Taylor looked so worried and guilty that I had to give her a hug. “Come on. We can’t do anything until we talk to the Gray One, but for now, you need to relax. How about a game of — Tag! You’re it.”
The Other Half of My Soul
Part 7 of 11
The next morning, Taylor told me how she had talked with the Gray One and gotten an updated estimate for when we could go home. And “home” it would be: there’d probably be a small magic surge around Mom and Dad’s neighborhood in a couple of days, roughly simultaneous with small surges in hundreds of other, less convenient places. “I’ll aim for the backyard,” Taylor said as we slithered to the baths. “The fence and hedge mean the neighbors can’t spy on us, and the odds of a satellite looking in the right place just at the moment we come though is slim enough.”
“Maybe right under the eucalyptus?” I suggested.
“Maybe, but it’s safer to be out in the open for when we transform. If secrecy were the highest priority I’d open it into my old bedroom, but a couple of pixies expanding into full-size humans within seconds... it’s less likely to lead to injury if we’re not in a room full of furniture. Or too close to a tree trunk. And if some NSA spook does see us appear suddenly, they’ll probably think it’s a camera malfunction anyway.”
(Of course, when the Project Eeffoc documents were declassified a few years ago, we found out that certain agencies already knew about Mr. G. and the other world by this time; Mom and Dad might have been the target of their interest if we’d been spotted coming through a portal in their yard. But those documents show they didn’t find out about the portals until a couple of years later, when one of Taylor’s classmates indiscreetly opened one from a jail cell she’d been locked up in for being drunk and disorderly.)
We passed the day uneventfully, sitting around gossiping and composing poetry with Serenikha and her ladies, playing with Sakhi and nursing her, slithering around the gardens after a picnic lunch. I began to wonder how Serenikha or any of the princesses or ladies-in-waiting could stand this sort of life; I thought the monotony would get to me after a few weeks, never mind years. We didn’t see Wushao most of the day; in the evening, Serenikha went to a banquet where Wushao and Tirishu would be the guests of honor, but she hadn’t been able to get us invitations on such short notice.
Not long after Serenikha and some of her ladies left for the banquet, Taylor and I ate a quiet dinner with some other ladies who hadn’t been invited, including Shiyama and Bhavalikha. Then Taylor went to our room to talk with the Gray One, and I sat playing sientsu, a board game I’d learned the last time I was here, with Shiyama.
I did better than I expected, but Shiyama was still winning. She was about to capture sixteen of my stones in one move if I couldn’t block her; I was staring at the board trying to find a way out when Taylor rushed in.
“Heads up, Leslie, we’ve got a portal site! Ladies, it was good to meet you — good to see you again, Bhavalikha — tell Serenikha we’re sorry we couldn’t say goodbye, but we’ll be back for another visit when these portals are more reliable.”
“We can’t stay until after Serenikha gets back from the banquet?” I asked.
“No. The next opening might be after school starts back on Monday, and it might not be as good a site. This one’s perfect, right in Mom and Dad’s yard like we planned.”
“All right. Here or in our room?”
“I’ve got things set up in our room. Hurry! And — Bhavalikha, would you come along and do us a favor? Toss some of our smaller possessions through the portal after us, as long as it stays open?”
“I will be happy to oblige,” Bhavalikha said, and slithered along after us.
Shiyama followed too. “I’m stronger than I look,” she remarked.
When we reached our room, Taylor told me to slither into one of the semicircles she’d drawn, and then closed it up around me. She started working on tweaking the transformation spell. Nothing happened for several minutes, but then — a lot sooner than I’d seen any results when she transformed me the first time — I suddenly felt my tail shortening and splitting down the middle, and a strange sensation in my shoulders, and the room, furniture and people all seemed to grow hugely larger around me. I looked down at myself and twisted my head to look over my shoulder.
