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     “Sit here. Legs up”

     I stretched my legs across the narrow divide between the fabric-upholstered chair, and the ottoman that sat in parallel with it, as instructed. My Mistress, a dark-haired woman with a plump, matronly figure, knelt beside me, her fingers brushing along my exposed legs. It felt like a medical exam, being looked at in my underwear like this.

     “Push them together.” Mistress ordered, her eyes narrowed with the surgical gaze of a scientist. I complied, pressing my legs against one another. He watched with interest as her hands were encompassed by a soft, blue light, warm to the touch. A translucent image of scales followed in her wake, stretching tightly across his legs. The image grew in opacity, and as it formed around him, he could feel the tight embrace of her magic sealing his legs into what amounted to a large sock.

     “And one, two, three...” Mistress counted, tugging on an invisible string to seal the spell into reality. For a moment, his legs felt incredibly hot. In the next, they were gone, as the image replaced them, leaving his legs transformed into the glittering emerald form of a mermaid’s tail.

     “What’s this for, exactly?” I asked, running my fingertips along the smooth scales that were now a part of me.

     “I don’t have a second bed. No one else lives here, and you’re not sharing mine.”

     “But can’t you just make a bed with your magic?”

     “Yes, but I’m not going to.”

     “Why?”

     “Because this is more amusing.”

     Mistress grinned, placing her palms against my chest, and arcing her mana through my body. Locks of deep brown hair fell into his vision, as his organs felt like they were melting amidst the charge of magic.

     That was when everything went white.

     I felt water rushing up around me, a moment before my vision cleared. I flailed around, instinctively holding my breath as my vision swam. My tail thrashed wildly, my arms clawing at the water as I tried to right myself, currents moving every which way.

     “Calm down. Your body knows what to do.” Mistress’s familiar voice reached my ears. It sounded dulled, but I couldn’t tell why. My fingers moved to my nose, pinching the spot with a vice grip. My eyes opened, gazing towards the rippling surface, the distorted image of an everflame torch high above me. My tail righted itself, kicking powerfully through the water and forcing my oxygen-starved body towards the surface.

     I sucked sweet, sweet air through my lungs, my breaths deep and heavy as I threw my arms over the side of the tank, using the edge to support myself, my newly lengthened hair plastered against my back .

     Tank. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I took stock of where I was. I rested on the lip of an exceedingly large glass tank, full from top to bottom with perfectly clear water. I recognized the room I was in. I was just here a few minutes ago. My gaze fell upon a nearby doorway. That one led to Mistress’s bedroom, where I just was. And Mistress was stepping out of it now, a pleased grin on her face.

     “You’re a mermaid. You can breathe underwater.” she stated matter-of-factly, her arms folded over her chest.

     I stared down at my tail, casually hovering in the water. It seemed to swish just a bit on its own, as unconsciously as blinking my eyes.

     Mermaid. That suddenly made a whole lot of sense. She’d turned me into a mermaid, then warped me into this tank, which I could now survive in, at least till morning.

     She was approached the glass, placing a hand upon the crystal-clear barrier. “Come down here.” she ordered.

     My gaze fell to the water, just below my chin. Human instincts clashed with the alien ones of my new form, the former impressing on me the pain of running out of air, while the latter insisted that breathing water was perfectly natural.

     I compromised. Mistress watched impatiently, as I lowered my face just beneath the surface, eyes squeezed shut, and forced myself to open my mouth.

     I immediately sucked in a lungful of water, and tried to cough it out, but the effort proved pointless. I could feel the water peacefully entering and exiting my throat, just like the air above. Bubbles tickled my nose, as the air that had occupied my lungs before was gradually displaced with water.

     “Come. Down. Here.” Mistress repeated, her tone sharpened.

     Tensing at her disapproval, I quickly forced my head beneath the water.

     Boyancy was...strange, with the air removed from my lungs. I couldn’t descend the way I was used to, but my tail knew what to do, forcing itself above my hips to invert my direction, before kicking through the water, and pushing me towards the tank’s bottom. It was easy. Natural. I was as free in the water as my legs allowed me to be on land.

     My grin met Mistress’s frown, immediately killing my rising elation.

     “You get one warning.” she said flatly. “If you are to stay here, then you are mine. You do what I say, when I say, and retain no freedoms, save that to walk away whenever you so choose. That,” she pointed to the surface, “was ten seconds too long.”

     I stared at her, studying the crease in her brow. Was she serious? It wasn’t like I’d been delaying on purpose. I kept looking for some hint, that would tell me she wasn’t serious. It felt like I was supposed to be saying something. Maybe a ‘yes Mistress’, but I couldn’t form the words.

