|This story contains adult content.|
|National Enchanted Forest story universe|
From his vantage point on Crawn, his raven mount, the gnome Forest Ranger could see the first hints of color. From a few hundred feet above, Quechee National Enchanted Forest resembled the kind of woods out of human storybooks. The concentrated levels of background magic made trees grow to huge sizes. Great oaks spread their branches over entire acres; pines two hundred feet tall stood watch on ridges. And in the Autumn, the trees turned a rainbow of colors rather than just the blaze oranges and reds in more mundane woods.
There was already a line of vehicles outside the Forest's only human entrance. Cars, trucks hauling trailers, and RVs waiting to get in and spend some time in these literally enchanting woods. They were miles from any highway. Vermont remained the most pastoral of states, with a higher concentration of magic than most. Mythical creatures like the gnome lived off of it, and the scenery still drew humans to it out of their mundane lives like bees to nectar. But the gnome was nearly two centuries old and was rather jaded about human intelligence.
They all paid a hefty admission fee and had to sign a rather onerous liability release in order to even enter the gates. This place was dangerous for humans and it was in the interest of the Gnome Advisory Board to make sure they knew it. But still they came, as if it was some kind of theme park rather than nature's tooth and claw at its thaumaturgical worst.
The mythical creatures had just thrown up their hands and tried to keep injuries, deaths, and transformations to a minimum without being sued into bankruptcy. There was something odd happening to the magically-charged plant life the past quarter century. Instead of producing the traditional centaurs, satyrs, elves, and the like, a whole new mythology seemed to be taking shape, centered around anthropomorphic animals and people with powers right out of comic books.
Hmm... magic goes two ways. Human popular culture making the Unseen World produce new creatures? Hell if I know for sure, the gnome thought.
Crawn banked and turned in the clear, but damp air. The rains had finally stopped. The gnome recalled the m-mail he had received that morning before leaving on patrol:
- From: Enchanted Forest Dept. of Public Health/Gnome Advisory Board
- To: Cillian Colm
- CC: Lauren Higgens, Centaurs Union 3A; Steve Reynolds, Pixies ADL; Jon Smiley, Forrest Troll & Ogre Affairs.
- Re: **PUBLIC HEALTH NOTICE**
- To all it may concern;
- This fall's heavy rain has produced an unusually high bloom in the density of "Doe's Foot" or "Doe's Hoof" plant species. Coupled with the high numbers of humans wandering into the forrest of late, this could constitute a major concern.
- For those not familiar with this, "Doe's Foot" is a yellow-green moss known to cause an allergic reaction, and magical transformation in humans (and some household cats) who come into direct contact with it.
- While it is clear that this cannot be entirely avoided, the gnomes have asked that all magical creatures be aware of Doe's Foot patches in your area, and be sure there are enough stag-men and male satyrs around to accommodate the population rise, and keep the exposed humans company. ;3
- Thanks a bunch. --The Management
Cillian had smiled at the misspellings. Mage-mail was still fairly primitive compared to human technology, but with the increasing numbers of former humans ending up across the Curtain, they were catching up fast. The Curtain itself was visible at the far side of the park, a slight shimmer in the air where it peaked above ground. Also in the distance was a two-lane highway that traversed the Curtain from the Seen to the Unseen World. "We're becoming more modern all the time," the gnome muttered to himself.
Most people kept to the campsites close to the entrance, where there were specially-created hiking trails so people could oooh and aaah at the funny plant life and animals. Some wag on the Board even suggested creating a gingerbread house complete with a green-skinned witch, but they decided against it. The centaurs had already complained that they were already being too accommodating. If humans wanted that kind of magic they'd just tell them to go to Disneyworld.
I can't wait for winter. No more gods-damned people, he thought, resuming his scanning beneath. Crawn cawed, then angled over an isolated campsite that Cillian hadn't noticed the night before. The overlarge raven spiraled down under the trees, then landed next to the open flap of a threadbare dome tent.
