Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Halloween Cheer 2: Werepanther!

I was hoping to have some more parts fully written by the time this second one posted, but have been struggling with them a bit. Well, that's no reason to continue to delay the release of the one I already finished.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Halloween Cheer 1: The Special Surprise

It is finally that time of year again, and I have plans to do another series, a sort of "proper follow-up" to October Tails. I've already written the first two entries ahead of time (i.e., in September), and here's the first one now!

Monday, September 26, 2022

Battle Vixens! - 110

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Episode 110: Someone Else's Nightmare

Amp sat down against a building, leaning back on the wall. Plus stood next to Light, both of them waiting. "So uhh, are you two gonna fuse or what?" Rory asked after a moment.
"As last-minute as possible," Light said.
"It um..maintaining a fusion is kinda tiring," Plus added.
"Really? I hadn't noticed. Then again, Quinn didn't exactly do anything too exhausting and..."
"You have an unreal pool of energy to work with in the first place," Light said.

"..Anything specific I should call the fusion? Orr, tell the news about later, if that happens?"
"Uhh, sure..'Prism'," Minus said. "'Pitch' and 'Bright', if you need names for the two separate bodies for...some reason.—" "—I feel a little silly saying all of that aloud, though."
"Don't do that, own it! Cool fusions should have their own gimmicky names!"
"Sssh!" Light interrupted this conversation, pointing in a direction. All of the foxlike ears in the vicinity turned to listen that way, and heard a rush of air gradually growing in volume. Plus turned toward her and nodded; Light tried putting an arm over her in a side-hug and whispered the appropriate keyphrase, her body seemingly shifting into a brilliant white glow and entering Plus as a result. Minus's appearance changed through what seemed like a brief pulse of darkness surrounding it, and then each body had two tails and a certain mixture of traits.

Bright and Pitch alternated taking deep breaths for a moment, both looking up into the sky in the general direction of the monster's audible approach. Before long it arrived: a giant black winged shape against the sky, bringing with it a sonic boom as it passed by above. The clouds it passed by seemed to be twisted and thrown out of shape well ahead of the front of its body—pulled toward it, like it was somehow disturbing the air in front of it before it even arrived.

The first thing Prism did was grab the sound of the sonic boom as it came from above them, turning it into some electricity and sending it up through the recently-twisted clouds. Something about Ning's power and the way she used it seemed to make it easier to amplify a pulse of electricity up there rather than doing it in one's hand, and when the giant bird twisted around to come in for a dive, a flash of some ten bolts of midair lightning converged in on it, the noise of resulting thunder recycled into some accompanying flames.

By now she had a good enough idea of how it was moving so fast. Whoever it had eaten had a "vacuum" sort of power, similar to the opposite of Serra's wind blades. It used that to force air from in front of it back into it and along its wings, catching that to pick up more and more speed. Normally, a 'natural' power would have too strong of a grip over its own element for her to do anything with—but with the combined effort of Bright imitating this newly-seen power's "trick" and Pitch using the opposite of Serra's, she was able to catch the 'air-pulling' effect just after the big bird had used its power on that air and redirect most of it into a wind pushing the other way, resulting in a chaotic turbulence that made its outspread wings nearly useless. In this way, its very first attempt at a dive turned into a clumsy, twirling crash toward the ground, and Prism and Rory had to scramble to stay out of the way of the resulting rough landing.

After crashing and tumbling along the road briefly, it quickly picked itself up where they could more easily see its features. It had managed such a fast recovery in part due to having not just two, but five legs, attached in scattered places along its underside, and all ending in giant, taloned feet. It opened its wings and raised its head and screeched, its "beak" opening sideways (left-and-right rather than up-and-down) and revealing giant, razor-sharp teeth all along its inside.
"Why does it have teeth?!" Bright asked. "They always have teeth," Pitch answered. She was already busy muting its screech and putting illusions of all three of them right in front of it for it to attack while remaining on both sides of it herself, looking out for whatever it was about to do next. Rory seemed to be headed for its back, and—having quietly grabbed her husband's power—was now using that to weave up some glowing orange string into a rope.

It flapped its giant wings, sending a gust of air out in front of it with enough force to knock a car sideways, then "un-flapped" them, using the air that whipped in towards it when it did so to make a multitude of nearly invisible vacuum-blades at all different angles and locations shoot forward. The combination of these two should have sent anyone standing there flying and then immediately diced them into little cubes midair, but the illusions just sort of dove to the ground in a semi-plausible move to avoid it all.

"Oookaaaay..don't stand in front of it," Bright said quietly, bringing out a couple of swords to lightspeed herself next to a wing and slash away at it for a moment. This had the intended effect of getting its attention, and when it swept that wing to try and knock her away, she lightsped next to her other body—which was now behind it, and which was busy grabbing as many vacuum-blades as she could to convert into sonic pulses and sparks of flame going back the other way to hit the monster's center mass. What she didn't catch left some visible marks in the side of the building they hit, but not so deep as to require worry about its structural integrity...yet.

By now, Rory was apparently ready, and made that obvious to everyone by shouting. "Hey big bird!" She had..made herself a big lasso out of rope woven from the glowy-orange string, and was swinging it around over her head. The bird turned toward her because it had heard some potential prey, of course. "Sesame Street called, and they—uh..something about spelling?! I dunno! Yyah!" She threw the lasso, roping it square around the big thing's neck, and then pulled it tight and yanked it down, forcing the giant beast down onto the ground. It fought her, of course, thrashing and whipping its wings all over the place, but didn't seem to have the intelligence to just use a vacuum blade to cut her or the rope—thankfully.

Both of Prism descended on it, using some ranged weaponry and magic attacks to make its life miserable. "You had a lot of time to think about how to use that reference," Pitch observed.
"I know, I know, and I still totally choked it! Just like this guy's throat, hahaa!"
"They don't actually need to breathe, though?" Bright said.
"Yeah, and that is an affront to biology as a whole that I will not stand for! Whoop—!" At this point, the giant bird managed to thrash hard enough to snap the rope around its neck apart, and it immediately started skittering right toward Rory, snapping its sideways beak down to bite at her over and over again. Thinking fast, Prism pulled the light from around her, dropping her into the resulting shadow, and gave the big bird an illusory Rory (which rhymed, a tiny part of her brain(s) noted) to chase, having her go off to its right.

Closing the portal again, Bright appeared next to Rory. "You okay?"
"Yep! Never thought I'd be grateful to be banished to the shadow realm, though." Rory tried her hand at making a few puppets this time, seeming to visibly concentrate on doing..something before having them run off in the monster's direction. Pitch twisted some shadowy thorns up around its legs and tossed some exploding spores into its right wing, making it do another turn to the right to come after her and rip itself through the thorns in the process of trying to move.
By now the puppets had reached it, and they each grabbed one of its legs near the talon, working together to throw it end-over-end, from in front of them to behind them. Seeing what was going on, Prism took a moment to place every kind of spiky hazard she could think of where it was about to land, and it slammed down onto them at full force, hitting hard enough to make an impression in the concrete below.

