Eye of the Tempest
Page 22

 Nicole Peeler

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Or maybe not.
“Nothing’s happening!” I shouted for about the fourth time, the panic rising in my voice. Anyan was sitting, drooling on the floor and patiently waiting while Blondie tried various things to get him back into man-shape.
Since returning to Anyan’s cabin, and having gotten over the initial shock of what happened in the cavern and Blondie’s sudden appearance, I’d remembered the million things I wanted to ask the Original. But getting our friends back definitely took priority.
“I know,” she growled, throwing some more mojo into her attempts. I went to stand by her, offering her my own power. I felt Blondie funnel my force into her own and out toward Anyan, but still nothing happened.
“This can’t be happening,” I repeated, also for about the fourth time. Having Anyan trapped as a dog—a real dog!—was probably the scariest thing I’d ever seen.
“Shit,” Blondie said, lowering her arms and releasing my magic. “Nothing’s working.”
I looked at her, my face gone white, before turning to the others.
“So Nell is now a baby,” Iris said in her turn to repeat herself, for about the fifth time. “And Anyan is a dog.”
Blondie sighed and scratched at the exposed skin on the side of her head; it looked like she’d freshly shaved around her Mohawk that morning. Then she went and sat down by the fire Trill had built in his fireplace. I think the kelpie was just trying to keep busy—she hadn’t said anything since the cavern. She was probably even more freaked out than me, if that were possible.
Not that we weren’t all upset, so we’d returned to Anyan’s to regroup after what happened. Only to discover Gus had managed to lock himself in one of Anyan’s cupboards. The stone spirit was currently in Anyan’s kitchens, making himself a peanut butter, banana, and potato chip sandwich, a combo I found bold and intriguing, although everyone else seemed to think it was disgusting.
“What else could have happened?” the Original responded to Iris, stretching out her long legs. “We have one baby whose power signature reads ‘immature gnome,’ and a dog instead of a barghest.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense,” I pleaded, my voice a little hysterical. “How could this have even happened? And why a baby and a dog? It’s illogical!”
Blondie narrowed her eyes at me, as if she were thinking hard. Then a look came over her face like she might have figured something out, but her next words answered nothing.
“Sometimes there are too many players,” she said, cryptically, before staring off into the fire as if communing with herself.
I watched as Iris shifted the baby Nell on her lap. Anyan, meanwhile, went and curled up to sleep on the floor next to Blondie’s feet, soaking up the heat of the flames. Even as a dog he seemed to trust her. I, however, wasn’t so sure.
“It must have been an ancient Alfar trap,” Caleb’s deep voice intoned. “The sigil was set in a mirror, and the whole thing locked with very ancient magic.”
“But it’s still not logical! Why a baby and a dog?” I repeated, still refusing to believe that the man I’d just made out with was a for-real dog, while our resident Yoda was now crapping in diapers. As if he knew we were talking about him, Anyan raised his sleepy head, his tail wagging distractedly. He was clearly exhausted from the past hour of licking his own genitals.
“Think about it, Jane,” Caleb replied. As always, he was calm. “It’s an ancient spell, set with ancient magic. You know your human folklore. Think of your Celtic mythology, your Arabian tales, your Norse and Native American trickster figures: What’s the one thing you can rely on about magic in all of those mythologies?”
I thought about it for a minute, even though I already knew the answer. “You can’t,” I eventually replied, miserably. “You can’t rely on it.”
“Exactly,” Blondie said, snapping out of her daydream. “It’s precocious. Magic, even in your modern, watered-down fairy tales, has a mind of its own. If you ask the genie in a bottle for everlasting life, he’ll turn you into a spring breeze. If you steal a staff enchanted with speed from a fairy prince, it will turn you into a greyhound.”
“But why a baby and a dog?” I whined, still unable to believe that the only genitals Anyan would be licking for quite some time were his own. Or maybe some of the neighborhood bitches’, and for once I didn’t mean Linda Allen.
