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|This story contains adult content.|
The lecture droned ever on and on. Lori took notes idly, mixing in plenty of doodles and keeping an eye on the clock. Botany wasn't one of her better subjects but it was more due to lack of interest rather than the difficulty of the material.
Maria sat next to her and had her attention much more intently focused. Every once in a while a lock of her shoulder-length brown hair would slip down to hang over her notepad and she'd brush it back without breaking her writing. Lori sighed quietly. She had known Maria from other courses they took together and hoped that sharing this lecture with her would alleviate the boredom, but although the company was nice enough Maria was not much for interacting during class. Lori glanced at the clock again. Just fifteen minutes left to go on this one, then they'd have some free time.
She considered trying to get Maria to come with her to the university gym. Maria didn't really need it - the young woman was frustratingly fit and attractive for someone who didn't exercise regularly - but Lori enjoyed a good workout and had always felt Maria would too. Maria, for her part, had always declined. She considered that to be boring.
"-and so the apical cells of the peristem respond to the light, like so, causing an ataxic behavior..." Dr. Cass's explanation and chalky scribbling on the blackboard trailed off unexpectedly. Maria was too busy catching up to that point in her notes to notice but Lori cocked her head and frowned. There was a growing sound of commotion outside, people running and shouting in the hallways. The tension was infectious; something bad was going on. Dr. Cass headed over toward the lecture hall door to check on the situation.
The door slammed open before he got to it and a panicked-looking man leaned in. "Elves!" He hollered. "It's a raid!"
That caught everyone's attention, even studious Maria's. Dr. Cass immediately started trying to say something to the class - perhaps some sort of directions or reassurances - but the reaction from the students was a split second faster. He was drowned out by the sound of a hundred people jumping out of their chairs and dropping everything as they scrambled for the door to join the throng in the hall. Lori and Maria were swept up along with them as everyone in their row of seats pushed to get out.
Definitely not the sort of excitement that Lori had been hoping for. Oh god, an elf raid! This is serious.
Lori grabbed Maria's hand, trying not to get separated in the jostling press of people as she forged her way through. She wasn't sure where they were going but it occurred to her that being part of the fleeing mob was probably the worst place to be. "Come on, Maria! We have to hide!" A glance back at Maria's wide-eyed expression suggested she might not have heard or understood her, so Lori kept her grip firm and pushed onward.
Elves. Just when it had seemed like science had finally triumphed and the world had become a rational, comprehensible place, they started showing up. The first well-documented raid had been almost five years ago now, a small group that had hit a mall in Kansas, but there had been vague reports from years earlier in other parts of the world that in hindsight must have been earlier scouting parties. They wore ornately-embroidered costumes reminiscent of some sort of pseudo-Victorian age and wielded stun-bows and staves as weapons.
That was all the elves needed. Despite the best efforts the nations of humanity had been able to muster, the elves were unstoppable. They had magical abilities beyond current understanding. They appeared anywhere they liked in a flash of light, bullets and other projectiles were somehow harmlessly deflected, and their own weapons' effects passed through any armor that had been tried against them. Even when all that was overcome - Lori remembered hearing about someone who'd successfully fought off an elf by using a baseball bat and a ton of chutzpah - they could retreat at will back to wherever they came from. Taking along the spoils of their raid... Definitely have to hide, Lori thought. The idea of fighting was secretly an appealing one, but fortunately realism and fear had a more solid grip on her. There was no point in fighting if they could simply avoid it.
She and Maria broke out of the main crush of students and into a stairwell that nobody else seemed to be using at the moment. They headed up the stairs. They were in the biology building, well known around campus for its confusing floor plan, and Lori had a notion of finding a deserted office to duck into. The elves would hopefully be drawn to the big, vulnerable mass of students pouring into the quad and not bother rooting around inside for stragglers. Lori bit her lip, realizing how cold-blooded the thought was. But it wasn't something she could do anything about.
"Wh-where are we going?" Maria panted, a bit winded from the climb.
Lori shook her head, realizing that they were just running aimlessly now, and grabbed the nearest doorknob at random. "Here."
