The Huntress Chronicles Chapter 4

The price of disobedience part 1

I know it’s been awhile, but you asked for the WHOLE story. So don’t get upset at me for how long it is. Anyway, three weeks after Rose’s birthday, one day until the Hunters Gathering is where it happened. Coincidentally it also was one day before the field trip. Wait, my period? Yes I went through it and NO I do not want to talk about it. Moving on:

I found myself dreaming again, unfortunately it was the theatre of memories returning with a vengeance. You better get used to that, my brain is a dick. Anyway, this one showed my parents arguing with a man I’d come to dread. Matthew Summers, the orchestrator of my hell. I floated into it, despite begging for any other memory besides this. My pleas fell on deaf ears, as tendrils came out of the movie screen and pulled me into it.

It was August, one month after Enrique was murdered. I was there with my mother and father, sitting on that rigid bench they called a pew. The other church goers had all left, but in front of me was a man who sent fear down my spine. He was an Elder of the church, which meant he was in charge. He was one of three, all men, all white. Women were not allowed to be Elders, women and girls weren’t allowed to do much of anything except “be as decorative flowers to prettify the church” as Elder Matthew once said.

After the horrific encounter with the monster that ate my brother, my luck had only gotten worse. I didn’t want anyone to forget Enrique so I told everyone I could about my twin brother, which is what led to this moment. I also told them I was trans and a girl, which did not help.

“I know you are aware of the sin of pretending to be a gender you are not, also I am sorry but your son seems to be on the path to madness. Pretending he has a brother that never existed, and pretending he is female are both grievous sins, as you know. Your son is on the path to hell,” the man warned, and both my parents gasped. My mother broke down crying, my father held her, I could only hang my head down low.

“What can we do?” My father asked. The old white man smiled.

“Well, there is a hospital. A place to help troubled souls. Don’t worry, it’s not like those liberal crackpot houses, it’s a good Christian organization. If it had been, they’d probably give him sex change surgery, and have him prance around in a dress with a boyfriend twenty years older than him like the disgusting pedophiles they are,” Matthew said with disgust. My parents recoiled in fear, however I felt something off about this man. He had a strange mark on him, a mark that didn’t seem to be located on any particular part of his body, yet was still visible, as clear as day. It was a four pointed star crossed with a snake. It was the mark of a type of touched, I’d later learn. Specifically of a demon, which was quite ironic.

“Do you not see the thing on him? The strange snake star?” I asked. The adults looked at me incredulously.

“Javier there is nothing on anyone. You are suffering from severe delusions, and are touched by Satan,” Matthew warned. I didn’t care what anyone said, there was absolutely something on him. I turned to my parents but they shook their heads. I wondered was it something only I could see?

“We will do whatever helps our son, we do not want him to fall down this path anymore,” my father spoke up, and I felt betrayed. Matthew was overjoyed.

“Excellent, he is on the road to recovery, I promise you. Just sign here and we can transport him immediately,” Matthew said with a smile.

“How long will he be gone?” my parents asked. I thanked them for finally having some wisdom before signing my life away.

“It’s unknown. Sometimes they never recover. You will need to pray hard for him, pray with all your might, you also will not be able to visit him, as that will cause him to regress. I know this is a lot to ask,” Matthew replied sorrowfully. “Besides, remember Genesis 22nd, 1-16, when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son. When Abraham did as he wished and held the knife above him, lo and behold an Angel appeared. He was told he should stop, that he didn’t need to sacrifice his son, the lord merely tested him as you also will be tested. Both his son was saved and he was granted a great boon. You too may also save your son and be granted a boon if you do as the Lord God the Father wishes. God is calling on you, will you answer his call?”

My parents talked it over, but I couldn’t hear them. I was lost in my thoughts in the silence. They wouldn’t actually send me away would they? They loved me, didn’t they? Surely they wouldn’t send their only child to the wolves. Jerking me out of my trance was my mother’s hand on mine. Both of my parents smiled at me.

“Everything is going to be okay, Javier,” my father said with a warm smile. My mother held his hand which signaled they had come to a mutual agreement. I found myself smiling back. Finally sanity had won, I was finally going to be able to go home, and forget all this. I knew it would be hard, but I knew I could do it, I had to. I had to survive so I could avenge Enrique’s death. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew I was going to somehow. Just like the heroes in the stories, I’d get revenge, and somehow Enrique would be returned to me unharmed. We’d be brother and sister again, we’d have fun again. Unfortunately for me, fantasies are just that, fantasies. Reality came crashing down as my father and mother signed the form.

“Please save our son from Satan,” my mother asked while holding my father’s hand.

“NOOO! Mommy please! I promise I’ll be good, I’ll be a good boy and I won’t play pretend about my imaginary friend Enrique! I promise please don’t leave me!” I cried out, but my words fell on deaf ears. They walked away as Matthew grabbed me with a grip like a bear trap.

“PLEASE, MOMMY AND DADDY, DON’T DO THIS!” I begged, holding my arm out to them, fighting the grip as Matthew firmly held me in his grasp. They never turned around, and I watched as they left the church and drove away.

I cried both in the dream and of my own volition. My own parents sold me away, for some stupid belief that I was possessed by the Devil. They never had an original thought in their head, they never cared about anything but what the Elders said, or what they believed was God’s will.

The nightmare fast forwarded till I was laying on a hospital bed, stripped of my clothes and put in a hospital gown. The smell of anesthetics, cleaning detergent, and fear assaulted my senses. I heard another child scream as the door opened. Two orderlies, robust and burly white men, wheeled in a large machine. It had wires, going into a box, with countless dials and switches on it. Behind them emerged a nurse, a white woman. I began to wonder if this hospital had a single person of color working for them. Looking back, I’m glad they didn’t.

“Don’t you worry young man, we’ll get those demons out of you,” the nurse said calmly, with a sadistic smile. She stuck something in my mouth with that same cursed smile. “Bite down, and make sure it’s hard. You don’t want to bite your tongue off.”

A man in a lab coat emerged from the door, holding a file in one hand, and a Bible in the other. His skin was as pale as the others, his eyes hidden behind a pair of glasses. He had a grey beard, and greying hair.

“Well well well, Javier, is it?” he asked, looking up from his file. “Don’t you worry, you’ll be okay. You are clothed in the full armor of the lord, so you will be able to endure. Bind him.”

Adults whose purpose was to protect children from harm were now committing an unforgivable sin against me. I had trusted them, I was always told to respect my elders, as in those older than me, not necessarily the ones in the church. I didn’t understand as they held me down and strapped me in place tightly. I didn’t understand as they attached the wires and suction cups against my body. I didn’t understand as I felt the cold metal against my flesh. These people didn’t care about my wellbeing, they didn’t care how I really felt. They only followed the command of their cult.

“I’m going to ask you a few questions, nod for yes, shake for no. Do you understand?” The man asked and I nodded. I was afraid, and I didn’t want to anger him. I had no idea what that machine’s purpose was and I didn’t want to find out.

“First question, do you have a brother named Enrique?” he asked. I didn’t know how to answer that question, I knew what answer they wanted but I wondered if I should tell the truth. I was only a child, I didn’t think they’d actually go through with it. They just wanted to scare me, I thought. Scare her straight, it was a common thing my father said. So I nodded, and he smiled. Then his hand went up, and his aides turned on the machine. Electricity flowed through my body and I felt a pain I’d never felt before. My body flopped like a fish against the restraints as tears fell from my eyes.

“Sorry, but you need to understand, we have to remove that which Satan has put into you,” the doctor preached. He motioned and they stopped the electricity. I tried to scream but the gag in my mouth made it impossible. Like rain drops the tears continued to fall but they showed no sympathy towards them.

“Are you a girl?” The doctor asked. Learning my lesson, I shook my head no. He just smiled at me, then motioned for the machine to be turned on. I felt a shock again, more intense this time. My body wracked against the restraints, my gagged mouth trying to scream as I bit down hard. “Don’t lie to me, boy, I know that the dark influence has told you that you are a girl. You cannot hide from me, Devil. I will remove your hold over this lost child.”

I nodded over and over again as the shocks continued to assault my body. “Good, being honest about your sin is the first step to healing,” he said and motioned for them to turn it off. “I think that’s enough for now, we’ll continue this later. It is a long and arduous process to remove an evil as strong as that which is in you. But we WILL save you my boy. I promise you.”

The doctor and his assistants unhooked the machine, removed my gag, turned off the light, and left the restraints. They left me alone in the bed, still tied down in pitch black. I cried in the dark praying for a savior that would never come.

The dream fast forwarded back and this time I was myself, Isabella. I saw the same church, but a different conversation was had.

“Your daughter continues to talk about this boy she claims is her brother. She is suffering from more than delusions I’m afraid. That is why she continues to dress like a harlot. She has been touched by the Devil. He wishes to make her his bride,” Matthew warned and my parents shook in terror. “Do not worry, there is help to be had. The Devil will not win this day.”

“But I’m not dressing like a harlot, all the other girls at school dress this way too!” I whined. My mother shushed me.

“We do not meddle in the affairs of men, young lady. If the other girls jumped off a cliff, would you? Think for yourself, listen to Jesus and follow his commands. The other girls in the church your age never dress with clothing that covers so little. They are fully clothed as is commanded in the Word of the Lord,” Matthew scolded me. I could only look to the floor.

“But they’re so constricting and not as fun,” I pouted.

“The path to sin is paved in ‘fun’ and ‘everyone else is doing it.’ I’m afraid, young lady, that the Devil has a firm grasp on you. Your Godly teachings have been abandoned in favor of Sins of the Flesh, your daughter is on the path to hell,” Matthew warned and my parents recoiled in horror. “I do not say this lightly, now it’s just clothes because ‘the other girls are doing it.’ She will continue to push the boundary until—she is spreading her legs for any boy she comes across, defiling her purity in the eyes of God.”

“Please save our daughter, we cannot allow such a thing to happen!” My mother begged, and my father held her tightly. It was then that I saw it, that strange star snake on Elder Matthew.

“What is that weird snake-star on you, Elder Matthew?” I asked, perplexed by the strange symbol.

“There is nothing on me, girl. And snake? You mean the mark of the Devil? See, how far gone she is, let me help her!” Elder Matthew begged.

“How will you save her?” My parents asked. It felt so surreal. I didn’t feel evil, I didn’t know what they were talking about.

“There is a hospital, not like those liberal crackpot hospitals that’d tell her just to ‘express her sexuality’ and probably bed her within a week. No this is an actual good Christian hospital designed to remove evil from children and adults,” he said.

“How long would she need to be in this hospital?” my parents asked. I was thankful they finally were asking the right questions. They couldn’t possibly have been thinking of sending me away, they didn’t even know what the hell was going to happen that could ‘remove evil.’

“There is no time limit, I’m afraid. It could take months, maybe even years, or possibly she may never recover,” Elder Matthew warned, and my parents cried out loud. “But through the power of prayer, we can save her. You can save her. I know this is a hard decision to make, we all love our children deeply, but sometimes we must allow God’s firm hand to guide us.”

“This is so much to ask, will we be able to see her?” my mother asked. Elder Matthew shook his head.

“I’m afraid not, it would hinder the healing process. Until she is cured, you are not allowed to see her, I’m afraid,” Elder Matthew replied and brought out a form. “Let us not forget the book of Ruth, about a young woman who struggled yet survived thanks to the help from Naomi. This hospital is Naomi, and Ruth is your daughter. All you need to do is sign your consent and she can be saved from Hell.”

