Chapter 4 - Stazi
-- TWO WEEKS LATER --
The sun was setting when she finally was able to finish up all the closing paperwork and go back to her apartment. The day may not have been busy with multiple customers but the ones that were there had been...overbearing at best. She was confident enough in what she had learned that she had a good handle on things. Stazi was fairly certain that the new manager would be happy with their sales and her ability to make sure that everything was on the up and up. Once they arrived of course. Through the store email she had received notification that someone was being considered and to please be patient. After the last customer of the day however, it felt like all of her patience had been used up, chewed up and summarily spat on the floor. Stazi was looking forward to a hot shower and a soft bed.
She was trudging up the stairs when she heard the sounds of laughter, mixed with thumping and whoops of victory. He must have company over tonight, she thought to herself as she peered down the hall to the soft glow of light spread out across the floor from Trent’s open door. It wasn’t the usual stuff he played, so as she walked down the hall the voices got a little louder over the music. Flutes? Pipes? What the hell was he listening to? And what the hell were they doing that could cause that much noise?
The open door across from hers had the usual smells of coffee that his apartment always seemed to have, but this time it was much stronger. There was also the smell of fresh baked pizza that pulled her to the door with an invisible tether. She stopped by and looked in, gawking slightly at the sight at her neighbor’s kitchen table. It was so… she couldn’t find words.
Trevor was standing at the head of his table wearing the most hideous green cloak she had ever seen. At least that’s what she assumed it was...along with a pointed hat that had parts of the felt band around it coming loose and a gnarled walking stick in his hand that had some kind of garden globe meant for watering plants attached to the top of it. However, Trevor wasn’t the only one dressed up oddly. There were three other guys and two girls that all had on different costumes of some sort. Homemade leather and cloth items with one sporting a foam halloween weapon. One of them looked like they had an actual, real life hunting bow slung across his back.
The center of his dining room table was dominated by a colored map of some kind with figurines of varying sizes on it. Each person had a small wooden tray in front of them and each one had small, brightly colored objects in it. To the side of the trays were papers and pencils and each person had a container to drink out of, one of which was a huge stein that could easily hold an entire pot of coffee. Trevor was using a pointer like you get at the pet store to show the others at the table where he was directing their attention. He was so wrapped up in it that he didn’t notice her there. Of course, all of them were so caught up in what they were doing that none of them noticed her at all. Trevor raises his arms above his head and gives a maniacal laugh that actually makes Stazi’s skin crawl a little bit.
“The sorcerer screams at the top of his lungs at the elf and levels his staff towards her menacingly. It looks as if he is ready to cast a very strong spell.” He points the end of his makeshift staff at the girl at the end of his table. “You have mere seconds to decide what to do!”
A thin girl about sixteen or so, dressed in what could only be described as choir robes with a silken rope belt is shaking something in her fist as she stares at Trevor. Her brown hair is pulled up into a very tight bun and she had prosthetics to make her ears pointed. “Knowing that I only have one spell left I will cast Bless on anyone in the party nearby so they may avenge me when I die!”
Trevor lowers his staff and sighs a bit. “What do you mean, when you die? How many hit points do you have left?”
“I’m a priest. It’s not like I had a whole bunch to begin with.” She huffs at him a little bit and smirks. “That and your whole ‘healers and magic users get targeted first’ crap,” the girl states as she uses her fingers to make the quotes in the air. “Has me damn near dead anyways. You already wasted the wizard. We never got the chance to camp and heal before we got dumped into this fight. That means I never got the chance to recoup and get my healing spells back.”
The one sitting to her left, Stazi was going to assume he was the warrior or fighter or… whatever he was. He had a big foam battle ax strapped onto his back and he was wearing a man bun of all things, but it really went well with the viking type beard that hugged his face like a mask. In fact, Stazi was pretty confident that it was a mask of some kind. His leather vest was loose on his thin frame and he also had leather bands around his upper arms. “You know, she’s right. None of us have really had a chance to rest up and we are almost out of healing potions.” He looks down at the paper in front of him and then back up. “At least I know I am almost out. I only have two left.”
The other girl that sat between the one with the axe and Trevor at the end of the table raised a small hand. She looked similar to the other girl present, only younger. Stazi would say she was probably twelve or thirteen. She was wearing robes that were darker, like a makeshift graduation robe, but she also had on a halloween witch hat and was playing with a wand that doubled as a writing instrument of some kind. “Venora is right. I have less HP than she does and I’m already working on my third chance at cheating death.” She points at a figure that was laying on the map instead of upright. “I only have a few more chances left and if I fail I am out of the game until the next campaign.”
