Waking Up as a Gyaru in a New World
In the morning we said tearful goodbyes to Dorsa and Jael. We were headed for High Rock after all and Dorsa needed to remain in Paddletail if she was going to track down her hellhound. Well, I say tearful but the only one crying was Dorsa and the only other one close was me. I guess the zverdi were made of sterner stuff and Jael barely knew us. It was hard for me to let Dorsa go. I had expected something to come up that would force her to stay with me. She was part of my party right? But nothing had and she had her own life to live and goals to accomplish.
Dorsa clutched me close and made me promise we would play music together again sometime. My heart clenched. She was going to miss me. She was actually going to miss me. What would happen when I switched back bodies with Mina. Would Dorsa still like me? Would she still want to play with me? Probably not.
We stopped by the tailor, who had my top ready. It turned out to be the bikini-style of the Pekelnik and I realized I’d never specified that I wanted a replacement for my lost blouse. The tailor refused to redo it unless I paid again and I didn’t want to lose any more time anyway. I tried it on and felt completely exposed. The material was thick enough to hide my nipples at least but it hid virtually nothing beyond my breasts. It accented those. I asked Revaz to let me keep using his vest and he didn’t seem to care. With the vest and the bikini, I felt almost respectable. It showed a lot of skin but maybe not quite to slut level. It was the best I could do for now. Of all the things I thought I would miss, premade clothing readily available in stores was not something I would have put at the top of my list.
Aliya, Kriv, Revaz and I set off on the road north. It wasn’t maintained or anything but foot and wagon traffic had created a definite road. We had company on the road. We were the only travelers on foot but wagons and carts rumbled by fairly frequently. At night, those same wagons would gather together in little collectives. To ward off raiders, I assumed. Our group was usually welcome at the gatherings, especially when I offered to play some music. It was much calmer than what I had played at the inn but everybody seemed to like it. Maybe when I got my body back I could be some kind of wandering minstrel or something. If I couldn’t go back home, of course.
Six nights passed that way. On the seventh, I was snuggled between Kriv and Aliya, sleeping next to a dying fire when a scream pierced the air and woke all of us instantly. I sat bolt upright and the three zverid jumped to their feet. It wasn’t difficult to locate the source of the disturbance. In the flickering firelight, we could all see a massive beast pinning one of the merchant guards to the dirt. With a wet rip, it tore something from the guard who shrieked again. I’d never heard anything like that wail of utter terror and pain. All of us watched in frozen horror as the beast began to eat the guard. I knew the wet smacking sounds and crunching bone would haunt me for the rest of my life. One of the merchants managed to find his voice and screamed, “Hellhound!”
It glanced up and I saw burning red eyes set in a black, lupine head. Was it the same hellhound, come to finish us off? The thing snarled and charged at us. Me and Ravaz were still spellbound with terror and rooted where we were. Aliya moved, but only to take a step back and put her hands up as if that could ward off the beast. It was Kriv, the smallest and youngest of us who ran to meet him.
He caught the beast across the face with a right cross. I thought the hellhound would just shake it off but Kriv’s punch twisted its head around and the hellhound tripped over its own paws. Unfortunately, this meant that its flank crashed into Kriv and they both crashed into the dirt. The hellhound rolled off Kriv and back to its feet. Kriv stayed on the ground, unmoving.
Screw this. Panic animated my limbs and I scrambled to my feet. I spun and sprinted away as fast as I could. Revaz and Aliya were beastmen. They could take care of the freaking thing. What was I? Some chump from a different world in the body of a girl that had gyaru magic. I cursed the goddess and any other divinity that had brought me here.
A hot, heavy weight crashed into me from behind, slamming me into the ground. It had come after me! Why for god’s sake? Was it because I ran? Only the breath being driven out of me stopped me from breaking into panicked sobs. I felt the hellhound’s nose on my back sniffing up my spine. It’s nose was hot and dry, completely unlike a dog’s nose. The smell of it hit me and I gagged. Rank sulfur.
