Lilim Tales - Part 2
Cody, now Cassandra, tries to make sense of her change into an exotic creature with dark gold skin. As she struggles to cope, and searches for answers, she also begins to suspect she is far from 'normal.' The lilims Luna and Jayden continue debating whether to fully ignite Cassandra and take her as their srryn for the next hundred year Turn. And a storm looms on the horizon that may tip the balance.
Author's note: Some readers, both here and at the FM site, have expressed their dislike of how the lilim treat Cassie. I completely understand this; there have been many times I've gotten furious at authors for killing off main characters (Jim Butcher killing off Susan in Dresden Files, and the Sanctuary hacks offing Ashley, for example). This won't happen here. But, this is labeled a horror story; as a wannabe writer, I'm keen to experiment, and I wanted to fiddle around with this genre. I will say, that the horror aspect of the story is limited to parts 1-3. There are no beheadings, slashings or buckets of blood, so what makes this a horror story? For me, there are two aspects that push the story into the 'horror' zone: 1) the unstoppable inevitable nature of what happens to Cassie, and 2) her helplessness. Anyway, enough jawing; on to Part 2.
Author's note 2: for a cleaner pdf version of this story, please click here.
Cassandra was pacing.
No, that is a spectacularly piss poor description; she was bouncing off the walls.
“So tell me, Ms. Ex-Cody, what are you doing to reverse this curse, hmm? Chatting up the local witch doctor, or making nice with the evil mad scientist who did this? No? What then? Oh yeah, you're going to a potluck~”
She half convinced herself that going to the potluck was doing something. Cassandra was starting to think a karmic curse had ambushed her; had she been cruel to women as Cody, and this was her penance?
Irrational, maybe, but based on the warm way Maya responded, perhaps she should try to redress the other wrongs she had done as Cody.
Shouldn’t I hedge my bets? You know, like putting out cookies for Santa even after you don’t believe in him?
Giving Emilie a ride offered a first opportunity.
Cassandra sat at her desk with Cody's open checkbook and decided to go crazy. Emilie wanted two thousand dollars? Cassandra looked up to her ceiling.
“God? If you're listening? This is me down here, doing good deeds. If you would, like, tell me how many I have to do to get changed back, I'd appreciate it.”
She sighed after the heavens remained silent, and proceeded to write a check for four thousand dollars, signed 'Cody Elias', and stuffed it in an envelope. Then she took a piece of paper and scribbled a note.
I reconsidered. No strings attached. Pay me back when you can.
Sorry for being a jerk.
She shook her head. “Not the most sensitive piece of literature, but we does what we can.”
How long before I need to pick up Emilie?
She checked her watch for the time, and realized she didn’t have a timepiece to fit her smaller wrist. Which reminded her; except for the emergency provisions from Walmart, she had nothing to wear tonight.
What do you wear to a potluck? Jeans and a T-shirt should be fine, right?
“Wrong. I must be wrong. I've been wrong about everything else, so I'm wrong about this for sure.”
This meant she needed something else to wear, which, she presumed, hung from a rack at an undiscovered store.
God! Could this get more complex?
She knew shit about fashion. Who would? She remembered Luna's card in her pocket.
“Duh! A fashion editor would.”
Pleasure tingles filled her body at the memory of Luna's hand on hers, and she decided she wanted -no, needed- to hear her voice again. She punched Luna's cell phone numbers into her phone.
“Hello, Ms. Longaine? …hi, um ...Cassandra Albornos here, I met you today at Starbucks?”
Luna's voice sent shivers through her body; what was with this woman?
“...yeah, fine, thanks, listen, stupid question, I'm going to a thing tonight at my art instructor's home and wanted to ask you a question about what I should wear...”
“...hmm? No, nothing fancy; a potluck ...what? ...uh, I'm bringing potato salad...”
-the potato salad! Dammit! Still need to swing by Krogers-
“So would jeans be okay to ...oh ...then …what should I ...wait, let me write this down ...narrow capri pants, turquoise blouse …blouse? You mean a shirt? Huh, if it's a shirt, why didn't you just call it …sorry, what kind of sandals?”
Cassandra blew out a sigh; this was going to be hard.
“…You're calling Sarah? Who is Sar-…no no! Please don't go to any trouble...”
Cassandra could not believe her luck; Luna said she would hook her up with her 'personal shopping assistant' at Lord and Taylor and arranging for an outfit to be ready.
“Great. Thank you sooo much. I guess you noticed I'm fashion challenged, and …what? …uh ...makeup? Crap! Oops, sorry, I've never used it be- ...oh? …she'll take care of that too? Can't thank you en- …hmm? …all part of your nefarious plot to get me to agree to your spread thing? ...ha! Well, evil or not, you are a lifesaver. Thanks again.”
After she clicked off her phone, she stood with eyes closed for a moment, savoring the echoes of Luna's voice. When she opened them, she found her free hand massaged one of her breasts.
“Jesus, is this normal? I know guys fantasize women do this stuff, but they don't, do they? I so need my old body back, before my mind becomes permanently fucked.”
“Hi, I'm Cassandra ...Cody's cousin …and I'm your ride.”
The blond-haired woman in the doorway wasn't frowning, but neither did she smile. Cassandra found it disconcerting to gaze up to Emilie, when she was so used to looking down. Good thing she ditched her jeans, too; Emilie wore a white shirt -correction, blouse - cinched at the waist by a black tie, and a long black skirt embroidered with a white leafy pattern. She looked fabulous.
“I'm Emilie.” She beckoned Cassandra in. “Thanks for the ride; come in for a sec, I've got to get my dish.”
Cassandra stepped into Emilie's tiny flat; not much had changed since Cody slept here a month ago. Cassandra admired how Emilie's décor displayed with her meager budget, but what really made the place work were her art works sprinkled about the room.
Cody always drooled at the way Emilie's works popped. They shared the same passion for art -Cassandra figured this common interest explained why Emilie dated Cody, however brief their relationship had lasted- and Cody's technique was much better. So how did Emilie make her works so alive?
“I ...love your outfit,” Cassandra called. She should say something girl sounding, since she was one now, right? Anyway, Emilie did look amazing. Why hadn't she noticed this before?
