Can I Keep It, Chapter 1

This started out as a relatively short commission for a dear friend, who was inspired by a dream. It spread out into a substantial piece of work, and weighs in at 8 chapters; I’ll be posting them one-by-one over the course of the next month or so, every Tuesday and Saturday. Enjoy!


The young man groaned softly. His eyes fluttered open, as he tried to remember. His head was pounding. His lips were dry. There was a faint acidic taste in the back of his throat. He had either been sick the previous night, or drinking. Odd, because he couldn’t remember doing either. He had been home. There had been a test the next day. He had gone to sleep. And now…

He tried to sit up, and failed. Soft, comfortable pillows and blankets lay all around him. They were so heavy that they very nearly buried him, holding him under their soft weight. The room was… familiar. None of the details, but the feeling of the room. Small figurines were arrayed on a shelf nearby. Games, books, electronic equipment. The walls were pink, the kind of shade you get from bubblegum and women who are too old for it, but who nonetheless try to regain some part of a misspent youth through fanciful color choice. He licked his lips, and his tongue felt like a piece of leather that had been left in a sandy pit in the middle of Death Valley for three consecutive weeks. He was weak, and feverish. His hair was matted, pressed against his forehead.

He was naked. Somehow, that was the most disturbing revelation of all. He tried to gather his wits. That’s when the door opened, and she walked in.

She was perhaps five and a half feet tall. Not human, that was instantly clear, although human enough to be a relief to his weary eyes. Dark, pointed ears, like a jackal’s. Her arms and legs ended in large, soft paws, which struck him as odd. She looked to be in her early twenties, and she was dressed in a sweater. This might suggest that she was the kind of woman who was perhaps shy of men, used to being frightened of being alone with a male acquaintance, that the pink was a deliberate choice on her part. Except the sweater was daring. The chest had been cut out- Or, more likely, had never been there in the first place- exposing her chest. A tight white shirt clung to her smooth brown skin, and it was the only thing preserving her modesty. The thick black fabric of the sweater otherwise covered her, drawing the eye irresistibly towards her chest and its white flare.

She bent over him, and he tried not to stare at the full, heavy breasts hanging a few inches away from his face in that tight white shirt. She had skin like chocolate, and in a delirious moment he considered licking her. Then he realized she was talking to him. “-anything? Some food, or… I don’t know what… your kind eat.”

“Water,” he said, his voice rasping and harsh. It hurt a little bit to speak, but she nodded, disappearing. He lay in the bed, shifting a bit. It was so damn hot. He didn’t quite feel like he was ill. It felt more like the world’s worst hangover, without even the fun of having an unhealthy quantity of alcohol first. Life was unfair. After an interminable period, she opened the door again, carrying a pitcher of water and a glass. Ice-cubes danced in the pitcher, condensation forming on the outside of the pitcher. She poured him a glass, and held it up to his lips. He would have complained about being treated like a child, but he was too busy drinking desperately.

“I can’t believe you really exist.” Her voice was a gentle murmur, as she leaned over him, watching him intently. “I read about your kind growing up. There are all of these stories, and archaeological digs, but… It’s one thing to see a set of mummified bones. Seeing the real thing…” She bit her lip. “I honestly thought you’d look scarier, you know? You hardly look like a monster at all.”

He sat up. His thirst sated, he was now becoming painfully aware of his hunger. His stomach growled, desperate for something. “I, uh. What? You think humans are monsters?” He groped for something to say. Something cool. Debonair. “Have you looked in the mirror lately?” She raised an eyebrow, as he screamed at himself internally, closing his eyes. “Never mind. Uh, what do you eat? Like… raw meat?”

“Gross. Why would we do that? We have some chicken soup in a cabinet. It’s got, um, chicken meat, and some herbs and broth, and noodles made out of wheat…” She frowned at him. “I don’t know what humans eat.”

“Chicken noodle soup would be really nice.” He leaned back in the bed. There was another timeless moment after she left, stretching out into infinity. He must have thrown up at some point. That would explain the hunger, the dehydration. The burning in the back of his throat. He came out of it as she returned. A hot bowl of steaming chicken noodle soup sat in her hands. She smiled as he sat up, and began ravenously gobbling down the food. The warmth flooded him. The soup was hot, but she’d apparently let it cool down. Anticipating that he’d gobble it down, perhaps. He was grateful for that. He used his fingers to grab the last few chunks of chicken and noodle from the bowl, and set it down on his lap.

