How could she possibly know what was normal for a body this size? After a moment, Willow raised her head and took a couple of slow, even breaths. She looked at her arms and legs, wriggled the toes peeking out from beneath the blankets, and stared at Taron, who stared right back at her. “I’m big. I’ve got a body. A people-sized body. What happened?”
Taron kept rubbing the back of her neck, but he shook his head. “I don’t know for sure. It must have something to do with the energy you flung at the demon king interacting with the power from my sword. The combination of the two energies, maybe? Your blast ricocheted off my blade and covered Bumper in a flash of sparks.” He shook his head. “I can’t find Bumper.”
I’m here, Taron. Here I am. I’m in Willow.
Hi, Taron. It’s me, it’s me, it’s me!
Uh ... hi, Bumper.
He stared at Willow. “Bumper’s in you now? Did the two of you trade places somehow?” He sat back on his heels and stared at Willow.
She shrugged, but she could
Bumper jumping up and down inside her head—or at least she imagined that’s what she felt from the way Bumper was bouncing around in there. “It appears so. Bumper, calm down. Sit, Bumper. Good girl ... you’re fine.”
She shook her head, focused on Taron. “Where’s Ed?”
Taron’s shoulders sagged. “I don’t know. The demon got him. I think he was trying to take over Bumper, but when the power exploded he somehow ended up in Ed. We need to find him. I can’t reach Dax and Eddy.”
“Can’t you call them?”
He looked absolutely devastated. “On what, Willow? I don’t even know how those things they call cell phones work, much less have one.”
She touched his arm. Right now Taron, who always seemed so self-assured, looked badly in need of a bit of encouragement. “There are regular telephones in the house. We just need to find Eddy’s number. What about Mari and Darius? I don’t know Mari’s number but I know where they live.”
He shook his head. “They’re gone for a couple of days. Let’s find one of those telephones. We have to let Eddy know what happened.”
A flash of bright light had both of them covering their eyes.
“No. Dax must not know the demon has Eddy’s father.”
“Oh crap.” Taron’s head popped up and he stared at the source of the light.
Willow followed his gaze. “Who and what was that?”
“My sword. Hang on.”
He leaned over, giving her an absolutely delicious view of his backside. As a tiny sprite, she’d never quite appreciated the beauty of a naked male, not the way she could now that she was closer in size. Unfortunately, Taron was leaning over so he could grab his pants off the floor. Before she’d had nearly enough time to study him, he slipped into a pair of knit shorts like the ones Dax wore under his jeans, and padded across the room.
A moment later, he returned with his sword. Willow stared at the glowing blade for a moment. “I didn’t think your sword talked yet.”
“It didn’t. Not until last night when it told me I had to come to Evergreen.” He sat on the edge of the bed and placed the sword on the blankets between them. “Okay. Why can’t we tell Dax about the demon taking over Eddy’s father?”
The sword pulsed and glowed. “Dax is a warrior of great honor, a man filled with power. He will do anything to protect the family of the woman he loves. The demon king wants Dax’s life force—his soul, which would give the evil one full control of Dax’s demon body. It would belong entirely to the demon, not merely as his avatar. With Dax’s powerful life force, the demon king will be impossible to stop. He is now the strongest he has ever been during his forays into Earth’s dimension. He must not be allowed near Dax. He must be stopped, or evil will prevail.”
Taron shot a quick glance at Willow, but he spoke to his sword. “Okay. So how can we stop him?”
“The human body needs nourishment the way the demon needs demonic souls to survive. The demon knows naught of caring for the human—it wants only demonic souls. There are very few demons left in Evergreen. You must find them and destroy them tonight, before the demon king feeds on their life force. By tomorrow night, without food or sleep, the human body he inhabits will be weaker. Without demon souls to feed his evil side and without nourishment for the human, the demon will be easier to destroy.”
Willow focused on the glowing blade. “How do we kill him without hurting Ed?”
