Losing a Friendship

July 07, 2017:

This time Nerina goes looking for a leopard but when they find one another, some ugly truths come out.

1407 Graymalkin Lane


NPCs: None.



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

A faint smell of sea salt runs along the fences and main gate of 1407 Graymalkin Lane, spreading in the wake of a young woman as she trudges blearily all the way down the long expanse of pickets and all the way back. It's a dim and cloudy night with the bright moon peeking out only in fits to cast a pale white light on the grounds below. When it reaches between the tree limbs and down to the grass, the pacing vagabond becomes a yellow beacon from the sun-bleached colour of her long straw-like hair. She's dressed a little extra warm for the night with a battered grey hoodie and sweatpants though the gauntness of her face speaks to how much natural insulation she's missing underneath. It might be warmer weather but the flautist's fortunes haven't improved quite enough to take the unhealthy pallor from her face.

The dark blue-black bags beneath her eyes don't help either but then again she is walking around in the middle of the night.
Sea salt coming from the wrong direction is clue enough, really. But it is many hours into the night before there is any evidence of anyone following up on this mysterious pacing, gaunt visitor. Others know, of course, in other ways. Telepaths pick up thoughts. Empaths pick up feelings. Cameras and sensors pick up movement. But very few pick up scents.

Eventually, one of those comes loping out of the darkness, slinking from tree and tree to bush and fence and brick cornice.

Amber eyes glint in the pale, skimpy light fromt the fogged, cloudy heavens. Some of that light bathes over the brighter white of fangs, serious teeth, as a big yawn is offered.

Cloud watches the pacer for a while, not really making herself known. She's still hurt and upset about the encounter in Gotham. But as she went seeking Nerina, now Nerina has come seeking her. Cloud is too kind a soul to turn her tail on that. So she pads over closer to the fence and stands, staring at the woman. Waiting. Watching.

Nerina's own senses aren't a match for the leopard's especially in the dark and for a time - for as long as she likes - the natural predator can watch and observe the young woman undetected. There's no sign of unwashed dye behind her ears and no explanation for the difference in size from the same-smelling ninja a city away, but it might be hard to call the two events coincidence.

Pausing in her mindless foot-after-foot trudge, the flautist leans her shoulder against the gate and rubs her eyes with a weary groan. Taking a thermos from her pocket, she opens the lid and takes a couple heavy gulps before lowering it again with a tired sigh. Just as she begins to push back off and resume her trek, a moonbeam connects her with a patch of woods on the other side of the fence and her sea-blue eyes wander into it, spotting colour out the corner of her vision.

"Jhiao," Nerina blurts in relief as a fatigued smile parts her lips.

Addressed, the leopard no longer keeps her distance. She lops out of the trees and bushes and approaches the fence, until she is literally just an inch or two away from it. Anyone need a better hint that it's probably electrified? Yes, the cat can smell the damned ozone. Go figure. She tilts her head, watching Nerina. She doesn't make sounds of greeting like she would; like she did, on the rooftop. But she did come closer, and she's also not growling.

More than happy to move away from the gate with its all-too-visible camera, Nerina approaches from the opposite side of the fence and grabs the pickets for support as she leans in.


A foreboding blue flash is the only warning before a sudden blast breaks the night's calm of crickets and quiet staring. A wet splatter flies everywhere from the energized poles and the vagabond recoils with a startled cry, turning her back on the fence and tucking her arms close to her stomach.

"Oww, oww, oww!" she hisses as she fumbles with the thermos crammed into her other pocket. Its lid is worked off as a cloud passes in front of the moon and in the renewed darkness is a small glimpse around the fishwife's side of what happened: Nerina's cuff is hanging limp and empty, the flautist's hand is completely gone.

The water balloon-like bursts that painted wet lines across her sweater and the leopard just inches from the zap? It's warm but also completely flavourless.
Damned silly two-foots never pay attention. Cloud lifts a paw, trying to get the other woman's attention, to warn her … and then …

Cloud isn't at all sure what just happened. It cannot be good. Nerina is clearly injured. And the leopard acts swiftly. The fence is high - so very high. And yet standing still she tenses and leaps completely clear of it, landing on the found at the edge of the road just outside the fence.

Then the leopard bounds to Nerina's side, pressing against her. Push. Nudge. Away from dangerous fence. Go. Go further. Further still. And then she's trying to push the woman down, down so that she can help, can lave the wound with her tongue, help to stop the … bleeding she does not smell.