"How the hell did someone get in this far?" Cillian asked. Crawn quorked his ignorance and proceeded to peck at the remains of an empty bottle of Jack Daniel's. The otherwise neat campsite had a pile of whiskey bottles, and somewhere nearby was the reek of vomit. "Faugh! Okay, where is this idiot?" There were a pair of hiking boots close by. Their tops were over Cillian's head. The gnome looked down and saw a pair of human footprints wandering off deeper into the woods.
Cillian sighed. The truck was an old junker, the clothes out of a bargain bin or secondhand store. The rusting propane stove looked like it'd been used too much and had evidence of repair. Even the nylon tent had patches. From looking at the campsite, the general impression he had was a man down on his luck. "Well, Crawn, we'd better make an effort at finding him before something happens."
Gene teetered unsteadily on her new hooves, trying to keep upright without unwrapping her arms from her torso. The gnome was about six inches tall and dressed in an olive green Forest Service uniform and wide-brimmed hat. He sat astride an oversized raven, who looked at Gene with an all-too-intelligent glimmer in its beady black eyes. And not a little bit of humor also. Even the gnome thought it was funny, but maintained an expression as straight-faced as he could. "What possessed you to go wandering in these woods barefoot?"
Feeling worse than the hangover she had just had a few minutes before, Gene's ears twitched at the sound of a woodpecker some distance off. She licked her black leathery nose and sniffed, overwhelmed by new aromas. Continually bombarded by her senses and a body that curved and quivered where it should be flat and muscular, the new doe-woman struggled to keep a handle on the conversation and not be distracted by herself. The magical moss, a shriveling patch of green now that its magic was spent, was still doing its work inside her head. She could feel it, a pressure in the back of her mind gently pushing her thoughts into more feminine directions. "Um..." she stammered, resisting the urge to clear her throat. "I still want a lawyer. And some clothes that fit."
The Doe's Hoof magic had simply dissolved her shirt, shorts, and underwear. All gone. Gene kept her legs tightly together and arms folded snugly under her furry, jiggling breasts.
"It's explicitly stated in the liability release. You are responsible for your own safety in these woods. Humans are too damned susceptible to these things. Now, well, look at you. At least you're not vulnerable to this kind of magic now." He sighed, the humor fading from his eyes. "Sad thing is that you're probably not the only victim this morning." His little eyes brightened then waved at someone behind her. "Ah, your escort is here. I need to get flying and see who else is getting doe'd up. Don't worry about a thing, Miss. You'll adjust pretty quickly."
The raven cawed and was airborne in a flurry of black wings before Gene could say a word. There was a smell of a deep, masculine musk. Then came a sympathetic sigh. "I smell human man. God, that's rough for you."
Startled, Gene quickly turned to face the newcomer, tail flagging. It was a stag-man. He was, like her, completely nude. "St... stay back, okay?" Gene stammered, hugging herself more tightly, shivering. A little voice in the back of her head was whispering: handsome... handsome...
"Just calm down. I know it's hard, but honestly, you'll be fine." The buck's ears flicked attentively. He had a wide set of eight-point antlers and a heady, heavy musk that told Gene far more than mere sight. He was hale and healthy. And a little aroused. "I'll just stand right here." He leaned against an oak tree, a knot going up his throat, and started chewing.
"Oh God," Gene said, feeling her stomach clench in sympathy but only getting a taste of bile. She made herself as small as she could. Long awkward minutes passed while the fizzing sensation in her head kept doing its work.
"Look," the stag said after a couple of cuds. "I hate to say this. But you can't go back to the human world. No point, really. We just can't function. Gnomes, elves, and other nearer humanoids sure. But us furries? It's too damned hard. They're not ready for us."
"So what am I supposed to do?" Gene squeaked. Her voice sounded pleasant to her ears. "Traipse around naked in the woods for the rest of my life?"
"Nah. This is just Rut craziness. The chase is more fun on this side of the Curtain is all." He licked his nose and curled his upper lip at her. "I nose you're not close. But Doe's Hoof doesn't pull any punches. I'm pretty sure you find me attractive already. I can smell it."
