Chapter 4:

Chapter 4

Waking Up as a Gyaru in a New World

I woke up slowly. Dull sunlight was streaming into my room from the little window on the wall. I scrabbled around, looking for my phone for a moment before remembering where I was and what had happened to me. I still didn’t get up right away. The bed was just too comfortable. But I couldn’t allow myself to fall back asleep. It was morning, which meant I needed to be on my way to save Mina. After just a couple more seconds.Bookmark here

I woke again with a start some time later. Cursing myself, I sat up. I rubbed my hands through my hair and found that it was all tangled up again. Idly, I wondered if there was something I should have been doing differently with my hair as I slept. I slid off the bed and grabbed the comb I’d brought with me. I walked to the window as I tugged a comb through the snarls and moved the curtain aside a little so that I could peek outside. The sight that awaited me caused my hand to freeze as the comb was halfway through a knot. Bookmark here

There was a crowd outside. Fifteen or twenty men and women. Artur and Kriv were facing them. The twosome had placed themselves in front of the door to Artur’s house and were clearly attempting to keep them out. Without really thinking about it, I savagely tugged the comb through my hair and began to dress. I struggled with my bra for a few moments before giving up and tossing it aside. I would have to practice with it. When the rest of my clothes were on, I bounded down the stairs and outside to where Artur and Kriv were facing the crowd. Bookmark here

Whatever they had been saying before, the members of the crowd broke off when I appeared. There was a murmuring in the crowd but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Then one of the men abruptly thrust out a finger, pointing at me. “There she is. Look at her! I told you she was Althean.” I wonder what made them sure I was Althean.Bookmark here

I stopped a little short of Kriv and Artur. The wolfboy was glaring at me and the big man seemed sad. “What’s going on?” I asked. Bookmark here

“The townspeople are demanding we turn you over to them,” Artur said. His voice held bone-deep weariness and sadness. “They wish to sell you. I will not let them.” Bookmark here

“You don’t have a choice, Artur!” the man cried. He seemed to be a human. “She’s an Althean! And look at her. If we sell her, we’ll all be rich!” I somehow didn’t think selling me would get them ‘rich’ but considering how dirt poor these people seemed, it would probably be more money than they could ever hope to see otherwise. I could see why they were tempted, even if I was horrified by it.Bookmark here

“And we can’t just leave that wolf to go as he pleases.” This time it was a woman speaking. She was tall and slender with yellow eyes and strangely mottled skin. Clearly some kind of beast person. “If the cobras find out, we will all suffer.” Bookmark here

Artur shook his head stubbornly. “They are my guests under my hospitality. I will not let them come to harm.” He seemed focused and stout suddenly. I wondered what he’d been like in his prime as a warrior. Bookmark here

The crowd initially quailed back but the human man, the one that had accused me of being Althean, shouted, “You can’t stop all of us, old man. You may not need the money but we do!”Bookmark here

“Yeah, and we can’t let that wolf go! Wolves are the enemy!” I couldn’t see who spoke but did set off a general shouting of agreement. I studied the crowd and, while I found a couple faces that seemed regretful, most were eager or determined. It was obvious they would be coming now, once they had worked themselves into enough of a lather. I tried to cycle through my skills to see what would be good but panic was making it impossible to think straight. I’d left my backpack and the notebook with the skills in it upstairs.Bookmark here

“Hey!” a powerful female voice shouted. “Shut the hell up! I am trying to take a nap, damn it!” Everybody froze for a moment and then looked up at where the shout had come from. Bookmark here

There was a woman leaning out of one of the second story windows of Artur’s house. She was absolutely breathtaking. Her thick, curly and sleep-tousled hair was black with lighter, auburn highlights. She had a sharp face, with a severe, aristocratic beauty slightly softened by a button nose and full-lipped mouth. Her eyes were a bright, intense yellow. When she opened her mouth, I could see long canines. Her skin was fair but had darker markings around the eyes that instantly brought to mind a tiger. Even if Artur hadn’t mentioned what kind of beastperson, I would have been able to guess. This was his other guest, Aliya. Bookmark here

“This doesn’t have anything to do with you!” the human shouted. “Go back inside. We’ll be done soon.” Bookmark here

