they won't resist when the spells are working. It makes things a whole lot easier."
"I'm not sure I like the idea, though," Father Evan reluctantly said. "It sounds like an easy thing to abuse."
"So is your pulpit," Baksrit shot back. "I'm sure you can think of fellow priests whose behavior shames the Church but get away with it anyway."
Father Evan winced, giving her the point.
"And weren't you the one who sent for my magister?" added Baksrit. "Only for him to send me in his stead? If you can trust his judgment in matters of spellcasting and he mine...."
"Then I should trust yours," finished Father Evan, his ears flicking back. His tail gave an embarrassed quiver.
"Not that it means much right now," Baksrit's pelt twitched as she forced herself to keep from pacing. "I still don't know how to proceed."
"Is it possible to get into her mind without harming her when she hasn't given permission?" Father Evan hesitantly suggested. Something about his demeanor bothered Baksrit, but she dismissed it as irrelevant.
"Sure, if she was asleep or distracted or something," Baksrit held still as understanding dawned on her, as if the slightest body motion might fling the developing idea away. "You know, I can do that. I can make her sleep with a spell if nothing else. It won't be as good as if she was awake and helping me, but maybe it won't matter. I won't know until I try."
"You may not need to waste a spell," Father Evan brightened. "Come on in. If I'm not mistaken, Changy may have solved that problem for you."
Puzzled, Baksrit followed Father Evan back into the cottage where they looked in on Changy. Changy lay curled up under her blanket, her sides gently rising and lowering as she slept. Off to the side, Dilly swapped the empty food bowl for one filled with vegetables.
"She sleeps a lot when she can," Dilly murmured as she paused by Baksrit. The aged rabbit gave Changy a sympathetic look. "Sometimes being a mother can really drain a soul. I can't imagine how bad it is for her. At least mine were normal. She's gettin' hers all at once."
"I'm sure," Baksrit thought it made sense. If Changy's pregnancy progressed at an accelerated rate, so too would the effects of the baby's growth. The baby would require lots of food in order to grow, forcing Changy to eat more and use less energy herself just to keep her strength up. The ensorcelled rabbit had been smart or possibly sane enough to choose a compassionate and caring family to help her survive. As for the monster who had caused all of this, if all went well, Baksrit would soon know who he was.
"Will it be all right if I'm undisturbed for a little while?" asked Baksrit. "There are some spells I want to try, and it's best if we're not bothered."
"Certainly," nodded Dilly. "Come on, Father."
Baksrit noted the disappointment on Father Evan's striped face. Remembering his earlier concerns, she thought he might have wanted to keep an eye on her to make sure she didn't try to pull something. Then she realized he had nothing sinister in mind and just wanted to see what was going on.
"Oh, I don't mind anyone watching me," Baksrit assured them. "You'd be quite safe. I just need some room to work in with no distractions. If you'll stay by the door, it'll be fine with me."
"Certainly, dearie," Dilly looked intrigued, her ears perked forward as she nudged Father Evan to the side enough to get a good view. As Baksrit started towards Changy's bedside, the wizardess rolled her eyes and gave a quiet snicker. She supposed she really should be more careful about gathering an audience to perform for, but if that's the way it plays, so be it.
"Oh! And one more thing," remembering something, Baksrit turned back to Father Evan. She poked a finger at the rosary he still help. "'No distractions' includes that thing. Could you put it away, please?" Mildly abashed, the wildcat quickly did so without complaint.
Baksrit quietly placed a stool beside Changy's bed and watched the rabbit sleep. Baksrit understood that when a person dreamed was usually the best time to slip into their sleeping minds. Other times during sleep were doable and, for some spells, preferable, but Baksrit wanted the pliability dreaming afforded Changy's mind. While she waited, she cast a couple small spells, one to warn her if Changy veered too closely towards awakening and another that would make Changy fall back asleep long enough for the wizaress to safely break free if the rabbit tried to wake up while Baksrit explored her memory. That done, she readied herself mentally for the plunge.
Changy's eyes fluttered and for a moment, Baksrit feared the rabbit had woke up. A moment passed as Baksrit realized this to be the sign Changy dreamed. Taking a deep breath, she very lightly placed the ends of her right fingers on Changy's furry left temple. Waiting spells triggered and the real world faded away as she dipped a toe into the pool of Changy's mind. Even in her unconscious state, Changy's mind felt turbulent, as if lightly churned by some fish or maybe a hungry otter deep underwater. Baksrit took another deep breath and submerged herself into Changy's dreams.
An otter's head flew by, happily crying, "Yowza, Jazzy!", its ears flapping furiously as a room both familiar and unfamiliar twisted at odd angles about her. A mound of clothes rose from the floor, menace emanating from it. It wanted her. It wanted her bad, but she laughed at it which it didn't like. But the clothes writhed and wriggled as if some maggot struggled to escape its ragged cocoon, and she ran. She ran and she ran, the thing one step behind her, breathing down her neck. She couldn't stop to face it or it would get her, get and do horrible things to her. No, she would escape, keep away, and there was nothing it or anyone else could do to stop her.
Withdrawing a little bit from Changy's dreams, Baksrit felt as if her head had burst out of a pool in the process. She had not expected to be swept along by the currents of the dream. Mentally gasping for breath, she put her thoughts back in order before she plunged back into Changy's dream. She needed that information.
The otter's head tumbled about making a comical face as she ran through a door and slammed it behind her. "Howzabout a smooch, Jazz?" the otter head waggled its tongue at her, but she tied the tongue into a pretty bow around its ears. "Get off my tail. You haven't paid," she snapped, even as she realized she was somehow on the wrong side of the door. The mound of clothes crawled towards her and she tried the door, but it had vanished into the wall.
What is it?
She threw a kick at the clothes and they slithered back.
Who did this to you?
"Shut up, you!" she screeched at the otter's head as it wiggled the tip of its tongue through its ears. She wasn't going to let any disembodied body part tell her what to do, even as the mound of clothes grew taller and the maggot within squirmed horrifyingly. She was trapped. Trapped! She had to get away!
Do not awaken! Go through the door.
The door was there behind her, and she yanked it open and bolted through it. She ran and she ran. She couldn't face that thing! Not alone! She was so alone.
Baksrit pulled partly free again so she could think as herself. Changy seemed very adamant about not facing whatever the maggot in the clothes represented. The wizardess didn't think she could force Changy to do it, not without the rabbit suddenly waking up despite Baksrit's precautions and causing who knew what harm to the both of them. Baksrit just didn't feel confident she had the skill to get what she wanted while Changy slept. But maybe there was something else she could use, somewhere in the recesses of Changy's mind. Once more, Baksrit ducked down into Changy's dream.
The otter head bumbled about, flapping its tongue in the breeze. I am Baksrit. The rabbit ran, determined to get away. I am myself. The mound of rags pursued, wanting, lusting, desiring. I am seeking. A pebble shifted under her feet, a desire, a plea. "I want to be sane. Help me!" Trust me. I will help. "Help me! Help me help me helpmehelpmehelpme...!" I will help. I will be here when you wake.
And that was enough. The mound of rags melted into the ground and the otter head bounced off. Quiet came and the hungry otter stopped thrashing below the surface. There would be answers, but not here. Not now.
Baksrit withdrew from Changy's mind, severing spells and canceling out the ties she had made between them. She didn't have what she wanted, but she knew she had what she needed to get it. The ermine heaved a final sigh and pulled her paw away from Changy's head. The rabbit slept on peacefully.