|The Transformation Story Archive||Mythical Beings|
Please note that this is a work in progress. I will be uploading the story as I write it, but I would certainly appreciate any feedback you may wish to provide. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Transformations
Chapter 2: Escape
Chapter 3: A Friend
Chapter 4: Encounters
Chapter 5: Gathering
Chapter 6: Calling (Under Construction)
Last updated 1 January 1996
Chapter 1: Transformations
"You want me to do what?"
"Look, the man's paying two grand an hour for this gig, and it's probably a hell of a sight better than anything else you got your legs wrapped around. You understand?"
Gina stared down at the little man, wishing somehow that she could see his backside from a long way away instead.
Besides, he was fairer than most of her agents had been (Becka'd called them pimps, and she had a hard time saying they weren't), and she knew that he knew about the rent and the state of her bank balance. Even this sleazy hotel was better than walking the streets, that was for sure.
"Yeah, I think so. A hot shot producer wants me to be a mermaid for a shoot of his. Bill, the last "producer" didn't keep his pants on long enough to unpack the film."
Her agent shrugged. A little louder suit, a little more grease in his hair, and he could be a pimp, she thought.
Lord, what was she getting into.
"This one's different, babe. There's money there, lots of it; he even claims he has some kinda special effects wizard workin' for him."
"What, electronic dildos?"
"Babe, why are you being such an ass on this one?"
"I --,"she started, then thought. Why did this one bother her? God knew she'd done enough soft-porn to start a cottage industry. Hell, she'd probably be wearing more than the other actresses on the set. "Damn, Bill, I don't know. Maybe I'd just like to get something more legit."
"Wouldn't we all, babe? Hey look, 'Zombie Women from the Bronx' might not have been Katherine Hepburn, but ya gotta admit that it paid the bills."
"Yeah, damn you. Oh, all right. Maybe I'll be the next Daryl Hannah."
Gina struck a pose, her hand in her platinum blonde hair, her chest pushed out (and even she had to admit they looked good that way), mimicking some tempting siren.
"Yeah, babe. Maybe."
Probably a rock video, Gina thought, as she gathered up her things. No one produced movies anymore, just bloody rock videos. Still, a couple of grand for a few hours work would at least keep that leech of a landlord off her back.
She glanced at herself in the mirror as she walked out of the apartment. No lines yet, but there was a bottle in the bathroom in which she kept the truth. The hair was as far from her natural brunette as she could get; not that she especially liked being a blonde, but a brunette with big tits just didn't go as far in this town. And for that matter, even those breasts weren't as young as they used to be, no matter how many hours she spent at the gym. The specter of age haunted her; with it would come the end of her aspirations...and more.
She climbed into the Porsche's passenger side, wondering what drug deal Bill had done to buy it. The guy was sleazy, but there were few agents that she could afford that didn't make her skin crawl. He smiled at her behind the sunglasses, the smile of a small shark that couldn't really make it against the other sharks around him but which didn't make him any less dangerous. Maybe it was time to lose Bill soon. Peoria was beginning to sound almost inviting again.
"Relax, babe, everything'll be fine. Just think fish."
"Fish. Fishy sounds more like it, Bill, but all right. Fish."
'Be a mermaid' he had said. 'Yeah, there'd be some nudity, what'd you expect? Disney?' She wished she knew more.
Gina didn't mind a decent swim in the pool . . . as long as she didn't have to perform actual sex it wouldn't be too bad. That struck too close to bottom . . . a little T & A she could tolerate, but hard core she didn't like doing.
Once she thought she was a good actress. Here, they were a dime a dozen, each with their own drama coach and personal fitness instructor and spiritual advisor, eking out a living by gyrating in front of the camera so some guy in Pittsburgh could get his jollies off. Acting ability was a detriment at her level, it made the other actresses look bad, and they didn't like that. Okay, so being a mermaid for some pervert's play party wasn't so bad in retrospect. She hoped.
They pulled off the interstate at an exit which surprised her. In an era of throw-em-up suburban look-alike she was always surprised to see good looking houses. She'd studied to be an architect once, in the time before college costs got too high and the acting bug too strong. Idiot, Gina thought, you always were an idiot. But she could see there was some serious money here, conservative money. For a second she wondered what kind of take Bill was getting for all this, then decided she didn't want to know. It would only make her mood worse.
Deep into one of the nicer neighborhoods, where the yards could be described more properly as parks, they turned into a driveway that could have been a major road, and after another five minutes finally pulled up to gates. A raven eyed them suspiciously from the top of one of the stone columns on the side, fluttering away when Bill honked his horn.
"Shit, doesn't he know we're here?" he said impatiently.
The raven landed on a bush near Gina's side of the car, stared her in the eye, then squawked, "Know's your here."
Gina practically jumped through the roof, so startled was she. Bill seemed a little pale himself, then laughed nervously. "Ah, it's a friggin' crow. They sometimes repeat your words back to you. Don't be such an asshole, babe."
"Asshole," the bird repeated, staring intently at Bill.
"Boy, you've got that one right," Gina muttered, and giggled when the black bird started shaking its head up and down vigorously.
"Go on," Bill said as he tried to wave the bird away, "get out of here."
"Asshole," the bird said again, then flew up onto the shoulder of a man Gina would swear hadn't been there before.
He was dressed in a very expensive Italian suit, but there was an air about him that made her think of him in magician's robes instead. The bird on his shoulder didn't help that impression.
"Ah, I see you've met Myrrhidin," the man said in an accent that was definite but completely outside her experience.
Gina saw Bill out of the corner of her eye, and realized that he had turned very white. "Mr. Dee! Sorry, didn't see you there. Uh, nice bird."
"Myrrhidin has been a friend for a long time. He's very smart for a bird."
"He's very smart," the raven squawked, "for a human."
In spite of her astonishment, Gina laughed, until the cold blue eyes settled on her. "Ah, you must be Virginia Delamare. My name is John Dee."
"Ah, yeah." I'm going to kill you, asshole, Gina thought as she sensed Bill behind her. She'd made it clear from the start of their arrangement that he was never to give out her real name.
"It's a lovely name, an old name, "the curious man said, "It means 'of the sea'"
He smiled, an incredible smile that made her breasts tingle. "I'm sorry to have let you sit so long by the gate. I was tending to my garden when I heard you come in. Shall we go?"
As her host opened the gates by hand, Gina began wondering about him. For a man that had been gardening her was disturbingly well dressed, especially for the climate. She couldn't place his age. Mid- fifties perhaps, sixties, even seventies. He walked with a slight limp that seemed a part of him, an old, old wound on a man who seemed ageless.
"You may park your motorcar here," he said, indicating a well tended cul-de-sac where several antique cars sat in pristine condition, some dating from the twenties. Past them she saw a stable, though she couldn't make out whether there were any horse in there. Of course, why have a stable otherwise. "I realize it's a little awkward, but I don't have a road up to my house. It discourages unwanted visitors."
He smiled at them again, a smile that seemed ever so slightly sad. Then he led them through a maze-like garden and a gorgeous little pond where swans idly floated. Swans. The only time she'd ever seen a swan around here was in a zoo, and they always looked anemic. These were majestic birds that seemed perfectly content. Then they came over a rise and Gina's breath caught in her throat.
She was staring at a castle, a mansion that could have easily been occupied in the Elizabethan era.
"Shit!" she heard Bill mutter, as surprised by the sight as she was. She wished he weren't so crude sometimes. This was exactly the reason she had tried becoming an architect, though she suspected that her preoccupation with castles and similar structures would have ill-served her in the box-steel preferences of the current school of design. Then a stray memory dropped into place, a slide that she'd looked at while at the U of I's art school.
"Lenoral Castle, built 1576, as a gift from Queen Elizabeth to her spiritual advisor, John Dee ..."
The calm composure of her host crumbled and for just a second he looked truly afraid. Then his composure was back, and he laughed, "Er, yes, very good Ms. Delamare. He was my...ancestor. The castle has been in our family for a long time, and my own grandfather moved it to the area from England several years back."
So there was old money there. It explained a lot, Gina thought. They entered into the courtyard, and from there into the main hallway, passing paintings of idyllic countrysides and expensive Chinese vases, though not once did she see anyone else. A mansion as big as this one required people to maintain it. Butlers, maids, she half expected to see liverymen. And nowhere did she see anything even closely resembling a movie set.
"Uh, excuse me, Mr. Dee," she said, trying hard to put her best dumb little ingenue voice into the question. "Mr.
Radivik here said you wanted me to audition for a part as a mermaid."
Bill gave her an evil look, but she knew he was beginning to get worried too. Normally the little rat wouldn't shut up, especially when he smelled money, but he'd been practically tongue tied since he got here.
"Oh, no need to audition, Ms. Delamare. You're exactly the person I want. I saw you in a movie you did a while back, and knew immediately that I wanted you for this."
"Oh! What movie?" Gina practically squealed in delight, hoping it didn't sound too false. Somehow he didn't look the sort to watch her movies.
"'Midnight Rain', I believe it was." He walked down the hall at a brisk clip, limp not withstanding.
Her one legitimate role, done shortly before she arrived in the valley, had been for a strange black noir piece called Midnight Rain. There she had played an innocent, which hadn't been too hard. She was an innocent. Her hair was still brown then. Yet the producer of the movie died before it made it to post, and the project was abandoned.
Never even made it to video tape. So how would he have seen it?
"I've changed a little since then," she said, trying to keep the consternation out of her voice.
"Only in a few cosmetic ways," Dee replied, as if re-dying hair and breast implants and seven years of cynicism could be corrected in a few moments. "For the role I need, you're perfect."
She had a comeback on her tongue, but at the last moment decided not to use it. There was something terribly wrong, some sense that made her want to run screaming from here, but Gina was not going to let a little case of nerves kill her chance to make some serious money. "So what's the script?"
"I'll show it to you later. I'd like you to try on the costume for now, just to see how you look in it. Just to be sure. The movie's for, how do you say it, closed set, and I would just as soon my ene- my competition discovers what I'm doing before hand."
"Oh, I understand." Anything you say boss, Gina thought, wondering if there was an escape route. She'd love to have one right now. Right after she killed Bill.
He led her into a bedroom that was fancier than anything she'd seen in her life. An elegant, four poster bed with sumptuous sheets, a dressing table that would have fit in well in the apartment of Marie Antoinette, a long, ornately gilded mirror.
"I'm afraid that I don't have a traditional dressing room, so if you don't mind using this room instead. The costume is over there. I can give you some assistance in getting it on if you wish."
She looked where he was pointing and saw . . . a dress? It could have been a sheer stocking or, she wasn't sure what. It hurt to look at it too long. But the idea of this creep helping her undress wasn't something she relished either.
"No, that's all right. I can manage." Bill, this better be legit, or you're one dead agent, she thought.
"Good. I have some arrangements to work out with Mr. Radivik, and we'll be back to collect you in about an hour."
With that he turned and left. Bill looked at her almost blankly, for an instant registering bewilderment, but then he walked out behind his host, leaving her alone.
That was weird, Gina thought. He was an asshole, but he never left her without giving a piece of advice, no matter how inane or stupid. She almost walked to the door, but then something . . . stopped her. She was being silly.
The guy had done nothing overtly sinister; so he lived in a castle. So did half the royalty of Hollywood. The clock was ticking, and if he wanted to give her an hour to take what she normally was given three minutes today, hell, for him money must have been no object.
She took off her clothes, after first closing the window sashes and the door. There were no obvious peepholes here, but of course if they were obvious they wouldn't be much good. She stripped down to bra and panties, then reluctantly discarded those. As sheer as the fabric on the fishtail was, she didn't doubt they'd stick out like a tailor in a nudist colony.
Then she picked up the tail. For a second, she could have sworn that it tingled . . . just static electricity, she tried to reassure herself, but that didn't feel like static cling. She balled it up like pantyhose -- it had a slightly green tinge but was otherwise beige, and pulled it over her feet - a giant stocking. Curiously, as sheer as the fabric looked, she could only see a hint of her legs beneath the fabric. She twisted and squirmed to pull it on and up, yet for all the stretching it still rode halfway down her ass, and just barely covered her pubic hair.
