Tooth and Claw

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Tooth and Claw is a gorgeous world of unspoilt wilderness and simple creatures living simple, if often brutal, lives. The world actively reshapes any new arrivals to suit. Regardless of who, or what, you were before you arrived, you are now a woodland creature, bereft of magical or technological enhancements.  

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It's a lovely, calm summer's day at the edge of an unnamed temperate forest, on a world known to at least some corners of the Multiverse as Tooth-and-Claw. To the locals, should they bother to think of it, it is simply 'the world'.

There are no sights or sounds of human habitation, and the air is heavy with the scent of grass and flowers, trees and deep rich earth, without a hint of smoke or industry.

Mmmm, warm sunshine. It's good to be a were some days, when your ancient family curse gives you more appreciation for the simple things like the sheer joy of just stretching out in a pool of sunshine. 

Of course, I probably have to get up at some point... stupid classes. Stupid midterms. Stupid digcomm classes. She rolls over in the sun to warm her other side, taking in a deep breath at the same moment.

Huh. Julie must have changed her air thingy. This one's new.

A pause, no thought for anything but delicious lazy sunning.

Wait. Julie never changes scents. Our apartment is, like, ocean-whatever central.

She cracks one violet-ringed gold eye open, casting her first look about her surroundings. When did I go camping, and why is... oh, paws. That's why it's all so huge.

It's a simple matter to get to her feet with a stretch and a yawn, tail wagging in lingering pleasure.

Now to figure out where I am... No need to shift, this form is fastest, and has the best nose short of her fully powered form. She lifts her head and starts sniffing the air for familiar scents.

Mari smells nothing familiar. Oh, she will recognize the broad strokes - warm, moist earth, deciduous trees, grass, rodents, songbirds. The slightly stale scent of what must be the resident bear.

But none of it seems quite right. There are none of the tiny accents that tell her that it is a place she knows, each of the scents subtly different from any she has ever encountered before. And, of course, there is the complete lack of anything that could be reasonably described as artificial.

Above her, the silence of the woods is broken when a blue jay begins to scold the coyote. Loudly and at length.

"Go away! Go away stupid face wolf-thing! This is my tree! Mine! Mine!Mine!Mine!"

Curiouser and curiouser, as aunt Alice says. she sniffs at the base of the nearby tree, trying to figure out what kind it is, the better to figure out where her folks dropped her off this time. Did she volunteer for a training weekend and just forget about it?

Then the blue jay starts his squawking at her. She blinks up in absolute confusion, clearly puzzled with flattened ears and limp tail. That... that bird is talking to me. When did I learn "bird" and what do I do with it? Can he understand me if I talk back?

She puzzles for a second, then just goes for it. "I'm not here for your tree! Just trying to think of where I am, that's all."

The tree Mari picks is an spindly tree with scaly, cracked grey bark, who's narrow trunk extends at least thirty feet up into the canopy. There's a sharp scent of wintergreen when a twig snaps under her paw - black birch, or at least something very like it.

The jay agitatedly hops back and forth along his branch. He's not fooled for a minute by her confused act! "You're under my tree! Mine! Stupid stranger wolf-thing. Mine!Mine!" He suddenly jump off the branch and dives at the coyote's head, aiming for her sensitive ears.

Huh. Wintergreen... birch. Smells like home, almost, but I've never understood the jays back ho- "HEY!" 

Mari ducks her head and darts forward as the jay goes dive-bombing for coyotes! This saves her ears, now tucked back tight to her head, but leaves the coyote right up against the trunk of the maddening jay's tree. "You stupid bird what would I want with your tree? I'm a woman, not some half witted blue jay all hopped up on his own importance!"

He bombs at me again so help me mom I'm going to eat him... The jay might be bright enough to recognize angry canine, with her lip curled back to bare teeth, tail low, half crouched. Wolf-thing is ready for him this time!

Ha! He'd like to see her try!

Still, the jay doesn't make another go at her, instead chosing to give her what is probably a baffled look. "Don't care if you're a she-wolf-thing. It's my tree! My nest! Stay away!"

Above Meri, probably just out of coyote jumping distance, there's the sound of scrambing as an awkward looking fledgling makes the latest in a series of flailing leaps. At the end of it, the fledgling is firmly out of coyote jumping distance. "Safe!"

 Ahh, well, can't get mad about that. I'd get pissy with a predator around my pups too.  She very openly and deliberately takes several steps away from the tree, looking for the jay. 

 

"Okay, look, I'm away from your tree. I don't want your kids. Just... okay this is weird, but where the hell am I?"

At this moment, attracted by the voices, a nice fat raccoon comes trundling up.  It was completely unaware that it should not approach predator species like coyotes willy-nilly.  It was oblivious to such things as the food-chain and where he belonged on it.

"Yo~!  Yo, dudes, if we're giving out directions and stuff, I could also use a 411.  And, I mean, come on?  And why am I a lemur all of a sudden?  I mean, I am a lemur, right?"  He held up his front paws to examine them, turning them over and looking behind himself to see his ringed tail.  "I didn't think lemurs got this fat, but whatever!  It's all good if someone could just change me back and, you know, send me back home."

In this strange new world, Mari has a leg up. She's actually kinda used to being small, adorable and fuzzily four footed. 

She also knows what a raccoon smells like, and knows that they aren't usually know for getting friendly with toothy canid predators. She caught herself just as she was starting to slink low, to get herself a nice tasty raccoon for di- Bad! No, this is weird already, let's not compound it by assuming anyone is safe to eat yet.

