“What in the hell is going on here?!” As I stepped forward to confront Astertis, I had to deny myself the urge to gag. All I could think about was how I had screwed up royally, and that if I didn’t do something quickly, my friend would be forced to give up the vessel she called her body.

Astertis appeared completely relaxed as she turned her gaze toward me. She even had a cheerful grin on her face as she clapped her hands together. “It would appear that your intuition is developing at a faster rate than I give you credit for! Before long, you’ll have the makings of a true master of the arts, my beloved Audrey!”

“What are you doing to her!? I thought I could trust you, though I see now that I was mistaken for ever doing so!” Need to act quickly…! Have to… save Cass…!

“I can assure you that your little girlfriend is in no real danger; now be a good girl and allow me to get what I came here for.”

What about… that might work, but… can I do it…? There’s no time…! Closing my eyes, I began to chant in an ancient language. The moment Astertis heard the words, her smile promptly faded.

“I think I know that spell… Wait, Audrano-!”

“Don’t change the subject! I asked you a question, dammit!”

“Audrey, you fool! Control yourself this instant!” Her words, unfortunately, were too little too late. As I brought up my right hand, it unleashed a torrent of green light that collided with her essence. When it did, a similar light began to emanate from her spirit, one I can only conclude was an effect of the Elder Theory. A high-pitched screeching noise filled the void around us, and I dropped to my knees, covering my ears but to no avail. The lights coalesced, intensifying into a blinding white energy that burned me to the very core.

What’s… happening…!? It was becoming harder to remain conscious, though as I struggled to look at Astertis, I could see that she too was having difficulty. Cass’s spirit, meanwhile, seemed to be unaffected. At the time, that was all I really cared about anyway. I took a final breath; a sigh of relief as the waves of magical energy peaked, knocking me out for good.

I feel… weightless… Am I… dead…? It was as if an eternity had somehow passed in the blink of an eye. The world around me felt foreign and unfamiliar. I was moving, though not of my free will. I could see a room, a bed, objects which my memory had partial knowledge of yet I knew to not be my own. What is going on…?

My perspective continued to shift around me, as if I were sliding out of bed and walking toward a bathroom nearby. There was a mirror in front of me, and as I peered into it, what I saw gave me an unbelievable shock. Cass’s body was reflected at its center, while my own was superimposed above hers, about six inches to her left. Before I could so much as open my mouth, Cass let out a gasp, and I found myself pulled away from this bizarre double-image.

Suddenly, it became all too clear what was going on. Cass, it’s me! For the love of all that is sacred, look into the mirror! I couldn’t tell if she heard me or not, but after a few moments she tried to look again. Cass, can you hear me!? If so, knock on the sink two times!

Cass tilted her head as she attempted to read my lips. Apparently not… How can I communicate like this…? After mulling it over a bit, I came up with another idea. Commanding the reflection of myself in the mirror, I ordered it to touch the glass. Sure enough, the reflection’s left hand reached forward, palm resting flat as if visible through a window.

Placing her own hand against it allowed me to finally hear Cass’s voice. “Audrey, is that you…?”

“Great, it looks like this is now a thing that’s happening. Sorry Cass, but I wound up inside your head somehow.”

“What!? How is that even possible!?” Clearly she had missed the memorandum on astral linking. I spent the next ten minutes filling her in on my altercation with Astertis, pausing only whenever Cass’s arm started to fall asleep. I concluded by presenting my hypothesis that, because my spirit had effectively anchored itself into Cass’s body, Astertis was likely free to occupy my body fully as she saw fit.

The woman took a step back to collect her thoughts. Once she returned her hand to the mirror, she asked me, “Wasn’t astral link supposed to be a bloodline magic?”

“Well, I thought it was. That’s what Astertis told me.”

“Something about this doesn’t sit well with me. She shouldn’t have been able to use that ability on me in the first place due to the risk to herself and to you. Even now, the fact neither of us is foaming at the mouth in agony is a sign of her explanation being total bullshit. That or…”

“…Or what?” I don’t like the sound of this.

“You mentioned that she had planned for me to perform a ritual using Elder Theory, right? What if she used that very same ritual, but on us instead?”

