Chapter 7:

Chapter 7

Waking Up as a Gyaru in a New World

A little after the sun went down, we felt good enough to head back for the inn. It was quite a bit fuller when we entered. There was a loud buzz in the air from various conversations over food and beer as well as the dice game taking place in one corner. The newt that came to greet us was not Elvina but a newt man of relatively the same age and build. “Here to stay, weary travelers?” he asked in a thick voice. “You’re lucky. We have one more good room available. Will you want supper?” His bulbous eyes, which had been fixed on me and Aliya, finally turned to Dorsa. He blinked rapidly at her. “Dorsa? You aren’t dead.” Bookmark here

“Nope!” Dorsa said cheerfully. Bookmark here

“I’m sorry but you don’t have a room here any longer. We haven’t seen Jael in days.” Bookmark here

“I know. I talked to your wife already,” Dorsa said. So this newt man was married to Elvina. He had my sympathy. “Me and my friends are here to rent. We don’t have any money though!” I resisted the urge to glare at her. That wasn’t the way to start out. Bookmark here

The innkeep shrugged apologetically. “I’m glad to see you again, Dorsa, but you can’t expect to stay here for free. Elvina would kill me.” Bookmark here

Dorsa laughed. “We don’t mean to stay here for free,” Dorsa declared. “We mean to pay you...with music!” Even though it had been my idea, hearing it out loud made me wince. Of course, I wouldn’t have said it like that either. Bookmark here

The innkeep seemed confused. “I didn’t know you were a musician, Dorsa.” Bookmark here

“Oh,” Dorsa said, strumming her lute, “I am.” Bookmark here

I sighed, getting a little tired of how she was handling this. “Listen,” I said. “If we can stay here tonight and have some food, me and Dorsa will play all night. We’ll make sure your common room is packed with paying customers.” Bookmark here

The innkeep seemed doubtful. He glanced back at his common room and I had to admit it was pretty full. Not packed like I promised but certainly not dead. “I don’t know. I don’t think Elvina would like it.” Bookmark here

That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. He seemed a lot more reasonable than his wife. If Elvina caught wind of this before terms were settled, I got the feeling we’d be out on our ass. It seemed I had no choice. It was time for a little ‘doki-doki.’ My body moved automatically once more, bringing the fife up to parallel my face. I kissed it gently. “Please,” I said, my voice husky like I was on the verge of tears. My eyes were wide and pleading. “Just give us a chance. I promise it will be worth your while.” I didn’t like how much extra emphasis I put on the word ‘promise.’ Bookmark here

The innkeep swallowed audibly. “W-well, I suppose we could give it a try…” He seemed to gather himself and then said, more firmly, “You won’t get one of our better rooms though and no food until the end of the night when everybody is gone.” Bookmark here

I squared my shoulders and worked up my nerve. My ‘doki-doki’ was gone so I was on my own. I hated negotiating but I thought I had to. “Agreed on the room but we want a break after a few hours to eat. We might collapse during our performance.” I wasn’t really worried about that but I didn’t want them to run out of food before they fed us or, worse, kick us out at the end of the night with no food or bed. The newt man glared at me. I met his eyes. It took every shred of willpower I had not to look away, even though I was in the right. Bookmark here

He finally glanced away and muttered, “Fine.” Then he looked back at me. “But get your ass up there right now and start playing.” I jumped and me and Dorsa scurried to the small stage. She dumped her pack and we stood side by side. There weren’t any stools or anything so it seemed we were standing through our whole performance. I certainly didn’t have the balls to ask for something to sit on. Literally at the moment. Bookmark here

It was a good thing I had Dorsa with me because I don’t know that I ever would have had the courage to try and cut through the general din. But she simply strummed her lute and then started to sing. Her voice cut through the noise like a clarion. We had agreed on the order of our songs before we came in so I quickly joined in. Every eye in the common room turned toward us. I faltered for a moment as I thought they were angry with us but Dorsa never hesitated. Then some of the clientele began to grin and clap and stomp along with the song. A few moved to tables far away from us to talk but the majority stopped what they were doing to listen to us. The dice game grew louder to compensate for the noise. In fact, the noise level grew so much that I stopped worrying about messing up a note. I would have smiled if I wasn’t playing. I had never performed in a venue like this. A concert performance was dead silent so that one false note could be pounced on by the judges. I liked playing but I hated competing. Bookmark here