     “Well.” she said, breaking the silence just as it began to turn awkward. “Right. One warning. Goodnight.” she turned her back on me, exiting to her room. The torch above dimmed in response to her waning presence, leaving me in a dim light. Bright enough to see, but not really to read. Not that I had a waterproof book around anyways.

    

     This. Was. Weird.

     The tank was mostly bare, save for a single, comically misproportioned fake castle. It was about two thirds as big as I was long, with a single rubbery ‘cushion’ stuck under the lip of a rock serving as a bed. I kinda liked it. There was something about the cramped quarters that made me feel...safe, and the castle’s single opening, a window at the top of the pseudo-tower, was high enough above me that the encampment provided the closest thing I had to privacy.

     My hands cupped the supple flesh that now hung off my chest. They wern’t terribly big, but they were there, sensitive, springy skin that served as a marker for an undeniable fact - I was a girl now. But...why? My attention turned to my tailfin, eyeing the scales that ran up and down the appendage, squinting until the luminescent weave that formed Mistress’s spell came into view, a zig-zag of mana fibers and tightly bound knots, wrapped firmly around my body and holding my current form in place. It was well crafted, but I could see where it faltered, a few stray strings here and there. With a few tugs, I could dispel it, turning myself back to normal, but that struck me as extremely unwise. I wasn’t interested in drowning, and I doubted that Mistress would be terribly pleased by the act of defiance.

     A ‘natural talent’ she called it. It wasn’t until a month ago that I started seeing the Weaves, and only two weeks ago that I’d found out what they meant. Spells. Bindings that attached the mage’s spells to reality, forcing it to change to match their desires. Apparently, I had a knack for tearing these apart, and Belladonna hadn’t appreciated when I accidentally tore open her bottomless bag, spilling a lifetime’s worth of collected doodads onto the bar’s floor.

     I’d stalked her since then. I knew she was the best chance I had at getting any answers. She’d made every effort to be rid of me, but each spell she threw at me, I eventually managed to pull apart. One day, she’d said she was impressed. Said an apprentice might win her some favor with the council, and agreed to attempt training me in the art of magic. I still had no idea what the hell the ‘Council’ was, but I’d signed a contract earlier this morning, in that same strange energy she called ‘mana’. (Technically, she was recognized as my ‘Master’, but she said the word sounded too manly, and preferred the elegance of ‘Mistress’.)

    

     The sound of pattering feet echoed through the glass walls of my chamber. At least, I think it was. Everything sounded less distorted in the water then it should have, probably for the same reason I could see perfectly well, without the water bothering my eyes.

     Curious, I swam upwards, leaning out of the open window and gazing outside of the tank. A horde of illuminated dots swarmed in the darkness, each moving in pairs. I guessed they were eyes, but what those eyes belonged to, I hadn’t the faintest clue.

     The eyes, if that is what they were, moved heedlessly about the edges of my tank. The dim light penetrated the clear waters easily, leaving what appeared to be an island of light, framed by glass. It was a bit unnerving, but also kind of fascinating. Curiosity won out against my survival instinct, and I gave my tail a kick, propelling me out into the tank’s center.

     There I waded, surrounded on all sides by the eerie glowing lights. I squinted at them, trying to make out what exactly they were in the occasional moments where their forms were illuminated by my minimal light. Over the next half-hour, I observed their motions, their noises, as they scurried about. There was no way Mistress didn’t know about this...occurrence.

     First of all, they were small, probably only two feet or so in height. But if that was true, they could probably fly, given how some of them seemed to have risen off the ground. I thought I heard tiny, rapid wingbeats, like those of a dragonfly, so that added up. From what glimpses I could get, they had large round heads, with some sort of squarish teeth, that hung outside their mouths, like an extra jaw. Their bodies were disproportionately small, but humanoid in shape, leaving them hunched over as they scrambled about.

     I heard the noise of water, sloshing about, and moved to the top of the tank to confirm that it wasn’t just the liquid surrounding me. The splat of wet fabric against tile...it sounded like they were mopping.

     The wheels in my head turned rapidly after that realization. Cleaning. They were cleaning. If that was the case, they probably worked for Mistress, weird little things that came out at night to keep the whole place shiny and hygienic. Why would a powerful mage do her own chores if she had the magical capability to do….pretty much anything?

     Proud of myself, I slipped back into the water, and moved towards the glass, where the light was at its darkest, but where I could be closest to the creatures. If Mistress made them, then they were probably magic. And if they were magic…

     I squinted, focusing my gaze on the sea of yellow dots. My eyes narrowed, then narrowed just a bit further, till I could pierce the veil of reality, the Weaves coming into sight. My suspicions were right. Every pair of eyes swarming about held within it a wiry skeleton of mana, coding its motion and directing its actions with a series of instructions I couldn’t quite understand, all woven into the spells that kept each one alive.

