The night which followed was perhaps the most vivid out-of-body experience I had ever felt.
Upon returning to my room, I found myself idly sifting through guild orders between glasses of wine. The New Capital had recently proposed a trade route passing directly over the Udobryat River. The banks of the river alternated between our territory and that of several demon populations, meaning we would have to negotiate treaties with each one. Talk about exhausting.
I had been at it for roughly two hours when I noticed the bottle running dry. Standing up, I stretched my arms overhead and made my way into bed, assuring myself that the rest could be done the following morning. My body felt heavy, an effect I erroneously attributed to the alcohol. Only when I opened my eyes again did I begin to realize something was seriously off.
“…bird… Miss Songbird…?” It was a voice from behind my right ear. On instinct, my arm flung back and I jerked upright, staring from side to side. The chamber was tiny – its area likely could have fit inside my tenement were the interior walls stripped away. A wooden table occupied the room’s center, its crescent shape creating an open area for the speaker up front. I was sitting at the crescent’s midpoint with three people on my left and two on my right.
There was nothing to indicate that anyone had been behind me, and for some reason, nobody else appeared to notice my kneejerk reaction. The middle-aged woman up front continued her lecture, her voice supplemented only by the scrawling of quills on paper.
I remember her… She was an instructor with the training academy. At the time of my enrollment, she must have been pushing fifty. Her shoulder-length hair, once a uniform black, was littered with strands of silvery-white. A pair of bifocals sat on the edge of her nose, and she would make minor adjustments as she skimmed through the pages of her teaching notes. If memory served, the events taking place in this chamber were no ordinary lecture.
“…cannot violate the laws which govern entropy. You must remember to account for the energy required to reconstruct the parameters of whatever material manifests the target area. A common mistake among even the skilled is the wasteful preservation of expired tissue. I have prepared a small trial which illustrates this point to the letter, so who of you wishes to volunteer?
My hand shot up immediately, to which the instructor frowned and crossed her arms in annoyance. “Well, if nobody has any objections, then please join me up front, Audrey.”
“Yes ma’am!” All eyes were on me as I stood from my chair. The instructor pulled a table from the corner of the room and placed it directly in front of me. There was a single glass jar sitting on top. She opened it slowly and then used forceps to extract something small from its depths.
“Your task this time is to resuscitate a dead fly. If my breeding calculations were correct, then its time of death should have been approximately forty-five minutes ago. Think you can handle it?”
I swallowed nervously as I watched her set the insect onto the tabletop. From the first day of our training, we had been told time and time again that it was impossible to bring the dead back to life. My attempt would obviously result in failure, so what was the instructor’s true objective with this task?
There was no point in arguing; I had volunteered of my own will. Closing my eyes, I hovered my right hand over the creature, my left gripping the side of the table as I began to recite the words:
“Ailtire infinitum, beannaichibh seo air làmh an eòlas air cruthachadh, gu bheil mi dòcha nighidh air falbh na rudan àm …” There appeared to be no effect at first, though gradually the wings on the fly began to stir. After about a minute, the fly rolled onto its legs and attempted to scurry away. Its efforts were futile; no matter how hard it tried, it couldn’t get its wings to flutter fast enough. Paralyzed by fear, the creature hobbled from side to side until its internal organs shut down, rendering it lifeless once more.
The professor gave it a tap with the forceps. “Why do you think the creature died, Audrey?”
“I don’t… I don’t really know, ma’am.”
“I am going to have you perform the spell again. This time, I want you to reanimate all of the dead tissue at once.”
“How exactly do I do that?”
“Well, that’s part of the learning process, isn’t it?” She gave a wink and walked over to the table, sitting down next to where my notebook lay open. “This should be no trouble for you, provided you understand your target thoroughly.”
“R-Right…” I thought about the spell I was using, mulling over the intricacies of its methodology. Architect of infinitum, bless upon this hand the knowledge of creation, that I may wash away the artifacts of time… Most healing spells relied on regeneration principle, using the channeler’s energy to speed up the natural recovery process. This one, on the other hand, sought to imbue the target with entirely new tissues. By knowing the entirety of a target’s physical makeup, one could rebuild portions of their anatomy piece by piece.
