The chiming of the bell cuts through the muggy spring afternoon, rousing the few drowsy minded students, most of whom were relaxing a bit after finals. The professor snaps her books shut on the lectern’s reading stand with a flash of her talons and a flourish of her fluffy wings.
“Well students, I believe that is all. A final all. I hope you gained something from this class beyond the knowledge required for the tests. For those of you graduating, good luck. For those of you returning to our halls, be it as graduate students or continuing your undergraduate education next year, I shall likely see you soon. Mr. Rico could you stay after class please?”
Johnny managed to suppress a low groan. He actually really liked Professor Chinmoku… She was a bit intimidating with her piercing gaze that seemed to examine your soul while asking you questions during lectures. She was whip sharp, and while she had a very quiet tone of voice, she never failed to get people’s attention. Her ear bending tongue lashings however were the stuff of legends. Her withering gaze shrinking her helpless victim where they stood while she gouged chunks of them out with her verbal talents. He would know, he’d gotten more than a few of lectures over the last four years. She seemed to single him out… but at the same time she found ways to encourage him, and her criticism really had sharpened his work over the years. He’d been hoping to escape his last day unscathed, but she was waiting.
The owl harpy ruffled her feathers a bit as the rest of the class filed out, each giving him a sympathetic nod. It was hard being Professor Chinmoku’s favorite punching bag, and Johnny was decently regarded otherwise. Finally, they were alone, the door slamming shut like it was the door to a cell block in a prison. His heart sank, but, time to take his licks. It was the last one after all. So it’s not like it’s forever. Johnny suppresses a sigh and hauls himself from his chair, approaching the pulpit from which Professor Chinmoku preached her gospel of hard work and diligent research.
“You wanted to see me Professor?”
“I did indeed. I wanted to congratulate you on a job well done, and ask about your post university plans.”
“No ma’am I… wait. Congratulate me?” Well. That hadn’t happened before. She’d always been damn hard on him, ever ready to drop an iron fist of criticism on even his best work. He’d always gotten good grades in her classes, but she always pushed him for more.
“Of course, I’ve watched you quite closely since your Freshman year. One of your essays caught my eye as having potential, I’m sure you know I’ve been quite hard on you, but it was the challenge I believe you needed to develop your talents properly. Higher capability means being held to a higher standard.”
First she congratulates him, then she compliments him. Pretty extensively, and revealed the whole thing was a plan to make him better? Shit, he was going to need a drink after this just to try and cope.
“Wait, you’ve been watching me for four years?”
“Absolutely, it is perhaps a bad habit of mine, but I like to shepherd talent along towards becoming accomplished individuals. I was a bit hurt you didn’t ask me for a recommendation for your continuing education though. Assuming you are continuing your education of course.”
“To be perfectly honest ma’am I never thought to ask, I thought you disliked me.”
“Not in the slightest. The exact opposite in fact. I suppose I didn’t communicate that properly… you have my apologies Mr. Rico. I personally thought of you as something of a teacher’s pet. I was careful about it in hopes of not drawing you any undue attention from your peers but it appears I went too far in the opposite direction. I might be famed for my vision amongst the undergrads at this university, but even I can have my near sighted moments.”
“It’s… huh. I guess I can kind of see that now, to be honest you were pretty brutal ma’am, but it did make me better.”
“You can drop the “ma’am” now I think. You’re no longer my student as of a few minutes ago now. Yoru will be fine.”
“S..sure. Yoru. As for post graduation plans, I applied to a few post grad programs, I actually have the list here.”
“Let’s have a look at it then shall we?”
The Professor takes the proffered sheet of paper with a ginger pair of talons, bringing the sheet under a magnifying glass set up to allow Harpies to read comfortably while using their primary grasping tools, their feet.
“Hmm, all good schools… but I notice two things. All of these schools are within the UMT. Interesting choice, not just studying abroad in a foreign land, but going amongst monsters. To lands thought myth until only a few decades ago.”
“Well it is the frontier of study, and the potential applications of magic to pretty much any field and every field are really exciting.”
“No fear of being dragged off and ravaged by some entity in the night?” Yoru’s eyes narrowed slightly, her intense gaze boring into him nearly getting him to gulp. Johnny couldn’t help but wonder if this is what it felt like to be a field mouse under the eyes of a Great Horned Owl.
“Ah ha… that doesn’t really happen does it? I thought most of that stuff was urban legends and bad made for TV movies, Hellhound husband hunting packs, the Surprise Marriage horror movies, that kinda thing.”