     My tailfin folded beneath me, my body settling on the foux-rocks that made up the tank’s bottom. One of the creatures scurried up to the tank, a white cloth and a spray bottle clutched in each of its claw-like hands. It ignored me, like all the rest, my view of the thing distorted as it sprayed cleaning solvent against the glass, and proceeded to wipe it down.

     I wasn’t ignoring it though. I couldn’t help myself. The intricate patterns of mana seemed to flow with an unnatural grace, each fold and knot masterfully placed. Sure, there were tiny imperfections here and there, but that was par for the course of Weaves; I’d yet to encounter one without any stray threads.

     I stretched out, running my gaze all through the Weave. I could tell there was energy flowing, and tiny sparks whenever the creature changed direction or altered a task...and different strings seemed to be woven in different patterns, probably due to their function...blast it, I didn’t know enough about the base concepts to make sense of this. Where the torso and legs connected, one string was knotted around another, but the knot was one of those weak, tie-knots...the ones that come undone with a simple tug…

     The creature sparked, tiny motes of light jumping from its hip-joints. It fell to the ground, its legs collapsing under him. I wheeled back, my scales protecting me from the rocks I kicked up as my tail pushed me upwards in the water.

     “What?” I burbled, staring in fear at the little critter as it rolled onto its back, its expressionless face poking at its legs. Its jawline fell open, a loud metallic screech echoing throughout the halls. I panicked, whipping my head around as I watched the army of dots retreat, somewhere into the unknown darkness.

     The torch illuminated to its fullest degree, as Mistress came storming through the door. I was tempted to hide, to swim back into the little castle and pretend I didn’t know what had happened, but it was too little too late. Better that I didn’t. The attempt would only have made things look worse.

     Belladonna hurried around the tank, lifting the poor little guy into her arms, as it continued to wail in mechanical, almost trumpet-like moans.

     “Shh shh shh shh shh…” she whispered, her manicured hands gently stroking the shiny surface of its head. “It’s okay...it’s going to be okay...see?” Her hands fell to the thing’s legs, her fingertips wrapping strings of colourful mana around them, as she reformed the Weave I’d just finished unraveling. Its cries ceased, as it curled up to look over its legs, wiggling them to ensure they were working properly.

     “See?”

     The creature looked up at her, its tiny arms spread in a request for a hug, which Belladonna graciously returned. Her steely gaze, fell upon me, her voice stern and laced with venom.

     “What. Happened. Here?”

     “Uh...I…” My arms crossed in front of myself, as if I was trying to form a barrier between myself and her. “I didn’t...I was just looking at it and-”

     “You did this?”

     “I...think so?”

     “But you were behind the glass…” She looked back to the metallic creature in her hands, eyeing the joint where it’d stopped functioning. “Did you…project yourself?”

     “I don’t know?”

     “You tore apart my spell without touching it. Through the glass. Am I wrong?”

     “Maybe?”

     Her brow furrowed, as she set the creature down, instructing it to take the rest of the night off. She stood, her eyes never leaving mine as she approached the glass, rapping her finger against it. I instinctively recoiled, putting a good two feet between us, grateful for the barrier that separated me from her.

     “Don’t let it happen again.” she ordered, fury blazing in her emerald eyes. I nodded frantically, mouthing some form of disjointed apology, that I couldn’t bring sound too.

     With that, she sighed, holding her head in her hands as she retreated towards her room. “It’s pretty impressive though...I think I know where we’re going to begin your lessons.” And then she was gone.

     I wasn’t prepared for that. Compliments from Belladonna were rare, and she appeared to be furious with me. Apparently, I’d just done something admirable, despite the pain I’d caused the little guy...If I could figure out which one he was, I’d need to try apologizing...somehow. Maybe I’d bring it up to Mistress tomorrow.

Lights in the Dark
I've been meaning to upload this particular piece for several months now. I wrote this thing last semester as part of a writing class, and found myself particularly proud of it. Here's hoping y'all enjoy.
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paradoxicalWitchling
Juliette Samantha Thomson
Artist | Student | Literature
United States
An aspiring writer hoping to shape the world with her fantasies. Mostly focused around urban fantasy and meta-fiction.
Other random facts? I'm a brunette, adore video games (particularly RPGs), trans-gendered, and enjoy a weekly Tabletop game or two.
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:icongrapehyacinth:
grapehyacinth Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2016
Thanks for the watch!!
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