A wide grin beamed from Emilie when she returned, revealing her dimples. Cassandra realized she had never brought those out in her as Cody. Emilie set her green bean casserole dish on her breakfast nook table and gave Cassandra a quick scan.
“Capris look adorable on you. Cody never mentioned he had a cousin. You're so much smaller than his is...”
Capris, I am walking around in pants that don't come close to my ankles; too weird! At least they're pants.
“…and so different looking too.”
“Because I'm ...dark?” Emilie couldn't be referring to her gender switch; she couldn't know about that, could she? Unless Cassandra was an epic fail at being a woman, which was a distinct possibility.
Emilie reddened. “Er …I didn't mean anything bad, but your coloring is so amazing.”
“No offense taken. From my Albornos side I am of Moorish ancestry, but I get a little olive tone from the Elias-Lebanese side. So if you mixed those colors on your palette…” Cassandra made a sweeping gesture to her body, “…voila!”
“Yeah! I see now; how cool!”
Cassandra gave an internal relief sigh when Emilie bought the explanation, because the real one would be far harder to swallow. Or she supposed it would, if she understood it herself.
“Speaking of my cousin, he wanted me to give you this.” She handed Emilie the envelope.
Emilie eyed the envelope a moment, acting as if it were radioactive, and then ripped it open. She looked at the check, the note, Cassandra, and then her eyes teared.
“Are you okay?” Cassandra asked. The check was supposed to be a good thing; had she managed to screw this up too?
“Yes …no, I...” Emilie shook her head. “I need this so much; it keeps me studying with Maya for a few more months...”
“Cody said terrible things when I asked to borrow this, and though he said 'no strings' in the note, I...” Emilie frowned. “Here you are being kind enough to give a stranger a ride, and she starts unloading her baggage on you.”
“S'okay. If you want to talk ...I'll listen.”
Cassandra so did not want to listen. As Cody, she would run -literally- to escape a situation like this. But …if her sentence was to learn a lesson in this body, then she wanted to gain enlightenment fast so this bizarre curse end.
What shit thing did I say to her?
She racked her brain …had she joked about Emilie …not being a good lay?
“I liked two things about your cousin, his passion for art, and…” Emilie's voice lowered to a whisper “...sex. I ...can't explain ...he had an …um …energy about him, when we were ...ya know …doing it …that felt delicious. But when I asked him to lend me the money, he made me feel …dirty. He as much as called me a prostitute.”
The 'Cody' in her wanted to fist pumped about the 'good in bed' part. She had heard this before; it was a gift Cody possessed, he always left them glowing. Cassandra did not grin though, Emilie's hurt shamed her.
Cassandra looked down. “Maybe he feels bad, and this is his way of apologizing?”
Emilie shook her head. “He's too much of a prick; 'I'm sorry' isn't in his vocabulary. If there were some way for me to turn this down, I would. But he's doubled what I asked. I will have to tell everyone at the potluck about this. They all hate him, and some will I think I …slept with him for this.”
Everyone hates me? Everyone?
She felt hot salty wet form in her eyes. “I'm sorry for what I ...for the way he treated you. I'm-”
“-Hey!” Emilie took her hand and squeezed. “You didn't do this, sweetie. Not your fault.”
“Don't tell them.”
“Don't tell anyone tonight.”
“That wouldn't be honest; he's given way more than I need to-”
“-No he hasn't. This gives you, what, a couple of months breathing room? If you live like a Spartan? You need more security than that. You still need as much as anyone else can pitch in too, right?”
She nodded. “I hate being a charity case, but I'm already working two jobs. If I could just sell some paintings…”
Cassandra's brain shifted into overdrive; how would she have given the money as Cody? “Listen, we know Cody would have made a big production of this for the recognition, right?”
“-Yeah,” Emilie said, “which is why I waited until I had no other choice but to ask him.”
“And yet, he gave the check to you this way instead. My opinion -and I know him pretty well- is he wants it to remain anonymous.”
“Really?” Emilie looked hopeful. “I'd love to believe that, but...”
“How about this - don't mention the donation tonight. Tomorrow, I'll call and ask if he wants kudos for this. If he does, you can tell Maya, and she can announce it in class or something.”
“I can live with that.” Emilie gave a huge sigh, and then her dimpled smile returned. “If I could come up with a few thousand more, I'd cut back on the hours of my second job, and paint. Which is why I'm doing all this crap in the first place.”
“Well then, let's go and see what comes from tonight, cause there's potato salad in my car that won't wait much longer.”
Emilie laughed and took Cassandra's hand again. “I just met you, and I feel like were going to be close friends. You've already brought me luck.”
“I hope we will be, because right now, I need a friend more than anything in the world.”
“This is NOT going to work! The srrynah has barely raised her psi levels. Have you tasted her? Bile has better flavor.”
Luna looked up from Lori's journal, her eyes first traveling to the figure by the door, then to the wall clock. She blinked to confirm the time; when had the evening turned to midnight?
Her first reaction was to tell Jayden to leave, but she couldn't; technically, Lori had been his as much as hers. He wasn't peering over her shoulder to look at Lori's journal either; because of their low psi levels, Jayden had only taken one step into Lori's room.
Still the 'Lori-ness' she felt dissipated when he entered her srryn's old chambers and Luna resented it. She knew what he meant, though, for she had fed from Beth; her psi would keep them alive …marginally.
“Try feeding from her longer,” she answered in a dismissive tone. “From what the others say, it is not uncommon to have to draw psi longer from srryns these days; Lori spoiled you.”
The 'others' were their brothers and sisters scattered about the world, and it was true; each generation of srryns grew weaker. Unless something happened to break the cycle, the lilim would fade away.
Jayden's angry face contorted in concentration, and the journal before Luna slammed shut. She blinked in surprise. Not at the telekinetic closing of the book, but that he still possessed enough psi to accomplish it.
“Yet we found one whose levels exceed every living srryn and you refuse to consider her! This goes beyond your personal sorrow. The srryn potential of Cody-”
“Cassandra. Her name is now Cassandra Albornos.”
When she saw Jayden's black oval eyes widen at Cassandra's chosen surname, Luna realized she had failed to inform him of this development.
“I …meant to tell you …but got distracted…”
Jayden wanted to snarl about how his mate's 'Lori pining' was self-destructive, but this news was too huge for that.
“Are you saying Cody-”
Annoyance tinged her correction; it seemed important he get Cassandra's name right, though she didn't know why.