The sword flashed a brilliant blast of blue light. “You cannot kill the avatar. That will give the demon more power. You must force the demon out of the human while far enough from the vortex so that he cannot escape to Abyss. Then and only then, can you kill him. Together, you have the power to end him.”
The sword dimmed. Taron raised his head and stared at Willow. “Well, that’s simple enough. All we have to do is kill all the demons in Evergreen, find the demon king, get him to leave Ed’s body without hurting Ed, and then destroy the bastard.”
He snapped his fingers, but the look on his face was not at all positive. “Simple, right? Sure ... no problem.”
Willow dug through Eddy’s dresser drawers and found tiny underpants and soft, warm jeans that looked as if they’d fit her. She’d been in both Eddy and Ginny’s rooms often enough while inside Bumper to know how a girl should dress, but she’d never imagined getting a chance like this.
Slipping on the panties, she slid her finger under the elastic and smiled when it popped back into place against her flat belly. Then she pulled the jeans on over her long legs.
She was built a lot like Eddy with long legs and a flat belly and real breasts. Her skin was fair, her hair long and curly and pale blond. She kept looking in the mirror, just to make sure it was really her looking back. She’d discovered her eyes were still as blue as they’d been when she was nothing more than a sprite.
Her face was the same, the shape of her body, the color of her hair, though the curls were definitely Bumper’s. Now that was strange—knowing she had a touch of Bumper in her physical makeup as well as Bumper’s consciousness lodged in her brain.
She glanced toward the door. Taron was probably pacing a hole in the floor waiting for her, but she didn’t want to rush a thing. This body absolutely fascinated her, though it would certainly be a lot more fun dressing it if she weren’t so worried about Ed. She kept thinking of him out there, alone and afraid, aware of the evil that controlled his body, but for now, there wasn’t a thing they could do. According to Taron’s sword, there was nothing to be done until tonight when it was dark and the demons were active.
In the meantime, she had no idea how long she’d get to keep this body, and she didn’t want to miss a second of the experience. She was loving the clothes she’d found to wear, even if the pants were a bit tight. She had to sit on the floor to get the jeans on. Then she stood and pulled up the zipper in front. It took her a minute to figure out how the snap worked, but it finally clicked into place.
Willow stopped and stared at herself in the full length mirror on the closet door. Good Lord, but was that really her? All long legs and round butt and breasts like Eddy’s. She really liked what she saw. When she’d thought about what it would be like to be a real woman like Eddy or Ginny, this was exactly the way she’d imagined herself.
She slicked her hands down her legs, exploring the texture of the fabric, the feel of smooth muscles underneath. The pants were snug, clinging intimately to her bottom and thighs, but they stretched when she moved and weren’t at all uncomfortable. So many times she’d watched Eddy putting on pants like these, and she’d always wondered how it felt.
She’d only worn her little tunic before now, which had been perfect for a sprite, but an outfit like that was not at all appropriate for a demonslayer. Besides, it was long gone.
She was not going to think about it, or the fact it had been eaten by a demon. Yuck. Just the thought of that disgusting creature chomping down on ... no. She really wasn’t going there.
She turned again and checked out her butt in the mirror, the way she’d watched Eddy do. Smoothed her hands over her hips. The pants looked okay, as far as Willow could tell, though she knew she couldn’t go out without a shirt of some kind.
Not that she didn’t like looking at her naked body. She loved it! It was so ... so, big. And she had breasts. Not huge breasts. No bigger than Eddy’s, but they were still feminine and made her feel like a real woman. She went back to the dresser, tried another drawer, and held up a bra. Eddy sometimes wore these things, but they never looked very comfortable. She set it aside and glanced at the closet. She wanted something to cover her top that would make her feel less ... well, she wasn’t really sure what. Less huge? Less awkward? Less female?
No. That wasn’t it. She liked being female. She merely had to get used to being such a large female!
She crossed the room and opened the door to the closet. Something in here might work. But what style, what color? What would give her that extra boost she’d heard Eddy say that women needed? She really wished Eddy were here now. She’d know what Willow should wear, how she should act.