“Oh they’re mostly stories I’m sure, but stories always come from somewhere Johnny. Best to keep that in mind when going amongst monsters… your human mythology certainly drifted to and fro over the centuries, but it’s not nearly as inaccurate as many of you thought. Now, the second thing I noticed, your top choice… that is my alma mater and the school I am on loan to this university from. Did you know that when you selected it?”
“I did ma… Yoru. I might have thought you disliked me, but you clearly know your stuff. If the other teachers there are half as good as you I stand to learn a lot.”
“Wonderful to hear. I’ll dash off a message to my department head tonight. Worry not, I’m quite certain you’re already on the acceptance list, but why not make certain of these things?”
“Thank you ma’am I appreciate that.”
The harpy leans in, getting almost uncomfortably close to Johnny’s face, her razor sharp gaze even more intense at this distance.
“On another academic note, I heard one of your other professors talking about you in the staff lounge the other day… I didn’t know you were so passionate ornithology. I mean, you’ve written about it before, even in my classes, but the professor was apparently raving about your final essay.”
Okay, that got a gulp out of Johnny. It wasn’t that he thought his hobby was strange but how intense Yoru seemed to be about the subject, and considering she was a harpy herself…
“Ye..yes ma… Yoru. I’ve loved… err… really enjoyed studying birds since I was a kid.”
“I’m a fan of the subject myself as you can imagine. I believe that professor also said you were a licensed falconer. Is that true?”
“Yes… yes. I’ve been licensed for a couple years now. I’ll probably get my Master rating before I leave for the UMT.”
“Quite a feat for one so young, but then, you’re a bright, driven man. I’ll imagine you know how to handle birds of prey quite well. Is that so? Can you handle the most fierce of the avians? Train them, tame them ever so slightly even? Even get them to eat from your hand perhaps?”
“Ah hahah… I ah, probably need to be going Yoru, it’s getting late.”
“Just one more thing. I have a little present for you. A bit silly now since we’ll apparently be colleagues in a few months but I wanted to give you a little memento. It took ages to make it.”
With some more deft maneuvering of her talons, Yoru pulls a long wooden case from within her desk and passes it to Johnny. He slowly opens it, to reveal an incredibly luxurious quill resting in velvet. The tip is sharp and reinforced with metal to avoid having to sharpen it like a real quill pen, and the feather was magnificent… and familiar. The tell tale fluff of an owl feather was obvious, and the size also indicated Yoru had either acquired some incredibly rare giant owl’s feather… or…
“Yoru, is this one of your feathers?”
“It is indeed. I thought you might appreciate the pen, not so much for practical reasons, but as a nice memento that won’t take up too much space and looks nice, and I happened to molt the perfect flight feather earlier in the year. Now, you run along, I’m sure we’ll see each other again soon… perhaps sooner than you might expect.”
And with that, the moment was over, and Johnny Rico stepped out into the hall on shaky legs. He could still feel Yoru’s gaze on his back till the minute the door closed. It was a strange moment with a teacher who was far more complex than he might have guessed, and he’d thought she was fairly complex to start! Still, Johnny thinks to himself.The quill was really pretty and very well made, and it would be nice to see a friendly face whenever Yoru’s visiting professor program ended and she returned to the UMT.
Still, something strange was afoot. Johnny Rico didn’t see himself as some sort of stud but he was fairly attractive, and was used to attention, especially because it had gotten out after an incident Sophomore year that he was “monster friendly” to say the least. So usually he had at least one or two monster girls at social events competing for his attention. For the week or two of partying and social events that filled his hometown leading up to and after graduation however Johnny wasn’t ignored per say, but held at a distance. Perfectly friendly and enjoyable conversations, but the flirty banter he was used to simply wasn’t there.
It honestly concerned him. Had he done something wrong? His break up with his last girlfriend had been over a year ago and had been completely amicable. His ex was an especially diligent student, and had wanted to start focusing on the Master’s Degree program she’d just started. He’d argued of course, but in the end, he understood, he had high reaching academic aspirations too after all. So it probably wasn’t some sort of fall out from that. In fact, he’d seen his ex on campus the other day as he finished clearing out some items he’d had stored, and she’d started to come say hello, but stopped dead in her tracks about 20 feet away and immediately hightailed it away without saying a word.
The young man scratches his head slightly, before looking up and noticing he’s the only person left in the library. He’d been looking more into the UMT city he’d hopefully be moving to in a few months. English was common enough in the UMT, and where language barriers existed, magic was prevalent enough to provide handy translation tools, but he wanted to make sure he wasn’t going to step on anyone’s toes, tail, talons or other assorted appendages with a careless word or phrase.