“My apologies. Are you saying Cassandra is a convergence of the Eliyahu and Auhbornae lines?”
“Possibly. I haven't probed it; my sole interest in her is to help her acquire feminine survival skills. I've created a cover story of a fashion shoot to give me the chance to instruct her and assess where her counseling needs are greatest.”
“Counseling?! A fashion shoot?!!”
Luna had never heard Jayden so agitated. “Well, yes. I felt this approach to be the most discreet and would not arouse her suspicions. She is disoriented, dazed and-”
“-You misunderstand me! This changes everything. We MUST take her as our srryn!”
“I rejected her; how much clearer need I be?”
“No! Bad enough you sentence me to the misery of taking sustenance from the vapid Beth, but now you would deprive our kind of the benefits of this discovery? If the Auhbornae line yet continues, we must influence the coupling of Eliyahu ~and~ Auhbornae descendants to-”
“-You. Will. Not. Force. Her. On. Me!”
She punctuated each word with a small telekinetic boom.
“This goes beyond you! Beyond our mating. I will go to her, tonight, and trigger her heat!”
The image of him activating Cassandra struck Luna as wrong; she couldn't let that happen. So why did she feel so protective? She didn't even like Cassandra, did she?
“Wait …wait …give me …one more day with her.”
“One more day? To do what?”
“To see if…” the words spilled out, “…she might work after all. As my srryn.”
Jayden relaxed; his anger drained away at her statement. He saw dual positives - this situation might force Luna beyond her paralysis over Lori's death, and they would jettison Beth for the psi rich Cassandra.
“Excellent! We can mind wipe the past few days from Beth and she will be none the worse for wear. Actually, if I took the wipe back a few years, it would be doing her a favor. She would do better having nothing in her head than the misinformation she's crammed in her tiny brain.”
“Don't jump to conclusions. Nothing is decided. Just give me tomorrow. Please.”
“Agreed. One more day.”
He would do that, even if it meant remaining psi starved and suffering Beth for another day. He had loved Luna for a hundred years and planned to do so for two hundred more, so he would take this gamble; she must make this decision on her own.
He also knew it wasn't much of a risk; if she didn't, he would take Cassandra himself.
“And this means what to you?”
Luna and Meredith had met Cassandra at Starbucks the next morning and convinced her to walk to their nearby office. Luna preferred the outside venue because a peaceful stroll gave her a chance to observe Cassandra in a relaxed setting. Also, it kept her out of confining human office spaces for that much longer. And, since the predicted storm wasn't due until evening, it gave her a chance to enjoy the brisk autumn day.
When their route took them by the art museum, Cassandra slammed to a halt and could go no further.
She had forgotten the Rembrandt exhibit was in town. It wasn't a debate; Cassandra dragged the women inside, and they now stood in front of Rembrandt's ink of Zacharias and the Angel.
“What's it mean? Proof that God is up there. He guided Rembrandt's hand; nothing else explains this.”
This place was a sanctuary to Cody; why hadn't she come here after her change? Even if some mysterious god or devil forced this on her, he or she couldn't take the beauty from her head - the miracle of Rembrandt and Michelangelo and Monet.
Luna looked at the enraptured girl and smiled. Smiling was a rarity since Lori's passing, and her heaviness lifted for a moment.
Stripped of her original body, and her old inflated 'Cody' ego, Luna found Cassandra to be tolerable. No, more than that, the new Cassandra was sweet.
“One more and I swear we'll go,” Cassandra said, grabbing Luna's hand and pulling her down the museum corridor. She did not know why, but she felt compelled to touch the dark haired elegant woman. “It's one of his last self portraits.”
She stopped them in front of the oil painting, and Luna tasted the psi energy swirling in Cassandra. The girl stared at Rembrandt in his silk cap, and gray bushy hair, and he stared back with his weary eyes.
“Do you see? Do you?” Cassandra sounded like she was crying.
“See what,” Meredith asked.
"He's a lonely old man and he painted it! Here!" Her hand swept to the painting, "his loneliness is here; so fierce! No boundaries, no filters, he just gave himself to the painting. How? God, how I wish I could do that!"
“Uhnnnnn,” Luna said, more moan than whisper. Psi sparkled around Cassandra so brightly, Luna drank it from the ambient air.
Meredith glanced at Luna; she had overheard these same sounds from her boss when Luna and Lori were together, doing ...whatever it was lilim did to their servants.
“Are you okay,” she whispered.
Luna's eyes shot open. Okay? She wanted to take Cassandra with her janja here! Even this 'sipping' could ignite Cassandra's srryn body. Then the heat would start.
“Meredith, we must leave; I've remembered an ...appointment we have, correct?” Luna said, backing away.
“With …Sam?" Meredith struggled to keep pace with her boss' intentions. "About the website revamp?”
"Yesss ...with Sam."
"God, I'm such an idiot; I've delayed you." Cassandra felt horrible for imposing her museum visit on them. “Should I meet you tomorrow at Starbucks again? Or your office? No more diversions, I promise.”
“I'm imagining a more intimate setting, say, we three tonight at my apartment,” Luna said, from a safe distance. Far enough away to prevent her from raping Cassandra in front of the sad eyes of Rembrandt. “We'll discuss it over dinner; I'm thinking Japanese.”
"Dinner? I shouldn't-"
"-Please? Unless you have other plans?"
Other plans? As if!
Her 'other plans' consisted of online gender reversal research. She spent yesterday trolling for information about spontaneous sex changes in fish. Tonight she would dive into the world of secret government agencies and medical experimentation. An offer of sushi sounded light years better. Except ...would that mean they were going to an upscale restaurant?
"Um, I don't have anything dressy to wear, except the stuff Sarah picked out for me last night, and-”
"-Don't worry. I'll have something for you to throw on. I'll send my limo to your place to pick you up."
"L-limo?" This was happening too fast.
“My driver's name is Jayden. Expect him at 7. Shall we, Meredith?”
Luna and Cassandra had exchanged something, but Meredith had not pieced it together, except to see Cassandra's face had the same wanting look Lori wore when she disappeared into Luna's office for a private 'dictation session.' What spell had Luna cast on this poor girl? And how could she help her?