My parents deliberated and I shuffled in my seat holding down my miniskirt. It wasn’t that bad was it? It was just a ruffled pink miniskirt with white knee high socks, and my favorite pair of black t-strap mary janes. I sat as my mother and father lightly grasped my hand. “It’s going to be okay, Isabella. Don’t worry.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew I’d have to stop talking about my brother, it hurt, but I had to do what I could to survive. I didn’t realize talking so much about him would bring my sanity into question. I didn’t understand how he could just be gone forever. I didn’t want that to happen though, I wanted to fight back. I’d wait till I was older, then I’d go looking for that thing and I’d beat it up just like my favorite super heroines. Then Enrique would be returned to me, just like that one episode in my favorite show. This was just temporary, I just had to believe. Unfortunately, I learned that just believing was not enough, this world was far crueler than I could ever have imagined. My parents signed the form and my dreams were shattered.

“Please save our daughter from the Devil,” my father said and held my mother tightly as they got up.

“No! No no no no daddy, mommy please please don’t do this! I’ll be good, I’ll dress normal, I’ll stop talking about Enrique! Please please don’t!” I begged, but it fell on deaf ears, they ignored me and started to walk away. Elder Matthew grabbed me in a grip like a bear trap. I needed to do one last plea.

“PLEASE, MOMMY AND DADDY, I’LL BE A GOOD GIRL! I’LL BE A GOOD CHRISTIAN GIRL I PROMISE! PLEAAAAAAAAAASE!” I fought against his restraints and held my hand out to them praying they would return. They never stopped walking, until they left the church and drove away.

The scene flash forwarded to the torture. Despite being a cis girl, they also hooked me up to that infernal machine, and they also shocked me this time for lying about liking the clothes I wore. Finally leaving me in the dark just as I had been in the other timeline. Gender did not matter to these people, all they cared about was their cruel dogma.

I woke up sweating profusely. I couldn’t believe I had dreamed of that time period. Of all the things to remember, that was one I wanted to forget. I couldn’t though, that experience hardened me both as a cis girl and as a trans girl. It gave me the strength to push myself beyond my limits while training as a Huntress. When John saved me from that hospital he never expected me to throw myself into my training as hard as I did. It wasn’t just my hard work though, John had given me the tools to be the woman I am today. No matter what I thought of John, I couldn’t deny that if it weren’t for him I would have killed myself. I owed him a great debt, and I didn’t know if I could ever repay it.

Still it was hard to believe that Monique had gone through the same torture as Isabella. The two lifetimes were so similar, yet so different, existing in an impossible parallel.

“We were both treated the same,” I said out loud to no one in particular. Then something happened that shook me to my core.

Yeah that was pretty fucked up,” a voice I recognized said. I turned to my left, and there on the end of the bed was the Trickster.

“What the hell?! I killed you!” I yelled, immediately looking for anything I could use as a weapon.

Relax, Huntress, I’m not here to hurt you. I couldn’t anyway. This is a dream, dumbass,” he said, then hopped off the bed. Then he turned to me, and looked me in the eyes. “Besides your Willpower is one of the highest I’ve ever seen. You were mortally wounded, yet you not only stood up, but you were able to predict my movement AND counter attack me. That was damn impressive.

“What do you want? I can tell you aren’t just here to give me compliments.” I asked with gritted teeth.

Jeez, take a chill pill, lady. I told you I’m not here to mess with you, well not yet anyway,” he said cryptically.

“If you aren’t here to harm me what do you want?” I said, annoyed.

I want to understand. Tell me, just how long were you in that hell house?” he asked sincerely.

“Four years, three months, and twenty eight days,” I replied sadly. He whistled and uncharacteristically patted my back.

I almost feel sorry for you, Huntress,” he said sadly. “I knew humans had done terrible things to their own, but that is beyond fucked up. I still think you’ve done worse to us, if you only knew.

“What, what do you mean we’ve done worse than you!? Your kind murders with impunity. Hell, what you did to the guy you turned into a cat was extremely fucked up!” I exclaimed back. “Not to mention all those kids you turned into girls, and the donkey, and that couple you turned into brother and sister while switching their genders. Like what the hell are you saying that we are more evil?!”

Heh, yeah that cat one was pretty great. The brother and sister however was YOUR fault. You made the wish. I was pissed off at you so I attempted to break the master’s rules, he explained.

“What the hell does that even mean? What is your ‘master’s rules’?” I asked.

It should be simple enough, you can figure it out. You’re a smart girl, use your brain. What was the difference between that wish and the others?” he prompted. Instantly I realized it.

“The others still were themselves, despite the changes. They kept their minds and personalities. So his rule is no changing the mind or something but then what about Kiyuri? He changed her mind didn’t he?” I asked. He looked at me incredulously.

"Doubtful. My brother would never change someone’s mind. Perhaps that personality existed within her all the time, waiting to be released. Then, because it was a fresh wish, you know how fresh wishes work right?” the Trickster asked. He could see on my face that I didn’t understand. “Ugh, okay a fresh wish is when the wish first happens. It comes out all at once and bursts outward like a geyser. Eventually she’ll get it under control, hell even that couple I screwed with will eventually realize who they used to be. I did it out of anger, but I made a pact, I could never truly change someone’s mind permanently. It’ll probably help them grow closer together. True, they won’t be a couple anymore, but they’ll always be together as siblings and help each other with their struggles. Or they would have, if your damn boss hadn’t interfered. Now I have no idea what the hell will happen with them.

“Then what about Rose? Her mind is DEFINITELY changed, so tell me how THAT works?” I demanded.

Wait what? What do you mean her mind is changed? That’s literally impossible,” he answered.

“Well it’s definitely true, she acts NOTHING like the person she was before,” I call his bluff.

Did you forget I said I made a pact? We all did. We CANNOT change the mind, it’s beyond our power. Even what I did was more a loophole than actually changing their mind. It was a suggestion sort of, i-it’s complicated to explain,” he said twiddling his paws. "However if you are right, ooohboy the Master is going to have a FIT. I suppose it won’t matter much as the Master will rectify it like he does everything.”

“What the hell does that mean? What happened to Rose? What do you mean ‘rectify’? And why the hell does he care if you change the mind or not?!” I demanded. He just shook his head and crossed his arms.

Nope, that’s ALL I’m telling you. You don’t deserve to know the master’s plan, hell I don’t even know all of it, anyway,” he confessed. “I just know I wanted to kill every last evil human for what they did.

“What could they possibly have done to cause you all to commit such evil acts?” I questioned. He shook with rage.

YOU THINK THAT IS EVIL?! You haven’t even had a taste of evil, girl,” he spat out. “You haven’t seen what I’ve seen, how murderous your kind is, and you speak of evil? Fine, I will show you evil.

Without warning he grabbed my claw arm and I instantly felt disoriented as I was transported to a small canyon. I was sitting down with my legs hanging over the ledge. It was night time, the moon sat overhead, casting a menacing shadow upon the land. At the sound of a cough, I turned to my right and the Trickster was there too, sitting nearby.

“Where are we?” I asked.

The better question is, ‘WHEN are we’, girly,” he retorted. “The answer to that is, fifteen thousand years ago.

Before I could answer he pointed into the canyon below. “Look down there, ignorant bitch.

I complied and saw the most amazing scene. There were small homes carved into the crevice, torches lit next to each one to illuminate the area. Outside their homes I could see thousands of Wish Crafters and Tricksters of all ages. Adults, children, elderly, all were there. I was utterly flabbergasted. I had missed them because I was so focused on the Trickster next to me.

“What are we looking at? This is utterly unbelievable,” I asked. He looked forlorn and held his head downward.

You are looking at the end of my tribe, and the formation of Mount Baker,” he said with tears. “And for the record, I have a name. We aren’t just ‘Tricksters’ and ‘Wish Crafters’ you racist asshole!

“I’m sorry. Well, umm, what is your name?” I asked uncharacteristically. I didn’t know why I asked, or why I was starting to feel closer to this Trickster. He had something to show me, something that was going to change my entire worldview.

It’s Roz, and the Wish Crafter you killed. His name was Toz, he was my brother and, goddamn it, YES, I loved him,” he explained. “I tried so hard to kill you for revenge. Yes I said those terrible things about him but I didn’t mean them, I loved my brother with all my soul. I just couldn’t show weakness in front of you, my enemy.

“Well, I don’t know what to say to that,” I said.

You know I used to love humans, in fact there was one human that I thought was my friend. In the end, though, humans always betray your trust,” Roz lamented. “To your right lies your answer, but not yet. For now, watch me and Toz. Especially watch where we play, and who we play with.

“What do you mean by that? How am I supp—” before I could finish he grabbed my claw again and I found myself down in the Wish Crafter and Trickster village. In front of me was what looked like a smaller Wish Crafter and a larger Trickster. I realized then this was Roz and Toz. They were so happy, running around and giggling just like my Rose. They felt so... Human and yet they weren’t.

Roz and Toz ran over to a young boy. He had brown hair, and brown eyes. His hair was cut short crudely with a knife or some other object.

They spoke an unintelligible language and I could not follow.

“Uhhh, what are they saying?” I asked.

Oh crap, umm yeah let me fix that. Here I’ll make it so you can understand,” he said and then touched my head with both his paws. Suddenly I could understand their language, I didn’t know how but I also could tell what they meant and how they meant it.

Hey Damihan wanna play?” Little Roz asked. The boy nodded and the children jovially played a game involving sticks. The little human boy would throw the sticks down as hard as he could, and they would try to stack them like that. Roz and Toz tried their best, but in the end the human boy won. Despite what I’ve learned about monsters, they held no resentment. In fact they congratulated him.

“I win! So I get a wish! I want a wish from…Roz!” the excited little boy said.

Okay, okay, that’s the rules. What do you want?” Roz happily offered.

“I wish for you to have some fun with me!” Damihan wished.

Granted, hope you like cats,” Roz said with a grin. Suddenly Damihan’s head and backside vibrated and he grew cat like ears and a cat like tail. It was very unlike the domestic cats of the future, instead they were longer and more pointy, with tufts of hair, like the wild cats from fifteen thousand years ago.

“Wow, meow, this IS fun,” the boy said, then covered his mouth. Apparently his mannerisms had been altered some.

Don’t worry, it’ll wear off in a few hours okay?” Roz assured. Damihan nodded. Now the wishing part over the three continued playing for a few hours. Apparently not long enough for the enchantment to wear off yet, but it was due to go away any time.

"BOY! YOU HAD BETTER NOT BE PLAYING WITH THOSE FREAKS! GET BACK HERE THIS INSTANT!” a man’s voice bellowed from the distance. I assumed it was his father. He stood outside the gates of the monster village, and if looks could kill, Damihan would be dead.

“Sorry Roz and Toz I gotta go, see you tomorrow?” Damihan asked. They both nodded and watched the boy run off. His dad grabbed his enchanted ear and dragged him away violently. Roz noticed this and decided to follow, so I also followed. When they got to the human settlement the distance of a block away, Roz hid. It seemed the boy’s father was talking with him outside the human settlement’s gate. Damihan was crying, and his father slapped him across his face. Pointing at him furiously and Roz couldn’t quite make out what he was saying.

The man was towering, wearing fur and beast hide, he had a piece of sharp metal resting at his side. His pale face grizzled with a beard, and his eyes the same color as Damihan. His hair was dark, and crudely cut short. He gave off an incredibly intimidating aura.

Roz moved in closer so he could hear what was going on.

“Tell me again boy, WHO did this to you?” the father demanded.

“It was the daemons to the south meow. I was kidnapped and forced to become this,” he said downtrodden. Roz’s face showed everything, it was the day he lost his love for humans.