I had green skin like Maella’s, and a good figure, with breasts proportionally smaller than the ones I’d had as Serenikha. My hair was violet, though, and not as long as Maella’s hair had been, and my wings were a translucent green. I had a little tuft of violet pubic hair, though I thought I remembered Maella having none; but it was five years ago and I might have misremembered.
“A girl pixie?” I asked.
“We are still in the women’s quarters,” Taylor said primly. “And it won’t matter, you’ll be changing back to your usual self in a few minutes.”
“Not complaining, just commenting.”
“Hush while I transform myself. You can leave the circle if you like.”
I experimented with my wings, flapping and then rapidly vibrating them until I lifted off. I practiced flying; it didn’t seem to come quite as naturally as slithering or coiling in my nagini body, but I didn’t crash into anything. Shiyama looked at me in fascination.
Taylor took about fifteen or twenty minutes to transform herself; she first reverted to her human base form, which was quick but not instantaneous, and then changed herself into a pixie, which took a lot longer. I realized we hadn’t told Bhavalikha and Shiyama what they were supposed to toss through the portal after us; I hovered by Bhavalikha’s ear and whispered to her, and we looked through the luggage, picking out small items and ordering them from most to least valuable. It was mostly our wallets, Mom’s jewelry, and our cell phones with their dead batteries and the photos from our first few days here.
The most interesting thing about Taylor’s transformation wasn’t the startling color scheme, her cerulean blue skin, bubblegum pink hair and reddish-orange wings; it was that her mage’s staff shrank down with her, to what would have seemed toothpick size if I’d been my usual self.
“Time for the portal... Oh, good, you’ve got the luggage sorted. You can stash all the big stuff in storage somewhere until we come back.”
She made a new, smaller chalk circle for the portal spell. It was about nine inches across, and looked like one of the larger circles shrunk down to pixie-scale. When she’d been working on the portal spell for several minutes, and the tiny black sphere had appeared and was starting to grow, the door burst open, and I saw Sienpai standing in the doorway. She had a green pixie riding on her shoulder, which surprised me because I’d never seen any pixies around the court. And the pixie looked familiar somehow, though I’d never met any pixies but Maella. I realized her hair and wings were just like mine, too. The pixie took off from Sienpai’s shoulder and flew toward me, alighting right next to me on the arm of the sofa.
“Well! It looks like we’re still twins.”
“Serenikha!” I’d already known it was her, on some level, the moment I saw her. I was consciously sure of it when I heard her voice, even though it didn’t sound like her nagini-voice.
Taylor interrupted the portal spell, perhaps in astonishment at seeing and hearing all this, and the little black sphere vanished. “Oh, no! Serenikha, I’m sorry — I had no idea —”
“The Gray One didn’t warn us about this,” I said.
“Every day brings its surprises,” she said with a laugh. “And this was not an entirely unpleasant surprise. Flying is wonderful, and this unexpected transformation certainly enlivened an otherwise dull banquet. But... it could lead to certain inconveniences, perhaps?”
“I’ll change you back right away,” Taylor said. “Or — maybe I should consult with the Gray One again before I tweak the spell again?”
“You do that,” I suggested.
“And while you’re working on that,” Serenikha began; then, switching to English: “Tag — you’re it!” She lightly tapped me on the forearm and took off, zooming across the room toward the bed. I froze in surprise for a moment, then leaped into the air and buzzed after her.
We wove around the posts and curtains of the bed several times, then Serenikha broke toward Bhavalikha, flying around her and then toward Sienpai, who was still standing in the doorway. I’d partly anticipated that move, and had cut around the other side of Bhavalikha, gaining several inches on her. I caught up with her just as she tried to dodge around Sienpai’s shoulder, tagged her on the foot, and zoomed off down the hallway with Serenikha in pursuit. We buzzed over and around the heads of astonished servants and courtiers, around a couple of corridors and through an open room to a window and into one of the gardens that was enclosed within the women’s quarters. Here it seemed we’d really come into our element as we dodged among the branches of trees and shrubs, tagging and re-tagging one another until we both sank down in exhaustion on a limb of a maple, close to the trunk.