"H-hey, hey! Jhiao, get off!" Nerina squirms as she twists and turns away to try to hide her wounds from the pushy leopard. But size and strength win out and the featherweight flautist is knocked away from the fence and then onto her butt.


Huddled almost in half with her thermos awkwardly pinned under one arm, a watery tendril is stretched out from the naiad's empty sleeve and into the bottle. Nerina keeps her eyes anchored on a dark section of grass to the leopard's side as she tries to hide the stream of water that's visibly thickening and reshaping itself into a human hand.
The leopard simply sits on Nerina. She has her biped safely away from dangerous fence. Now, she will keep biped away from fence by making sure biped cannot be stupid and get closer to danger. And if the cat then proceeds to butt her head against Nerina's chest and try to nuzzle at the 'wound', well, too bad. This is what concerned animals do. She isn't so insistent that Nerina can't swat her furry face away, but she makes it a point that this is what she wants, what she thinks is important.

And regardless, she stays planted firmly on those two legs.

"Easy, easy! Give me some space!!" the blonde snaps with harshness drawn from her otherwise powerless position. It's a rough tone she hasn't used with Jhiao before.

With a leopard on top of her the naiad certainly isn't moving and swatting her off would, well, take hands in the first place. Nerina does her best to turn away and keep hiding but eventually, with Cloud all but licking up her water trail, the mutant girl relents. She turns back to face the leopard as her hand finishes reforming and the other begins to follow suit, fueled by a cord of water sucked through the naiad's reconstructed pinky.

Nerina sighs in defeat and looks with crestfallen blue eyes at the wet-faced leopard. "There, now you see what I can do. Are you happy?" she asks with a muted note of bitter sarcasm. "Now I have to leave…"

Cloud remains very firmly planed on her person's legs, watching her with wide amber eyes. No accusation. No anger. Lots of empathy. And an unyielding sense of 'nope, staying here, tough luck'.

The naiad snorts softly out her nose and gives Cloud a dry smile. "You think you can hold me here? You can't do anything to me. It's why I was never afraid of you. Hold still…" Reaching her hand out slowly for the leopard's face, Nerina's palm loses its colour and shape as it washes through the spotted cat's fur in a thin wave before rushing back in the way it came and dragging the damp splatters from earlier with it.

If Cloud could make two-foot mouth sounds, she would probably explain how stupid it would be for Nerina to be afraid of her. She would never hurt her. That's not who she is. To make her point, Cloud simply spreads out and lays down over the other woman. And waits. She could shift, try to take two-foot form and talk to Nerina. But she would be too disabled while changing. The other woman might leave. So for now, she is a big, furry anchor. And she will give chase if the water-woman tries to flow away.

With the leopard's face dried and her hands back to normal, Nerina does the same to her hoodie and sucks the water back out, allowing it to flow back into her thermos through another tendril. She looks down at the animal spread across her and rubs the side of Jhiao's large chest with an affectionate but disheartened look.

"You cat stupido," she chides fondly like a parent might talk to a cutely misbehaved child. "You don't get it, do you? You live with telepaths. Anything you think they can learn and anything they learn, everyone can learn. And now you've seen what I can do so you'll think about it and everyone will find out, so I'll have to leave - and stay gone," Nerina concludes with a sense of finality.

She pauses for a dry snort - a failed laugh - and adds, "After all, you're not going to wander the world with me."

Cloud lifts a paw, and presses it against Nerina's chest, chuffing and shaking her head with annoyance. Stupid two-legs, unable to listen beyond their mouth sounds. Cloud has already wandered the world, and she may yet again. There is nothing great or special in the wandering, only in the learning, the experiencing. The growing. And she has grown here. She knows better than the close-minded, afraid woman. She knows that the telepaths will not look for this knowledge. And that if they find it, they will do nothing about it. But all Nerina can know is her fear.

Nerina overlaps the paw with her hand as she continues to pet the laying leopard. "Of course you don't agree but they're not worth the risk, Jhiao. Maybe for you - you're a cat. I have much more to worry about," she explains. By now the naiad has accepted that the shape-shifter has more open and trusting views; she's not going to change them. Cloud might also pick up on something else: a lack of Italian, though the accent isn't completely gone. In taking care to be understood, the naiad is using better English than usual.

"Let's leave here. Somewhere quieter - safer," she adds with a glance not at the electrified fence but into the woods beyond them at what they might contain. "Find me somewhere safe and you can ask whatever questions you have. A blonde Italian made of water is enough for anyone to find me already…"

Abruptly everything beneath the leopard dissolves as Nerina wills her legs into liquid form and lets Cloud drop to the ground atop her flattened pants. The naiad waits and gives her a chance to stand up first before rising as well.