“Realistically, the spell was originally enchanted to incapacitate anyone who toyed with the sigil,” Caleb rumbled from where he sat next to Iris. “Over time it probably morphed. Developed a… sense of humor.”
“How is this funny?” Trill asked, from where she sat near Anyan. It was the first time she’d spoken. The kelpie seemed in shock, watching the flames dance in the fireplace.
“It probably killed whoever fucked with it originally,” Blondie stated, starting to lose patience. “Now it’s changed so it’s doing things to them that aren’t death… but that just as effectively knock an opponent out of the game.”
“You said ‘changed.’ Do you think something interfered with it?” I asked.
Blondie shrugged, but I could have sworn she looked guilty. Like she wasn’t telling us something.
“Who knows,” she said. “Maybe it just morphed on its own, like Caleb suggested.”
I watched her warily. She and I are going to have a talk, soon, I decided. Like, before we leave this house.
“So Anyan’s really a dog,” I said, instead. “An honest-to-god dog.”
“Yep,” said Blondie.
“And you can’t change him back? Not even with all your power? What I felt you do in Pittsburgh, to Phaedra…” I was referring to the enormous feats of magical strength that Blondie had committed while she was following us.
Blondie shook her head. “I can do that sort of thing only if I don’t want to do much again for the next week. I also had some help—a couple of talismans I’d poured some excess power into. It’s an old trick… but I haven’t had the time or the extra power to make any since then.”
I frowned. I hadn’t seen Blondie wearing anything, besides her piercings, when she was following us. And she’d gotten nekkid enough that I was pretty confident about that fact.
Not that you’ve ever even heard of talismans, I thought. So they could have been the piercings, for all you know.
“But why is Nell a baby?” Trill interrupted my worries, her voice gritty as if she were just waking up from her shock.
“Because it’s the weakest thing she can be,” Blondie said, her voice gentling for the obviously upset kelpie. “She can’t bond with the earth at that age. Even very young gnomes, if they can bond, can be led by the earth to protect itself. Now she’s just a squalling infant. Leaving the Territory—”
“What in tarnation have you done with my aunt?” yelled a voice from Anyan’s driveway.
“Undefended,” Blondie finished, drily, just as Miss Carrol came swinging through the cabin’s front door.
“If you’ve hurt her, you tattooed hussy, you are going to see the back of my…” Miss Carrol’s words trailed off as her eyes took in the sight of Nell’s enormous bun attached to the baby in Iris’s arms.
“What in the Sam Hill is going on?” Miss Carrol demanded. “Why has that baby got my aunt’s hair? And why is Anyan licking himself in ways improper to either man or barghest?”
I sighed, looking over to find that Anyan was indeed getting frisky with himself. Again.
“Miss Carrol,” I said, trying to keep the immature gnome in check. “There’s been an accident, as you can see. Anyan and Nell were… what? Regressed?”
“Regressed?” Miss Carrol repeated.
“She’s a baby and he’s a dog,” Iris replied, helpfully.
“I can see that, sugar.” Miss Carrol’s voice dripped syrupy venom. “But how did this happen?”
“I’m sure you know Gus was attacked last night,” I explained. “We went to investigate this morning and found a hole underneath his boulder. In it was a cavern full of crystals. If you touched them the right way, they made this sigil thing pop up out of the ground.”
“But it was locked,” Iris added.
“Yeah, so Nell and Anyan threw all this power at it and… bam! One baby and one doggie, at your service,” I finished.
“Well, ain’t that a bitch,” Miss Carrol swore. “How are you gonna turn ’em back?”
Blondie sighed. “I have no idea. I’ve tried everything I know. I’ll send out some requests for help to see if anyone has ever seen anything like this before. But in the meantime, they’re just going to have to stay that way.”
“They can’t stay that way,” I said, my voice shrill.
We haven’t had sex yet! my libido keened, unable to believe the object of its affections had managed to give “doggie-style” a completely pejorative connotation.