It was a lab of some sort, with rows of benches and shelves cluttered with all manner of beakers and binders. Perfect. The two slipped in and slammed the door behind them.
A young man, apparently the sole occupant of the room, looked up from his desk in surprise. "Uh, hello?" Obviously he had no idea what was going on out there.
"Elf raid," Lori told him brusquely as the two of them barged through to the far end of the room. There was a window there and she wanted to see if she could catch a glimpse of what was going on outside.
"Oh. Oh!" The man leapt to his feet. "Here? Now?" Lori didn't deign to respond but Maria nodded and her obviously frightened expression convinced him they weren't lying. "Holy shit!"
"Shh!" Lori let go of Maria's hand and peered through the venetian blinds. She winced. It looked much as she'd thought it would out there; dozens of people were lying on the grass, struck down as they'd fled by bolts from elven stun-bows. A cloaked figure was walking gracefully among them, kneeling down by each in turn and doing something in the vicinity of their heads. Lori had never seen an elf before, thank God, and couldn't help but be fascinated. There was something so elegant and compelling about the way the elf moved, and the effect was even somehow enhanced by how dangerous they were...
In her distraction Lori didn't notice the man heading for the door, but Maria did. "Hey, wait," she called, catching up and grabbing his arm as he flung it open.
Lori turned just in time to see the flare of a stun-bolt envelop them both. They collapsed without a sound and Lori clapped a hand to her mouth, stifling a yelp. Oh god no! Approaching footsteps echoed in the hall outside, and then a melodious voice with a strange accent; "Finally! Accursed maze of a building!"
Lori ducked down behind one of the benches. She kept her hand over her mouth, breathing hard and in a near panic but with the presence of mind to stay absolutely silent. She heard the elf pause at the door, presumably checking the room for other occupants. After a moment, she heard a shuffle of cloth and a pair of metallic snaps.
Then she heard the elf resume walking. Lori took a moment to work up the nerve and peered around the corner. Maria and the young man were lying in a heap just outside the door, the elf having dragged them just far enough to disentangle them. Heart pounding with fear but moving as quietly as she could, Lori got up and crept toward them.
They were both completely motionless but their eyes were open and they seemed to be breathing; they were only paralyzed. Lori met Maria's pleading gaze and winced. The elf had fastened what looked like sturdy leather collars around their necks before moving on. Lori knew what those were for. They were retrieval collars, they drew the elves' victims along with them when they finished a raid. Nobody knew how they actually worked, of course, but if she could just get it off of her... Lori didn't know how much time she had so she figured she had to hurry. The fastener was an unfamiliar design, some sort of rectangular buckle with no loose ends protruding or other obvious ways to undo it. She'd have to try cutting it off, assuming the lab had a knife or scalpel handy. She stepped out and hefted Maria up over her shoulder to carry her inside.
A stunbolt hit Lori in the small of her back, not doing any physical damage but sending an electric jolt shooting through her entire body. She let out a gasp and her knees folded, the two of them sinking back down to the floor.
She felt tingly and her muscles were completely unresponsive, but she was still fully aware of the world around her and still fully capable of feeling fear. The elf approached again, obviously not having gone as far away as Lori had thought, and knelt down beside her. She'd never thought she'd see one this close. He looked almost human.
He had a wry smirk on his lips. "Trying to steal my catch, eh? Not after such a lousy hunt, you're not." He took a short leather strap from a pouch on his belt and slipped the end around Lori's neck, pulling it snug and snapping the fastener shut with an expert hand. The loose end dropped cleanly off and he tucked it back in the pouch.
Then the elf got back up and moved on, leaving Lori alone with the others. Her head was resting on Maria's abdomen, rising and falling slightly with her breathing in what would normally be a rather comfortable and relaxing way. Far from relaxed, though, she screamed and struggled with all her might inside her mind, trying to force herself to move through sheer will. The band around her neck was a heavy presence, a ticking time bomb that could go off at any moment. She had to get it off. But the only outward signs of her effort was an occasional slight tremble and a quiet whimper.