"You can—" "—'gift' them your strength?"
"Yep! Quinn could do it, so I thought—why not me? It does take a little more effort this way, though!" The puppets went limp as soon as they'd finished the throw; Rory was already busy weaving herself a new lasso. The giant bird stood up and grabbed the limp puppets in two of its talons, crushing them into dust before starting to chase after another illusory vixen in front of it, trying repeatedly to catch her in its giant beak. "Hey, uh, how come I can talk now without it noticing?"
The area around them briefly darkened as Prism grabbed a bunch of sunlight, converted it into electricity, and sent it up into the clouds. "Sound magic.—" "—Muting you. Unless you want its attention?" Several lightning bolts rained down on the giant bird's head from above.
"Not just yet, thanks!"

It raised its beak skyward and screeched again at this point, then spread its wings, starting to pull the air around it in a way that would give it a rapid liftoff. "Nooononono...!—" "—Ohh no you don't." Prism picked up whatever air the bird's stolen power wasn't dominating and gave it a turbulent mess to go up into, so when it flapped its giant wings and lifted off it couldn't get very far skyward. It struggled against the hostile winds and managed to slowly ascend anyway, turning before going for a dive. However, it was diving in the opposite direction of the vixens because they were invisible and Bright had placed a few illusions of them off in that direction. She twisted and pushed the air around it as it dove, forcing it into another crash landing and lightspeeding Bright over to capitalize, slashing through its wings some more before it began to make its way to its feet and then going back to her original position, placing an illusion of herself in her place for it to swipe back at and try to grab.

Throughout this, she could hear the sound of a car coming up from somewhere a fair distance behind them and hastily pulling to stop, doors opening and closing, and some feet running up. It was Ning and Sam, of course. "We're here!" the former announced. "Uh..Prism, right?"
"Uh—" "—Right. Sooo,—" "—Don't stand in front of it, and keep your distance from its beak.—" "—Which is full of teeth."
"Got it~!" Ning drew out her sword and raised it skyward, sending some lightning up into the air to strike down onto it.
"Hmmn, flyer," Sam nodded, starting to pull out some wire. "I can get some net together to tie its wings up if I got the time."
"No rush—" "—we're invisible to it right now," Prism said.
"Sure, but there's the property damage to consider."

"Well, I'm ready!" Rory said, brandishing her bright orange lasso and charging off in the bird's direction.
"I'll..get you a clear shot," Bright said, carefully maneuvering the giant bird with illusions while both of Prism followed behind Rory.
"You know, you don't seem as surprised as I'd expect," Ning said, still sending the occasional bolt of lightning down on the bird.
"Fusion is...priveleged information, sure, but ain't completely unknown by now," Sam said quietly.

Ning followed the others, getting out her sheath and "loading" the sword into it. Once Rory's rope tightened around the monster's neck and she pulled it thrashing and writhing down to the ground, both of Prism started wailing on the thing with all the myriad powers and weapons at her disposal. But she stayed out of the way—anticipating what Ning was planning—so she took aim, arcing electricity around the sheath for a moment, and fired the "railgun", her sword piercing straight through one of the monster's wings to the other side, grazing along the top of its body and traveling some twenty yards farther before falling to the ground and clattering about half as far again along the road.
"You kinda missed the center mass there," Rory said.
"It's got a person inside, remember?" Ning said. recalling the blade to run up and slash into a wing a few times.
"Oh...right." Her expression was that of someone just now contemplating the potential results if the sword had gone through it just wrong.

When the rope around the beast's neck snapped apart this time, Prism was ready, and immediately pulled the light from around Rory and dropped her into the resulting shadow, out of the way of the monster's immediate retaliatory biting and grabbing. Not wanting to waste all of that gathered light, she converted it to electricity and sent it Ning's way. While slightly surprised by the sudden appearance of a bunch of sparks, the tall vixen knew exactly what to do with them, arcing them around behind her while amplifying them and then tossing them out as a massive, multi-forked bolt that landed all across the monster's body and sent black mist streaming up from it. It swept a wing at her, sending a bunch of vacuum-blades her way, and she followed a hastily placed light-prompt from Bright, diving to the ground to avoid them. An illusion of her ran off in another direction for it to chase after.

Bright lightsped next to Sam, who was nearly finished making a big net. "Listen—" Pitch waved at Rory, starting off in Sam's direction. "—Follow me." Both said: "I've got a plan."
"Ooh, a plan from the computing power equivalent of three brains?" Rory said, easily catching up as she broke into a run. "This should be good."
"It's..not really all that complicated. That bird's gonna try to fly up and dive at us again, and this time I'll let it into the air. Then slam the brakes on it when it comes in to attack, and we throw the net. Sam will have it from one side, you hold the other. Use some string to keep it together longer if you feel like it. You should put on some lightning damage resistance, though."
"Ooh, got it!" she said with a big grin and a thumbs-up.

Just about on cue—as Pitch and Rory stopped on the opposite end of the street from Sam—the bird took off into the air in the direction away from them. Both of Prism turned around, giving it some suitably-placed illusions and watching out for any surprises. Ning had stood up and dusted herself off, and now followed some not-very-subtle illusory arrows Prism had placed to go stand up against the nearest building and well out of the planned flight path.
"How'd you know it'd do that now?" Sam asked.
"You kidding? Every one of these things is like a boss in a video game,—" Bright said. "—Repeating the same pattern over and over again," Pitch finished.
"Hmn. Maybe I oughta try one of those sometime."
"They're way more fun than they look!" Rory said cheerfully.

It rose into the sky and dove down, a sonic boom roaring out that Prism had to suppress so everyone could still hear her. "Now!" both of her yelled, even though it might've looked like several seconds too soon to a casual observer. Sam and Rory threw the net up anyway, and she started making flight difficult as the bird approached the ground and tried to grab several illusory vixens in its talons, grasping only air instead. Whether it saw the net, or perceived it as an obstacle, was irrelevant, because its own momentum was too strong for it to not careen straight into it, the spiked wires digging into its body and feathers as Sam wrapped it tightly around the beast, her and Rory dragging several yards along the ground along with the net in their hands.

"Hey—I'm not dumb, and I got ears, you know?" Ning yelled over the thing's screech, pointing emphatically to one of them—in response to some more helpful arrows and lettering which Prism had placed in her vision suggesting that she have electricity flow through the net and down through Rory into the ground.
Prism ran her bodies toward each other. "Then—" "—Light it up!" Then she dove together, merging, and planted her feet, raising both her hands skyward.

The entire city block went nearly pitch dark, a flow of light from all over pouring in toward a spot a yard or so above Ning's head. An orb of light rivaling the brilliance that the sun above should've had rained electricity down onto the white-haired vixen, who reacted to this initally with surprise.
"Waaah! What, you felt the need to tell me the obvious stuff, but not that you were gonna do this!?"
She recovered before her third wird or so, putting her arms out in front of her to reflect the bolts forward instead of letting her body continue to absorb them, amplifying them substantially along the way. The electricity spread through the net, making the giant bird erupt in a plume of black mist that would've threatened to block out the nearby sun if its light weren't already being redirected elsewhere. The booming thunder and the monster's cries were both redirected into more concussive weaponry turned in toward it, slamming into its body repeatly alongside the electricity. In a matter of thirty seconds or so, the thrashing bird was looking terribly indistinct, and Rory tossed some orange string up around its body from the hand not busy holding onto the net as it threw out vacuum blades wildly, cutting pieces of the net apart. What damage it managed to do to its bindings this way, however, was too little, too late, and it gave one more pitiful cry before falling apart.