“Where are you from?” she asked, her eyes wide.

“Uh. Earth. A place with a lot of other people like me. No jackal girls.”

She bristled. “I am one of the Anubis, not some mere ‘jackal’ ‘girl’! Our line is a proud and ancient tradition of guardians of the other world, and guiding the great rulers of our time! Well. We used to be, back in the old days of the Dragonlord. My grandfather on my mother’s side moved to America before my mom was born. I’m, uh.” She looked slightly embarrassed. “I work IT at a mortuary, now. My mom got me a job there after college. I really want to make games, though.” Her eyes became dreamy. “I can’t believe it. A real human. From a whole world of humans? I found you out in the woods behind the house. You were, uh.” She smiled apologetically. “Kind of a hot mess.”

He rubbed his forehead. “Wait. You’re a… death goddess, sort of. You said there’s a thing called a Dragonlord. But you’re telling me that you live in a place called America?”

She snorted. “Of course. It was named after Amerigo Vespucci, the famous Italian harpy-explorer. Why, is the name familiar?”

“Sort of.” He leaned back in the bed. His head was spinning. Hunger had been sated. And thirst. Now he was realizing he was exhausted. “I’m just going to sleep now.”

He didn’t dream. Instead, he flickered in and out of sleep, becoming briefly aware of his surroundings before falling back into sleep. He saw the young woman sitting at her computer. Playing some game. There were a lot of humans being mowed down with an obnoxiously large sword. He fell into sleep again, and the sky outside was now dark, visible through the window-shades. She was sitting at her desk still, although there was a plate of something that looked delicious balanced precariously on her lap. His eyes closed, and when they opened again, she was sitting down on the bed next to him, undressing. “Uh.”

“It’s my bed, I’m going to sleep in it. You don’t have to look.”

“But I can, right?”

She turned towards him, raising an eyebrow. She’d removed most of her clothing, leaving her sitting in just a pair of white cotton panties, and that white undershirt. Her hair was cut short, a ragged punk style with long bangs hanging over her eyes. They had been dipped in green, standing out against her soft, dark skin and her brown eyes. She raised an eyebrow, and then smiled. “Weird. I heard humans used to be shameless about interacting with other species. Isn’t it strange to be hitting on me like that? It’s not like we’re the same species or anything.”

He coughed. “Yeah. I, uh, suppose it is a little strange. I don’t even know your name.”

She tilted her head. “I’m Farida. And you?”


She smiled, and lay down next to him. “That’s a nice name.” Her arms went around his shoulders, and her face pressed into the side of his throat. Her breath was hot, and so was her skin. Those soft paws were surprisingly gentle, wrapping around him as she cuddled up to him like he was a plush toy. He couldn’t find it in his heart to complain about the treatment, so he just closed his eyes. She yawned, and pressed a little bit closer to him. “I have work tomorrow. I’ll leave you some food, and we can get you washed up tomorrow night. Okay?”

He nodded, as she kept her embrace on him. In her arms, things felt just right. He slept, and dreamt of his family, and his friends, and all of the people he left behind.

He woke up in a sudden shock. The bed was empty. The digital clock sitting nearby told him it was nearly 4 PM. A plate of cold ham and eggs sat next to the bed, along with a pitcher of room temperature water. He slowly sat up, feeling like a human being again. He grabbed the plate, scooping up the food with the fork she had provided, hungrily gulping down mouthfuls without chewing properly. He washed it down with the water, and pulled himself out of the sheets. They were slightly sticky with sweat, and he felt utterly disgusting. He slowly pulled himself to his feet, standing unsteadily, painfully aware that he was buck naked. He stumbled over to the closet, and checked through it. No sign of anything that he could wear. Not without feeling ridiculous, at any rate.

The bedroom door opened into a hallway. That was a surprise. He had expected her to be living in a simple apartment. This was more like a house. He frowned, scratching behind his ears. His hindbrain was trying to tell him something, some piece of information it was desperately trying to bring to his attention. He shook his head. He’d feel better after a hot shower.