"Perfect, dinner it is; you couldn't keep me away with a gun,” Meredith said, as she and Luna left Cassandra to head for the museum entrance.
Cassandra might have caught an implied threat in Meredith's words, had she not been overwhelmed by a sudden arousal. When she looked down to find she was kneading her breasts again, she dropped her hands in horror.
What is happening to me? I'm ...shit! I think I'm horny!
She scrambled out of the museum and raced back to her apartment, with every intention of taking an icy shower.
Which instead turned out to be hot, lasting a long time, and involved slow slow soaping.
“Ms. Albornos? Your limousine has arrived.”
Cassandra pressed the apartment intercom button. “Tell the driver I'm sick and can't come tonight.”
Cassandra hoped her dinner 'engagement' would evaporate. To be truthful, she hadn't thought about it since her return home; hadn't thought about anything. Her mood had turned as dark as the threatening skies that spat cold rain on the city.
Hope of an easy fix for her 'condition' was evaporating. She had scoured the Internet and found nothing to explain her change, much less provide a way to reverse it. Karmic good deeds weren't paying off either. Last night she went to sleep thinking she would awaken in her old Cody body, and in the morning, she arose as the exotic Cassandra.
Cassandra knew it was time to consider other options, such as going to a doctor for tests, or a priest for an exorcism, or …or she didn't know what. All she wanted to do was curl up in bed and pretend it would all go away.
“Ms. Albornos? The driver says he needs you to sign something before he can leave. Can you come down?”
She punched the intercom button this time. “Fine. If that's what it takes to get rid of this asshole, I'll be right down.”
She slipped on her spanking new Walmart running shoes and headed down. Her mood lightened when she reached the lobby and saw him; with his curly blond hair, blue eyes and fit build, he looked more 'surfer dude' than limo driver, despite his crisp black uniform.
“The young miss is feeling unwell?”
Cassandra blinked. The driver's velvet voice warmed her almost the same way Luna's did. What was happening? Had her transformation come with an instant orientation switch from women to men? Because this man made her squirmy, which was Cassandra's short hand for the wet tingly dampness her new anatomy seemed fond of producing. Yet, she lusted after women too; her mind looped Luna's image 24/7 since the moment she laid eyes on the mysterious woman. So this made her …bi? God, what was happening to her?
When she looked into his shimmering blue eyes, her train of thought …derailed. “Yeah …um …don't feel so good … got a …a cold …yeah … so tell Loona …I mean Ms. Longaine …I'm sorry.”
“Ms. Longaine's dinner will be just the medicine; she has ordered takeout from Edo's. A steaming bowl of miso soup will fix you up. Shall we?” He motioned to the door.
“I …uh …don't have my wallet...” -wait, do girls have wallets?- “er …ID …and I left my room unlocked-”
“-No need for money or ID tonight; Ms. Longaine will take care of everything. Ready?”
He opened the lobby door, and damned if her traitorous feet did not walk right out. She heard the pop of an umbrella, and looked up to see her surfer dude driver holding it over her head. In front of her stood an enormous black limo, a stretch Ford Excursion. The driver opened the limousine door and Cassandra peered in, blinking at flat screen TVs, a flashing sound system, and gleaming wet bar. It looked bigger than her apartment.
“Good Lord, I’ll get lost back there. Listen, mister-”
“-Call me Jayden.”
“Okay ...look. It's just me here. Wouldn't it make more sense to sit in the front seat with you?”
“Now, none of that. I've already poured you a chardonnay. A special vintage. I'm sure you've been under stress lately; who hasn't? Relax and enjoy.”
She shrugged. Might as well enjoy a moment of luxury; tomorrow I may wake up and find I have been turned into…
NO! She halted the thought; she would not think about tomorrow, because it meant pondering her depressing future. Instead, she climbed into the limo.
True to his word, Cassandra found a glass of white wine waiting on the bar. Cody was a red wine lover, but since she was on a campaign to act polite, she took a swig. It tasted sweeter than a typical chardonnay, but something in it hit her just right. She settled into the plush bench seat as the limo rumbled into the evening traffic.
“We'll arrive in about fifteen minutes; would you like to watch something, Ms. Albornos?”
It took her a moment to remember 'Ms. Albornos' was her. “S'cuse me?”
“On television. Would you like to watch something? The 'Bad Girl's Club' perhaps?”
Bad Girl's Club? What the hell is that?
Cassandra couldn’t concentrate; something in the wine scrambled her thoughts. She took another gulp.
“Um ... could you find a basketball game, maybe ...er, Jason?”
“Oh, God! I am an idiot. Sorry.”
“Not a problem; it's an unusual name. Would you like NBA or-”
“-College. I don't start watching NBA until the Finals. And try to find a Big 10 game, please? The Big East is overrated.”
“I beg to differ. Perhaps...” Jayden licked his lips to taste the sizzling psi she radiated; he had to get closer to her “...you'd care to sit in the front seat with me after all and defend your novel theory, m'lady.”
'M'lady'. She hiccup laughed. And took another swig of this amazing wine. For some reason, sitting close to him sounded like a fabulous idea. Jayden pulled over, and Cassandra hopped into the front seat, with wine in hand; now more than half empty.
As he motored back into traffic, she mentally sketched his chiseled silhouette, framed against the beaded lights of rain on the window. She found him handsome; Lord, she couldn't deny it; she wanted to run her fingers across his face.
'Steady, he's a guy, and you're a guy ...or were...' she hiccupped again.
“You were explaining your misguided thoughts about the Big East being overrated?'
Huh? Oh ...yeah... all she think about was how much she wanted to touch him.
'C'mon, Cassie, concentrate.' That she had internally referred to herself as Cassie instead of Cody didn't register.
“It's ...an east coast sportswriter conspiracy; they're in love with the Big East. But if you look at the RBI ...I mean the RPI, the Big 10 is butter ...er, better.”
Jayden saw how quickly the c'taia affected Cassandra; the stronger the srryn, the faster the reaction. Slammed described Cassandra's condition; he had given her too much, dammit!
It was difficult driving with her next to him; he was low on psi because of Beth's meager amounts, and the energy rolling off Cassandra tasted divine. He imagined how incredible she would be if he entered her with his janja.
“Are you still feeling sick, Ms. Albornos?”
“I'm Cassie, 'kay?”
“Very well, Cassie, are you feeling better?”
