The image of Bethesda holding the remote was burned into Greg’s mind. The thought of her destroying everything human about him seemed to carry into the next reality like a bulldozer. Greg Shouted at the top of his lungs and lunged forward. His pale white frame tumbled off the log he had been resting on and hit the grassy null with a thud. The blanket he had been sleeping with wrapped around his midsection as he rolled down the embankment. Greg cried out in shock as he hit every rock and tree branch along the way. Dead leaves attached themselves to his pale chest as he struggled to get free from the woolly blanket. There was no way in hell he was going to let Bethesda shred his mind to pieces!
“Get out of my head, you Bloody Bleacher!” Yelled Greg at the top of his lungs. His body slid to a stop in front of a small pond. The sound of frogs croaking filled the air all around him as the mud soaked his calves. Greg reached up and pulled the thick sheet from off his face. He paused and panicked inside at the change in scenery. The whole world had become an exotic jungle. This was not the place he had fallen asleep in.
“What the hell is this!” yelled Greg as he sat up quickly. He stretched out his hands to all the black trees around the pond and yelled again. “What the hell is this!?”
Greg was hysterical. He couldn’t believe his eyes. It was like someone had dropped him into a picture from national geographic. “Where did the underground base go? What happened to the room I fell asleep in? You lied to me, Dennis, you little weasel! This doesn’t look like the gradual change you told me about!”
Greg’s skin prickled all over as a wind washed through the treetops. He looked down and realized his clothes were gone! Somehow that nerdy therapist guy had taken off with them while he slept. Greg shivered at the thought of being out here alone and naked. He moved the blanket off his legs and breathed out a sign of relief. He was wearing a thick hairy loincloth that seemed to cut off at the knee. It looked like it had been fabricated by Tarzan. The people of Camp Snowflake had at least let him keep some of his dignity.
Greg shook his head in disapproval. He reached down and touched the thing apprehensively; as if it were covered in lice. This was going to be the new normal from here on out. Greg had never been more confused in his whole life. He recoiled and pinched his nose. There was definitely a unique flavor emitting from the dead fir that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. It was nothing he had ever experienced before.
Greg shifted his gaze to his bear white chest and started picking the dead leaves and long grass off. He stood up and tried to wipe the mud off his legs and backside. He felt a surge of anger rush through him at that moment. He yelled as hard as he could. “Am I a cavemen know?! Am I Greg the mighty cavemen! Huh?!”
He beat on his chest like a primate and chucked a rock into the water.
“Is this how the United States Government gives citizenship to the Nightshade race? Is this really part of the reeducation processes?! You have to be joking!”
Birds flew out of the nearby trees and squawked their disproval.
“Am I George of the Jungle?!”
The anger suddenly dropped from him and was replaced with amusement. Leave it to the United States government to ruin everything they touched. Greg laughed because he didn’t know what else to do. This was his life now; a big joke. He was destined to go between changing realities without so much as a break. His thoughts flashed back to Dennis. That stupid little nerd, Dennis, had lied to him. The social worker, or whatever the heck he was, had promised a smooth orientation on his first day. Greg didn’t think that being stranded in the amazon counted as a smooth transition for anything.
Greg picked up the wool blanket and wrapped it around his body like a cape. He was pretty sure he looked ridiculous but it was the only way of keeping the cold out. All he really needed now was a broadsword to complete the ensemble.
Greg the barbarian! Greg the terrible! Greg the conqueror!
“FREEDOM!” Yelled Greg like a proper medieval Scotsman. His voice echoed over the canopy. He laughed to himself as he walked around the pond to the clearing on the other side; everything around this place seemed to be either muddy or damp. His feet had never been so cold and so dirty in his entire life. Greg found another big log and sat down. He washed his bare feet in the stream that was passing through the clearing and whispered quietly to himself. His Scottish accent was improving a little with every word he spoke. “There can be only one Greg. There can be only one.”
He chuckled like a mad man.
Greg was determined to enjoy himself before the crazy woman in his head abolished everything he knew and loved… Even Gregory the third of Canterbury would be obliterated. He sighed at the thought of his beloved cat. Who would look after the little guy while he was away learning to be a United States Citizen? Everyone knows that in order to learn to be a good American Citizen you need to dress up like Robert the Bruce and be dropped strategically into the Yucatan. This is how the founding fathers wanted it to be, thought Greg sarcastically. I mean it’s all there in black and white in the Constitution.