A wave of anger twisted Aliya’s beautiful features. “Don’t you dare tell me what to do, human!” she snarled. She jumped through the window, landing lightly on her feet between us and the crowd. Aliya had on the same bikini-style top that the other women were wearing; tiger-striped appropriately enough. She didn’t have on breeches, however, and I got my first look at what the people of this area wore as underpants. It looked much like traditional Japanese underwear, a single piece of white cloth that was twisted and tied into place. It covered the front quite demurely but rode very high on the hips and covered no more of the back than a g-string would have. I swallowed hard. Bookmark here

Her state of undress revealed a few tattoos, as well. Her left arm from shoulder to mid-forearm was covered with tribal tattoos. Or at least, that’s what I would have called them. I didn’t know if there were different connotations here. Her right thigh had a tattoo of a cobra on a spit. That was interesting. The back of her right shoulder had the skull of a great cat of some sort and there was a pouncing tiger across the small of her black. The last one was the only one that was colored, in bright orange. Bookmark here

Aliya straightened up. I think she was only a little taller than Mina but her long legs and leanly muscled body made her seem like an Amazon. She turned to the crowd and flexed her hand, popping claws out of each one of her fingers. “Let me see if I can guess the situation,” she said. “You scum have come to try and take Artur’s two guests away and he told you to go to hell. So now you’re trying to take them by force.” Bookmark here

“So what?” a voice cried. “What does it have to do with you?”Bookmark here

“Artur welcomed me into his home. I am honor-bound to defend it. If you want to get to him, you’ll have to come through me.” She popped the claws out of her other hand.Bookmark here

The crowd shrank back again but the human once more managed to rally them. “Don’t be afraid. She’s just one person. Old Artur won’t really fight us.” Bookmark here

“She won’t be alone,” Kriv said, stepping up beside Aliya. This did not make the crowd shrink back and I couldn’t blame them. He was fierce but still a child after all. If anything, his statement seemed to galvanize the crowd. I saw several looks of fear or hesitation change to anger when he spoke. They really hated him. Great. So prejudicial hatred in this world was based on blood feuds between beast clans. Probably about something that happened centuries ago. How stupid. Bookmark here

It only took one to get a mob moving and, strangely enough, it was the beast woman that had seemed somewhat reasonable. She charged and the rest of the mob came with her. Aliya and Kriv prepared to meet them. I grabbed my head, fighting down panic. Two on twenty. One of them a child. I had to do something. My mind flashed to the book of skills. I was a status magician. What could help? I shouted the first one that came to mind. “Cheer up!”Bookmark here

My body once again began moving outside of my control. With a wide smile I shouted, “Go! Go! Go, fight, win! Kriv! Aliya! Go, fight, win!” I punctuated each word with a clap along with twisting my hips from side to side. “Hooray! Hooray! Go, fight, win!” I blushed, mortified to be playing a cheerleader but I couldn’t stop the skill now that it was active. As Aliya and Kriv met the enemy, I tried to focus on the fight and forget that I was in the middle of a simplistic cheer routine. Bookmark here

Aliya didn’t wait for them to get close. She sprinted forward and dropkicked the lead woman in the chest. It was honestly incredible how high she jumped and how perfectly she connected. Maybe my cheer was doing something? Or maybe she was just that good. Either way, the woman flew back while Aliya somehow twisted around and landed on all fours. She was part cat, I guess. She sprang up and racked her claws across the face of a closing man, sending him reeling back into other members of the mob. Bookmark here

Meanwhile Kriv patiently waited for the mob to reach him. The man in the lead was almost on him when Kriv suddenly jumped forward into a flying uppercut. He hit the man right in the chin with such force that a tooth flew out. Kriv landed, glanced at his fist, glanced back at me doing my cheer and then shrugged. He punched the next charging person in the stomach. The man tumbled forward and I averted my eyes as he vomited in front of me. Bookmark here

The whole thing was over faster than it began. Aliya and Kriv knocked around a few more but soon the mob was sprinting the other direction. They were regular people after all. I noticed that the human goading them never even came close. Somebody had the decency to grab the woman that Aliya had kicked but most of the injured were left to lie where they had fallen. Bookmark here

Once the danger was over, my cheer automatically stopped. So far, I was really not enjoying Mina’s skills. It was hard to tell if they were even working. Kriv walked to me and looked at me with curiosity in his eyes. He wasn’t hurt or even breathing hard. “What was that?” he asked. “Some kind of Althean ritual?” Bookmark here

