THE DAUGHTER OF DORAN

13

A Woodland Dance

 

SUMMER

Aeryalday, 26th of Highbloom, 3830 AR

Duchy of Greenwood

(10/09/2017)

            “What the hell do you mean, you ‘lost her!’” cried Queen Elliah on the intercom.
            “She’s a sneaky little ninja!” her captain told her uncomfortably. “She had climbed out of a window fifty feet down to another balcony, threw on a maid’s uniform then snuck out but only after serving Lord Deniforth properly and leaving on her shift end!”
            “I would like words with Lord Deniforth,” she replied.
            “He swears he had no idea,” said the captain.
            “She’s always been good at that sort of thing,” said Duke Vallorre on the other square in the monitor. “She even managed to get her hovercycle.”
            “Am I to understand by your nonchalant attitude that you helped her?” asked Elliah.
            “I did not,” said the duke. He was frowning at her probably due to a rather strong dislike of her overriding his authority with an underage peer under his authority. “You have to let her go, Your Majesty. She’s always been better on her own.”
            “She’s a child.”
            “She’s a sneaky grown man in a sneaky young girl’s body which is nowhere near being a child.”
            Elliah frowned at him. “Did your ‘son’ help her?” she asked.
            “Possibly but since Nathan is not with her I don’t think so.”
            “Of course he isn’t,” she replied and leaned back in her chair back on Walrus 5. She tapped her fingers on the table, her nails making clack sounds with each tap, and she stared coldly at the two boxes on her large monitor, one containing the duke, the other her captain. “Where is she then?”
            “I truly do not know,” her captain told her. “All I know is she is gone. It’s probably a good thing too since our spies tell us Cydra’s death ray has been powering back up.” His face was cold but there was very real fear in them. Elliah could see in his eyes he was not lying and knew then no one wanted to be near Veyd when that death ray powered up again.
            Queen Elliah thought she knew exactly where the girl was going and did not like it. “Please, captain, Duke Vallorre, find her. She’s more important to me than you know.”
            “Where do you think she’s gone?” asked the duke.
            “You know where she’s gone,” said the queen.
            “She would never go there. Not yet anyway.” The duke’s eyes narrowed in thought. “The tower.”
            The man was talking about his family soul blade again. “Alan had tried dozens of times over several months without success as a grown man,” said Elliah. “I put her in your protection! If something happens to that girl I will hold you personally responsible.”
            “You know damn well there has never been any way to control Alan Veyd.”
            “She is more a girl than she is that man,” said Elliah. “She could be panicking and frightened out of her wits even now as we speak.”

*          *          *

            “Fuck yeah!” Veyd cried as she went flying over the top of a hillside on her Otomo and then down at crazy speed to the slanting hill side below.
            The brown Otomo hit the dirt hill, dust flying up behind her in a burst of dust, making Veyd feel freer than ever before. She went flying through the hills above Skeleton Forest laughing hysterically as she went.
            The world was turning dark, the sun just leaving the horizon leaving the world of Corvo a bright blue with clouds of all colors of the rainbow, soon to be getting darker and darker which was always terrifying in this area.
            She didn’t dare go to the Dark Castle yet. There was something else to do. Something else she needed.
            And around that needed thing was a rather scary set of woods.
            The Golden Greatwood as it once had been called wasn’t always synonymous with death but after the curse it became literally a forest without leaves that would kill a human being who got too close. It was dangerous became some of the trees were driven homicidally half-mad from the curse and would grab a man or woman with their branches if they got to close. Being fairy trees with actual intelligence they could always a little bit but afterward they moved a lot.
            Veyd had paid the fairy owner for a lifetime pass so they didn’t hurt her back when she was Alan but there were still a few who were too crazy to listen to him and even the forest’s master didn’t know for sure which ones were like that.
            So despite assurances from the fey Alan had barely got through there alive and he had never quite gotten to his target.
            The best method was still “the path” which, for once, she was finally built properly for.
            She stopped on off the road on a small outcropping on the hillside above the forest, climbed up onto a rock, and stretched her limber legs like a cat staring out over the world. She weighed considerably less, had almost no bodily strength comparatively, but her new body found climbing that rock extremely easy.
            She could see the white clock tower sticking up above the trees in the center of that town.
            She slipped down nimbly, enjoying the ease in which her new younger form moved, got onto her hovercycle and lifted up the rope with the bright green stone with strange runes attached to it.
            Alan had that amulet on him when he was taken by Brotain and tortured. It was stripped from him and had never seen it again, not in prison, not out of prison, nowhere. When Veyd made camp the following night on the other side of the hill she woke up in the morning with it around her neck.
            She had looked around, wondering how it got there, and she saw small footprints leading up to her camp.
            Veyd was relieved to have it but didn’t feel particularly eager to use it. Alan’s successful trip, which took almost a week in and out, had been a nightmare she didn’t relish repeating and besides she wasn’t able to get what she wanted out of it.
            None of that matters now, Veyd thought. Now that I’ve got the right equipment I can just walk in and take the road.
            Veyd drove down from the outcropping she had been standing on and drove down the rest of the mountain and then straight alongside the genuinely dead and dark trees, most of which had been burned around the time of the curse. They burned because they could reach across the path.
            Beyond them were the real horror. The trees with screaming faces staring out at the world with eyes and mouths out of knotholes looking like hungry and agonized monsters distorted to huge and cartoonish proportions.
            She slowed down and looked at the burned part where Alan Veyd had crept inside. It had looked like an opening with two trees farther than most. Alan Veyd had calculated a de-facto path with scanning devices moving in, scanning around, moving farther in, scanning around again, then moving farther in again, trying to make a map until she managed to get through much but not all of the forest.
            She hadn’t understood until the end that some of the trees actually moved.
            And she had never been able to make it to the path. It had only one entrance and that was through the town.
            Veyd reached the town through the road, a few miles beyond Alan Veyd’s entrance, a road stretching west through the scary trees to a large gate. The path beyond that town lead to the Duchy of Farrister, the only good path through the forest, and they were guarded jealously by a population of around ten thousand druids.
            All female.
            On sight the village was no different than any other village, a pleasant white place with green roofs and gardens everywhere, no surprise being druidic and all, with a few office buildings, a small suburban landscape with houses, some apartment complexes in the little downtown they had, a single vertical forest built into the bottom of the clock tower with a heavy metal wall that surrounded the entire town except at the road at the back.
            If there were doors into the town on the forest side Alan had never found them and he had definitely tried.
            Veyd moved her hovercycle up to the large door design to retract into two large pillars on either side revealing a road directly through the town.
            She looked over at the entrance booth and saw the large doorway where a tall, statuesque and muscular with a sculpted face stood staring at her from an open window.
            She recalled the last time when the—