A clock wasn't within her field of vision so she had no idea how long she actually lay there. It seemed like ages. Sweat beaded on her brow as she kept trying to move or even just call for help. Where is everyone? Why isn't anyone helping us? Anyone left was probably in hiding now just like she'd planned for herself, she realized with bitter irony. Even big raids like this seldom lasted more than an hour in densely populated areas. It could have been perhaps half an hour along already by the time she'd been shot. Any minute now it would be over..
The tingling from the collar around her neck started to grow and she let out a final desperate whimper, knowing what was about to happen. This was it; nobody had ever come back from the fairy realm, or wherever the hell the elves took people. The collar's magic flooded through her body and there was a sudden overwhelming light, accompanied by a sensation of falling helplessly through space. Lori passed out.
She woke up again with a start. She was lying in a dimly-lit place with a rough wooden floor and bare beams visible in the shadowy ceiling. She could hear the quiet murmur of people talking or sobbing, and the occasional louder curse or wail of despair. She realized that her paralysis had worn off and she sat up quickly, a surge of adrenaline shooting through her.
The room was large, perhaps a hundred feet long or more, and was divided up into cells by thick iron bars. The lighting came from lanterns hung along the far wall. The cells were filled with people, all apparently people from the raid she'd fallen victim to, and she looked around in alarm.
"Lori! Lori, it's okay." Maria crouched down next to her. She was in the same cell as her, they were still together.
Lori breathed a sigh of relief at the familiar face. "Thank god. Are you, ow, are you okay?" Maria helped Lori to her feet, her muscles having become sore from lying on the hard floor for an unknown length of time. Maria nodded.
"I'm okay too, thanks," grumbled a man sitting in the corner. Lori glanced down and almost laughed; it was the guy they'd encountered in the lab. They'd all wound up in the same cell together. Taking time to absorb more detail, Lori looked around again and tried to take stock of their situation.
The three of them were alone in their cell, probably the lowest occupancy of any of the cells she could see. Some of the cells had dozens packed into them with standing room only, those must have been quite a tangle if everyone had started out unconscious like she had. Their pockets had been emptied but they were all still wearing the same clothes; Maria in cutoff jeans that showed way too much leg for this time of year, Lori a more practical set of full-length pants and a jacket, the man in his slacks and shirt. Nothing of obvious use for getting out of here. And they were all still wearing the retrieval collars that had yanked them out of their world.
Lori's hands flew to her neck and she grabbed hers, probing the strangely shaped buckle that held it and trying to loosen it any way she could. Maria shook her head and tried to pull Lori's hands away. "No, don't! We tried-"
"Ah!" Lori cringed, a terrible feeling shooting through her. It wasn't pain, exactly, but it was very unpleasant and made her muscles spasm. As soon as she let go of the collar, though, the feeling just as abruptly eased and she took a shaky breath. "Okay. Something not to do."
Maria nodded. "Seems like everyone tries that when they wake up. If you try too hard it gets really bad." She glanced over at the man sitting in the corner of their cell. He'd apparently been one of those to demonstrate this and Lori felt a pang of disappointment that she hadn't been awake to see it. She had developed an instant dislike for the man after he'd blundered out into the hall like that.
Realizing he was the center of attention, the man sighed and climbed to his feet to get level with them. "Hi," he greeted with little enthusiasm. "My name's Bryce Samson."
Lori gave a little snort but figured they were in this together now so a little civility might be in order. "Lori Yates. Maria Reese."
Bryce nodded. "Good to know the names of the girls who got me into this."
Lori's expression hardened. "We got you into this? If you hadn't run out there and grabbed that elf's attention-"
A subtle change in the tone of the room's background noise interrupted their dispute over blame, the increased undercurrent of fear grabbing their attention. A door at the far end of the room opened and several people - elves - entered. They wore elaborate uniforms similar to those the hunters had worn and carried short batons that resembled the longer stun staves the hunters used. Presumably they were guards.
More elves followed, a mixture of both male and female, these wearing much more elaborate outfits. They looked like nobility, or at least like they were in the upper class of whatever social order there was around here. The assembly walked slowly down the length of the room, individual elves pausing and examining the captives as they came.
"Hey, what's going on here? What are you doing with us?" One of the men farther up the row of cells demanded. "Yeah, come on. Let us out!" Someone else chimed in.
