“Well, that was a complete waste of time,” Taylor said. “Do you know why the Knowing One used an illusion instead of a transformation when he came to see the portal here in the women’s quarters?”
“Um, I thought we’d decided that was because he’s a wuss?”
The Other Half of My Soul
Part 9 of 11
A short chapter this time; that's just how the scene breaks fell. The next one will be longer.
A little later, we slithered into Wushao’s neighborhood, accompanied by Sienpai and Shiyama. Wushao had replied with effusive alacrity to the note we’d sent by Bhavalikha. Sakhi was lying down for her nap in the nursery. With our other body, we were in the room we shared with Taylor, watching her cast another portal spell.
This one was supposed to open to another place in this same world. It would be night there on the other side of the world, and we suggested waiting until night when it would be daytime at our destination, but Taylor was impatient to be doing something. “I feel guilty about letting you two get so tangled up. I want to see if I can help.”
“It’s not a bad thing,” we said. “You don’t need to feel bad about it.”
“I’ll worry about my little brother as much as I please, thank you.”
So she opened the portal; it looked much the same as the one that had brought us to Serenikha’s world, but it opened up faster and appeared to be easier for Taylor to manage. Once it had reached full size, she said: “You go through first.”
Not without some trepidation, we slithered into it. I was moving through a tunnel for a timeless moment, and then slithering through a grassy moonlit field. We slithered forward a few yards to get clear of the portal, and looked back to see Taylor emerging from it a moment later.
Wushao was greeting us warmly, and calling for the servants to bring in the dishes. “I hope you’re not angry about the banquet?” we said.
“I know it wasn’t your fault,” she said. “It was the Tenacious One, wasn’t it? She cast a spell on Leslie, and it affected you too...?”
“It wasn’t really her fault either,” we said, though perhaps it partly was. I was distracted by the several seconds when I was only Serenikha, and couldn’t feel Leslie. Then we felt both of ourselves again, and remembered that timeless passage through the portal — which wasn’t timeless, apparently, if we could judge from how long it felt like we’d lost half of ourselves.
“Can you still feel your link with Serenikha just as strongly?” Taylor asked, after she’d looked around to make sure we were alone. As our eyes adjusted to the dim moonlight we saw that we were near a riverbank, below a cliff down which a waterfall was tumbling. We remembered the photos Taylor had shown us of her trip back in October; this might have been the same place, though the dim moonlight made it hard to be sure.
“Now, yes. But we lost contact for a few moments when we were passing through the portal.” We remembered that strange empty feeling we’d had when Leslie was passing through the portal from Yosemite to the palace baths; that must have been the same thing, though we hadn’t realized what it was at the time. (We’d felt it both as Serenikha and Leslie, but while we were separate people we’d never compared notes on that, there was too much else going on.)
“Hmm. Maybe that means you’ll separate from her when you go home. Or it could be it’s just the in-between space that affects you that way. Can you still see everything Serenikha sees, and hear what she hears and so forth?”
“Yes. She’s talking to Wushao, telling her some of what happened last night and this morning.” We were leaving out some details of how our link had strengthened, after seeing how much it distressed Taylor. Perhaps Wushao would be just as upset.
“That sounds like so much fun!” Wushao said. “I wish I could have joined you.”
“Can you turn Wushao into a pixie for a while?” we asked Taylor.
“What? — Uh, technically yes. But it might be a bad idea. I’m afraid we might be in trouble for turning Serenikha into a pixie, and she’s just the emperor’s daughter-in-law; if I change his daughter...”
“The Tenacious One would be happy to transform you, but she’s afraid your father might not like it,” we said to Wushao, and to Taylor: “She looks disappointed, but resigned.”
“So when will Leslie and the Tenacious One be going home?” Wushao asked. “Weren’t they planning to leave last night?”
“The Tenacious One didn’t want to go off and leave me in pixie form,” we explained, and asked Taylor: “So, are we going to have to wait for a magic surge and a full-sized portal?”
“I hope not. I’m going to consult with the Knowing One and the other court mages in the next day or two, and we’ll see if any of them can help out on Serenikha’s end. Or if they can swap with the Gray One so she can help. We need a mage here — I mean, back at the palace — to turn her back into a nagini once we go through. And she’ll want us to time it so she’s somewhere private when she turns into a pixie.”
“So I’ll turn into a human guy, once I’m back in low-magic territory, and then —” We suddenly realized something. “Wouldn’t our link turn Serenikha into a copy of Leslie?”
Taylor’s mouth opened in an O. “Oh, wow... maybe.” She paused. “Probably, even. The spell that’s entangled with your link would be trying to sync up your bodies, but it can’t keep you in pixie or nagini form for lack of power, so it would have to change Serenikha instead. Not all at once, probably, but over the course of a few days, like when your scales and face changed.”
“Or maybe faster than that, if our link is still stronger after I go home.”
“Maybe. Let’s get back.”
We went back through the portal spell to our room in the palace. We lost contact with ourselves for a moment as Leslie was going through the portal.
Wushao realized we were upset about something, but she didn’t know what. We couldn’t tell her what we’d just learned and how without telling her about our stronger link, and she had enough stress from her impending marriage without that.
Taylor was busy that evening and much of the next day meeting with the Knowing One and other mages at the court and in the city. She returned to our room late that evening from a meeting with the Knowing One, looking frustrated and disgusted.