“I can’t believe it’s this late already…”
Johnny grabbed his bag and headed for the door. It was a particularly dark night, the moon was barely a sliver of its usual self and it almost felt like there was a strange energy in the night. Maybe it was just him being paranoid, but for a while now… he felt like he’d been being watched quite frequently, and now… he very much felt the eyes of something, or someone on him. Checking around, looking for flashing eyes of an animal or stalking monster girl in the bushes Johnny heads towards the parking lot, through a rather large wooded area meant to preserve the “green” balance of the campus. He normally found the woods restful and relaxing, but now his paranoia was on overdrive, his pace quickening. It was a psychological reaction, he pointed out to himself, he was being silly. He couldn’t hear anyone or anything else in the woods after all. No digging of clawed digits into earth, or shoes pressing against ground, just the soft swaying of the breeze.
An errant gust made him whirl, looking back towards the library, but there was nothing there. Just the lonely path up to the distant lights of the library, all covered in an embrace of green branches. Clearly he was starting to crack up a bit. Still, he couldn’t figure out why he was so on edge tonight. Why he’d managed to get himself in a panicky state of mind.
“Heh, it’s just in your head Johnny calm down. You’re gonna give yourself a panic attack…”
Still, he couldn’t get the idea out of his head that he simply wasn’t alone out here. That he was being watched, and followed. The trees feel like they’re closing in, and his pulse starts to race. His attempts to calm himself down had failed miserably. He could swear he was hearing things, rustling in the branches, low swooping noises.
He increased his pace. Trying not to look back. That’s usually how it happened in horror movies right? If you looked back, whatever was following you would get you immediately. He increases his pace again, his heart deciding to relocate to his throat. He was definitely not alone out here, and his thoughts flash to his conversation with his professor a few weeks ago. His first thought was a Helllhound rape gang. Or one Hellhound. One was bad enough, but if he wasn’t alone, it couldn’t be a Hellhound. That’d be more like a tank tearing it’s way through the brush than something “subtle”. If it was a monster, it’d be something else.
His one chance was making it to his car, the comfortable safety of his shitty old Jeep seeming like the perfect place to be right now. That many monsters could easily rend steel with their claws was something he’d chosen not to think about. Worst case, it might give him a minute to get a 911 call in. Campus police probably wasn’t that far away. He groaned in his head as he remembered where he was. The campus cops could be across the street and still take a couple hours to respond. His pace increased again. Not quite jogging but definitely power walking.
The end of the dirt path gives way to blessed concrete as his jeep comes into a view and he breaks into a dead sprint, fumbling for the keys as he slams against the door trying to get the old jeep unlocked so he could get inside before….
He stops dead as his jeep settles down on it’s shocks. He didn’t want to, but he knew he had to. He’d have to look up and confront his new reality. His eyes raise slowly, seeing some powerful claws wrapped around his luggage rack as his eyes track upwards at a figure shrouded in darkness like it was a cloak until he finally finds her eyes. Big. huge eyes even, glowing with an odd light in the darkness.
“Ah… good evening. Can I help you somehow? Maybe you need directions?”
The eyes start to move forward, until, the familiar face of none other than Professor Yoru Chinmoku materializes from the darkness.
“No Johnny, thank you, I think I know exactly where I want to be going.”
“Professor? What are you doing out here at this time of night?”
“ it’s Yoru to you Johnny, we’re colleagues after all. As to what I’m doing out here, I could ask the same of you, no doubt getting up to some trouble with a girlfriend or something I’m sure.”
“Heh… no I was studying and lost track of time. Besides, I haven’t had a girlfriend in over a year professor.”
“Still studying when you’ve finally finished your undergraduate degree, you really will make an excellent grad student. No girlfriend though… I find that hard to believe. Surely you’ve had interested ladies monster and human alike around.”
For some reason Johnny’s cheeks are bright red, this situation was beyond strange, and Yoru was acting strange, even for a harpy and they could be odd on a good day. “No… nothing recently. In fact, monsters in particular have been keeping their distance recently.”
“Good? Wait. Good!? What’s good about that Yoru?”
Johnny was starting to put two and two together, but the adrenaline dump he was still riding had his mind misfiring as he worked the problem in front of him, thankfully, his former teacher takes pity on her former student, and provides the answer to him.
“It’s very simple. It means my little present worked exactly as I intended… I couldn’t risk you getting back to the UMT before me and some other monster snapping you up. I’ve had my eyes on you Johnny… ever since I found out your favorite birds are owls… you wrote so passionately on the subject I found it nearly erotic, even better that it was very well researched. So I decided to watch you… and I liked what I saw. Charming, polite, diligent. We even share interests. A girl could do far worse.”