The bathroom was surprisingly spacious. Clean white towels, monogrammed with HRV, were hung over racks, and across the shower curtain. He stepped into the shower, not considering this fact. There were a wide varieties of shampoos sitting in a metal rack hanging from the shower-head, which went some distance to explaining how Farida kept her fur so glossy and shiny. He stepped into the shower, pulling the curtain across, and started up the hot water.

There was an ineffable pleasure in becoming clean after spending far too long dirty. The hot water ran across his skin, and he smiled as he began to wash his hair, taking pleasure in the simple sensation. He paused for a moment, regarding the loofah, and then took it from its place in the metal rack, beginning to scrub down his skin. The water was slightly filthy as he washed himself off. He thought he could hear a door open and close, which likely meant that Farida was home. He sighed, and rinsed the last of the shampoo out of his hair, and turned off the water. He rubbed his chin, feeling the stubble there, and considered a shave- But that would probably be impolite if he didn’t have his own razor.

He stepped out of the shower, and frowned down at the sink. Farida had a surprising number of toothbrushes. And several razors. The door opened, and it was only good fortune that David had already wrapped a towel around his waist, avoiding flashing the older woman who stood there.

She was obviously Farida’s mother. A couple of decades along, with a bit of additional weight, and a few wrinkle lines around her eyes, but she seemed to promise that Farida would age gracefully. Her soft brown eyes were widening, as she stood with her button-down shirt halfway opened, revealing a conservative white bra. She had the same ears, tail, and paws that Farida had, and despite her age, there was not a single sign of silver in her black fur. Her mouth was slowly widening into shock, as David tried to think of something to say to excuse himself. Just as the perfect excuse came to mind, she screamed and threw the door closed.

He reached for the door, and locked it quickly. She lived with her family. He should have seen that coming. He should have realized sooner. There was no way Farida could have afforded a place like this, if this world was anything like home. He sat down on the cold porcelain toilet, and groaned as he heard the cries of alarm from downstairs. He couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it was certainly not good. He needed to stay in here and hope that Farida arrived here before the police did, or before Farida’s family took matters into their own hands.

There was a floor-shaking thump, as the door shook on its hinges. Then another. Then, the cheap lock was yanked out of the wooden frame, the door thrown inwards by a massive kick. Farida’s father stood in the doorway. Unlike the others, his ears were larger, fluffier. He was burly compared to his wife and daughter, with fur the color of burnt charcoal ash, gray and black streaked together. His features were more Germanic, firm and dangerous. He was carrying a shotgun, which struck David as slightly absurd, considering that the man was built like a linebacker and manipulating the gun with claws that could tear David open like a freshly caught salmon. David’s hands went into the air in what he prayed was the universal sign of surrender. “I’m a friend of Farida’s!”

Half an hour later, when Farida arrived home, David was tied down to a chair. Farida’s mother was having a hushed conversation with her in the other room, although words like ‘Monster’ and ‘Can’t be happening!’ occasionally drifted into the room. Farida’s younger brother sat on the floor while her father sat on the chair opposite David, the shotgun still leveled at him. The older man had a head full of shaggy hair, and lines around his face. He looked like he wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to fire the gun if David did something threatening. What that could be, David had no idea, so he did nothing. The son frowned. He had more in common with his mother and sister than his father, although he was lankier than the rest. He might’ve been seventeen years old. “So, are you really a human?”


Farida’s father shot the boy a look. “Ebo. Don’t talk to the home invader. He’s not a mythological creature.”

“They’re not myths, dad,” Ebo said. “We’ve been learning about them in school. They were real, they just went extinct back in the eleventh century, after the Dragonlord’s war. They said that they could do all kinds of crazy things, like-“

“I really don’t have any powers like that. I’m pretty sure that you could kill me without the shotgun.” David swallowed. The father’s claw was uncomfortably close to the trigger.

“Dad! You don’t even keep any ammo in that thing, so stop pointing it at him!” Farida called from the dining room, before returning to hushed conversation with her mother. Farida’s father sighed in annoyance, and placed it aside, staring at him.