The flash of light! It was just like what happened during the chimera incident. Astertis must have been able to invoke that language subconsciously, thus she had no reason to worry that her ritual might backfire on her. In a roundabout way, she had planned all of this from the start!

“Hey, Audrey? Hello…?”

“Huh, what were you saying, Cass?”

“I was saying that we need to figure out a way to reverse the ritual. Simply trying to perform it ourselves might not work because Isht- I mean, because Astertis might reject your presence. Sadly, I don’t think going to the Troupe with this is an option because for all intents and purposes, Elder Theory is not supposed to exist.”

“Well, what if we contacted my grandfather?” I asked. “I mean, he did live with the old hag for almost two decades.”

“I guess, but… do we really have that kind of time? Also, how much did he actually know… about her?”

That’s actually a pretty good question. “He knew about her powers at the very least; that much I was told.”

“Do you think he would know about her life following the point where she walked out on him?”

“I don’t know; maybe? I don’t see how that might affect his ability to help us.”

Cass pulled away from the mirror, biting her lip as if mulling something over in her head. When she returned her hand to the glass, she let out a dejected sigh. “Audrey, I am going to tell you some things, and I respectfully ask that you not freak out.”

“Okay?”

“Yesterday, after browsing the archives for information on your grandmother, I attempted to summon her.”

“W-What? Why!? What would possess you to even try such a dangerous thing!?”

“I thought of it as a possible means to tie up some loose ends without alerting you to what was really going on. I’m sorry, Audrey.”

Hearing this kind of confession from my best friend made me feel a bit guilty. I couldn’t fault her for trying to protect me, and I lamented the fact that I had been unable to shoulder this burden on my own in the first place. I could only hope that someday in the future, I would be able to make things up to her somehow. “So… what really was going on, then…?”

She filled me in on the cult of Ishtarte and the massacre which followed, but I found myself struggling to fully comprehend the sheer magnitude of the woman’s villainy. Given what Astertis had revealed to me personally, I still found myself wanting to hear her side of things. Was there a part of me that was biased toward her because she was a part of my family? In any case, I would need to stop her before she had a chance to use my identity for anything nefarious. Of that much, I was certain.

“Cass, I think we should put all of that aside for now. We can go look for her in the city tomorrow afternoon. She can’t make a move this early on, giving us a bit of flexibility.”

“Very well, Audrey. Consider it a plan.” With that, she pulled her hand away, and I retreated into her subconscious mind in order to get some much needed rest. Time passed rather quickly inside of her head, and before I knew it, an entire day had passed me by. I wondered if it had been like that for Astertis too back when our roles were reversed. Please let there be a way to fix this…

We spent all of the next morning trying to find her. As far as we knew, Astertis had never lived in this town, so she would be relying on my knowledge in order to get around. We checked the library, the monastery, even the local restaurants and taverns. Eventually, Cass became tired and a bit hungry, so we decided to head back to the café for a late lunch. In what could only be considered a stroke of irony, our fixed position turned out to be enough for Astertis to find us.

“Cass Wintermare! It has been far too long!” She was wearing dazzling red dress with exposed shoulders, hair tied in a ponytail to show off my rose-gold scales. The bottom of the dress barely covered my body’s cock – had it gotten bigger? The way she walked accentuated my body’s dexterity, and I soon noticed that spectators had begun to stop and stare.

Ugh! What the hell is she thinking!? Cass, I hope you knock her one for my sake!

“Hello, Astertis. Might I ask where you are off to, dressed in such a provocative fashion?”

“Actually, I’m on my way back from the modeling agency. I received a call this morning to serve as a stand-in for one of our coworkers. I must say that it feels rather nice to be the center of everyone’s attention again.”

She did what!? I swear, if anything happens to jeopardize my career as a model, I might actually kill her!

Cass raised an eyebrow as she sipped from her beverage. “You didn’t experience any trouble with your performance, now did you?”

“It was no trouble at all! Granted, it might not have been the way I would normally do things, but…”

What does she mean!? What the hell does she mean by that!? Astertis gave Cass a cheeky grin which I could only infer as alluding to acts of a sexual nature. Had she actually done so – if she had gone and broke the promise I made for myself – Oh, if only I could…! Damn it all…!