Johnny’s legs wavered a bit, processing a vast amount of information very quickly. Four years. She’d been stalking him for lack of a better term for four years. Less like a crazy human girl going for snips of his hair or used tissues, and more like a very, very skilled predator. He slowly starts to back away from the car a bit, not sure if he should try to make a run for it, or if he was just being silly. It was Professor Chinmoku after all… Yoru. She wouldn’t hurt him, and from what she was saying, she didn’t want to hurt him. Quite the opposite. This wasn’t some random Hellhound coming out of the bushes or a Cheshire coming out of the cupboard.
“Why now though? Even if I can go with your reasoning, why now when I’m about to leave? Surely you could have said something sooner?”
“Oh Johnny I thought you were a bit brighter than that. Even if we ignore the student-teacher issue… you were still figuring yourself out, becoming a fine man, not just someone halfway between boyhood and manhood with potential. I might have been able to help with that it’s true, but young men who take an older lover early in their lives… they tend to not be nesting. They grow, they change and they go on their way, that might not have been you… but I thought, I couldn’t lay a talon on you as my student any way, so… why not just let you develop? Sure, it pained me a bit to watch you with some of those vacuous bitches you dated over the years but, it’s all part of the learning process, and now I think you’re prepared to take things to the next level… a doctorate program in love and love making if you will.”
The confident look in her eyes was contagious, and heartened him a bit. She was saying some pretty serious stuff, and she seemed to be firm in her convictions about him, and them. The adrenaline dump from that little chase aside, why was he that concerned? There’s no denying that Yoru was attractive, her delightful fluffy feathers, and curves that were a bit rare amongst the various species of harpy. She certainly drew the eye when she wanted to, and the frown creasing her face quickly snapped him back to the present.
“Could it be I’m a bit too old for you? Did I maybe wait too long after all? You’ve made a fair maiden pour her heart out to you Johnny, I think I deserve some sort of response.”
Fuck it. Decision time. He’s going to the UMT. Sure he might meet a monster mate there, it was almost certain he wouldn’t return to the United States single. He could potentially call up an ex… or he could jump with both feet and see how things went. Yoru was indeed pretty, and had an admirable mind. Though if monster courtships were anything like the rumors said, chances to back out after this… would be thin on the ground. Johnny takes a breath, finding his voice…
“You shouldn’t say things like that.”
Yoru’s frown goes to a shocked expression before Johnny continues.
“You’re not old, you’re barely pushing thirty as I recall, and that’s still pretty young by most species standards, and even if you were older than that… it’s just a number. Just age. It really shouldn’t matter right? If… two people like each other any way.”
The smile was worth it. He’d only seen the tight lipped smile she gave when he or another student performed particularly well, not particularly sour or anything, but restrained. Controlled. This was a real smile, the one that she used in her private life with friends and family. Johnny thought he wouldn’t mind seeing that smile more… right before she dove off the top of his jeep, and tackled him to the ground like only a bird of prey can.
“I can’t tell you just how pleased I am to hear that… even if you were cruel to tease me like that… now, let’s you and I go to my place and we can get to know each other a bit… and then we can start planning our move together~.”
“Wait, our move?”
“Monsters believe in “proactive” courtship, and why should you pay for housing in the UMT when you can just live with me? I have a spare bed if you don’t want to be wrapped in my wings, Every. Single. Night. For whatever reason… I can respect wanting to take your time, but I’m not about to let some Hellhound undergrad snatch you from my talons.”
Said wings brush against him, the surprisingly soft and gentle blush of feathery fluff managing to tickle and arouse at the same time. Moving in with Yoru certainly didn’t seem like a bad idea to him. Rent in an apartment complex with security and wards to protect single men from unwanted nocturnal visitation was insane after all… but no. That wasn’t the right way to think about this. Yoru deserved more honest thoughts and feelings than simple financial convenience.
“How about we go on a date. Right now. I don’t have a problem with the idea of moving in with you, but you’ve been doing all the work, and we deserve to get to know each other personally, not just at school, there’s plenty of summer left after all… why rush planning our move?”
He’d expected a fairly pleased response to his offer, but instead the feathery woman on top of had a blush on her to rival the purest of maidens.
“I… okay. I’m not used to men being so… aggressive. It’s like something out of a fairy tale or a dirty book.”
“Well, it’s just how I was raised, come on, let’s go find something to eat and get some drinks.”
“It’s a date then!”