“So how did you wind up here? Are you going to try to conquer us, or slay the Dragonlord? Because I heard from Jamie that the Dragonlords are the ones who secretly run international finance, and they’re the ones who were responsible for dad losing his job back in 2008-“

“Son, Jamie’s a conspiracy nut. I don’t like you talking with adults online,” Farida’s father growled.

“He’s a Lich! He’s totally hooked into this kind of stuff!”


Farida’s mother entered the room, her arms crossed. She cut a formidable figure like that, her chest made more obvious, like the battering ram of an icebreaker ship, ready to crush any disagreement under the weight of motherly disapproval. “Young man. Your being here is quite a problem for us. If anyone were to believe you were actually a human, it could cause quite a panic. You can stay here, but you must claim to be…” She frowned, studying David’s face. “I think a vampire. An incubus would give Farida a bad reputation, but vampires are very nearly as close to looking human. An exchange student, perhaps. That would explain your lack of knowledge. You may stay with us, but if you harm anyone in my family-“

“How?” he asked, unable to keep the incredulity out of his voice. “What makes you think that I could hurt anyone in this family, even if I wanted to?”

Farida walked behind David, and started undoing the knots that her father had tied together. “I’ll tell you about it another time. For now, maybe we should have a little dinner to settle our nerves.” She smiled politely at the rest of her family. Ebo looked excited, brushing his paw through his long, messy hair, as Farida’s father stood up, carrying the unloaded shotgun over towards the closet.

The five of them sat around the dinner table. David sat in the clothing that Hans, Farida’s father, had lent him. The clothes were loose on him, but a belt helped to keep the pants up. They were finely worn, and made out of cotton, but surprisingly soft. The mother, Nabirye, was seated at the head of the table, carving slices off of a spiral cut ham. It was encrusted with a fine rime of brown sugar, the smell making his mouth water. “Who would like to say grace?” she asked, smiling. Ebo grinned, and Farida sighed with annoyance. Nabirye gave her a sharp look. “Young lady, I respect your right to believe what you choose, but we always should be mindful of how fortunate we are to have food on our table, and the fact that it didn’t come from our own labor alone. Though your father does a mighty fine job.” She patted Hans’ leg affectionately, smiling as she did.

“Yeah, but just because we’re being thankful doesn’t mean Ebo has to be a little toolbag.”

Ebo stuck his tongue out at her, and placed his hands together. The others did the same, and David followed suit. “Oh God of Darkness, who grants us the strength to make it through the day, we thank you for this bounty of the flesh of the living, and the power to cow our enemies, and to dominate our allies. Amen.”

“Amen,” the table rang out, as David stared around the table. Farida sat by his side, while Ebo sat opposite him. Farida gave him a bracing smile. “Yeah, I know. It’s always kind of awkward having to live with religious family members. It’s not like we even go to church all that often, just Christmas and Easter.”

He swallowed, and whispered to her. “We’ve got those. They celebrate the birth and death of our god. What did the God of Darkness do on those days?”

“Oh. Uh. Well, they aren’t really human-friendly. I’ll tell you about them after dinner, okay?” She smiled. “It’s just a silly old religion. It’s not like there was ever a God of Darkness, that’s just a myth. Ebo’s just way into it because he thinks that it’ll help him meet girls.”

“Excuse me, but what do you think the whole point of Christmas was? It’s about meeting women.” Ebo grinned. David stared down at his food and did his best not to let his imagination run away with him.

After dinner, the two of them walked through the woods. The Vulf family lived on the edge of the city, perhaps a mile or two from the downtown area. In this part of the country, however, this meant that dozens of square miles of nearly uninhabited forest lay just behind their well-manicured backyard. From here, they could have walked all night and not run into another sign of civilization. The trail was laid through the forest. It was warm for December. “Global warming. They say that the Yuki-onna are going to figure out a solution to it any year now, but personally, I think they’re just making it worse.” She smiled, taking his hand, as the two of them walked through the forest.

“So, magic’s a real thing, then?”