A few more of the players gave nods and soft coughs when Stazi decided to clear her throat, a little louder than she had meant to, from where she sat watching on the large sectional couch. The two directly in front of her, who were the other two young men there, gave shrieks and yelps and jumped out of their chairs so fast that they almost knocked over the large table. The others seated also jumped up, knocking over chairs and making a huge mess of the table as figurines fell over and dice, now that she could see what it was from the trays, fell onto the floor from various trays.
“Oh Jesus, Stazi! You scared the crap out of us!” Trevor fell into his chair, clutching his chest. “I will totally give you a crit roll on that sneak attack. Oh f-- fluff me, my heart.” He takes a few deep breaths and laughs. “If you decide to join our little group here I am totally going to make you an assassin.”
“We’ve never had one of those in the party before.” The older girl, named Venora by the younger one, nods and smiles at Stazi. “I think it would be fun. Have you ever played before?”
They all stare at Stazi and she looks down at the top of the couch and rubs at one of the sewn creases in the top. “Ah well. Not exactly sure what you are playing to be honest.”
“No.. way.” One of the guys in front of her, dressed in a horribly colored yellow tunic with black dress pants and some kind of slippers, blatantly points at Stazi. “Gamer virgin. Holy crap.”
The blush that blooms across her cheeks from embarrassment is not lost on the group and he is given a firm slap on his shoulder from Trevor.
“Way to go man, you were a noob once too ya know.” He stands up and walks over to the back of the couch and points to each person. “The rude one in yellow is Rainer, our bard. This is his cousin Haken, our ranger. That bow is a legendary item that he got from his goddess so it’s kinda cool that he has a real one instead of a Nerf bow. Took a lot of groveling for him to get permission though. Hence the reason there isn’t a quiver. Loaded or otherwise.”
Haken stands and he is a lot taller than he looked. He does give a bow, although slightly ungainly in nature with his longer than shoulder length dirty blond hair falling around his face, then he sits down with a smile.
“The half dead elven priestess is Venora. The other gal is her sister Brenda, our resident wizard.”
The young girl in black named Brenda, smirks at Trevor. “Not if you keep killing me within the first two rounds of combat. Jerk.” She does give him a snarky smile afterwards and he gives a bit of a chuckle. “Don’t let him fool you. If you show any kind of weakness, he will exploit it and ruin you.”
Stazi looks up at her friend and lets a wicked grin cross her face. “Oh, Peter. You’ve become a pirate.”
All the other people at the table erupt in squeals of laughter, the one with the foam axe falling backwards so far that he went crashing to the floor. She couldn’t help but laugh along with them as they all moved from the table and floor to sit down with her on the couch, introducing themselves better and recounting how they had all met and started gaming together twice a month. She asked about the game and they were all happy to give her details while Trevor passed around paper plates loaded with pizza and breadsticks.
“Oh wow, thanks for the dinner. Not sure if I should have some since this was for your little band of merrymakers here.” She looks down at the plate and goes to hand it back but Trevor shakes his head, holding up a hand.
“Don’t you dare hand that back. I have more than enough for you too. Besides, we will be playing for quite a while longer anyway so I must thank you for the break.” He takes a bite of a breadstick and waves it around as he chews and then swallows. “I might need to back it up a bit and let them have a camp break anyways or it will be a total TPK.”
Stazi blinks at her friend a few times, almost afraid to ask him what that was. She must have had that look of uncertainty enough for someone to answer her unspoken question. Thankfully, the youngest member of the group answered her with a soft smile. “A TPK is a total party kill. Basically, he pits us against impossible odds without resting and we all die. Game over. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred copper.”
“I haven’t killed you all yet.” Trevor rolls his eyes as he continues to dig into his slice of pizza.
“Not for lack of trying,” mutters the one carrying the foam axe. “By the way, my name is Devon. Apparently the dwarven warrior isn’t important enough to introduce.” He gives Stazi a playful smirk as he keeps a wink with his blue eyes to her hidden from Trevor’s view.
She raises the eyebrow that faces away from Trevor, letting it go down before leveling her eyes at him, her voice deepens slightly but you can tell the mirth in her voice. “How dare you forget the warrior. And a dwarf at that. The indignity you have bestowed upon him should be punishable by death.”
