Cat walks by herself


The first stage was the hardest. Not because the climbing was hard - there would be steeper and more dangerous ascents later - but because of the despoliation by man of the Himalayan slopes. All around were signs of erosion caused by overuse of paths, along with litter abandoned by the holiday climbers who now infested the mountains. It wasn't an auspicious start to the journey I needed to make. You may wonder why, in that case, I chose to start from the northern slopes of Earth Prime's Himalayas. The simple answer is that I knew my way from there and the place I sought to reach is not easily found. Besides, the lamasery in Tibet is the closest I have to a place of power on any continuum and I wanted all the help I could get to reach my goal. I spent some days there meditating and preparing myself before finally setting out.

The litter and the man-made erosion were the first things I subtracted as I climbed, so that soon I moved alone in a silent world of ice, snow and rock. For a while I abandoned myself to the simple process of climbing, aiming simply to cover ground, making only minor shifts in the landscape to bring it closer to my memory of the place I sought. At nightfall, I knew, the stars would tell me whether I was getting closer to my goal. I continued like this for some days, across landscape which seemed unchanging but sleeping each night under different stars.

There is a rhythm to climbing that can be both a help and a danger. It helps you cover ground but can lull you into missing early signs of treacherous terrain. I got a rude reminder of that as one afternoon began to draw towards twilight. I was negotiating a tricky wall of frozen snow when a handhold I'd thought secure suddenly wasn't and I took a nasty tumble. I know it was nasty because the next thing I knew I was lying at the bottom of the crevasse and it was full dark. My leg was twisted rather awkwardly under me. I wondered briefly if it were broken, then somehow knew that it wasn't. By rights it should have been, given the distance I must have fallen. I thought about getting up for a while, and then tried it. Much to my surprise everything seemed to be in working order. I made camp and sat and thought about the fall and its aftermath. I remembered plunging through the air, my body twisting of its own volition, trying to fly, glide, do anything to mitigate the coming impact. Then nothing, until I woke recovered only a few hours later. There was something odd about the whole business but I couldn't work it out. I gave up and watched the stars instead. I hadn't made it far that day, but that was hardly surprising under the circumstances. I could soon make up the lost ground. I settled to sleep, reasonably content.

The next day I proceeded more circumspectly and made good progress. By evening I was beginning to recognise some features of the range I must cross to reach my goal. Preparing supper, I found my stores considerably lower than I'd planned for. Reflecting, I realised that I had eaten a full two days supplies at supper after my fall. That finally served to trigger the memory I'd been trying to chase down. One of the family describing the feelings associated with shape-shifting and the hunger that results from its use. He'd said, too, that the ability was often first triggered in a life-threatening situation.

That thought set me back on my heels a bit. I'd known, in an abstract sort of way, that my Thelbane heritage through my mother meant that I had the potential to be a shape-shifter, but I'd never even thought about trying to develop it. Now it seemed that I could indeed shape-shift, and had cause to be grateful for the ability. At any rate, that hypothesis fitted the facts so far and could be tested simply enough. I smiled to myself. If I were indeed a shape-shifter it could prove useful. To be able to appear as someone different at times, especially as long as people didn't know I could do it, would be a very useful Talent. In the meantime, there was the question of supplies. I was still several days out from my destination and my supplies would run out before I reached it. I would have to hunt.

With careful management I was in the range I sought and beginning to descend below the snowline by the time my supplies ran out. As I was checking my snares for small game towards twilight, I heard the low grumble of a big cat, not too far away. The next moment she came into sight, a snow leopard, visible against the rock only because she was moving. It seemed likely that she had been attracted by the brace of hares my traps had caught. I watched her for a while, admiring the sleek economy of her movement and the idea came to me that this was a chance to test my hypothesis. I called the leopard, projecting thoughts of friendship and food. Her head came up and she looked at me, uncertain but unafraid. This was wild country, without two-legged hunters. I summoned again, swinging a hare so that she might catch the scent of it.

That brought her. She covered the ground and took the hare in one swift movement. My friendship spelling held enough that she did not bother to depart with her prey but settled to eat where she was, ignoring me. If I were going to test this new ability, now was the time. I touched the head of the leopard gently, opening my mind to hers, learning her instincts and the way her body worked. Then I shrugged out of my insulated clothes, willing my body to change.