The damn costume was too small on her. Fine, let them find someone else, Gina thought, this gig was too strange.
Yet when she reached down to start pulling it off, she couldn't find the seams.
"What the hell? Oh . . ."
That same tingling that she had felt when she first touched the cloth seemed to envelop her legs, and the costume began to glow a weird blue-green color. Desperately she tried scratching the thing off, tugging at fabric that no longer seemed to be there. It was like tugging at her own skin. Waves of cold blue fire began at her feet, and she watched in horror as her feet expanded and flattened, losing definition as they spread out. She kicked her legs but they moved together as if glued, and they seemed to become more fluid, less rigid. The same blue fire arced its way up her body, tingling and touching and probing, making her skin smoother than it had ever been with a razor. As it moved up her chest and over her breasts, Gina fought for breath, as if the air in her lungs had suddenly disappeared.
Up it moved and out, over her arms, along her neck, until it penetrated into her brain and she lost consciousness.
She floats over to the Si'rhen'sea, knowing that they had decided. Agile bodies, feminine but fishtailed, swim in a complicated dance around the Eari' sen'achaela, the calling sphere, its emanating glow a pulsing counterpoint to the dance of the sea sisters. Finally, the eldest one speaks, she who was Hear'na's birth mother, though that matters little to any of them.
"Hear'na Nacha'chanai, hear me. You have transgressed by claiming you will love a Kit'chai, a land dweller. Do you repent this charge?"
Hear'na thinks of Miche's handsome face, his lithe body and sharp wit, this man she has never met yet would know intimately. She knows the penalty for such an action, and knows that her Ji'e'ata, her life-bond, would not allow her to admit otherwise.
"I do not repent this charge, Si'rhen'hasaira. My life-bond has been set, and none may unset it, til my bones lay scattered on the ocean floor."
The look on her mother's face is anything but clear. Sternness is there of course, she would not be 'hasaira without a sense of justice, but sorrow breaks through as well . . . and pride. Why pride?
"You will not repent...so be it. Know then the cost of such action. You shall embrace the Eari'sen'achaela, and take the consequences it brings. If it declares you outcast, then you shall be outcast, and no Si'rhen'sea will swear their fin for you. If it declares you An'jera then you shall be An'jera, and your children and your children's children, until either all are dead or your descendant once again embraces the Eari'sen'achaela. If you do not embrace the Eari'sen'achaela, the you will be put to death. Decide now, child."
"I choose to embrace the Eari'sen'achaela," Hear'na says, quietly, knowing as she floats toward the glowing ball that she has pass over the threshold, and regardless of what else happened, she would no longer be Si'rhen'sea. With steady hands she touches the object, closes her eyes and lets the liquid fire take her.
Hear'na (or was it Gina?) beware the Hermetes; they seek to destroy all with their machinations. To seal the final doom against the Si'rhen'sea, the Sidhe, the Kentouri, and all others of the Twilight Realm. They would make the darkness complete. Beware the Hermetes, and above all beware their master, Dee...
Then the world is burning, burning, and Hear'na screams...
...screamed and woke up, her heart racing. Oh, god, oh god oh . . .It was a bad dream. Gina shuddered and calmed herself, grabbing the heavy blankets that covered her and holding them over her breasts. A bad dream. She breathed deeper and stared around, reorienting herself.
She was still in the bedroom, though it was much darker than she remembered it being. Candles burned on a nearby nightstand, and on the changing table. When had she fallen asleep? For that matter, how had she ended up in bed?
Last thing she had been doing was putting on that stupid costume, when . . .
Gina's stomach turned inside it as she glanced at the bed. She tried to bend her leg, but it felt wrong, and the shape that moved under the covers didn't mirror her actions. Very reluctantly she pulled the covers aside. Then she struggled hard not to faint. There was, even in the low light of the room, no denying the way her skin turned a silvery green at mid-thigh, its surface marked by faint scales. Her hand trembling, she pulled the covers away further. The scales went up to where the costume had, making her lap appear seamless and lacking, with no evidence of any genitals.
She didn't normally make a habit of touching herself, but this was hardly a normal situation. Gingerly she reached down and touched where her vagina should have been. The sensation of pure pleasure that hit her confirmed that something was there, but she could find no evidence of a slit. Unfortunately, it also confirmed to her that this was no costume that she was wearing -- she could clearly feel her fingers as they touched the pearl-smooth scales.
Closing her eyes hard she pushed the covers away, then opened them little by little. Then she closed them again, though she couldn't deny what she had seen. A silvery-green tail, it's smoothness broken up by slightly darker bands of gray, converged to a wide fan that started well beyond where her feet would have ended. The upper part of the tail hinted at legs underneath, but there was no way that lower part could have hidden her feet. Not that she believed it was a costume anymore. Reluctantly Gina opened her eyes and looked at the tail again. No, no denying it was anything but a mermaid's tail, exactly as in her dreams. With a shudder she leaned over and threw up on the floor.
After spitting out the last of her lunch, Gina lay back against the pillow, feeling wasted and drained. What was happening? Was she still dreaming? Had that been a dream before? No, she thought, as much as she'd like to believe this was some bizarre nightmare the world was too lucid for her to be dreaming. Summoning up strength she wiped her mouth on a throw pillow, and sat up again.
Depleted, she found she could look at things more rationally, even if they still made no sense. She wasn't going to worry about the how, though she damn well wanted to find out why. She had a mermaid's tail. Well, Bill said that was the part she was going to play. At least he was truthful, damn him. She hoped the little cocksucker was okay .
. . she wanted the pleasure of killing him herself, as soon as she figured a way out of this mess.
The next task was trying to figure out how to move it. Once, when she was a kid, she'd broken her arm in a fall. It took a lot of time and energy to get full use of that limb again, and she suspected that the same would apply here.
She did notice that her tail fin moved up and down ever so slightly even without her thinking about it, as if that were it's natural motion. When Gina did think about it, the motion stopped, though her tail curled slightly. Her tail. Get used to it, Gin, she told herself. She'd get her legs back, but denial wouldn't help her at the moment.
She visualized moving her legs, but the muscles just didn't seem to want to respond. Indeed, there was a vague hollowness in her head when she tried to think about it, as if the thoughts were being shunted aside. So, after a headache began to form, she thought about curling the tail again, and this time her tail fin curled toward her in a way that told her once again that there were no legs hiding beneath the costume. She sat up and touched her tail fin, marveling at how ticklish it felt, the response echoing in a e part of her head that had been dormant before.
Her body knew how it had to respond, knew which muscles had to move and just moved them. In a way, it felt more natural than she'd ever felt walking on legs.
Dammit, what had Dee done to her? And why? She didn't really want to know the how. Gina could accept magic. She had dabbled in magic once in a playful sort of way, until one day when she had hexed a competing actress and the woman didn't show up to audition for the same part she was. She learned later that the woman, who she did have a nodding friendship with, had been struck by a truck on the way to the studio, dying instantly. Gina threw out her magical equipment that day, and vowed never to do anything like that again. She wasn't sure it was magic, but she wouldn't rule it out.
"Okay," she said to herself, a little surprised at how throaty her voice sounded. "Let's inspect the damage. I wonder if I can stand up."
She untangled herself from the bed sheets, and tried to stand up. She collapsed in a heap on the floor, her tail fin not strong enough to support her weight.
"I'll take that for a 'no,'" she said to herself, and giggled in spite of the humiliation and pain. She picked herself up and crawled along the floor, her rump pushing up in a way that she would have found embarrassing if it weren't so much work.
Finally, she crawled close enough to the full length mirror to inspect herself from head to foot . . . er, tail. The platinum blonde that had entered the room was gone, and in place was her own hair, long and full and brown with just a hint of green in it. Damn, she'd paid a lot for that dye job. Her breasts were likewise her own, a little higher on her chest than they had been before, and a little smaller, though they were much bigger than before she'd had the implants put in. She had no doubt the implants were gone, though she didn't mourn their loss. She had been planning on having them removed the next time she got a major role anyway.
The tail started low in back; her buttocks were practically bare, though in retrospect they were bare even where the tail started. A little discrete probing revealed where her anus and urethra were, as well as a second scale covered spot that nearly made her fall when she touched it -- no slit, but ...something. She returned to studying the mirror.
About where her knees would have been (although she detected absolutely nothing to show where they should have been) a top fin (dorsal fin? She wasn't sure) started and ran down the length of the tail. From the back the stripes were more defined, giving her tail a vaguely snake like appearance. The tail fin though was pure fish, spreading out like a gauzy veil.
Gina jumped when the door handle moved, quickly grabbing the shirt she had discarded and holding it to her breasts.
She wasn't surprised to see John Dee come in, dressed in long black robes, though the expensive Italian shoes could be seen beneath.
"Ah, I see you are awake. Good."
She wanted to ask what he had done to her, but wasn't about to let this become melodrama. "I wanted to get a good look at what your special effects people could do. I . . . I complement you."
If he wanted her to be the scared little girl, Gina thought, he was going to be sadly disappointed. Even if she was a scared little girl right now.
"So you like what I've done?" he asked, a little surprised.
"No, of course not. I doubt that there's a lot I could do about it though. 'Hello, police department, I'd like to report a rogue warlock who shapechanged me into a mermaid.' No, I don't think it'd fly."
Dee chuckled. Then he looked at her, seriously, "Actually, you did the shape-changing. I just provided the trigger."
"You may put on your shirt if you'd like, I promise I won't look."
"Yeah, right," she said, throwing on her shirt while he turned around. "So what do you mean 'I did the shape changing?'"
"You ever heard the term 'Sirensha'?"
Gina had to restrain herself from reacting. He was butchering the pronunciation, but that was the name she had heard in her dreams. "No. Should I have?"
"I would have been surprised if you had, actually. You have sea spirit blood within you. It cries out to anyone with the sight. I saw that the first time I saw you, in 'Midnight Rain.'"
Gina asked a question that had been bothering her, as she buttoned up her shirt. "That never saw distribution. How could you have seen it?"
Dee paused, then said, "I bought the film from the producer, who showed it to me while he was editing it. You see, Sirensha are rare, and especially valuable to someone who understands who, and what they are. I didn't want my enemies to get a hold of you, and that film was too good; it would have made you instantly famous. And signed your death warrant."
"You were closer to the mark with your identification of this estate than I would have liked. That was my estate, and you recognized it because you used to live there."
"Look, this is just getting weirder and weirder. What are you talking about?"
Gina pulled her tail up and put her arms around it, as if she were hugging her legs to her chest, and listened in spite of herself.
In 1545, I was a young man, in my late teens, working a small boat off the coast of Cornwall. I caught a mermaid.
That picture over there was one I commissioned. The artist did a good likeness."
Gina followed his gaze and saw a picture that had been half hidden in shadows during the day but was visible by the candlelight. A mermaid lay on the beach, her brown hair failing to hide her bare breasts. The face was a little thinner and more stylized but could have been used for Gina's first publicity stills.
"Remarkable how close the resemblance is. Even over four hundred years, you don't forget a face like that."
Gina started to shiver, and as much as she wanted to she couldn't pull her eyes away from the painting.
"She instructed me in the ways of her magics, magic which you have, by the way. Then, one day, she caught a cold. A simple, ordinary cold. Within the week she was dead."
He lies! a voice in her head cried out, and Gina shut her eyes hard to blot away both the painting and the voice. She wanted to go home. She wanted her mother to hold her and tell her everything was all right, her mother who had been in the grave for more years than she cared to count.
"I wanted to save you. I have enemies who would have stopped at nothing to see you dead so as to weaken me. If its any consolation , that's why you've been so unsuccessful at your career. I have friends in this industry, and people who owe me favors...The ones who would have killed you would never recognize you as you had been, just one more dumb blonde starlet among tens of thousands. Those that knew me would have known you if Rain had come out."
"I don't understand it though?" Gina asked. "I was born in 1966. What does that picture have to do with me? And with this?"
She waved to her tail.
"The children of the Twilight Realm, as they call themselves, don't have souls in the same way humans do. Instead,
a piece of them is reborn in their children, a piece that contains memories and hopes and desires and dreams. In full bloods, when their parents die that part of their soul that was with the children wakes up, giving the child access to some of the world as the parent saw it. In half breeds, that part remains dormant, as does their true form, unless specifically awakened. The 'tail' that you put on was a key, which unlocked your true form. On anyone else it would have been simply an ill-fitting stocking."