It bit the back of my top and lifted me up, almost gently. Then it flung me to the side so that I was on my back, staring up at it. The hellhound continued to sniff at me, down the line of my chest. I flinched as it reached my stomach, expecting it to tear into me. But instead it just moved back up, sniffing as relentlessly as a bloodhound. It wasn’t killing me. Why? Did it want to be friends? I hesitantly lifted a hand and touched it on the head. It was like touching a sun-warmed rock. The hellhound glanced up at me and there was nothing in those red eyes I could understand.
What could I do? It was going to eat me whenever it got done with whatever it was doing. I had to think. I had freaking status magic, of all the supid crap to have. I could make others stronger or weaker. Since none of my damned companions seemed to be coming to my rescue, my only option was to do something to the hellhound. Nothing in my repertoire seemed that useful. A stream of drool slid out of the hellhound's mouth and landed on my stomach, just to the right of my belly button. It was scalding hot and I screamed.
I didn’t have time to debate it anymore. If I didn’t do something, I was going to die. I opened my mouth and activated the skill that seemed to have the best chance of actually doing something. “Lullaby!” My voice was hoarse and high from the terror but the moment I started singing, it was soft and sweet, as if I were gently crooning to my baby in its crib.
Lullaby and goodnight, with roses bedight
With lilies o'er spread is baby's wee bed
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed
Lullaby and goodnight, thy mother's delight
Bright angels beside my darling abide
They will guard thee at rest, thou shalt wake on my breast
They will guard thee at rest, thou shalt wake on my breast
I didn’t even know the words pouring out of my mouth, though they tickled
something deep inside. The hellhound stopped stiffing at me as I sang and lifted its head. Another line of drool fell on me, creating a line of fire on my belly. But even that pain couldn’t stop the song. The beast’s head began to dip and then it collapsed on top of me. I screamed as more of its saliva speckled my chest and neck. The thing was asleep, though. I think I might’ve cried with relief if I hadn’t felt so completely drained. I guess my magic was good for something.
I tried to wiggle out from under it but it was way too heavy. “Somebody help me,” I said, keeping my voice as calm as possible so they didn’t just think I was screaming out as I got eaten.
Nothing happened for a long while. Well, that I could see. The hellhound was blocking a lot of my sight. I kept shouting things like “Help me” and “Come on, hurry,” hoping that the magically induced sleep meant loud noises wouldn’t take it up. Eventually Ravaz and Aliya appeared on either side of it. I lifted up my arms for help and said, “Hurry and help me up.” Neither got too close.
”What happened?” Aliya asked.
“I put a spell on it to make it sleep,” I said. “I have no idea how long it will last.” The two tigers looked at each other and moved to help me. I was grateful even though it had taken a while because I could tell that both of them were terrified. They each grabbed an arm and hauled me backwards. The going was slow and painful but they managed to slide me out.
When I was free, I checked all my extremities and they seemed to be fine. The burning sensation from the hellhound’s saliva had mostly faded. It only hurt where a large amount had hit me on the stomach beside my belly button. It had gotten me good there. I looked down and touched it gently, wincing as I did so. That’s when I noticed that I was missing something.
I heard a short laugh from above me and glanced up to see a smirking Revaz. He pointed at the slumbering hellhound. “I guess he wanted a keepsake.”
“Jerk!” I snapped, doing my best to cover up. I scooted back to the hellhound and, forgetting my fear for a moment as I reached underneath it and grasped my panties. I put them back on as dignified as I could while trying to do it quickly and hide my ass at the same time. It wasn’t that dignified.
I stood, clad in the bare essentials once again. Aliya and Revaz both came to stand next to me, close to the hellhound. Aliya gave it a gentle poke with one toe. “It really is asleep.” We could see its flanks rise and fall in the steady rhythm of sleep. Magic. I had actually cast magic. ‘Doki-doki’ and ‘cheer-up’ had been hard to quantify but nothing but magic could have put this thing to sleep like this.
Some of the other merchants and guardsmen came up to us. “Is it dead?” one of them asked.