*          *          *

            —the window opened to show the muscular woman a young man grinning with all of his teeth.
            “Hi there,” said Alan Veyd.
            “How the hell did you get past our barricade?” asked the woman, her hands on her hips, her breasts revealed by the two buttons opened on her blouse.
            “I jumped it,” Alan told her and gestured to his old gray hover scooter. “Why did it come down exactly?” She looked passed him at the old motley of parts that he had put together to be shaped vaguely like a scooter but not painted and looked back. “So, I was thinking maybe—”
            “No men allowed,” she stated.
            “Oh, I see,” he replied and he looked at her sadly. “You don’t dig the cock.” Her eyes grew narrower. “It’s okay, carpet eater. I got you covered.” He leaned over, put his hand on the frame of the window, and said, “I bet I can change your mind.”
            “Do you want to die, little man?” she asked.
            “That was a joke,” he said. “Seriously, though, I do have a proposition for you.” Her eyes narrowed again. “In exchange for letting me in an using the path that is technically public—”
            “—the queen’s says no and there is a very nasty tower in the center of the forest which this path leads to—”
            “—‘Druids take no sides’ means it is technically public.” Her lips tightened and her teeth showed what looked like offense. “Yeah, I know things like that.” He gave her his best smile. “In exchange for the right to use your path forward, and backward, I am willing breed with the most attractive member of your circle—”
            He cried out when she slammed the window shut on his hand.
            “It was a joke!” he cried out laughing and turned to the window where the woman glared at him. “I more expect I’ll have to work my way down to third and fourth.”
            “I’m going to shoot you in the fucking head if you don’t get the fuck out of here!” she snarled from the other side and she whipped out a large revolver. “Piss off!”
            “Fine, I have other methods to getting where I want to go.” He started to walk. “So long Butchess of Greenwood.”
            “Fuck you, male!”
            “Weird chicks,” he said as he walked.
            If she had thought she had seen the last of Alan Veyd she was wrong.

*          *          *

            The window opened to a young woman grinning with all her teeth.
            The woman on the other side looked very similar to the one before. Actually, despite a different type hair, eye color eyes, skin and face, Veyd was almost convinced it was the same person. It was sort of possible. Aesthetically, changing race was not hard, but being young still was another story.
            But decades had passed and the woman was still young.
            “What do you want?”
            Veyd’s smile fell a bit. She sounded exactly like her too. “Uh, I’ve got a vagina, so—” she pointed “—open the gate for me, will you?”
            “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”
            Veyd’s smile remained on her face as she said, “Nope,” but her mind become more convinced than ever that it was the same person. She could just have recognized her as the countess but that wasn’t it: she was recognizing her from somewhere much farther back or so it seemed. “Been doing this long?”
            “What do you want in the Village of Goldwood?”
            “I got business down the road.”
            “Uh huh.” Her eyes looked her in a much weirder way that made Veyd feel self-conscious. “Come on in.” She pressed the button and the gate opened.
            Veyd was instantly suspicious she didn’t reject a young girl would want to go east down a road where a cursed tower was located after only one question replied with a vague answer. She got on her hovercycle and turned it on hovering up into the air as the door spread open. “Thanks Lady Manwood.”
            “My name is Manda.”
            Veyd burst out laughing, spun her vehicle a few times like a clock going backward, and faced her. “Of course it is,” she said. “Any relation to the woman that worked here before?”
            The woman’s face darkened considerably. “Why, exactly, would you ask me that?”
            “My grandfather told me he had an emergency and couldn’t get in. He described a woman built a lot like you. Was she your grandmother?”
            “Who are you?” she asked coldly.
            Veyd felt like she had made a mistake. “My name is Janet.”
            “Enjoy your stay, Janet.”
            Veyd wasn’t going to stay long. She rode into the town at casual speed, looked back to the gate closing behind her, and decided to get going fast. There were few around, several women going about their daily routines, but Veyd sensed there was something off.
            Alan hadn’t and it wasn’t just because she was a girl now and had better insight into the female gender. Alan was simply too busy trying to get through the damn place and at the craziest hours to notice anything.
            Veyd looked could see in the distant south the hill close enough to where she could glide over—