As me and Dorsa played, Kriv settled on the floor near the stage. He watched us with that curiously direct and solemn gaze. I honestly didn’t know if he was having fun. Aliya went to join the dice game and I could occasionally hear her shout in dismay or triumph. Food started to come out and my stomach clenched with desire. I was so freaking hungry. My arms, back and jaw began to hurt from playing so long but I persevered. Partially because I had to if I wanted dinner and a bed tonight but partially because it was fun. I’d never seen anybody actually enjoy my playing like this before. Now a whole crowd was listening and joining in. People began to stream in from outside, filling the common room beyond its capacity to seat people. A standing crowd gathered around the stage. We were doing it! Elvina and her husband couldn’t claim that we didn’t deliver. Bookmark here

After me and Dorsa ran through every song we had practiced twice, I glanced at her and she nodded. Together we stepped down from the stage together. There was some grumbling and sour looks but Dorsa lifted up her hands and said, “We’ll be right back everybody! We just need a short break.” Bookmark here

The newt innkeep--I kept forgetting to get his name--hustled toward us. “Who said it was time for a break!” he hissed. Me and Dorsa both shrank back from him. I guess Dorsa didn’t deal with outright aggressiveness much better than I did. Bookmark here

Luckily, Aliya appeared like a phantom next to the innkeep. She threw an arm around his shoulders and I noticed that she was a little flushed. Had she been drinking. “Look at them, Kharkov,” she began. So it was Kharkov! “They are going to collapse on the stage if you make them go back up there without some food and drink.” Bookmark here

Kharkov had gone very still. “You can’t threaten me, tiger. This is a newt town.” Bookmark here

“Who is threatening?” Aliya asked, all innocence. “I’m merely suggesting that you give your entertainers what you promised them.” I noticed that the claws had come out on the hand she had on his shoulders. They weren’t digging into him but he had to have noticed as well. Bookmark here

I didn’t like where this was going so I quickly said, “I can’t keep playing and Dorsa can’t keep singing unless we have some food and drink. Please, Master Kharkov, we’ll be really quick and then I promise we’ll be right back on stage.” Aliya frowned at me as if she was disappointed in me for some reason. Did she want to start a fight? I had a queasy feeling that the answer was yes.Bookmark here

Kharkov straightened self-importantly. I guess it had been a good idea to call him ‘Master.’ “Fine. Never let it be said that Kharkov is a cheat. Go in the kitchen and get your food.” Me and Dorsa grinned at each other. “But no dawdling! Eat and get back here.” We nodded and hurried back to the kitchen. Bookmark here

Elvina was back there, tending to the food. Her lip curled when Dorsa happily told her that we were there for some supper. “I bet you’re well pleased with yourself.” Dorsa glanced at me but I just shook my head. Neither of us knew what she meant by that. Bookmark here

Despite her obvious displeasure, Elvina gave us a fair meal. It was the same as what the paying customers got; a big loaf of bread along with a bowl of stew, a wedge of cheese and a tankard of beer. The bread was dark and bitter but the stew was the most delicious thing I’d had since I landed in this world. It had some kind of shredded meat along with peas and onions but most importantly it was spiced with both salt and garlic. I wolfed it down and mopped up the remains with the bread, which I also finished. I may not have liked the taste but I was damn hungry. Bookmark here

The beer was another story. It was thick and dark. I’d only tried beer once before. I was underage back home and not the type of person who was cool enough to drink as a minor. I had found that beer hard to choke down. This was another level. It was so freaking bitter. I didn’t like bitter things. Elvina had ignored me when I asked for some water so I wasn’t left with much of a choice. I forced it down. If I didn’t get some kind of liquid, I wasn’t going to be able to play. Dorsa drank hers down like it was water. Bookmark here

The moment I swallowed my last mouthful of beer, Elvina chased us out. We hurried to the stage and began playing again. It was the same stuff we’d done before but they seemed happy enough. When we started over for a fourth time, however, some gripes started coming from the audience. Some catcalls, too, which made me blush. Just looking around told me that a lot of our audience was drunk now. After that large tankard, I was feeling a little warm and lightheaded myself. The common room was still jammed so I knew there was no way we could stop yet. But it would be bad if they started to get restless or angry. I’d hoped they would start drifting away when they got tired of us but apparently they weren’t willing to call it a night yet. Bookmark here

An idea came to me. I stopped playing but motioned for Dorsa to keep going when she glanced at me. I turned to her and put my mouth right next to her ear. “Finish this song and I’ll play something new on my own. If we take turns, maybe we can survive this for a little while longer.” Dorsa nodded. Bookmark here

I moved to the back of the stage and bent down to undo the straps of my sandals. My feet were killing me and I needed to be steady for what I was going to do next. Especially since I was a little tipsy. But if I hadn’t been a bit drunk, I doubted I would have had the courage. Bookmark here

