The trip from the kitchen to Aura’s workshop had never seemed so long. Each step was a challenge, my hinds heavy and my legs threatening to rebel. Despite not being shackled, I could barely walk, and I shuffled back and forth as if sleepwalking. The narrow stairway seemed almost impassible, until Aura took one of my paws in hers and half-guided, half-pulled me along behind her, all the while murmuring under her breath. Her tones were soothing, but her words were a blur to me, punctuated at points with phrases I felt I should recognize. At times I tried to speak, to respond to what sounded like questions or to ask what was happening, but little escaped my muzzle but a string of slurred syllables.
I was suddenly struck by the heavy scent of rain in the air, but before I could do more than note it, Aura had one paw on my shoulder and was motioning to a spot in the middle of the room with the other. “Lie there, on your back. Arms at your sides, legs together.” My head bobbed and I shuffled to the point she had indicated, then lay down. As I stretched out on the floor, it felt almost as if I were lying half-inside the wood. Something tingled in the air, and motes of light glinted above me as rays of sunlight filtered in through the windows. I lifted a paw and brought it in front of my muzzle; the fur around my fingers glowed faintly, backlit by sunlight.
From somewhere out of sight, I could hear Aura moving around me, accompanied by the scratching of chalk on the ground and other, less familiar sounds. Metals and rocks clacked against each other, and something that sounded like grain falling from a burlap bag rattled in a steady rhythm for some time. I managed to lift my head to see Aura pouring something white and faintly glittery in a large circle around me. At intervals she knelt to scratch lines on the ground in chalk or place a crystal or small mound of powder. As I watched, the turned to look at me, her muzzle moving constantly, whispering words or perhaps just shaping the sounds with her lips. She nodded once in my direction, then motioned for me to lower my head, which I did, returning to gaze at the ceiling.
When she returned to stand over my head, the sound of falling grain suddenly stopped, and the dust motes grew brighter, catching the rays of sun and flashing as they drifted. The water-smell in the air strengthened, along with a familiar smoky scent—the incense, I realized after several seconds. By the time I’d identified it, though, Aura had already been walking around the circle, her voice resonating in the small space. The words were unfamiliar, some language I didn’t know, but the power in them was unmistakable. Her voice rose and fell in a near-constant song, not even pausing for breath that I could tell. The sinking sensation deepened as she moved, combined with that now-familiar heaviness in my limbs, to make me feel as if I were becoming one with the floor.
Finally, she returned to the start of the circle and dropped to her knees. At some point, she’d tossed aside her bedrobe, leaving her nude as she positioned herself just above me. Her singsong chant stopped sharply, and for several seconds she was quiet. Then, when she spoke next, I suddenly understood her, making me dimly wonder if she had changed languages again, or if she had done something to my mind. “From the furthest star to the tiniest speck, all parts of the Great Work share a connection, however tenuous, to all others. It is an endless tapestry, an unbroken weave that links the great and the small, the majuscule and minuscule. Here, within this unbroken circle, we bring together the above and the below, to make a change to a piece of the Great Work.”
The sage lowered her muzzle, and I managed to open my eyes to gaze up at her. Aura’s eyes, shadowed by the tilt of her head, looked like two pools of shadow swimming on her face; her face was absent any expression at all, a blank slate moving in her own sort of trance. “Are you ready, little light?”
That familiar warmth spread through me, and I sank fully into the floor, a slow grin spreading across my muzzle. I had long since lost track of my limbs. “I am ready,” I tried to reply, but what came out was more like a modulated yawn.
Aura’s head bobbed once in a nod. “Close your eyes. Picture yourself in your mind, lying on the floor. The lines have been drawn, the salts have been cast and the stones empowered. See yourself within the circle, body relaxed, complacent, and pliable. Warmth suffuses you, a tingling heat that fills you from eartip to toe. See yourself in every detail as you are today, as the Great Work has shaped you. When you can see yourself in your mind, say yes.”
My eyes closed, I focused on the image of myself in my mind’s eye, as if looking down from the rafters at the ritual taking place below. A rabbit of white fur, dotted with a few patches of black, stretched out limply on the hardwood floor, surrounded by intricate designs that seemed to glow in the dawn light. I squinted, focusing down on face, on chest and arms, legs and hinds. He looked as though he thought his expression should be blank; but it was clear he was enjoying himself; the rippling tingle that spread in waves through his entire frame; and the sinking, floating, falling feeling that had overtaken his mind. I saw his muzzle move, and the word “yes” floated up from within the circle.
Aura nodded again. “All things are connected. The turnings of the spheres entangle all lines with each other. The careful eye and the delicate paw, however, may tease a single skein apart from all others, and a vibration on a single line may send ripples throughout the Great Work. Within the circle, we isolate a single strand, that we may make changes to it and preserve those changes within the larger weave. Feel the heat spreading through your body, flesh and bone cerating, becoming as wax, soft and pliant. When you can feel your flesh ready to sculpt, say yes.”