When she was a sprite, a tiny will-o’-the-wisp with gossamer wings and a body all of two inches tall, she’d had more confidence and attitude than she’d managed to summon up yet as a full-sized woman. As much as she loved this body, she still felt like a stranger in it. Sort of ungainly. Awkward, as if her brain wasn’t used to moving so much mass.
She missed her wings. Missed the way she could flitter from place to place with merely a thought, though at the same time, she knew she wouldn’t trade this woman-sized body for that little one—even with wings—for anything.
It made no sense. Not missing her wings or being a full-sized woman or standing here in front of Eddy’s closet wondering what color shirt she should put on with the jeans she’d found in the dresser drawer.
Did the color really matter when evil was afoot?
And a very feminine side of her answered,
Of course it does.
She grabbed a sapphire blue tank top that she thought might be the same color as her eyes and slipped it on over her head. It fit tight enough that she figured she really didn’t need the bra. She’d heard Eddy complain about the things often enough to know she’d rather go without if she could, and these breasts, though definitely feminine, seemed firm enough not to need one.
She shook her torso. Her breasts wobbled, but not too noticeably, and the shirt was tight enough to hold them in place, though they didn’t smash down as much as she’d hoped. Sighing, Willow smoothed the soft cotton over her chest and tucked the tail into her pants.
Once again she twirled slowly in front of the mirror. Not too bad, and she did feel a bit more confident, now that she wasn’t standing here half naked. Of course, with Bumper whimpering in the background of her mind, she’d felt just a bit off balance all morning—at least since waking up naked in bed with Taron.
Which was flat out stupid, since she’d dreamed of doing exactly that since the first time she’d seen him, but then her dreams had been exactly that—dreams without any hope of ever actually doing what she’d fantasized. Of course, Bumper hadn’t been involved then, but now she was, and Willow was no longer the Willow she’d been ... and it was all just weird.
Much like her life. She shouldn’t have existed as a sprite, much less now as a woman, which had made her fantasies safe and fun. For all of eternity in Eden, she’d been nothing more than swamp gas, to put it bluntly. Fairy lights sounded a lot prettier, but there was no point in prettying up the truth—will-o’-the-wisps were swamp gas and that’s all she’d been before the Edenites plucked her out of the damp and turned her into Dax’s helpmate.
She’d fully expected not to
anymore after Dax was killed by the demon king, but then the Edenites had given Dax immortality and allowed her to live on in Bumper, and while it was frustrating as could be, at least she’d still had her thoughts and her fantasies.
But now ... now she had to think of things that might actually happen. She had to behave like a real woman—a woman with long arms and legs and full, round breasts, but no wings.
She really missed her wings.
But you still have your puppy parts. Mine are gone, but you have yours.
What? Bumper, what are you talking about?
Your puppy parts. Where you grow puppies. I had an operation and mine are gone, but you have yours in this new body. Wouldn’t puppies be fun?
Good gods! That was the last thing she needed.
No, Bumper. Puppies would not be fun. At least not right now.
Willow felt rather than heard Bumper’s sigh, but within a couple of seconds, Bumper had curled up—figuratively speaking—and gone to sleep. One thing about dogs: they definitely lived in the moment. And something else Willow could be absolutely positive about: neither puppies nor babies were a good idea at this particular time in whatever life she had.
“Willow? Did you find something to wear?”
She glanced up and saw the side of Taron’s face through the crack in the partially open door. His profile was framed by the long, dark red braid hanging over his shoulder. She loved how it perfectly matched the red plaid of his flannel shirt.
He looked so cute standing there, as if he didn’t know whether or not to come in. Then she realized he was afraid to look into the room—afraid she might still be naked. Poor guy. This was probably a bigger adjustment for him than it was for her. “I did,” she said. “You can come in now.”