That snapped me back to reality. “It’s not dead. It’s asleep. I don’t know for how much longer. We either need to kill it or get out of here.”
Revaz shook his head. “We can’t kill it. Nobody has ever killed a hellhound. They’re immortal. They don’t breed. This one, like all the others, was created by the alchemists two thousand years ago.”
My blood ran cold. I really hoped this was just a horrible coincidence and the hellhound was hunting me. I didn’t really believe that though. “Then we need to get the hell out of here, now.”
Nobody argued with me. The merchants all decided to stay together and wanted me to stay with them. For protection. Now there was a strange feeling. It did mean I could ride in a wagon as we traveled to High Rock, which was very nice. Better yet, Kriv had only had the wind knocked out of him and seemed none the worse for wear. Only that first man had died. As we traveled and other merchants heard our story, they joined up with us. I don’t think they bought that I had stopped the hellhound but nobody wanted to travel alone with one of the beasts prowling around. By the time we reached High Rock, we were a grand old caravan.
High Rock was the first sight in the new world that actually took my breath away. The fortress had been built on a plateau and was all of sandstone. Yellow, orange, red and brown mixed and swirled along the entirety of the fortress. From the ground all I could see was an enormous curtain wall with two great watchtowers to the north and south and the top of a massive keep.
The town had grown up in a circle around the plateau. It had no walls or defensive fortifications but I imagined that a significant amount of the population could be evacuated into the fortress. Maybe all of them. And that reflected the large size of the fortress because the town was not small. I couldn’t quite call it a city, coming from where I came from, but it was certainly the biggest settlement I’d seen in this world by a lot.
Nobody challenged the caravan as we entered the town. I guess the cobras weren’t too concerned about security in the outer town. I probably wouldn’t be either if I had a gigantic castle to hide it. Now that we were safe in the town--there had never been a known hellhound attack on a large settlement for whatever reason--all of the merchants went their own way. A few took the time to thank me again and a few took one last chance to shoot me a nasty glare. Magic-users weren’t hated by all the way I had feared after Artur but there were definitely some that didn’t like us at all.
“Well,” I said, hands on my hips. “Where do we go now?”
“We,” Revaz said, looking at Aliya, “need to visit the Bronze Tiger sept house.” Aliya crossed her arms and scowled. This had the sound of an old argument. Revaz turned to me. “They are the Tiger Clan branch here in High Rock. It would be the height of disrespect to come to High Rock and not pay them a visit. You and Kriv should head for an inn called the Tiger Lily. Tell them Revaz sent you and wait for us there.” Without waiting for me to agree, he tugged a sulking Aliya away.
I glanced at Kriv and shrugged. He stared at me with his steady, unnervingly direct gaze like always. “Let’s go, I guess.” We headed into the town. I didn’t like it. There was a crush of people no matter where you went and it smelled terrible. I had some idea of how incredibly unhygienic medieval towns had been and I did not want to think about where the smell was coming from. The city was also way more confusing than Paddletail had been. It suffered the same problem of having grown up haphazardly and hadstreets didn’t go in any predictable direction. At least in Paddletail, though, there had been the walls for reference. This town was a freaking circle. After I passed the same statue of a cobra man for the third time, I finally asked for directions. I hated talking to strangers and Pekelnik weren’t exactly friendly. At least to foreigners.
Slowly but surely we did manage to find our way to the Tiger Lily. I was completely exhausted by the time Kriv spotted the little sign with a flower on it. The inn was two stories and seemed pretty ramshackle. A lot of the buildings in High Rock did, though. I pushed my way in, half-expecting Revaz and Aliya to already be inside, wondering where I was. They weren’t and the common room only held a few people. It was actually a little smaller than the common room of the Fire Belly had been but I supposed the Tiger Lily was only one of many inns in High Rock while the Fire Belly was the only inn in Paddletail.