*          *          *

            —easily enough. Alan landed with a thud in the dead of night with his glider wings retracting into his back, took two steps, and heard a shriek.
            “It’s a man!” cried a voice from somewhere. She looked through the white buildings, down the alleyways, everywhere, but saw no one. “It’s a man in our town!”
            “Oh come on!” Alan cried back. “Your doorkeeper is manlier than-oh shit!” He dove out of the way as a missile went flying at him. It went flying past, went between the buildings, and exploded. “Holy shit! I’m not that fucking scary!”
            Alan saw the woman in the distance, standing in the center of the path to his right as if she teleported there, holding a missile launcher. He pointed his weapon disabling ray gun at her and she fired.
            Something happened. Alan didn’t know what it was but he sensed it. He thought he heard something, a word like on the wind, and it said “failure.”
            The gun exploded and the woman let out a shriek as she ran away on fire. Alan looked at his gun capable of breaking a gun’s ability to fire only and then back up again.
            “That’s weird,” he said and saw women appearing in all the alleys, three directions front, left, and right, with the wall behind him. “Hey it’s Mrs. Man,” he said when he saw the doorkeeper. “You are your bitches are really packing heat.” He held up his arms. “Can we talk, Butchess of Greenwood.”
            “My name is Manda,” she said she raised a rifle.
            Alan disabled it with his pistol and used his jump boots, not the kind one buys but his own creation, jumped backward up into the air, flipped, and landed on the wall, almost fell over, and looked down at them. Before he could speak they pulled out guns, almost all of them, and he leaped backward again before he was cut to pieces.
            He heard the sound of thirty people firing at where he was and saw not only the lasers and the smoke from various kinetic weaponry but he also saw lightning bolts, fireballs, ice lances and acid balls flying past him.
            He ran away but she Manda and the women of Goldwood Town had not yet gotten close to seeing the end of him.

*          *          *

            “Good times,” said Veyd. She passed the diner and decided, despite initially playing it cool and getting and burger and fries she decided against it.
            The people were weird. She supposed all mobs in some way were similar but as a girl, as someone they weren’t killing, they were acting weird. Zombielike people who acted like people but weren’t all there. They stared at her with wide eyes and dumbstruck glances.
            It was weird: druids were always weird, hippies, stoners, dreamers and all around weirdos, but they were always sociably, all eco warriors and fighters for the woods and trees. It was why there was a city against a fairy wood.
            No one else would do.
            The lack of men was stranger than it would have been otherwise. Druids never balked at gender so that alone was cause for confusion. Druid Leaders were men and women of many races.
            Being denied for not being a druid was one thing, prohibiting outsiders was a common druid trait in the more extreme areas, such as a cursed landscape, but only letting in women was weird.
            She looked at the diner and remembered another attempt that ended with him being—

*          *          *

            —picked up from the ground, shoved against the windshield of the police truck and punched across the face.
            Alan’s blood splattered across the windshield, the wig went flying and Veyd grinned with teeth the color of crimson. “Say, My Lady, did you catch the small child slapping people around. I feel that if she really put in the effort in it she might actually hurt someone—”
            The sheriff screamed and threw a fist at him while moving at him for more momentum. Alan dodged, stuck his foot out, and watched her hit a window completely off balanced. It shattered and the woman turned her head around, face covered in blood, her bright blue eyes wide with hate and near berserk rage.
            “Now, now, my dear,” Alan told her. “Something tells me you might be in a bit of a temper—”
            She shrieked, threw her fist, and he moved again. It made contact with a window and shattered it to a thousand pieces. She shrieked, eyes wide, and then threw her other fist.
            He knocked it aside, wrapped his arm around her, and held her tightly. “Nice little body on you,” he told her although she was taller than he was. “If you don’t treat me nice, I won’t ask you out.”
            Then she told him something that he would not forgot. Something that came back to him in another life.
            She told him with a smile, “This body is not as good as my last one was.” The woman was in her late thirties, maybe early forties, very healthy but with just enough wrinkles to see her true age.
            “Careful, madam, at your age you might hurt yourself.” That statement should have angered her but it didn’t. It actually amused her for some reason and Alan didn’t forget that either.
            “Did you really think,” she said as she adjusted his dress, “That you could just put on a dress, sneak inside, and we wouldn’t know it was you.”
            “I figured I’d fit right in with you and Manda the door woman.” Someone burst into laughter and she broke his nose with one hit from her left fist. “Ow!” he said and grimaced as he blinked his pain away, blood leaking down his lips and chin. “That was mean of you, Sheriff.”
            “You’re going to die here,” she told him.
            “No, I’m not,” he told her and head butted her in the face and broke her own nose. She shrieked and threw her left fist at him. He could not believe she fell for that and broke her other hand.
            “Pat Morita lives!” he cried. He saw the Earth movie the Karate Kid Part II once from a video someone brought back from the Namador cluster. He loved it although he had no idea where Okinawa was or why a master martial artist from an orient needed a teenage boy to help him deal with a half century year old problem with his family but whatever it was good fun and he liked it.
            “You little cocksucker!” the woman hissed as she held up her bloody hands.
            “Nothing I have done implies gay, except for the dress, so thank you for very much-oh shit!” He leaped over the car as several shots were fired at him. The sheriff screamed and jumped out of the way.
            “You idiots!” she screamed. “You almost shot me!”
            Alan Veyd fired back with a secret gun hidden in the sleeve of his dress, shot the three female cops as muscular as her firing at him, and ran. As he did, he dumped the dress revealing himself to be a man in a white tank top and black shorts. He charged to a wall, jumped onto a garbage can, jumped to the wall, and then slipped over the edge of the forest and leapt in.
            Several branches in front of him as he went down breaking ribs and his left arm. He landed on his back and blinked a few times.
            He swore to the gods he saw that tree looking down at him.
            But when he blinked the tree was just staring south instead of where he was.