The grin that spreads across all of their faces, except for Trevors, is so funny that Stazi gives a short laugh before shaking her head.
“Oh my God, Trev. I love her,” said Rainer, the bard. At least she was fairly certain that was him. He’s the one with the putrid yellow tunic, right?
“Ha. Ha. The whole lot of you plot against me.” Trevor bit into his pizza but he was smiling too.
Stazi looks down at her plate with the rapidly cooling pizza on it. As fun as this was, she was really tired and wanted nothing more than to just go over to her own place and fall face first on her bed. She picks one of the pepperonis off of her pizza and pops it in her mouth to chew on it slowly. It had the typical spicy zing that the thin slices of meat usually have and she sighs. She was definitely too tired to eat at this point and she was suddenly aware that they were all staring at her.
“What? Did I miss something?”
“I think you should go to bed. You fell asleep sitting up in mid chew.” Trevor gives her a soft smile and sets his plate down. “Come on, I’ll cover your plate and then take it over and put it in your fridge. You get to bed.”
Stazi lets him take her plate and she stands slowly. “Sorry for popping in and leaving. It was nice meeting all of you.” She gives them a wave and she sees them all wave and smile back at her as she trudges out of Trevor’s living room and across the hall to her own place. Having gone ahead of her, the door was already open and her neighbor emerged from the kitchen still wearing that garish green cloak as she walked in.
“I already turned your blankets down for you. Get some sleep, ok?”
“You are too good to me Trevor. You know that right?”
He gives her a smirk and a pat on the arm. “Of course I am. I have to set the bar high for whoever takes my place you know. Now shut your face and go lay down. I’ll try to keep the heathens quiet.”
Stazi chuckles. “As worn out as I am, I doubt you could wake me.”
“Well that’s either a good thing, or a disturbing thing.” He smiles brightly and gives her cheek a quick smooch. “Get your butt in bed or I’ll tie you to it.”
She snorts loudly and motions him out the door, closing it behind him. She didn’t bother to lock it as the building was actually pretty quiet and the neighborhood was fairly decent. Trevor was a light sleeper anyways, so if the building so much as gave a creak he wasn’t used to hearing he was up and out of bed prowling the hall to find out where it came from. Stazi then turns and goes to her bedroom and flops face first on the bed, the loud squeak now just a normal noise that doesn’t even bother her anymore. Turning to lay on her back she stared at the ceiling, her eyes drifting closed as a memory bubbles up to the surface of her mind as she slipped into the embrace of deep slumber.
-- -- -- -- --
“Do you remember what to do when you wake up in the darkness dear heart?”
Stazi blinks at the older woman sitting beside her, the tough and sun tanned skin still warm from the setting afternoon sun. Her young eyes droop with sleep that threaten to take her over the moment her head hits the pillow. “I think so.” She stifles a yawn before she continues. “I wait there and let it get used to me being there. No sudden moves. Oh, and don’t be scared.”
A weathered hand reaches out to move a lock of unruly brown hair from her forehead, the warm brown eyes of her grandmother flash a soft gold for a fleeting moment before returning to normal.
“Wait for me. It won’t take me long to join you. Then I can show you what to do.”
Stazi yawns again and closes her eyes, letting sleep wrap its arms around her and pull her into its inky depths.
-- -- -- -- --
Her eyes open and she is surrounded by darkness. After a few blinks a light appeared to her left and she gasped a little. It had been so long since she had walked through the dream ribbons that the warm light flowing past her had taken her off guard, but only for a moment. It was like staring up at a starless sky as the aurora borealis appeared around her. At least, that was how she had thought of it after spending some time with the Inuits in Alaska. The shaman there had been so kind to help her out, especially when she landed in their small village and had no idea how she got there. At least she remembered her own name. It was just a lot of other stuff before she arrived that was hard to remember.
But this... this she remembered. Other ribbons began to emerge and swim through the darkness, some of them seeming to converge and then separate, others just floating there and not moving. In fact, there were a lot there that weren’t moving and it intrigued her. She just watched, curious as to why so many were appearing and then not moving until another light appeared. This ribbon was a soft amber color and it radiated with warmth and comfort and a twinge of familiarity that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. It paused then and the other ribbons that had been still began to move towards it, wrapping around it and then melding into it.
It was fascinating for her to watch so many go towards this one ribbon, mixing the colors of oranges, greens, whites and greys in with the amber of the original ribbon. Stazi wasn’t sure why she felt the need to go see what this was about, but she floated over to it anyway once she was sure there weren’t any more ribbons that were going to join in.