“Right?” Yelled Greg to the grey sky. “This is all constitutional?”
Greg suddenly felt like someone was watching him. He looked around the clearing like a crazy person for any unusual activity. Green icons were popping up all over the place like fireflies. They were hovering over the local plants and animals. A description of the object was displayed in American English…along with a description in an unknown language. Greg tried to read the mystery text and gave up. He figured it was the language of the Nightshade race. Somehow Bethesda was shoving this into his mind. The language that would soon be his own language as all the files in his head where shredded and replaced.
“Hello!” Yelled Greg, “Is anyone there!?”
The dreadful sound of typing filled the air around his head. Greg was beginning to hate the sound of typing. He turned around and stared as a virtual door sprang up from the mist on the ground. It stopped as it reached its full height and opened. Bethesda emerged from the threshold in a pure white, sleeveless, dress. She was still wearing the form of Evelyne Prewitt…only there were some slight differences. The speech bubbled above her head filled with big bold words.
Greg reluctantly read the message.
¨(Can you smell the fresh Bjerg-Luft!?)
Bethesda smiled and breathed in the fresh mountain air. Her bare feet danced through the tall grass as she made her way over to Greg. She turned gracefully in circles and held her arms out wide. Her long brown hair fluttered in the breeze. It almost looked like she was really here enjoying the scenery with him. Greg knew better than to believe his own senses… it was all an illusion and nothing more. She wasn’t really her with him, but at the same time, it felt like he could reach out and touch her. The data disc at the back of his neck had proven to be very crafty.
Bethesda turned to him and was pleasantly surprised at his appearance. Greg was looking the part of a nightshade more and more every day. The speech bubble turned gold and the lettering took on a more elegant feel. It felt like Bethesda was extending a regal invitation.
¨(I see the humans have given you an Ellekonge Landeklud. This is the garb of our people, Greg. All the males get one and only the true daughter of the Erlking can keep one. It compels me to treat you properly and as a partner of the Black Forest. I shall be the first Daughter of The Erlking to bestow honor on you.)
Bethesda stood up at attention a few yards away. She clinched her right fist and held it upward in triumph while extending her left foot outward. She pointed her toes to the Earth. Bethesda then reached out with her left hand and bowed gracefully to Greg. She held this position perfectly as she shook her fingers and hummed the tune of yellow moons. It actually felt like she was bestowing life from the ground. Had this been the 5th dimension she could have conjured a blossom from the souls of the deceased.
¨(Liv O’Dowd…Liv O’Dowd… To The Son of the Erlking.)
Bethesda stood up and extended her clinched fist toward Greg. She opened it slowly and closed her eyes; as was the tradition. Her left hand was now supporting the right. The sound of typing filled the air,
¨(It is your turn as a Son of The Erlking to bestow honor on me… by making your choice known to the servants of the Erlking. There are many and they do watch us carefully from the woods. May our cadence please them.)
She shuffled the fingers of her right hand now and waited to see if Greg knew the proper response to her call. If the inner reprogramming had worked this male nightshade, could not resist her. Bethesda had been very careful when establishing the mating march in Greg’s mind. She had been working on it since day one of their encounter. She had reconstructed everything using her own memories and experiences. The Giver of Knowledge had promised her a better world if she did everything he asked. It was her right to ask Greg to dance! To Bethesda, princess of the Black Forest, everything had to be perfect.
Greg looked at the open hand and stood up slowly. He dropped his wool clock and let it settle at his feet. For some weird reason he knew exactly what to do with the honorary gesture. He reached out to her with his right hand. It was tradition to start at the wrist and then meet at the palm; every nightshade knew that. Greg ran his fingers down from the wrist to the middle of the palm slowly. He tapped on her smooth skin twice and gripped the flesh of her hand, wrapping his thumb around hers. This interaction surprised Greg most of all. He could feel that she was there with him; but how? Wasn’t all this just an illusion?
The sound of strange music filled the air in the clearing. It was a haunting melody, but one in which Greg knew so well from his childhood. It had been the same one that was playing in the grand index. It had deep significance and meaning to all who performed it. The flute and the pipe whistled their tune as he and Bethesda, princess of the Black Forest, readied themselves to dance. Greg watched as she opened her big blue eyes. He read the speech bubble without looking at it. He could feel the words in his mind.
¨(We start with the drums.)