The surrounding light returned to its normal state, making it easier for everyone else to see that the monster was dying. "Hey—dismiss the net thing!" Rory called, and when Sam did so, she hurried over to catch the girl the monster had swallowed before she could fall on the concrete.

Prism had dropped her arms to the sides, and now bent over, hands on her knees, panting somewhat heavily. That...was a cool plan, and
extremely effective at killing the thing efficiently and with minimal harm done to anyone, but not one to have done if they'd needed to fight something else today. In fact, there was no good reason to keep burning through energy staying together like this, so she tried to 'push'/'step' Light out, and succeeded in that person stumbling sideways out of Gemma and falling awkwardly onto her seat on the ground.

"No, no, we
both did that," Light said, turning her head toward Rory. "She okay?"
She had in her arms a girl with dark gray hair, part of it done up into side-ponytails, wearing tight jeans and a black T-shirt with what a logo on it."Yep! Nothing but some minor bruises, and I've already patched those. Well—you know, that
and the whole 'coma' thing." The logo was a white picture of an ear with a red "no" symbol stamped over a 'no hearing' sign? She convulsed briefly, crying out incoherently, but of course Dr. Quinn knew how to properly hold someone having a seizure—much less something this minor. And Amp was already up and running toward them, Light keeping her activity invisible to the rest of the world.

"Hahaaa..that was awesome!" Ning had run up, and was already celebrating. She spoke between some moderate panting, obviously fairly winded from that final attack, too. "Teamwork makes the dreamwork, amiright?"
you...hear that?" Gemma said, tilting her head well to the side.
Ning put her fists on her hips. "I
do have the occasion to see lots of kids' television, remember?"

The girl who'd been inside the big bird yelled again, briefly, as Amp gently hugged her to wake her up. Rory set her carefully on the ground while she opened her eyes and blinked a couple of times, Amp kneeling to lean toward her. "Hey feeling alright?"
"Uuh..." She sat up and looked around at some undoubtedly unfamiliar people and surroundings, fidgeting with both of her hands for a second before seemingly deciding against something and saying, "Hello? Where..? Uuh. Sorry." She had...kind of a strange accent, sometimes drawing out odd parts of words or emphasizing the wrong syllables. "Words, I don't know very many. Human foorrmm...'s deaf," she said, pointing at one of her ears. Well—that explained the accent.
"Oh. Lemme help," Light said, giving her some 'subtitles' saying the same. While she was at it, she briefly showed the girl an arrow pointing at Amp with a label that said this person is a BIG SECRET.

"Uh..yoouu..wake me?" she said.
"Mm-hmn!" Amp nodded. "Are you okay?" Light continued providing her with subtitles.
"Thank you..yes.." She turned her head Light's way. "..Oh. Lllight, yes?"
"That's me."
"Thanks for..text." She raised both of her hands briefly, then dropped them again. "" she said, using her right hand to point down at the ground anyway.
"The giant bird monster you were fighting swallowed you and took off our way," Ning said. "Not too sure why it did that exactly, but as far as I know the rest of your team's okay."
"Oh. Good news," she nodded. " my name," she said, pushing up onto her feet and dusting herself off. "Thank you all. All okay?"
"Yeah, that thing couldn't get the better of
us!" Rory said confidently, then quickly backpedaled: "Uhh, not that that's anything against your team."
"None taken." She was following everything just fine with the subtitles. It seemed Light was right to guess that she'd just meant she didn't recognize how very many words
sounded yet, and maybe also not how to physically pronounce them—not that she didn't know the words themselves.

She looked at Amp again. "Sooo..'big secret'? How everyone else wake—uh, woke up?"
"Right," Amp nodded. "Appreciate if you don't spill the beans, either. Annd, because of that, we'll have to make a show of carting you to the VI to 'get woken up', to keep up appearances. If that's okay with you?"
"Okay," she nodded. "Let No Evil know I'm okay."
"Is that uh...your team's name?" Emma guessed, and Void nodded.

"Heey, why doesn't our team have a name?!" Ning said.
"We don't need one, do we?" Light said.
"It'd be cool if we did though, riiight? We could be 'the Light squaaad'."
She was obviously joking with that one, but Light quickly said "No." anyway.
"'Quinns and friends'?" Rory pitched in.
"Hahah, not really, no."

Void, meanwhile, had turned her attention to Sam, who was just standing there watching the conversation with a neutral expression and crossed arms. Seeing the other gray-haired vixen walking up, she said, "Can I help ya with somethin'?" Even though she was mostly paying attention to her own conversation by now, Light continued providing subtitles.
" leg, right?" she said, pointing at one of her own.
"I lost one, sure. Got me a prosthetic, in human form."
Void placed a hand on her shoulder. "Hon-or-ar-y member," she said, seeming to feel the need to pronounce the first word carefully. "Later, send you a t-shirt."

I'm not personally very fond of the narrative cliche where every stated plan has to go wrong somehow, and the ones that work aren't explicitly told to the audience ahead of time. I'm of the opinion that there's a certain kind of narrative satisfaction in seeing a plan work that's worth not having the surprise/drama sometimes. It's not even a surprise anymore if every plan fails, right? Anyway, even if a plan works perfectly, there can still be costs and consequences to its execution.

I tried to think pretty hard about how to portray Void properly, but I'll be the first to admit that I have no inkling of what it's actually like to be deaf. The "No Evil" team would have their own series if Battle Vixens was a giant franchise. As it stands, the best I can do is include them as some minor side characters. Oh well.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Changing Island: Entry 13

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Entry 13

Only one entry today; I had a very busy morning, after all. Besides having my picture taken (which honestly didn't take all that long), I also decided to move into Millie's house, since there was a space open. There's never too much to move when anyone wants to change houses here, since of course all the furniture stays with the house. However, when we'd agreed I could move and I came to retrieve my notebooks, I found that the desktop I've been writing these entires on had been spontaneously replaced by a laptop. And..other than being portable now, it's the exact same comupter: Same programs as far as I can tell, same files including all of my own documents.
While this isn't any more ridiculous and impossible than all of the other things I've experienced and heard about on this island, it just seems so oddly specific. It's like someone read my comment about only a few girls getting laptops on this island and thought it was a complaint. It wasn't; if anything, I can just tell I'll wind up doing something dumb and needing Nikki's help again more often than I ever would with an immobile desktop. But I can't argue that it isn't convenient; I was able to just pull the computer from my old house and take it to the new one intact instead of having to somehow gather all the files and transfer them over to a different computer. And, I'll admit, it is nice to have the option of doing my work sitting on a comfy couch or chair rather than always leaning over a desk in a bedroom.

Anyway, since I'm living here now, I thought it'd be best to interview my other housemate first thing. We were introduced before, but hadn't had a chance to talk much before the interview, and I'm finding that these interviews are a pretty great way to get to know each other. Her name is Emera, and she more or less just helps out with things most of the time. Like, she'll fill in for Millie at the library now and then, or help with the cooking, or go work in the salon if it's getting a little too busy. If someone needs an extra hand with something, Emera is one of the girls to come to. I don't know of any complaints about her work in all these different areas, so even if she isn't an expert in anything, she must still be quite multi-talented, and a pretty hard worker.