Her hand wavered above it and she smiled to herself. There was something familiar about this, her curiosity was getting the better of her though and she shakes her head.
I can just pop in and then come back out. No harm as long as I don’t make contact right?
With that decided, she touches the ribbon and it feels as if a small, warm hand envelops her own and pulls her inward. The transition is comfortable and she finds her bare paws stepping on a bed of soft dirt and pine needles.
I have paws.
What the hell?
Stazi stands there for a moment, holding up her hands. There were fingers, yes, but they were covered in a thin coat of silver and white fur. Where her fingernails should have been were small claws and she flexes her hands in disbelief. Looking down at herself she realizes that her whole body is covered in the same fur also with it being thicker around her forearms and calves. Her bare feet were actually a set of wolf-like paws and she digs into the dirt with them a bit, leaving behind a few marks from the claws. A breeze blows across her and she shivers, feeling the fur ripple as the breeze goes by. Even the shirt and capris she had been wearing when she passed out in bed felt different.
I can feel the breeze on my fur. This is so bizarre. Cool as hell, but really bizarre.
Something brushes against her leg and she lets out a sound that she was totally unsure about, her furred hands clamping her mouth closed.
Why did I just sound like a cat? What the hell?
The same feeling of something brushing against her leg happens again and she looks behind her. She didn’t see anything but that didn’t mean that there hadn’t been anything, or anyone, there. After a few turns and not seeing anything, Stazi gets a bit frustrated. Whoever was playing tricks on her really needed to stop before she got really irritated and gave them a piece of her mind. Or worse.
Yeah, I have claws and I am not afraid to use them. Rawr.
She flexes her clawed hands a few times, letting a giggle escape her then and she looks around the thick forest where she is. All Stazi could see around her were trees, both upright and fallen deadwood, with various bushes and wildflowers mixed in around them. There were no animals though, but as it was a dreamscape there probably wouldn’t be any unless the dreamer wanted them there. Ahead and through the trees she can see what looks like a clearing and she begins to make her way towards it.
As Stazi nears it, she can see a lot of shapes. Some were sitting down, others were standing. But the closer she got, the more she realized that none of them were human. She saw a few mountain lions, a smaller cat-like creature with long, black tufts on the ears and what looked like a fox with humanoid features. But for the most part, there were wolves. Lots and lots of wolves of different shades and hues. And they were big. She had seen wolves around Alaska, but these were massive.
Trying to be as quiet as she could to try and not be heard by all the fur-bearing mouths of sharp teeth, she crept closer until she could see across the group and up a small incline up to the top. Her mouth couldn’t keep from falling open. At the top was the biggest black wolf she had ever seen. Ever. That had to be an Alpha considering where he sat up at the head of everything and to his left was another black wolf who was slightly smaller but not by much. Considering how close they sat by each other she was guessing that it was probably his mate. To his left were three other wolves, each one a different color. The smaller one in the middle was black like the two at the top of the hill, the other two were larger on each side of the small black one, the first was a dark grey and the other was a lighter grey.
She wasn’t sure what was going on, but all of the creatures at the base of this hill were looking up at the Alpha intently as if listening to him. Maybe it was some kind of mental connection and she just couldn’t hear it. She had read enough about this stuff from various paranormal type books, although she was fairly certain that this kind of thing really didn’t apply here but it gave her a small sense of relief in the fact that it might be true. To the left of the Alpha’s mate was a small white wolf, sitting there stoically and watching everything with a keen eye. She sees the head tilt from side to side and then it rises and starts to walk down the slope. Even the Alpha wolf regards her with what Stazi could only guess was curiosity as the white wolf makes its way through the crowd.
Straight towards where she was hiding.
Nope. Not going to get caught. No, no, no. Time to go!
Stazi doesn’t wait to see if she is found or not, ignoring the startled noises of the ones closest to where she had been hiding and takes off in the opposite direction as fast as she could go. At this point she really didn’t care if she was being quiet or not, especially when she heard the deep howls of several wolves sound off before the loud crashing behind her started. She ran as fast as she could, her heart hammering in her chest so hard she was afraid that it might exit her rib cage and run away without her. She was winding around trees and jumping over felled logs as if her life depended on it and right now, she was fairly certain that it did.