“I'm floating on cluffy flouds; that's awesome wine.”
She had another urge to stroke his hand on the steering wheel; she caught herself reaching for him and pulled back.
“Go ahead, it's okay,” Jayden said, his voice silky smooth. The c'taia, he knew, had suppressed her human inhibitions and srryn tactile instincts were kicking in. Srryns felt most at ease when they were touching their lilim.
Cassandra nodded languidly and laid her hand on his hand; it felt downy. A wave of heated pleasure swamped her body and she moaned. She reddened when she realized what she'd done and started to pull her hand back again, but in a smooth move, Jayden laid his hand over hers, twining their fingers.
“Relax, Cassie. I don't mind at all.”
Holy Lilith! She was electrifying, he wanted more more more! He drew as much psi from her touch as Beth had produced in ten minutes of full entry!
Jayden played a dicey game; Luna had softened toward Cassandra, and he wanted the decision to take the girl to be hers. This was critical to Luna's acceptance of the new srryn. From Luna's assessment, he gathered Cody's personality was abrasive, so to improve the odds, he had c'taia dosed Cassandra to mellow her.
It was touch and go now because she was razor close to igniting into srryna this instant. When that happened, her physiology would permanently shift: she would stop aging.
Cassandra's nerve sensory receptors would reformat to generate sustained carnal heat, and psi. Her vagina, mouth, and anus would act as primary sensory areas, yet her breasts, fingers, and even her skin would stimulate psi pleasure.
Once the shift occurred, Cassandra's new hyper-sexual srryn impulses would override her human instincts and would compel her to serve her lilim.
The temptation Cassandra presented Jayden was not easily resisted. Since Lori's death, he had been perpetually psi drained, and every fiber of his being ached to drink more from her. It was like putting a barrel of ice water in front of a man who had just crawled out of the Sahara, and telling him to look but not drink.
He glanced at Cassandra and saw her eyes glazed and her lips curled up. No, it would not be hard to push this one to srryna at all.
“Now, what were we talking about?”
“T-talking?” Her head buzzed, and all she could think about was the man seated next to her, and Luna.
Electricity jolted through her body. She needed something from them, but didn't know what.
“Mmmm. Tell me 'bout her.”
“Looooonaa. Have ...have you worked for her for a long time?”
“Yes, quite long. Her penthouse is on top of that building.”
She saw his finger pointed to the art deco Beckendorf Tower. “Wow. Pricey rent.”
“It would be, if she paid rent. But she owns it, so-”
“-She owns the penthouse? Holy shit!”
“Cassie, I meant she owns the building.”
That brought a dose of sobriety to Cassandra. “I thought she was a fashion magazine editor... for Trend.”
“Oh, she is. Owns the magazine too. And several others.”
“But that means she's a zillionaire! Why does she want to have dinner with me for some stupid 'budget chic' spread? This doesn't make sense.”
“Relax, little one; no need to worry. Drink your wine. You're tired; rest your head on me.”
She brought the glass to her lips without question and drained it. Then she leaned her head against his chest; it felt at home. Before she closed her eyes and drifted away, she murmured,
“What's happening to me?”
“Something amazing, perhaps,” he answered.
Jayden stroked her hair as they drove the final blocks to the building entrance. His mind whirled; what did Luna have against her? Cassandra was bright; next to Beth she seemed like Einstein. Resilient too, as her capacity to carry on alone after her Jh'tiel conversion showed. And …he liked her; she was fun.
Not the firmest basis to enter a hundred year relationship, granted. But they were in a bind; he and Luna were starving. It's not like they could log onto eHarmony and see which srryn matched their personalities.
As it happened, they had tried something like that. Or rather, they had tried to prepare for an ordered transition from Lori to the next srryn. A year ago, they screened dozens of candidates and found Sophia Ellis. Lori had begun a slow srryn indoctrination of the young woman when Sophia was killed in a fiery car crash. Poor Lori had run out of time before she found another replacement. What a shame; coming as she did from the Eliyahu line, Sophia's k'jarn readings were strong.
Nothing like Cassandra's off-the-chart level. She was a throw back to the 'olden days' when srryns' psi levels were far stronger than today, and ba-srryns existed. Maybe the mingling of the Eliyahu and Auhbornae lines had produced something miraculous.
“Thank Lilith she's wearing jeans, or I don't know what I'd have done.”
He knew one truth: if this one ever became theirs, he'd re-implement the 'no pants or panties' rule they had for Lori.
No when this one became theirs; he must not let her get away.
Jayden laid the unconscious girl on Lori's day bed and turned, to answer Luna's arched eyebrow. Before he spoke, he walked to the far side of Lori's bedroom. They were too psi drained to risk close contact.
“I *ahem* grossly underestimated her psi strength and gave her too large a dose.
“I have eyes; the question is why?”
“Because Beth is a small minded cow. Because I thought if you saw Cassie when she was relaxed, you might not find her detestable.”
“Is it your plan to keep her drugged for the next hundred years?”
No, of course not, I-”
“-Ever hear the human saying about gasoline and matches? She easily could have activated! I almost did so today at the museum just by holding her hand, and you dose her up with c'taia?”
“We are psi starving and Cassie's the mother lode! You must reconsider her!”
“I'm keeping an open mind; she's here, isn't she?” Luna said. “When she was looking at the Rembrandts this morning, she showed depth and emotion that …touched me.”
“Excellent! So you could accept this one!”
“No! She will not take Lori's place! No one can!”
Jayden saw his mistake; saw what was happening. His mate's negative reaction to Cassandra had nothing to do with the girl's alleged personality flaws; Luna felt disloyal to Lori by thinking well of another potential srryn. This explained why Luna pushed Beth forward instead; she saw Cassandra as Lori's competition, and Beth as a non-entity. Lori warned him about this; he could not allow it to continue.
“Of course. Yet we have a duty to each other, and to our species, to survive. Do not forget our duty even extends to the humans, for if we are to prevent them from committing our crime, we must be alive when they develop the knowledge and technology to alter themselves. Out of love for you, I have allowed you grieving space, but time is up. You must make the right decision.”
“I …” No. She wouldn't answer him. “The take out should arrive soon and Beth is waiting for you in the guest bedroom; she's watching reality shows. Where will you take her this evening?”
