The Rainbow Door was set into a massive boulder, a disrupted segment of earth surrounding a lake. The hole in the ground that formed the lake was deeper and craggier at one end than the other, ringed all around by a forest. The air and the water were still.
“Is it a bad sign that this doesn’t have a reflection, either?” Minnow asked. The moon hung high and bright overhead, but in the clear reflection of the lake there were only stars.
“No,” Karzarul said. “This one’s just like that. He can spew all the magic he wants here, it won’t take root.” He took Leonas down off his shoulder, and flung him into the lake.
“Ari,” Minnow yelled, grabbing at him as Leonas fell in with a splash.
Leonas popped back up with a toss of his hair, catching his breath and frantically trying to paddle with a shield on one arm.
“What if he couldn’t swim?” she asked, gesturing at Leonas.
“He’s half-pirate,” Karzarul said.
“It’s not genetic,” Leonas shouted from in the water. The water was glowing all around him, forming small eddies and waves.
“Make an air bubble with the shield and sink to the bottom,” Karzarul shouted back.
“It’s a huge waste of time and energy.“
Leonas floated aimlessly, then started trying to channel magic through the Sunshield. Mostly he spun around in accidental whirlpools. Minnow walked further along the water’s edge, because it felt rude to watch him try to figure it out. Karzarul didn’t quite follow her, meandering closer to the forest. He glanced back to where Leonas was fully absorbed in trying to figure out how to make a bubble.
“Okay,” he said, shaking out his hands. “Let’s check the damage.”
Minnow looked back at him, and saw that he’d taken the form he’d used to get them out of Castle Astielle. He was wearing the skirt he always wore as an Impyr, but nothing else. He flared out his wings, and held his arms out at his sides as if showing off an outfit he was not wearing.
“Does any of this look familiar?” he asked. The way he asked was semi-suspicious, and left her wondering if there was a correct answer she was meant to know.
“I’ve never seen one of these,” she admitted.
He looked to her right, then back at her. “It’s rare,” he said. He spun his hands in a ‘come on’ kind of motion. “I’m only looking for general impressions here, whatever pops into your head.”
She gnawed at her lip, rubbing underneath it thoughtfully. “Very swan-like,” she tried.
His eyebrows shot up with hopeful surprise, holding up two fingers to indicate he wanted her to stay on that point. “Swans,” he said. She nodded. “Swans are good,” he said. “That’s a great bird. Elegant. People like swans.”
“Some extra wings,” she noted.
He paused. He drew in the two larger wings, and then the two smaller ones beneath them. He flexed both pairs independently. “Okay,” he said. “That’s. That’s fine. Everyone likes wings. If you’re going to have too much of anything, it might as well be wings.”
“You also have four arms,” she said.
He looked down at his hands, and then down further at his other hands.
“Mother Void,” he swore. “Why is it always—this is fine.” He crossed his upper arms and then his lower ones. He uncrossed his lower arms and put them on his hips. “I have to figure out what to do with four of them now,” he muttered before sighing. “It’s not that weird,” he decided. He cocked his head towards her. “Does it look weird?”
“Not that weird,” she said.
“Okay,” he said. “Good.”
“You have feet this time,” she pointed out.
He looked down at them, perking up immediately. “Oh!” He held it out and pointed his toes, holding all four of his hands up and out of the way. “I do! I can wear boots.” He dropped his foot back to the ground, ribbons of moonlight wrapping around him below the knees and turning into white leather. He turned to get a better look at them, narrowing his eyes. He rose up on his toes, and the heels of his boots got longer to meet the ground. “Okay, I like those. This part’s good. Everything below the waist is—” He paused. “I’ll worry about that later.”
“You have princey hair,” she said.
“What?” He grabbed a fistful of white strands to bring in front of his face, confirming that they curled. “Why would I—do you like it?”
“Okay,” he said, trying to set it back to rights.
“You also have—this part’s less swan-like.”
“Your ears,” she said.
He touched them tentatively. “Wings?” he said. “Oh, bug wings! I’m a—”
“Moth,” she finished. When he looked confused, she put two fingers up so that they looked like they were emerging from her forehead.