Dorsa finished the song and stopped playing. I walked back to the center of the stage, took a deep breath and put the fife to my lips. After hours of playing it, I was quite a bit more confident and I decided to try something from my own world. The song was ‘Bourrée’ by Bach. I’d always liked playing it and it was upbeat and bouncy, unlike a lot of the stuff I knew. The people in the crowd glanced at each other, some speaking softly. I was sure they’d never heard anything like this before but I had no idea if they would like it. But then smiles and calls of approval began to come. Some of the people who were standing even began to dance. I started to dance, too. It was hard not to. I’d never danced in public before but I’d never been in the body of a cute girl before. I liked to dance and I had a good sense of rhythm but I had always been terrified of looking stupid. Now that I was a hot girl shaking my ass, I was pretty sure it was hard to look anything but sexy. At least, I hoped so. Bookmark here

The crowd seemed to love it. I started getting more catcalls and bolder ones. I blushed but I didn’t stop. They actually liked me. They wanted me to keep performing. It was intoxicating. I’d never felt anything like it before. The only other times I could remember every eye being on me like this was when I was embarrassing the hell out of myself. Like the time I’d one the science fair in fifth grade and dropped the trophy during the ceremony. Or the time I’d gotten a bloody nose from being hit in the face by a volleyball spike. Or the time...I mentally shook my head. That was another me, another life. I was here now, basking in adulation not drowning in mockery.Bookmark here

I did extend the song a little but eventually had to stop. Dancing and playing at the same time was exhausting. Luckily, the moment I stopped, Dorsa jumped in. Her song was something completely different from the Pekelnik folk music and my own song. It had to be Artasi music. It had a cool, undulating melody and was very fast-paced. I liked it and so did the crowd. Tables got pushed back and even more people began to stand and dance. The dice game ended and everybody joined in on watching us, even Kharkov and Elvina. The common room was so crowded it felt like half of the city had to be in it. Bookmark here

While Dorsa sang, I bent over, my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath. Sweat covered my body and dripped down my nose and jaw. It was so damn hot in the common room and with all the bodies jammed in, I doubted it was going to get much cooler. An idea came to my mind, one that caused tingles to run up the back of my legs and my stomach to clench. At least I told myself it was my stomach. It might have been lower than that. I knew it was a bad idea but I couldn’t shake it off. This was the first time I’d ever had fun like this. The first time I’d ever felt desired. Hell, it was the first time I’d felt like anyone even wanted me around. It was all a charade. I knew that. It was Mina’s body after all. But couldn’t I enjoy it just for tonight? Bookmark here

When Dorsa finished, I straightened, grabbed the hem of my blouse, pulled it off and tossed it behind me all in one motion. New sweat-slick skin was exposed to the caress of air and I almost moaned in relief. The cheers and catcalls came but I expected them. I really wasn’t showing that much more skin than most of the Pekelnik though. The lacy bra had a little less material than the bikini tops their women wore but it hid about the same amount of skin. Of course I was wearing a short skirt instead of breeches. I looked out over the crowd and a thrill ran through me. There were a lot of newt men and women out there but there were other beast people out there and humans too. Every eye was on me. Bookmark here

This time I began to play a cover of a popular song that had come out around the time I had been learning the flute. My middle school teacher, desperate to keep our attention, had alternated between teaching us the necessary classics for recitals and devising ways to reproduce the heavy electronica beats of modern popular music with orchestra instruments. Now that I thought about it, he might have been a genius. This one went over just as well with the crowd as Bach had done. Maybe partially because I was shaking it for all I was worth. Everything was beginning to feel kind of surreal, like a dream. They liked me. They actually liked me. Bookmark here

Dorsa and I spent the rest of the night switching off. I think it was the only way either one of us made it through. The night seemed like it was going to stretch on forever and ever but eventually the crowd began to thin out. People went home or to their rooms until there were only four men left, in addition to Kriv, Elvina and Kharkov. At that point Elvina called it. I wanted to smile in triumph. We’d done it. If we’d given in first, I was betting Elvina would have tried to break the agreement. Bookmark here

I tottered off the stage, clutching my fife, pack and sandals to my chest. I looked around for my shirt but didn’t see it. Where had I thrown it? It didn’t seem super important at the moment. Dorsa followed me off the stage, just as spent as I was. She tried to pick up her pack and couldn’t do it. I stared at her, waiting for her to figure something out. I certainly couldn’t help. I glanced around for Aliya to help but realized for the first time that she wasn’t there. She must have gone to the sept house. Bookmark here