My thoughts were soon interrupted by a man’s voice coming from close by. “Cass? And is that… You are Audrey Songbird, aren’t you?”

Cass stood from her chair and gave the man a hug. “I… I didn’t think you’d be back in town so quickly… Josa…”

Josa? Was this Cass’s boyfriend? His garb was rather standard for an Artisan, and I could make out the faded markings of a much older patchwork. It was probably passed onto him by his old man. He must be one of those sentimental types.

“Well, aren’t you just the cutest!” exclaimed Astertis as she motioned for him to sit next to her. “Cass and I just had a discussion about you just last week, although I hadn’t expected you to be so handsome in person!”

“Thank you for saying so, Miss Songbird; it truly is an honor.”

“Oh darling, think nothing of it! Now, I believe Cass said your name was Josa, correct?”

“That’s right. Cass and I have been together ever since she moved into my father’s workshop.” He certainly was skittish. It was like every other moment he was busy checking out my body. I’m sure the massive erection Astertis was flaunting didn’t help matters.

Astertis crossed one leg over the other, arching her – or rather, my – chest so that her nipples poked against the red dress. “Allow me to say thank you for taking such good care of my fellow troupe mate. I suppose you can say that I am in your debt, dear Josa!”

“Not at all! If anything, I should be thanking you for ensuring her safety while in the field. I’ve heard so much about your prowess as a Channeler, and taking that into consideration alongside your modeling work, I doubt I could ever hold a candle to you, Miss Songbird.”

“Please, feel free to call me Audrey! Oh, and on the subject of modeling, I was just telling Cass about the shoot I wrapped up this morning! I decided to facilitate a rather unique approach this time, so I’m sure you’ll get a rise out of it.” Her gaze moved to the man’s crotch, and she used a hand to stifle her smirk. “That is, if you haven’t already.”

“Ah! My sincerest apologies!

“Truly, it’s no trouble. In fact, I think it better if the three of us are completely honest with each other; wouldn’t you agree, Cass?”

“Right…”

“Now then,” clapped Astertis, “Seeing as you’re back from whatever errand you had been out on, how about we go ahead and schedule that special rendezvous I know you two have been longing for?”

“Come again!?” Cass and I cried out in unison, though hers was the only voice to be heard.

“Audrey, don’t you think this is a bit too sudden!?”

“Why beat around the bush, Cass? We absolutely must strike while the iron is hot! What say you, Josa?”

“Well, I mean… I’d only want to do it if I knew Cass was one hundred percent okay with it.”

Astertis took his hand in hers, giving him her most sincere smile. “You truly are a gentleman, Josa. Cass is so lucky to have a man like you!”

“Audrey…” I could sense my friend gritting her teeth in irritation. “Let us be not hasty, now…”

“I understand that you’re worried about me, and trust me, I appreciate that.” The woman leaned forward, her voice becoming more hushed and a bit stern. “However, I fear that I have some pressing engagements which may soon fill my schedule, and you won’t have another opportunity like this for quite some time. Do you understand my situation, good friend?”

Now what is she up to…? It sounded as though she was taunting us, yet I couldn’t understand why scheduling a threesome would suddenly so high on her to-do list. Whatever she’s got up her sleeve, just say no, Cass-

“Very well.” HUH!? “We can do it tonight at the workshop, though you’ll need to get your old man out of the house, Josa.”

“R-Right! I’ll have a talk with him beforehand, Cass.”

“We should all have some time to prepare,” replied Astertis. “I’ll swing by around sundown. Do take care now!” With that, she gathered her things and made her way down the street, presumably toward my apartment.

Josa allowed his stare to linger a bit more before turning back to Cass. “Shall we walk home together?”

“Yeah, let’s go.” Cass took his hand and the two proceeded to return to the workshop. Once inside, she informed him that she would need a few hours of alone time in which to prepare. Cass quickly trudged up the steps to her workshop, entered the bathroom, and placed her left hand on the mirror, allowing us to communicate once more.

I wasted no time in letting her know exactly how I felt.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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