“What?” He gave up on getting her opinion, moving back to the edge of the lake so that he could look at his own reflection. Leonas was still out in the water, where he had figured out a bubble, but couldn’t make it sink. Karzarul stared at the big fuzzy antennae sticking out of his reflection’s forehead, then turned his head and moved his hair out of the way to see his ears. The delicate, translucent wings had little moons on them, long tails hanging downward like earrings. “Shit. A moth? Nobody likes moths.”
“I like moths,” Minnow offered. “It makes sense, anyway, what with the moon and all.”
He traced his fingers over the darker stripe of silver along each of his eyes, the more swan-like aspect of his face. He wrinkled his nose, pursed his lips. “Where did this face come from?” he muttered. She bent down and tilted her head to get a better look at it. It was true that it didn’t look like his other faces. Despite their differences she had learned to recognize the Tauril as a bigger, more bovine version of his Impyr face. What she’d briefly seen of the Abysscale hadn’t been too far from Impyr form, either. But his features this time were different, his nose bigger and the shape of his eyes and mouth rounder.
“I like it,” she said, but he kept frowning at his reflection. “You don’t have to use it, if you don’t like it,” she reminded him. There were a lot of monsters whose form he never used. Until today she’d never seen him be most things.
There was a splash as Leonas dragged himself out of the lake. Karzarul changed back into an Impyr. Leonas wasn’t lit up like a candle anymore.
“Did you figure it out?” Minnow asked.
“No,” he said, tipping forward to lean his forehead against her shoulder. Their height difference meant this was quite a lean. “I’m very tired,” he said, sounding weary down to his bones. Minnow patted his wet hair.
“You have the Sunshield now,” she said. “If you’re tired, we can go home.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Leonas said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are knights in Lilock already.”
“Not the house,” she corrected. “Home.”
“I thought they wouldn’t let you back in here,” Leonas said. Minnow had let him sleep in the hammock hanging from her tree, and had slept on the forest floor curled up with Karzarul. She’d asked him to take Ursbat form, which had the unfortunate side effect of attracting other changelings. Karzarul had woken up covered in a snoring pile of ageless children, which had not pleased him.
“Not at first,” Minnow said. She’d taken her hammock back as soon as Leonas was done with it. It was made of a fishing net, padded with a scrap quilt and filled with even more toys than her nest in Lilock. Trying to sleep in it required a willingness to burrow under and be buried by a layer of unusually round felt animals.
Minnow’s tree was obvious, as it was the one covered in fallen stars. They were wrapped in wire and hooked onto the branches, so many of them it seemed like it should be too heavy to stay up. It was an old and sturdy oak with a thick trunk to support them all, sparkling out from between the leaves. In the quiet of the sleeping Faewild, their song was barely audible over the rustling of the wind.
“I had to do a lot of quests to prove to His Majesty that I wasn’t Astian now, or too human.” Minnow had changed into a beetle-wing dress, while Leonas had turned down multiple offers of the same. He suspected the wings were being held together with cobwebs, and he wasn’t willing to risk it. “It wouldn’t have taken so long, but the last toy he wanted was only made by one specific guy who lives in the middle of nowhere in Malorak. It took me years to get all the way out there and then back.”
Karzarul had decided to wrap himself around one of the tree’s branches as a Slitherskin, far out of reach of where little hands could grab without climbing. Leonas had not possessed this foresight, and had been stuck sitting on the mossy ground braiding hair. Every time he finished one, another changeling would plop themselves down expectantly in front of him.
“Minnow,” said a changeling emerging from behind a large fern. “The Fairy King wants to see you.”
“Ooooooh,” said several other changelings at once. “You’re in trouble.”
“I am not,” Minnow said, tipping herself out of her hammock and onto the ground. “All of us, right?” she asked for confirmation. The first changeling nodded. Karzarul descended from the oak and landed as a Tauril. He looked profoundly uncomfortable. Leonas stood and followed as Minnow walked, despite the protests of changelings with their hair undone. Minnow lead the way through an arch of a tree and a tunnel of growth, to the deeper part of the forest where the Fairy King sat on his throne.