“She's picked a movie; I dread what it will be. At least for two hours, I'll be able to draw psi and not have to listen to her inane babble. I suspect the amount I'll draw will be little more than I could pull from a large buttered popcorn. I shall have to 'supplement' when I return her here. Let it be Cassie I feed from, I'm begging you.”
Luna would have laughed at Jayden's popcorn comment, if it were not true. She had already fed from Beth's small supply this afternoon, and would have enough psi to limp through tomorrow. Which meant little remained for Jayden. As low as he was, there was increasing danger he could not sustain his 'human' projection. If that failed, the risk to his life jumped exponentially.
“Jayden, please be careful.”
“We have an easy fix for this, love, activate Cassandra as our srryn. Here. Tonight.”
Cassandra stretched, and had the bizarre notion she was extending her arms as cats did when they stretched. Then she realized Luna was sitting next to her.
“Ms. Longaine? How did I, um…”
"Get here? Jayden carried you in. You were tired and needed the cat nap."
When Cassandra sat up the room spun a bit. Her head was clearer from the killer wine Jayden had given her, but she still was floating, and felt unaccountably …happy.
She lay on a couch in what looked like a bedroom; a dresser, makeup table, roll top desk, books, and music system filled the rest of the room. Conspicuously missing was a bed; so where did the occupant sleep?
“Who's room is this?”
“Someone dear to me.”
Luna said it so mysteriously, Cassandra expected more, but received silence.
“Um …okay …so since I, uh, passed out, Meredith must be getting pretty hungry waiting for me to-”
Luna waved a dismissive gesture. “The storm has delayed Meredith, so why don't you shower up, and I'll lay clothes out for you,” Luna said, handing her a towel. “Please don't go poking around. I have many private things here; personal memories.”
“Do I stink or something? I don't think I need one; I've already had two today. Two …long …hot …steamy showers."
“Um-hmm, I bet.” Luna gave a knowing smile. “You will like this one even more; it's custom made."
Cassandra sat unmoving long after Luna had left, trying to sort the thoughts pinging in her head.
Why am I here? Mere days after being gender twisted and I’m in a strange woman's penthouse -no, scratch that, building- contemplating a shower? And why do I get so damned horny around Luna and Jayden?
She sighed, wandered in the bathroom, and decided she would shower, when she saw the seven or more showerheads, positioned all around a huge granite walled shower chamber. Cassandra took the longest steamiest shower of her life.
When she emerged, she found Luna had left her a floor length black silk robe, with a silver flower embroidered on the back, black rectangle shaped flat wooden sandals, and nothing else.
“Ms. Longaine? Where are my clothes?” She called out of the bathroom.
“Folded on the sofa, darling,” Luna called back. “The food is here. Throw on the robe on and come out. Don't worry; it's just us girls.”
Not wanting to be rude -and still feeling bubbly from the wine- she shrugged, slipped on the robe and cinched it. With golden hair still glistening wet, she hobbled out in the strange flat sandals.
She found Luna sitting on her living room floor in front of a coffee table overflowing with takeout boxes. Cassandra breathed scents of miso soup and teriyaki, and realized she was ravenous. She klopped across the floor to the table, stepped off the sandals and sat on her knees.
Luna's eyes roamed up and down Cassandra's silken form. Her dark srryn beauty was exquisite. Was her first impression wrong? Could she have fun with this one? Even if that were possible, it was unimaginable to think of having the soul connection she had had with Lori. Theirs was lesbian by human standards, a rarity between lilim and srryn. She suspected she and Cassandra would develop a traditional lilim-srryn mentor relationship.
Still, the psi potential of the bright-eyed creature before her was enormous and would provide all the energy they needed over her hundred year Turn. She was so new to her gender; Luna imagined having several years of fun using her as a living dress up doll, and sending her into complicated human mating situations.
“Like the kimono and getas? Very traditional.”
“Haven't you carried the 'doing Japanese' thing a bit far? What would I be wearing if you'd ordered Mexican?”
“Something flamenco maybe, with castanets; or is that Spanish? We will do that next time. Have some sushi.”
Luna handed Cassandra a blue porcelain fish shaped plate; on it were a variety of sushi rolls, a smaller fish shaped dish with soy sauce, a dab of wasabi, and chop sticks.
“You'll love Edo's spicy tuna rolls. Watch the volcano roll, it is well named.” Luna then laid her palms on the coffee table. “Bad news. I received a text from Meredith and she's been delayed further; she said to start without her.”
Which was untrue; she had uninvited her editor from dinner this afternoon. Meredith had issued several dire warnings about not harming Cassandra, so she also alerted security that Ms. Benson was not allowed in the building tonight.
“Good Lord, Ms. Longaine; no way we can eat all this!”
“Don't worry, Jayden will gobble up whatever we don't.” Luna smiled at Cassandra. “And stop calling me 'Ms. Longaine.' I'm Luna. Let me hear you say it.”
She smiled; it felt good rolling off her tongue. Warm.
“Excellent, now that's settled, let's talk. I do not mean to be forward, but I've noticed you are struggling with personal issues. How can I help?”
Cassandra's eyes widened; was it so obvious that a relative stranger pick it out?
I must suck at being female.
“Yeah, I've been going through some …changes, and feel lost. I doubt there's anything you can do, other than help me avoid fashion disasters.”
“You are reluctant to tell me what has happened. Fair enough. Perhaps I can help you deal with it?” She poured more green tea into Cassandra's cup. “Without being specific, can you give me an idea of what you've experienced?”
Cassandra sipped on her tea and thought, struggling to come up with an example that would help, but wouldn't make Luna think she was insane
“Suppose …you weighed, like, umm …500 pounds, all your life, then magically, you wake up one morning weighing 105. Suppose you've changed so much no one recognizes you.”
“Hmm. So, you suddenly find you are a beautiful young woman. And you've never lived that life before? You'd lack the social skills, experience, basic wardrobe-”
“-Yes. Don't know about the beautiful part, but think of me dealing with a change like that.”
“But Cassandra, you are beautiful and erotic. So, a life altering change has happened; what has been the hardest part it? Is it what I just mentioned or-”
Cassandra shook her head. “Yeah, I am clueless about the social stuff, but what's been hardest, is learning what people thought of the old me. People hated me; I must have been shitty to everyone.”