“I am so sorry, my boy, the monsters will pay, I assure you. They are a danger to us all.” Damihan’s dad said. He patted his son on the back, and Damihan just looked away ashamedly. Then his father did something I never would have expected. He shoved his sword-like piece of metal into his son’s body. “As are you.”

Damihan fell dead, his father spitting on his corpse. The man was a monster. He went into the town and we could hear him riling up the rest of the villagers. I could hear screaming and chanting and shouting about a woman in black and chanting about killing all the monsters, or abominations they called them.

Little Roz, fell backwards in fear. He crawled away from the human settlement, then stood up, and ran back as fast as he could. I followed him until he entered his village.

THE HUMANS ARE COMING! THEY ARE GONNA KILL US!” he screamed. His village looked at him incredulously until they heard the march of footsteps and the shouts of rage. Emerging from the nearby camp was an army. An army of light skinned humans clad in fur and animal hide for defense. They wielded white glowing swords that illuminated the darkness. A woman in all black riding a white horse seemed to be their leader. They stormed towards the village in a fury. Without mercy they slaughtered adults, the elderly, children—they did not discriminate. Whenever the sword made contact, the Trickster or Wish Crafter they struck disintegrated into nothingness. They didn’t even try to fight back, they just seemed to beg for their lives. They held up their arms but nothing swayed the army. They murdered them all without care.

“Why is this happening? What’s going on? They are defenseless, they aren’t doing anything? And how the fuck are they killing them like that? You can’t kill your kind except by wishes, I thought,” I asked.

I don’t know how, either. Those white swords seemed to disintegrate our bodies, much like your arm absorbed me, so is it so hard to believe?” he responded. I was left in my thoughts. Were we taught wrong? Was the Hunter’s guild inaccurate in its research? Were there actually creatures who were innocent? “As for why: humans became afraid of us, it was fear—but again you are looking in the wrong area, look to the right.

Past Roz ran to what I assumed was his hovel. He screamed at his family to run away, they all got up from what they were doing and looked outside. The mass slaughter they witnessed made them recoil in horror. I looked in through their window and listened.

Roz, I need you to be strong, I need you to protect your brother. Take the back entrance, find a way out of here. Me and your mother, we’ll be behind you,” the pear shaped man I assumed was their father said. The trickster holding onto him must have been Roz’s mother. I noticed however that the real Roz turned his head away and I thought I saw tears falling from his face.

Little Roz grabbed his brother’s hand while forcefully pulling him away. Little Toz screamed for his mommy and daddy, but Roz kept running. They made it out the back. Roz kneeled down and hugged Toz tightly. Toz struggled but Roz kept holding him tight.

Don’t turn around Toz, look towards me,” he advised. In the distance Roz saw his mother and father being menaced by those blazing white swords. They got down on their paws and laid prostrate before them. The men just smiled, pretending to spare them. Then with a swift strike both were gone. Fire burned in Roz’s eyes, along with tears. This would be the beginning of his hatred of all mankind.

Present Roz grabbed my arm and pulled me away from the chaos, towards a pale man clothed in all white. He opened a portal in the air and signaled the fleeing villagers to come in. The monsters, however, didn’t trust him.

“Why should we listen to you?! Your kind is murdering our entire tribe!” A older trickster yelled out. He spoke then without opening his mouth.

BECAUSE I’M ONE OF YOU,” the man yelled inside our heads, and I recognized that voice. It was the voice of the monster that took Enrique from me. They all nodded and then ran into the portal. Roz threw Toz into the portal and took one look back, and saw a little girl desperately trying to escape. He held out his paw, trying to get her to reach his, but like the others, she was disintegrated. He cursed, as suddenly the lighter skinned woman in all black yelled out a battle cry. She began charging as fast as she could towards the portal.

I WON’T LET YOU DO THIS!” my tormentor screamed at the woman in black, grabbing Roz and running into the portal as the last of them went in. The man closed the portal as he jumped through. Then the scene ended, and I was back in my room, the trickster still on my bed.

“Why did you show me this? What are you trying to tell me? Are you trying to tell me the creatures are all good, or were and that we humans turned you all bad? Is that what you are trying to show me?” I broke down in tears.

Of course not! There are DEFINITELY corrupt monsters, just like there are evil humans. We are capable of the same things you are. We can be terrible, kind, loving, sweet, and yes horrible,” he explained. “For instance, Greed. Greed scares the hell out of me. My advice, STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM GREED. Also be wary of Lust, but that’s all I’m saying on that.

“Fine then, are you trying to tell me the MONSTER that killed my brother is innocent? That I’m supposed to accept that HE is benevolent?” I said and couldn’t stop crying. How could he be innocent, how could that creature from hell have a kind bone in his twisted body?

Nah, it’s not about good or evil. If you understood, you’d understand why the master is doing what he’s doing. There is a great plan in place. A plan that you would support if you understood it,” he said cryptically. “Besides, speaking of evil, you want to see true evil? Evil that was caused by your organization? Look up the Sisters of Aldehyde, and tell me that you Hunters are pure.

Before I could reply, he put his paw on my mouth to close my lips.

It’s time for you to wake up Isabella, till next time,” he said and faded away. I jerked awake in my bed and there was Antonio, sleeping like a rock. This time I knew I was awake for real, though to be sure I pinched my arm with my claw. I was definitely awake because it hurt like hell.

I stretched and walked over to the shower to get ready for my day. Dressing in the standard Huntress uniform, I felt a heavy weight wearing it. Had the trickster been lying? Had what I seen been just an illusion? I wasn’t sure, there was no way to prove it, I needed to find out, though. If it was true, just what other things had humans done? For that matter, how the hell could a skin worm or Flesh Abhorrent ever have coexisted with humans? I wasn’t sure how credible his story sounded now that I had thought it more clearly.

I popped in two Pop-Tarts, and checked my cell. Apparently Vex wanted to talk to me, as did John. I was still mad at John so I was going to go to Vex first. After the Pop-Tarts finished, I poured a glass of apple juice, downed it, and consumed the Pop-Tarts quickly. I opened my door and accidentally slammed into another person.

“Good morning to you too, Isabella,” Haley said. Unexpectedly, she was wearing full Huntress garb. I was so confused by that. Why would she be wearing that? Maybe she was feeling nostalgia after losing her willpower, and because of her daughter Emily.

“Sorry about that, Haley. I’m heading to Vex, what about you?”

“Oh, them? I’m going to go meet Jerome, really needing some comfort today. Still missing my husband, you know?” she said, and then smiled and walked off. Haley was one of my kinder classmates, it was always pleasant to talk with her. “Anyway, I’ve got to go. Catch you later.”

I waved goodbye, surprised that she hadn’t mentioned her daughter. Perhaps she mourned them separately. She had never told me about her husband, and I didn’t know exactly how he died. I shook my head to clear my thoughts and proceeded to my right, towards Vex’s lab. Passed the corridor I saw Annette sitting in the lounge. She turned to me with a smile.

“How are you Isabella? I haven’t seen you in a while, I was busy with a nest of kobolds, been seeing a lot of them for some reason. Anyway I missed you so much,” Annette said to me as if we were BFFs.

“I’ve been okay, Rose had a great birthday, her field trip is coming up, so I know she’s excited about that.

“Yeah about that, are you sure you want her to? Like you’re okay with it?” she asked me. Why was everyone asking me that? Why would I be against a child’s field trip? It would be completely safe, and she’d have a great time and maybe make some penpals. Not to mention Kiyuri and Owen would be going with her. It was for ALL the children after all.

“Of course, I fully support my daughters and son going on that trip.” I still had no idea why people were asking me that. It’s not like she was going anywhere dangerous.

“Okay, just making sure, come here Izzy,” Annette said and then hugged me. However without warning, suddenly she backed away from me, holding her head as if she had a headache. I walked over to her to comfort her, but she smacked my hand away.

“Is everything okay Annette,” I asked. She just backed away from me.

“No, I don’t know. Something is OFF about you Isabella, I don’t know what it is. However just stay away from me!” Annette ordered. I backed off, I had no idea what was going on but she cradled her arms to her chest then walked back to sit down. I didn’t want to bother her further, I figured she’d just wanted to work it out herself. Instead I turned around and entered Vex’s lab

“OH! Isabella, finally! I’ve been waiting for you,” Vex said eagerly. I smiled at them and they hugged me without asking. Vex was not touch adverse at all, neither was I, but they needed to learn to not violate people’s personal space without asking. I was a little disappointed, and it showed. Genius scientists just seemed unable to understand boundaries. Seeing my face, Vex recoiled back.

“Oh sorry, I did that thing again, I apologize,” Vex said. It seemed they were learning. Everyone makes mistakes so I didn’t want to make a big deal of it.

“It’s okay, Vex, anyway what did you want me here for?” I asked.

“Well, you aren’t going to like it,” Vex said sheepishly, looking at the floor.

“What do you mean? What did John ask you to do?” I replied.

“Well, John wants me to do a test of your powers with the opal. I kinda have to… cut off two of your fingers and then see if the opal heals them,” Vex said, picking up a hacksaw and a remote control. I was taken aback. They had to cut my WHAT off?!

“Vex, that’s insane! Are you serious?!” I said. Vex only nodded sadly, as they pushed a button on the remote control. A chair rose out of the ground as the floor opened up. I knew I had to do whatever John said, but this … this was beyond reason.

“You don’t understand, Isabella. Your ribs were completely shattered. Yet with the power of your claw arm and the opal you COMPLETELY healed them. Our doctors did nothing. After you healed, your body was in better shape than it’s ever been health wise,” Vex said, tapping the non-saw side of the hacksaw against their hand. “Besides, it’ll be okay. If it doesn’t work our doctors can put them back together. Priscilla’s magick is quite powerful, after all.”

I conceded and sat in the chair. Unfortunately it seemed Vex was not being completely forthcoming with me as metal bonds clasped on my arms and legs. The bonds squeezed tight around my right arm, acting as a tourniquet.

Above, a metal hand rose out of the chair, while another injected my arm with what I assumed was a numbing agent, but I couldn’t help but wonder why there was a need to restrain me. “What the hell is this, Vex?!”

“I’m sorry Isabella, I have to do what John said. I have to test your limits, please forgive me,” Vex said solemnly. Vex put the hacksaw in the machine’s arm and it moved not to my fingers but my shoulder.

“OH FUCK NO! Please, Vex DON’T do this!” I begged and cried. Vex looked at me with sadness, and with a shaky hand, pressed the button to start the machine.

Despite the numbing agent, the pain of the saw going through my entire arm was immense. I was given something to bite on. I choked out a muffled scream as my arm spurted blood everywhere, drenching Vex’s dress and everything else in its path. My arm fell out of the tourniquet and laid on the table. After it was done, Vex looked me over to make sure nothing went wrong.

“Okay I’m going to apply the opal now,” Vex said and smashed a large opal against my claw arm. Then… nothing happened. My arm was still severed, I felt no healing powers whatsoever.

“GODDAMNIT VEX! IT’S NOT WORKING!” I screamed out, the pain was excruciating but I couldn’t stop looking at my severed arm, .

“OH GOD! I’M A TERRIBLE PERSON! I’M SO SORRY ISABELLA! I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON!” Vex was in a panic. However something within me stirred. I could feel the power of the opal. It was within me, not the one that was smashed against my arm, but the energy of the one that Antonio had crushed against my arm at the school. Magick from that opal had laid dormant within me and I hadn’t noticed it until now. The first time it had worked at a low frequency. Repairing ribs was nothing compared to a severed arm. Now I needed to unleash its full power. I felt myself remembering my favorite heroines.