“Hey, girls,” one of the men said. He was a big newt man. “Why don’t you have a drink with us before you turn in?” I turned to him. My throat was parched. I had convinced Kharkov to give us some water earlier but he doled it out like I was asking for the blood of his firstborn. The other three men were sitting with the big newt. One of the others was a smaller newt man and the third looked human to me. Bookmark here

The fourth was the most eye-catching. He was tall and handsome in a pretty-boy kind of way. His shaggy hair was bright white and his eyes were a frosty blue. He had the same cat ears as Aliya so I thought he must be a snow tiger zverdi. How cool. I could tell he was the type of guy girls back home would drool all over. He had a small smirk on his face. He seemed like he probably smirked a lot. I probably should have disliked him on sight but I didn’t. Even back home I hadn’t been able to just instantly hate cool people like so many of my peers did. I mostly just wished I could hang out with them.Bookmark here

I glanced at Dorsa and she shrugged, giving up on her pack. We joined the men and they pushed two tables together so that we could all sit together. Kharkov joined us as well. Elvina came out of the kitchen with two tall bottles. “Do not make a ruckus,” she admonished Kharkov as she set the bottles down. Then she left, presumably to bed. Bookmark here

I found myself sitting between the big newt man and Kharkov, across from the tiger man. I noticed Kriv lurking in the background and motioned for him to join us. He shook his head, hovering near Dorsa’s pack. The tiger glanced at him and seemed to dismiss him. The newts never even looked. Bookmark here

The big newt next to me poured a stream of purple liquid from the bottle into a tankard and passed it to me. “My name is Igor of the Muddy River Sept,” he said, “this is Artem, also of Muddy River,” he gestured at the other newt, “and Sergay.” The human inclined his head. “And this last fair fellow we just met tonight.” Igor frowned. “What did you say your name was again?” Bookmark here

“Revaz,” the tiger man said. His voice was a deep purr. “Of the Flaming Claws Sept.” I glanced at him. I wondered if that was the same sept as Aliya. Bookmark here

I was about to ask when Igor threw an arm around me and said, loudly, “You girls were fantastic tonight! I’ve never seen anything like that before. Is that what entertainment is like in Althea?” Bookmark here

I nodded, even though I had no idea. “Sometimes.” Bookmark here

He laughed. Like his voice, it was thick and moist. “Maybe it was a mistake to kick all you out then!” He pushed the tankard towards me. “Drink up! Drink up!” I took a gulp and instantly started coughing. It burned going down. Igor laughed again. “Pretty good stuff, right?” I don’t know about good. I hadn’t even really tasted it because of the burn. I took a more cautious sip and didn’t like it. It wasn’t as nasty as the beer but it wasn’t good. The purple made me think it was wine but I’d be damned if I could taste anything like a grape. Bookmark here

“My name is Selene,” I said. “Good to meet you all.” Bookmark here

Dorsa, who had been pounding her tankard like it was freaking water, slammed it back down on the table and belched. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and said, “That is good stuff! You brew it right here. Dorsa Shouaa, by the way, from Gavodata.” Bookmark here

Sergay, who was next to her, inclined his head and said, “Charmed.” Bookmark here

“So what brought you ladies to these lands?” Igor asked. I gave my shipwreck story. That brought follow up questions but I kept the details vague. My head was swimming. Luckily Dorsa started talking about her research and it was hard to get her to shut up about that. Since I’d heard all about that, I eventually steered the conversation away by asking the men about themselves. They were only too happy to talk about themselves. Well, except for Revaz, who stayed largely quiet. Bookmark here

It was hard for me to follow exactly what the newt men and Sergay were talking about because I lacked a lot of context, especially when they began reminiscing amongst each other. The other problem was that I was definitely drunk. Igor and Kharkov both continually encouraged me to drink and my mouth eventually went kind of numb, allowing me to drink more than small sips. Even though I didn’t always understand what they were talking about, it was fun listening to them. They all laughed a lot and I liked laughing with them, even if I didn’t understand what I was laughing at. The Pekelnik seemed to have a very violent sense of humor. But I liked getting drunk with new friends. I’d always wanted to do something like this.Bookmark here

After some time, Kharkov stood. “Well, this has been fun but we need to move on if I’m going to get any sleep before I have to start preparing this place for tomorrow’s performance.” Something in what he had just said struck me as wrong but I was having a hell of time focusing. He was right that it was time for bed, though. Bookmark here

I stood and the room tilted badly. I fell sideways and Igor caught me easily. He stood me back up, keeping a hand on me so I wouldn’t fall over again. “Whoa, there, little lady. We better help you girls up to your room.” Bookmark here