"And you expect me to believe this malarkey?"
Dee looked surprised for a second, then responded, "How do you explain your tail then?"
"I don't know. . . I don't care. I just want my legs back, and I want to go home."
"I will give you your legs back and more beside, but only if you do a service for me?"
"I'd rather dance with the Devil."
"I wouldn't recommend it. He's an awful dancer. . . think on my proposition."
He turned and walked to the door. "Dinner will be in an hour. I shall send my servant to collect you, and we can talk more then. There's clothes in that trousseau. They belonged to Hear'na."
Dee left with a smile on his face, and Gina would have thrown something, anything, at him if she hadn't been so awestruck by the name he'd so casually let out. How did he know what she had dreamed? She flopped around again, angry and frightened, her tail beating an agitated tattoo against the carpeted floor. Awkwardly, her anger fueling her determination, she half-crawled, half pushed herself to the trousseau and pushed against the lid, only to fall over from a lack of leverage. In some ways the tail had a life of its own, and it seemed as out of its element right now as she did. Propping her tail around in a way that reminded her yet again that she no longer had legs from the hips down, Gina opened the trunk.
Immediately the stink of stale air rushed up around her; four hundred years had passed, and while Dee certainly didn't look the part, it was also obvious he hadn't thought much about what happened to cloth in that period. Gina pulled out a cotton dress that disintegrated as she held up, throwing a small cloud of dust into her face. After Gina recovered from coughing she reached in more carefully, and pulled up a sea-green silk dress, the delicate threads a little frayed, but otherwise still intact. Embroidered over the length of it were fish of all different sorts that seemed almost alive. The fit was tight -- she was definitely bustier than her putative ancestor -- and when she finally managed to wrestle into the dress it displayed an embarrassing amount of cleavage. Still, it covered her to her lower thighs...the bare-assed nature of her transformation was completely hidden, though looking at herself in the full length mirror she could see that the dress definitely fit to her contours very closely. She wondered if the dress were a gift from Dee to Hear'na.
Digging into the chest further she pulled out a sea shell necklace, in the center of which was a large, luminous pearl. This was definitely Hear'na's, though it bothered her that she knew this with such certainty. She placed it around her neck and, after some fumbling, managed to get the delicate fish-bone hook into the receiving eye. More rummaging produced an elaborate sea shell hair ornament that went into her own hair. No undergarments -- in her dream (?) the Sirensha were all bare-breasted, though some wore incredibly complex ornaments in their hair and around their arms and tail. No surprise there...Gina had always been an exhibitionist by nature, and she suspected that Hear'na had been as well.
Gina turned and looked at the mirror, and drew in her breath. Virginia De la Mare was gone, and in her place was a sensual, fey creature of the sea, angrily forced into human conventions but not about to give up that part of her that was Siren. For just a second, she would have sworn that the reflection in the mirror smiled at her, but it must have just been a trick of the light.
Chapter 2: Escape
Fighting the urge to scratch her tail, an itch that had grown more persistent over the last half hour, Gina composed herself when she heard the handle turning on the door. 'Never let them see you sweat,' had been a motto she'd lived by for years, although over the last half hour she began to wonder if mermaids could sweat. The strange fire that had swept over her body hadn't stopped at her waist -- she wondered what other things had happened to her that weren't immediately apparent.
As expected, Dee entered confidently, though he had changed out of his mage-robes into a formal, and expensively cut, suit.
'This guy changes clothes more often than I do!' Gina thought.
She was vaguely gratified at his reaction to her. He stopped cold, his mouth open in an expression more appropriate for a dead fish. After several heartbeats he barely breathed out one word.
"No, Dee. I'm not Hear'na. She's long dead."
Gina started to say, "You killed her," but stopped, wondering how she knew that. Certainly he'd never said anything like that. That she was certain of this piece of information sent shudders down Gina's spine.
"Yes, yes, of course. I'm sorry. My memory goes back a long way, and sometimes things aren't as clear as I'd like."
Candid admission that, Gina thought. A glimmer of a plan was beginning to form in the back of her head, but she needed more time . . . and more information.
"So have you come to give me my legs back?" she asked acidly.
"I told you before, you shall be restored to your true self when all this is done."
"When all what is done?"
"All in good time. All in good time. Would you care to join me in dinner?"
She wanted to decline, but breakfast had been a long time ago, and her body cried out for fuel. She didn't doubt that the transformation had taken its toll on her resources. "I suppose. So do you want me to crawl to the dining room for your personal edification?"
The asshole was seriously considering that proposal, Gina thought. You bastard.
"No, I think not. I was planning on carrying you, as there are several places where a wheelchair would be more problem than help."
Yeah, I bet you've been waiting to do that for five hundred years, Gina thought. Careful; the man is dangerous, and there's no telling what he'd do if he snapped.
"If you insist. But watch where you put your hands."
"I will be the perfect gentleman," he replied, his face betraying no emotion. Maybe he's already snapped, Gina thought as he bent down to pick her up.
Dee lifted her swiftly, remarkably strong for such a thin frame. When she thought about how much mass her tail must have added -- she probably had gained seventy or eighty pounds in the space of a couple of hours -- Gina was doubly impressed. Dimly she remembered another time when she'd been carried like this, her naked breast pressed against a man's naked chest, her tail wrapped around his leg . . . a happier time. Dee hadn't been that man. She didn't want to think who's memories she was reliving. With a shudder she came back to herself, and then grimaced when she realized that her tail had wrapped around Dee's leg in just such a way. Steeling herself, she unwrapped her tail and let it hang free, making it just that much harder for Dee to carry her around. Yet, if it bothered him at all, he didn't show it.
"You may appreciate some of the architecture you see around you. Lenoral is an ancient castle, predating me by nearly a thousand years. The core of the castle was originally the home of a Roman-British bastard by the name of Myrrhidin, if legends are to be trusted. Of course, this isn't really public knowlege -- indeed, I've taken great pains over the years to make sure that that isn't public knowlege; very great pains."
While she doubted his sanity, she had no reason to question his expertise on the architecture of the place. As with most older castles the styles she saw ranged from arches and supports pre-dating the Norman conquest to the height of the Baroque, rooms that bordered on being kitsch they were so ornate. She did notice a distinct prevalance of paintings with mythological themes and mythical beings in them; a few were so suggestive that she blushed in spite of her own past. Gina began to suspect that some of them, while incredibly well executed, had never been seen by anyone who hadn't walked the hallways of this castle.
They walked into a room not much larger than her bedroom, decorated in a style reminiscent of the late Victorian with paintings of nymphs and satyrs romping in sylvan woods spaced along the walls. It reinforced the impression that she'd had earlier that Dee both had exceptionally bad taste in furnishings and that he had either collected the better part of Europe's erotica of the last five centuries or that he had five centuries of a perpetual hard-on. If she weren't so terrified right now, Gina could almost pity him. Gina curled her tail to avoid the table as he set her down in a chair, and the reflex action made her look at the strange fin again. She could almost pity him, but not quite.
"Transformations usually leave their recipients rather hungry," Dee said as he took his own chair across a fairly wide table and rang a little bell. "You probably don't feel it now, but beware of bolting your food when it comes."
Gina gave him an evil stare, "Look, I may be a second rate actress, but I assure you I've developed a couple of manners over the years."
Dee gave a sickly little smile, "No doubt...I apologize, that was boorish. You look ravishing tonight."
It was beginning to dawn on Gina that for all the sophistication in clothes and cars, Dee had all of the social grace of a computer nerd when it came to women. No wonder he had such expensive jerk-off toys. Granted, she did look a little unusual tonight, but attractive wasn't quite what she had in mind. The dress was uncomfortable, was too low cut for her own peace of mind, and she had no doubt her hair could have done a double for Medusa's. What was worse, her skin itched, and Gina really didn't want to scratch herself in front of this jerk, no matter how nerdish he was.
A door opened to her right, ushering in a tall butler that for some reason tickled her memory. She tended to think of butlers as being like Lurch from the Addams Family, if she thought of them at all, but this one would have looked remarkably attractive if his eyes didn't have such a blank look to them. He saw Gina . . . hell, given the position he took as he put food dishes on the table he should have been ogling her breasts, and yet it was as if he were looking at a concrete wall. She briefly caught the edges of a tattoo at the top of his forehead, mostly covered with hair. She couldn't be sure, but Gina would have sworn the tattoo was Hebrew letters.
"Thank you, Michael," Dee said as the butler finished and left, as silent as he had entered.
Gina could smell the food set before her, and it pure agony to keep herself from piling food on her plate and chowing down. She'd rather starve then let Dee get the last word, even as she knew that he had been right about her hunger; with a grimace she also realized that the foods were the kinds she would normally eschew if she wanted to keep herself fit for roles, fluffy potatoes, red meats, rich gravies, but the demon in her stomach wouldn't say no to any of them right now.
They ate in silence for a while, then, as the hunger demon abated, Gina started talking to her host.
"A castle this large must have quite a staff."
Dee looked up, a little surprised at the question. He's old, Gina thought as she watched his movements, a lot older than he looks.
"No, not really. I have Michael of course, as butler and cook. The others help out on occassion, when the mood takes them, but for the most part they're unreliable."
"You'll meet them soon enough," he said, then went quiet again. "How's your dinner?"
"It's goo-...it's all right," Gina replied. "So would you mind telling me what all this is about?"
She started rubbing her tail against the legs of her chair to quell the itching. Damn, it felt like she'd sat in a nest of ants.
Dee became contemplative for a few minutes, then looked at her with a singularly disarming smile. "I have both followers and enemies, some as old as I am or older, some as young as you are. To be really honest, I have trouble distinguishing friend from foe anymore; in some cases I doubt there is a distinction.
"In two days time, during Beltane, we will all meet here at my estate, friend and foe alike, to determine the fate of the world."
"Oh." Definitely white jacket time here, Gina thought.
"I need representatives of the Twilight Realm in this convocation; that's why I sought you out. There are no Sirensha left in the world, save those that are like you -- children living in human bodies, completely unaware of their true heritage. Likewise with the others of the Twilight realm. I wish to ... seek them out, restore their memories and forms and powers."
"So you don't plan on restoring my legs to me."
"Patience. After Beltane, you may return to your original form if you so desire."
Great, Gina thought, two more days of flopping about like a fish . . . and scratching. Damn. The itch had travelled up to her torso, and it hurt like hell not to be able to scratch her breasts. As she was staring at Dee, wondering how his head would flatten if the clock behind him fell over, Michael came back in.
"You have a phone call from Meroud."
"Ah, good," Dee said, standing. "I hope you will excuse me, Ms. Delamare, but I have been waiting for this call for quite some time. Michael, would you take Ms. Delamare to the pool? I suspect she's getting a little dehydrated."
"Very good, sir," the butler said to the departing magus, then turned to Gina.
"May I take you?" he said, the same empty expression in his eye.
"Uh, yeah. Why not?"
Michael picked her up easily, not even showing any strain. Held in his arms like that, Gina had that sense of deja vu that hit her before. Who was Michael, and why did she feel so good to be in his arms?
"That's an interesting tattoo on your head," she said, staring unabashedly at his face. "Were you in some kind of biker gang before this?"
"No," he said, a touch of sadness in his voice. "I am gholem."
Gina wrapped her tail around his leg, in part to stem the accursed itching, in part ... because it felt right.
"What's that? Some kind of weird secret society?"
They walked through a door into a huge room filled three-quarters full with a pool that disappeared on the other side under a tunnel.
"Here you are," Michael said, putting her down by the pool's edge and lighting several candles along the wall to help illuminate the room. Gina dunked her tail into the water, and where scales met liquid the itching died down. She stared at Michael, who looked back at her with an unfathomable expression.
"Do you mind if I take my clothes off?" she said, then marveled at her statement. She wanted some kind of reaction out of Michael, even if it was embarassment or lust. She needed his approval, though she didn't know why?"