“Well, that was a complete waste of time,” she said. “Do you know why the Knowing One used an illusion instead of a transformation when he came to see the portal here in the women’s quarters?”
“Um, I thought we’d decided that was because he’s a wuss?”
“Well, that too. But when I asked him if he could turn Serenikha back into her nagini self after you and I go home and she probably turns into a copy of you, he hemmed and hawed and asked me a bunch of questions about your link and the spell that’s gotten tangled with it, and finally, when I pressed him, he admitted that he couldn’t do a transformation spell. He doesn’t know how and he probably doesn’t have the power for it. And when I asked if he’d play host for the Gray One again, he refused — politely and at great length, wasting even more of my time.”
“So who else do we know who can work with the transformation spell?”
“I’m not sure. I’m going to talk to all the other mages I know or can get the Knowing One to introduce me to. It might take a few days.”
We hadn’t realized before how unusual Taylor’s power level was. Neither of the other two mages she talked with the next day could work a transformation spell. Then she went to visit a kappa called the Deep One the day after that, who agreed to try to help.
She returned to the palace with Taylor, and they sent a message to us where we were playing with Sakhi. After we’d nursed her again, and sent her to lie down for a nap, we brought both our bodies to Taylor’s room, where she and the Deep One were waiting. The Deep One was tall for a kappa, but still much shorter a typical human woman; her scales were a dark blue, fading to lighter blue at her hands and feet, and she wore a peach-colored kimono, which was soaking wet and kept dripping on the floor. She had with her a large bucket of water, and a sponge which she periodically squeezed out atop her head.
The mages drew circles around each of our bodies, and Taylor showed the Deep One the link spell.
“You see, there’s the template for the form the transformation spell is imposing.”
“I see. The princess has a template that’s identical to her natural form, and the other one — your brother? — has an identical template, superimposed on his natural form. So if we change one the other changes to match it?”
“That’s what I thought at first, but no. Look closer. I think there’s only one template; it just looks like there’s two identical ones because of the way you’re looking at it. See, if we tweak it a little, say to give her purple scales —” She did something with her staff and we felt that our scales ought to be different a few moments before their actual color changed. “Then both of them change at once. There used to be some delay, but it’s dropped over the last few days from hours to seconds and now to nothing at all. Here, you try it.”
The Deep One frowned, waved one of those big glowing pearls the mages around here seemed to prefer over staffs, and muttered an incantation. Nothing happened.
“It’s slippery,” she said. “Why isn’t it reacting?”
“What were you trying to do?”
“Change her eye color — I thought I’d start small. But the template’s not changing.”
“Show me again how you’re doing it...”
The Deep One cast the spell again, and then Taylor said: “No, you need to adjust the third and fifth lines there because of the way the transformation’s entangled with the psychic link...”
After some discussion that was over our heads, the Deep One tried twice more to change our eye color. The third time, we felt an odd not-exactly-sensation about our eyes, and moments later the Deep One and Taylor nodded in satisfaction. “That’s done it,” the Deep One said, and put down her pearl to pick up the sponge and dampen her skin. “It’s not quite the same as the transformation spell I learned from my mentor, but I think I understand it well enough now.”
“Then will you try something more ambitious?” we asked. “Maybe turn us into pixies and back into nagini?”
“Perhaps.” She looked at Taylor, who shook her head.
“We need to test out what you’d be doing after Leslie and I go home to our own world. And then — you might need to turn Serenikha from a pixie to a nagini, but more likely from a human. I suspect that once Leslie goes home, and reverts to his natural state, Serenikha will become a copy of him — like this:” and she began another spell, which turned us back into Leslie-form a few minutes later. We concentrated on the way the spell changed our self-image before it changed our bodies. We felt like there was something important there we almost understood.
The Deep One looked a little embarrassed to see us male and naked from the waist down, so Taylor grabbed a couple of robes out of one of the cabinets and tossed them into the circles for us to put on. While we did that, she and the Deep One talked about the spell, and then the Deep One tried turning us back into nagini.
This time we could feel our self-image changing earlier, a good four or five minutes before the physical changes began. And it occurred to us for the first time to wonder — could it work the other way around?
“That’s good,” Taylor said. “We don’t know for sure if it will work the same way when you’re just casting the spell on Serenikha and Leslie’s in a low-magic area in another world, but there’s no way to test that ahead of time. Shall I send you a message as soon as I know when I can open another pixie-sized portal?”
“Yes, of course. I can come to the palace any time with three or four hours' notice.”
We all thanked her, and Taylor escorted her out of the palace while we went to hang out with Shiyama and Sienpai with one body and to attend a banquet Princess Taoshai had invited us to with the other.
Later that night, after Taylor was asleep, we got out of beds and slithered over to the mirrors. There wasn’t much light, but we didn’t need a lot. We thought back to how it had felt when the mages had transformed us, and we tried to recreate that feeling — that our self-image was something separate from us, something that mages could touch and mold into another shape, making our physical body change in imitation of it. And if they could change it, why couldn’t we? Maybe it would be like our heartbeat, something we couldn’t affect directly, but then maybe it would be like breathing. We wanted to try.
“We aren’t nagini,” we said to ourselves, “not just nagini. We’re also human and male: that’s part of us too. We remember what it feels like to be that way...”
And after a few minutes of thinking that way, we started to feel something like we’d felt earlier, when the mages were transforming us. Something like, but not quite the same. No physical change followed.
Well, we could try again later.
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|The Weight of Silence and Other Stories||Smashwords||Amazon|
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