Her eyes grew wet. “I need to figure this out, because tomorrow -hopefully- I'll wake up to find …I'm fat again …and I don't want to go back to being the asshole I was.”
Luna's eyes widened; Cassandra's confession was disarming, and against her will, she was warming to the girl. Then a surge of self-loathing washed over her, thoughts of how she was betraying Lori. Her eyes narrowed, and her voice took on a hard edge.
“If you don't return to your old form, what of it? You remain 'stuck' as beautiful young woman? Many would find it easy to deal with a body as incredible as yours.”
Cassandra frowned; she had avoided thinking about the possibility this cosmic joke might be permanent. But what if it was?
“Yeah …I guess I'd want to make sure I didn't turn into a …skinny asshole.” Cassandra started fidgeting now. “Um, can I be excused to use the bathroom? Since I …lost weight …my bladder seems to have shrunk as well, and the green tea has already-”
“-of course. Use the bathroom you showered in.”
After Cassandra finished in the bathroom, and was walking back through the bedroom, she felt a tug at her mind. Something pulled her to the roll top desk against the wall.
'Weird.' Cassandra shook her head to clear it, and started for the door again.
Once again, an impulse, almost a voice, urged her to the desk.
Half dazed, the other half curious, Cassandra crept to the desk and rolled up the top. There she found an old worn journal. Flipping open the cover, she read the yellowed cursive inscription,
'This journal is the property of Lorraine Cynthia Aaren. DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE NOT ME! I MEAN IT!!!' ”
Cassandra chuckled at the adolescent warning from the past and closed the journal. “Right. I am properly warned. So, I shouldn't-”
This time it ~was~ a voice in her head, she was sure! Where was it coming from? Cassandra's hands were shaking, but she reopened the journal, and read the first sentences.
Cleveland, April 29, 1910
My fellow Clevelanders believe Haley's Comet has returned to destroy the world, or at least to signal the apocalypse. Goodness!
They fret every morning when they wake and see it on the horizon. But I know the comet's return was a message just for me.
For it was after it appeared I learned of the lilim, and became the first srryn of Luana and Jaide Lundquist.
Who? Luana and Jaide? That sounded incredibly close to Luna and Jayden. Coincidence, right? No way they be the same; Luna and Jayden looked like they were barely in their thirties.
“And what's a lilim? Or a srryn?”
*Luna is a lilim, and I was her srryn.*
Cassandra shook her head again, this time hard, as if she were clearing water from her ears. Maybe the stress of a sudden gender change had finally caused her to crack.
*Srryn, may I share your body?*
*Please say yes. The other refused.*
“I'm dressed in a kimono, in a strange woman's apartment, listening to a voice in my head. Fucking great. Was it two days ago I was Cody Elias? Seems like two centuries.”
*If you say no, I will fade. I'm scared. Don't let me die.*
Cassandra hadn't a clue whether she imagined this, or what it meant. On an impulse, she held her hand out to touch the entity. It took her a moment to realize the feedback she received was the same sensation she experienced when she viewed masterpieces.
The debate may rage for the next thousand years over what people experience by viewing a 'masterpiece'. It is a mystery - one man's capacity to receive another's deepest emotions simply by looking at colors on a canvas. Was it divine? Psychological? Chemical?
Whatever the answer, Cassandra was overcome with ecstasy when she gazed at Rubens' Massacre of the Innocents, or Renoir's Bal Au Moulin de la Galette. Or any work by Monet. They beamed her out of the mundane and into a place she had no name for.
It made no sense, but this was what she felt from the pleading voice. What did it mean? Cassandra had no clue, other than thinking, knowing, she must not let this essence fade.
Without the slightest understanding of what she was doing, she performed the first unselfish act of her life.
“ 'kay …come into me.”
Cassandra have sworn she felt energy filter into her and anchor deep within.
Then, a real voice sliced through the moment.
“WHAT are you doing at her desk?”
Cassandra turned to find Luna standing in the doorway.
“Sorry. Strangest thing …a voice told me to come here and look at a diary. Then it asked me-”
“She's gone! I …I don't feel her anymore.”
“What's gone? Feel who?”
“What have you done?” The 'Lori' essence of the room had vanished and it felt like her love had died a second time. Despair knife-gutted Luna, followed by rage.
“You murderer! You have driven her away!”
“You're crazier than me! No one is here, except this voice I was-”
Luna raised her hands, and the journal slapped closed, followed by the desktop rolling shut.
“Hey! How did you-
Her words strangled in her mouth, because Luna's image blurred, and she traversed the distance between them in an instant to grab a fistful of Cassandra's gold hair. She drug the yelping girl through the penthouse halls, opened her front door, and tossed her out.
“What a fool I was to think you redeemable. Go! Live whatever miserable existence you can. Better yet, do the world a favor; crawl in a hole and die, 'Cassandra who was Cody'.”
Cassandra blinked as the statement sunk in.
“You …know who I used to be? Wait …did you have anything to do with it? With my-”
“-Oh no! Not me! I wanted nothing to do with you, you miserable piece of excrement. No, Jayden, in his rashness, injected you with the Jh'tiel serum.”
Cassandra tried to grab Luna's silk blouse, but ended touching something downy instead.
“Change me back. Whatever the hell he did, undo it. Now!”
Luna batted Cassandra's hands away. “At first I felt sorry for you, but now? You are not fit to be bound to a lilim. Be gone! Forever!”
She slammed the door in Cassandra's face.
Cassandra stood open-mouthed for several minutes. They did this to her? How? Why?
She needed answers, and pounded on Luna's door again. And again. And again until, ten minutes later, security arrived, to escort -translate: throw- her out.
Cassandra leaned against the granite sides of Beckendorf Tower, trying to stay out of the cold rain, though wetness already flowed down her cheeks. What had she done to deserve this? The response she received was a faraway lightning flash and a thunder roll.
Nothing made sense. What would she do now? How would she even get home? She had no ID, no money. She didn't even have her clothes!
Her back stiffened. “Fuck Luna! Fuck everyone!” She'd walk back -barefoot and in this ridiculous kimono- if it came down to it.
The universe wasn't entirely against her; she hailed a cab and convinced the driver she was good for the fare. As they drove, she noticed the man spending a lot of time peering into his rear view mirror. What the hell was he looking at?