“HEALING WAVE!” I screamed out, and a gigantic wave of black energy shot from my body. I watched as the blood stopped spurting out, and began spurting IN. The blood on the table, on all the lab equipment, even on Vex’s dress all flowed back into my severed arm. My arm started to wriggle on the table. Instantly it launched off and reattached itself, the nerves, bone, muscle and blood all made as if it had never happened. Vex was so wide-eyed that I expected their eyes to pop out. The pain left my body and I felt invigorated. I had just cast magick. I had done it in a corny way, as magick doesn’t really require a name, but I had wanted to mimic my favorite characters. Besides, it sounded cool, right?

“HOW THE HELL DID YOU DO THAT?! Holy fuck this EXCEEDS my expectations! The opal has NEVER been able to do that. That was freaking amazing!” Vex was in the zone, and almost nothing could interrupt their scientific brain while they were in thought. “This… this changes everything, I cannot believe this power was inside the gemstone. However, now remains the question of how do we extract it for others?”

“VEX! I’m still here you know, and we have to talk.” I was very angry and I let it show. I had been betrayed by my friend. I understand why they did it, but it still hurt to have that happen.

“I-I’m sorry Isabella, John said you’d be able to do it. That I had to test it to make sure,” Vex said apologetically. I just sighed and shook my head.

“Vex, next time just tell me the truth. I’m a big girl, I can handle it. I feel betrayed that you did this. Don’t do it again, understand?” I warned. Vex nodded rapidly, then pulled out another remote. “Vex, no, no more tests. I’m not playing any more of John’s sick games today.”

“This test wasn’t requested by John, it was by Antonio,” Vex said and pressed a button on the first remote, and my restraints let go of me.

“I guess we’ll go with it, I trust my husband,” I said and stood up. I had no idea what my lion had in store for me but I was interested. Vex smiled, and pushed another button, and the chair was swallowed by the floor. Then vex put that remote down, and pressed the button on the new remote. The floor opened up again in front of me, and this time something like a punching bag appeared. Vex handed me a large ruby, and motioned to my claw.

“Oh, he wants me to strength test this or something?” I said, fiddling with the ruby.

“Exactly, smash the ruby against your claw, then hit the machine as hard as you can.” Vex explained. I did as they asked, suddenly my claw arm crackled with power. It wasn’t like the brimstone, it was a different kind of power. I felt invincible. And strong. So strong I felt I could do anything. Without being prompted I braced myself then brought the full force of my right fist into the machine. It absorbed all the shock, and displayed a series of numbers that it seemed only Vex could understand.

“I need you to use your full power. Use your claw this time and punch as HARD as you can, no holding back.” Vex took out their clipboard and recorded the numbers. I stood back, got into a fighting stance and gripped my claw tightly. With an ear piercing scream I threw the hardest punch I’ve ever thrown. The moment it collided with the machine it sent it reeling flopping back and forth, but I found myself unsatisfied. All that I could do was make it bounce around a bit? That wasn’t enough. I wanted to destroy it. I NEEDED to destroy it. I threw punch after punch after punch in an unending series of blows all the while screaming in rage. I couldn’t control myself, all I could think about was the battle. All I could think about was winning, and beating this machine to a pulp. I never stopped punching, not as pieces of it started to fly off, not as it started to rip it out from under the floor, until finally I braced myself for one final punch. I stepped five feet back, and held my fist behind me as my claw arm glowed with a fierce brown aura. With a roar I rammed my fist into the machine with unimaginable force. The machine flew off of its stand and into the wall—the wall that had been enforced with god knows what—and made an indent three feet thick. Despite the force of my blows, despite how strong I had hit the machine into it, the mysterious wall pushed the machine out of it, and repaired itself good as new. When it was over I fell to the ground, completely drained. I told myself I was never going to do that again.

Vex was fanbying over what just happened. They rapidly moved from one side of the lab to the other, utterly squealing in delight, then picked up the remains of the machine. Somehow its data had survived. It was one hell of a machine. Vex put on some strange gloves and touched it. The shell of the machine fell off, and inside the core flowed like the metal that attached itself to my left arm. It transformed itself into a flash drive. Vex picked it up and attached it to their computer. Then turned to me with a look of surprise.

“Oh FUCK Isabella I’m sorry!” Vex said and apologized profusely. “I-it’s just, it was so shiny and and you don’t understand. The amount of force you just did, omigod Antonio is going to LOVE it! Oh yeah, sorry I’ll help you.”

Vex grabbed my arms and helped me sit up. I felt like all of my energy was gone and wanted to flop back down.

“Oh I know! Why don’t you use your opal magick you used earlier!” Vex suggested. I nodded in response, it was a good idea.

“Healing wave,” I said with far less enthusiasm. I waited, and waited, but nothing happened.

“What, why isn’t it working? Wait, it can’t be! Can it?” Vex said to themself. Vex started scavenging their laboratory for some unknown purpose. I just plopped to the floor, it was now where I lived. Vex took out a tiny opal, then shoved it into my arm. Immediately I became invigorated and the words formed on my tongue once more.

“Healing wave!” I screamed out with all the energy I had left. Suddenly my entire body flooded with the black magick and I felt invigorated once more. I jumped upwards and did some quick stretches.

“My hypothesis is correct. Your arm can only store one gem’s 'energy,’ as it were, at a time,” Vex said.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Errr, think of your arm like a box in your closet, and no matter what you do, that box can only have one dress in it. You can switch out dresses, but you have to take the one out of the box and switch it with another, understand?” Vex asked. It was all clear, I fully understood how my arm worked. Or at least I thought I did at the time.

“One at a time, that’s gonna be confusing. Wait are you sure it’s not only one use at a time?” I asked. Vex immediately perked up.

“That is an interesting hypothesis, let’s test it,” Vex said with science in their eyes. I backed away slowly. “Don’t be afraid, it’ll just be a small cut this time, I promise. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

I reluctantly let Vex do their test, they took a knife and cut across my right hand. It’d make a wicked scar if this didn’t work and damn did it hurt. “Now! DO IT!” Vex ordered. Instead of listening right away I had my own hypothesis to test out.

“Healing wave.” I said nonchalantly. It seemed Vex’s hypothesis was right as a wave of black magick flew throughout my body. My hand was healed in an instant, and not even a scar was left behind. I was a little sad at that, it’d been so cool. However, that made me think of all my previous battle scars, I pulled up the sleeve of my right arm and sure enough, it was gone. I looked at my chest, and that one was gone too. I searched my body and all my scars had vanished. I pouted that all my physical proof of the things I’d endured was now gone. “My scars are gone. They’re gone, Vex. Every single one of them.”

“Interesting, it completely repaired your body, as if it were brand new. I wonder if it de-aged you a bit too. Well we don’t have time for that test, unfortunately. Report to John, it’s urgent,” Vex explained. Then turned to me with crimson cheeks. “C-could you tell him for me Friday would be great?”

My eyes went wide with realization that Vex liked John. I nodded and shuffled out of there as fast as possible. This was not something I wanted to even fathom right now. I moved my way past the first hub, past the corridors. Before entering the second hub I realized John could wait. I’d go to John, but first I needed to see Haley. John would understand, since I was REALLY in need of therapy. I made my way from the second hub to the third hub and towards the therapist’s door. I walked in and gave a heavy sigh with my eyes closed. I really needed to slow down. “Haley I have had a d—”

“Haley isn’t here right meow, sorry about that. Anyway, hey Isabella, how are meow today?” said a voice I recognized. I immediately opened my eyes and in Haley’s place was Jerome, but not Jerome like I remembered him. He still had his handsome features, his signature Afro, and dressed in a very handsome suit, but now he was sporting orange cat ears, and an orange cat tail. I looked closer, those cat ears and tail were not synthetic, they were alive. He had no human ears anymore. What the fuck was going on? I searched my Isabella memories, and saw the truth.

Because Isabella was considered female, they wouldn’t let Jerome party with her against the TeRrIfYiNg EnTiTy, instead they gave him Jack. The mission was successful but the creature had infected Jerome. Only partially, thank goodness, but his Willpower had been completely erased. His cat traits were too prominent, as well, and his status as a full human was compromised. The TeRrIfYiNg EnTiTy had changed his entire reality down to his DNA. However he seemed to take it well. Apparently Milly was delighted by his new features, an added bonus to a man she already had feelings for. They got married, and now they worked together as husband and wife for therapy.

Of course Jack was unharmed, and was the one who struck the killing blow according to the reports. I had my doubts as to the truth of that, I began to wonder just how much Jack being alive had changed the world. “Sorry Jerome, I wandered in here by mistake, loving the outfit by the way, it looks very nice on you.”

“Thank myu very much Isabella, if you are in need of our services, myu only need to ask,” he said sincerely. I struggled to not laugh at his feline dialect. “As myu always knows, I got your back.”

He held out his fist...paw...I wasn’t sure what it was. I fist bumped it anyway. “Thanks Jerome, by the way tell Milly I said hi,” I waved.

“I will, catch mya later, girl!” he said enthusiastically. I hurried out of his office, then decided I needed to catch up with Sandra. I closed the door behind me, then headed to the third hub. I turned towards the corridor hoping to run into Sandra. I did, only not as the receptionist. She was in line ahead of me. Sitting at the receptionist desk, was Thad. He was smartly dressed in an expensive looking suit, and his short hair was gelled and styled. I searched my Isabella memories again.

I frowned at what I found. Apparently Isabella and Sandra were barred from the hunt for the Willpower Eater because we were both female. This meant the organization never saw Monique as a girl even though she had transitioned by then. She was already on hormones, but it wasn’t enough. Anyway it seemed Thad and—you guessed it—Jack was put on the mission. The Willpower Eater drained Thad dry while, as the reports said again, Jack dealt the finishing blow. I was beginning to get pissed off at Jack. At least I had TRIED to save Sandra, I bet he just let Jerome and Thad suffer while he hogged all the glory. That was the kind of trainee he was, and his hubris had made him meet his end in Monique’s timeline. However, in this reality he was alive and well and fucking up the lives up of everyone around him. The good news was that Sandra was still an established Huntress, so maybe I’d get put on a mission with her again someday.

Unfortunately she left before I could talk to her, so I walked up to Thad. He gave me a sweet smile.

“Hello Isabella, how are you today? Are you looking to cash in your reward tickets?” he asked with a kind voice. Monique never hated Thad, just was annoyed with his obsession with whether or not she had surgery. He was always accepting and very affirming, just… that one thing he just couldn’t seem to grasp.

“I just wanted to say hi, Thad. Just got back from Vex’s lab,” I said and his ears perked up at the mention of Vex.

“Oh you saw Vex? How wonderful, tell me, how are they?” he asked. I smiled and then he leaned in close. “By the way, just between us cis people, have they had the surgery yet?”

“Uh, I have to go, catch you later Thad, John is calling!” I sprinted out of there as fast as I could, back to the third hub. I immediately decided John was better than dealing with all these changes flooding my brain. I quickly walked back to the second hub, then towards his door, and knocked to see if he was available.

“Come in,” he said tiredly. I guessed that meant he was alone. I walked into the room, and closed the door behind me. He was slouching, his tie was undone, his socks didn’t match. It was as if someone had abducted my fierce asshole of a boss and replaced him with a pathetic disheveled wretch who now sat in his place. That wasn’t the only discrepancy about the room, I thought I saw the shadows from his trophy case stretch a little taller than I remembered. I was unable to ask him about it as he decided to go first.

“Isabella, I know you are still upset with me for what happened. I want you to know there was no other way. What did you expect me to do, house hundreds of children and staff here in the building?” John asked, however I was not here for that.