One of the guards stepped toward them and held out his stun baton. Everyone in that cell immediately grunted in distress and staggered, grabbing their collars. The sensation evidently passed quickly but the one who'd spoken up remained very quiet after that. The glare from his cell mates probably helped that decision.
One of the fancily-dressed elves stopped three cells down from theirs, studied the occupants an unusually long time, then leaned over to quietly confer with one of the guards. The guard nodded and stepped up to the bars. The people inside nervously stepped back, but all the guard did was fasten a tag to a hook on the front. "Lot sixteen to Lord Ellewyn Devoine, three hundred florins," He announced. There was a quiet murmur among several of the elves and the one who'd indicated his choice headed for the door to leave.
"Oh my god," Maria breathed to Lori. "They're selling us."
"Shh!" Bryce shushed Maria. He had apparently taken the punishment meted out to the talkative fellow's cellmates to heart and didn't want to draw any attention. Lori didn't like being told to be quiet but she didn't actually have anything to say so she had to agree, giving Maria's arm a silent squeeze.
Slaving had, of course, been one of the main theories about the elves' motives. They rarely stole any physical objects - mostly books, grabbed opportunistically in the course of their people-hunts - and they seemed to take care not to harm their captives. But Lori had never really thought about the implications of being on the receiving end of that. It was terrifying now that she did. She would be at these elves' mercy. What did they have in mind for them?
To her relief, though, there didn't seem to be a lot of interest in her and her companions. The cells to either side of theirs were quickly claimed but theirs kept getting passed over. Lori avoided meeting the gazes of their neighbors. They had the feel of condemned prisoners about them now and she had no way to help them, she could only stand huddled with Maria at the back and hope to avoid sharing their fate. The question of what would happen to them if they didn't get sold was a worrying one too, for all she knew it meant some form of hideous disposal, but that was something she could worry about later when they got to it.
An elf-woman stopped in front of their cells and Lori flinched when she realized how intently she was sizing the trio up. Her clothing wasn't as richly embroidered or elaborate as most of the others but she had the same regal bearing that suggested she was used to getting her way. She cocked her head, examining each of them in turn. When her gaze focused on Lori she tried to stare back confidently, but something in the elf's eyes made it very hard for Lori to keep her resolve.
The elf-woman beckoned to one of the guards and leaned close when he arrived. "These ones," she murmured. "Fifty florins."
"Lot nineteen to Lady Jera Livremor, fifty florins," the guard announced, and hung a tag on the bars.
"Holy crap," Bryce wheezed, then clamped a hand over his mouth and cringed slightly. Lori shot him a sharp glance and then tried to match Jera's gaze again. Not afraid of you, she though, even though the heartbeat thudding loudly in her ears may have indicated otherwise.
A slight grin quirked the corners of Jera's mouth and then she moved on, leaving the room with the last of the stragglers. Lori let out a long and shaky breath. They'd been bought by an elf. God. Not how I expected to wind up finding a job. She almost laughed at the thought but she was too nervous and angry for that.
There were still plenty of unknowns left to worry about. Whatever was going on here, this was just the beginning.
The elves were as efficient as they were elegant. As soon as the last buyers had left the room a fresh set of guards came pouring in. Each bore a length of fine silvery chain and made a beeline for a cell bearing a tag on its hook. One came for them. "Take this," he instructed, offering them the chain through the bars. They all hesitated, of course, but Bryce set his jaw and moved first to accept it. The chain was about eight feet long in total and had four hinged metal loops spaced evenly down its length. "Each of you attach one," he told them, gesturing illustratively toward his neck. "Leave the fastener at one end free."
This was the first time any of the captives had actually been ordered to do anything and all up and down the row of cells there was a swell of confusion and consternation. Some people were refusing, and the guards were being quick to deploy their magical punishments to force compliance from them or their cell mates. Bryce swallowed nervously and hooked one of the end loops through a ring mounted in his collar, fastening it with a snap. He offered the chain to Lori and Maria. "Who's next in line?" He asked gamely.