“It was very interesting,” Artur said. “Oh, my, yes. And very surprising from an Althean. The legions that I faced in my time as a warrior were incredibly quiet. It was disconcerting to fight such a silent opponent. I’ve never seen an Althean do something like that before.” Bookmark here

I wanted to snap ‘thanks a lot, Artur’ but I tried to keep a straight face. “It’s an old family tradition. Hasn’t caught on with the legions yet.” I couldn’t think of a good lie so I just kept it vague. Bookmark here

“I felt stronger, hearing it.” Kriv looked at his hand and opened and closed a fist. “It was strange.” So it had done something. Bookmark here

Aliya walked up, brushing back her hair and sighing. “That was a nice little fight. It’s been too long since I had a good fight.” If she had felt stronger because of my cheer, she didn’t mention it. She looked at me with her bright, yellow eyes. “So you’re the Althean. Artur seems to like you.” Bookmark here

“My name is Selene,” I said. “I’m glad to meet you, Aliya. Thank you for helping us.” Bookmark here

Aliya shrugged. “It was funner to be on your side. Besides, I couldn’t let old Artur come to harm.” She stood on her tiptoes and patted the big man on the cheek. I was having a hard time not staring at her. She was a captivating woman in just her underpants. I suddenly wondered how samesex relationships were perceived in this world. Some premodern cultures were way more tolerant than mine and some were way less. I shook my head. It didn’t matter. I was going to find some way to give this body back to its rightful owner. Bookmark here

Aliya stretched like a cat and if nosebleeds were a real thing, I might have gotten one right then. “Time to get back to my nap.” She headed for the door and stopped just before she got to it. She glanced back at me. “Tell me when you want to go and I’ll go with you for a while,” she said. I was stunned by her confidence. She wasn’t asking me if she could come, she was telling me. Bookmark here

But I wasn’t one to turn away help. If I was gathering a party, I definitely wanted her. She was clearly a great warrior on top of being a ravishing tiger lady. “Thank you but I plan on leaving right now. There isn’t any time to lose.” Not only did I need to go after Mina but I didn’t want to give the townspeople another shot at us. Bookmark here

Aliya raised one high-arching black eyebrow. “Now? When the sun is about to set?” She pointed her thumb to the west and I followed it. The sun was indeed setting. My jaw dropped and I had a moment of complete confusion. I slept the entire day! What the hell?! How could I have done that? I must have slept for close to twenty-four hours! I hadn’t stayed up that long past sundown last night after all. Aliya smiled and chuckled. “You put even me to shame, girl.” Bookmark here

I felt like a fool but at the same time, I guess my body needed the sleep. “We leave at dawn tomorrow,” I said, trying to sound authoritative.Bookmark here

“Fine with me,” Aliya said with a smirk. I guess she knew how I was feeling. I wonder if she could smell it. Beast people could sometimes do weird stuff like that. She went inside. Bookmark here

“Dawn,” Kriv said. Bookmark here

I looked at him. “I didn’t think you were coming with me,” I said. I glanced at Artur who was watching us and moved Kriv off a ways to where hopefully the big man couldn’t hear. “You know that I am not actually planning on going east, right? I have to go to High Rock.” Bookmark here

“I know.”Bookmark here

“So you’ll be in danger if you come with me.”Bookmark here

Kriv glanced down and when he looked back up at me there was uncertainty and even a little fear in his eyes. “Would it be a problem for you if I came?” Bookmark here

I frowned. It would be a problem. I was going to have enough problems dealing with people as an Althean. Things would be even more complicated with a wolf in tow. On the other hand, Kriv was tough and, more importantly, he was the first member of my party. It felt wrong somehow to leave him. I had an idea. “Do you know of any kind of beef the cobras have with foxes?” Bookmark here

“Beef?” Kriv repeated, clearly confused. Bookmark here

I sighed. “I mean feud. Do you know of any feud?” Bookmark here

Kriv shook his head, “I don’t think so.” That was good news, though I was asking a boy who’d lived alone in the forest for who knew how long. Bookmark here