“I guess. Kind of. It makes some things a bit easier, but it’s not really all that powerful. They say back in the old days, humans used to be masters of magic. They could do all kinds of impossible things with it. They were a source of the stuff. Ever since they were wiped out, magic’s been getting weaker. It used to be that an Anubis could reach into the land of the dead, and preserve the life of those they loved. Nowadays, we need to go through four years of medschool and a four year residency to even treat a headache.” She sighed. “It used to be so fantastic, you know? The world was full of heroic dragons and monstrous knights. Nowadays, it’s just… Go to college, get a good-paying job, keep the lights on, watch as rich people mess up the world.” She sighed. “It sucks.”

“Well, we have that much in common.” He frowned. “So… I could do magic, then? Presumably?”

“Maybe. I guess. Humans weren’t ever able to really do magic on their own. Just like our magic couldn’t do much alone. If a human wanted to do real magic… Well, they had to take the power from one of us.” She frowned. “They would kill us. Steal something from us. The Book said that they took our souls, that a mystic killed by a human could never reincarnate unless that human was killed. I think that was part of the reason.” She sighed. “Of course, it cut both ways. Mystics were more powerful when they killed humans! That’s what the myths said, anyway. The dragonlord was supposed to be as strong as he was because he took the lives of humans. So it wasn’t really a case of one side or the other being innocent. We just won.”

“Guess that’s something to be thankful for, at least. I’d hate to learn that my entire species were the only assholes in the world.” He smiled at her, and she stuck her tongue out at him. Then she stopped suddenly, and looked down, her tongue pulling back into her mouth.

They stood under a large pine tree. She pointed at the ground. “That’s where I found you. You were curled up under the tree. You looked like you’d been through a lot. I saw you, and it was scary. Like finding something out of an old legend, a terrible monster. But you weren’t scary looking. You just looked… Well, kind of pathetic.”

“Thank you, Farida.”

“It’s not a bad thing! You looked vulnerable. You didn’t look like a monster, something that would murder and steal souls and wreak havoc. You just looked like a person. Helpless, and needing compassion.” She rubbed her hands together. “I guess it’s a little silly of me. Taking home some poor stray animal, and taking care of it. All of that empathy, and nobody to give it to.” She smiled. “I’m glad you’re not a killer, though, even if you look weird. With those spindly hands, and those tiny, round ears.”

“You can stop complimenting me, Farida.”

The two of them sat down under the tree. Her tail slid around his shoulders, resting against his cheek gently. It was warm and soft. “Did you have anyone back home?”

“Family. A lot of friends. No girlfriend, so we’re even on that score, at least.”

She eyed him. “No girlfriend, huh? Were you a freak?”

“Yeah, big-time. You?”

She shrugged. “Oh, you know how it is. Everybody always thinks that because I’m an Anubis, I’m into Undead guys. Vampires. Mummies. Zombies. They think they’ve got a lock on me because I look like this. And it’s not like my mom listens to me when I say I prefer guys who are living. I don’t know. I always sort of fantasized about… weird things. You know? Guys that were strange. Abnormal. Guys like you, I guess.”

He leaned over, and kissed her cheek, his lips pressing against them softly. Then he leaned in close to her ear, and whispered. “You’re really terrible at compliments, you know that?”

She snorted, and pushed him lightly. He rolled with the push. She was strong. Strong enough that he wouldn’t be much of a threat to her. That was kind of interesting in and of itself. “And how about you, David? Were you into freaky things?”

“Well, I’d be into anything that looked as good in a sweater as you do, but yeah. I don’t know, the world never felt quite right to me. Like there was something missing. Something that was supposed to be there, but which I had forgotten. So I knew that there was a problem, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what was causing it. It… Well, to be honest, it drove me absolutely nuts. But I miss it, all the same.” He frowned. “How do you suppose I got here?”

“I don’t know. Time portals? Alternate dimensional travel? You’re in a coma? Or maybe you’re actually an evil human from the past, come forward to enslave my people.”


She flushed. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Did I? I certainly didn’t mean to.” He sat up, and she lay down, her head resting in his lap, her tail wagging as he began to scratch behind her ears. She seemed completely unaware of it. “I wonder if I can ever get back.”