Like the changelings, he looked roughly adjacent to an eight-year-old human child. His hair was a halo of short green curls, his skin a paler shade of the same color. The points of his ears were long, his eyes a solid black as reflective as Minnow’s and his teeth as sharp. His throne was grown from a living tree, covered in moss and with leaves sprouting from it. His crown was made of forget-me-nots and his robes were rabbit fur. On his back were the wings of a dragonfly writ large, translucent and glittering.
Beside his throne was a series of miniature thrones, each one with a toy sitting in it.
Other fairies sat in the grass around the clearing, playing inscrutable games and paying them no mind.
“Hi, Minnow,” the Fairy King said, waving. He was swinging his feet, which did not touch the ground in front of his throne.
“Hi, Your Majesty,” she said, waving back.
“Gosh,” he said. “All three of you haven’t been here together since you got your blessings.” He looked at Karzarul, who was holding his hands awkwardly in front of himself. “How long ago was that?” the Fairy King asked.
“It’s been a while,” Karzarul said.
The Fairy King looked him up and down. “You’re still using that one?” he asked.
“Yes,” Karzarul said.
“It’s not my favorite,” the Fairy King said. “How have the blessings been working out?”
Karzarul looked at Minnow and Leonas. He looked back at the Fairy King. The Fairy King picked up a cup made from a large pitcher plant on the arm of his throne, and sipped at whatever was inside it through a piece of straw, looking attentive.
“Not well,” Karzarul said.
The Fairy King nodded. “Divine blessings are like that,” he said.
“If I may ask, Your Majesty,” Karzarul said, “why would you try to claim the Starlight Hero?”
“I didn’t claim her,” the Fairy King said. “The smiley guy brought her.”
Leonas rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“And you did as he asked?” Karzarul said.
“No,” the Fairy King said. “I kept her so he wouldn’t kill her.”
“I’m surprised you cared,” Karzarul said.
The Fairy King cocked his head sideways. “I liked Vaelon,” he said. Karzarul looked surprised before lowering his gaze to the ground. “I thought it was the least I could do for him.” The Fairy King scratched his head. “Maybe I should have talked him out of accepting the sword. But that was never going to work unless I talked you guys out of taking your stuff, and that wasn’t gonna happen.” The Fairy King gave a big shrug with his hands up by his shoulders.
“I would have listened,” Karzarul said quietly. “If he asked.”
“Pffft,” the Fairy King said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Nuh-uh.”
Karzarul glowed with a brief flare of indignation, opening his mouth before shutting it again without a word.
“You seem better now, though,” the Fairy King said. “You got the whole gang back together.” He spread his arms to gesture to all three of them. “That’s good because everything’s a big mess right now.”
“Can you help us?” Leonas asked.
“No,” the Fairy King said. He picked up his drink and took another sip. “You shouldn’t stay too long, either. We ate some of your extra magic, but it will still be a whole thing if your dad shows up.”
“Do you know,” Leonas asked hesitantly, rubbing his arm, “why it didn’t use more? The… trap. There was so much magic it hadn’t used.”
“Hmmmmmmm.” The Fairy King tapped a thoughtful finger against his chin. “You were getting all your magic shlorped out?”
“You’re supposed to have a lot of magic,” the Fairy King said. “You must have made more. Lots more. Way extra. You were wringing out all your magic muscles and every time they got bigger.” The Fairy King made a flexing motion with both arms to demonstrate the concept. “It wouldn’t need that much, anyway,” he said, dropping his arms. “Sun and Moon hold each other naturally.”
Leonas responded with a choked sound.
“That’s a bad way to word the concept,” Karzarul muttered.
“What do you think we should do next?” Minnow asked. “Since we shouldn’t stay here.”
“Hmmmmmmm.” The Fairy King took a long sip of his drink while he thought it over, until the cup was empty and the straw made a horrible sucking sound. “You should go to the beach,” he said.
“Which beach?” Karzarul asked.
“Any beach,” the Fairy King said. “It’s beach weather.”
Minnow took them to a small island in the middle of a large lake, ringed by a sandy beach. From the sand, they could see out to the shoreline, the rocky beaches and forest and eventually the snow-capped mountains. The first time she’d come out here it had been for the sake of it, and she’d been surprised to find a Rainbow Door in the middle. The sun was high and bright, and birds were singing from the small stand of trees that sat between the beaches.