“Alright, then. I am going to try something.” I put my hand on the top of his head and concentrated. The skill that said I could change hair, eye and skin coloration hadn’t said I couldn’t change the coloration of others. I hadn’t said I could either. I closed my eyes and created as clear a picture as I could of Kriv with red-orange hair like a fox. I didn’t feel anything but I hadn’t when I changed my own hair color either. When I opened my eyes, I couldn’t help crying out in triumph. It had worked. Kriv's long silver-blue hair had turned a deep reddish orange and even the fur on his ears had shifted to red-orange tipped with black. Bookmark here

Artur, who had been watching and probably listening to us, shouted in surprise. “My goodness! What have you done?” He stomped forward and began to touch Kriv’s hair. Kriv looked from him to me with confusion bordering on alarm. “I have never seen anything like this before.” He turned to me and there was fear in his eyes. “I did not realize that you were a witch.” Bookmark here

I took a step back and put up my hands. “I’m not really a witch,” I said. “I just know a few little tricks.” Bookmark here

“Magic is magic.” Artur trembled and looked away. “You are welcome in my home tonight because I have already offered. Tomorrow you will go and do not return.” He turned and rumbled away quickly. My shoulders slumped. I wondered if it was Artur specifically that didn’t like magic or if it was all beast people. I guess I would figure that out soon enough. Bookmark here

Kriv had pulled his hair forward to look at it. “You changed my hair color so that I look like a fox,” he said tonelessly. Bookmark here

I crossed my arms and then had to adjust them so they went under my breasts instead of on top like I would have as a man. “It was all that I could think of to keep you from getting lynch mobbed,” I said. “Is it going to be a problem for you? Are you afraid of me now, too?” Bookmark here

He glanced up, anger in his eyes. “I’m not afraid of witches!” he declared. Bookmark here

I sighed. His little boy ego was too easy to bruise. “I mean, do you still want to come with me?” I asked. “I can change your hair color back to normal if you want but it is too dangerous for you to come with as a wolf.” Bookmark here

Kriv considered for a long time, playing with his hair with both hands. Then he said, “My father taught me that Ayyanar magic is evil. They want to use it to control the world. They even fornicate with demons to get it.” Yikes. Were demons a real thing in this world or was that just crazy fear mongering? “He never said anything about Althean magic. You don’t smell evil to me. This doesn’t seem evil to me.” My heart soared. Kriv was the type to actually think things through and make his own judgements. I hadn’t expected that but it confirmed my belief that he was supposed to be with my party. “I will continue with you.” He smiled very wolfishy. It was the first time I’d seen him smile and it made me think he was going to be a real lady killer when he grew up. “A wolf in fox’s clothing.” I blinked in surprise. Did they have that fable here or was he referencing something else. Either way, it was a cool thing to say. A lady killer, indeed.Bookmark here

We went inside together. Artur had holed up inside his bedroom. I hoped I got to see him again before we left so that I could thank him for everything. I wasn’t sure we should touch his foodstuffs without his permission but Kriv, confidently as if he were in his own kitchen, made up some porridge for us both. It was bland but I was starving so I licked the bowl clean and wished there was more. Afterwards, I poked around his house for a bit and found a little library. There were only five books but I bet it was five more books than anybody else in town had. The books were Musings on the Path of the True Warrior, Emperor, Saga of Zinger the Bloody, Saga of Sergei the Loyal and Adventures of a Pig. I selected Saga of Zinger the Bloody because I was able to pull it free without disturbing the rest. The books seemed fragile to me, with thin, stiff paper. Bookmark here

My universal translation extended to books, luckily, and I read a little of it. The prose was very stiff and formal, even translated, so it was kind of a slog to get through. Zinger, it seemed, had been a member of the Cobra Clan. It really was a saga of his life, beginning with biographies of his parents and moving on to a long-winded description of his childhood in the Snake Killer Sept. I skimmed through that, getting the sense that a sept was a kind of warrior fraternity and surrogate family. Zinger’s mother and father didn’t seem to be part of his life. I flipped, carefully, through more pages chronicling his achievements as a warrior. It was very exhaustive, rather than highlighting important moments like a modern biography would. Bookmark here

I began to lose track of what was happening and Zinger was suddenly the Boss of the entire clan. The Boss seemed to be the top position in the clan, though he was still subservient to the Boss of the Lion Clan since the Lions ruled the Cobras. Then things started to get interesting. Relatively, of course. The prose was still as hell. But it did chronicle how Zinger manipulated the Altheans and Clan Lion into a final showdown in which the best warriors from Clan Lion were ambushed by an Althean Legion and wiped out. The book didn’t give any context for the Altheans being in Clan Lion territory but I assumed this was when they ruled part of Pekel. At any rate, Clan Lion was shattered and Clan Cobra took over, becoming one of the Big Six, whatever that was. Zinger became a Boss of Bosses. Bookmark here