*          *          *

            Twelve times I’ve broken into this place and they caught me every time. No security cameras, no magic was used, yet somehow they knew I was there.
            She had used a teleporter once, parachuted in, come out through a sewer after cutting the gate open underneath. They were waiting for her when she lifted the top. They couldn’t have known but they did.
            Veyd thought about the door woman. “Manda…” she whispered.
            She recognized Veyd the same way Veyd recognized her. She—
            “Damn it!” cried Veyd as she almost hit someone. She stopped in front of what appeared to be an old woman, a very old woman, but Veyd saw her outfit and suddenly she thought she knew.
            She saw the woman’s nails, bright pink, her feminine, trendy shoes, her bright blue dress cut low to show off boobs, and she knew.
            The old woman looked at her, eyes blind white and open wide, and mouthed something. There were no words but Veyd knew what she was saying. People tortured whose bodies were dead but their spirits were not had mumbled the same thing in the torture chambers under Brotain’s castle.
            “Help me,” they said.
            Veyd’s vehicle suddenly lost power even though no electronic or magical effect had touched it.
            A woman dressed as a sheriff gently pushed the elderly woman aside and stood before her rubbing her fists together. She had vibrant red hair and bright green eyes, barely visible in the growing darkness.
            “Howdy sheriff,” said Veyd.
            “Howdy Alan,” she replied.
            She jerked at Veyd suddenly, fast as a lightning bolt. Veyd threw her leg up, kicked out, and went flying off her hovercycle. The sheriff shoved the cycle at her but Veyd rolled over and stood up.
            How she shoved a vehicle like that sideways was a surprise and it caused Veyd to hesitate for a second.
            The sheriff caught her by the throat suddenly and she snarled as she shoved her into a nearby police car.
            “Looks like you really want to get in here!” the sheriff hissed at Veyd, her eyes wide and full of hate. “You got yourself a nice, tight slit good for making some easy street money but not enough to fool us!”
            The sheriff’s hands tightened like a vice and Veyd felt her vision start to blur. She kicked out at the woman but her body was like a rock. She wasn’t just strong, she was professional body builder strong, and it was like kicking at stone.
            Veyd kicked her in the groin.
            “You didn’t actually think that would—” she shrieked as Veyd sliced across the wrist with her survival knife when she was distracted. “You bitch!”
            Veyd stumbled away from her clutching her throat.
            “You’re just mad you didn’t have me when you had the chance,” she hacked out.
            The sheriff threw a punch and Veyd ducked and sliced her across the thigh. The shrieked, stumbled, and threw more hits. Veyd dodged her easily, backed up to the vehicle, and ducked one more.
            She shattered the window with her right fist, then tried to hit Veyd as she moved away with her left fist and broke another.
            “Pat Morita lives still!” The sheriff turned her head slowly, a dark red lock of hair hanging down over her hateful eye. Veyd rubbed her throat with her left and made a gesture to the windows with her knife. “I don’t know about your competency as a police officer,” she hacked out weakly, “But the Village of Goldwood will forever be safe from any pane of glass that thinks itself above the—”
            The woman tried to kick her.
            Veyd was pretty damn quick, quicker than she thought, and she ducked the leg and sliced the sheriff across the lower leg and sent her down.
            It was a surprise to find she was easier to fight that kind of woman as a skinny girl then it was as a grown man. As Alan, the sheriff had beaten her good, but as Jessica, she was almost defeated.
            Veyd held out the knife as the sheriff turned her head toward her. She turned, her hands covered in blood, and stared at her.
            Women started to approach Veyd and her jaw dropped.
            There wasn’t just one withered woman, there were dozens, their mouths hanging open with jaws dropped to almost their color bones, their eyes white, their hands reaching out, all wearing young woman clothing.
            “Help us!” their mouths cried and Veyd thought she understood.
            Men were not allowed because men were neither the villains nor the victims of the town. Women were both hunter and prey and men mucked it up when they were around.
            “You didn’t show them to me before.”
            “Well you are a woman now, Veyd,” said Manda cheerfully and when Veyd looked she was smiling. “Now you can juiced like you deserve.” She turned and Veyd heard an ugly squish sound and one of the elderly looking husks of women crumpled over one leg that grew wounds matching the ones Veyd had given Manda.
            The sheriff jerked up on unwounded legs and threw herself at her.
            Veyd reached for Talia’s light but felt something hit her hard in the head, a massive headache making her nose and ears bleed, and a word filled her mind.
            NO! it commanded in a boom of sound.
            The sheriff grabbed Veyd, lifted her up, and slammed her down onto the ground. Something broke, the survival knife went clacking across the ground, and she felt a hand grab her between the legs.
            “Where’s your cock, Alan?” The sheriff grabbed her by her hair with her other hand. “Oh that’s right, it’s in a jar on Brotain’s mantelpiece.”
            She was pulled up onto her feet by her hair, Veyd grabbed her arm for balance as she did, and was then thrown across the ground into an old truck. Shit with a boom sound and then punched in the stomach. It hurt a lot and Veyd fell to her knees onto the dirt and vomited.
            She barely felt it though, her head still ringing from whatever that voice was.
            “Good gods,” Veyd said. “That—was—so weak. Did I just get by another girl or what—”
            The sheriff grabbed her face with her healed right hand and said, “You are Cydra’s ally.”
            Veyd could only stare for a literal minute more before she said, “That’s a joke, right.” She looked back at the vehicle and then back at her. “And is that the same truck—”
            “Why else would you break in and use our path if not one of her creatures?”
            “To break the pillar?” Veyd replied with a duh expression on her face. “If I was her ally couldn’t I just get into the dark castle or the tower on the path on my own? Why would I need anything from the tower?”
            “You stupid cunt!” hissed the sheriff. “No one controls the lich!”
            Cydra must have known of them and, although they weren’t her allies, they were using the pillar for their own benefit which made them reliant on her in some way or another. They might proclaim the Gray Queen their enemy but they’ll fight to protect her pillar with their lives.
            And she suspected they were, like a certain priest she sometimes dreamed about, completely insane.
            Nobody who played in such levels of the magic of creation remained sane for long.
            Veyd felt the needle enter her neck and remembered the time Alan came in with a tranquilizer gun. She looked up at Manda as she stabbed her while the sheriff held her down, both smiling, and said, “Learned from the best, I see.” The smile went right off her face. “Good times.” She fell to her knees.
            “Goodnight Alan,” said the sheriff.
            Veyd stood up, felt herself losing consciousness, and fell backward onto the truck. “Thought I lost you there for a moment,” said the sheriff.
            The world began to swim out before her. “Eeeeeye caaaaaaan taaaaaake aaaannnnythiiiing yoooouuu gooooot…”
            The sheriff wrapped her hands around her neck, started to squeeze, and said, “Liiiiittlllle giiiirlll, yoooooou dooooon’t—” Veyd let herself fall asleep just avoid hearing whatever it was she was saying.