“John, I really don’t want to talk about that, so just tell me what you came to tell me and get going. And for the record, I understand that part. slapping me across the face, however, I don’t particularly care for. Or you fucking with my children’s lives,” I spat. I kept expecting his cold hard exterior to return, but instead John looked forlorn.

“I-I just was doing what was best for my pride. You don’t understand how hard it is to always look after your cubs like a mama lion. You have to make choices Isabella, HARD choices,” John whimpered. Who was this pitiful being that sat before me? The John I know would have yelled at me or scolded me or something. Instead, it was almost like I was talking to another human being, one that didn’t see others beneath him. What really threw me off was when he started to cough violently. In all my memories, of both Monique and Isabella, I had never once seen John cough or even show any signs of sickness before.

“What the, do you have a cold or something?” I asked. I couldn’t help but wonder how. He’s been alive for millions of years, right? Then again, was that just hyperbole? It didn’t feel like hyperbole, and clearly he had a power akin to my archnemesis, so what the hell was going on?

“N-no, I just … expended too much power. I’ll be okay, just down for the count for a few days, so to speak,” he said, with none of the sternness I was used to seeing of this man. Was his bad ass boss portrayal all an act? If so, why would he want to act like an asshole?

“Didn’t you do that erase the school thing weeks ago? Hell nearly a month ago, so why are you having problems now?” I asked incredulously. He just coughed and laughed.

“Yes, and because of that I’ve been slowly losing energy, I’ve been hiding it because a boss cannot show weakness,” he stated flaring his hands theatrically.

“John, just where the hell did you learn how to be a boss?”

“A male boss must be stern, firm with his hand, he must never appear weak. He must never show emotion,” he said. It sounded like he was taking advice from a guy who lives in his truck and complains about ‘them librals.’ For that matter, what the hell was that phrasing, ‘a male boss’? “He can and should use force if his subordinates ever disobey him, or if they step out of line. You stepped out of line so I felt I was doing the right thing. It doesn’t matter though, you don’t need to hear me make excuses for my actions. There is only one reason I called you here.”

“Okay, now we’re getting somewhere, what is that reason?” I asked. Instead of answering me, he pointed to the trophy case. From the shadow that I saw earlier, emerged an Elf.

He was a portly fellow with the same greenish yellow skin as the one I fought, however he was about half a foot shorter. His face had a tiny nose, long pointed ears, and with his short stature it was hard to see his neck. He had a tiny mustache, and carried a brown cane with a red ruby sitting on it’s top. Not only that but he was dressed in something out of the 1900s. He wore an all brown suit with a brown button up coat, red tie, and brown shiny shoes. A monocle adorned his left eye, and a brown bowler sat on his head. It felt like his appearance was best described with the old timey word ‘dapper’. “So this is the one? This is the woman that has INSULTED my masters?

“Uhh, sorry but do I know you? What masters are you tal—” before I could finish the question he bapped my human arm with his cane.

YOU will NOT insult the Sylvania High Council young lady!” the Elf demanded. I immediately knew I was in trouble. The Sylvania High Council, that was absolutely not good. What could I have possibly done to offend them?

“Okay, fine, sorry. Now what in the world are you claiming I did?” I said. I massaged my hand, that fucking hurt. He harrumphed, then pulled out a parchment from his jacket that also looked one hundred years out of date.

You claimed you fought an errant Sylvan. One of which you described as ‘possibly High Sylvan.You claimed an Elf not only changed into a human, but also changed back. You claimed a child in a cocoon was part of a Sylvan Rebirth Ceremony, yet your description of the ceremony was HIGHLY inaccurate. You also claimed that the Elf exploded upon death. Of these crimes, there is only one sentence. YOU will be judged by the Sylvania High Council.

“Wait what, but it was all true, she was an El—” just like before I was silenced with his cane.

I will be taking her to be judged, have you any objections?” The Elf said. John was about to speak up, but was interrupted as easily as I had been. “Of course, if you do, it would be in violation of Clause 3F of the Human-Sylvan treaty. Which reads as follows: Any and all humans who insult the Sylvania High Council will be given the appropriate punishment.’

He put his parchment back in his coat, and stared John in the eyes.

“No, that won’t be necessary.” John waved the Elf down. He turned to me. “Isabella, it will be okay. According to the treaty, you will not be executed, but you need to do this for humanity.”

I nodded, but I wasn’t going to like it. I had one more question to ask, however. “If the Sylvania High Council was this offended, why did it take this long to respond?”

He smiled slyly and shook his head. “I believe your human term is ‘red tape.’ It can take weeks to process a report, you’re lucky it only took this long. It was quite fast by our standards. However it is time you come with me to . Do you accept, or will you violate our treaty?

“I accept. I will come willingly,” I responded. He smiled, then tapped the top of his cane. It began to glow with green magick. He used it to draw a circle then slammed it down in the center. A small portal appeared, and with his cane beckoned me through it.

As soon as I stepped through, I found myself in a lush garden. Sylvans lived in a space between space, functioning as an in-between for the realms of the monsters and humans. It was beautiful, far more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.

Flowers bloomed everywhere. Some were recognizable, easily found in the human realm, but others were strange shapes and colors unique to this realm. There were countless trees as far as the eye could see. Coves served as the various sections of civilization. Large, wide, shining ivory paths led from cove to cove. Twisted vines of considerable girth served as rails for any disabled or elderly Sylvans. The voice of childish laughter filled the air, and countless Sylvans crossed the large roads from cove to cove. It kinda reminded me of Seattle’s crosswalks with how crowded it was.

Everything from Centaurs to Dryads to Elves flourished here in the beautiful world of Sylvania. It was an unoriginal name but it served its purpose. Just like with the Elf from before, all of them were dressed in styles resembling America in the 1900s-1920s. However, I wasn’t here for sightseeing. I eyed the large structure in front of me. It had an ivory gate with twisting vines shaped like an upside down U and a large gate made entirely of unknown flora. The pathway led to the front door. A pond on either side of the crosswalk each had lily pads for frog-like creatures to hop on. The building was massive, made entirely out of ivory, vines, and gorgeous flowers.

The Elf pushed me in, then shut the doors behind him as he exited left. The aroma was similar to that of the Seattle County Courthouse. I smelled ginger root, dried ink, yellowed parchment, and depression. The hall was huge, with strange flowing lights held up by vines that swayed from side to side. I walked on a carpet made entirely out of vines with a handrail made of flowers. At the end of the hall was a receptionist’s desk and large ivory doors adorned with more vines and flowers.

Excuse me, Isabella is it? I am here to escort you to my esteemed masters.” A refined feminine voice broke me out of my trance. I was so enraptured by how beautiful everything was that I didn’t even notice the dryad in front of me. She was made of tree bark fashioned in a humanoid form. Her long hair was made entirely of grass and flowers. Her face had a singular eye and a mouth, but no nose. She was dressed in a 1900s style, with a crisp coal black broadcloth blouse adorned with a peter pan collar, a lemon pleated skirt, black sheer stockings, and lemon heels..

“Oh, sorry! Umm, yeah, escort away miss, uhh?” I asked, I didn’t realize I’d be escorted, it was a bit overwhelming with so many formal rules.

Caelia. Now, we must hurry. You are quite late and the masters do NOT like tardiness,” The dryad said and practically dragged me through the hall to the door.

Hey you can’t go in there, you need an appointment first!” The receptionist yelled.

This is the one who insulted the Sylvania High Council, she gets priority,” Caelia stated. The eyes of the receptionist went wide and she nodded. Caelia took me to the large doors and dragged me in.

Before, I said the inside of the building was huge, but this was an understatement. The ceiling here seemed higher than the height of the building itself. The entire hall was mostly ivory with more plants and vines. In the center were fifteen ivory thrones, one larger than the rest. Seven were on the left and seven were on the right, with the fifteenth in the back sitting high above. Sitting on the left appeared to be seven women, each a different Sylvan race. The opposite seemed to be seven men. In the far back was a single elven man who seemed to be the leader. The man from before that had brought me here, stood in the middle of the circle of thrones.

They were all dressed extravagantly with the man in the back dressed with the most flair and a crown on his head. Each wearing that same fashion over a century old. I realized I could have been wrong about the genders, as two of the apparent women wore suits, while two I thought were men wore dresses. Sylvania might be more progressive than even Seattle. We could learn so much from them.

Below them sat a single table, with two seats, one seemed to be for the accused, and the other for their lawyer. Caelia dragged me in front of the Sylvania High Council and I felt completely out of my element.

So this is the girl that DARED to sully the name of the Sylvans? Especially the SYLVANIA HIGH COUNCIL?” the leader barked out in a deep imposing voice. The others nodded in agreement. “Sit down GIRL, and we will begin your trial.

I sat down, as quietly as I could as Caelia sat next to me. It appeared she wasn’t just my escort, she was my lawyer too. She placed a warm bark hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’m the best in my class, I’ll protect you.

I felt a wave of comfort and nodded. The leader slammed his fist down and the rest began slamming their fists or what could pass as fists in the same manner. “THE TRIAL HAS BEGUN! First Arlin shall read off your crimes.

“Thank you, your esteemed majesty,” Arlin said, and pulled out the parchment from before. He recited the crimes he had told me of before coming here and they all recoiled in horror. I was ‘in deep shit,’ as the saying goes.

What say you, human?” the head judge asked, while the others remained silent. With all their eyes on me, I realized I was supposed to stand up. I forced myself upright despite my fear and began my case.

“To be fair, your honors,” I began and every single face in the room turned to disgust. Caelia facepalmed. I had apparently messed up again. I guessed calling them the same way we do human judges might have been a mistake.

How DARE you insult the Sylvania High Council with your HUMAN terms. Let your lawyer speak for you so you do not insult us further,” the council leader scolded. I sheepishly nodded. I was definitely not prepared for this. Luckily Caelia came to my aid.

Your esteemed lords, my client is unaccustomed to our ways, it is not her fault. She is also an idiot, and has no manners,” Caelia explained, and I felt a little hurt. At the time I didn’t realize she was trying to save me. The council began chattering among themselves. They stopped, and looked at me with a collective scowl.

How can you prove this?” he asked. Caelia winked at me, then grabbed my claw arm and held it up. I expected something terrible to happen to her as she touched me. For a terrifying moment, I feared that she would get dragged into me as Roz had been. However, thankfully, nothing happened.

Not only is she foolish enough to get corrupted, but she’s uncouth enough to let it out in broad daylight around for children to see. She’s so brainless, that she didn’t even think to cover it up during her trial,” Caelia said with a sly smile then let go of my arm.

You make a good point. We have decided on her punishment. Trying to explain her offenses would be pointless as she has the intellect of a rock,” the leader stated and I was aghast. What the hell kind of trial was that? All I did was get insulted the entire time. “Isabella, for your crimes against the council you will be bound to our service for ONE hunt. You will reconvene in my quarters, Arlin shall assist you. Case dismissed.

With a slap of his hands on his ivory throne everyone began to move out of their seats. They climbed down and dispersed. As the leader departed, Arlin approached me with his arm held outward. I looked to Caelia and she gave me a thumbs up. It didn’t feel like I’d won anything but I would later learn she had saved me from a much worse fate.

Come on, human. Follow me,” Arlin ordered. I complied, he lead me to the back of the hall. Behind the thrones lie a descending staircase. I walked down with him and ended up in front of a large ivory door. It was adorned with golden vines and flowers. It was clearly the leader’s room. Arlin motioned for me to the door, then left without a word. I took a hint and knocked on the door.