Plenty of the girls here had lives before they arrived that they were unsatisfied (or at least neutral) about. Emmett was nothing like that; he was a young, wealthy, hotshot lawyer of about middling rank and set to be promoted soon in a huge law firm. He wound up here because his personal yacht sank out at sea. Emera wouldn't tell me exactly how his yacht sank, which leads me to guess that it was some act of stupidity on his own part.
Also unlike many of us, he woke up on the beach somewhere in the middle of the night, with the moon high up in the sky. That meant there was initially nobody around to greet him; for reference, he arrived around a month after Kate, when the population here was fairly low. People do stay up late some nights, but this just wasn't one of them, or at least nobody who did happened upon him.

He walked inland and found the houses, knocking on the door of the first one he came to. No answer, so he tried the second, and then the third. He called out, but nobody happened to hear him in that area at that time of night. So he came to the conclusion that he'd stumbled upon some sort of abandoned housing project out in the tropics or something, especially since he found all of the front doors unlocked. He went into the fourth house he came to, calling out to see if anyone was inside, and once he was sure it was unoccupied, he just went to lie on the couch to sleep.

The end result of all of this was that Emmett had no contact with anyone and no particular warning about what was going to happen to him at first. So he was very confused when he woke up the following morning with shoulder-length hair. But he decided it was more important to focus on survival. He explored around the bizarrely pristine home to double-check that nobody was inside, and when he found food in the kitchen and had convinced himself that it was edible, he ate until he was full before going outside. Then—finally—Emmett encountered one of the girls already present on the island.

The girl in question was a little over-eager, and instead of saying anything meaningful, she just ran off to get Najira. Emmett tried to chase after the first human contact he had on what he'd thought was a strangely deserted island, but she had enough of a head start before he processed what had happened for him to keep up, and turned a corner where he couldn't see. After stopping and catching his breath, he called out a few times, each time hearing his voice come out a little bit different. His voice had already begun to change at this point, its pitch slowly rising; he thought it was just him being hoarse or tired. This time, he was next to Kate's house, so she and her housemates came out to see what all the noise was about—and so he encountered a girl with the "impossible" traits of foxlike ears and a fluffy tail.

There was a lot of confusion at this point, on both sides of the conversation. On Emmett's side, there was understandable stress and frustration that boiled out into some angry shouting about how very important he was. Fortunately, Najira finally arrived after a minute or two of both parties failing to make any sense to the other and yelled at everyone to be quiet. She apologized to the newcomer for the overall bizarre welcome and calmly explained the situation: Everyone stuck on the island, and the island seemingly transforming each new arrival into a woman over the course of the next few days. Emmett huffed, saying that this was ridiculous—just as his voice lilted up past a masculine tenor tone and began to sound like a girl's. So Kate just flatly asked him "what do you think's up with your voice, then?" prompting him to try to make it sound the way he thought it was supposed to, five or six times, all without success.

Emera remembers some of her exact words at this point, although she warned me beforehand that it was "not my proudest moment". He said, "This is absurd! I-I must have just come down with some laryngitis or something! You honestly expect me to believe any of your ridiculous story!?" Then he demanded to use a phone...there aren't any phones here. Najira offered to let him use her computer, noting that we do have Internet.
He stormed along behind her still fuming. He thought it all had to be some kind of trick at this point, maybe an elaborate kidnapping scheme that the perpetrators somehow thought would be easier than just locking him in a room or something. Around halfway there, he began to second-guess himself about Najira's height. Sure, he thought, she was a tall woman, but was she really this tall? Each time he tried to get a read on her, he measured her to be taller. This came to a head when he nearly tripped over the leggings of his pants, stumbling forward, and she quickly turned around and caught him, helping him get upright.

At this point, Emmett was still wearing the clothes he'd washed ashore in. They consisted of a fancy suit and tie, but not in the best of condition: torn up in places and previously soaked in ocean water. He'd lost his socks and shoes to the ocean, so he was barefoot. It was all very expensive, custom-made, tailored to his exact body shape—but as Najira calmly said something like "Oh, it looks as if you've started shrinking already," he realized that his coat was hanging awkwardly down past his shoulders, his sleeves and leggings were both markedly too long, and the woman in front of him looked even taller still. He was in complete denial, angrily shouting (in what was now a high, cute, girly soprano) that this had to be some kind of trick, even while our leader knelt down to carefully roll his leggings up nearly to his knees so he wouldn't trip over them.

As she'd anticipated, Emmett kept getting smaller as they continued on to her house and inside, to a bedrrom which was at the time unoccupied—and its resident computer. By this point, Emmett's eye level had sunk from over Najira's head all the way down to her impressive chest, and his continued display of anger was to mask a steadily growing fear that he wasn't dreaming or hallucinating and every bit of this was real. Najira stood off to one side in case he had any difficulty with the computer, which he insisted he wouldn't.

This is where Emera's story gets especially strange, for me at least. The law firm Emmett worked for, like I said, was huge. They had a website; they had ads on TV and radio all over the place: They should not have been hard to find. But, searching around, Emmett could not find a single trace of them. He'd been hoping to log into their website and use his company email to contact somebody for help, but the URL took him to the website of some town's local plant nursery instead. Not even his personal email address seemed to work; the mail service insisted that no such username existed. Emmett could feel tears coming down his eyes as he searched around desperately to try to figure out what was happening, and then finally started "loudly bawling" (Emera told me) and pounding on the keyboard with his fist.

At the end of this tantrum, Emmett crossed his arms over the keyboard and buried his face in them, still sobbing. He felt a hand gently touch his shoulder and sat up, sniffing loudly and trying to formulate some kind of angry response, when Najira just picked him up into a bear hug with his head over her shoulder, silently letting him cry it out. Once or twice she ran a hand through his hair, which he found much more comforting than he would've expected. Finally, she set him down in front of her and took a polite step back.

"I'm sorry you couldn't find them," she said. "This place is strange in many ways, and we still don't know what all of the rules are. It isn't the first time someone's looked for something on the net and it simply didn't exist."
Emmett was silent for a long moment after that, just feeling the reality of it all sink in, and then quietly apologized and thanked her. Emera told me that Najira said something "really cool and encouraging" after that, but she can't for the life of her remember what exactly it was.

The main realization that Emmett came to as his mind worked to truly understand what he was stuck with, was that Najira and all of the other girls he'd met were stuck in the very same sort of situation: stranded here, with no apparent way home. And so he decided then and there that he'd do his best to be at peace with living here, getting along with everyone and doing whatever he could to contribute and help make everyone happy.

That's when Emmett felt a weird push from his ears, and the base of his spine. He got out a confused "Wha—?" before he had fully grown a pair of small furry ears (well, smaller than Kate's anyway) and a long, slim, fuzzy tail. I wanted to save this detail until reaching it in Emera's account, but yes: She was the second girl with unusual, animal-like traits, and the first of what you might call "catgirls" here. Najira couldn't offer much of an explanation for this, just noting that something similar had happened to Kate before and it probably didn't signal anything too terrible.