Lori seriously considered punching him since there was nobody else she could easily reach who deserved it. But while she weighed just how badly the guard would react to that, Maria stepped forward. "I'll do it," she murmured, raising her chin to proffer her collar.
Bryce fastened Maria to the chain. "Sorry," he apologized.
Lori snorted and grabbed the rest of the chain. I'll be damned if I let that guy chain me up. She connected herself after Maria, grimacing as she did so, then looked back to the guard for instruction. He opened the cell door and reached out to take the loose end of the chain, holding his stun baton at the ready in his other hand. Lori grudgingly handed it over. He took the tag off the hook by the door and fastened it to the end, keeping their group's ownership clearly marked.
Other groups of people strung together on chains were being led out of the room by now and they joined them. Lori kept looking for openings to fight back, with just three on their chain she figured they had at least a minor advantage, but the elves were professionals; at the slightest disturbance whole chains of people were shocked into submission and their chain mates strove to keep the troublemakers in line afterward. Lori didn't want to take Maria down with her in some futile gesture of defiance so she figured she'd only take a chance if there was a really obvious opening.
There wasn't one. The three of them followed the guard's lead, passing through a number of corridors and rooms with heavy wooden doors, until they reached the outside of the building. They discovered they were in the heart of an elven city.
The architecture was strongly Victorian in flavor, though with the increased elegance and artistry Lori had come to expect from elves. The time seemed to be mid-afternoon and the cobblestone street was bustling, conventional horse drawn carriages mixed with rickshaws drawn by strange bipedal horse-creatures. There were even occasional elven pedestrians. All along the front of the building large carts and carriages of various sorts were parked, obstructing some of Lori's view. Still, she couldn't help but be amazed. This was the civilization that had been terrorizing Earth for years now? Magic aside, it was all so primitive!
The guard took them a short distance down the street. The sight of people being led around on chains was evidently not an unusual one in this neighborhood, nobody gave them a second glance and Lori suspected they wouldn't help them if they made a break for it. They stopped at a small one-horse coach at the end of the row and he rapped on the door. "Your purchase, M'lady." The coach door opened to reveal Lady Jera Livremor, who nodded wordlessly to the guard and held out her hand to take the chain from him.
He hesitated. "Are you sure, m'Lady? They're uncharmed, would you perhaps prefer an escort..."
"I can control my property," she snapped imperiously, brandishing a short wand that was presumably a variant on the guard's baton.
The guard shrugged and handed the chain over to her. "As m'Lady wishes."
Lori found herself standing just two feet of chain away from Jera. The two regarded each other for a moment and then Jera gave the chain a sharp tug. "In," she commanded. "I have no time or patience to break you here in this street."
"Okay, okay, we're coming, uh, m'Lady..." Bryce gave a gentle nudge to Maria, who nudged Lori in turn and got them all moving.
Jera gave Bryce a thin smile as they climbed into the back seat of the coach. "A decent attempt. But as your first lesson in civility, I warn you never to use that title again. Lady is a title for elven lips, you will refer to me as either Mistress Livremor or simply Mistress."
Bryce nodded. "Mistress. Of course. Sorry."
It was probably a good thing Lori had wound up on the other end of the chain from Bryce with Maria in between or she would have been even more tempted to smack him. She really didn't like the idea of jumping through these demeaning hoops.
Once they were in the back seat and the door was secured, Jera turned to a sliding panel at the front of the coach and gave an order; "Home, horse." The horse whickered and then at the first break in the traffic they pulled out into the street.
Jera turned back to the three of them. "Now, I'm sure you have many questions. The hunting guilds do as little as possible to inform the humans they retrieve from Earth since every slave-dealer has his own methods and preferences for how to prepare their stock." The corner of her mouth tugged in another slight smile. "I am one who finds it preferable to do it all myself. Much less costly purchasing you lot straight from the hunter's combine, too. Unsuccessful hunters make for good bargains."
That last comment seemed oddly out of place under the circumstances and Lori actually stifled a grin of her own. Lady Livremor is a cheapskate. "Um, a question," Lori asked once a suitable pause had developed. "What do you plan to do with-"
Jera cut Lori off with an upraised wand, her smile gone again. "Second lesson," she said. "Speak only when spoken to and ask no questions unless they are necessary for properly obeying the orders you are given. And do not use 'you' as a form of address to your superiors, it is overly familiar."