Karzarul had insisted on checking the small area of the island as a Howler. This had the fortunate side effect of giving Leonas some time alone to have an existential crisis. Minnow was also there, but this still counted as alone. He was laying on his back in the sand with the Sunshield over his stomach, water lapping up to his waist. He was still fully dressed. Minnow was wearing a short wrap skirt to avoid sanding herself down in weird places, and nothing else, lying on her stomach.
“You know,” Leonas said, “that might be the first time he actually hit me.” Minnow hummed to acknowledge the statement, because she didn’t know what else to say about it. “I always sort of wished he would. Not that I wanted… I mean. I would have felt more justified. About everything. If he’d just… you know? Like that would have made it okay to be upset.”
Minnow patted his shoulder.
“I was already upset, though,” he said. “It wasn’t satisfying. It didn’t prove anything. It just… happened. It’s another thing that happened.”
“Do you want me to kill him?” Minnow asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t think about it yet. If I think about—I could have run away. With you. I could have done it. It would have been better if I had. If I’d gone with you instead of sending you off with a shitty little sword it would have—” He covered his face with his hands with a groan that was almost a scream. “How did I fuck this up so bad.”
“You didn’t,” she said.
“I should have known,” he said, muffled by his hands. “When I went to get you and you didn’t remember anything, I should have known right then that he was. He was lying. He wasn’t spinning it, or being an asshole about it, he was lying. He wasn’t even, it was obvious. It was so, so obvious. I accepted it, I accepted all of it and fucked everything up.”
She patted the top of his head this time. “You didn’t die, though,” she said. “You came and got me, and you helped me as much as you could. You did good.”
Karzarul emerged from the trees, his paws sinking into the sand as he walked. “I haven’t felt any other monsters,” he said pensively.
Leonas pulled himself up to sitting, the Sunshield falling off to the side. He hugged his legs to his chest, resting his forehead on his knees. Water lapped around him.
“We haven’t been many places,” Minnow reminded Karzarul. “Monsters wouldn’t be in the Faewild, and I’ve never seen a monster here either.”
“Maybe,” he said.
Minnow rose up to kneeling, brushing sand from her chest. “Do you want to go swimming with me, this time?” she asked.
Karzarul’s tail started to wag, and he trotted past her into the water. When he was deep enough his shape changed, the curve of an enormous scaled tail visible as he dove. His head popped back up, his hair trailing out onto the surface of the water.
“Do you wanna come?” Minnow asked Leonas.
He coughed a little to clear something out of his throat. “No.”
“If you’re sure,” she said. “Yell if you need something.”
She waded out as far as she could before letting her feet leave the ground, swimming out to meet Karzarul. He pulled her close once she was in reach of his arms.
“I saw Abysscales from far away sometimes,” she said, running her fingers along his face. “Never up close.”
“Do you like it?” he asked.
The face was a little closer to his Tauril face than Impyr, primarily due to the nose. His Impyr face had a sharper, more defined nose than either of the others. His eyes in this form were bigger. His ears looked like fins, pierced through with rings, gills on his neck. She traced her fingers down the scales on his shoulders, the fins at his elbows. His claws were as sharp as his teeth.
“I like it,” she said.
He grinned. “Most people do,” he said, preening a little.
“Which people?” she asked, which brought him up short.
“You have that book,” he said hesitantly. “They wouldn’t have made that if people didn’t like it. Like Abysscales. In general.”
“That’s true,” she said, and he relaxed. “Was Vaelon my name?” she asked. “The first time.”
The fins of his ears folded back, reminding her of a scolded puppy. “… yes.”
“What was I like?” she asked. “The Fairy King said he liked me.”
“Everyone liked you,” Karzarul said. “You were the most beautiful man in the world.”
“Oh,” she sighed. “I don’t know if I can live up to that.”
He kissed her fiercely, which was the first time she noticed that his tongue was split down the middle. “That isn’t how it works,” he said. She felt the scales of his tail rubbing against her legs. “I noticed a spot further down the island if we… wanted privacy,” he suggested.
“Privacy,” she repeated with a frown. “For sex?” she realized, perking up.
“For sex,” he agreed. “If you want.”
