I awaken, coughing and gasping for breath. I try to speak and sit up, but I can’t seem to remember how to do either one. Someone puts their hand against my forehead, and a voice says “Sleep, dog. I’ll get my answers out of you once your body has healed.” The blackness overtakes me again.
I awaken again, and I feel much better. The pain in my head has been reduced to a dull ache. The rest of my body seems fine, so I try to move, but can’t. Slowly, I open my eyes, and take in my surroundings. There’s a small campfire nearby, and the light is incredibly painful after so long in the darkness. It takes a few moments for my eyes to adjust.
I’m chained to one of the cave walls, and my mouth is gagged. My clothing has been removed. I look down, and see myself for the first time since leaving the river. I look very different from anything I remember. My skin looks like polished obsidian, and my hair falls down across my face like an avalanche of snow and ice. I look just like the peri I killed.
On the other side of the fire, I see two elves, one male and one female, whispering to each other.
They turn to look at me, and I see the fear and surprise as they notice that I’m awake. The male is tall for an elf, and I think he’s beautiful. He’s got bronzed skin, golden hair, and the most beautiful green eyes I’ve ever seen. He’s wearing leather armor underneath a thick cloak, and he’s currently pointing an arrow at me.
The female is roughly the same size as me, and I think she’s beautiful, too. Her hair is as black as the darkness surrounding us, but her skin is very pale. Unlike the male, she isn’t wearing any armor or carrying any weapons. Her eyes are ice blue, and I wish mine looked like hers..
The female hisses loudly. “Peri magic! Devil!” she whispers loudly. “Shoot it, Tanithil!”
The male has lowered his bow slightly, and he’s staring at me with his mouth agape. He recovers quickly, though, and brings the bow back up. He pulls the string back farther.
“How did you do that, peri scum?” he asks.
“Do what?” I ask in return.
“Change yourself to look like my sister,” he says.
I look down, and sure enough, my obsidian skin has changed to the same milky white tone as hers, and my hair is as black as my skin used to be. More interestingly, my body has switched from male to female. “I…I don’t know,” I say.
“Shoot it, Tanithil!” the woman repeats. “It’s an illusion. A trick of some kind. Peri magic! Shoot it!!”
I look at him, and I think again how beautiful he is. His beautiful, green eyes…
He drops the bow and arrow, and his face is pure amazement. “I…I don’t believe it,” he stammers. The woman looks dumbfounded, too. Both of them are too stunned to move, or so it seems to me. The woman is the first to recover, and she just repeats the only thing I have heard her say: “Shoot it, Tanithil.”
“I’ll shoot you if you don’t shut up,” he says.
“I’ll just catch it and throw it back at you,” she replies.
“I can shoot faster than you can catch. Don’t test me, Lyari.” Turning to me, he says, “And so now you look like me. Who are you?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I woke up a while back, next to a river. I couldn’t remember who I was, or anything about myself. I stumbled into these caves, and I’ve been wandering around lost ever since.”
“Stop looking like me,” he says.
“Huh?” I look down at myself, and sure enough, I’m a male again, with this elf’s bronze skin and golden hair. “I don’t know what’s happening to me,” I say. “I don’t know why I keep changing like this.”
For the first time, the girl speaks softly to me. “I think I know,” she says. “I think you’re a changeling. Only you don’t remember, because you must have fallen into the river outside. That’s the river Styx, and it removes the memories of anyone who touches it. You’re lucky you can remember how to breathe on your own.”
“I can breathe, and speak. I know a few different languages, and I seem to remember names for things and places. I knew what a devil was when one attacked me, and I knew what the peri was when I fought him, too. I knew about weapons and armor, although I had to learn how to use them. I can’t remember any of the details about my own life. I don’t know who I am, or where I came from. I don’t even know where I am, or why I’m here.” I don’t realize it, but I’ve started to cry.
They let me cry for a few moments, and the girl speaks again. “Well, I don’t know who you were, but you’re killing peri, and that means we’re allies. Untie him, Tan, and give him back his stuff. Let’s get some food into him too. Turning to me, she says, “It’s going to be confusing with two Tanithils walking around. Can you change back into the peri?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been doing it on purpose. I don’t know how I became the peri, but with you and him, I just thought you were both so beautiful, and I wanted to look like you. I can’t imagine I thought the peri were beautiful,” I say.
They both look uncomfortable, but I don’t know why. After a few moments, the male breaks the silence. “It’s probably an emotional reaction,” he says. “Like blushing. Whenever you get scared or hurt, you probably change into whatever affected you.”
“But I’m not scared now,” I say.
“No. It’s not just the bad emotions,” he says. “I think it’s pretty much anything. The real question is, can you learn how to do it on purpose, and hold a form until you’re ready to release it? If you can do that, then we could really use your help…if you like killing peri, that is.”
“I don’t really like killing anything,” I say. “But I don’t like peri, and I do like you two, so count me in.”
He frees me from the chains, and hands my clothes back to me. I get dressed, but the clothes are a little too tight now. Without realizing that I’m doing it, I change back into the peri.
“Well, that answers one question,” says Tanithil. “Now, let’s see if you can hold it.”
“Dinner first,” says Lyari. “We can start training tomorrow.”