Lori opened and closed her mouth a few times, trying to figure out how to respond. Perhaps she could snatch the wand away... Maria saw the wheels turning in Lori's mind and put her hand on Lori's arm, stopping her from doing or saying anything they might all regret. "Of course, mistress," Lori hissed at last. "My apologies."
Jera raised an eyebrow at Lori's tone and fingered her wand, causing all three of them to tense in anticipating of punishment. But she just gave a nod. "Suitable for now. Since at this point I am sure it will be easier to simply satisfy your curiosity than teach you to control yourselves, however, I will tell you some things about why you are here. In the largest sense, do you know why we have chosen your people to enslave?" They all gave slight shakes of their heads, too nervous about saying something wrong to speak up. "It is very simple. We the elves, and this entire world that we live in, are suffused with magic. You, the humans, are not. Your world is a lower, lesser plane than ours that is completely bereft of any magic we do not bring there ourselves. In this world magic can only be enhanced, never weakened or dispelled, so we find your kind ideally controllable and adaptable in serving to our mundane needs."
It was demeaning and racist, of course, but for all Lori knew it was perfectly true. Still doesn't give you the right-
"As for why you are here in the more immediate sense," Jera continued, cutting off Lori's thought before she could turn it into an argument. "I am as you have no doubt surmised a Lady of some status and means. I have come into the possession of a new country estate, one whom the previous tenants have left in some degree of disrepair. You three will be servicing and maintaining this estate." The half-smile returned to the corners of her mouth and Lori wondered if she was even capable of a broader expression than that.
They continued their rather one-sided conversation as the coach clopped along, leaving the cobbled city streets and heading out onto the dirt roads of the countryside. They don't even have paved roads... Lori grumbled to herself. She kept listening with half an ear as Jera rambled on about the wonders of elvenkind and how lowly humans were compared to them. There were some useful tidbits of information in there, no doubt, but for now she was having some difficulty paying attention; she kept thinking of how she'd actually rather be back in botany. Maria stayed quiet too, presumably lost in her own thoughts. Bryce was the only one who played along particularly well, prompting 'Mistress Livremor' to continue explaining as best he could. She was obviously taking a liking to his transparent kowtowing and that only worsened Lori's funk.
Finally, after what must have been at least an hour, the coach turned down a particularly rickety trail - it didn't deserve the name 'road' - that led through a lush patch of woods up to a fair-sized wood framed manor house. It was two stories tall, not counting the high attic and any basement that might be underneath, with ornately carved details everywhere and exotically arched architecture just like everything elvish they'd seen so far. But it was also the first visibly run-down building they'd encountered. The paint needed work, the lawn was overgrown, and Lori half expected to see a carriage up on cinder blocks out front.
"Livremor Manor," Jera announced as the coach pulled up to a stop before the front porch. They climbed out of the coach and as soon as they were out the horse took off on its own, circling around to take the coach back the way they'd come. "A fine country retreat for an artist such as myself. Once it is staffed, of course." She clapped her hands, startling the trio, and a moment later a young male elf came out of the front door. He looked about eighteen, though of course it was impossible to tell what that equated to in human years. He was wearing finery of simpler design than Jera's though it too was heavily embroidered.
"M'Lady," he bowed curtly.
She gave him a perfunctory nod back. "This is Eosin Sharelos, temporarily in my employ as master of this house," she introduced him.
"Pleased to meet you, Master Sharelos," Bryce bowed deeply. Maria gave a quick, awkward curtsy and a moment later Lori did likewise. Curtsying was definitely not her style.
Jera gave a satisfied sigh. "Well, then. I have been pondering your roles while we rode and it already seems clear to me what you're best suited for. You, there -" she pointed at Bryce - "will take over much of the household work that Sharelos has been unfairly burdened with. You will be cooking and cleaning and ultimately serving my guests." She reached over and disconnected Bryce's collar from the chain. "Go with him now. He will get you into uniform and show you some of what is expected."