Come in, human,” the leader’s voice commanded. I walked in, and was given an astonishing sight. Inside his room golden vines formed a floor and the walls were pure ivory covered in rows of golden flowers. There were objects of all kinds from the human world, watches, alarm clocks, gears, a fish tank with fish I’d never seen before, and all kinds of other wonders. He had a chair made of golden vines with an ivory desk. He sat patiently, his hands in the steeple position with a menacing look on his face.

I summoned you here to tell you exactly what you need to hunt,” he explained. I just nodded. I didn’t want to make him any more upset at me than he already was.

“Okay, what do you want me to hunt?” I didn’t like being jerked around like a puppet, but I was bound by the council’s decision.

I want you to kill…” he hesitated, his expression grim. “... my daughter.

“Uhh, are you sure? I mean she’s your daughter right?” I asked. What possible reason could he have for wanting his daughter dead?

He looked at me angrily. “Yes, I cannot allow anyone to break the code. Arianna has retreated to the human world in the apartment of a Nathan Helm. It seems she is planning to turn him into a woman against his will. I cannot allow this even if she is my progeny.

“I see, but how does she plan to do that? I thought Elves—I mean Sylvans—could only transform someone into a child.” I asked. He scoffed.

For hundreds of thousands of years we have battled the Fae realm, did you honestly think we wouldn’t learn to make our own version of their transformation ability? Millenniums of research have produced, among other things, a gender changing serum of which she has stolen and I CANNOT abide this insolence,” he replied. He gave a heavy sigh, massaging his temples. “If I pardon her, then I will have to pardon every criminal. Do you not see why it is imperative that she die?

“I get that what she’s doing is wrong, but doesn’t she matter to you?” I asked. I couldn't help thinking about Rose, Kiyuri, and Owen. If I had lost any of them I’d be devastated. How could he just toss children away like it didn’t even matter.

I am not just any old Elf, stupid girl. I am a High Elf, the FIRST High Elf. I have had more progeny than you can even fathom. Yes she is royalty, but one loss will hardly make a difference,” he said coldly. I sighed and nodded my head. “You will be provided the materials to take her out. When you are finished, I expect you to bring her statue to me, after which you will no longer be bound to my services. Then after you have gone, I will display her in the park with the rest of those who have disobeyed the treaty.

“Okay, where is she?” I asked.

She is located in what you call Moscow, Idaho. A simple apartment, in this location,” he said, pointing to a map of Idaho. It was far from Seattle, at least a whole day’s trip there and back. I wasn’t pleased by that.

I nodded, he slammed his desk three times once slowly then fast then slowly again. After his display a door magickally appeared on his wall. An attendant entered through the door, then handed me a Blade of the Fallen Gods, a ruby, sapphire, and an emerald. I put them in my backpack.

This should be sufficient for the task, yes? Do not fail me, Huntress. I anger easily, and your punishment could have been far worse,” he warned ominously. I gulped and nodded.

“What should I do if she explodes like the previous one?” I asked, I needed to know the answer.

For the LAST time Huntress. Elves do not explode,” he said, getting irate with me. But, me being a dumbass, I pressed further.

“But I clearly saw her put someone in a cocoon, and perform a Sylvan Rebirth Ceremony,” I stated. He looked like he was about to kill me.

WE DO NOT USE COCOONS, YOU BUFFOON! We use eggs! How have you missed so much? Are you sure you’re a Huntress? Do they teach you nothing in school, you imbecile?” he berated. I just took the blow to my ego and stayed silent. However, he was wrong about at least one thing. It was listed as a cocoon in the manual. I know, I’ve read it at least once, I think. Unfortunately I had not read it entirely as I became distracted by a campus party back then.

“I’ll kill your daughter and get you that statue,” I said. However there was one thing that hadn’t been provided. “Uhh, how exactly do I get there?”

With a portal of course,” he said, then clapped three times. Arlin walked through that same magickal door.

Come, Isabella, I shall get you to your location. What you humans call an ‘apartment complex.’” he said, then began drawing in the air again with his cane. Green energy charged once more, then a portal of the same green energy appeared. Before I could react, Arlin pushed me through the portal with a grin. I hated that man.

I landed in the middle of the grove apartments in Moscow. That wasn’t what bothered me though. What bothered me was that the sun was setting. Just how long had I been in there? I texted Antonio to arrange a pick up to get me back home. I figured I could easily kill one Elf with my newfound abilities in less than four hours. I luckily ran into no innocent bystanders, so I pressed into my palm with my middle finger. The familiar feeling of the cool liquid metal reformed on my arm. Now appropriately camouflaged, I needed to begin my mission.

Looking at the apartment complex, I saw at least six different sections. There were so many it was going to be a bit of a trek to find the right one. 307, that was the door I needed to find. I set out looking for my target. 101, 102, 103, that wasn’t right. I must have turned to the wrong set of apartments. I looked in a different direction, 501, 502, 503. I backtracked and picked another set, 301, 302, 303, 304, 305, 306, then finally 307. I heard muffled sounds, so I put my ear to the door.

“NO PLEASE! DON’T DO IT! I BEG OF YOU!” I heard a man’s voice scream shrilly. Then it was silenced by a ‘Mphhhhh.’

YOU WILL HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO BECOME MY SERVANT! UNDER MY IRRESISTIBLE HYPNOTIC CONTROL YOU WILL BE NOTHING MORE THAN MY HELPLESS DOCILE SLAVE GIRL AND NOTHING YOU SAY OR DO CAN STOP IT!” a supernatural feminine voice threatened. I knew I had to act quick, Nathan was in danger. I searched my backpack for an amethyst and realized they had forgotten to give me one. John was not going to like this. I hoped it wouldn’t be too messy. I strapped the Blade of the Fallen Gods to my belt, making sure not to let it drip inside my pants. I cracked a ruby against my body, (I was never going to crack one on my claw arm again) and a sapphire. I didn’t think I’d need an emerald in such a tiny apartment. I knew the owner wasn’t going to like what I did next but I had no choice. I had to save this innocent young man.

I didn’t waste any time. I punched the door down, and burst into the room. The hardwood floor was adorned with a welcome mat with spiders. Along the white walls there were various posters of women with wild black hair and dark eyeliner. To my left was a stained wood black table with four black chairs. On the table sat three vases with flowers: A venus flytrap on the left, lillies on the right, and in the middle a single purple rose. In front of the purple rose was a plastic container that was labeled hydrofluoric acid and a crudely drawn hazard symbol. There was a kitchen to my right, but what I was focused on were the two doors. One to my left, and one in front of me about fifteen feet away. I had to think fast, where had the voice come from, the left or in front of me.

AS YOU BEND TO MY WILL, AND YOUR RESISTANCE FADES YOU WILL BE MINE FOREVER!” the Elf cackled maniacally. The voice came from in front of me. I quickly ran the scenarios through my head of opening the door or breaking it down. Opening it would give her time to react, however if i bust it down I could catch her unaware. Obviously I chose the latter.

I slammed into the door full force—and saw the weirdest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. Nathan was in a black lolita dress, while tied spread-eagled to the bedposts, and gagged. The Elf was wearing what could only be described as a dominatrix outfit. Short red latex shorts, black fishnets, red thigh high boots, latex black top, and her unnaturally red hair in a ponytail tied with a black and red skull ribbon. Her shirt said “Bad Girl”, and she carried a black riding crop. Her yellow-greenish skin offset the colors better than I would have expected, I thought it must have been some kind of Sylvan magick that made it so that, no matter what, clothes would always look good on them.

Both turned to me with a confused look, and I just stared.

Uhh, hi? So umm, you’re kinda ruining our fun here so, like, could you come back tomorrow, Huntress? I’m kinda trying to help Sasha here,” the Elf said with none of the malice I had felt before. What the hell did she mean “fun”? She walked over, slowly unbound Nathan, and pulled the gag out of his mouth. She sat down next to him on the bed, and massaged his hands. He took a deep breath before looking at me with a scowl.

“Yeah, lady, you’re killing the mood. How else am I supposed to get brainwashed if you just bust in here without even asking. Also that door costs MONEY. How am I supposed to pay for it?” Nathan asked. This was so out of my element. Was this some kinda fetish thing? Or was Nathan already brainwashed by some kind of Sylvan magick?

“So, umm, you’re not trying to hurt Nathan?” I asked, pointing to him. Nathan’s face tightened and he let out a pained whimper.

Umm, excuse me, you transphobic asshole, her name is Sasha! Sorry baby, I know how hard it is to get acceptance,” the Elf said, and Sasha curled up next to her, tears forming in her eyes as the Elf petted her.

“I-I’m sorry. I was told a young man lived here that you were trying to turn him into a woman against his will,” I explained. “I had no idea she was a woman all along.”

Who told you that bullshit? Was it Daddy? Oh, Aerdrie, of course it was him,” she said and rolled her eyes.

“It gets worse than that. Under the order of the High Sylvan council, he ordered me to kill you. I have to present your statue to him. I am so sorry,” I apologized sincerely.

“Arianna I thought we’d have more time, I don’t want to lose you,” Sasha said and her lips met Arianna’s. Was this love? Was it even possible for a human to love a Sylvan? A monster from another realm? I wondered just what the hell I had gotten mixed up in. Arianna held Sasha close, then looked at me.

C-can it wait, at least until I give Sasha one last kiss?” Arianna pleaded holding a bottle of an unknown liquid. I nodded, and she applied the liquid to Sasha. Oddly only to her arms and legs, where she had been bound. I’d learn later it was part of a practice called ‘aftercare.’ It seemed the BDSM community was nothing like the media had proclaimed. I waited until they finished a passionate final kiss.

“Okay, I am sorry about before. I genuinely didn’t know you were trans Sasha,” I said to her. She didn’t even look me in the eye. I didn’t blame her, I was about to kill her lover after all. How would I have felt if someone was going to kill Antonio and I just had to watch and there was nothing I could do to stop it? I definitely wouldn’t be listening to any of their bullshit excuses.

“Why? Why do you have to kill her? Can’t there be any other way?” Sasha pleaded. I sighed. Did she have to make it so hard on me? I didn’t want to do this, I really didn’t want to do this. I drew the weapon anyway.

Please Huntress, do it quick,” Arianna asked with her eyes closed. I felt like I was about to slaughter an unarmed woman. Regardless, I had a job to do. I raised the dagger above my head, and brought it down as hard as I could at her chest… and stopped. I just held the Blade of the Fallen Gods at least a centimeter away from her vital organs, unable to budge. I couldn’t do it. Anytime I tried to push force into my hand I saw Antonio’s face. I dropped the Blade to the floor.

“Maybe there is something we can d—” before I could finish an arrow lodged itself into my human arm. I screamed in pain as the air charged with the power of an amethyst.

Hah, it was a good thing he sent me to keep an eye on you. You seriously falling for this sob story? Huntress you’re as useless as the master claims,” I heard a masculine voice say. I turned to see another Elf in the doorway. Dressed similarly to me except in all black, he held a bow and pointed it towards me.

“What the fuck? Why did you just shoot me?” I demanded. He just laughed out loud.

You were going to fail your mission and this isn’t something that we can tolerate. So I’m here to clean up any messes you make. Originally I was just going to kill Nathan and make it look like a break in but, well, you did that for me, didn’t you, Huntress?” the elf exclaimed with a wicked smile.

“What the fuck do you mean you’re going to kill Sasha? That wasn’t part of the agreement!” I yelled back.

“Did you honestly think that we’d let a normal human know of Sylvania’s existence?” He smirked at me.

“I won’t let you,” I said with gritted teeth. However, my vision began to blur as drowsiness suddenly overtook me. I didn’t think it was that deep of a wound, and even if it was I’ve been hit much harder than that before under the effects of the Sapphire. As I fell backwards to the floor, it finally dawned on me.

