"Clever witch," Mactuan grinned. "So a hawk. Why?"
"It was the first thing that popped into my head," Chela shrugged.
"That is a good sign. What can you tell me about a hawk's body?"
"They have taloned feet and hooked beaks. They are covered in feathers. They have hollow bones and comparatively short wings. They have large eyes... umm..."
"That is good enough," Mactuan said and held up his hand for silence. "Again, close your eyes."
He continued as the girl complied, "Try to imagine yourself in that body. Look out through those eyes. Feel the texture of your feathers. Feel your small, rapid heartbeat and the lightness of your wings. Feel the scaly texture of your feet and the hardness of your talons. Feel your quick breath through the nostrils in your beak."
His voice became a mantra of avian details as Chela willed herself to focus her whole being on what it would be like to be in a hawk's body. She could feel her tiny heart rapidly beating. She could feel the breeze ruffle the tiny feathers on her face. She could sense the iron grip of her talons on the rock. She could see the immense telescopic detail of the world through her new eyes.
It may have been her powerful, focused imagination or the stirrings of manifested reality, but she felt a sense of Spirit begin to throb in her chest. The throb became an ache. The ache began to burn. The burn became an intense pressure, and Chela's concentration was broken. She felt the world come rushing back in as she collapsed on the boulder, clutching her chest and gasping for breath.
Mactuan gently helped her sit up and held her in his arms while he waited for her to recover. When she had regained her breath and composure, he apologized softly, "I am sorry little sister. It hurts, does it not?"
Chela nodded, eyes wide. She had never felt anything like it and was grateful for the comfort of Mactuan's arms around her.
"Judging by your reaction, I would guess that you contacted the hawk inside you and stirred it up. It wanted out, but your body was too firmly fixed in this world. Actual transformation is a lot more intense and a lot more painful -- although mercifully brief. You get used to it."
"What do you mean, 'too firmly fixed in this world'?" asked the young witch.
"It would be easier for me to show you. Please forgive me," Mactuan answered.
Before Chela could ask what he meant, he aimed a fast moving slap at her face. Her witch's instincts took over instantly, and in a slight distortion of the light, she was simply no longer there. Mactuan's hand swished through empty air, and he felt the sharp point of a knife pressed into the small of his back.
"Easy, little sister," he said evenly and held up both his hands. "Do not spill my blood on the rocks just yet. I knew you would do that, and that was the purpose. I have never understood how you witches could move like that --"
"And we are not telling," Chela hissed next to his ear.
"-- and I do not care to know," continued the skinwalker. "However, Mother Hannah explained it once as 'not having both feet entirely in this world'. So as I understood it, the laws of physical world have slightly less control over you than most people. That same sort of thing is what you will need to transform, but instead of moving your body you will need to move through your body."
The knife was removed and Mactuan turned to find Chela once again sitting calmly on the boulder. He rubbed the knife-prick on his back and thanked his luck that his lovely student did not have a bad temper.
"Explain," said the girl.
"This," said her companion, and gingerly prodded her foot, "is not real. It is just a skin that your Spirit wears. It fits the woman part of your Spirit like a coat, but it is just a garment. Likewise, the animal parts of your Spirit have skins that fit them. You have to move through your current skin and to put on a different one.
"It sounds cryptic, but that is the only way to describe it. To become your animal-spirit, you just have to wear its skin. Of course to become your woman-spirit you need be able to put that skin back on as well, so you must maintain connection with your woman's mind and your woman's force of will."
"I think I understand," said Chela thoughtfully.
"Then let us transform that understanding into knowing if we can," grinned Mactuan. "But first I need to you forgive me for trying to hit you."
"You could not have, as I believe I showed you."
"We both know that, but I want there to be trust between us. It is important to me, so I humbly ask again: please forgive me. I meant no harm."
"I do forgive you, Mactuan."
"Thank you, little sister. Now let us see if we can determine what else lives inside you."
By the afternoon, the two new friends had identified three potential animal spirits inside Chela -- hawk, wolf, and badger. No other animals seemed to resonate with her, but Mactuan admitted that it might take years to be sure that there were only three.