Since he understood the situation now, Najira let Emmett know that the bedroom they were in was unoccupied, and he could stay there if he wanted—or go live in one of the empty houses if he preferred. With the realization he'd had and resulting decision he'd made, he concluded right away that he'd rather live close by other people, especially Najira—since he'd been very rude and maybe even hurtful to a lot of the other girls. She assured him that they wouldn't be too upset and she'd smooth it over if they were, but his decision stood nonetheless.

After she left him alone, Emmett decided that he wanted to take a better look at just what had happened to his body, so he went to the bathroom, peeling off the irritatingly loose and long, totally-ruined-anyway clothes as he went. What he saw in the mirror was a very short, quite effeminate man: Long hair, slender waist, short arms and legs ending in tiny, delicate hands and feet. There were, of course, the cat ears and tail he'd just gained, plus some small fangs in his mouth. Besides all of this, his skin had already shifted too, leaving it all soft and smooth, and even his face was already quite different, looking soft, round, and girlish. Najira would go on to tell her later that the face change had happened sometime during the hug, but she hadn't wanted to upset him by bringing it up.

He sighed, mourning the loss of his previous appearance for just a moment, and then turned around to try and find some clothes that would actually fit him. He was startled enough to jump briefly when he found his discarded clothes completely replaced by a white vest, a light-colored long-sleeved jacket with a zipper, and a pair of very short jean shorts. In all of the fuss, Najira had forgotten to mention the way this island likes to replace things like clothes whenever you aren't looking, but Emmett worked it out on his own that this had to be part of the same bizarreness that had him transforming into a woman in the first place. He shrugged and put on the clothes, reasoning that at least they fit him properly and weren't damaged beyond all reasonable use anymore.

After that rapid onslaught of changes, Emmett and everyone else was fairly surprised to find his body remaining unaltered for the entire rest of the day. Emera admitted it was a little embarrassing being such a short, feminine-looking man around all of those beautiful women, but he started in on his earlier commitment all the same. The first thing he went to do was apologize to the girls he'd met before for the shouting match, all of which said they didn't mind or made it clear they'd outright forgotten it had even happened.
After that, he went looking for things to help out with, and found a few tasks here and there until lunchtime. Then Kate called for volunteers to help her cook, and he was first in line. Emera told me at this point that he was "totally incomptent" at the time and Kate had to show him how to not cut or burn himself some five or six times, but—despite her apparent disposition—she was extremely patient with the newcomer the entire time.

The rest of the day went similarly. Emmett was slowly getting used to the idea that he'd be changing sexes soon, and even began to look forward to it as the girls remarked how cute they thought he'd look "once it was all over". Emera's own words are that he "went to bed that night happier than I remembered being in a really-really long time." He'd been spending years upon years working extremely hard nonstop, chasing fame and luxury, and it was already beginning to feel like all of that had been ultimately hollow and worthless. Not even doing all he could to enjoy all that wealth seems to have really brought him much joy back then.

He woke up to a feeling of tugging and slipping between his legs, and I'm sure you know what that means by now. Emera blushed and told me that this was the first time she ever made "kitty noises", just as the change came between Emmett's legs and the catboy fully became a catgirl for the first time. She got up and took a shower, and found her hips gently spreading themselves out, her chest slowly puffing up into some breasts, over the half-hour or so that she was in there; by the time she exited and toweled off, the transformation was already complete, leaving her a petite, adorable catgirl.

She's maybe half a head taller than Kate, but that still leaves her as one of the shorter girls on the island; she remarked to me that she actually really likes having "tiny boobs" that don't "get in the way all the time". I guess I'll find out eventually just how "in the way" mine are. Anyway, she went out of her way to find an outfit just like what her suit and tie turned into on her very first day for Saya's photo shoot—although there's a bikini top and bottom instead of the vest and male underwear from back then, which have long since vanished.

I decided, as a final question, to ask her just what it's like to be "part animal" the way she is. Emera giggled and told me that she doesn't mind at all having better hearing and balance, that her keener sense of smell is a "blurse" (which I think means it's good in some ways and bad in others?), and finally that it's still a little surreal to her to enjoy people petting her ears, but it's a form of enjoyment she wouldn't trade for anything.

On that note, Kate showed up a little bit after sunset today, announced that she was "here to see Em", and went to Emera's room. I've occasionally heard faint purring and barking noises from that direction since then. Well, I suppose this is what Millie meant when she told me one of the perks of living in this house was "the occasional big breakfast".

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

A Summoning, Part XXXVII

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Sol was sitting in his usual chair, in front of his usual desk—but it was empty: No documents, no phones, no monitors, keyboards, mice or tablets or anything else. Its surroundings were even emptier, with a black void engulfing the space more than a yard or two from his own personal glow. He sat waiting patiently, leaning slightly forward with his elbows on the desk supporting hands clasped together. After a moment there was something conceptually similar to a door opening and someone walking inside, and a separate circle of light appeared a short distance away, opposite his desk with the visitor at its center.

She appeared to be an entirely unremarkable young woman in nearly every way: Casual clothes, brown hair, average height, modest figure. The only things that mundane humans would've found out of place were her feline ears and tail, along with her brightly glowing yellow eyes, which seemed almost like the only part of her that could be the source of the light surrounding her. She walked in front of the desk and slightly to one side, summoned a metal folding chair precisely across from the sun god with a wave of her hand, and then slumped into it with all the grace of a bored high schooler.

"You wanted to see me for something?"
"Well, I don't normally dream when I rest," Sol said, and then carried on without a pause: "I met with the new one this afternoon." Bastet really wasn't fond of non-answers and conversational time-wasting, which was something he personally admired.
His host sighed. "Given that she's still around, I'm sure it went swimmingly."
"Oh, certainly. I filled her in on a few important matters the fox didn't see fit to mention—you know, just in case they come up. It'd be a real issue if she started a fight with the fae."
"I would've figured out she visited you without a personal message," Bastet said dryly.
"Well, it was more than just me dispensing information," he said. "I explained our role in keeping our world safe and maintaining the veil, and she expressed strenuous objection to the latter."

This got the dream goddess's attention; she snapped slightly more upright. "On what grounds?"
"Primarily the potential of magic to save lives, medically speaking. It's true, there are plenty of humans we could really stand to keep around, and it'd be convenient if it weren't so tricky to make them immortal—or at least young and healthy again."
"So we won't have a majority if we let her vote."
"We don't really have a majority now," Sol said. "Is it the fox or Eros you're not counting?"
"He told me he liked it the last few times I asked."
"...You mean two centuries ago?"
Since Bastet looked off to one side and didn't answer, she didn't want to continue this train of thought. So Sol softly cleared his imagined throat to signal a shifting of subject. "Anyway, I used her concerns as a springing-off point to make a proposal that could remove her from power with her doing all the hard work."
"Whenever you introduce something as a simple solution to aaallll our problems, I end up hating it," Bastet said bluntly. "Just...get on with it."

He explained the agreement they had made that afternoon—the rebirth program, which he'd more or less already set into motion. Both of them had accurately enough predicted her immediate reaction to this, as she looked angrier with him the farther he got into the explanation.