I thought that was probably a good idea. I glanced up at Igor, expecting him to be looking down at me. Instead he was grinning at Artem. That was weird. All five men helped me and Dorsa down the hall to our rooms. Kharkov and Igor supported me while Artem and Sergay supported Dorsa. Revaz trailed behind. Igor and Kharkov’s hands were kind of all over me. More than was necessary just to steady me. Something was wrong. I felt it was right there but for some reason it eluded me. Bookmark here

We stopped in front of a door and Igor put his hand on the knob. “Come, we’ll help you ladies into bed.” That did it. Terror thrilled through me as I finally figured out what was going on. Strange men getting a half-naked girl drunk and taking her to her room. I was an idiot. Worse yet, I was trapped. Kharkov and Igor both had their hands on me. I glanced at Dorsa, who was slumped between the two others. She barely seemed conscious. What were we going to do? Then my eyes landed on a small figure just behind Revaz. Kriv! My only hope. Bookmark here

I was about to call out to him when Revaz suddenly spoke. “Alright, that’s enough.” His voice was tired but firm. Bookmark here

Igor paused, his hand still on the doorknob. He glanced at Revaz. “What are you talking about?” Bookmark here

“I’m sure the girls can find their way to their beds from here. Let them go.” Bookmark here

Igor frowned. “Listen, cat, I thought you knew what was going on but if you’re not interested, turn around and go home.”Bookmark here

Revaz sighed. “I wish I could but I made a promise to watch over these two tonight.” Bookmark here

Igor suddenly flung me away from him. I stumbled backward and hit the wall on the other side of the hallway hard. I slid down it until I was sitting. “What is that supposed to mean?” Igor snapped. Bookmark here

Revaz marched up to him until he was standing so close to Igor that they were almost touching. “It means that you won’t be touching these girls tonight.” Revaz had to look up at Igor and the newt man must have weighed half again as much as him. But Revaz didn’t seem intimidated in the least. Bookmark here

Igor snapped into motion far faster than I would have expected from a man his size, his arms going wide as he tried to grab Revaz. The tiger was faster, though, his arm rocketing up in an uppercut that caught Igor precisely on the jaw. The big newt man tottered for a moment and then collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut. Revaz spun to the others and growled, “Now take him and get the fuck out here.”Bookmark here

“You don’t have any right!” Kharkov wailed. “This is my establishment and this town is Newt Clan property. You are out of line, tiger!” Bookmark here

“Right?” Revaz’s frost eyes went as cold as death. He lifted up one hand and flexed, popping claws out of each finger. “This is my right! We are zverdi! If you would challenge me, then come, you pathetic little reptile.” Bookmark here

Kharkov backed up a step but said, “Cobra Clan will hear about this.” Bookmark here

“Tell them. Squirm on your belly and kiss the ground in front of them.” Bookmark here

A look of almost incomprehensible rage crossed Kharkov’s face. He took a step forward but then seemed to regain his sanity. He whirled around and walked away. Segay and Artem dropped Dorsa like she was a sack of potatoes. They came forward, keeping crouched and unthreatening. They picked up Igor between them and beat a hasty retreat. Revaz watched them go and when they disappeared around a corner, he sighed in relief. His claws slid back home. Bookmark here

He glanced at me with a look of vague annoyance. “You know, it would have served you right. You’re lucky Aliya asked me to keep an eye on you.” Aliya! I owed her greatly. And Revaz, though I wasn’t sure that getting drunk and taking my shirt off meant I “deserved” to be gang-raped. Bookmark here

Revaz held out a hand. I looked at it and then shook my head. I couldn’t move my legs. The combination of shock and drunkenness was too much. Revaz sighed and then he bent down and picked me up. He tossed me over his shoulder like I was a garbage bag. It sent a bad wave of nausea through me and I began to struggle. I was going to throw up and nothing was going to stop it. I didn’t want to do it on my saviour. But Revaz spanked my butt and said, “Stop that.” I vomited. Bookmark here

Revaz just stood there for a while and eventually said, “You did not seriously just do that. No favor is worth this, Aliya!” He savagely kicked open the door to my room and stormed inside. He tossed me on the bed none too gently. Kriv followed behind, carrying Dorsa princess-style. Lucky her. Kriv laid her gently on the bed beside me. I turned my head so I could see her. She seemed completely out of it. But then she turned the hand closest to me over and moved it closer. I got the hint and took it. The adrenaline that had been counteracting the effects of my extreme inebriation was receding and I slipped into a deep, dreamless slumber. Bookmark here

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