“You got here in the first place. That’s the hard part. If you wanted to, you can get back.” She frowned up at him. “There’s a Museum of Human History in town. We could check it out tomorrow, after work. Speaking of which… My parents are probably going to hassle you about rent. Are you good at anything?”

“I guess we’re going to find out the hard way.”

The next day, David spent most of the day with Hans. The man was a construction foreman, working on the renovations in the city. There wasn’t a lot of new infrastructure in town. The big hellhound complained heartily about the city’s budgetary restrictions, about the migration of jobs to the cheap Golem-manned factories in Indonesia, the death of the American worker, and everything else, all while working with a smile on his face. The rest of the crew, informed of David’s supposed vampiric nature, had apparently taken to making jokes about it with the kind of abandon that would feel incredibly offensive if David had been a vampire. As it stood, the offers of suntan lotion, garlic, and blood bags were mostly just amusing. Carrying the heavy beams into place was a bit more of a challenge. Still, he was being paid, and there was a certain pleasant mindlessness to the tasks. It beat the hell out of trying to figure out how to write a term paper on the application of radiation in medicine in the modern world.

After work, he sat on the bench outside of the mortuary, a bottle of water in one hand, sipping slowly. It was already dark, but the air was still warm from the day’s heat. Hans had also complained bitterly about the effects of El Nino. David looked up as Farida opened the front door. She was dressed in a loose T-shirt with some unfamiliar anime figures on it. The shirt stretched around her chest, giving the characters rather unusual proportions. She gave a farewell wave to an elderly looking man covered in bandages who stood within the building. Then, she walked up to David, smiling as she took his hand in hers. The soft pink pads on her paws were warm, but not unpleasantly so.

“So… Why is there a museum about humans in an out-of-the-way town like this?” he asked, frowning as the two of them walked along.

“Oh, that. The town founder was a real conspiracy nut. He claimed that there was evidence that humans had been living on the North and South American continents for millenia. That there was evidence that they had lived in a kind of harmony with the mystics here. He claimed that they hadn’t been wiped out, but instead disappeared, and that maybe the humans back in Europe and Asia and Africa hadn’t all been wiped out either. Personally, I think it all sounds like a bunch of fantasy, like the whole Dark God stuff. If there was something capable of that kind of power, they would have been discovered.”

The two of them stood in front of the Museum of Human Oddities. It was lit up with neon signs, and reminded David more of a sideshow at some fair than of an actual museum. The two of them entered through the front door, paying the five dollar suggested donation. The kindly old harpy behind the counter smiled. “Oh, the human believers convention is next week, young man. You should come, your cosplay would be sure to win one of the prizes!”

The two of them checked the map. There were three floors. The first floor seemed to be dedicated to tales of ‘The old country’. The second floor was about the supposed existence of humans in the North American continent. And the third floor seemed to be a movie theater of some kind, showing human-related media. This week was a double feature: ‘The Population Conundrum’, and ‘Attack Of The Humans From The Moon’. “Hell of an eclectic choice.”

“Oooh! I’ve been wanting to see Attack Of The Humans From The Moon. I’ve heard it really sucks!” She gave him a bright smile. “See, in it, humans survived for centuries after their supposed extinction, by traveling to the moon and developing super-advanced technology. Then they invade the earth again, and-“

He looked around the exhibits as she enthused about the plot. There were a number of exhibits of Europe. He frowned, letting his eyes wander over them. In one, a human man stood, tall, his shoulders broad and muscular, over a young woman with rabbit ears and a terrified expression. She was strapped to a rock, and he held a rusty looking sickle in one hand. There was a matte painting behind the two of standing stones, and dark figures dancing around a ferocious firelight. He leaned forward and read the placard. Druids, sacrificing a mystic maiden to their heathen gods of light and blood.

There were more in the same vein. One of them was of a Merlin-esque fellow standing over an innocent looking woman with distinct draconic features, an evil smile on his face. Another had an Asian looking human man, astride a horse, a skull-covered bow in one hand, a shrieking young golem woman under the other arm. The themes were fairly clear. “So, not a very good image of humans, then?”