"No. I don't mind," he said, hollowly. No panting, no discrete looks, just indifference. Maybe he was gay, she thought, though somehow she didn't think so. The gay men that she knew were for the most part extroverts, wearing their emotions on their sleeves if not elsewhere.
"Thank you," she said, a little sulky. "Would you mind undoing these snaps in back? I can't quite reach them."
Obediantly he bent down, his large fingers easily undoing the dainty hooks that held the dress together. At the third one her breasts popped out of the dress, and mischieviously Gina jiggled them a little as the butler continued unlatching her. Not a mote of reaction touched his eyes; she'd have had jaded b-rate actors practically panting on top of her at this point. Damn him! She pulled her tail out of the water and wrapped her fin around his leg as he reached the bottom most button at the crevice where her buttocks started. As sensuously as she could, Gina pulled the dress down uncovering her torso and hips, aware of the warmth she felt in her hidden crotch.
"That water looks good. I think I'll slip in."
With that, still watching Michael for some kind of reaction, she slid into the water tailfirst. The pool was clear and fresh, without the biting taint she'd come to associate with chlorinated bodies of water. Holding her breath she swam around for the first time, her tail pushing her through the water at an incredible rate, the flow of the liquid across her breasts and hips and buttocks and tail raising her to an almost fever-pitch of sensuality. She surfaced in front of Michael, her tail gently churning the water, her breasts floating on the surface.
"Would you care to join me, Michael? The water's a little cold, and I wouldn't mind someone to heat me up a little."
"No,"he said, an indefinite sadness in his voice. "I am Gholem. I must go. Are your needs met?"
"No, dammit," she said, desparation in her voice, "They are not met. I want you to take off that stuffy suit and come in here and make mad, passionate love to me!"
"I'm sorry," he said, and walked out through the door.
"Michael? Michael! Damn you!"
She lay sobbing against the side of the pool, the need within her slowly cooling with the waters to be replaced by shame. Why had she reacted like that? She'd never been that forward with a man in her life. Granted, she'd never needed to; for all of her lack of success in films, she'd never run into problems getting men to take their clothes off for her -- usually it was the other way around. Her nipples still tingled at the sight of him standing there, gorgeous and completely unattainable. Maybe he was gay. But there had been something in his voice, a darkness that seemed almost profoundly sad, that made her suspect something deeper.
With a sigh, she pushed off the edge and floated on the surface, her tail gently pushing her along without any real conscious thought. Her hair formed a dark green cloud around her, the brown hilights in her hair almost completely absent in the water. She'd always liked the water, yet her step-mother had been morbidly afraid that she would drown in a pool somewhere -- her real mother, the one she only knew from brief memories of nursing at her breast and being cuddled to sleep, had died in a senseless accident when Gina was four, hit by a drunken driver while coming to pick her daughter up from nursery school. Her step-mother had been a friend to both her father and mother, and while Gina sometimes resented Sheila, her step-mom, she still loved the woman deeply. Gina just wished she had been able to pry some of the secrets out of her about her mom's past; a suspicion, lingering at the edge of her awareness, was that there was much more to her mother than anyone had let on.
Gina did a flip in the water, her tail fin trailing like a gauzy scarf behind her, echoing her movements with its own. She did feel more at home here, lost in thought as she glided through the clear waters of the pool, until the pressure in her lungs forced her back to the surface. For a moment she wondered how long she had been under the water; it hadn't seemed long, but she noticed that all of the candles had burnt down considerably while she had been idly swimming. She expected to see Dee there, leering over her naked body, but the pool was empty except for herself. Her body's clock was all screwed up -- the long nap she'd had left her internal rhythm's completely lost; she knew it was night, but she had absolutely no desire to sleep at that point.
Shrugging her shoulders, Gina slipped back into the water, swimming toward apparent opening on the other side of the pool. She passed under the wall, a little unsure about the sense of impending claustrophobia she felt, then she through, into a much larger and deeper pool. Gina was a little surprised at how quickly the edge dropped off, she followed it down until the water became a little too black for her comfort, then swam back up. It was so hard to gauge time or distance in this world, but she had gone down at least forty feet before getting frightened off. She wondered if the pool had used to be a quarry of some sort -- she couldn't imagine an artificially built pool that deep. Dolphining through the water she surfaced again . . . and caught her breath in astonishment.
What she had taken to be a pool was in actuality a strikingly large lake, at least a couple of miles in width and perhaps half again that long in length. A second glance revealed something else peculiar. With the exception of the lights of the castle, there wasn't a light in any direction other than from the stars overhead. In Peoria, such a sight would have been unusual but not terribly so; in Southern California, there wasn't a body of water that didn't have at least a dozen wealthy houses around it -- developers were simply too greedy to let that much water go to waste. Maybe Dee lived on the edge of a state preserve. It rattled her, but Gina decided that she couldn't make any more assessments until she knew more about what was going on.
She moved through the lake quickly; diving once she found herself on the other side of the lake within moments, surfacing only because the bottom had leveled out to a shallow shelf that was far more natural than the pool she'd left. A couple of times she had felt fish brush against her, though in the dark waters it was difficult to see much of anything. Along the way, the idea of escaping began to plant itself in her head -- even if this were a natural park there would be campers here, people she could implore to help her. Sure she looked a little strange now, but this was Southern California -- "Hi, I'm an actress for a fantasy movie and I've gotten separated from my film crew. Would you mind helping me out?"
The strategy had many holes in it, she recognized that from the start, but spending a night in that castle with Dee was definitely not in her plans either. She wasn't quite sure, aside from the tail, why she felt such a sense of evil from him. He was a pathetic nerdy pervert, but he hadn't done anything explicitly to threaten her. Still, she couldn't help forgetting the odd dream she'd had earlier.
Gina came up in a little cove. As she pulled herself onto the shore, she became acutely aware once again of how truly naked she was. Her hair had seemingly grown some, but it was still far to short to cover her bare breasts, and looking behind her she could see that her buttocks were completely naked as well, the blue-green scales starting a little further down her hips. At least she had a nice looking ass, though in retrospect having the scales start a little higher would have been far preferable.
"I'm not going to let the lack of a few clothes keep me from getting rescued,"Gina said to herself, crawling and pushing herself up the muddy beach with her arms and tail. She had a little more control over her body now, but even with that extra capability moving on land couldn't have been more slow, or more painful. Twigs and rocks she wouldn't have thought about when walking now bit into her hands and scales. Twice she lost her balance and fell, covering herself in mud and decayed leaves, and her nipples were getting sore bumping against the ground. What was worse was that she could feel pressure building in her bladder and she wasn't sure how exactly she was supposed to relieve herself. Disney had never covered urination in his movies, for some reason. That thought started Gina giggling, in spite of all that had happened that night.
Distances -- Gina had covered nearly two miles in less than five minutes, but once forced onto land she managed no more than a quarter of a mile by the time the sun rose on her, matted and filthy and bleeding from half a dozen small cuts. She struggled up the muddy embankment, pausing every few moments to rest, until finally her arms gave out under her and she collapsed to the ground. A few seconds passed as she sobbed tears of frustration and exhaustion, then Gina was asleep.
Chapter 3: Friend
She came awake with her nose buried against the side of a horse. She watched in fascination as the world passed by, a couple of feet beneath her, bouncing in time to the gentle gait of the horse. Well, maybe not so gentle, she thought, as her jaw rattled from a misstep. She was bound awkwardly, doubtless to keep her from falling off, but it didn't do anything to improve her mood.
"Uh, hey, can I get up now?" she said, and was surprised when the horse stopped quite suddenly.
"Oh, you're awake. Good."
The voice was female and came from where the horse's head should be, though she couldn't quite manage to turn and see it. Great, Gina thought, a bloody talking horse.
"Sorry I've got you trussed up so much, but its the only way I could think of to keep you on my back."
With that, her bonds eased, and hands grabbed her torso and hauled her up.
Gina was too exhausted to be any more surprised. The hands belonged to a centaur, a very pretty female centaur wearing the top half of a dress right out her great-grandmother's trouseau. Perhaps it was the dress that started her giggling. It was a very pretty dress on a very pretty centaur, and she was being carried around by this very pretty female centaur with her ass up in the air as her fish tail dragged against the ground. The giggling turned to sobs, and wordlessly the centaur held her, comforting her.
"I want to go home," Gina said in a small voice.
The centauress held her for a while longer, and Gina gripped those arms as if they were the only things keeping her in one piece. Perhaps they were. Finally, after the crying had become only the tracks of tears on her face she pulled back, and the centauress let her go.
"Come with me," the strange woman said, then at Gina's subtle nod started to walk through the grassy trail.
"It looks like you've been through a lot. I was foraging in the woods when I came across your trail, something I'd never seen before. So I followed it until I came upon you sleeping. You're a sight, I'm afraid."
Gina glanced down at herself -- still nude, though her front was so caked with mud that she could hardly tell anymore. Cuts stung along her arms and torso and tail. Her hair lay plastered along her neck, and she could imagine that there might have been a moment's hesitation.
"Where are you taking me?"
"I should take you back to the house, but I'm so mad with Dee right now that I could . . ."
Gina was off the centaur's back in a heartbeat, though the impact jarred the wind out of her. The centauress stopped and turned.
"Get away from me!"
"What is it, child?"
"Dammit, I said, get away!"
"Gods, you must be new here. I'll definitely wring his neck the next time I see him."
"Why don't you go away? Please!"
The fear that welled up inside Gina's eyes made the centaur pause, and then, in a liquid gesture, she sat down in the grass, eyeing Gina with pity.
"Child, it's all right."
"I'm not a child, dammit!" Gina said savagely, anger at the appelation overriding her fear momentarily. She curled her tail underneath her and stared at the centauress with her most burning stare.
"All right," the centauress said, the English lilt in her voice underlying something deeper. "I have acted hastily.
Let's take this a step at a time.
"My name is Sarah Milford. I was born in 1878 in the English Midlands, as human as you. I made the mistake of answering an ad for a governness at this place, and ended up coming to the conclusion you see me in now."
"I don't understand," Gina said, the confusion and pain obvious in her eyes.
"Dee," the centauress spat, and for a second, Gina feared that he stood there. "The bastard brought out my elemental nature, just as I suspect he did yours. My ancesters were from Thessally in Greece, and apparently once upon a time, more generations back than I would think practical, a centaur raped my great-great- to the thousandth power-great grandmother, and the kid that resulted passed the genes on. At least that's what I've been able to figure. Dee's powerful, but every time he tries to get a normal to convert, it drives them mad. The satyr is an example of that."
"Yeah, randy little bugger. Appeared about a week ago, horny as his goat half and completely bonkers. I damn near broke his ribs with a sharp kick the last time he started nosing around my hind-quarters."
Sarah did a mock kick from behind, and briefly Gina could sympathize with the satyr. Calming down, Gina studied the centauress. Maybe they were immortal, she wondered, and Sarah seemed to see the words in her head.
"I've been here for about thirty years."
"Oh. That makes more sense. I though you said you were born in the nineteenth century."
"I was. Time passes differently here than it does on the outside."
A chill passed through Gina. "Wh-where are we?"
"Dee's private little world. If you get back on, I'll show you."
"You won't take me back to Dee?"
"Not unless you want me to. I've had to kind of accept that he's here and deal with it, but that doesn't mean I have to like the bastard."
"No. Please don't take me back."
"Good. I was planning on taking you to my house instead."
"You live in a house?" Gina said as she let the centauress pull her up onto her broad back.
"Where else would I live? I'm not some kind of animal...and neither are you."
They rode on in silence, stopping once briefly. Gina had been trying desperately to hold onto the horse hair rather than touching Sarah's torso and possibly offend her, and after one last balancing mishap Sarah halted.
"What's your name?"
"Uh, Virginia . . . Gina."
"Nice name. Gina, give me your hands."
Sarah lifted her arms slightly and Gina slid hers through to meet the centauress's hands. Sarah's caressed hers and brought them to rest over the centauress's large breasts. Gina could feel the hard nipples beneath the silk cloth and felt herself get slightly aroused in response. Then Sarah moved the mermaid's fingers down to trace the curve of her breasts and the trim torso beneath them, finally planting them with another caress at her waist.