“The Saga of Zinger the Bloody,” said a deep but still feminine voice. I glanced up and saw Aliya in the doorway of Artur’s little study, head cocked so she could read the title of the book. She was still in her underpants. “I assume you know that that book is a load of shit. Zinger, the master manipulator,” she said in a faux-imperious voice. “He was the one that was used.” She seemed angry but then suddenly snickered. “But why am I telling you? You’re Althean, so I bet you know better than me.” Bookmark here

“Not really.” I carefully closed the book and replaced it. Making an educated guess, I said, “Pekelnik history wasn’t very important in Althea.” Bookmark here

Aliya seemed annoyed but as I’d hoped said, “That doesn’t surprise me. Altheans are all self-obsessed. I’m surprised you even notice other lands long enough to conquer them.” I shrugged uncomfortably, not sure what to say. Aliya smiled, showing her fangs and said, “I don’t hold against you though. Trust me. I know better than most that a person doesn’t have any control over what their rulers do.” She sounded bitter at that last point. Bookmark here

Again, I didn’t know what to say. So I changed the subject. “Aliya, I’m not sure what Artur told you but I’m going to High Rock, not the lands of the Bear Clan. I don’t know if you still want to come with me, knowing that.” Bookmark here

“High Rock?” Aliya scratched her stomach. I noticed that she had four faded scars running from the left side of her bellybutton to her ribcage. Almost certainly claw marks. “Why there?” Aliya asked. Bookmark here

“Some Cobra Clan men took my friend as a slave. I have to rescue him.” Bookmark here

“Oh yeah?” Aliya smiled and it sent a shiver down my spine. “You’re gonna kill some cobras, huh? Sounds like fun.” My eyes flicked to the spitted cobra on her thigh. Bookmark here

“I don’t want to kill them,” I said, a little horrified. I mean, I get that life here probably wasn’t treated as sacrosanct as it was where I came from but Aliya’s casual excitement at the prospect of murder was still frightening. “I just want to get my friend back.”Bookmark here

Aliya laughed. “Well, either way, it sounds like more fun than sticking around here.” The smile left her face and she cocked her head. “By the way, why do you talk so well for someone who doesn’t even know our history?” Bookmark here

I considered my answer and decided I might as well cross this bridge before we left together. I wanted Aliya with me but I didn’t want to worry about her freaking out like Artur did. “I know a little magic.” Aliya frowned. “Just a few tricks is all,” I said quickly. “Nothing powerful like the Ayyanar.”Bookmark here

“Magic, huh?” She cupped her elbow with one hand and pointed at me with the other. “That makes sense. I was wondering how the hell a skinny little thing like you survived Zorya. You clearly aren’t a warrior.” She raised an eyebrow. “But nothing powerful? I hope you’re just trying to placate me. If you don’t have anything and you’re going into High Rock to tangle with the snakes, you’re going to die. Or wish you did.” With that cheerful thought, she wandered away. Bookmark here

I guess that meant she was coming with me though. That was good. With the skills I had, I needed powerful party members with me. I ran my hands through my hair and absentmindedly tried to comb some of the snarls out with my fingers. I supposed I should try and get a little sleep before dawn. After twenty hours I wasn’t very tired...or at least I thought I wasn’t. As soon as my head hit my pillow, I was out again. Kriv woke me up when it was dawn. I got up and dressed, including the five minute ordeal of putting on my bra. Eventually I figured out that if I connected it backwards where I could see the hooks and then spun it around and tugged it into place, the whole thing was much easier. I was very glad nobody was watching me struggle with it. Bookmark here

Artur was still in his room. I knocked on his door but didn’t get an answer. My feelings were hurt but my mother raised me to be polite. “Artur, I guess you dislike the fact that I use magic. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before you invited me in as a guest but I did not know it would upset you this much. Thank you for your hospitality and for honoring me as a guest. I’ll never forget what you did for me. Have a nice life.” I couldn’t quite keep the bitterness out of my voice when I said the last. Bookmark here

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