Mactuan had stayed naked all day, and Chela was thoroughly enjoying watching his physical elegance despite the distracting heat it created between her legs. The trials of their investigations had also drawn them closer as kindred Spirits. They both felt the connection growing as the day passed.
"How did you first change?" asked Chela as she divided some bread and cheese for a simple late afternoon meal.
"My deer skin came to my rescue," Mactuan explained around a mouthful of bread. "I was being chased by a farmer for stealing apples from his orchard, and he meant to beat me. I had never been so terrified in my life than to feel him fast on my heels with a pitchfork. All my Will was focused on being faster, so the deer came out and made me faster.
"It should have been harder to change back, but once I made my escape the human part of me was still so shocked at the transformation that I just melted back into being a boy. After that I knew I could change, so it was just a matter of focusing my Will on it.
The wolf, boar, and half-wolf skins also came to me in moments of intense stress when the gifts of those shapes were most beneficial. The crow and salmon were the result of the same exercise I just led you through, only it was Mother Hannah who led me."
Chela nodded and asked, "Why do you think you have a half-wolf skin and not a half-any-other-skin?"
Mactuan shrugged, "Maybe because wolves are the most human? They live in families; they care for their young; they mate for life; they have individual personalities and emotions; they have their own language. I suppose the two spirits are enough alike on the inside that the skins can blend on the outside."
"I did not know those things about wolves," Chela said thoughtfully.
"You will soon know a great deal about wolves," Mactuan grinned. "I thought we would start with trying to let your wolf skin out. I can help guide you from either human, wolf, or half-wolf skin, so it seems the safest first choice."
"How do we proceed then?"
"Get undressed please," Mactuan said and stood up.
Chela dutifully stood, dropped her cloak, unbelted her shift dress, and pulled it over her head. She folded everything carefully, set it aside, and quickly added her undergarments to the bundle. In short order, she stood naked and proud before Mactuan. The chill spray from the river and her mounting excitement raised gooseflesh on her thighs and tightened her nipples to stiff points. Along her arms, abdomen, and neck, were patterns of small arcane symbols tattooed into her skin. Even her full breasts were likewise decorated.
Mactuan let out a low whistle of approval, "By the gods, you are a beautiful woman, Chela. I was right -- the life, beauty, and sexuality of your witchkind shines from you like a flame."
"Thank you. You flatter me twice over..." Chela smiled with a slight nod at Mactuan's now fully hard cock which stood very large, erect, and swollen at the spectacle of her.
Mactuan returned her smile with an unembarrassed shrug, and they both spoke in unison, "It's natural."
Chela laughed, "Aren't we a pair? Mistress would be proud."
Mactuan grinned and countered, "Well, she will be more proud of me if I succeed in teaching you something than if I just stand around acting like a sundial. Speaking of which, the shadow of my cockstem says that we only have about two hours of daylight left."
"What should we do, then?" Chela asked and quickly bound her waist-length hair up out of the way in a winding braid.
"I would like to try an experiment to see if any natural wolf instincts in you will rise gently rather than through terror like mine first did. Let us see if your pack drive will draw into your pack skin, so to speak.
"I am going to slip into my wolf skin, and I want you to get on my back. I am large enough that you should be able to straddle my haunches and lie forward to wrap your arms around me. I am certain Mother Hannah has taught you how let to your mind relax into a trance -- so you just do that and hang on."
Chela nodded, and Mactuan hunched down onto all fours. His body gave a sickening wrench, and in a shedding of grey ash he regarded her a moment later with cold yellow eyes. The result was terribly intimidating to Chela, even though she knew this was her friend before her.
Mactuan smelled the very slight perspiration of fear that appeared on her skin and evaporated instantly. He also smelled the scent of her arousal and the lunch they had shared. All appeared in equivalent vivid color to his expanded senses, and he ran his tongue out in silent lupine laughter to assuage the girl's anxiety. He dropped his ears back, gave a puppyish whine, and wagged his tail.
Chela understood immediately from Mactuan's body language. He only wanted to help, so she dropped to her knees and hugged his furry neck.