I'd have done better to wait. I hadn't thought about what it would mean to the leopard to be suddenly confronted with a rival while she was feeding. She yowled and caught me a swift clout round the head, warning me away from her meal. I rolled over, yowling myself in protest, only half aware for the moment of who or what I was. Fortunately, my roll took me close to the other hare and the scent of the meat distracted my animal form. I carried the hare to a safe distance and fed, somewhat clumsily, using the understanding I'd gained from the leopard of how to use this strange form. By the time I'd finished, the other was long gone. With hunger sated and the potential rival departed my self-awareness returned. I held the leopard shape for a while longer, practising moving and climbing until I could do it without thinking, then changed back, dressing quickly in the chill dark. I slept late and woke hungry, but well content with my night's work. As I continued my journey, I also continued to practise taking leopard form until it became almost second nature.

Another two days and I was beginning to descend into the valley proper, reaching the uppermost of the terraced fields where the millet crop waved. Ahead and below I could see the roofs of the temple complex with their complicated patterns of heavy red tiles, still more than a days march away. A brief spell sufficed to alter my Earth Prime cold weather gear to the heavy felt and hide more common here but I made no other change. My face was known and , besides, I had no reason to hide. That night I slept in a village as guest of the local headman, a courtesy traditionally extended to pilgrims on their way to the temple. I repaid the courtesy, equally traditionally, by leaving with them everything save my staff and the clothes I stood up in. Then I turned my face to the temple.

My feelings as I walked the road to the temple were ambivalent. This was a place I knew well and had used before as a sanctuary for reflection, but this time I had set myself a more demanding goal. I was not sure whether I feared the answers I might find or that no answer might be forthcoming. It was almost night by the time I entered the temple gates, footsore and with a heavy heart. I paid my respects to the abbot, a quiet, kindly man who blessed me and led me to the baths himself. I had forgotten how much a hot bath and a meal can lift the spirits. By the time I settled to sleep I felt much more hopeful of a favourable outcome.

The next day I began my meditation. Sitting below the statue of the mahatma, I sought to clear my mind and disentangle what it was I wanted from this visit. I would not leave the shrine again until I had either found my answer or knew that there would be none. For a long time I seemed to get nowhere. Concerns about the Family wrangles and KBCF matters filled my mind and gave me no peace. Sitting has never been my favoured form of meditation, and eventually I abandoned it and began a sequence of t'ai chi chu'an to give myself a rest. Once I began the sequence of moves my body knew so well, my thoughts began to flow more clearly. I realised that I could not put all those things out of my mind because they were the reason I was here. I wanted a way to respond to them, to influence Creation for the better. The flaw in the KBCF was that it was reactive, seeking only to repair the damage done by Family squabbles. It was time to find a way to be pro-active.

So now I had my question. However I had still to find an answer. I continued the cycle of moves and let my mind clear, repeating the sequence as I considered the way forward. It didn't really take long to come to the view that I needed a power base, but what form should it take? It would have to be carefully designed to prevent it from being suborned by other family members. There was the rub. I had not studied powers or sorcery in anything like the depth that others of the family had, so how could I hope to keep my base secure? It almost seemed that I had worked out what I needed to do only to discover that I could not achieve it. I sat down again to try and think of a way forward.

The answer came simply enough. I could not hope to match my elders or my siblings in mastery of their powers, so I would have to make my own. I knew it could be done - I had felt it done twice. If Aria and Ches could create their own powers, then I should be able to create one that would be uniquely attuned to me; a realm that I could protect properly from other family members. I looked up at the smiling face of the mahatma and could have sworn it winked. "What did your father tell you, kid?" asked a voice in my head. "'Do things your own way', wasn't it? 'Bout time you figured out how." Not a voice I recognised, but family, I was sure.

There's not much more to tell. The rest of the time at the temple was spent on practicalities, working out what I needed to know and do before I could go ahead. Since then, I've been working on those things, making decisions about how Mandala will work, what it can do, how to have it be the refuge I want it to be and still keep it safe, all that sort of stuff. I'm nearly there now, so I guess the question is do you want to be part of this?

Amber DRPG Home

This document maintained by domain webmaster - webmaster at windsong dot demon dot co dot uk.

Material Copyright © 1997-2003 Karen Gilham