Palmer's no doubt familiar with internet memes of animals facepalming; now he gets to see a coyote do it. "Seriously, dude? A lemur? Did you grow up in a box, or just never watch any kids movies?"

"What?  What is it?"  He looks over his shoulder to look at his backside and ends up walking in a circle.  "All I see is a ringed tail.  That's a lemur, right?  Lemurs are cool.  I like to move it, move it.  Well, not really, but I like to think I could.  If I wanted?"

He looked around as if he were searching for hidden cameras.  "Anyone got a mirror, I think I gotta check this out."

The coyote gives a growling sort of sigh. "Sure, here, let me pull a mirror out of my tail. Oh wait!"

"News flash, Rocket, you're not a lemur. I'm not sure what's going on, but we need to chill for a minute and figure this out. I'm not even going to ask if you know where we are."

"Did...Did you leave your mirror in your other tail?"  He again checks out his own tail to check to see if it had some sort of pouch or something to carry things with. 

"Hey... Wait a minute!  You're being sarcastic!  I didn't know dingos could be sarcastic."  He plopped down and scratched his rump.  "And what's with the rocket crack?  I know I'm not a rocket scientist, but I'm not dumb."
 

"Oh for the love of... raccoon. You're a raccoon. Rocket's a famous comic book raccoon. And dingo, really? Dense!" she huffs at the newcomer, ears flicking back in annoyance as she shook her head. 

"You know what, forget it. I'm going this way, I think I smell water." She does an about face, looking about for that stupid jay to fix one last death glare upon, then starts padding off through the trees. 

As Mari turns towards the smell of running water, the jay is already defending it's tree from the next threat, and the air fills with screeched insults and threats as the jay dive bombs an unsuspecting squirrel, which responds with some choice insults of it's own.

Now that they're aware of it, the woods are filled with hushed snippets of conversation.  A pair of chipmunks bickering over territory. A wood pecker telling it's chicks some kind of story about the origin of trees. The tiny panicked curse of a mouse followed, a short scuffle later, by a weasel dam congratulating her kit on it's first successful hunt.

That aside, it's a pleasant enough trek through the woods towards the sound and smell of a small brook. Mari can catch traces of the local large carnivores - that bear again, a couple of bobcats, and the relatively fresh scent of a young male wolf.

Doug will be able to smell most of the same things, of course, but is unlikely to understand them. The scent of the wolf does seem to fill him with unaccountable anxiety, however.

Once they reach the brook they will discover.... a brook. A small stream cutting through the woods, it seems to have the usual assortment of water, stones, and fish. And what appears to be a rough ring made of tree branches stripped of bark.

"Hey, wait up!"   Doug trundles after the coyote, struggling on two legs for the first bit before falling down to all fours.  "Oh, right, four legs.  I'm a raccoon or something, right."  He continues to awkwardly walk after Mari as fast as he could.

"Man, wow!  This must be an adventure or something, right?  I've never been camping before.  This seems like camping.  Do all animals talk when you go camping?  That's just like in cartoons.  Oh, man, do you think I can get a different animal form?"  He keeps on chattering away, partially due to an unaccountable nervous energy he now had.  "I guess raccoons are cool and all, but wouldn't it be awesome if I could be a bear instead?  I'd certainly have an easier time keeping up with you!"

He would also have an easier time of keeping up if he let instinct take over and not waddled about like a human on it's hands and knees.

When coming up to the circle of odd branches in the water, he sits back on his haunches again to rest up a bit. "Oh, man, that's neat.  There's some kind of dam here.  Platypus, do you think?"

"Stupid brainless bird." She grumbles, then pads off toward water. The bear and bobcat don't bother her in the least; she can outrun the former, and the latter isn't usually interested in coyote (Doug, you're on your own), but the wolf could give her trouble if he's foolish and feisty. 

Doug's awkward progress behind her, all noisy and obtrusive next to her grace, causes her to lay her ears back against her head almost immediately. Complaints about keeping up with her, though, are the last straw. She pauses, forepaws on a log she'd propped up on to sample the air, looking back at him with a growl. "Look, can you be silent for a whole five minutes? Please? I'm trying to pay attention enough for both of us and you. Are not. Helping. Just, silence, please!" 

The stream, though, the stream is in sight... and that ring is unusual. Branches don't grow in rings. Someone has to make the rings. 

She pads down toward it, approaching carefully; could be a trap, could be more magic. She crouches down low, nose alert, moving a paw at a time, ready to spring away if it's a trap wire. She's sniffing for human scent, or human masking scents!

Doug sat back down on his rump heavily.  "Shutting up!"

He really wanted to ask about what she was doing, since he had no idea, but she wanted him to shut up so he was going to show her how well he could shut up! 

Man, being silent when you have a boatload of questions to ask was hard!  But, no! He would stay shut up!  Though, come to think of it, maybe he should just go talk to someone else?  Maybe it was because she sounded like she might be human, too, and in the same situation as him.  Yeah, that was it.  Who else could he talk to about video games?

He still wanted to know if she thought it might be a platypus dam or something, but he kept mum and resisted the urge to ask again.

Mari growled a soft prayer of thanks as Doug sits down and shuts his motormouth, and with a disgustingly pleased little ripple of her tail she goes back to surveying the possible trap.

Doug is almost a caricature, such a city boy in a country setting. Platypus dam, really? No monotremes here, and that's a beaver you mask-eyed twit!