His fur was coarser and more oily than she had anticipated, but she readily swung a leg over his back and pressed her body onto him. She could feel the roll of his shoulders under her cheek and the ridge of his spine pressed along her midline. Thinking ahead, she crossed her ankles over his rump and let her knees hang at his sides. This kept her legs from interfering with his, and pressed her hips and groin solidly onto his haunches.
Mactuan nosed her hands away from his neck so she would not tense and accidentally choke him, and Chela slipped her arms behind his front legs to palm the center of his chest instead. She could feel Mactuan's powerful heart beating in her hands and let her mind relax into its rhythm.
"Rrrea-y?" growled Mactuan. His fully lupine lips and throat were unable to form the human word clearly.
"Yes," sighed Chela, already nearing a trance state. She raised her head and looked forward through the fork of Mactuan's ears with unfocused eyes at a wolf's view of the world.
"Go-ooooooOOOOOOOOOO!" Mactuan lifted his muzzle in a howl of joy and bounded forward.
Chela felt the surge of his muscles between her thighs and squeezed herself against him. Very quickly the world became a rushing blur, and then settled into a rhythm of surging breath, beating heart, and padding paws.
Chela's trance was full of movement. She could see in the dark just as well as Mactuan, and she linked her heartbeat to his. They were in perfect sympathetic rhythm, but there was no stirring of Spirit in her. She simply felt like she was along for the ride.
It was a thrilling ride - feeling his thrumming muscles pressed against her smooth body and the animal view of the wood sweeping past her. She felt as though she were slipping between worlds, but no beast burst from her heart. In fact the only beastly thing gnawing at her was a distant growing emptiness in her belly. She was hungry, and the drop in temperature brought on by the dark was penetrating her bones.
Mactuan was growing tired and frustrated himself. He was so sure that Chela's instincts would take over, and she would take on her new skin, but there was no sign of transformation at all. At best she was starting to smell like a wolf, but he knew that was just from contact with him.
He slowed his pace slightly as they trotted back within sight of Mother Hannah's cottage. Sadly, Mactuan was beginning to believe that he would have to tell Mother that Chela did not have the gift or at least that he could be no help in manifesting it. After all he owed Mother for helping him grow, he could not think of a worse way to disappoint her than failing to help nurture Chela the same way.
Suddenly, the light of inspiration dawned brightly in Mactuan's mind. He hastily scratched a message to Mother Hannah in the dirt where she would be sure to see it, barked sharply once, and streaked off again on a new mission.
Hannah arose sometime in the middle of the night and stepped naked out the front door into the chill moonlight. It illuminated her voluptuous curves and provided deep shadows in her clefts, where from time to time a small flash of blue light betrayed her active mind.
She stretched out her awareness to search for her childe just in time to see a gray streak pass silently across the far end of the clearing. The pale form of a young naked woman caught the moonlight as it seemed to float on the streaking gray form, and Hannah smiled broadly at the apparition.
She looked down, and on the ground at her feet was a crudely scratched message surrounded by wolf tracks: ALL IS WELL. HAVE HOPE. BACK WITH THE SUN. -- M
It took Mactuan only a brief time to find what he was looking for. He simply relied on instinct to guide him as it had guided his wolf spirit for millions of years. There in the side of a small hillock was a wolf den. A quick sniff around verified that it was unoccupied and had been for some time, so Mactuan quickly crouched to his belly and wriggled both Chela and himself into the dry interior.
There in the total darkness, Mactuan carefully deposited the girl onto the dirt floor and curled around her. There was a savage comfort in the way he looped his furry form around the small naked woman and licked her face and ears delicately.
In the close warmth and darkness, enwrapped in the smell of fur and moist breath, a spark in Chela took hold and began to flame. Within her deep trance, her instincts rose and a terrible pain grew in her chest. She felt as if all her teeth and bones were burning and all her skin itched from the inside. The only comfort was the warm pressure of Mactuan's tongue on her face. She tried to cry out in pain and frustration, but it emerged as a rasp and ended as a low growl. The heat in the den was a palpable pressure and the aching in her chest made her try to clutch at it. She found that her breasts were gone, and her hands no longer worked. It took only a moment more for her to realize that she was no longer human. Her mind felt like her own, but her body did not.
"Come," came Mactuan's growl, intensely loud in the dark pressure of the den.