Cloud turns her head to look at the other woman, yawning hugely. She is perfectly safe right here, and she makes a point of it. She refuses to hurry. Only once Nerina stands and prepares to leave does she finally come up to her feet - quite gracefully - and lope after her. She is annoyed. Silly bipeds. Her issue being that her Master was not this dim; he got it. It took him a while, as he was certainly no spring chicken. But he got it. Someday, perhaps she can teach one of these other bipeds. But only if they settle the Hell down and listen.

Nerina sets anything but a hurried pace as she heads away from their meeting spot, hoping the leopard will take the opportunity to lead through what for the naiad is an unfamiliar area. The fact that she's been walking all night and day also doesn't help.

Annoyed, the leopard catches up easily. She shoulder-butts the other woman's knee by way of 'you are dumb, exhausted, and should lay the f*ck down and REST' and then takes up the lead. Given that she does not experience the other woman's paranoia, her judgement of 'safe' won't line up. But she can make sure the idiot stays safe until she finally decides to give in and collapse. So annoying. Hence the lashing tail.

Nerina stumbles to the side at the shove, no longer sure of foot, but manages to keep her feet and follow after the leopard until they reach beyond sight of any roads in the depths of nearby woods. Not finding a clearing as much as a tree that's 'good enough', the naiad lets her backpack slip from one shoulder and follows its momentum, making a half-turn against the tree and collapsing on top of it with her legs splayed out before her and the stuffed bag serving as an improvised cushion.

A weak, tired groan draws the air out of the blonde's lungs before she can say anything and she turns to look tiredly at Jhiao, expecting a transformation.

And as soon as Nerina finally deins to stop wandering away pointlessly, the leopard pads over and lays down beside her. And stares warm amber stares of annoyance at her. For a while. A long while. Until, finally, she lays her head down, closes her eyes, and … starts to twist and buckle and convulse. It's really unpleasant-looking, and -sounding. And, one would guess, -feeling. And it takes a long time. And when it's over, there's a naked Chinese girl lying on the grass where there used to be a leopard, her long hair in disarray covering her face as she pants. Because damnit, that hurts.

Nerina's cool blue eyes stare back and wait. Her eyelids droop a little, hinting at sleep that wants to come, but the naiad keeps hanging on. As Jhiao begins the arduous process of changing forms, she unscrews her first thermos again and takes another drink. This time there's no wince or aversion to the scene - Nerina watches it stoically to the end with the stillness of detachment.

Once it's over, the blonde takes her water thermos back out, unscrews the top, and offers it to the dishevelled young woman.


"Yes, please." comes the accented reply, as a bare arm stretches out to claim the thermos. "Are you sure you don't need this yourself?" At a minimum, she checks first, before lifting it with slightly unsteady hands, and drinking it down. She doesn't empty it, but she takes a good bit. It's part of helping her body to reach equiilibrium all over again.

"So. What is wrong with you?"

Yep. That's it. Nothing more. The thermos is returned, and the question is asked. Quite baldly. Remember: annoyed Cloud. No tail to watch to make the feeling clear, but this should do it.

"I have enough," Nerina assures, smiling for just a moment as she takes the thermos back afterwards. Then her eyes turn off into the dark of the forest and she leans her head back against the tree pensively, weighing her reply. A spectre of age settles upon the naiad's shoulders despite her physical youth - too many years living through too many things.

"Unlike you, and it seems most people, I actually care whether or not I die. I'm safer when people leave me alone and no one knows what I can do," she eventually answers in an even, factual tone, glancing at the last part back to Cloud.

Jhiao shakes her head. "You are my friend, no matter how stupid or inconsiderate you may be. But that is perhaps the stupidest thing you have ever said, to me or to anyone else." Friends tell friends when they are being morons.

"Of course I care whether or not I die. And I care whether or not you die. But these people will not harm you. And they would be one of the best defenses in the world against anyone else who might choose to try." Jhiao shrugs her bare shoulders as she sits up and faces the other woman.

"Being alone and cut off has not helped you. You do not get enough sleep. You do not get enough to eat. You do not rest. You are constantly afraid. You are visibly unhealthy." The Chinese woman grimaces. "Even leopards know that they are stronger together than they are apart, which is why the mated pair stays together until the young are mature enough to move on. Humans are like the canids: you always do better in packs. Even when one is a powered human who turns into water."