"The last man to touch me there sang contralto for the few minutes that he lived. I much prefer your hands there, no matter how mud stained. Don't be afraid of me."
They walked on in silence, Gina musing on this strange turn of events, the centauress quiet in her own thoughts. An hour passed this way, their trail slow and winding in the heavy forest, until they came into a clearing where a small cottage lay. As they got closer, Gina realized that the house only looked small because they were dwarfed by the huge trees.
"Let's get you cleaned, fed, and patched up. You look like you could use all three."
"I wouldn't turn them down."
They approached the house, and Gina realized that everything had been sized for the larger proportions of the centauress. The style looked vaguely Victorian, as if someone had built it from memories of a house rather than a blueprint.
"I like this place."
"Thank you," Sarah said, smiling. "I find it hard to believe I built it by myself. One of the few successful projects I've undertaken."
"You built this?"
"It was a bit of necessity. I refused to stay in the castle with Dee, but after about the first year I became tired of living in a lean-to. So one night I stole into his tool shed and walked off with as many tools as I could, then spent nearly four months learning how to use them. My first house is over there."
She pointed to a rude hut in the corner of the clearing. "It afforded me a chance to make mistakes, and I stayed in it while I was building this house. One advantage to this form is that I'm considerably stronger than I was, though it was still a bear to build it alone."
Sarah pushed the door open and they entered into a tall room lit by a glass skylight. There was minimal furniture in the room; a gleaming, heavily grained table, a pile of pillows in one corner, a counter looking into a second room with a fireplace.
"I'm going to do both of us a favor, dear,"the centauress said as she walked toward a door in the second room, which Gina realized was a kitchen. "You need to get cleaned up, and as I just cleaned I would just as soon not have to get dried mud off the floor of my abode, however humble it may be."
With that, they headed outside to a deep depression in the ground, its sides worn smooth.
"I don't like bathing in the lake. There are things that live in there that I have no desire sharing my bath with.
So I found the next best thing."
She laid Gina in the hole, then effortlessly picked up a rock in the pit that Gina would have been hard pressed to push. Immediately water started spilling out of the revealed hole, filling the pit. The water was warm; indeed, the water was almost too hot, but after she got used to it she settled back in the tub, luxuriating in the spray of water as it jetted against sore and aching muscles. Delicately, Sarah undid her blouse and pulled it off, making Gina avert her eyes in embarassment.
"It's all right, Virginia; this is how I usually go about. I'd come from a conclave with the others, and it is one of the few times in this accursed place that I can actually wear something decent."
Gina looked back up, a little astonished at her own shyness. She was used to other women being nude around her; she hadn't been a b-movie actress for six years without losing a little innocence. Perhaps it was just the very proper way that Sarah carried herself. The centauress was full breasted, no question about that, considerably more so than Gina herself. Her human half ended low, just where her pubic triangle would have started, a thin down of hair turning into a horse's coat.
"Don't you have problems running?" she asked, without thinking, then turned red when she realized she'd voiced her inner train of thought. Sarah laughed as she stepped into the pool.
"Oh truly. A little white lie come back to haunt me. The first few weeks after I'd taken this form my chest was constantly bruised by the pounding. Then one day, Asrea took pity on me and stole some curtains from the house for me to use for support. I eventually learned how to run without turning my breasts purple, but I was very grateful to the fairy in the interrim."
Gina sat up a little, though the warm waters were making her sleepy. She idly flicked water with her tail in the makeshift hot tub.
"Asrea's a pixie. Bless me but she's been a life saver. I'm afraid I make a poor cat burgler, but Asrea could steal your thoughts. She sleeps here sometimes, when she gets tired of the woods."
"How many of you . . . of us . . . are here? And where is here?"
"Asrea, Melissa, Sava, Jacqueline, myself, you . . . six, not counting Dee and Michael, and that blasted satyr; course he's barely human any more."
"Are they all, uh . . . well . . ."
"Yeah, they're all changelings, if that's what you're trying to see. Except maybe Asrea. I suspect she's never been human. Melissa is a Urisk, kind of like a satyr but with better manners. Sava is a harpy. She's so old she's this side of mad herself, though if I were trapped in her body I could understand why she'd be that way. Jacqueline is part leopard; she's actually a little younger than I am. Her brother was a painter; Dee drove him insane one day by showing him what had happened to the sister he thought had died from consumption. Dee's like that, the sadistic bastard."
"What about Michael? What is he?"
"Oh, you saw Michael, did you?" the centauress looked at her, and saw the light in the mermaid's eyes.
"Michael is . . . several centuries ago, when this place was still anchored to reality, Michael was a rival for Hear'na's attenti-- hmm, why didn't I see it before?"
The centauress looked at her strangely for a second.
" . . . uh, there is a special cabalistic spell, used by ancient Jewish mages, that would turn a clay statue called a gholem into an animated spirit. The spell involved branding one of the names of Yahweh on the head of the statue.
Dee poisoned Michael, then branded the spell on his forehead before he completely died."
Gina became very quiet, no longer really sensing the water around her, as Sarah watched her out of the corner of her eye. After an uncomfortably long silence, Sarah stood up, letting water splash off the mermaid.
"Can't stay too long in here. I'll become boiled leather, and you'd be steamed fish."
Gina shook herself loose of her daze, not sure why Sarah's tale affected her so profoundly. "That would not be a good thing, though I have to admit that, perverse a thought as it is, steamed fish would be good right now."
"Well, I might be able to oblige you. I caught a couple of fish earlier today, and they've been cooking all day. I had a premonition I'd be having company today. Need help up?"
"Uh, yeah, if you don't mind."
"Not at all, love."
The centauress reached down and picked Gina up, one arm tucked under her buttocks, the second wrapped around her back and touching her left breast, and for a few seconds they embraced one another, breasts pressing against breasts, until with a sigh Sarah swung the mermaid around onto her horse-like back. Gina sat stunned, a tingling feeling running up the length of her tail and into her lap.
"Um, yes, steamed fish would sound very good tonight," Sarah said as she started back into the house. Gina couldn't quite restrain a blush. She was definitely a little steamy right now herself, and the gentle rocking of Sarah's walk against her bare buttocks didn't help matters much.
Chapter 4: Encounter
The fish was little more than bones, and a bottle of dry white wine sat completely drained on the table. Gina as a rule was not a heavy drinker, but after the last couple of days she felt she needed to get good and solidly drunk.
The bottle had appeared out of nowhere, and now much of its contents lay comfortably within her. Gina reclined on some of Sarah's pillows, wearing an oversized shirt that Sarah'd given her as a nightgown, struggling with the sleepiness that alcohol always induced in her.
"So why didn't you just kill him?" she asked.
"Kill him? What would that have accomplished?" Sarah replied, a little surprise in her voice.
"Well, wouldn't that have broken the magic spell? You know, like in the movies. You do in the evil wizard, and all their spells go poof . . ."
Gina tried making a motion with her hands, but the drink inside of her made it difficult to do anything beyond a simple wave.
"No, from what little I've been able to work out, that wouldn't be the case at all. This is as much a prison for Dee as it is for anyone else here. There've been a few that have actually been able to make it to the other side; I even did it myself, once."
"You escaped? Why did you come back?" Gina asked in astonishment.
Sarah sighed, and absentmindedly started plaiting her hair.
"This land floats . . . you said you came in from Los Angeles?"
"The same road that you walked down coming to the castle was the one I walked down, only the carriage left me off about twenty miles outside of Edinburgh."
"It wasn't Edinburgh, California, love."
"But that's impossible..."
"Gina, look at yourself, and then say that. I could go into some hairy details about quantum gravitational theory and space time variances, but the short answer is that it was magic. This is a little pocket world that can appear any place at any time. Some times it remains in one place for weeks, or even months on end, then one day the land will be elsewhere.
"When I escaped, I found myself in the middle of a battlefield with people wearing strange armor that I hadn't ever seen before, with large tanks moving about under their own power -- keep in mind that when I first came here cars were a rare novelty but not much more, and no one had ever built a tank based on the same principles. I wandered for quite a while, seeing the carnage that man could do to man, the destruction of whole villages because they were in the way or their people spoke the wrong dialect. I befriended a little girl in a village in France . . . this was about 1943 . . . then buried her when she accidentally stepped in the way of a sniper bullet meant for me."
Sarah was quiet for a while, her eyes far away; inwardly, Gina shuddered.
"I don't think I consciously returned to the land after that. It just presented itself, as if saying that it was time for me to come home. Stupid bloody centaurs don't belong in that reality.
"I'm being depressing, love. You asked some questions that I'd buried deep inside of me, and dredging them up has brought back some ugly memories . . . would you like a back rub?"
Gina giggled, then slipped the shirt off and lay down on the pillows in reply. Sarah's firm fingers sent shivers of pleasure down her spine, a reaction which made her tailfin bob up and down slightly of its own accord.
"So what about Dee? Can't he leave?"
"No, that's the irony of the whole situation. John Dee came to his power during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the first. From what I've been able to tell, he was in fact her teacher in the occult arts."
"Queen Elizabeth was a witch?"
"Yes, among other things. It's one of the reasons she never married -- her magic was tied into her primacy on the throne, and marriage and children would have diluted it. At least that's what Dee taught her. Mainly hogwash, but there is a grain of truth in it. The greatest magics have sexuality as a component -- its one of the most primal acts, and the release of energies after it can be awesome, especially if there's been a period of celibacy before hand. He wanted her for himself, so that he could tap into the magical power incarnate within royalty in general and a queen in particular. Elizabeth realized what he was up to, and when attempts to do him in by more traditional means proved unsuccessful, she wove a spell that trapped him on his land, then set it adrift. She figured, rightly, that the church would look down upon the queen engaging in a Duel Arcanum, and this way she diverted the attention from herself to the mysteriously vanished John Dee."
Sarah's thin, muscular fingers had worked their way down her back to her buttocks, arousing feelings that were hard to ignore with half a bottle of wine inside of her. Gina was panting a little bit now, and her nipples tingled pleasantly at the centauress's ministrations. The warm feeling climbed inside of her as Sarah began massaging the powerful, sensitive muscles of her tail. The sensation was odd, definitely not what she had expected, but in some ways Sarah's hands along her scales aroused her even more than her foray along Gina's bottom.
"If you don't stop thumping your tail like that I'm not going to be able to finish. Lord and Lady, you're strong there."
Gina hadn't even realized that her tailfin was responding at all. She smiled sheepishly, "Sorry."
"No problem, love. It's always good to know when a massage is appreciated."
"Oh, it is,"Gina breathed heavily. "It is!"
Sarah laughed heartily. "I think I've found a way to at least slow the tide of questions you have."
"Uh-huhn..." Gina replied, about the most she could manage as Sarah's probing touch reached the base of her tail.
She was drunk, she was horny, and the centauress was making it very difficult to think. She still had a million questions, but for some strange reason, she couldn't seem to be able to ask a single one. She squirmed around as Sarah stroked the veins of her tailfin.
"Did you know that your tailfin blushes?" Sarah asked.
Reluctantly, because she was so comfortably in ecstacy, Gina turned around and spread her tailfin out. Sure enough, the previously transparent veins were tinged pink and crimson. It was almost certainly engorged as well, since the normally veil-like fin was nearly as hard as wood.
Gina giggled, and brushed her fin against the downy fur of Sarah's lower body, tracing the hard muscles where horse body met human skin below the beach of her stomach. Gina wore a loose shirt that she'd left unbuttoned, displaying a provocative amount of cleavage.
"Would you massage my front?" Gina replied blearily, and the thrill at Sarah's smile made her entire body tingle with pleasure. Sarah started working her way back up, leaning over Gina as she ran her fingers along each scale's surface. Gina would never have thought that the half seen glimpses of a woman's naked breasts would have proven so erotically charged, yet as Sarah's hard nipples peaked in and out of the night shirt while the centaur quietly worked, Gina found it harder and harder to breathe, and this mermaid was definitely getting wet.
Gina's hands strayed to her own bare breasts. Her nipples were almost painfully hard, and the slightest touch sent her into a spasm of pleasure. Sensing this, Sarah shifted position, then bent down and lightly touched the tip of her tongue to Gina's right nipple.