*          *          *

            She awoke standing up in the woods.
            “Wow, gee, golly that was weird,” said Veyd. “I have no memory what happened, I’m in the woods, and its dark out. I bet that’s very good at all.”
            That part of the woods was different than the rest. It was alive, full of vines and green and all that but Veyd could sense something was wrong and ugly about it. The trees were not willing players in whatever it was that made them that way and they repealed from the center circle she was in like a human with his feet trapped on the ground would a steaming pile of feces.
            There were women around her dressed in green leaves and brown bark cut low on their bodies, sleeveless, legless, and highly sexualized. All of them, all thirteen of them, had long beautiful hair, gorgeous faces, large breasts and hips, and were sexier than most women ever were.
            The chaos number, she thought. That can’t be good. She reached up, felt tears in her eyes, and looked at the one she sensed was the leader. “Did you make me cry?” she asked.
            “There you are, Alan,” the leader said as she looked down at her.
            “You’re eyes,” said Veyd softly. They were silver-ish like Wyienne but also yellowish like him. Like the priest. “I ought to have known Wyienne the Insane was part of this.”
            The woman’s face darkened. “Wyienne Forne has no part in me or mine,” she told them. She was beautiful too, very dark skinned, with hair with large curls, large breasts, wide hips, and strong hard muscle. Her dress, made of green leaves and twigs, was shamelessly lower than the others, as low as could go over the large breasts without revealing the nipples there.
            It looked like a court to Veyd with her as the highest lady not to be outshined by her ladies-in-waiting.
            “What about Honovan?” asked Veyd.
            The woman blinked as if hit, her black, heavily curly hair swinging around the sides of her head as she shook it. “How do you know about him?”
            “I know lots of things,” she replied. “What did he promise you? I can assure you he can’t deliver her. He’d fool you, because he believes what tells you is true, but believe he me he is insane as Wyienne or even more so.”
            Her lips tightened and Veyd saw that she had touched on something delicate.
            “Do you know my name?” asked the silver-yellow eyed woman.
            “Dezmaria,” said Veyd. “You are Dezmaria. Apprentice to Calyne and Wyienne.” Alan had heard of some druidic psychopath back in those early days of the curse kidnapping people, men often as well, and Veyd supposed it could only be her.
            “Very good,” said the woman and she smiled with her stolen face. “It’s unfortunate it’s come to this. Unfortunate what Cydra had done to Doran, don’t you think, Alan?”
            “My name is Jessica now.”
            “Alan, Jessica, John, James, Martin, Kyle—” Veyd winced at the last one “—yes, I know that one tooo. I am, after all, a druid. We can see through many of the years into your past.” She frowned. “You’re a rare one, aren’t you? I can’t seem to see why you’re so interested in this. Why you care.” She tilted her head. “That’s what caught Cydra off guard. She had never really understood why you would do it. Especially after your success in the Short Belt. I have to admit, having the queen humiliate you was a brilliant move. Cydra, or myself for that matter, never suspected you to be her supporter.”
            Veyd felt her throat which felt oddly good and shrugged. “Why do you care why I care?” She started to summon Talia’s light when Dezmaria stared into her eyes and made the piercing power in her head again that had hurt her the last time she tried it.
            Blood poured from her nose and ears but she only stopped when Dezmaria said, “You’ll be shot if you try and use Talia’s light on us again. I can’t risk it.”
            Veyd looked back and saw the pistols in Manda and the sheriff’s hands. “Not very druidic.” There was a rule that in ritual circles technology and a dictionary worth of other things were not allowed because they were corrupt the ritual.
            And Veyd knew very well she was in a druidic ritual circle. The trees connected to it were a strong indication.
            Veyd looked over at the women, all way too perfect, if not built like body builders they were built like fitness queens, all tight bodied, perfect women with model faces and perfect skin. Druidic powers did not make a person any more or less beautiful so it could not be a coincidence.
            They were draining women like Wyienne the Insane and letting them wander ninety percent dead through the streets in hag bodies. “Okay,” said Veyd. “What now?”
            Dezmaria’s smile went huge as she grinned with all her teeth and Veyd’s body jerked suddenly. “You should have used the light while you had the chance, fool!” Veyd felt her right arm shoot out one way and her left leg the other in something like a dance. “The female body is my terrain!”
            “It’s Wyienne’s,” Veyd told her and she was suddenly spinning around, arms and legs moving her about on their own. It was jerky at first but within moments it was graceful, feminine dancing at almost professional level. She was dancing druidic ballet, a combination spell and dance, the ending of which could not be good. “This is different.”