The new doe grew angry. "Give me a fucking break, okay? It's been thirty fucking minutes!" Gene sneered.
"I would never take advantage." The buck's ears flicked back. He seemed a little offended at the idea, pressing his hand to his chest.
The action prompted Gene to look at her own hands. They were actually more cloven hoof than a manipulative appendage. Indeed, while there was enough of a thumb/dewclaw to be useful, the two main fingers were nearly indistinguishable from a cloven hoof. Gene sighed, then cupped her breasts. She whimpered.
"If it's any consolation, you..."
"Look like a bombshell? I can see that from here, thank you," Gene snapped. Her emotions were fluctuating wildly; despair, anger, and confusion warring with one another. The last few months had been rough. She'd lost her job, her house, and just about everything important. Last night's drunken bender had been the last straw. The foggy decision to "do something" by wandering deeper into these woods seemed stupid now. "It's not. A consolation, that is. Fuck I was stupid!" Gene stamped her foot. She winced as the hoof lobes dug into the soil and she felt the dry grass tickle the skin between them.
"You'll adapt. Are adapting, in fact," the stag-man said. "Doe's Hoof is very thorough in the head as well as on the body. Honestly, you'll enjoy being a cute doe." He sat down on a fallen tree, then patted the log next to him with his hoof-hand. "Come on over and have a seat. You're not alone. There's a lot of us deerfolk. We're kind of like North American satyrs."
A suggestion that only a few minutes ago would've been met with revulsion now held a strong appeal. The pressure in the new doe's mind was starting to recede now, leaving relief behind it along with being slightly less self conscious. For the first time Gene let her breasts hang free and really looked at them. Two soft, fur-covered teardrops, except for the prominent areolae and nipples that rose through the white fur. Without her arms to support them, they took their time to move when Gene wiggled her shoulders; she watched them sway hypnotically. "These are mine? I can't believe this. How am I supposed to walk without bouncing?"
"You'll adjust. Come have a seat," the stag repeated. "You look wonderful."
Reluctance abruptly fading, Gene edged over and had a seat next to him. "So, now what?" she asked, tapping the log with her hoof-nails.
"We wait for the others. I'm pretty sure there's more of you," he said, moving just a little bit closer. "Just relax and sit back. Here." He leaned over and picked up a few acorns that had been laying on the ground, dusting the dirt off of them. "A snack." He put one in his mouth, crunching it easily. "White oak. Mmmm, good." He left a few in the palm of his hoof-like hand.
Gene took some, then reluctantly bit down. It was a little bitter, and in fact, didn't taste very good with all the dirt on them. But the food did fill a previously empty spot in her stomach. "Er... thanks. I don't think I caught your name."
"You want my tribal name or my mundane one? We do interact with the human world to some degree," he said.
"Whichever," she replied, once again staring down her muzzle at her breasts as they rose and fell. She looked down, nearly resting her nose in her cleavage. Reaching up, she cupped her breasts once more and gave them a squeeze, their full, fleshy warmth coming through the palms of her hands and thin fur. She spared a look for her crotch, then crossed her legs. But she couldn't resist angling her head for a closer look further down. It was really gone. "Oh my."
For his part, the stag tried to ignore her exploration at first. It was obvious the way he was aroused, but he didn't seem embarrassed by it. He wrapped his near arm around her narrow waist and nuzzled the nape of her neck. Startled at first, Gene sighed and felt a moment of bliss before she felt another hand on her breasts. Her eyes snapped open. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
"What comes naturally? This is the Rut, after all," he replied weakly, but not removing his hand. "Your time's not close. But that doesn't mean we can't have a little fun," he wheedled. "Want me to stop?"
Gene only had to think about that for a few seconds. Whatever the Doe's Hoof had done to her head, her companion had been right. She felt thoroughly feminine and was enjoying it. "Keep it low key, bucky."
"Whatever you say. I'm just here to make you feel welcome." He pulled them together so they were hip-to-hip and continued his sensuous massage. "All I ask is that you think of me when you come into heat."