…Meaning that, if even one percent of the target is living… It was wishful thinking and very presumptuous on my part. Of course, I had always been a risk-taker. Closing my eyes once more, I focused every ounce of my energy into the target creature. There was a flash of light as it twitched about on the table.
The students watched in awe as my magic poured out, though what happened next was a mystery to everyone except maybe the professor. The fly’s body began to grow, doubling and then tripling in size, before finally exploding in a torrent of white primordial goo.
When I opened my eyes, I couldn’t begin to comprehend the shock of what I had done. Some of the goo had been propelled upward, sticking along my hand and arm. The rest dribbled across the wooden surface, shimmering like mercury. Woah… I did that…?
The professor clapped her hands twice and walked back over. “I think the example illustrates itself. Trying to reanimate dead tissue only creates more dead tissue, until the structural integrity of the target becomes unstable. For your assignment, class, I ask that you compose a two-page discussion on the experiment you just witnessed, tying it back to the day’s lecture. That will be all.”
I looked away as the other students began to filter out of the room, embarrassment leaving me unable to address a single one of them. There was a gentle clap as the door shut behind them, and I found myself breathing a heavy sigh.
“It’s a troubling circumstance, isn’t it Audrey?”
“Ma’am, I-” However, when I turned around, it immediately occurred to me that something was different. The voice I heard didn’t sound like the professor’s; and on closer inspection, I realized that her body was frozen, almost like a statue. A tap on my shoulder caused me to recoil, spinning around and coming face-to-face with a girl who looked about my age.
She resembled the student who had been sitting at the far left of the table during the lecture, but the more I looked at her, the more I could make out inconsistencies in her appearance. In fact, many of her more subtle features seemed to mimic those of my own body. What the hell is going on here?
“You appear confused, so allow me to enlighten you. My name is Astertis Songbird. It is a pleasure to meet you, granddaughter.”
“Hold on… What did you just say?” Things were quickly taking a turn for the weird. “Listen, I don’t know who you think you are, but I do know for a fact that if you were Granddad’s disavowed ex, you’d be pushing eighty right about now.”
“I’m seventy-three, girl! Bite your tongue! Ahem… That said, I am operating under a form which your memories can identify with, as you have never seen my physical body in person. Audrano was never one for family portraits, the cheap bastard.”
I took a moment for me to properly assess the situation. On the one hand, she appeared to have comfortable knowledge of my bloodline, as if she were genuinely a part of it. On the other, my training had always instructed me to believe half of what I see, and none of what I hear. If she really was using my memories to manifest herself, then what stopped her from merely spouting trivia she stole from said memories?
“I can tell what you’re thinking, Audrey. Your gut instinct is to write me off as a delusion or a demonic possession, and while it disheartens me just a little, I had already reconciled that inevitability prior to making contact.”
“No, no!” I exclaimed. “I mean, a bit of hard evidence wouldn’t hurt…”
“Hard evidence, huh?” With that, she snapped her fingers, inexplicably causing my cock to force up the hem of my dress.
“W-What the hell!?”
“The changes you have felt these past few weeks are the result of my presence. All of my magic and the methodologies for which my magic manifests are integrating with your own. Such a feat is not possible in mere possession.”
“Meaning this is an…”
“…An astral link, yes. I had no choice but to use your body as a host for the time being. That is a bloodline-specific magic, Audrey.” There was no denying it; this was my grandmother. It was a realization which prompted yet another bizarre inquiry.
“So then, if you’re here inside of me, does that mean you’re dead?”
“At the risk of getting ahead of myself, let me just say that my body has been removed from the equation for the time being.”
“Therefore, you decided to take mine without asking. Is that why you and Granddad broke it off?”
“Insolent little…” She put a hand to her chest, exhaling deeply before moving on. “This can go either of two ways. The former is that I anchor myself to someone who isn’t among the bloodline. Granted, there are consequences for the both of us should we take that path.”