She looked back to the beach, where Leonas was sitting in the shallow water. She supposed it might be nice for him to have some true alone time, in case he wanted to be upset while no one was looking.
“Privacy would be good,” she said.
Ari would have been perfectly happy to stay in the water, but Minnow wanted to get a good look at his tail. It reminded her of a snake or a dragon as much as it did a fish, long as it was. His fins were delicate and translucent, powerful muscles rolling under his scales whenever he moved.
“You said that book with the Abysscales wasn’t right,” she said, straddling his tail. “Does that mean you don’t really have big tentacles in your tail?”
“I do,” he said, and she immediately started running her hands over his scales to try and find them. “I only found it offensive,” he said, “for it to imply that a monster would throw himself at anyone who flattered him.”
“Yeah?” she said, running her hands up toward his torso. Her thumbs found a seam in his scales.
“Monsters aren’t stupid,” he said, scales opening and two large tentacles emerging from within his tail. Minnow bit her lip, eyes widening the longer they got. She touched one, and it wrapped itself in a spiral all the way up her arm. The other tentacle wound its way around her thigh. There were no scales on these, only soft slick skin an unearthly white.
“I don’t think you’re stupid,” she said. She tried to unwind the tentacle around her arm enough that she could lick it. He tasted salty and slightly bitter. His tentacles tightened around her. “You’re not gonna fuck me just because I think you’re pretty.”
He swallowed. “Right.”
“I do think you’re pretty, though,” she added, wiggling herself higher on his tail. She determined that she could be rougher with his tentacles that she would have expected, wrapping her hands around it to direct it where she wanted it. She slid it behind her back, around and then up between her breasts so that the tip of it would be near her face. She ran her tongue over it, and made a happy sound when it pushed into her mouth. She rocked her hips as the tentacle wrapped around her thigh started to rub between them, sucking on the one in her mouth.
“You like that?” he asked, and she hummed happily while he watched her squirm. After a moment, she pulled the tentacle out of her mouth so she could speak.
“Are we being nice today?” she asked.
Ari rose up on his elbows, tilting his head. “Nice?” he repeated.
“You know,” she said, still stroking his tentacle with her fingers wrapped around it. “Like, a lot of stuff happened, and some of it was scary, so now we’re, um. Being very careful, and nice. Which I don’t mind, because you deserve nice things, if you want them.”
Ari pushed himself upward to sit fully upright, his tail shifting beneath her. He had a gleam in his eye that made her breath catch, and she bit her lip. He tilted her chin upward with the tip of one claw. “Is there something you want instead?” he teased.
She huffed. “You’re always asking me what I want,” she complained. She let his tentacle go, leaning forward to pull him closer and press her chest against his, resting her head against his shoulder. “It isn’t fair, asking me that like there’s one answer,” she said. “Maybe I want everything. It isn’t fair when I—you said it before, didn’t you?” She ran her fingers close to his gills without touching them, his tentacles stroking her skin. “The wanting. I want more, I always want more, until it’s too much and I can’t and even then. If, if you ask if all I want is to be close to you, it’s yes, and if you ask if I want you to be nice to me, it’s yes, and if you ask if I want you to hurt me, it’s yes. There isn’t anything I don’t want, if it’s what you’ll give me. I want you.”
Both his tentacles tightened, arms wrapping around her in a sudden embrace, pressing his face into her neck. She listened to him breathe, felt the rise and fall of his chest against her. She felt the tips of his tongue run along her jugular, and shivered. He started to nip at her skin, small bites growing larger as they moved down to her shoulder. He moved her back, his tail still between her legs, but now it curled sideways and back again to hold her in the crook of it. He braced his hands on his tail above her shoulders, surrounding her completely, above and below her in all directions. The tentacle that had stayed wound around her thigh pulled it further from the other.
“Say it again,” he said.
“I want you,” she said, and the tip of a tentacle pushed inside of her. She gasped.
“My name,” he said, his other tentacle winding around her other thigh so that he could hold her open.
“Karzarul,” she sighed, reaching up to touch his face because she couldn’t help herself. She pressed her hand against his cheek, and he turned his head to kiss her palm. He gently bit her wrist, and she groaned. The tentacle inside her pushed deeper, deep enough to be almost too deep, making her cry out with an arch of her back. He put his hand under her jaw, around her neck, points of his claws pressing into her skin.