Nerina listens patiently for the leopard-woman to finish, supported by the tree trunk at her back. Even with hardly any light to see by at all, it's easily to see that every one of her points is solidly based in the world-weary youth. But even so…

"Nyet, you are wrong," Nerina disputes evenly, lapsing from Italian into Russian. "You just saw what an electric fence does to me, it blew off my hands." Calmly, the naiad raises both regrown members to show them whole and unmarred before setting them both in her lap. "What if there's one mutant in there who's made of electricity? What if, as a joke, he decides to shock me with a handshake - except because he's a kid he uses more electricity than he means to? A normal person might be pained or have their heart stopped; I might die - instantly."

"Or what if some of the many, many, many people who do not like mutants decide to blow up the mansion or attack it while I'm in it? What if one of the telepaths is captured and tortured for information? What if someone flies by in a plane and sprays that green gas across the grounds? What if just one mutant in that entire 'school' is a spy or an assassin, or someone buys their support?"

"You're saying I should trust *children* who can destroy cars and collapse buildings by *accident*, who cannot *stop* themselves from reading my mind and finding every secret that passes through it, who tell a complete stranger in five minutes that every single student and wanderer has a special power just because a cat thought they could be trusted."

Nerina pauses and shuts her eyes as she rubs the bridge of her nose, trying to massage vigour back into herself and check the simmering rise of her temper. She looks back at the Chinese youth fatigued but not hateful - her thoughts are aimed at others.

"I like you Jhiao but you trust too easy. You know nothing about me, you didn't even know I had any powers then. I can't trust anyone else you would bring there - anyone who's already there."

"And like so many bipeds, you are too full of yourself to realize what you do not know. You think of me as a child, or simple, because I am an animal, never considering that I have seen more seasons than most of the bald and the grey-hairs. Or that I can smell liars and the ungenuine. Or that I watch everyone all the time with senses far more accurate than you. I know how those people will act, how they think, what they consider important. And protecting those within the walls, from each other and from the world outside, is their primary mission."

Jhiao snorts at Nerina and shakes her head. "You think I did not know you had powers? I did not know what they were, but I knew. My nose knew, long before my observation of your behavior proved it. But you kept your secrets, and I let you. I missed you, and I hunted you for days across five cities until I found you. And the moment I found you — me, your friend, who would never harm you — you ran away from me. And yet days later here you are, looking for me." And relieved to find her. She didn't miss that part.

"Children at the school are monitored. None of them would tell strangers your secrets, because they wouldn't meet strangers. Because those people you are so bent on disparaging know the dangers of their gifts, and they do all they can to manage those risks for the safety of all concerned." Finished, the leopard girl waits to hear what other BS the exhausted neried wants to spew.

"I was trying to hide my power. You could have asked first," Nerina offers as her body loses colour and form below the neck and the naiad flows up and out of her clothes. Forming arms and legs and feet out of a watery silhouette, she shows what there is to see of her watery body in the dim light and slowly, purposefully shifts it. Water flows out of her torso and down into longer, thicker, more well-developed legs. The distorted body parts keep their liquid hue but bear the youth without complaint as her natural arms solidify anew.

"Do these legs look solid to you?" She asks rhetorically, reaching down to poke her thigh with a finger and sending a ripple across its surface.

Retaining the partial transformation a little longer for the leopard's sake, Nerina moves on. "And what happens to the students who graduate? Are they locked in a basement so they never get drunk and tell an entire bar about the crazy school full of mutants they attended? Did you smell that I *hate* mutants and that if I thought it would matter, I would help turn that entire school into a mass grave? The world doesn't need their powers causing chaos any more than it needs humans trying to emulate them or witches breaking the threads of reality."

Flinching back as if struck by a physical blow, the naked Chinese woman looks up at Nerina as if at a complete stranger. And then she stands, flowing her feet rather gracefully for someone who doesn't much care for having two legs rather than four. "That's enough. You were my friend, and I care about you. But I will not tolerate that. Not from you, not from anyone. You threaten innocent children out of your unreasoning fear and the hatred it brings up in you. And were I the friend I should be, to you and to them, I would end you and set your spirit free to return and try again."

Jhiao takes a step back, and shakes her head. "You will not return here, Nerina. Not ever. If you do, I will do what I must to protect them from you and your hatred, even if it costs me the woman I called friend. My Master taught me never to seek conflict, and always to strive to preserve life. But confronted with the evil of your hatred again, I will end you to save them, and mourn you and the loss of my own innocence afterwards."

And with that said, the naked woman turns and starts walking away through the forest.

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