            “What a fine and limber body that is,” said Dezmaria. “How is it you got to keep your memories past thirteen and still be in the realm of natural magic? I’d like to know that.”
            “I don’t know,” said Veyd honestly. The others were doing something to and she was dancing harder and faster and quicker.
            “When you run out of strength I’m going to take that body from you,” said Dezmaria. “That face, that gorgeous face, and that untouched vagina: oh it is so wonderful.” She shook her head. “Gods, that body grown will be the great beauty of the world. The first white body I’ve had since my first.”
            “I don’t think that’s possible,” said Veyd. “Talia’s light ought to make that rather hard, don’t you think?”
            “The dance done this way willing unlocks the spirit,” she said.
            “I’m not willingly doing anything.”
            “It won’t matter as long as you do the gestures.” She grinned in that toothy way again. “You’re not in the realm of the natural now, you understand?”
            “I think it will matter,” said Veyd honestly. She was dancing almost into the air and said, “Talia’s light effects all unnatural magic. You might as well be fucking with a priest of Vaeldaryio.”
            All humor left her face. “Then I’ll kill you and if you mention that name again and I’ll do it slowly.”
            “Now that I believe,” Veyd replied. She fought against whatever was happening but her body continued to dance and not resist even slightly at her commend. Something was connecting to her from the trees, the unwilling players in this corrupted druid queen’s game, and she then floated up into the air felt herself shifting away from her body. It was a sense of going numb of which Veyd suspected was her spirit leaving.
            As she was lifting into the air her clothes unraveled themselves, untying her boots shoes, her belt, her short, and flying off in a flourish of ripping fabric. She was naked for an instant in the air, moonlight from the Living Moon shooting down, and the crowd gasped happily at what they saw.
            “She’s perfect,” said one of them.
            “She’s mine,” said Dezmaria.
            The clothing of a druid wrapped around her, grass, leaves, bark and vine, wrapping around her as she spun, and then she came down, she was in a graceful pose that Dezmaria found amusing.
            “You’re being forced to eject your own soul from your body,” said Dezmaria. “I’m going to inhabit it next. I’m going to take its virtue away first with a man in a nearby town—”
            “You need therapy,” Veyd told her and then felt the amulet still around her neck and knew they could not see it. They could not see it because they were not allowed to see it.
            It was starting to glow which was caught her attention.
            Ah shit, it’s druidic, thought Veyd. That goofy gnome did a swifty on me.
            Something, she did not know what, slipped into her when her bodily departure moved to a point where there was an opening big enough to do so.
            The dance shifted brutally, the others aside from Dezmaria forcibly turning abruptly in their own dance and so viciously there were multiple crack sounds in the air.
            “This can’t happen,” said Dezmaria in a stunned voice and when Veyd’s head went up on its own accord Dezmaria saw something she hated. “You!” she hissed.
            “Me,” said a voice through Veyd’s mouth.
            “Don’t you think it’s a little crowded in there?” asked Dezmaria. She tried to sound strong but Veyd heard fear.
            “I do,” said the voice. She had an accent, a feminine quality about her that Veyd did not possess in the slightest, and she danced up to Dezmaria calmly, easily, and very gracefully, Veyd seeing light of pure gold following her movements, the sign of a druid dancing through Talia’s light. “You betrayed your High Mother and the Voice.”
            “You sat on power and did nothing with it!” hissed Dezmaria. “You wasted opportunities and threw away time and purpose for some false wasteful deology—”
            Veyd shot out Talia’s light from one hand when it pointed at her. She was somehow on her possessor’s same page and Dezmaria shrieked as the sunlight shot at her.
            She jerked away viciously as she charged away hitting one of the other druids as she dived past her.
            The hit druid let out a shriek and Veyd watched her shrink. She went from a full grown athletic woman to a pretty fifteen year old teenager in an instant, her breasts, hips, bones all shrinking as her skin smoothed out. The muscles on that deputy withered at cartoon level, like water from a hole in the bottom of a bucket.
            “Where am I?” cried the girl. “Where is my mother?”
            Veyd dropped the light, it was hard to hold, and as Dezmaria was running away, her possessor took control of her legs and ran after.
            Dezmaria leapt out of the healthy trees into Skeleton Forest and Veyd’s body chased afterward.
            Something was broken in the circle and Veyd could feel it somehow. She very much wanted to look, to see the woman groaning as their bodies slowly withered and changed, but her head wouldn’t turn.
            They were already dead: unless they had body that was truly theirs to go to everything that had happened to those bodies would be undone and their owners returned.
                                                               