She catches a flash of light grey to her left and she dives to the ground as something large launches over the top of her and lands to her right, scattering loose leaves and pine needles everywhere with a heavy thud. A loud huff is heard and she doesn’t stop to look, raising up and running again as fast as she can into the dense trees. If she could just get into the thicker trees maybe she could lose whatever was chasing her and Stazi doubles her efforts to try and go faster, her legs already starting to burn with the extra exertion. Coming up on another fallen tree she slides under head first, but comes up short as something catches her and drags her out from under it.
By her tail.
I have a freaking tail?! Are you kidding me?!
Hanging upside down was bad enough until what was holding her lifted her up and she came face to face with a werewolf. That was the only thing that came to mind. An honest to God, upright and covered in light grey fur, with a long muzzle and big teeth, werewolf. Not quite sure what to do, she just looks at it, wondering how long it was going to hold her there before either dropping her on her head or tearing her to shreds. The head tilts to the side, the deep brown eyes regarding her with what she could only describe as extreme curiosity. From behind the large grey fur bearing predator she can hear the shuffling of leaves as something else is there with them both but for the moment she had bigger things to worry about. Like what this thing was going to do now that it had her.
The head tilts again and then leans in, the long muzzle snuffling her middle about where her belly button would be, the breath brushing through the thin covering of fur, warming the skin underneath and making her give out a strangled noise that sounded more feline than human. It then moves upwards and gets a good whiff of her crotch as it pretty much sticks its entire nose right up against her.
Stazi wasn’t sure if she should be offended or not as she knew that it was a canine thing to sniff each other in, you know, that general area to get the scent of things. But she knew one thing, if it didn’t let go of her soon, she was going to make it let go of her. Especially since the hot breath against her was making her very uncomfortable in ways she wasn’t sure she really liked. Reaching out with a claw-tipped finger she pokes at the ab ridges under that light grey fur, trying to get its attention. At first she wasn’t sure if it was a girl or a guy but after seeing something start to bulge in the shorts and noting that there weren’t any boobs showing she was fairly certain this was a guy wolf.
And he was still huffing her crotch.
And he was getting excited by it.
Really excited, apparently.
And it was rather disturbing that she was getting excited too.
Stazi was not ready for this kind of thing to happen, not just because she had no idea who this guy was and because he wasn’t the only one here either. Nope, not doing a wolfie mating thing. Not here. Not at all. She takes both of her hands and surges forward with them, digging her claws into the hard abs of the upright wolf-man-person holding her and it growls loudly, mixed with a human-like shout of pain. He did, however, let go of her and she fell to the floor of the forest at his feet, her head striking against the fallen tree she had tried to dive under on the way down. The last thing she could think of before everything blacking out was the face of a mountain lion staring at her with a quizzical look as it regarded her on the ground.
-- -- -- -- --
Stazi wakes up to a very scared looking Trevor standing by the side of her bed, the curtains of her bedroom are pulled closed and the overhead light is on. She tries to sit up but her head is pounding so hard she just groans and holds her head, falling back onto her bed. Her mouth was dry and it felt like she had eaten dirt, and oddly enough, she could even taste it.
“Hey… are you ok?”
There was a slight tremor to his voice and she opened an eye to look at him. He looked positively terrified, his blue eyes wide and his skin an even paler tone than usual. She tried to sit up again, only to have him push her down gently.
“God, Trevor. What happened?”
“Um. Maybe later, huh? For now, I think maybe you just need to go back to sleep.” He holds out two small blue pills and a cup of water. “I, ah, got these from your med cabinet in the bathroom. It will help with the headache, ok?”
“Sure, if you say so.” She looks at the light blue pills in his hand and arches an eyebrow. They looked like the over the counter stuff she usually took for headaches. She wasn’t too keen on taking something that was just handed to her, but she did trust Trevor. She takes them and swallows the pills down with a few gulps of water. “What happened, Trev? You look like you saw a ghost.”
“No...not quite.” He offers Stazi a strained smile as he reaches across and pulls what looks like a tree leaf out of her hair. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll keep your secret. I promise.”
“What?” Stazi blinks at him a few times, her face openly showing her confusion at his comment. That and where did that leaf come from? Had she been sleepwalking outside and fell?
He blinks a few times and then offers a soft smile. “Nothing. Never mind. Just lay down and get some rest. I’ll make you breakfast in the morning, ok?”
Part of her wanted to ask what he meant but another, bigger part was pulling her back down toward her pillow to go to sleep. Maybe she would ask him what he meant in the morning over breakfast and coffee.