By the time he paused to let her speak, she was absolutely livid. "Yoooouuuu—what were you thinking?! Why did you not run this by the rest of us first?! Or at least me?"
"Well, I didn't think you'd understand."
Bastet leaned in, placing her hands on the desk and baring her teeth—which all temporarily turned quite tall and razor-sharp. "You thought, it'd be easier to ask forgiveness than permission!" She raised her right hand and started pounding it on the desk for emphasis on certain words: "She gains power. From people being grateful. To her. More gratitude, more power. And last time I checked, mortals tend to be pretty grateful when their lives get saved!" This last part she emphasized by sitting back up again and sweeping her arms out and upward for a second before abruptly dropping back into an angry slump with her head still tilted up just enough to glare at him.

"I took a gamble," Sol said calmly. "Saving someone's life like this is costly, no matter whose power is doing it, so it's a question of efficiency. If Zotha can survive her power being used as extensively and frequently as I intend, then we probably had no chance of getting rid of her in the first place. And if she does fizzle out, I still get to save some human lives. Besides that, it is meaningful that she agreed to it with fairly little deliberation. It means she isn't chaotic to the point of being unmanageable—she has guiding principles she believes in, at least some of which are noble, and will act according to them."
"..Did you ever really oppose keeping her around at all? Or just hop to our side of the fence so we wouldn't feel lonely without La Lune?"
"Of course I did," he said. "I am opposed to whatever may bring harm to humanity. At the outset—with the people she was ascended by especially—there was a real risk that she would be an entirely destructive force. If she'd been a passive person, doing what those around her expected of her, it's difficult to imagine the amount of harm that could have come to the world. Instead, she took control of everything from the beginning. That had its own risks as well, certainly, but I'm at least convinced enough to want to test her on grounds other than her moral character at this point.

"If I may..why did you and Ouroboros come out so strongly against her?" he said.
"You'll have to ask him, but I'm sure you can guess. As for me—I hate change." She sat up again. "People are at their best when they are stable and at peace, and we recently had almost a decade where things weren't terrible." She held up an index finger to count to 'one' for emphasis. "One decade, that's it. A change from peace is war; a change from happiness and stability is chaos and destruction. I didn't think you wanted that, either! Better, at least, that people decide for themselves what changes they like, and not have a supreme being making those decisions for them! It should at least be masterless, if it cannot be stopped altogether. If someone with that aspect grows strong enough, she could even change us! How are you still so unconcerned!?"
"Well, I've never feared change so much myself," he said. "I arise every morning not quite the same as I was the day before. Or have you not noticed how different I am now from a few decades ago—or especially a century or two? Long before she ever came to be, my nature, my people, my opinions: All quite different from even as recently as the eighteen hundreds. Really, Bastet, can you truly say you are the same now as when you first came to be?"

"..Neither of you have any idea what it was really like," she said quietly, with a hint of pain, shaking her head slowly. Then, actually facing him: "There is a difference between choosing a new direction for oneself, and being forced into change from the outside."
"Yet human progress requires both," Sol said. "I don't believe Zotha has any intention, nor will ever really have the power, to determine the nature of all change. Not any more than I can alter the color of sunlight."
"Yet people will look to her for it, once they know. And she is too generous, and her nature encourages her to be even more so. Imagine—every horrible thing that someone wishes were so, all of the unhealthy dreams and desires in the world, and the wish-granting machine just doooles it all out to earn their gratitude and make herself ever more powerful by it!"
He nodded. "That is why I feel it's important that she has some moral compass of her own. I think we're fortunate there."
"Her 'compass' will change! If her primary aspect is, as you say, too chaotic to control, then it will overtake her," Bastet said—no doubt speaking from experience.
"That's why, if she sticks around, it's important we don't antagonize her too much," he said. "Those of us with more stable personalities would at least have the opportunity to keep her on the right path."
"And if that doesn't work? If she decides to upend every last one of us and take control of everything? Who or what is going to stop her then?"

"I don't think you'll like my answer to that, either," he said.
"What—? That thing? That..thhhiinng?!" She made her disgust emphatic in her words, and with an aggressive, forward-sweeping gesture with both hands. "That is your trump card in case of impending apocalypse?!"
"I wouldn't go so far as to say 'mine', but..if he can simply tell my power 'no' without even being aware of it, then I don't imagine Zotha will ever really be strong enough to do any better." He shrugged. "But honestly, I don't think it's ever going to come up. She has another anchor besides us, anyway."
"You really think her human toy will be any help?"
"Likely. As a human, she isn't subject to the nature of a deity; she has a close, deep connection to the aspect of change, but is shielded from its direct influence. And the two of them are close in more ways than one, including being able to share thoughts directly. It almost seems to me like Zotha instinctively sensed the risk and made things this way on purpose. But I suppose time will tell."

La Lune's reply on Thursday morning was very short and to the point, consisting of only a set of coordinates and the brief message "Head north after sunset. Please bring your plus one!" The coordinates in question pointed to somewhere deep in the Amazon rainforest, the kind of place that most humans would have real difficulty even surviving a successful journey to reach. Zotha could just teleport, of course, but she'd never done it at such a distance before, nor with just a latitude and longitude to work with. Naturally, Jess was worried about this.

"Well, let's just give it a try," Zotha said, rubbing her hands. "Oh, but first—hmn." She ruffled Jess's hair, making her grow some floppy doglike ears and a fluffy tail—simultaneously giving herself some similar but more wild and wolfish features. Meanwhile her horns grew a little longer and curlier, and her wings turned back to being batlike, with fur. "Thaaat feels about right. Maybe she'll even appreciate it?"
"Rr~rfh...uh, m-maybe," her priestess said, blushing.
"Now then." She went with placing a portal in front of them in the dorm room to step through, and then led the charge, peeking her head through first of all to make certain she hadn't just opened a way to somewhere up in the air or out in space. But she found herself exactly where she expected and wanted to be instead: Somewhere deep in a wild, thick jungle. So she made her way through and looked around while Jess followed, quietly using some magic to shield both of them from the heat and humidity of the place. It wouldn't do any good to make their fur all sweaty just from the short walk..north, apparently. Real canines didn't have this problem, since they didn't sweat...but panting at the moon goddess seemed rude in its own weird way.

"Uh..which way even is north?"
"This way," Zotha pointed, and started off in that direction, gently using a little bit of her power to push plants aside out of their way without harming them. A nature goddess also might prefer she didn't burn or cut a bunch of nature to reach her, after all.
How do you think 'normal' humans haven't stumbled onto this place by now? Jess wondered. I mean, there's lots of scientists going out into the wild to set camera traps and check population numbers and tag animals and stuff...
It's probably some 'lost woods' kinda thing, where you either zip right past her domain to the other end or go around it in circles unless you've been 'invited', Zotha said. After a few more steps, she stopped. ...Woof. You feel that?
I dunno how I couldn't. They were standing in front of something resembling a curtain of vines, and there was a familiar sort of intense pressure coming out from it—faint, yet not failing to convey the full extent of the power behind it. This was obviously the right place, so Zotha carefully pulled the vines aside and walked through into a landscape that seemed like it belonged in a dream or a painting.