"Mmm." It wasn't arousing so much as relaxing. Muscles she hadn't known were tense--and had been that way ever since she lost her job, finally let go. Gene felt the remaining tension drain away as the buck switched from her breasts to her back, massaging gently with the hard hoof-like nails on his fingertips. "Don't stop. Really. That feels wonderful." She yawned.
Then she fell asleep. Not the troubled sleep of the depressed drunkard that had been normal for years, but a true, restful slumber.
Gina woke up with her still-nameless companion stroking her muzzle to the sound of two female voices. The sound of the gnome park ranger's voice was present, also. "Ladies, please. Even if you somehow didn't sign a release there are huge warning signs at the park entrance about these woods," the gnome was saying tiredly.
"Can you at least change me into a stag?" begged one. "This is ridiculous! I can't show up at work looking like this!"
"You're the one who thought it'd make a nice tea, Harold," an icy second voice said.
"You drank it too," Harold replied sullenly, arms folded so they squashed her new anatomy.
"Nice boobs," the second said dryly.
"Aren't they, Tina?" Harold said sarcastically. "The girls at work will be jealous of my new figure. Aren't you?"
"You'll get used to it. Eventually," the gnome said. His mount cawed. "One of you is already enjoying themselves, look. Hey, Jerry. Nice catch."
"Pretty, isn't she?" said the buck's voice over Gina's head. Gina felt a little playful lick on her cheek and giggled in spite of herself. She realized she was lying in his lap on the ground. Jerry's musk overpowered everything and tickled her brain in new and exciting ways. She buried her nose in his soft-furred chest. The buck stroked her ears. "She's adapting faster than I did. Smells like all the unconscious reflexes are in place."
The gentle hand started on her breast again, but this time his other one started further down just above her mons. Gina felt her vagina go slick, an electric warmth building deep in her belly. Her hips wiggled a little all on their own, nipples hardening into excited peaks. It was too enjoyable to protest.
"See?" Jerry said.
"That one had a huge patch off moss all to herself, so she got a concentrated dose," the gnome observed. "I imagine she'll be cooing over fawns and wanting one of her own before the weekend."
"Whoa!" Gina said, snapping fully awake, arousal dropping off a cliff. "Wait a second. Not so fast!" The doe stood up fast, breasts swinging down hard. "Ow! Damn it... I can't believe these things."
"Sleeping beauty awakes," Jerry said, apparently meaning it. He stood up as well and pointed at his head. "Feeling a little funny between the ears? Like something's been twisted out of all recognition? What's your name?"
"Well... um..." Gina thought really hard. "Gee...na. I think. Um. That doesn't make any sense. I remember being a man really clearly, but that's not a man's name. God this is confusing!"
"If we didn't have some fundamental personality changes we'd go nuts pretty quickly," Jerry explained. "Ask me how I know. I was one of those hippy urban nature girls who forget that it's Darwin out here. Are you familiar with Stag's Head mushrooms? They can look like other common types. Perfectly edible and quite tasty. I signed a liability release just like you did and accidentally picked some for a stew, but didn't get them tested before I left. That was about three years ago."
He snorted. "Before that Stag's Head, I was as female as you are now, Gina. I can't remember my old name either. But I don't have a feminine bone in my body any more. Now I think you're absolutely gorgeous and your smell is intoxicatingly sexy." He lip-curled, then stuck his nose deep in her cleavage. "Mmm... you make beautiful little doe. Get used to it. Enjoy it." He gave her nipple a sensuous little lick, then pulled away with a smile. "Let me help."
"Um... I think my wallet was in my pocket," Gina stammered, ears flushing red in front of the others. "I think I can still find my tent."
"We're leaving for home tomorrow," Harold said. "And I'd kind of like to remember who I am. Even if I have to wear a bra the rest of my life."
Tina snorted. "I've caught you wearing mine often enough," she said dryly. "Besides, they'd be too big for you anyway."
"Ladies, none of you can go home again," the gnome said pointedly. "None. You'll have to wear clothes to do business with humans, but otherwise you're pretty much as you are now on a daily basis. It's a clothing-optional society.