“It’s all a bunch of Hammer Horror stuff. It’s totally ridiculous, really. Like all humans cared about was abducting buxom young Mystic women and having their way with them.” She tugged at her collar, drawing his eyes towards her chest. She looked slightly worked up, her cheeks a little bit flushed. “As though that was anything more than the overheated fantasies of a bunch of perverts who wanted to get people in seats, watching their B-movies.”

“I’m guessing that they were pretty popular, then.” He grinned as she took a swipe at him, ducking under the blow. “But I’m recognizing a lot of this stuff. It’s things that did happen in my world.” He frowned. “Of course, we had myths of… Well, things like werewolves, or vampires, but we sort of came to the conclusion that they’d never been real. We’d certainly never found any evidence of them.” He frowned. “Do you have evidence that humans existed?”

The second floor was more of a traditional museum. Bones, mummified figures, artifacts. Things that were clearly from humans. There was a skeletal figure sitting in a cross-legged position in a seat of honor, wearing what looked very much like traditional Sioux chief garb. “Man, the First Nations would be pissed about that if they existed on this world,” he muttered.

“They do. And they were, actually. The native Mystics of the Americas had a fairly strong relationship with humans. They claimed that they disappeared, around the same time that the dragonlord achieved victory. It led to a pretty bad collapse. And… A lot of bad things-“

“Yeah. Same in my world.” David frowned, leaning over the edge of the display. He rested his hands on the soft velvet rope, leaning in to stare into the empty bone eye-sockets of the human skull. “But there aren’t many examples of these kinds of things?”

“No. A lot of people claimed it’s a fake. The First Nations said that it was genuine, but there’s been controversy over it.” He held the empty gaze for a long time, trying to feel for something he didn’t understand. After a long time, he let out a soft breath. If he was supposed to feel something, some distant kinship with the only other human being he’d found on this world, he didn’t. It was just a set of dead bones. It wasn’t really doing the job. “A lot of people say that the spell that the dragonlord cast was responsible. It banished the human artifacts. So there were only a few things that it missed. The Colossus of Rhodes, the Library of Alexandria, those kinds of ancient artifacts. I’ve never been to see any of them, but they’re supposed to be proof.”

“So, the Dragonlord… He might have just banished humanity? Instead of actually killing them?” David frowned. “Is that possible?”

“Not nowadays. But it’s what the guy who founded this place thought. What do you think?”

He frowned, giving the bones one last look. “I think it sounds like a lot of myths and legend, and not something I can do anything about, at the moment. Come on, we should get back to your house. I’m starving.”

She smirked. “Yeah, you smell pretty rough, too. You humans tend to get kind of smelly, huh?”

“Just one of the many benefits of having sweat glands. Let’s get out of here, I’ll get a shower when we get back, and we can get some dinner.” He smiled.

That night, he lay on the bed. He’d expected a bit of fuss from her parents, but apparently, they weren’t in the mood to dissuade their daughter from sharing a bed with a man for the first time in her life. “My dad told me he was pretty impressed with how well you took getting razzed by the crew today,” Farida said, smiling as she sat in her underwear and her shirt, fanning herself slowly. He was fresh out of the shower, sitting in nothing more than a towel, trying not to look directly at her chest, and failing more than he succeeded.

“Well, it’s not the first hazing I’ve had. They were all pretty decent people, anyway. Even if I am stuck here, I suppose it isn’t the worst thing imaginable.” He sighed. “And it definitely looks like I’m stuck here. I’ve got no idea how I’d even begin to find a way back to my own world. I still can’t remember how I arrived here.” He opened one of the books, which had a rather poor quality photoshopped image of a human and a young werewolf maiden on the front. Farida yanked it out of his hands and shoved it hurriedly into her sock drawer, her face cherry red as she slammed the drawer shut. “Well, now I know I want to read that story some time.”

“You still want to go home?” she asked, transparently changing the subject. But it brought him into the moment. The frown spread across his lips, and he nodded. “I guess you must really miss it.”

“Well. It’s where my family is. And all of my friends. It’s nice visiting this place, but being stuck here for the rest of my life…” She sat down next to him. “Wouldn’t be the worst thing that I could imagine, but I’d like to at least have the choice. You know? If I can’t choose, one way or the other…” She rested a hand on his chest, pushing him down, as she climbed on top of his lap. She curled up on top of him, straddling him, her head resting on his chest. “Unless you object to that for some reason?”