“That was fun,” I said.
“The most fun I’ve had in months,” she agreed.
“But we should probably get back to the room and let Taylor turn us into nagini again. Or give us the bad news if we’re stuck this way.”
“That might not be so bad,” she said meditatively, but then: “Oh, no! Sakhi!”
“We can’t give her much milk like this,” I conceded. “I wonder if we’re lactating at all?”
“We need to change back.”
We flew through the nearest open window and found our way back toward the room I shared with Taylor. We hadn’t quite reached it when we found Sienpai, or she found us.
“Your Highness!” she said, glancing back and forth at us.
We hovered in the air in front of her; I pointed at Serenikha and said, “She’s the princess.”
“The Tenacious One asked us to find you.”
So we returned to the room, where Taylor, still in pixie-form, was standing in a pixie-sized circle and tapping its perimeter with her staff. Bhavalikha and Shiyama weren’t there, but they returned a few minutes later; Shiyama started to say: “I searched the — oh, there you are.”
Then Taylor finished her spell and relaxed; she looked at me and Serenikha, broke the circle with her staff and stepped toward us.
“I think our pixie brains are affecting us,” she said. “It was really hard not to fly off and play tag with you two... but I made myself stay here and try to contact the Gray One.”
“And what did she say?”
“I haven’t been able to contact her. I’ll try again in an hour or two.”
“So can you change us back?” Serenikha asked.
“I could try. But — I’d really rather consult the Gray One first. There’ve already been too many unexpected side-effects from your psychic link.”
Serenikha sighed and I felt a wave of maternal anxiety. I put a consoling hand on her arm.
“Dhamarikha can nurse her for now,” I said, “and — just think of how we can amuse her in these forms!”
She smiled a little at that.
Sienpai broke in: “Does this mean that Her Highness will have to remain a pixie for some time?”
“I hope just a few hours,” Taylor said. “But yes.”
“And she transformed, away there in the east wing banquet hall, because you cast this spell on Leslie here?”
“Yes. I didn’t realize, but... I think maybe their psychic link conveyed the transformation spell on Leslie to Serenikha as well. The same thing that made Leslie change to match Serenikha made her change to match Leslie, when I transformed her just now.”
“So how would it work if we went home?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I hope you’d revert to your usual self — well, I’m sure you would if we were in a low-magic area, almost anywhere in our world just now. And I hope Serenikha would revert to her usual self... but I can’t be sure. She might be stuck as a pixie; I couldn’t risk that, so I aborted the portal spell.”
She looked so worried and guilty that I had to give her a hug. “Come on. We can’t do anything until we talk to the Gray One, but for now, you need to relax. How about a game of — Tag! You’re it.”
And I was off, with Serenikha and (I glanced back to be sure) Taylor zooming after me.
“I think we’re lost again,” Taylor said.
“We just need to get into a busier part of the palace,” Serenikha rejoined. “I’m sure I’ll recognize something.”
Our game of tag had led us through dark and dimly-lit rooms and hallways, out into moonlit gardens and back into open windows, through familiar and vaguely-familiar areas into a section of the palace none of us had ever seen. And in the disused section we were taking a breather in now, there weren’t any people to ask directions of; the last one we’d seen was an old servant who had chased us away with a broom and hadn’t stopped to listen. (Apparently, I found out later when I talked to Tiaopai, the palace kitchens had once had a problem with pixies moving in and stealing food, and some of the older servants still remembered and resented it.)
“Well, we’ll find more people around in the morning. And in daylight we can fly higher up and figure out where we are. Let’s rest until then,” I suggested. “And maybe Taylor can talk to the Gray One and figure out how to change us back, and... um... on second thought, maybe we’d better get back to our rooms before we change back.”