The figure below opened his muzzle, panting softly. Beads of sweat blossomed across the linings of his ears, and a faintly glossy sheen spread across his fur. The heat made breathing difficult, but still it felt more like soaking in a warm bath, the heat saturating me throughout. He lifted one paw to study it; the fingers wobbled unsteadily before my eyes. “Yes.”
The raccoon’s tail hooked, then reversed, back and forth. She leaned forward, just up to the circle, and for a moment it seemed that she was pressing herself against some barrier between us. “Salts to separate, chalk to mark and guide. Ruby dust for Oshka, sapphire for Matska. Anise to bless, cinnamon to heat and stoke. Peppermint, motherwort, and clove. Bring your paws together, at your groin.” She spread her knees and leaned back, making a show of her own sex. “Sculpt what you see, shaped by others’ desire, driven by your need.”
As her words touched my ears, the heat within me became a palpable, living thing. It pulsed and shuddered, collecting in my paws and loins as I brought them together. With his eyes on her nethers and his fingers at my sheath, the rabbit began to stroke himself; the shock of sensation was overwhelming, intense in ways I had never imagined. He pressed harder against his sheath, and the flesh began to move beneath his touch. Each stroke and caress, each press and shape, sent a fresh wave of fire along my spine. The rabbit gulped, his muzzle agape, his tongue lolling as he molded his flesh, sculpting it to mirror the raccoon’s lips and opening. As one paw cupped over the newly-formed mound and one finger slid carefully into the freshly-crafted tunnel beneath, a lightning bolt passed through me, arcing up from the base of my groin to the top of my head. “Ye—es….” escaped the rabbit’s lips as the body within the circle spasmed.
“Good,” Aura said as she watched, her own eyes alight at the changes. “Very good. You’re well-trained to do as you’re told. Wormwood and violet, with licorice root to seal.” She held out her paws, her fingers curled tightly, her thumbs pressed tightly against the sides of her paws. “Fold your claws away, then mirror my paws with yours, a proper pet’s paws. Press them against the ground, to set them flat when you’re done.”
The heat and shock still fading from my system, the rabbit could barely manage a nod. Paws gingerly pressed claws down back into the shafts of fingertips, leaving only smooth flesh at their tips. Then fingers tucked against themselves, thumbs melding into the sides of paws as the rabbit squirmed his paws into the proper arrangement. As they pressed against the ground, the pads flowed through the merging flesh, until simple paws, just like any animal’s, sat at the end of the rabbit’s wrists. The heat was starting to fade, but that warm tingle still flowed upwards as the changes spread. “Yes.”
The sage stood, drawing in a deep breath. “Very good. You’ve done well. As all things have symbols to give them meaning, so is the name the symbol of self. The you that was brought a name with you into the circle, a unique name meaning you and only you. That name, and the you that was that name, I seal within the circle, within the you that is. When you are in this state, and you hear that name, you will return to the you that was, until you are restored to the you that is. That name, the you that was, I seal away within the you that is. Do you understand?”
The shock and heat was fading fast, a cool fog settling over my thoughts. I blinked, gazing up into the empty rafters. “I… think so, yes,” I murmured.
“Good. Very good.” The raccoon nodded curtly. “Within the circle, we separate one skein, one single strand of the Great Work, to make changes to it.” I heard hindfalls, then saw her walk to the foot of the circle, holding a wooden staff. “To weave those changes back within the larger pattern, we carefully part the circle. Salts divided, chalk split.” The tip of the staff thunked heavily against the ground, and then with a single thrust, she slid it through the circle and across one of the lines drawn on the floor. “Wake up.”
Whether it was the words or the sudden motion that snapped me back to full awareness, I couldn’t tell, but I felt a shock of self-awareness. My fur felt slick, and my pads were clammy. A chill ran up my spine and I shivered. “Cold,” I murmured, scrabbling up into a kneeling position. It took me a few tries to push myself off the ground; for some reason, I kept thinking my paws were supposed to be longer than they were.
Aura nodded; at some point, she’d pulled on her bedrobe again. “That’s little surprise,” she murmured, stepping over to the window. Outside, the sky darkened as the last rays of sun faded into the distance. “Aside from that, how do you feel?”
At the question, I whimpered slightly, aware of a strange tingling, burning sensation deep within me. “I feel… anxious? Needy? Like a hunger, but—” I blushed, ducking my head as I realized what it was. “It’s not hunger, ma’am.”
The sage chuckled. “Not precisely, no, but that would be a word for it. Once we’re done with a few basics, I’ll allow you what you need and start teaching you the rest. One question for you first, though. What’s your name?”
“It’s—” I stopped, blinking. I tried to recall, but I simply… couldn’t. I knew I should be able to remember something as simple as my name, and yet, the space in my mind where I imagined such things should be simply wasn’t there, merely a vast white fog. “I… I don’t know, ma’am. I’m sorry, I… should remember, but… I don’t.”
“No matter,” Aura said, dismissing the question with a wave of her paw. “It’s Taneh, but you’d have come to it in time, no doubt. Now rise and follow. You’ve had a long day already and supper yet to make.”