He opened the door fully and stepped into the room. He was as tall as Alton, and every bit as lean and graceful. His green eyes twinkled with humor and he moved like a man comfortable in his body. Obviously Taron knew how all his parts worked—he didn’t have to think about every move he made, but as he stepped closer, something seemed to unfurl deep in Willow’s belly.
What was it about this man?
What was it about this body!
Just looking at Taron appeared to cause all sorts of physical responses, none of which were familiar, though she was almost certain she liked them. She fully intended to figure out what was causing them.
Just not now. Instead, she held her arms wide and turned in a circle. “Do I look okay?” She did love the way Taron watched her. Almost as if she looked like something he wanted to eat, the way Dax looked at Eddy and Alton looked at Ginny.
The way Bumper looked at kibble ... forget that one.
How could a man’s eyes possibly say so much?
He shook his head. “You’re beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I still can’t believe you’re Willow, except you look exactly as I remember you.” He chuckled and moved closer. So close she had to tilt her head back to see his face. He stuck his forefinger into one of the long curls hanging over her shoulder. “Well, I recognize everything but this. It appears Bumper had a bit to do with your hair.”
“It’s still blond.”
He laughed. “So it is.” Shaking his head as if the simple move might help him clear his thoughts, Taron stretched the curl out and watched it bounce back. “I keep thinking of the first time I saw you, in that prison cell when you were such a tiny little thing. I never dreamed I’d get to see you as anything other than a beautiful little sprite. I never imagined you like this—a real woman.”
His voice dropped. He took a deep breath and, almost as if he were speaking to himself, said, “An absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous real woman.”
She wasn’t quite certain what to say about that. Was she really beautiful? More important, was she a real woman? Or was she going to turn back into a curly-haired dog? Or even a less-than-two-inches tall sprite? That first little body, the one Taron remembered, had been manufactured by the Edenites specifically to give her a form that would work in Earth’s dimension.
She much preferred this one. She took a deep breath and stepped back, putting a little space between her and Taron. When she was close to him, close enough to inhale his scent and feel the warmth of his body, it was much too hard to concentrate.
“What do we do now?” She figured it was smarter to ignore the nice things he said. They might not be true, anyway. She couldn’t say for certain that she was a real woman, because she didn’t really know, and she wanted to think she was beautiful, but that was a bit too subjective.
Besides, did real women have talking dogs in their heads?
This was much too much to figure out right now, so she went with what she knew. “The sword said we have to kill off any demons before the demon king can absorb their life force, but we can’t do that until tonight. Should we look for Ed? Do you have any idea how we’re going to find him?”
Taron watched her a moment without speaking, and maybe it was rude not to thank him for his compliments or talk about how she’d turned into a woman, but Willow just wasn’t ready to go there. Not now.
He nodded, almost as if he were silently agreeing with her. “I just asked my sword. We definitely have to wait until dark when the demons come out. The blade can’t sense the lesser demons until they’re actually moving, taking on avatars and leaving whatever kind of trail it is that demons leave. The same goes for Ed. He’s probably hiding out right now, someplace where the demon can rest until it’s dark and he’s able to hunt for other demons for their energy, but even if we were to find him, there’s no way we can get the demon to separate from the man. Not until he’s weaker, so interrupting his supply of demons to take their life force first is our best bet.”
“Okay.” Willow nodded, thinking of how they’d gone about this before. “In the past, we had to destroy the avatars before the demon king could get the demonic life force. How can it hunt them on its own?”
“I imagine because it has Ed. Once the demon king gets complete control of Ed’s body, he can use it to destroy whatever avatars the lesser demons have taken over. If they’re in inanimate objects, he can take the demon’s soul, but if he has to kill a living avatar, he’ll get the soul of the innocent victim as well as the demonic soul. We can’t let that happen. It will give him too much power, make him too strong for us to fight him. We’ll have to be prepared tonight.”
He reached out once again and ran his fingers through her blond curls. Then he sighed. “It could get very ugly, Willow. It’s just the two of us against the demon king.”