The oppressive heat and humidity of the Amazon was gone in an instant, replaced with a cool, crisp nighttime air. They were standing in what seemed to be an endless garden, paths of soft grass crisscrossing flowers and trees placed all around. It was all alight with a soft, silver glow, despite the lack of any apparent light source big enough to create that kind of light. The vines were no longer behind them from the moment they stepped through—only more of that garden. That sensation of 'godly pressure' was still there, and much stronger now that they were actually in the domain itself, but it was of an extremely different 'flavor' from Sol's power, or that of the Ruler of Foxes for that matter. It didn't push downward to keep them rooted, nor outward to intimidate them; it simply was, hanging all around them like a calming scent in the air. Neither of them could help breathing a small sigh of relief.

As undirected as it seemed at first, the 'scent' of La Lune's power nonetheless did point them gently in a particular direction, like a soft breeze on their backs. Zotha went that way, walking along the grassy path with Jess beside her, until their host came into view. She looked like a late-teenage girl, or maybe a grown woman somewhat on the short and petite side—yet quite graceful, with extremely long silver hair and a peaceful smile on her face. She was sitting cross-legged in the center of a wider circle of grass with a slightly larger-than-normal wolf covered in similarly silver fur curled up next to her, seemingly asleep. The silver of the hair and fur appeared to glow like moonlight itself, bright enough to feel somehow like it was the source of the ambient glow the rest of the massive garden enjoyed.

On their approach, the wolf raised its head and growled briefly, until the girl reached out a hand and gently placed it atop its head, which seemed to calm it instantly and tell it to go back to sleep. "Welcome, heheh. I hope you didn't find the way here too inconvenient?" She sounded as young as she looked, the slight giggle not really helping this impression.
"No, no trouble. A short walk after the teleport," Zotha said. "Unless you
wanted us to fly a plane out this way?"
"Pffheeehee...That would've been funny, but nah. Here, take a seat please!" she said, gesturing at some of the open space in front of her. They did as invited, Jess sitting cross-legged like the moon goddess while Zotha put both of her legs out to one side under her.

"Now I know what you're thinking: 'She's a lot shorter than her brother'. Actually, it's just that we're getting kinda close to the new moon at this point, and my size changes throughout the month," La Lune explained. "It'd make shopping for clothes rather difficult—if I had to do that, I mean. Oh, and this is my other half," she added, patting the wolf's head. "He's not as intelligent as yours, but we can do a neat trick. Look:" The wolf got up and pounced into her, causing her to grow several inches and shift into a slightly more mature-looking and muscular full-werewolf form, complete with her clothes vanishing into the silver fur. "Neat, huh?" Her muzzle grinned brightly, her tail wagging cutely.
"Sure. Is..uh, is the wolf part of you, or a separate entity?" Zotha asked.
"Oh, I didn't mean to mislead you," La Lune said. "'We' are the same being. Like any werewolf, I've got a 'tame' side and a 'wild' side. It's just that we can occupy different bodies if I so choose.

"I appreciate the canine looks, by the way," she added. "You didn't have to, of course. I appreciate all kinds of animals and beastfolk."
"I guess I'd describe it as 'what I felt like wearing'...if that makes any sense," Zotha said.
"Mm-hmn. I'll admit to being a bit jealous. I don't get to decide how I look, apart from messing with my clothes and separating-or-combining...the latter of which deprives me of the clothes."
"You..can't wear clothes like that?" Jess asked.
"Well, I'm not incapable of it, but it's awfully uncomfortable to say the least—in more than just a physical sense. Our natures can be really inconvenient in a lot of ways, you know. You should appreciate getting to stay a human, li'l Jess; you don't even have to worry about the level of urges a dragon or youkai faces, after all."
"Youkai?" Jess repeated.
"You know, like Kitsune," she clarified. "Something between a spirit and a human—partially bound to a particular nature, as something of a price to possessing substantial power. Spirits have it even worse than we do: Much less power and much more stuck with a nature. No wonder animal spirits so often wish to become more human by merging with one."

"..Even though I feel like I already knew that, it's like the information in my head came from nowhere," Zotha said. "Makes me feel less insane to hear someone else saying it."
"You wouldn't be a very good goddess if you didn't know the basics," La Lune said. "And your worshipers want you to be a good one, so you are. Annoying, isn't it?"
"I don't know that I'd call it that just yet. But, definitely weird sometimes."
"Heheh." La Lune's 'wolf half' slipped back out of her, and she shrank back to a clothed human form while he went and curled back up into seeming sleep.

"So, so—did my brother ask you for something? A test of some sort? Spill, please~," she said cutely.
"Er..yes. I told him I don't like how the veil making magic unavailable to billions of people is blocking them off from getting help with, you know, staying alive. And he proposed using my power to, more or less, secretly semi-reincarnate people who'd otherwise die. It's a compromise, I guess...also it might make me 'implode' if I'm not able to get enough 'back' from the people we help."
"Sounds to me like you accepted?"
Zotha nodded. "I want to save lives, even if it risks my own. I've..started to feel the pull of requests for my power trickling in, and no issues so far, but I'm sure it's just the beginning."
La Lune nodded. "He's a pretty 'go big or go home' kinda guy. But I'm sure you'll do just fine! The world wanted you, so it's not about to just let you fall apart."

Jess tilted her head, and the goddess of change asked: "The world wanted me?"
"Well, how else does one explain your ascension?" the moon goddess replied. "Kooks have been doing weird rituals in the woods since time immemorial, dear; it wouldn't have any effect at all without the support of something far stronger than the belief of a mere few dozen people. Many humans have come to desire change and transformation, the latter especially among those not made ignorant of its possibility by the veil. The nature of transformative magic itself has been in the process of changing for several decades, from something typically baleful and painful into the benign and even pleasurable. You are a natural consequence of that trend, as far as I am concerned."

"I..guess that explains why a 'goddess of nature' is on my side?" Zotha said.
"Ohh, that, and you make people really happy," she replied. "I'm not one to meddle like the fox, but I've been enjoying your antics ever since you gained your power. It's great that you're not the awful, megalomaniacal demon queen your little priestess wanted you to be at first. Instead, you're actually nice! And you've gone and helped a few of my own people on top of all that."
"Right..." Zotha nodded. "That thing you wanted to borrow my power for. I guess it went well?"
"So far~! I'm hopeful that Eros will give them the last few pushes needed, but there's no controlling nor predicting that man. I'd actually love to have your permission to give something like that to a few more of my people—you know, from time to time."
"You aren't going to start making every werewolf able to change sexes at will, are you?" Zotha said. "That might really mess with people if and when the veil comes down."
"Haahahah~! No, no, I only have the occasional, very specific, deserved blessing in mind. The rest will need to figure out their own ways if they want that. Can't risk changing the nature of my own blessing by hitting everyone with the same thing, after all."
"In that case, I don't really mind. Using my power involves 'asking me' about the specific case anyway.