Gina wasn't sure who said that, but thought it might have been herself. She should have been self-conscious, should have been repelled by this overtly sexual gesture; that's what the Voice from Peoria said to her. She ignored it, grabbed Sarah's tawny mane and drew her down to her breasts. Then she and Sarah were kissing, tongue probing tongue as hands reached for each others' breasts. Sarah nibbled a path along Gina's neck as the mermaid squirmed in pleasure, petting the other woman's breasts and grabbing her back, running her hands down the smooth expanse of Sarah's skin to where it turned to fur.
Sarah in return hugged Gina to her and stood up on her forelegs, grasping the mermaid's naked buttocks in her hands as her teeth and tongue probed Gina's erect nipples. Gina had given up any pretense of rationality; she was clawing and squeezing and biting, her tail wrapping around Sarah's equine torso as the centauress ran her hands along Gina's ass.
"Oh god oh god oh go- . . ."
Setting Gina back on the cushions, Sarah bent down and began kissing and nippling along the bottom of Gina's breasts and down her ribcage, playfully ignoring the sighs and giggles that cames from the mermaid. Ribs became stomach, and still Sarah descended, her tongue darting out in a complicated pattern that traced the valleys of Gina's torso. She did something with her tongue on Gina's navel that had her writhing in pleasure, eyes closed, hands holding the centaur's heavy breasts, her tail beating a tattoo against the ground.
Then Sarah descended to the spot where scales met skin, and Gina exploded.
"AAAaaayyyyyyyaaaaaaaaahhhhhhoooooooooooooooooo . . ."
Gina arched her back as orgasm hit, lifting her buttocks off the ground and splaying her tailfin wide. Currents surged through her, currents of the primal ocean and ecstacy and love, limning each scale with pleasure close to pain; for a fleeting instant she felt something else, something deep and profound that touched the edge of her awareness, then it was gone. And in its place the earth shook.
"AAAahhhaaaeeeeeee-aaaaaaaaa . . . aaaaaaa . . . aaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . . oh-oh."
The ground was trembling; not just her. A few bottles on shelves tottered crazily, and Gina heard the crash of something fragile falling in the kitchen. She could smell salt, deep-sea salt, mingling in the air with the smell of love sweat. The world swayed again, one big surge, then subsided into quiescence.
"Damn . . ." Sarah said in surprise, as she brushed back her messed up hair. Gina had been responsible, but dismissed her contrition -- it had felt soooo good. "You must have broached the wards; you're more powerful than I thought.
Between the drink and the wonderful, wonderful sex, Gina could barely keep herself awake. But she couldn't ignore that comment.
"What do you mean?"
"You've got a lot of power in you; possibly more than Dee. No wonder he wanted you."
"Power? I'm an actress, not a witch."
"No, I think not. I can sense the power in you, could even before . . . this evening. Sex has made it more obvious, I think . . . it makes sense."
"Why?" Gina yawned. She tried to stifle a giggle.
"You're a true mermaid, a Siren'sha. Their power has always been tied up in sex."
"Oh," she said, with another yawn, "like sirens luring men to their doom."
"Something like that."
Sarah may have said more, but Gina was not awake to hear it.
Chapter 5: Gathering
For the first time in her life, Hearna could not breathe. The water that had been her natural element suddenly became poisonous, suffocating her. Something felt wrong with her tail, but that was secondary to the immediate problem of drowning. She was drowning, she knew that, even though the concept was so very foreign to her. She struggled, kicking once, twice, then broke through to the mirror world of the surface. She flailed, trying to expel the water in her lungs and simultaneously bring air in, the strange strangling noises sounding flat after the sea of sound from which she'd just emerged. Finally she grabbed an errant piece of driftwood, and managed to stay afloat long enough to vomit the water from her chest.
There she for a while, holding dearly onto that log knowing that her life very much depended on it. The world felt strange, as if currents were moving in media besides her watery life's blood. The timelessness that pervaded the realm where Hearn'a used to live had been torn away; replaced by the eerie passing sensation of time whistling along the edges of her awareness. Exhausted and frightened, Hearn'a dozed.
The ship was practically on top of her when she woke; its sleek, graceful lines slicing through the water at a pace comparable to what her own would have been. She thought briefly about fleeing, diving back in the water away from the sight of these strange Land-dwellers, but the burning memory of salt water in her lungs was still with her. The ship was here in the midst of a vast ocean; more than chance was at work, she had no doubt. She was not dead, though she might as well have been. She was no longer Sirensha.
Hearn'a looked up and saw two men watching from the deck. Her heart skipped when she realized that one of them looked like the image of Micha she had seen in her future dreams. He was gorgeous. Even in the distance she could make out the head of brown hair, the calm strength of his mien, the grace in his stance.
Then she looked at the second man, and almost dove back into the water, ending it right then and there. Thin, almost gaunt, his head covered by a curious hat, he seemed even to Hearn'a's deadened senses to be a whirlpool of darkness and evil. These two would shape her lives, she knew that even as the ship slowed; these two would bring her death and life.
"Ahoy, captain. Man in the water, starboard side fore."
The man who looked like Micha lifted up his head and stared right at her; a shudder ran up and down her body at the intensity of that stare.
"Aye, I see her, Jones. Lower a boat."
A small wooden boat was lowered from the side by a complicated set of ropes and winches, the captain and two crewmen jumping into it from rope ladders down the side of the ship. Hearn'a was relieved to see the evil man wasn't in the boat as well. They drew to one side of her and pulled her up.
"Captain, I think you've caught a mermaid," one of the crew members joked.
"That'll be all, mister," the captain replied, throwing the two a stern look. But I am a merm- , oh . . . Hearn'a (or was it Gina) replied, then looked down at the two legs sticking out from the dark green dress.
"Captain, she's faintin-..."
The morning light shining in her eyes finally woke Gina, and reluctantly she let the world come back into focus around her. She lay on a number of pillows beneath a remarkably comfortable blanket. A fairy was watching her.
Gina blinked once then groaned, closed her eyes and turned the other way to settle back to sleep. She wasn't ready for fairies. Maybe it would just go away.
She felt something crawl on top of her, about as heavy as Smudge, the cat that had shared her apartment for the last several months. Gina opened her eyes again, and there was the fairy, now on the other side of her. The features on her face were exquisitely elfin like, her wings a curious melange of dragonfly and butterfly. She was naked and about the size of a Barbie. A heavy Barbie, but a Barbie nonetheless. And she just sat there, staring at Gina.
"All right, so there's a fairy here. And I suppose I probably still have my goddamn tail, don't I."
The fairy stood up and started to peek under the covers. In a single motion Gina was up, clutching the blanket around her.
"Look, I don't know who or what you are, but I'll be damned if I let you go looking in places you have no business looking."
The fairy's face turned petulant, and she looked like she was thinking some truly nasty thoughts.
"Azi, cool your temper," a voice said behind her, and Gina turned to see Sarah in the door frame. "She just woke up, and after the wine we had last night is probably not in the best of moods."
Truth to tell, Gina's head did feel a little worse for the wear. Granted, the rest of her felt pretty good, but she had drunk a little too much last night. The headache wasn't helped by the odd, intermittant buzz that occassionally tickled her mind.
"Yeah, I know that you got that wine for me, and I appreciate it to no end," Sarah said. "But she's just crossed over, and she definitely needed it."
The fairy crossed her arms and took a defiant stance, then shook her head and sat back down. The buzzing started up again.
"Thank you, Azi. You've a truly generous soul."
The fairy then turned to face Sarah, and reluctantly extended a hand. Gingerly, Gina held out her hand and touched the fairy's with one finger.
"I'm shaking hands with a winged Barbie in desperate need of Alcoholics Anonymous. Wonderful," Gina thought, though she didn't say it out loud.
Then, with a little pop that Gina couldn't be sure wasn't in her head, the fairy disappeared. Didn't fly off, just was there one minute and gone the next.
"What happened?" Gina asked, turning to Sarah.
"She does that. She can teleport; it seems to be the way she actually gets around."
"I thought fairies were supposed to fly...I mean, the wings and all."
"As near as I can tell, the wings are actually more like antennas. They focus magic or something like that. I doubt she could develop enough lift with those wings to pick herself up, to be honest."
Gina thought about the weight of the pixie walking over her a few minutes before. About ten pounds, the size of her cat. Yeah, wings wouldn't be very effective, not at that size.
"Thank her the next time you see her. That bottle we drank last night was due to her stealth and skills, and she was a little perturbed that you drained it."
"Wouldn't that much wine kill her? I mean, the bottle was bigger than she was."
Sarah came into the house, and Gina could see that she was wearing a dress similar to the one she'd worn before, a simplified purple Victorian gown that went half-way down her horse back.
"It only takes a thimbleful to knock her out, though that'd be a good bottle to you, and three or four to me. It's just that there wasn't even a thimbleful left from what you drained last night."
"Oh. Sorry,"Gina said contritely. Then another question occured to her, one that wasn't motivated by curiosity.
"Uh, I hate to ask this, but is there anyplace I can . . . uh . . ."
"I kind of wondered if you'd run into that yet. Yeah, I put together an out-house shortly after I realized that I was a centaur, not a horse. Climb up and I'll take you there."
Gina pushed aside the covers, and realized at that point that she was wearing a cotton nightgown.
"After you fell asleep last night, it occurred to me that you might get cold with just the blanket. I hope you don't mind. You were pretty much out of it."
"No, thank you very much."
It was odd, how just in the last couple of days she had gotten used to being nude. The nightgown that she wore was warm and soft, but somehow it felt strange to have clothing on at all. She climbed up onto Sarah's back with the centaur's assistance, her breasts tingling slightly at the last remembered contact as Sarah's hooves click-clacked softly against the wooden floor.
"We'll be having some more visitors in a little while. I sent Asrea to gather the others. It sounds like there's something brewing they need to be aware of. Granted, getting this crew to work together is much like trying to get cats and dogs to talk peace."
"What are the others like?"
"Asrea you've met. She's got a mercurial temper, but for the most part is a good friend. Melissa is quiet and a loner. She is not much older than you, maybe thirty-forty years or so. That's outside time. Doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot here. Jacqueline's a little more feral. She has a lot of cat in her, and that makes her unpredictable."
"Sava's . . . Sava is mad. She used to be pretty. Hell, she's still a stunner, the part of her that's human . . .
but there's been a slow rot in her brain for some time. She was one of the first changelings Dee wrought, and she's as much his personal pet as she is a person. I'm not asking her to come."
There was something else there, Gina thought; she could almost see it within Sarah, a deep seated hatred that could turn irrational with the right fuel. It was funny how the centaur's emotions suddenly seemed so transparent. There was goodness, and compassion, but maybe the madness that the horse-woman saw in the others hadn't completely bypassed her either.
They stopped at a wooden building a couple hundred yards from the house. A rose and a crescent moon were painted on the door, though both had a faded look to them.
"Well, this is it. It's built for a slightly different anatomy, so you may have to be careful, but it should do the trick."
Gina got down and with Sarah's help got into the outhouse. Maneuvering into position took a little work -- she began to appreciate what it must have been like for someone who'd lost the use of their legs -- but soon she did her business and cleaned herself off with what a page from what appeared to be a telephone book.
"Yeah," Sarah replied when Gina asked later. "Los Angeles, 1987. One of those will last you for years. Another thing I'm thankful to Azi for. We used to steal toilet paper, but one of those didn't last for more than a couple of weeks, and Dee was getting suspicious."
Gina giggled at that, "I've always thought there were better uses for Los Angeles... now I know."
Sarah smiled, but for some reason didn't get the joke. "So would you like some clothes, or do you wish to meet your fellow inmates au natural?"
Gina started to reply automatically that she wanted clothes, then wondered, "How are the others dressed?"
"Melissa wears whatever strikes her, or nothing at all. Jacqueline seldom wears anything at all, and Savra never does. I'm the most clothed of all of them, but then again, I don't have wings to get in the way or paws instead of hands."
Dilemma, Gina thought, glancing down at her own scaled thighs. The others would be just as curious about me as I am about them, but at the same time she felt that it was one thing to be nude alone or with . . . lovers (she hastily pulled her hands back from toying with the cascading ringlets going down Sarah's human back) . . . it was another with strangers.