After a moment she realized what - an exotic young woman, wearing a silk kimono, made clingy by the rain.
'Fuck him too!' she thought. Things would be different now she had some answers, dammit. Now she ... Well, what could she do?
'C'mon, Cassie, think!'
She free associated; she : find someone with Mob connections and put out a hit on Luna, or ...give the GPS coordinates to the military so they can lob a smart bomb on her penthouse ...or ...or ...sick the Jehovah's Witnesses on Luna's ass until she agreed to change her back to Cody.
Cassandra sighed. Her realistic options seemed sparse, but still, she now had something more concrete than a feeling the stars were punishing her. She knew who changed her. Since they changed her, they could change her back. She just had to figure out how to make them do it.
She had another research assignment to plow into too:
“Luna? I misspoke.”
Jayden's voice boomed down the penthouse hallway. “I drew more psi from the buttered popcorn than from Beth.”
High spirits buoyed Jayden, despite an impressive list of reasons to be in a mood as foul as the weather:
He was near psi empty and had been so since Lori's passing. He had endured two hours with the bland -no, flavorless- Beth and suffered through an insipid vampire movie. Beth had then ordered him to assume the likeness of Robert Pattinson and affect a British accent the entire limo ride home. Finally, the violent storm now striking the city would inhibit his flying, and Jayden craved his time in the air; all lilim did.
Yet he was giddy as he roamed their halls, for he knew a powerful and activated srryn must await him. Since his sips from Cassandra in the limo, he had thought of nothing else. At last he understood what humans felt when they craved a big juicy steak. Lilims subsisted on a diet of vegetables and psi, but the thought of Cassandra made him lick his lips.
“Luna? Where are you?”
He guessed the answer, and headed to Lori's room, where he found her hunched over Lori's desk and crying.
“Where is she?”
“Gone. Lori's truly gone.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Her essence. I've sensed Lori in here every day since her death, until that horrid beast came in. She killed her!”
Jayden shook his head; even Luna's borderline madness would not dampen his humor. “I'll have Maintenance check the filtration system first thing tomorrow.”
It was Luna's turn to be perplexed. “Filtration? I don't understand.”
“Insanity must be in the air. Earlier, Beth came whining to me about a voice talking to her in here. She babbled something about it wanting to enter her.”
“She came in here? My orders were explicit; that simpering fool was not to set foot in this room.”
“Her pea-sized brain is easily bored and she wandered in. Nothing was harmed, I'm sure. Few of Lori's books are illustrated, so I doubt she touched them. Something scared her though, because she came screaming to me; she thought something tried to possess her.”
“Then if Beth was in here, it might not have been Cassandra at all!”
At the mention of her name, Jayden's psi lust reasserted. “Speaking of Cassie, where is our new srryn? I must feed.”
Before Luna answered, a huge thunder rumble clattered the tower. Jayden peered out the window to the lightning display on the horizon.
“The main storm cell has hit at last; no flying tonight. Ah well. Where is she?”
“I...” A lightning flash flickered the lights, and the windows shook again with a booming. “...sent her away.”
“I threw her out, because I thought she caused Lori's essence to disappear.”
“Threw …her …out…into …the …storm?”
Jayden snapped. The stress from Lori's death, his own meager psi levels, and now Luna's unbalanced behavior overwhelmed him.
He resisted his first urge, to leap on his mate and drain her of psi. Past that, feral need ruled and he raced out the door to their roof stairway. His mind's last cogent thought was to recall Cody Elias' address. Then, pure hunger drove him to leap into the storm. A voice called from below for him to stop, but he couldn't. One goal burned his mind - find Cassandra and drink from her.
Jayden did not get far. Thirty seconds into his frenzied flight, a micro-burst from the storm slammed him into a nearby building window and punctured the place where his black wing membrane attached to his metacarpal bone. The pain shot adrenaline into his body, temporarily replacing his psi lust, and his mind cleared enough for him to see his situation.
He was airborne still, but losing altitude. Landing was not an option, because he was completely psi drained and unable to project a human likeness.
Banking into the wind hard, he used his good wing to turn and head for their tower. Though lashed by wind and rain, he fought to close the distance. His point of reference was a gargoyle corner of the tower, lit by the strobe lightning flashes.
Though the pain from his damaged wing threatened to drag him into unconsciousness, he fought on, and, was relieved when a lightning flash revealed he had closed the distance to twenty yards. Then he heard a tearing sound, and new pain rocketed to his brain, bringing blackness.
Luna watched in horror as Jayden entered an uncontrolled spiral. She raced to where she thought he might land to try to catch him, but the tip of his good wing clipped a gargoyle figurine, sending Jayden spinning into a utility duct with a sickening crunch.
She scooped her broken and bleeding mate in her arms and bounded down the stairs to their bedroom, where she laid him on their bed.
His breaths came in shallow rasps. Death was upon him; a lilim senses these things. She grew frantic; she had lost Lori, she could not lose Jayden!
Psi. He needed a large psi dose. With enough of the energy, lilim recovered from the most gruesome of injuries.
Luna dashed to the guest bedroom and dragged Beth from her facebook chatting.
“But ...he has already stuck his thingy in me and I'm tired,” Beth bleated.
“He's hurt,” Luna growled. “You will give him all the psi you can.”
The moment she pulled the girl into the bedroom Luna realized her mistake. She had left the lights on. Beth viewed Jayden in his true form for the first time.
The shrieks began.
After several minutes of blood curdling, mouth foaming howls, Luna realized the girl was not going to regain rational thought. Out of options, she sent an energy pulse into Beth to induce unconsciousness. She would have to erase Beth's memory later, or risk her spiraling into insanity.
‘This is my fault, my doing,’ her mind screamed.
Panicked and crazed, Luna took Jayden's janji in her hands and willed what little psi she had into her mate. He stabilized slightly, but soon her meager stores were exhausted.
“One choice left.”
Now weak from psi loss herself, she stumbled for her purse, yanked out her cell phone, scrolled to the 'calls received' screen, and jabbed the call button. After several rings, a soft voice answered, thank Lilith!
“It's Luna. Come back now! Jayden is hurt; he won't live without you. Please please come to me, you are my last hope.”
She weeped her next words:
“I need you, Cassandra. I choose you as my srryn.”
End Part 2.
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