That’s right, Huntress. My arrows are poisoned. Don’t worry, I’m not here to kill you. It’ll just give you a nice nap, and you won’t remember a thing that happened afterwards,” he said.

I know that voice. Aedirn, is that you?” Arianna called out, walking towards my body and facing the assassin. He let out a laugh, and performed a bow waving his hand theatrically.

Yes dear sister, it is I, your twin brother. Don’t worry, I assured father that I would hand you over safe and ground, heh, get it? Because you’re going to be a statue,” he said laughing at his own joke. Even I groaned while on the hardwood floor.

Aedirn stop this, you don’t need to do this. Just kill me and leave in peace, tell father the job was done, you don’t need to kill the human. You don’t need to kill Sasha,” she pleaded. He broke into a hearty chuckle.

Oh you’re hilarious Arianna, how could I let the human that you intended to turn go free? After all I told father that you were transforming him against his will. That you had terrible plans for him,” he smirked. Arianna recoiled in shock. “Sure I left out the part of his actual gender, and maybe embellished your actual intentions a bit but I’d say the plan worked perfectly.

Why are you doing this? We’re twins, we did everything together, you have no reason to do this!” she asked. His face transformed from a grin to a scowl.

WE!? There is no WE Arianna. Father always liked you best, father always fawned over you. Do you know what he told me before giving me this assignment? That he wished it was I who had to die instead of you!” he yelled out. Then straightened his posture. “It’s fine now though, all that hiding in your shadow, it’ll all be over soon.

God damn it father, why are you such an ass,” Arianna cursed. He pointed his bow at her, then to Sasha.

Sorry little human girl, I know you are innocent but sometimes sacrifices must be made so others more worthy may attain greatness,” he said sadly. I couldn’t help but see the terror in both their eyes. Sasha was going to die, her lover’s life was going to be snuffed out like a flame and here all I could do was lay on the ground. No, I told myself, no I have to be better. I have to DO better. I was Isabella Martinez, the wife of Antonio Martinez and mother of Kiyuri, Rose, and Owen and I was going to win this fight. Fire burned in my soul as I pushed my body up off the ground and shakily stood in the doorway blocking his path.

What, how, what?!” He looked to me in horror.

“I. Said. I. Won’t. Let. You.” I stammered out, fully upright. I yanked the arrow out of my body, with little more than a wince. I readied myself into a fighting stance. His smile was gone from his face.

What the fuck? How are you resisting it? Just how fucking strong are you?!” he yelled out. He picked out five arrows out of his quiver, loaded them up and shot it at me. Unable to react to his speed, all five hit their mark. I fell to the floor again yet I continued to pick myself back up. My body was completely filled with my Willpower. It was the only reason I could even move.

STAY THE FUCK DOWN!” He reached for his quiver and put all of the rest of his arrows into his bow. He emptied every last one of them into my body. Even with the force of my Willpower I was feeling my consciousness fade. While my Willpower was strong, it wasn’t infinite. It had its limits. However I remembered my test with Vex. The last gem I had used was the opal. If I could just generate enough energy I could cast the spell. I had to try it, but I was so tired.

“Heal—” I struggled out. I coughed violently as I could feel the air escaping from my lungs. Another fit of coughs forced me to the floor, and I banged my head on the busted down door. My vision was blurry, I could no longer make out what was happening.

What, what are you trying to say you dumb bitch?” he said. “I should just kill you and put you out of your misery.

No, Aedirn, you won’t lay a finger on my Sasha or her!” Arianna yelled.

Oh and what are you going to do about it SISTER? I was always the more accomplished war—” before he could finish I heard the sound of an energy blast crash into his body. Blast after blast pounded into him. She reached down and grabbed my hand, then I realized what she was doing, she was buying me time.

“,” I said completing the first word. I just needed to do the second and the spell would be complete. I had to take several deep breaths though as that singular word had pushed me to my limits.

Oh so now the rose shows her thorns. I always knew father taught you magick. HE ALWAYS TAUGHT YOU EVERYTHING! HE REFUSED ME! EN GUARDE!” I heard the sound of metal colliding with metal. Unfortunately by the sound of the grunts, Arianna was losing.

“..wa..” I was so close, just two more letters just two more! My body wouldn’t respond though, I was fully expended, nothing could help me now. I was within inches of making my comeback but the poison had done its course. I didn’t even hear when the footsteps approached my might-as-well-be-corpse.

“Please, miss Huntress, please…” the soft feminine voice begged me, her tears dripping onto my face. I recognized the voice as Sasha but in her fright she’d turned it upwards to a half falsetto. Afterwards the sound of a blade being flung out of someone’s hand filled the air. “Please save Arianna, please… save me.”

Your magick won’t help you anymore Arianna, I’ve won. Now where did that imbecile drop that weapon? Oh, there it is, excellent. It’s time to end this. Hope you like being a statue, sis. I won’t miss you,” Aedirn said coldly. I heard the sound of a body being thrown into another body. My eyes shot open, I couldn’t fail them. I had to give it EVERYTHING I had no matter the consequences. I shoved every last ounce of energy into my throat.

“” As soon as I completed the incantation black magick violently shook throughout me. My body flopped on the ground by the sheer force of the power. The arrows slowly pushed themselves out of my body and fell to the ground. From all the wounds, green liquid seeped out onto the floor. Then, finally, the skin completely healed up as if I never was shot to begin with. The magick finished with it’s task with an energy boost. I was ready to fight again. I quickly picked myself up and resumed a fighting stance.

Something inside me told me I couldn't do that again this evening. It seemed both Vex and I were right. I switched out the gems, but each gemstone also only had four uses each resting period. I felt like a character in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with a ‘spells per day.’ Of course I’d later find out I was wrong, and instead that each gem had their own ‘uses per day’ but that’s beside the point. I was going to have to find another way to beat this monster.

Surveying my surroundings, I saw that the apartment was a mess. Arianna lay atop Sasha, both of them groaning in pain. Her sword had been dropped to her side. I didn’t know where she had gotten that sword, but I’d read from the Hunter’s guide that royal Sylvans were capable of conjuring personalized weapons that only they could use. I saw my backpack was on the floor behind me, the emerald just a inch away from my feet.

So you have regenerative powers, now, do you? Fine, Dragonsnap will have to be enough for you, then.” He smirked, brandishing his own sword. It was beautiful, golden, with intricate designs, and its blade looked razor sharp. Of course he had named it. I couldn’t really blame him, though, I had named my magick spell after all.

I had no more regenerative magick, my ruby and sapphire had been expended, and I only had one gemstone left. I had no choice but to turn myself into my own personal guinea pig. I had to see what would happen when I smashed the emerald into my claw arm. I squeezed my middle finger into my palm, and the liquid metal transformed back into a bracelet. I grabbed the emerald before he had a chance to speak and smashed it onto my claw arm. I knew what I wanted to say, I had this plan the moment I realized I could create spells.

“SWIFTWIND!” I called out and everything seemed to slow down. My speed was amplified to inhuman levels, I could see the elf look at me strangely, but then also began to move at a similar speed. I was faster, but dear God could this man move. Attack after attack he slashed his sword trying to get around my claw arm but failing. Even with my training, he was more skilled but I was quicker.

WILL YOU JUST STAND STILL AND DIE, YOU INSIGNIFICANT INSECT!” he yelled then came at me with another sideways slash. This time I was ready, I knew what I was going to do. Brown magick enveloped my fistlike claw, it blew fiercely with the power of wind.

“SWIFTWIND STRIKE!” I yelled out and threw my fist at the man, a gigantic tornado came out of my claw blowing him off his feet and slamming him into the bathroom. I heard his groans and knew this was my chance. I surveyed the area for the Blade but it was nowhere to be found. Without the Blade I’d be unable to put him down permanently, behind me I remembered on the table was the hydrofluoric acid, it wouldn’t kill him but it would definitely slow him down. I grabbed the bottle, and quickly made my way to the bathroom.

“WAIT! NO MISS HUNTRESS THAT’S—” I ignored Sasha’s slowed-down words. I had no time to stall and give him the upper hand. I found him there, trying to get up, I yanked open his mouth and poured the whole contents into it. Oddly the solution was a bright blue color, which was strange because hydrofluoric acid is colorless. I realized I’d made a mistake as he began convulsing and the sounds of bones were cracking. His body began cracking and before my eyes his skin seemed softer. Oh, fuck, I had given him the gender change potion.

YOU BITCH!” he screamed out his voice raising several octaves. He lost several inches in height, out of his chest grew sizeable breasts, his hips expanded, while his waist caved inward. His muscles softened, and his face changed from his hardened male features to soft feminine features. His hair grew down to his backside, His nose became cute and pert, his eyes became bigger, and his lips plumped. He actually looked pretty close to Arianna, this new form could practically be her clone. It was actually adorable watching him fumble around in his old clothes, trying to get to us.

THAT was for Sasha, Huntress, how could you do this? WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?” Arianna scolded me. I felt that was unfair.

“How was I supposed to know that was the gender change potion? I just wanted to slow him down. Why would you label a dangerous potion hydrofl—” I stopped mid sentence realizing what I was saying. Of course they labeled it dangerously so that no one would use it. Maybe I was as dumb as they said.

“It-its okay Arianna, she was just trying to protect us. I-I’ll find some other way. Thank you so much for trying though,” she said, and held onto Arianna. I sighed, unfortunately in our conversation I had forgotten about one simple fact.

I’M GONNA KILL YOU! YOU STUPID BITCH!” Aedirn charged at me, with much slower speed. I easily dodged out of the way. Why the potion had to take away his muscles and made his hair grow out was beyond me, maybe Sylvania was not as progressive as I thought. Then again, what really was? Was it right for me to judge their progressiveness when the Republicans constantly sought to rip away the rights of minorities day after day? Again being lost in thought bit me in the butt as Aedirn smacked me in the face, it didn’t hurt that bad but still it was enough force to knock me a step back.

What did you do to me?! All my training, everything I cared about is gone! I’m gonna murder you all!” Aedirn shrilly yelled. Despite being far higher pitched, it hadn’t lost any of its ferocity. He tried to pick up his sword but then dropped it as soon as his hand made contact. It made a sizzling sound, then vanished. “No… Dragonsnap not you too!?

It seemed even his sword didn’t obey his new form. I felt pity for the bastard. He shrieked a horrifying shriek, then something unexpected happened. I heard the sound of purring, as a young black kitten wandered in from the bathroom. The cat had rubbed up against his leg apparently thinking he was Arianna. In his rage he looked downward, then towards Arianna, he saw the worry on her face. With a wicked smile, he reached down, picked it up, and snapped its neck.

“NOOOO! CARMILLA!” Sasha called out. Arianna tried to comfort Sasha, but she was inconsolable. Losing a furbaby was never an easy thing. With her back turned, and her attention on Sasha, he saw his opportunity. He pulled out one last weapon he had, The Blade of the Fallen Gods, he had picked it up sometime during our fight. I couldn’t tell when, it might even have been when I was unable to see clearly. However, the details of how he found it didn’t matter as he lunged for Arianna. My head started to hurt as I felt his presence inside me.