"...There is one thing I'd like to ask you for, though. I mean—not necessarily in exchange, and only if it's not too much?"
"Oh?" La Lune tilted her head slightly to one side. "What could that be?"
"I wonder if there's some way I could meet with Bastet. I mean—talk to her, one on one, in a relatively safe way. I don't think walking into her domain uninvited would be a great plan."
"You think you can convince the cat over to your side? She's preeetty stubborn."
"Nothing quite that ambitious. It's just that I'd like to hear what she thinks of me, and what she'd want from me to at least tolerate my presence, from her own mouth. Sol told me a lot about her, but I'm not sure exactly how much of it to believe. I mean—not that I think he was lying, but I feel somehow like the picture he painted of her must be incomplete."
"She's a pretty complex kitty, for sure," La Lune nodded. "Well—she's the goddess of dreams, and she owes me a great debt. When I speak with her, I can demand that she visit you the next time you sleep."
"Hold up—no demands," Zotha said. "She's not gonna feel very charitable if she's talking to me because she has to. I just want you to ask her, on my behalf."
"Hmmn, okay. Well—I'll have to tug at the debt a tiny bit to get her here so I can make the request, but I was gonna do that anyway—she's overdue for a visit by now! I'll make it clear that she doesn't have to if she doesn't want to," La Lune said, nodding. "You're quite wise for your age, you know that?"
"That's..quite a compliment, coming from an ancient moon goddess."
"Heehee~. But I'm not always as wise as I ought to be for my age."

"Is it..that you also act younger when you get smaller, because of the phases of the moon?" Jess said.
La Lune nodded, "To some extent. I don't quite become a child in any way—my body is always that of an adult—but I know the way I talk shifts a little bit one way and then the other. But the biggest behavioral shifts come on the new moon and full moon themselves. I sleep all day and all night when the moon's not in the sky, and when the moon's full—my wild side takes over, and I need to hunt. My two 'sides' become one, and I crave something big and challenging to take down and bring back to my garden to eat. Ha~ahh, speaking of, I'm really hoping humans do enough to get elephants off the endangered species list soon," she added with an air of nostalgia.
"You ever have someone try to wake you up on the new moon?" Zotha asked.
"Ohh, yes." She looked off to one side, seemingly in embarrassment. "The results...weren't pretty. Let's just say, no matter how aware I am of my own lapses in self-control, I..can't always curb them."
"Like what you tried to tell us through Damon before, I suppose. If you were totally in control, then new werewolves wouldn't go insane and start attacking people."
"Mm-hmn," La Lune nodded sadly. "Among many...many, other things."

"You mentioned Bastet owes you a 'great debt', and Sol mentioned something similar, but said it was a secret?" Zotha said.
"Awh, it's no great secret. My stubborn brother just won't listen when we try to explain it to him. But since you'll be talking with her, I really think it's better you hear Bastet's take on the matter," La Lune said. "It's a little hard to explain exactly, but...she actually knows much more about it than I do. It's woven into my nature rather than being something I consciously think about. Soo, I can't give a very satisfying explanation myself."
"You're talking like it's a guarantee she'll meet with me," the change goddess pointed out.
"Well, Basty is really quite reasonable if you're not doing something to provoke her. It's just that Sol and the fox and I are always doing that, each for our own reasons..not to mention mister Mania, ugh. I earnestly believe that she'll relish the opportunity to talk to you one-on-one, even if she'll eternally deny it."

"What's your take on him, by the way? You were talking earlier like you liked him—or at least would like him to do something—but just now you sounded disgusted?"
"A gem with many facets," La Lune answered. "I have two natures and one-to-two bodies; that poor man has numerous natures all stuck in just one physical form. When he's nice, he's good, and when he's bad, he's just awful. But while the others often associate all of his sides with each other and hate—or at least dislike—the whole package as a result, I understand perfectly well what it's like to flip-flop unwillingly from time to time. So I just take each facet on its own merits instead."
"Soo, we've got a schizophrenic god in our midst."
"I'm not certain it can be diagnosed as that precisely, but—no matter what he is, we are most certainly stuck with him," La Lune said. "Unless you want humanity to be instantly miserable and go extinct in the span of two to three generations. Attempts were made, long ago, to replace him—at his own behest—but they only added more facets, and generally not good ones."

"Why do you 'provoke' Bastet anyway?" Jess said. "It seems like you two must work together all the time..."
"That's more or less precisely why," La Lune said. "We have disagreements of opinion on a number of things—important disagreements in which I desperately want her side to help balance out mine. The only way for me to get her honest, best-thought-out advice instead of a neutral, passive agreement to get me out of her fur is to prod her until she's annoyed enough to give it to me straight. Also, she's cute when she's angry~," she added with a faux-innocent grin. "The fox thinks she's funniest that way too, and I don't entirely disagree!
"As for Sol—with him, it's more that he's got a habit of acting like he's the boss, doing what he thinks is 'best for humanity' without asking anyone else and just presuming on our opinions being a certain way even if he knows full-well they're not. Most of us know how to communicate with him in a way that keeps him from stepping too much on our toes...but the poor kitty-cat is the one who winds up with the sorest of digits the most often, and then her usual response is to angrily scream at and scold him—with that very same kind of honesty I want from her, but which totally fails to penetrate his innate stubbornness. If it gets really bad, she'll complain to me, and then I have to come up next to him a few days later and let him know why what he did was wrong in a way he'll actually listen to."

I think I'm starting to see why he described Bastet the way he did, Zotha remarked mentally.
I'm starting to feel really sorry for her, Jess replied.
You keep that emotion in mind if she gets really angry and starts threatening to hurt me. Not that I plan to provoke a reaction like that.

"I have to admit...The more I hear about how things work between you all, the less it sounds like a bunch of wise and powerful rulers, and the more it sounds like a semi-dysfunctional family."
"Pffheehee!" La Lune, thankfully, didn't take offense at this; in fact, she broke out into full-blown laughter for a minute or so. At the end of it she gracefully wiped a couple of tears from her eyes with an index finger. "Haa~aahahah..yes, it's true. None of us are as perfect as we pretend to be, especially when we're putting on a show for mortals," she said. "But we make it work somehow. No world-destroying god-wars yet, after all! In a way, we really are like a family: None of us really asked to be what we are—except Ouroboros, I suppose, but it's debatable if ever really weighed the cost first. And we're all stuck with each other, like it or not, for the good of our 'kids'. But if you ask me, even our pettiest of disagreements are preferable to us all having a singular, unified opinion on every single matter which might turn out to be wrong."
"The friction keeps you from complacently settling into what might be a problematic decision," Zotha said, nodding slowly.
"Keeps 'us', dear. If things go the way you and I hope, anyway."
"Right..." The idea of an all-gods potluck sounds a lot less outlandish at this point, she remarked.
Just don't invite Agape-Eros-Mania-whatever, Jess replied.

"Anyway, I can't think of anything else much to talk about. It's been pleasant, though—your garden is very pretty," Zotha said.
"Aw~wh, thank you~!" La Lune grinned wide, hopping up onto her feet; her 'wolf side' raised his head briefly to look around before plopping it back down again. "I work pretty hard on the aesthetics, and hardly anyone ever comments. Sure, I can make plants grow on demand, but arranging them takes some thought!"
Her guests pulled up onto their feet as well, and Zotha came closer to offer a handshake. "Any problem with me opening a portal for us to leave through?"
"Not at all~," the moon goddess said, giving the hand a gentle but eager shake. "And now that you've been here once, you should know the way to come back directly. You're welcome any night except the new and full moons. You might even run into one of my other regular visitors, depending on your timing."
"Thank you. I can honestly say you're the friendliest god we've met so far," Zotha said.
"I do try. But don't get too complacent around me; I'm sometimes more of a threat than I wish to be," La Lune said. "If you startle the wolf, he just might bite ya."
"I'll...keep that in mind."