Their right arms snapped upward into the air as the rhythm began to overwhelm them. The sky flashed with lightening and the rain started to pour down upon them. Greg didn’t seem to mind the sudden change in weather. The air filled with the smell of the earth. How he loved the smell of the earth. How he loved the wind in his hair. His eyes were locked with Bethesda’s as they paced slowly in circles. Their bodies inches apart. Their feelings binding with every motion they took. Their feet treading down the tall grass as they paced and dipped harmoniously to the rhythm that only they could hear.
Greg broke their link, clapped his hands twice as Bethesda twirled. She seemed entranced in the music as Greg gripped her by the waist tightly and dipped her low into the grass. He maneuvered her through the dip by shifting his feet and leaning in to her upper body. He moved and pivoted her figure upward to a standing position. Greg knew the dance by heart. He clasped her by the left hand and directed her in a circle around his body. Bethesda reached out and lightly touched his back with her nails. A wind picked up and rushed through the little clearing. The animals began to gather and watch the ghostly couple dance. Their individual chirps and growls seemed only to encourage them onward. The music peaked as the rain let up.
Bethesda stopped in front of Greg and gazed into his slowly changing eyes. Greg looked back into hers in wonder as their thumbs interlocked again. His heart was beating fast as they paced and dipped in the other direction. Greg’s spirit soared and he smiled to himself as he embraced her and tugged her in all directions. He had never been this happy before in his whole life.
Bethesda pulled away from him and bowed again. She extended her hands outward, bestowing more of the honor that the dance demanded. She wiggled her fingers and hummed the tune of the yellow moons. Water was running down her back and over her pale limbs. The drumming became more intense as they danced back to the center of the clearing. Greg reached out with both hands and ran them drown her wrists until he came to the palms. He tapped twice and linked his thumbs with hers. They drew closer as the rhythm grew louder and then suddenly stopped. Their faces within inches of each other and their breathing heavy. The sound of a lone pan flute filled the air through the forest. The animals grew still. They were now on opposite side of one another. The rain was still coming down and the lightning flashed.
Greg had never felt so alive in his life!
Bethesda leaned in and kiss him. It was her right to kiss him after the dance. The Erlking had seen, and she would be the first to bear offspring at the time of Ipswich.
Greg, who had never been romantic in his entire life, let the kiss happen. There was something inside the kiss. Something that was telling him it was more than just a romantic gesture; it meant something deep. He embraced Bethesda and held her close… for some reason he felt like he had found something important that he didn’t know he had lost.
Bethesda felt it was time to move on. She let the image of the human woman go for the first time in what felt like a decade. No longer would she be haunted by the mind of Evelyne Prewitt. No longer would her human emotions overpower her. With their lips still locked in reverie, Bethesda let her hair turn white and her eyes turn red. She smiled as her ears became curved and pointed. Her feature more angular and her body freed from human constraints. Brown freckles dotted her skin in the elegant pattern of the high mark. It was all there for the world to see. She was the Daughter of the Erlking, a princess of the Dark Forest.
Greg opened his eyes and pulled away quickly at the transformation. He stepped back a few feet as common sense took over. None of this was natural… or normal for that matter. Dancing in the woods like two gay satyrs was not what couples did in the real world. Greg knew what normal was; he just had to keep reminding himself of it. Bethesda had somehow tricked him into thinking they were in love with each other. She had forced her will upon him. Greg didn’t care how good it felt to be with her. What am I doing dancing with the enemy?! What was I thinking when I kissed her?! Bethesda is a monster and always will be!
Bethesda retreated inside as she studied Greg’s changing face. Everything had played out perfectly in her mind. She suddenly felt the uncomfortable heat of embarrassment rise up in her cheeks. This would be another miscalculation on her part if Greg rejected her. She rubbed her left arm awkwardly and actually spoke to her male counterpart. The text bubble faded away into oblivion. Bethesda’s words filled the air in the clearing.
“Does my appearance offend you?” Asked Bethesda softly. She was trying to hold back the tears of regret. Why did I transform so quickly? Bethesda had constructed the dance from her own heart. It was that same heart that she was thinking with now. “Do my deep memories of my childhood give you pause?”
“Yes,” said Greg at the top of his lungs. He didn’t care that he was talking to a full blown nightshade now. He didn’t care if she ate him right then and there. Anything would be better than the hell he was going through at that moment. He could still feel her warm arms around him. He could still taste her lips.