“You want this?” he asked. One tentacle pumped in and out of her, the other sliding higher and pulling her knee along with it. The tentacle wrapped around her breast and squeezed.
“Yes,” she said, rocking her hips until the tentacle pumping into her curled along the outside to rub against her clit.
“Yeah.” He grabbed her hands to bring them together, between her breasts so that she’d lift them with her own arms. His tentacle wound around her wrists to bind them together before sliding between her fingers. “Oh!” She watched him watch her, her fingers tightening to grip the length in her hands. His thumb on her chin coaxed her mouth open.
“Show me how a good little hero takes it,” he said, his voice low. The sound sent lightning down her spine that made her hips buck, shivering. She opened her mouth wide and stuck out her tongue, and the tip of his tentacle pushed back toward her throat. She sucked, noticed how his gills and his fins all seemed to flare as he filled her mouth.
Minnow hummed with pleasure again, shut her eyes to enjoy the friction against her lips and her palms, the pressure against her clit and the stretch inside of her. “There’s my girl,” he said, and she felt the tips of his tongue catch her nipple and tug gently at it. Her moan was muffled by skin. The segment of his tail underneath her hips moved enough to make her bounce a little. She clenched down on the tentacle inside her as it pumped faster, opening her mouth wide and letting it go slack because it was the easiest way not to bite down. “You’re so fucking pretty when you’re full of cock,” he purred, and when she opened her eyes to see the look on his face it pushed her over the edge.
She went stiff, choking a little on the tentacle still pounding against the back of her throat. She saw stars, groaning hard as her back arched high and then fell. Ari caught her by the hair to hold her head still, the tentacle between her legs slamming into her more forcefully at the sound of her muffled whimpers.
“Again,” he said hoarsely, his eyes boring into her. “I want to see you come for me again, and again.” The wet sound of penetration was punctuated by the slippery slide of skin against her clit, never quite letting her fall off her crescendo, waves moving through her until her legs shook and her fingers couldn’t grip. “My good little hero, lets her monster fuck her until she can’t hold a sword.” A groan escaped her, long and low and a little bit gurgling.
He shuddered as he came, heat pouring out of him at both ends of her, spilling out over her lips and onto her thighs. She tried to swallow, but choked again. The tentacle slid from her mouth so that she could gasp for air, fingers wiping at her chin even as he kept spilling out onto her neck and between her breasts. He leaned back to look at her instead of letting her go, his fingers brushing over her calf with a kind of reverence. She panted to catch her breath, and wondered if she’d ever been so sticky with anything but gore.
When they’d finally washed up and returned to the section of beach near the Rainbow Door, Leonas wasn’t there. Minnow’s initial response was panic, until Leonas came crashing back out of the trees like he was being chased.
“Sorry!” he gasped, sitting abruptly in the sand with the Sunshield in front of him. “I didn’t mean to worry you, I was just. I had to pee.”
Minnow cocked her head sideways. “Okay,” she said, rather than argue the point. Leonas’ witchmarks were glowing again. He rubbed his hands together until they were glowing, too, light passing over them in a flash like something burning away. When he realized what he’d done, he let the same light pass over the rest of him, leaving his clothes dry. He moved the shield to look down at himself, and seemed satisfied by his own ingenuity. Karzarul had taken Howler form once he left the water, but Leonas was still avoiding looking at him.
“We should try to find some monsters,” Minnow decided.
“Great,” Leonas said. “Exactly what we need. More of them.”
“We can’t be sure that breaking the Moontrap worked unless we actually find some monsters, and confirm that they’re acting right,” Minnow said.
Karzarul shifted uncomfortably on his paws. “I can take care of that myself,” he said. “You don’t need to be with me.”
Leonas narrowed his eyes. “Are you saying that because fixing the monsters didn’t make them less dangerous?”
Karzarul huffed and turned up his nose without responding. Minnow patted his head. “I don’t want to split up again if we don’t have to,” she said. “You can explain to the other monsters that we’re all friends, and everything will be fine. Right?”