She felt him slip away from her and scrambled on unfamiliar feet to follow him out into the cool night air. The brightness of the moon was dazzling. The sounds and smells of the wood overwhelmed her with their concert, and Chela cowered at the complexity of Nature.
Mactuan, the man, placed a reassuring hand on her withers. "It is a little too much at first, but your Spirit will take to it naturally. The world is more alive than even your witch's senses revealed, is it not?"
Chela tried to respond, but it came out as a plaintive whine.
"Learning speech will take time too," Mactuan continued. "Be comforted. The woman that you are is still in there, but the real part of her is wearing a new skin. You will have to wear it in like a new pair of boots before it is comfortable."
Chela shook her head and stared fearfully at Mactuan. She nosed his hand to try to get him to understand.
"Easy, little sister. Coming back is simple. Just focus and desire with all your heart... to stand up and speak again."
Chela squeezed her eyes shut and focused all her will on the simple act of standing up on two feet. The world rocked with pain and fire again, and without more than instant of dizzying agony, she stood unsteadily again on two human feet.
Mactuan quickly snatched her up in his arms, hugging and swinging her around, delightedly kissing her face and neck, "You did it! You did it! You did it, little sister!"
Chela captured his face in her hands and firmly pressed her mouth to his as she molded her naked body against him. Mactuan's embrace softened from exuberant to sensual, and to his own surprise, he returned her kiss just as powerfully.
"You mean 'we' did it," Chela corrected a moment later when they both had to draw breath.
"Aye, we did," Mactuan said and chanced another long kiss on the mouth.
Chela responded willingly to the kiss and asked at the next pause for air, "What finally triggered it?"
"I was appealing to the wrong instincts. I thought the joy of the run would awaken you, but you are a she-wolf. It took the environment of the den to do it. It was not wolf play instincts that brought you out, but wolf family instincts."
"I wonder why," Chela mused. She was enjoying the feeling of being pressed against Mactuan's body. His hard chest felt marvelous against her soft breasts.
"Nothing quite brings out the instincts of a female animal like the den. If you had been born a full wolf, you would have dug one yourself. It was the strongest instinct to appeal to," Mactuan explained quite simply.
"But do you think I can change again?"
"Changing now should be easy," Mactuan nodded. He was enjoying the feeling of being pressed against Chela's body. Her soft breasts felt incredible squashed against him, and his hard cock was bumping against her as it tried to rise between them. "You already know what your wolf skin looks like from the inside. You already know how it feels. All you have to do is concentrate on putting that skin on again. Try it."
Chela reluctantly separated herself from the embrace (which allowed Mactuan's erection to lift itself the rest of the way up) and turned with a subtle sway of her hip (which purposefully stroked it across Mactuan's lifted erection). Her sultry look betrayed that it was no accident before she was forced to focus on herself again. Closing her eyes in concentration, Chela focused on what it was like to see through her wolf-skin's eyes and to... express her Spirit through that shape!
That's it! she thought. Mactuan is right -- you just wear the skin like a garment.
No sooner had the concept solidified in Chela's mind than she felt the sweet painful shift of her body and dropped onto four grey feet.
"It just made sense, did it not?" Mactuan queried with a big smile.
Chela threw back her muzzle and howled joyfully in answer.
"Excellent! Now, let us run," Mactuan said turning away. "Catch me if you can!" And in a burst of smoke he bolted away in his own wolfen skin.
Chela quickly gave chase and marveled at how efficient her wolf skin was for running through the nighttime wood. This is what Nature designed it for, she thought. It is perfect for exactly what Nature intended.
Her reverence deepened even as her joy of expression increased with each padded footfall and wash of multicolored smells and sounds. There was no way to describe how alive the world felt and how connected she felt to it. There was, however, the matter of catching Mactuan, who was already out of sight. She ran until her witch's instincts triggered a sudden stop. Something wasn't quite right. Her nose quested the wind, and her ears swiveled in separate query. She had lost Mactuan.
Suddenly he sprang from concealment at the side of the dark trail, which was all the more remarkable as he was in his gigantic half-wolf skin. His huge body somersaulted over her, and one giant taloned paw reached down to tweak the end of her startled nose.