"Do you have a swim suit?"
"What use would I have of a swimming suit, Gina? A bikini bottom would be kind of pointless, and the top . . . well, why should I be worried about offending morals. Still, I see your point. Maybe I am a little overdressed for this affair."
That wasn't really the reason she brought it up, but before she could raise a protest, Sarah had pulled off the elaborate top, carefully folding the clothes and, walking inside briefly, depositing them in a crudely built drawer.
Gina followed suit, handing the centauress her nightgown.
"Here," Sarah said handing her a string of pearls and some earrings. "You may be nude, but you shouldn't be naked."
While Gina didn't quite appreciate the distinction, she did put the pearl necklace and earrings on -- little shell earrings that seemed odd in a centaur's treasure chest, but she wasn't about to complain. For her part, Sarah pulled out an elaborate feathered headdress vaguely reminiscent of some of the Southwest Indian dancers that she'd seen, as well as a chest piece that only served to enhance the nakedness of Sarah's large breasts. The centaur's ornaments seemed both vaguely familiar and disturbingly alien, and Gina commented about them.
"What you are seeing here, my daughter fishy friend, is an example of the last surviving remnants of Kentaurois culture."
"Kentaurois? Are they like the Navaho?"
Sarah laughed, a deep throaty laugh that left Gina blushing, "No, though I suspect the Navaho are nearly as old. The Kentaurois were the horse people, the centaurs that ranged across the mountains of Thessaly in Helles . . . Greece to you, though most Kentaurois would have thought that a deadly insult. We watched the earliest invaders come from the southeast, the ones that settled Crete and became the Minoans, the Doric tribes that became the classical Greeks. We were a proud people, Children of the Mother Goddess I'eira and I'cheun, God of the Winds. Those idiot Greeks thought that I'eira was their goddess Hera and made I'cheun into a fool, Ixion, who mated with a cloud to produce the centaurs. Stupid, savage people, at least when they first showed up on our shores. One of our great leaders, I'chereon, finally got fed up with all the internecine bickering and started educating some of their best and brightest to help form a better city state. For a while, anyway, it was glorious . . ."
Gina stared at her strangely. "You act like you were there . . ."
"In a way, I was. I remember things from that time, Gina, memories that I shouldn't have but do. Maybe I'm just making them up, sort of as a mental compensation for my form, but I don't think so. The memories are just too vivid."
She fingered the fringes of the chest guard. "I made this, Gina, but it felt like some other hands were guiding mine when I did. I was a good Victorian girl, interested in needlepoint and all the other niceties that good Victorian girls were supposed to like; not alien headresses. And yet, now especially, the needlework takes on patterns that Queen Victoria would never have known and I feel more right in headdresses of feathers than in properly sewn shirts."
Was H'earna like that, Gina wondered. Who am I? What am I?
"Are you all right, Gina?"
"Uhm, yeah, just a little distracted."
"Here, let me arrange your hair. You have such pretty hair, and it would be such a shame not to do something with it."
Gina sat patiently as Sarah worked her magic, plaiting the hair into complex braids and inserting shells and other oddments in strategic places. The centauress hummed a song under her breath, a pounding, erotically disturbing tune that vibrated with the passion of stallions and mares in the chase. Gina was embarassed to find that her nipples had hardened again. Lately, she seemed perpetually aroused, the slightest action raising her hormones. If Sarah noticed, she didn't comment.
Finally, with a flourish, Sarah handed her a mirror, and Gina looked back in shock. The resemblance to the failed Hollywood starlet was almost gone; a woman looked back at her in the mirror, a woman of authority and beauty and power, a woman of the sea who could command the very elements themselves. And yet, there was a hardness in her eyes, not the slutty little girl from Peoria who had taken it all off for the cameras, who had pulled a few tricks (even when adamantly denying they were just that) , who was still innocent for all that life had browbeaten her. Gina saw something else emerging, a pain that went way back, an innocence lost that had determined to never let that happen again to anyone.
"I, uh, see that the connection between mermaids and mirrors is true after all."
Gina blushed, a rosy stain that colored her breasts and tailfin, making her blush harder for showing it. All right, she was a little vain.
"You did wonderful, Sarah. I almost don't know myself."
"No,"the centaur replied, a distant look in her own eyes, "nor do I think you've fully found yourself yet."
Sarah shook her head briefly, and for an instant looked confused. "What?"
"What did you mean by saying that?"
"About not having fully found myself?"
"Did I say that? I'm sorry, I didn't realize I had."
The silence was palpable as Sarah started cleaning up, and again Gina wondered about the stability of her companion.
Finally, unable to stand it any longer, Gina spoke.
"So when are the others arriving?"
"Oh, we're going to meet them by the Lagoon. I expect at least Asrea and Melissa are already there. We should be heading out ourselves."
She gave Gina a lift up, and Gina deliberately kept her hands around Sarah's waists. Touching the centaur's bare breasts brought up some very confusing emotions within her, and right now Gina didn't need that distraction. From the silence that came from the normally talkative Sarah, Gina suspected that her friend was both as distracted as she and that she was more apprehensive about this meeting than she let on.
The soothing smell of pine calmed her; California had some woods left, though more and more of it was disappearing under the tractor treads of developers. This place felt oddly virgin, however, as if it had never known the encroachment of human hands. A red thrush darted out of cover at their passage. She wondered if it was trapped in here with them, a prisoner of space and time and circumstance as much as her companion was. There could be worse places to be held prisoner.
She looked down at herself and found that for all that she was even more "nude" than Sarah, she didn't feel naked. A strand of pearls roped around her waist, another wrapped around one arm. Gina flexed her tailfin, marvelling at the way that it turned and twisted in ways her feet never could. She could feel the itchiness beginning again, an itchiness that would soon force her back into water . . . she wondered if the choice of the lagoon (was this place an island then?) was partially in consideration of that fact.
They walked out of the woods onto a beach where waves did in fact overlap a slightly sandy shelf. The lake, as big as it had been, was freshwater . . . here she could detect the unmistakable tang of the sea. A wildness surged inside of her, completely unexpected, a happiness at being near sea water that almost overwhelmed her. Still, the analytical part of her mind was confused enough to break through the giddiness.
"How could the lake be freshwater if we're this close to the ocean?"
"It's because the lake is no longer here. We moved again during the night. You actually washed ashore not too far from here."
"But . . ."
"That earthquake you felt last night wasn't just a little tremor. We unmoored the land. My guess is that your sea blood probably had something to do with where we ended up."
" . . . I did this?"
"Kentaurois are not especially magical, though we have a little bit of it in our blood. The Sirensha, on the other hand, were elementals in more ways than one."
"Damn their stupid tails, too..."
Gina spun around, nearly unseating herself from Sarah's back. A small woman sat on a rock looking at her, a woman who smiled in spite of the sour remark. She wore a cape, and sat in an oddly truncated way. It took Gina several seconds to realize that the woman's legs doubled back below the foreshortened knees, and instead of feet she had two dainty deer-like hooves. Small, stubby horns projected from her forehead. Beneath the cape she was nearly as naked as Gina, only wearing a thin loin cloth. For all that she was a fairly young looking woman her hair was so pale as to be nearly white. It made her look like a crone from a fairy tail.
"I had several perfectly good crayfish traps along here; and whoosh the land goes and twitches, and every single one of them is cut. Good to see you Sarah. I take it that's the fish-girl that Asrea keeps tinkering about it."
"Gina, meet Melissa, my compatriot in crime."
"Ha, fat chance of that. The only chance for mischief around here is setting old candypants' underwear on fire; and even that gets old after a bit."
The woman looked critically at Gina, her eyes tracing every contour as if she was memorizing the mermaid. Maybe she was, Gina thought.
"So that's it then? The time's come?"
"Soon, Liss, soon. We set off the wards last night; its been a long time since anything's touched them like that."
The goat-woman stood up and walked closer, her movements seeming unnatural to Gina. She kept expecting Melissa to topple over, but somehow she managed to stay perfectly balanced on those pin-point hooves. When the woman noticed her inspection, she performed a little jig on the sand, staying up in spite of the softness of the ground.
"It was tough at first," Melissa said in answer to the unasked question. "I spent days just getting enough balance to stand upright, and for the first month I ran around almost non-stop because it was easier to do that than stand."
"First time I met her," Sarah said, picking up the story, "I thought that she had all this incredible boundless energy. Little did I realize that she was simply trying to avoid falling over."
"Goddess, was I tired!"
They all laughed at that, then lost themselves in thought. She was beginning to suspect that they all thought she was key to something, though what she didn't know. Gina also knew that she was getting dehydrated again. The itching, which had started out as a minor annoyance, was this close to water proving a real distraction.
"Would you mind dropping me into the water, Sarah?"
Twisting in that impossible centaur way, Sarah helped Gina to the water's edge, and with a splash the mermaid jumped into the waves. The water felt incredibly good, revitalizing in a way she wouldn't have thought possible. The lure of the ocean was strong, and for nearly ten minutes she fought with herself about even going back. Still, she didn't stray far -- there were mysteries here, deep mysteries, and for all that the deep water called to her she knew that she had to help unravel them. Reluctantly she dolphin-kicked her way back to shore.
Another person had joined them. The cat-woman. It was an apt description, Gina thought. The woman's complexion was olive-dark which blended well with the dark fur on her arms, legs and tail. She walked cat-like on all fours, her powerful hind-legs twisted back like Melissa's but with none of the apparent frailness of the goat-woman's hooves.
The woman's arms ended in paws rather than hands, and a black cat-tail emerged at the base of her spine. She sat like a cat as well, staring at Gina with large, green eyes. The only adornment she wore was an elaborate Parisian hat reminiscent of the 1890s.
"She looks delicious," the cat-woman said, grinning at Gina as she pulled herself out of the water. Gina couldn't help but notice the long incisors the woman had. When the woman started to non-chalently clean the fur in her forearms with her tongue, Gina gulped slightly. The woman wasn't overtly threatening, but she was the first real predator among all of them, and Gina wasn't sure how far her dietary habits went.
"Jacky, behave yourself," Sarah said sharply, though Melissa chuckled.
"Don't let her fool you, Gina. Deep down, Jacqueline's really a kitten."
"Purr," the cat-woman replied, sticking out her tongue at Melissa before resuming her cleaning.
"So where's the pip-squeak?" Melissa asked, sitting down besides Jacqueline. Idly the goat-woman started tracing out a pattern in the sand with her hoof.
"I'm not sure," Sarah said, a little tentatively. "Once she gathered you two, she was supposed to join us here."
"I take it," Jacqueline said in a lazy drawl, "that you don't intend to invite Savra to our little soire?"
Jacqueline seemed to be almost bored with the question, but Gina suspected some of the ennui was feigned. The sphinx, like her mythical forebears, had a stamp of inscrutibility that hid an extraordinary interest about the world. So very much like a cat.
"I felt it would be . . . imprudent."
"I thought you would," Jacqueline replied, her soft tail curling briefly before resuming its sway back and forth.
She cocked her head, and Gina noticed the large tufted ears, fairly obscured by Jacky's curly black hair, swivelling around almost independently. "I also suspect that she's about to crash the party anyone."
"What the . . ." Sarah looked up. "Oh, hell."
Gina followed her gaze, and so what appeared to be a large black bird chasing a smaller bird, both heading toward the clearing at a rather breakneck speed. As the "birds" came closer, Gina realized that the larger one had breasts, and after it turned to look down, a human head; the smaller one resolved itself into a small Barbie like figure flying for its life. The Barbie winked out of existence ten feet above the ground, and it was all that the harpy-like figure could do to pull up before crashing against the beach herself. Recovering with less than good grace, the bird-woman circled around and landed.
This, presumably, was Savra. Visibly annoyed, her face was still rather stunningly beautiful, with full lips, an almost elfin face, wide eyes that seemed almost childlike, framed by straight black hair that fell around a perfect column of a throat and hovered, cloud-like, over full breasts. Her shoulders were human, but the arms merged into wings with at least a 15 ft. wingspan. Her ribcage was likewise human, but below that her body merged into inky-black feathers, with a broad tail and large, dangerous looking talons.