Do I have to spell it out for you every time? STICK YOUR CLAW IN HIS CHEST MY LITTLE BUTTERFLY! AND SEE THE TRUE POWER OF THE GIFTS I HAVE GIVEN YOU!his voice screamed from inside me. I admit that I felt curious then. I wanted to understand my arm better. I wanted to better arm myself for the coming battles and for that I needed to know ALL my capabilities. Using the true speed of the emerald, I cut him off right before he reached her. I stuck my arm in his chest. Instead of sucking him in like a black hole as I had done to Roz, I flowed through him like water. He looked at me incredulously as I reached around inside him. I realized I wasn’t reaching inside his body, I was reaching into his entire essence. I found something extraordinary. A small orb, that my claw seemed to know exactly what it was. It listed all his core traits, his sexuality, his race, his species, his gender, his sex, his royal status, even his personality. Experimenting with the orb I found I could move these things around, change them or even add to them. It didn’t matter which one, even his species could be altered, but only to other humanoids. I had more power at my fingertips than anyone should ever have. I could change him at his core but that… felt wrong. I felt if I did that I would put myself on a path I could never turn back from. I put everything back together as I had found it and I looked to the cat whose neck he had broken. Carmilla was its name, right? Then I looked at Arianna, and the beginnings of a plan formed inside my head.

Le-let me go, stop … what are you doing to me?!” Aedirn cried out. I needed to work fast. I yanked the Blade of the Fallen Gods out of his hand with my free arm. I grabbed his orb in full, ripped it out of his chest, then shoved it into the cat, I noticed when I did his species became feline. I could no longer turn him back into a Elf. His gender and sex were switched to female, I tweaked it back to male for both. I couldn’t stomach it, if I had changed a cis boy into a cis girl. After I finished, the cat woke up with a confused look. It raised its paws to its face and growled loudly in disapproval. Luckily my plan was working as no changes happened to Aedirn’s original body. It seemed when I removed the soul orb from a body, it kept the previous setting as it also didn’t change back to his original self.

“CARMILLA! You’re okay!” Sasha said and ran over to the cat cuddling it. The cat struggled to get free, but the cat was still a kitten, and quite small, so he’d be unable to do much except for some light scratches. Sasha couldn’t see what I had done, but Arianna definitely could. She looked at me like I was a monster.

“Arianna, I know this looks bad but you have to understand. Your father said that I had to bring back your statue. I am going to do that, but I need the help of your brother’s body. I thought of a way to save you but you have GOT to trust me. Do you trust me?” I asked. Instead, she recoiled away from me. “I could have killed your brother, but I didn’t. He is still alive, maybe I can move him to another body at another time, I don’t know. I don’t exactly know how this works but I have a plan and I ABSOLUTELY need you to trust me.”

She looked at me as if she finally understood what I intended to do. “Yes Huntress, please. But don’t alter too much.” I nodded. Then I gripped the knife tightly, and struck it inside her body. She cried out in horror as her body slowly started to turn to stone. Before she could fully transform I reached into her and grabbed her orb. At the nick of time I yanked out her soul orb, and put it inside the body of her transformed brother.

Her brother’s feminized body was nearly identical to hers, but not completely, her gender identity changed to male, I knew I’d need to fix that or Sasha would kill me. I tweaked it back to female as I had done to her brother. I couldn't help but think that there was one more tweak I’d needed to do, it would make her more safe but I prayed she didn’t hate me too much. I gripped her species setting and changed it. While I was doing so, I noticed one more section that her brother didn’t have. I felt like now was not a good time to experiment and discover its purpose so I left it alone.

After I was finished her previous body turned into a perfect statue that her father would be happy to display in his garden, while her brother’s body I had stuck her into, began to change. Her skin lightened considerably to a pale white, her elven features disappeared into her until she was one hundred percent human. Her eyes changed to an emerald green, and her hair remained a fiery red. She looked Irish in her features, with freckles on her face and adorable dimples. Given the look Sasha gave her and me, I could tell she both approved and hated me.

“I-I’m human? It actually worked? Wait, my voice? I sound human, too?!” Arianna asked. I was grateful that my tinkerings didn’t kill her or turn her into a puddle of goo or worse. I had never experimented with such things, it was completely new territory. I’d have to practice it sometime but finding a willing subject would not be easy.

“Wh-what did you do to her?!” Sasha asked me, still cradling the rambunctious kitten who used to be Aedirn.

“I-I did something horrible, but it should keep her out of her father’s radar. He’d never expect I could do this, I didn’t even know I could do this!” I exclaimed. Arianna came over, then hugged me.

“Thank you, Huntress. I know this is a lot to get used to but if it’ll allow me to be with Sasha, then I’m okay with it, I’m a little sad to lose that outfit though,” she said forlorn. I sheepishly looked down.

“I got more bad news for you. To make it easier to hide, you’re gonna have to change your name,” I said grimly.

“Oh, well, that makes sense. Hmm, how about Raven?” she asked.

“I think that’s a wonderful name,” I replied.

“Hey, Arianna, wasn’t Carmilla a girl?” Sasha asked, holding up the cat. The cat looked at her with a “for fucks sake” face.

“Well… I did kinda put her brother in there. I turned him back to his original gender and sex. I couldn’t leave him as your previously female cat,” I replied embarrassed.

“It’s fine, Huntress, we’ll deal with it. Sasha, my new name is Raven.” she explained.

"That's such an obvious choice," Sasha groaned. In response Raven snapped her fingers with a stern look. Sasha’s eyes glazed over as her expression changed. “It’s a most lovely name, Ms. Raven.”

I looked at her in wonder. “How did you do that?”

“What, did you think that was our first session? I’ve absolutely filled her little head with hypnotic triggers,” Raven explained. “What you interrupted was a ceremony to strip away the last vestiges of free will, leaving her mind utterly malleable for me.”

Sasha was full of giggles and blushed, while Raven patted her head lightly. Both girls seemed quite happy. I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but it definitely wasn’t evil in nature so I was content with my ignorance.

“Uhhh okay, I don’t really understand but at least this is all over.” As if to mock my words my something rang in my pocket. I took it out and saw it was some kind of communicator device of Sylvan nature. Arlin must have stuck it in my pocket while he was shoving me into the portal. I motioned for both of them to hide, as a holographic projection of Raven’s father appeared.

I trust you have completed your task, Huntress?” he asked. I pointed over to the solid statue of Raven’s old body.

Excellent. Were you able to stop the transformation? Will we need to bring in a clean up team if not?” I sighed.

“No, Nathan is safe and sound. I stopped the transformation,” I stated. Then I grew angry. “However, what I was not expecting was to have an assistant on my hunt. Fortunately he was the only casualty.”

I see, do you have his statue too?” he asked. I shook my head.

“No, I thought he was my enemy, and eliminated him through use of my corrupted arm. He is gone, forever,” I stated. He seemed to be deep in thought.

Fine, it is no matter. Point me towards the statue and you will be relieved of your duties.” I did as he asked, and a strange green magick shot forth from his holographic hands, the statue shimmered then vanished. He turned to me for one last remark. “You are free. Do not insult the Sylvania High Council again. Next time we will not be so lenient.

With that his holographic image disappeared. I smiled until the full force of the consequences of using a super charged emerald came crashing down on me causing me to fall to the floor. No matter what I did my body refused to get up. It seemed the floor was my home again. “God damn it.”

“Sasha, pick her up and put her in the bed,” Raven commanded.

“Whaaaaaat? But she looks so heavy,” Sasha whined. Raven snapped her fingers with a stern grin, and Sasha’s face changed to a smile. She walked over to me, picked me up and put me in the bed gently, she even tucked me in. Raven walked over to her and petted her.

“Good girl.” With those words Sasha snapped out of it and happily giggled at the affection.

“Thanks. Ugh, I’m so hungry and tired,” I said. I was so exhausted I could barely move. It would be about three more hours till Antonio got here.

“What kind of pizza do you like,” she asked me.

“Uhhh I don’t know, stuffed crust or cheese or pepperoni or something?” I mumbled, enjoying the warmth of the covers.

“Sasha, go get her a pizza,” Raven ordered.

“I just put her in bed, though. I’m tired, and that’s expensive,” Sasha whined. Raven massaged her temples, then looked at her sternly.

“Get on the phone with Pizza Hut and order her a stuffed crust, extra cheese, pepperoni pizza, or else you’re sleeping at the foot of the bed tonight,” Raven threatened. Sasha’s eyes went wide and she nodded furiously. I wanted to say they didn’t need to, but words wouldn’t come out. I was ravenously hungry so I didn’t want to refuse. I also couldn’t really move so it’s not like I had much choice anyway.

Sasha completed the task, and Raven sat near me holding my hand.

“I know you were just trying to protect me Huntress, but I do feel a deep emptiness at what I have lost. Though something tells me you’ve also lost something, haven’t you?” she said, apparently peering into my soul. I nodded, thinking about Monique. Less and less of her remained. It seemed each time I remembered something from her previous life, it was replaced with Isabella’s memories. The price to be cisgender was higher than I had ever imagined.

“Sasha, go get her some snacks too, and order me a pizza aksi, you know which one I like,” Raven commanded. “Make sure to get me some bread sticks too, and yes before you whine I’ll share them with you.”

I laid in bed waiting eagerly for my food. It sounded delicious. Sasha brought me some string cheese and crackers, I happily devoured them but they only served to stall my growing hunger, not satiate it. About an hour later the pizza finally arrived and it smelled scrumptious. Raven had Sasha slowly feed it to me, and give me water. With the meal devoured, I slowly began to regain my strength. I knew from then on, I’d have to be VERY careful with that particular spell as if it ever ended mid fight I’d be completely vulnerable and would likely end up dead.

Since dinnertime was finished, I found myself chatting with the two girls, asking about their likes, their dislikes, and they asked me the same. It seems they both were what you call goth, and also into hypnotism as well as dom and sub culture. However it wasn’t abusive, it was very kind and caring and loving. Sasha willingly let herself be hypnotized, and while, yes, she had no control, she trusted Raven fully. The couple had, as they explained, extensively discussed this at the start of the relationship and ensured that both were comfortable with this arrangement. I couldn’t help but find it adorable. To reciprocate, I told them about my Lion, about my children who I now had to take care of. I explained my past life, and how different it was now that I was cisgender. I even told them about the monster that took my brother away from me. While describing the horrific electroshock therapy is when I noticed two hours had passed.

“Wow Isabella, that is some heaaaavy shit.” Raven whistled.

“You can’t blame yourself for all that happened, it wasn’t your fault,” Sasha reassured me.

“I know, but it’s hard. If I had been a better Huntress Rose might not have become what she’s become. Maybe I could have saved more school children too. Maybe not, I don’t know,” I said. I shook my head, it was impossible to tell what I could have done, as the school itself was completely erased. The honking of a horn meant my Antonio was here. I stood up out of the chair I had been sitting in.

“Well ladies, it’s been fun but it’s time for me to leave,” I said. I handed them both a piece of a paper. “Here’s my number if you ever want to talk or anything.”

“Wait, Huntress, before you go. You said you could change the sex of someone, could you do it for me?” Sasha asked me. I could only shake my head.

“If I did, how would you explain it? How would you stop people from finding out?” I said sadly. I wanted so badly to help her. I held her hand in mine. “I PROMISE you I will find a way okay? I don’t know how, or when, but I’m as stubborn as a bull. I was born a Taurus after all.”

She nodded, and in walked my lion with, surprisingly, a clean up crew behind him. They got to work on the doors I’d broken down, even handing Sasha some cash to make up for the damages.

“Sorry Isabella, I knew you’d make a mess. I love you, mi Amor, but you kinda always do this,” Antonio said. I rolled my eyes then walked up to him and kissed.

“Yeah, yeah, I know I’m impulsive and destructive as hell. It’s fair, I suppose,” I admitted and lightly punched his arm. I waved Sasha and Raven goodbye, walked out of their apartment, and hopped into the nearby van. It was pitch black outside and I was ready to go home.

I was too tired for conversation, so Antonio got a blanket out of the back, and wrapped it around me. My eyes grew heavy, as I fell asleep.

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