“Is it so weird for a human to be attracted to someone from another species? My parents are from similar species, but not quite the same. And lots of people get married to someone outside of their species. Mystics can usually interbreed, although it can be tricky. But it sounds like you humans only ever really had one race.”

“Well… It wasn’t quite that simple.” He frowned up at her as she tightened and loosened her grip on his shoulders. She was breathing heavily. She was really quite beautiful, he thought, her ears folded back against her head, her expression slightly hurt. “But why would you be interested in humans? I mean, besides the whole mythological monster thing.”

“It’s just… I don’t know. I always grew up with all those stories. Those movies. Humans were dangerous, frightening, deadly things. And yet, they could be very kind, when the urge struck them. You know?” She trailed a finger across his chest. She was slender, and not overly large, but she was heavy. It was like her body was made out of steel cable, deceptively weighty and firm. She nuzzled into his throat. “So there’s this kind of scary, appealing thing. The excitement of being with someone who you know could actually be incredibly dangerous. But knowing that they wouldn’t harm you. I suppose that was something I always found really sexy. It must sound awfully weird, huh?”

“Not entirely. Although I get the feeling I’m a bit of a disappointment. I haven’t killed anyone, after all.” He smiled, and she softly kissed him on the lips. Her breath was sweet, and her body was warm, pressing tenderly against him as her paws tightened into his shoulders, holding him in the kiss for several long seconds. Her tongue danced in his mouth, slipping between his teeth and wrapping around his own tongue. The kiss was amateurish, but she was obviously a natural talent. His eyes closed as she held him in the kiss, her chest rising and falling against him for several long seconds, her eyes closed. After an eternity of warmth and connection, she broke the kiss, her eyes opening.

“Nobody’s perfect.”

The next morning, he sat at the breakfast table with the others. Farida sat across from him, one of her soft footpaws rubbing up and down against his leg. This morning, Hans sat at the head of the table, reading a large newspaper with a ferociously interested expression, obviously ignoring the canoodling his daughter was getting up to. “You ready for another day at work, David?” he asked, his voice gruff as he turned to the next page. Ebo was spreading some sort of meat spread across a slice of toast, looking exhausted.

David considered his physical state. His arms were aching. His legs felt like they had turned into one giant mass of cramped muscle. Even his neck was stinging a bit. But all the same, he felt somehow pleasant. It was a bright, shining new day. He looked around the small family. He was trapped somewhere far from home, but this wasn’t the worst state of affairs that he could be trapped in. He had friends, and someone… very, very attractive to stay with. And he had some measure of acceptance. Even if it wasn’t home, it was a place where he could be happy. Where he should be happy. He didn’t have to think about his family, back home, who would never know what happened to him. He didn’t have to think about his friends, or all the things that might have happened back in his home world, that were now doomed to never happen.

That evening, he stood under the pine tree, softly resting a hand on it, slowly trailing his fingers across the bark, breathing in the scent of the pine tar, filling the air with its curious aroma. He slowly ran his fingers over the rough wood. A soft hand rested on his shoulder, and he turned. Farida was standing there, looking slightly embarrassed, her soft paw resting on his shoulder. “Mom said you were out in the woods. I figured you might be here.”

“They’re never going to know what happened to me, I realized.” David frowned. “That’s the worst part. If I could tell them, that I was okay, that everything was going to be fine, it would be one thing, but-“

“I have some money,” she said, flushing. David raised an eyebrow. “I mean… I don’t know if you’d even find anything. But most of the old sites of stuff from the times when humans were around are in Europe. Germany, Spain, France, England. The castle of the Dragonlord, in Italy. If there’s any truth to this, if there’s any reality… It’d be there. I’ve been working this job for a couple of years, I’ve saved up about ten thousand dollars. It’s enough for the two of us to search there.”

He frowned. “That’s… way too generous. You just met me, we’re talking about-“

“We’re talking about taking a few months off to backpack through Europe. Come on, even if we don’t find anything at all, you have to admit that sounds like a hell of a lot of fun.” She gave him a broad grin. “Mom and Dad always told me I should get more in touch with my heritage. What do you say?”

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