A sudden shift of weight made Gina look down at her own tail, where Asrea had suddenly materialized. Great, she thought, the bait decides to land on me. Asrea pranced up and down Gina's tail, making faces at the harpy.
"You . . ." Savra responded, pointing a wing at the sprite. "you are going to be bird-food one of these days."
Then the harpy realized what Asrea was standing on, and the anger melted away into a look of surprise as she stared at Gina.
"So this is where you ended up. Figures. The Doctor was pissed when you got past his wards in the pool, you know.
He'll be even less happy when I tell him that you ended up in this mare's harem," the harpy gestured vaguely at Sarah, which sent a blush of pure anger to the centaur's face and breasts.
"Savra," the centauress growled. Gina glanced at the others ... Melissa thoughtful and slightly apprehensive, Jacqueline with interest and a faint smile, Asrea scurrying up Gina's tail to peer from behind her shoulder.
"The day of reckoning is almost here, Sarah," the harpy said with a faint cackle in her otherwise bell-clear voice.
"You and your dike friends won't be able to stand up against Dee and you know it. After that . . . revenge will be mine!"
Savra spun around and stared straight at Gina. There was madness in the harpy's eyes, madness that completely belied the beautiful frame in which it was set. Unthinking, Gina pushed herself back under the weight of that stare. "Don't get involved, H'earna. Don't let them corrupt you with their lies. Come back to the castle with me, and Dee will restore you to what you were before."
Gina's heart jumped. Restore her back? He could? She started to reply, but then noticed Melissa's almost imperceptable shake of her head. Would he change her back if he could? She looked back at the harpy, then she LOOKed at her with that curious sense she had used on Sarah before. What she saw sickened her . . . it was as if Savra's whole being was riddled with corruption and maggots of hatred and madness.
"No, I think not."
For a moment, the harpy seemed to be on the verge of exploding, then finally she just shrugged.
With that, Savra took off in a flurry of feathers, though not before buffeting Sarah on the way out. Gina watched with relief as the large woman-bird became a dot on the horizon. Everyone seemed to sigh a bit at that, and Gina noticed that Jacqueline was quietly sheathing long claws that had come out a few moments before. Sarah was visibly shaken, and walked away from the others for a few minutes to regain her composure, and the fairy half walked-half phased over to comfort her.
"Well, it looks like you've been welcomed by the whole family," Melissa said, coming over to Gina's side. "Be careful of Savra. Jacky there may act a little odd sometimes, but its mainly just an act -- Savra isn't human anymore.
Melissa stared out at the water, "A man stumbled onto the land one time, lured in by Savra -- she was more human at that time, at least physically. She looked more like an angel then, from what I've heard -- some wicked claws on her feet, but otherwise pretty human, other than her wings. Anyway, none of us knew about the man, not until the day that Sarah stopped by Savra's lair not knowing she was at the castle. She found the man, or at least what was left of him. Savra had bound him with magic, and then began eating him while he was still alive. Savra returned about then, and Sarah was so disgusted that she did . . . something to her, changed her into her present form; I had thought at the time that only Dee had the power to change people, but Sarah apparently can do some of it too. They used to be lovers at one time . . . hell, I think we've all been lovers with Sarah at one time or another; she can be very passionate, and very mercurial.
"Watch out for all of us, Gina . . . Sarah can be a good friend, but there's more to her than she tends to show.
Jacqueline has become feral, and while I don't think she'll ever forget her human half, she often doesn't realize how dangerous she can be to others, even inadvertantly. Asrea looks human, but I think that's more for our convenience than hers. I think she actually is fae, myself. She's never told anyone where she came from, and I've had evidence that she is in some way tied into the existence of the land itself, though she's never told me directly."
"And you," Gina asked. "Are you dangerous?"
"Ah, good, my dear, you are learning. Yes, I am dangerous, though perhaps not as much as you are. Too much of the school marm in me to do little more than rap little girl's knuckles with rulers."
"Were you a teacher?"
"Yep, math and chemistry in a little high school in glorious Issaquah, Washington. I came here in 1962; and have been twiddling me hooves ever since."
"How . . . how did Dee change you?"
"Huh? Who did?"
"I did . . . and you did too, even though Dee might have made you think otherwise. This is a primal land, a piece of the original Eleisharda, and those with the blood find their elemental nature coming out. Dee's tried on ocassionally to transform people, but if they don't have elemental blood, the changes drive them mad. I think that's what happened to Savra. She had a little bit of elemental blood, but not enough, and when Dee transformed her he botched it. He made her what he thought she should be like, not what her elemental spirit truly was."
Melissa stared over at the centaur and the fairy, now conversing quietly themselves.
"I think," Melissa said, "that Sarah figured out how to finish the process. She made an error in judgement. She thought that once Savra's elemental nature was freed she'd lose her madness. She should have killed the damn bird instead, right there on the spot..."
Melissa's face grew dark, her eyes staring off in the direction the harpy had fled. Toward the castle, if Gina didn't miss her guess. This whole affair was getting uglier and uglier, and Gina began wondering if maybe she wouldn't be better off trying to escape this accursed little land than get enmeshed in the politics here. A wave rolled up around her, its tug insistent as the retreating water splashed across her tail and swirled around her breasts.
The centauress finally looked over to her, grimaced, and walked through the gritty sand to where Gina lay. Gina glanced past the centauress to the cat-woman, who had been curled up in a position that was very reminiscent of her parents cat in Peoria, the kind of pose that looked lazy until you realized how quickly the cat could be up and moving. With that same speed and grace Jacqueline was up and moving, following the centaur's lead but not Sarah's path; every move she made seemed to assert to Gina Jacqueline's independence. Fixated by the sphinx, Gina lost Sarah's first words.
"...thinking that we should act quickly. Savra's undoubtedly returned to her master by now, which means that Dee will have a pretty good fix on all of us. Unless I miss my guest, Gina's display of power last night probably rocked him out of bed . . . he doesn't take kindly to others usurping his power, especially this close to Beltaine.
"What's that?" Gina said. "Beltaine.
"In the old Celtic calendar," Melissa began, interrupting Sarah as she was about to answer, "Beltaine was one of the high holidays, a night of power and magic and transition. It was the day that the Celtic mother goddess gave birth to the god; because of that it's a time of incredible potency for starting new things, such as the conquest of the world."
Sarah picked up the thread, "Dee has been trapped on this little floating world for nearly five centuries now. He can't leave the land . . . if he so much as sets foot outside of the sphere of power he ages and turns to dust.
"He was imprisoned originally because he tried to take over England by magick and intrigue, and if it weren't for Elizabeth's intervention, might well have managed to pull it off. As queen of the faerie hosts -"
"Queen of the what?!" Gina thought that Sarah was pulling her leg, or her tail, or whatever.
"Her mother was nobility among the faerie, and when Elizabeth assumed the throne she challenged the former queen of the Sidhe to a Duel Arcana and won. For a while, though most mortals didn't know it, England was truly united among both humans and fae."
"What do you mean, fae?"
Sarah looked at her strangely, then muttered something about poor education. Melissa smirked.
"Don't let that old mare get you down, "the satyress said, settling down besides Gina. "None of the rest of us knew anything about the faerie realm beyond the distortions of our time. First of all, forget about little winged people flitting from place to place --"
Asrea started to stand up, her wings buzzing angrily.
"Present company excepted, of course," Melissa said, trying to placate the sprite. The small winged woman folded her arms over her breasts and dropped back down, clearly miffed. "The Faer folk are old, perhaps older than humanity. They are the embodiments of magick and nature and power, and every culture has had some experience with them."
"Are we fae? " Gina asked.
"Sort of . . . we're hybrids; we all have mixed human and fae blood within us. I seriously doubt that there are many true fae left anymore." Gina's head was spinning, but she still hadn't found an answer to her basic question -- "So what's this have to do with Dee?"
"Well, in simple terms,"Sarah said," if Dee can't bring the horse to the water, he's determined to bring the water to the horse?"
"All right," Gina said, sitting up. Asrea pitched into the air and settled back down on Gina's tail. "That is certainly simple enough. It also makes absolutely no sense whatsoever."
Melissa suppressed a chuckle. "What she meant to say was that Dee wants to extend this land over the rest of reality. In a world where magick rules, the one with the best understanding of magick rules most completely." "So what happens if he does that?" "We don't know. Maybe nothing at all; maybe the end of the earth as we know it."
Gina was beginning to get a headache.
"Look, I can maybe buy the idea that this tail,"Gina waved her tail fin emphatically, "may be somehow 'magical', but other than the rather curious shape we find ourselves in I haven't seen anything remotely magical in the last two days. I have no clue what you're talking about when you talk about magic."
"Magic-k,"Sarah corrected, putting special emphasis on the final k. "Magic is what a stage magician does, and is mostly slight of hand. Magick, on the other hand, is the bending and shaping of the laws of physics. In a large universe, such as the one where we all came from, it takes a lot of energy to change the laws; around black holes for example, or near the edge of interface bubbles like this one. We're in a tiny universe, one measured in kilometers rather than light years. It's much easier to change the universe here."
Sarah swept her arm toward a tree at the edge of the beach. Inside her head Gina could feel a tingle which grew into a powerful, slightly irregular pulse. She watched as the tree turned translucent, a glass version of itself, the leaves little green veined stain glass jewels, the trunk a darker, turbulent brown. The tree was incredibly beautiful, and yet somehow there was something terribly wrong about it. The beating within her head grew louder and uglier, more insistent and less defined.
Sarah's look of smug haughtiness vanished as she studied Gina's troubled face. "What's wrong, Gina?"
Gina struggled within herself to describe the dread. It hurt, like something deep within her was suddenly turning foul and corrupt. "Tur--..turn it back, Sarah! Now! You have to turn it back!"
"What are you talking about? It was a simple -- "
"Sarah!" Gina screamed, the pain erupting into a near-physical pummeling.
Melissa was the first to notice how the translucency of the tree was shifting to the color and consistency of mud, getting darker and more ominous every second. The sky around the tree had changed as well, the cloud cover taking on a greenish, evil cast that seemed most intense directly above the group, whipping the air into a bitingly cold frenzy.
"He's gating it! Goddammit! "Melissa yelled into the wind. Gina could barely stare at the tree anymore -- it was blindingly black, a silhouette of itself, and the stench of corruption was so string in it and within her that it was all she could do to push herself into the waves.
Something came out of that silhouette, a thing as black and evil as the doorway it had emerged from. Gina Sensed it, and immediately regretted it as the thing's attention suddenly shifted completely to her. It was vaguely man-like, as if someone had taken a shadow and brought it into the third dimension, but the hatred that she felt like a lance was far outside the bounds of anything human.
Distantly she heard someone screaming, "Gina, swim for it!", but moving was impossible. The thing would have her soul, it informed her through a telepathy of pure bile, and she was powerless to stop it. Inexorably it moved down the beach, its footprints blackened glass and Gina could do nothing to stop it.
Asrea, on the other hand, was under no such constraint. She flew off Gina's tail and floated halfway between the mermaid and the shadow-thing, completely undeterred by the hulking size of the monster. Then she began to glow, brighter and brighter, the light coming from her making even the walking shadow seem insubstantial.
"Run!" came a voice within Gina, a voice that seemed to bypass any rational thought and drove deep into that most primitive of animal instincts -- the urge to flee. Flee she did, jumping into the water and pounding against the waves with her whole body, struggling only to get away.
Chapter 6: Calling
"Oh God," Gina thought as she surfaced. Every muscle in her body ached, though she suspected that it was nothing like the way it would be aching in a day or so. She had never been so truly frightened in her life. She wasn't sure how long she had swam, though the sun had drifted considerably closer to the horizon than she last remembered it being. Worse, there was absolutely no land in sight...anywhere. The waves were large here; not quite the deep-sea waves that she'd heard about, but certainly large enough to move her ten feet or more into the air. She struggled to remember rules about line of sight -- something from grade school about the horizon being about twelve miles if one was at sea level. So she was at least twelve miles from shore, assuming that the mysterious land hadn't just up and disappeared on her. At least the damn headache was gone.
Gina copyright 1996 by Kurt Cagle.
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