An elderly woman came to greet me. Unsurprisingly, she was a tiger zverdi. Her long hair was pure white, as was the fur on her cat ears. She had the same frost blue eyes as Revaz so I thought the white hair was her natural color rather than a sign of age. The only real sign of age were the wrinkles around her eyes and on her hands. She had that sharp, high-cheekbone beauty that ages gracefully. Unlike most of the other zverdi women I’d seen, she was wearing a vest and had it closed. It made her seem dignified.
“Welcome to the Tiger Lily, travelers,” she said. Her voice was a deep, matronly purr. “Will you be taking a room with us this evening or just a meal?”
“Um, I’m not sure yet,” I said, running a hand through my bangs to try and get the sweat-soaked hairs out of my eyes. God, what I wouldn’t give for some air-conditioning. “Probably both but my friend Revaz wanted to meet here.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Revaz? When did that brat get back in town?”
I almost smiled when she said ‘brat’ but the innkeeper wasn’t smiling. “Just now. With me. He said he had to go to the Bronze Tigers sept house and to wait for him here.”
“I suppose he thinks I’ll just feed and take care of you,” she said with a scowl. “That little…” she sighed. “What’s your name, girl.”
“Selene,” I said. “And this is Kriv.”
She raised an eyebrow at that. “Kriv? Why would a little fox be named after the True Wolf?” Kriv jerked at the question and I could see by the way he drew up that he was offended.
In an effort to de-escalate things I put out an arm in front of him and said, “That would be a question you’d have to ask his parents. For now, if Revaz was wrong about you taking us in, I can pay.”
Now the innkeeper looked offended. “Are you questioning the hospitality of Yana of the Hellcats Sept?” she hissed. My shoulders slumped. Oh, boy.
“Of course not,” I said. “I merely thought that Revaz had overstepped himself.”
“He did overstep himself,” Yana said, shaking a finger in my face. “But that is his problem, not yours!” If I wasn’t at fault, why was she so angry? “Now sit down and I will bring you something to eat.” I got the feeling that if I tried to leave, she would chase me down and feed me whether I liked it or not.
Well, who was I to argue? “Thank you, Yana.” I led Kriv to a table near one wall and sat where I could see the door. Yana stormed back into the kitchen. Kriv sat across from me, still looking sullen. “So who is this True Wolf?” I asked. I knew I might be stepping on a landmine but I was too curious.
Kriv’s amber eyes opened wide. “You do not know the True Wolf?” he asked. “How is this possible?”
I frowned. “Do you know of the Inferno Dragon or the Althean Emperor he slew?” I asked, thankful I’d gotten that from Dorsa. “I don’t know Pekelnik history.”
“But the True Wolf,” Kriv said, “he was the right hand of the Beast Emperor, the greatest warrior who ever lived, besides the Beast Emperor himself of course. He fought the Sorcerer King to a standstill and slew the Mire Dragon!”
I had no idea who those people were, of course. It sounded like an interesting story though, so I’d have to ask Kriv to tell me about them some time. For now, I wanted to soothe his ruffled feathers. “It sounds like your parents gave you an impressive name. They must have expected a lot out of you.”
“This name is a curse,” Kriv spat. “I can never live up to it.” I didn’t know what to say to that. That was probably true but people didn’t really think that way where I was from. I doubted the parents who named their kids Arthur or Yukimura really expected their children to become famous heroes. Maybe it was different among the beast people. I was starting to get really curious about Kriv’s parents though. What had led them to running from their clan and hiding while simultaneously giving their child such a powerful name? I doubted Kriv trusted me enough to tell me yet. If he even knew.
Yana brought us our food and we both fell on it ravenously. We’d actually been eating pretty decently with the caravan but hours of wandering around the city had left us both with healthy appetites. We had each gotten a roast chop of what I thought was probably boar along with a mix of steamed vegetables. I’d never much cared for vegetables but I found them easier to eat in Mina’s body. Sometimes they were even tasty. I guess her taste buds were different from mine. Yana had also brought some milk for Kriv and beer for me. Unlike Elvina, she had no problem taking back the beer and bringing me water.
Then we waited.