“Probably,” Taylor agreed, and yawned. “I left my staff behind in our room, anyway. I wonder if it grew to normal size when I got out of range or if it’ll stay that way as long as I’m a pixie...”
“Say,” I said, “we should find you another staff.”
“Because,” I said in English, “if you had two, they would be pixie sticks.”
Serenikha giggled with a puzzled expression; she felt my amusement through our link but she didn’t have the context to understand the joke herself. Taylor groaned and punched me lightly in the arm. “Being a pixie has made you entirely too silly.”
“Guilty as charged.”
After we’d rested a few minutes, we started looking for a comfortable place to sleep. We found a bedroom whose door was ajar, and curled up in a cleft between the pillows. I think Serenikha and I both fell asleep at the same moment; Taylor told me later that she had never regretted our psychic link more than when she heard our synchronous snoring.
We had shared hundreds of lucid dreams over the last five years, which were far more vivid than our ordinary solitary dreams. This one was as much more vivid than our usual shared dreams as they were than our solitary dreams.
We flew in formation through a dreamscape of shared memories, pervaded with emotions: Leslie’s panic during the pop quiz in chemistry his first week in college, feeling that he was out of his depth and would disgrace himself by flunking out in his first semester; Serenikha’s pain and anxiety when she squeezed the egg that would hatch into Osalikha from her cloaca, while Dhamarikha coached her and Bhavalikha held her hands; Leslie’s nervous excitement when he picked up Katie Sorensen for their first date, and his mortification when his aphasia kicked into high gear during dinner; Serenikha’s lust and fear the night she consummated her marriage with Pientao, who’d been temporarily transformed into a naga by the Patient One; Leslie’s numb acceptance when the Gray One told him how he and Serenikha were permanently linked...
“This is who we are,” we said.
...Serenikha’s wonder at her first sight of the Dragon Empire’s capital from the deck of her uncle’s ship; Leslie’s embarrassment when he went to school wearing barrettes in his hair and was mercilessly teased by both boys and girls; Serenikha weeping into her pillow after her father told her she must go to a foreign country, marry a foreign prince, and never see home again...
“It’s a wonder we turned out halfway sane,” we muttered.
...Leslie and his family sitting naked and unashamed around the dining table, playing Fluxx and laughing hysterically at their sudden changes of fortune; Serenikha helping the older sister she adored dress for her wedding; Leslie and Taylor watching scary movies with Uncle Dave and lying awake in the dark afterward...
“But it wasn’t all bad, was it?” we said more cheerily.
...Serenikha coiled up next to her nurse, listening to her tell stories about clever and courageous naga of old times; Leslie reaching up to touch the nose of the roan mare in his grandparents' stable; Serenikha playing hide-and-seek with her sisters in her father’s palace...
“Oh, we’d forgotten about this stuff.”
...Leslie’s delight at saying “Want supper,” to Mommy, and seeing that she actually understood him; Serenikha’s sense of accomplishment at learning to slither with her torso upright; Leslie’s frustration at walking two steps and falling on his face...
“Not much difference at this end, is there?”
...Leslie or Serenikha floating in warm darkness — an egg carefully incubated by her mother and nurses, or the womb inside his mother’s body? Perhaps it didn’t matter; our mothers' love permeated the amniotic fluid either way.
I posted this chapter early because I'll be busy tomorrow. The next chapter will probably go up on February 1.
If you've enjoyed this and the other free stories I've posted here, you may also enjoy these novels and short fiction collection -- available from Smashwords in ePub format and from Amazon in Kindle format. (Smashwords pays its authors more than other retailers.)
|The Bailiff and the Mermaid||Smashwords||Amazon|
|Wine Can't be Pressed into Grapes||Smashwords||Amazon|
|When Wasps Make Honey||Smashwords||Amazon|
|A Notional Treason||Smashwords||Amazon|
|The Weight of Silence and Other Stories||Smashwords||Amazon|
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