“Separation equals injury, got it. What’s the other option?”
“I would ask you to construct an entirely new body from scratch.”
“Fundamentally impossible,” I retorted. “Even if I possessed such a miracle, there is no way I’d be willing to carry my own grandmother to term.”
“You sell yourself short, but if you believe it so, then I cannot deter your reasoning. Reluctantly, finding a new host – or perhaps even a collective – may be our sole course of action.”
“Should I actually agree to something like this, what exactly would you need me to do?”
“To anchor one’s spirit requires a strong bond with the target host. Differences in identity – even minor – can bring about severe distortions of the host’s magic flow, endangering the souls of both. With that said, there exists a ritual wherein the target host can supplant their memories with that of the initiator, thereby facilitating the coexistence of two distinct, alternating identities.”
“Okay, you lost me.”
“Simply put, we need someone capable of speaking the ancient language. Having spent time observing your environment, I have deduced that your acquaintance Cass Wintermare is the most qualified.”
Such a blunt declaration threw me for a loop, and I stepped back a bit in shock. “The hell are you even saying!? First of all, in no way do I want to get her involved in something so dangerous; and second, what do you mean you’ve been observing me!?”
“It’s exactly as stated, dear Audrey. I’ve been watching your actions in real time for the past few weeks. I know everything that you have done, even the things you’d want nobody else to know about.”
“Y-You don’t mean…!” All of the sudden my body flushed a dark red. Does that mean she…? When I…? And Cass…!?
“It’s certainly nothing to be shy away from! Back in the days of my youth, not even Audrano could resist the temptations of my succulent duality!”
“GRANDMOTHER!” Way too much information… It took a moment for me to catch my breath. This wasn’t something I asked for, nor was it something I wanted any part of. I had never been all that close to family, but now here I was paying the toll for the sins of my ancestors. There appeared to be no way out.
If I tried to force her consciousness from my body, the violent outflow of magic would render me seriously injured or worse. Meanwhile, simply ignoring her presence would lead to more incidents of the dick-casting variety. Talk about a no-win situation…
“I’m just curious, but what is it really that you hope to accomplish here? I could be wrong, but had you actually needed to find a host body quickly, I find it very hard to believe that I would have been your first choice. No – it sounds to me like a good chunk of what’s happening was conceived long in advance. All I’m asking for is a little bit of honesty, okay?”
Astertis did her best to put on a reassuring smile. “You have a brilliant mind, Audrey. Cultivate that intuition of yours, and it will carry you far in life. Unfortunately, the answers you seek require far more information than I am able to provide. The forces which directed my actions were also the ones which carried me to you. They are voices which transcend time and space, purpose-bent on preserving the legacy of the demonkin. They will call upon you when the time is right, but the choice to answer will be your own.”
I can’t say that makes me feel any better… When all was said and done, I was at least able to surmise one important facet: her physical body had been converted into magic. Intentional or not, my grandmother’s reluctance to establish the whereabouts of her old body was evidence enough to suggest that such a vessel was no longer present in the physical world.
The idea of borrowing against one’s body was not entirely unheard of. Every once in a while I’d come across someone who’d sacrificed a literal arm or leg to initiate spells more powerful than their magic was capable of. While regrowth was possible, the result would always be significantly weakened compared to its original. It simply wasn’t worth the risk.
Of course, there were those who failed to heed the costs of such an act. The foolish who believed they could sacrifice all but the most vital organs never accounted for the severe pain which followed the conversion process. Death occurs almost instantly. Yet even in those cases, some sliver of the body remains. If by some miracle one was able to push past all of that, they could in theory consolidate their entire existence into the spell they were casting. Once the spell was completed, any lingering magic would eventually deform and dissipate into the natural flow of reality.
How had Astertis managed to remain sentient amid all of that?
“If you need further convincing, Audrey, there is one more thing I can offer to show you.”
“What would that be?”
“Observe.” She snapped her fingers, causing the world around us to fade to black. I swallowed hard as I braced myself for whatever was about to happen…
TO BE CONTINUED…