*          *          *

            “It’s over, Dezmaria,” cried Salih as they ran
            “It’s over when I say—” a tree moved its branch down, hit her in the chest, and sent her backward, her feet flying up over her head. She used her power to transfer the damage to another girl husk and was up in an instant. “I killed you!” she hissed. “I—” she wrapped her arm around her body and resisted the change but with great pain.
            “Talia’s light has touched your circle,” said Salih. “There is no turning back. That girl will be returned to herself and you must face the consequences.”
            “Jessica Veyd is not the Daughter of Doran,” said Dezmaria in horror. She let out a groan as the pain engulfed her but she resisted, her body staying the same. “I killed you, Salih! You’re dead!”
            “I waited for you. I went into your dreams and tried to talk you out of this. I’m sorry I failed.” She hesitated, feeling the body she wore wrapped in druid clothing of her time that her former apprentice thought it amusing to dress her in, and said, “He’s coming.”
            Somewhere, in what felt like a very far away distance, the roar of a very large dragon could be heard.
            “I can kill Talia’s champion,” she said. “I would have if not for you!” She sneered toward the short figure in the shadows. “Or him!” she added with an angry point.
            Billy Brown Boots, the gnome master of the Golden Greatwood, stood in the dark with small cigar in his mouth wearing an expensive tailor made dark brown suit and tie. He said nothing, a handsome short man of maybe four feet in his human form, watching her without pity or joy.
            It was to him that she gave the amulet before she died and just in case. Just in case turned out to be completely correct and the gnome gave the amulet to Talia’s champion when he appeared.
            “It’s time to go,” said Salih. “I will lead you to Him and speak for you if I must. I know power is corrupting—”
            “He won’t listen to you!” screamed Dezmaria and there was real fear. “The Dragon of Hell listening to a mortal’s advice—”
            “It would be for your benefit that I speak.” The roar came again and significantly closer. “Vaeldaryio is not without pity—”
            “You broke our circle and you didn’t do it like you believe a Druid Queen should! What make you think he’ll be kind to you?”
            Salih felt the young body she wore and guilt entered her. It was so different than her true body, the tanned skin and dark curly hair of the fire hands with her curved hips and large breasts. Using another’s body was no way for her to deal with her apprentice. No way for her to fix her own mistake.
            But there was no choice. The gnome had only one answer for her and she had no choice but to follow through on it.
            “You could not have kept him at bay forever and punishment only gets worse in time,” she told her. “The Dragon will understand. He is the God of Justice too.”
            The roar came again and was closer still, at least halfway from where he began to where they were.
            “I’m sorry, Dezmaria,” Salih said sadly and tears ran down the girl’s face. “I’m so sorry.”
            Dezmaria was always a sad, insecure girl. That was how it always started. Cydra preyed upon those kinds of girls and seduced them with their dreams, with the potential of happiness, the kind that came with beauty and power.
            “The poor women of the town—”
            “Belong to me!” shrieked Dezmaria. She tried to move but her leg cracked and the muscles in it that she had made so strong and powerful withered in the leg she had tried to use. She looked at it in abject horror.
            The roar came predictably closer and both winced at the sound. It would have made their ears bleed if they heard it in the same realm as their bodies.
            “He’s coming for me and it’s because of you! You did this to me!”
            “You should have let Kyle hit you with the light. He would still have you but it wouldn’t be drawn out—”
            “I’ll take you with me!”
            “I have no intention of staying here, Dezmaria,” Salih replied sadly. “I died a long time ago but I will come with you. I can come and go from the Dragon’s realm as I please as I will not be one that is imprisoned there.” She held out her hand again. “I still see the little girl who no one loved. I still see the lost child I tried to make strong. Cydra did this too, Cydra and Wyienne but mostly Cydra, and the Mad Priest and—” she smiled sadly “—I think the Dragon may be kinder to you than you think.”
            She pulled out a dagger, raised it, but the arm began to shrink. The muscles withered in her arm as it got smaller and the rest of her body started to follow. She let out a scream, clutching her stomach, and stared down at her breasts. They began to shrink with the rest of her body and she began to cry. “No!” she cried. “Damn you, Salih!”
            “I know why you wear the skin of foreign women,” Salih said. “You were a woman of the white race when Alan Veyd came, a black woman now, and an oriental in between.” She looked at Salih with the silver-yellow eyes which, although beautiful, meant she was a perversion of the natural order. “Accept your place—”
            She was getting younger, turning into a child, her hair turning into the much more curly hair type of most black people, the one thing she kept that had been originally her own: hair with large curls.
            The dragon roared one last time and both of them clutched their ears and screamed at the sound of it, the ground seeming to shake with it as it came. Then, when it was done, everything had become very silent.
            Salih saw someone standing behind Dezmaria but it looked like a man. She frowned and saw that he did not really look like a man, that was just what her mind was telling her, and beyond was something wondrously terrible to be hold just visible in quick flashes. A dragon the size of a mountain, a country or even a planet.
            The man looked like her people because that was how she saw him depicted in human form, a man of maybe fifty, a master of justice, the perpetual judge of experience, dressed all in black with a dark black beard touched with gray, tanned skin lined with years of good justice, and dark hair combed backward.
            “Dezmaria,” he said softly and the woman in a mostly girl’s body looked up at him in horror. “It’s time to go,” he said.
            He did look at her with some degree of pity because if Salih understood the true nature of the monster behind that stolen face so did he. She supposed then and there that he would never have been the second God of Justice if he did not understand the great needs that drive mortals to do as they do and the differences between one driven by pain and the other ambition.
            He pulled the spirit away from the body and Dezmaria’s true form, ghost like, was outside of the body in the form that it had last been: a middle aged ugly woman with dull brown hair with large curls, dull eyes, pale blotchy skin with no sexuality to speak of. Salih could see her sitting at the dances still staring around waiting for boys to talk to her who never came. She could see her crying when boys or girls mocked her, weeping and cutting her arms and legs and trying to get her emotions under control. A poor, unhappy, unintelligent girl just smart enough to know she could never be smart enough to dazzle someone with her brilliance nor pretty enough to ever dazzle them with her looks yet combined with a desperate need for love that her parents had denied her when they abandoned her at a druid village on some journey somewhere with prettier sisters she was just old enough to remember.
            Dezmaria looked at the God of Justice’s face, saw something there that was kind and burst into tears. She threw her arms around him and wept and he held her with one hand, looking solemn and a little sad, but, as expected and eternally always, with that committed look of a being someone willing to do exactly what needs doing absolutely regardless of feelings, and then he held out his other hand for Salih.
            “You too,” said the Dragon of Hell.
            “I know,” said Salih. She took his hand and the body she had slipped down as she left it behind. Vaeldaryio smiled genuinely kindly at her, took the hand up to his lips, and kissed it with a smile.
            Then he took her, and Dezmaria, beyond the veil where no one living could ever remember.