Greg marched back over to the log and sat back down. He crossed one legs over the other… like a proper barbarian. He was going to place his face into his hands when he noticed the rapid darkening of his finger nails. The hair on his body had also washed off with the strange rain dance they had performed. He had grown smoother and more angled. Below the surface of the skin elegant patterns started to form and spring up like bubbles. Greg knew what these terrible marks were. He had seen them on the nightshade at his evaluation.
“No! It can’t be!” yelled Greg as he rushed over to the pond and dropped to his knees. He stared at his reflection in horror. He was transforming into one of the nightshades; his time was up. The whites of his eyes were growing redder and redder.
How the heck is it possible? Thought Greg. How the heck is any of this even possible?! I’m human… aren’t I?
“I have not followed the transformation procedure by the book, Greg. I have not listened to The Giver of Knowledge in his council to me. He instructs all my sisters to do away with the human’s memories before the transformation…But I panicked after our conversation in the index. I told myself you were different from the rest of the species. I told myself that you could accept the transformation because of how humanity has treated you. You were never one of them Greg... even when you walked among them,” said Bethesda. She was approaching him slowly from behind. Her dark red eyes were gazing upon Greg’s shifting skin in wonder. She had seen transformations of humans before… but nothing like this one. Bethesda reaching out to read the markings on the smooth white skin. His lips moving slowly. “You are nothing like I have ever seen before Greg. The patterns on your back are significant.”
Greg stood up and slapped her hand away. He hated how her words rang true. He hated having to think of his own race as strangers and foreigners. But what else am I to do at the moment? Nothing he had said to anyone had convinced them he was human. The fact that he was standing in a Nightshade wildlife reserve was witness to that. Humanity had rejected him; he had not rejected humanity. Greg shrugged his shoulders in defeat. “Maybe I should just count my losses now. Maybe your right, Bethesda...”
Bethesda looked sympathetic. “Being a Son of The Erlking isn’t that bad.”
Greg groaned and fell to his knees. His body was suddenly aching with pain so intense it felt like lightening was moving through his limbs. His joints felt like they were on fire as he dug his fingers into the mud. His bones popped and cracked as he cried out into the air. It felt like his whole skeletal structure was reforming. He could feel things crawling under his skin like worms; the muscles reknitting themselves in strange patterns. Greg puked and convulsed.
Bethesda knelt down and placed a clawed hand on his shaking frame. The transformations were always tough on the humans. Her red eyes continued to read the markings that were popping up on the white flesh around the shoulder blades. Bethesda paused as she began to recognize the patterns from The Book of Cipro Ellekonge. They were mimicking the markings of the High Erlking himself; a being who had been gone from their world for millennia.
“This can’t be…” Said Bethesda as she checked the patterns on her own wrist.
If all this was right. Her soon to be mate would become the most powerful nightshade the 5th dimension had ever seen. This could also bring other complications with the elder sisters in the assemblies. Bethesda was cut off in her postulations as the skin tor open on Greg’s back. Two enormous wings stretched out into the air as Greg’s human form was completely rejected. The shedding of the skin was perfectly knowing for the transition of each human. The ribcage needed to make room for the citrine stone and the lower gizzard.
Bethesda pushed away from the thronging male nightshade. The last thing she needed was a flailing wing to the face. Huge black portals started opening up around the atmosphere. Trees and rocks where sucked into the cosmic holes and dropped into the middle of the pond. Their enormous weights threw up water as they settled on the shallow surface. Bethesda marveled at the command that Greg had on the citrine stone. Each excursion of power would have a cost to his growing frame. He would no doubt be hungry after his transformation into a nightshade. She would have to teach him how to devour the living properly… but that would come later.
Greg pushed himself up to his knees and tor off the rest of the human flesh clinging to his skin. His eyes had changed. The invisible spectrum open up to him as he saw the thermal signatures of the animals in the forest. He could smell their fear and taste their flesh on his tongue. He dilated his inner pupal and watched as the visible spectrum came back into play. Greg came to his feet and rested his thick fleshy wings on his shoulders. He reached up and felt the long black horns protruding from his skull. The coronal marking of the nightshade sun crossed over his broad chest and remained a prominent feature. His muscular chest expanded as he breathed in all the flavors of the earth. The most interesting of which… was Bethesda. Her flavor was not that of living food. Her flavor was something completely deferent.
She was his kin.
Greg’s claws dug deep into the mud as he gazed down at his new monstrous form. There was no escaping it now. He was a nightshade through and through. He walked into the middle of the clearing and roared as loud as he could. His voice raddled the trees and shook the ground. His stomach rolled with hunger as he sat down. He growled in pain as his new tail got stuck under his thigh. He reached down and shifted the stupid thing to a better position.