"There's a deerfolk and satyr town behind the Curtain in this area. Congratulations, you're no longer quite of this world. You're going to live with the fae and the other mythical types from now on."
"Wait, wait," Harold interrupted. "There's a Curtain here? We're going to the Unseen World? You can't just uproot us! We have families here!"
"If you have kids then we can give them some Stag's Head or whatever so they can join you. Read the liability release again," said the gnome ranger. He took a very small sheet of paper out of his pocket and an even smaller pair of eyeglasses. "'In the event of accidental transfiguration, the undersigned is required to spend a minimum of twelve months in the communities associated with their new forms to acclimate. Compensation, shelter, and healthcare will be provided free of charge. The undersigned may forfeit this benefit and decide to remain in the Seen World, but must take all needed steps to adapt to the undersigned's former human existence to their changed circumstances at their own expense.'" He put the sheet back into his jacket. "That can get really costly for a centaur. We're actually being really generous, here."
"What happens if you get cursed on purpose?" Gina asked, curious.
"If you come in here to dance in Doe's Hoof or eat Stag's Head, horsetails, harebell, what-have-you, you're on your own," Jerry replied. "The Feds don't like it, either."
"Um..." Gina stammered. "What if you did it sort of accidentally on purpose? I'm totally broke. My truck's out of gas. I can't go anywhere anyway. This was... well... it, really. I didn't have anything to lose. But I don't think I was in my right mind when I left my tent." She looked at herself ruefully. "Now I'm not in my right body, either. Crap."
Cillian sighed. "You did sign the release, didn't you?" The doe nodded. "Do you have any history of depression, mental illness?"
"My Wellbutrin ran out a few weeks ago," Gina said plaintively, her eyes welling up with tears. "Does this mean I don't... um... get..?"
The gnome sighed more deeply, as if he'd seen this before. "That's up to the Gnome Advisory Board, miss Gina. But if you really don't have anything more to lose, it seems like you need to start over anyway. Think of it as an opportunity regardless."
Jerry came up from behind, wrapping his arms around her waist with his chest against her back. "You can stay with me. You're needing, I'm offering. You can stay as long as you want." He licked her cheek affectionately. Gina felt enveloped in his warmth and protection.
"I can tell you the Advisory Board won't give you a penny until they've resolved your case, miss doe," the gnome said. "That's very nice of you, Jerry. But are you sure you're not just trying to get her into your bed?"
The buck shrugged, but also smirked, giving one of Gina's breasts a little stroke. "I have two bedrooms. And it's the Rut. What do you think?"
Gina gaped at the rather blunt comment from the gnome, but knew instinctively he was probably right. It was just the start of the Rut and sooner or later her body would come into heat. Jerry knew all the buttons to push, and it was really hard to refuse just because he was so handsome. Her new instincts were pounding hard. She felt like she was drowning in estrogen. Jerry's sincere affection wasn't helping her refuse, either. But the offer felt too good to protest strongly. "I... er... appreciate the offer. I just... er... can I think about it?"
Jerry took Gina's small hand and gave it a gallant lick on the back. "Think quickly, my dear. But I'd be honored if you'd share my house," he said with flourish. "You would be the first doe I've ever had, you know. If you'll have me, that is. Of course, that doesn't mean I'll keep you. There's a lot of bucks who love to take advantage of new does, though. I'll have to fight them, but it's still your choice which of us you want."
Gina felt culture shocked. But there was only one path in front of her. "A little role reversal might be good for us anyway."
The buck took her hand, ears perked. He smelled happy. "It'll be fun, I promise. I'll fight the good fight for you. Prove myself worthy to be the father of your fawns."
The idea of being a mother was the very last missing puzzle piece in Gina's head, now put into place by her growing affection for Jerry. She couldn't imagine being anything else. She squeezed his hand in return and, after licking him lovingly on the cheek, followed him towards the Curtain.
Cillian watched the happy cervine couple romp off into the forest, barely able to keep their hands off each other. "Another goddamned soap opera," he muttered.