*          *          *

            “What the hell just happened?” asked Veyd with wide eyes. She looked around the hospital room and then back to the nurse who looked like she was about twenty eight and rather pretty. “You. What just happened?”
            The nurse looked at her with a kind of deep lovingness that surprised her. She reached down, touched her forehead with one hand, and asked, “Are you okay?”
            “Hell no! That sucked the dragon’s nut sack! What the hell happened out there after I was ridden like pony?” She remembered chasing Dezmaria into the dark and then there was nothing: a solid blank.
            “You saved us,” the woman told her sweetly.
            “Technically I think Salih saved you.”
            “The druid?” she sounded confused. “She’s been dead since the curse started.”
            “Yeah, she was dead when I met her too,” Veyd replied and she stood up wearing a white robe, her hair hanging down around her eyes with both, as a wonder, the same she last seen them as.
            The nurse smiled and kissed her in the cheek. “You were found out into the woods and our children carried you back to us. We can leave the town now, go anywhere now, free of the monster Dezmaria.”
            “Oh. Okay.”
            “Countess Valenforte,” she began. “You’ve been offered—”
            “No, no, no—”
            “But yes!” she said happily. “You’ve been offered the ladyship of the city and your guardian has accepted it on your behalf!”
            “That evil bastard!”    
            “The Duke of Vallore happily accepted our request for you as our lady and now we’re part of the Valenforte lands.”
            “Yippy,” said Veyd blandly. Now the old man controls the road east, she thought. That ought to make him happy. “Are any of you druids?”
            “No,” she replied. “They were all killed except the thirteen you encountered, Dezmaria being their leader, but most of the people in town weren’t druids to begin with. Mostly rangers who served the druids as protectors and providers. She killed all the men but left the women and collected new young women when she found them on the road or in the nearby villages.” She smiled suddenly and said, “When you defeated her—” she hesitated “—somehow the owners of the bodies returned to their vessels and turned back into children and young again even though it’s been years. We’re all back and none of us can remember anything past that first time she messed with us.”
            “That’s what happens when an unnatural spell is broken. Everything goes back as if nothing happened. It doesn’t work if they died, though.”
            “Yeah,” she said sadly. “We noticed.”
            “They’re all gone then,” Veyd said.
            “We’re not sure but we think they are.”
            “It’s not a question. If their original bodies aren’t breathing then they are gone.”
            “Then they are gone,” she whispered and let out a breath of air. “Oh hey, now that you’re awake, someone is here to see you.” She opened the door to reveal a familiar man sitting in a chair across the way. He sat up and stepped inside.
            “Hey captain,” said Veyd uncomfortably.
            The captain walked up to her unhappily, pulled out a glasses video feeder from around his neck, put it over her left ear, and formed a monitor formed over her left eye revealing a very familiar angry face.
            “What the hell were you thinking?” shrieked Elliah. The captain took the nurse and led her out of the room.
            “It was supposed to be a breeze,” Veyd replied. “I didn’t know the place was run by a psychotic druid dabbling in unnatural magic. I thought it was just a vagina only club.”
            “And what then? You would take the road through the forest to that tower and then what?”
            “There’s something I need in there,” she told her.
            “Oh is that why you were crossing through Skeleton Forest?”
            “Yeah," Veyd replied. "It wasn’t because I wanted to take selfies with the skeleton knight guarding it.”
            Elliah frowned at her. “You think you’re funny, don’t you?”
            “Yeah, kind of, although that wasn’t very funny.”
            Elliah frowned deeper and stared intensely at her. “We’re going to have a long talk about this.”
            Elliah had liked Alan Veyd quite a bit but she had never stopped him from doing anything stupid so something was up. She had grown shockingly attached to Jessica Veyd as well but with added worry over her person despite the fact they were the exact same person.
            “If we must,” Veyd replied.
            It was going to be a long day.

 

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