Greg sniffed the air and looked over at Bethesda. He pointed to himself with one claw. If he were going to be a nightshade from here on out he needed answers. “You have to explain this transformation, Bethesda. There is no way in hell I am going to believe I was born this way. You did something to me!”
Greg growled again.
Bethesda adored the deep undertones of his voice. She was going to respond to the fledgling Erlking when a huge portal opened up above her head. She looked up as pond water drenched her from head to toe. She cursed and moved out of the way. It was obvious that Greg still had a lot to learn about his abilities as a nightshade. Bethesda extinguished the portal he had created and gripped the soaking wet tangles of her hair. She wrung out the water and flipped her long white hair back over her head. Her claws dug into the earth for more stability as she walked.
“The Giver of Knowledge knows all things, Greg. We will start our discussion with him and move on from there,” said Bethesda as she approached the fledgling Erlking. She had to be careful around him now. There was only so much she could actually reveal before it was time. “He prophesied this would happened in the 4th dimension. He told me and my sisters that we could be queens of the Earth. That we could have it all just like our father had. At the time, I and all my sisters snickered at it in our circles… but here you are…”
“That still doesn’t explain how this happened,” said Greg. His guts were hurting with hunger now. He growled at Bethesda as she approached him. Her smell was getting stronger with each passing second. There was no fear in her…only confidence… or at least what Greg interpreted as being confidence.
Bethesda walked around Greg and examined him closely. He looked the part of the Erlking in every way. Usually only the males got one or two of their father’s traits… but not the whole thing altogether. Bethesda had lucked out indeed; but this manifestation was only going to cause problems in the inner circles. There would be more challengers now; high ranking challengers. Bethesda had to be strategic about it all if she were going to wind up on top. “Your transformation was aided by the humans. The Giver of Knowledge knows how cautious and fearful the humans are of the nightshade race. He knows that they would want something to suppress and control us. To stop us from making portals.”
“How did The Giver of Knowledge know about this?” asked Greg with a rumbled of his chest. His voice sounded intimidating in every way… even when he wasn’t trying to be intimidating. To Greg, it was the coolest thing to experience. He continued to act the part of a stern nightshade. “How does he know so much about being human?”
“He was created by the Humans,” said Bethesda. She was loving the sound of his voice… so commanding and powerful. Her lower appetite quivered inside of her. “So he knows how they think and how they act around things they don’t understand. He knows the humans want to control us… so he made a fake potion and gave it to the humans. He told them that it would suppress our ability to make portals… but it had to be injected into the skin.”
Greg touched his arm as she brought this up. He remembered when Gwen had injected him with the syringe back in the van. They had said that it was designed to suppress his ability to make portals. Was this the potion she spoke of?
“Gwen injected me with something like that,” said Greg. “Was that the portion?”
“Gwen!!” hissed Bethesda violently. She spat out the words as she spoke them. How she disliked that human woman. The whore that would dare take her mate from her by flaunting her battle skills right in front of him. Bethesda couldn’t wait to eat her when all this was done and over. “Gwen serves The Giver of Knowledge without even knowing it; she is a fool. Most of the humans serve The Giver of Knowledge without even knowing it. Even here, at camp Snowflake, they only see what we let them see. Gwen injected you with The Givers potion in the van. It has acted as a catalyst to the rain.”
Bethesda held her hands out to the grey sky.
Greg looked up. “What?”
“Yes,” Said Bethesda with a laugh. “It was the rain that has completed your transformation, Greg. It rains everyday here in what The Giver of Knowledge calls, The Garden of Eden.”
A chill ran down Greg’s Spine as Bethesda said this. “Did you say Garden of Eden?”
“Yes,” said Bethesda as she ran her hands over the flesh of Greg’s wings. She loved to feel the bumps. “It was designed after the paradise of your religious books. The humans were led to believe it was them who had named it. Every single base the humans create has an Eden where the male nightshades dwell… and The Giver of Knowledge comes to free them. Everything has a place in The Givers plan… even the humans in all their forms.”
Bethesda sat next to him and examined his tail.
Greg ignored her prodding and looked out over the forest. He wasn’t like where all this was heading. The Giver of Knowledge needed to be watched closely. If he was the being in charge of all this chaos... It would mean terrible things for the human race. He would have to tell Gwen when he saw her next… if he saw her.
He would have to convince her that this was happening.