Bryce blinked, as surprised by the sudden decision as the rest of them. After only a moment's hesitation, though, he gave another quick bow. "Um, okay, Mistress Livremor." Her lips quirked at the mixture of formal and informal in his speech and she watched him hurry awkwardly up the stairs to be taken inside by Eosin.
Lori was confused. That was a pretty comprehensive job description, what was left for her and Maria? "M'lady- um, I mean, Mistress Livremor," she stammered. "What-" Maria cut her off with a vigorous squeeze to the arm, shaking her head silently.
Jera ignored Lori's outburst completely. "You're probably wondering why that one got the most prestigious position. Skill is irrelevant, you will all learn your jobs soon enough. But attitude is sometimes harder to adjust. You-" she pointed at Maria "-show no enthusiasm for service like that one does. And you-" Lori's turn this time "-well, it's obvious how poorly you would fare. Fortunately there are other roles on this estate that will minimize your elven interaction and I only really need one servant in the house anyway. Come." She turned and started walking off around the side of the manor house, and when the two girls didn't immediately follow she turned and repeated more sharply; "Come!"
The two obeyed, trailing the chain that still bound them together.
'Livremor Manor' was a farmhouse.
As they rounded the structure and saw the grounds spread out before them Lori's heart sank slightly. It was even more unkempt back here. A small stable and coach house was tucked away to one side, and a number of other storage sheds as well, but what dominated the view was a huge and somewhat ramshackle barn. An elvish barn, mind you, with carvings and decorations galore, but still a barn.
"As you can see my estate has a hobby-farm on its grounds," Jera explained airily. "In fact, the former owner worked it as a farm exclusively. Uncouth yokel. Maintaining the estate's grounds will be your role. For the rest of today you will work on cleaning this barn, a simple task that should require no training. I will have more time to spend on preparing you tomorrow."
There was a distinct odor in the air that suggested the place had seen use by cattle recently and when they opened the barn doors the scent rolled out over them in a wave that left them momentarily breathless. The place was a tremendous mess. Neither Lori nor Maria had ever had experience on a farm before, they'd barely even visited them, but they knew it was very labor-intensive. "Um, Mistress Livremor..." Maria began haltingly, pausing to see whether she'd spoken out of turn. Jera gave her a slight nod and Maria continued. "I'm not really in the best of shape, and there's just the two of us... I'm not sure we can handle all of this by ourselves."
Jera's smile widened more than Lori had thought possible. "You humans are adaptable, as I have said. Elven magic will help you serve me. Come here." She unhooked the chain from their collars, rolling it up and tucking it away in a pocket, then took out a small velvet-lined case. There were two identical tokens inside, each a small silvery metal square that bore a symbol resembling an upturned crescent moon with a trapezoid suspended underneath, narrow end down. She took one out and gestured to Maria, who hesitantly raised her chin again to give her access to her collar.
Jera placed the token over the fastener. There was a recess built into it that seemed specifically intended as a receptacle for the token and it clicked in perfectly. Jera held it in place with her finger for a moment and Maria developed a concerned expression, then there was a sudden spark of light and Maria gasped. The token had welded seamlessly into the fastener and was glowing faintly.
Lori moved to grab Maria in case she needed support, but Jera stopped her with a gesture and drew a second token. "You too," she ordered.
Lori set her jaw defiantly. "What did you do to her?"
Jera sighed in frustration. "I am weary of your insolence." She put away the velvet case and drew her wand, pointing it at Lori. Lori started an attempt to dodge but the terrible feeling overcame her instantly and nearly dropped her to the ground in a trembling heap. Jera kept the punishment up for a moment and then once Lori seemed to have ceased her struggle she released her again.
Now it was Maria's turn to offer support, helping Lori straighten back up. Jera held out the token again, waiting to see whether Lori would be more compliant this time. Lori still hesitated. She was getting pretty weary of Jera herself, and inflicting pain did nothing to convince her of the wisdom of complying. But Maria looked at her pleadingly, and Jera seemed ready to punish her with that terrible feeling again... Lori grudgingly raised her chin.
Jera inserted the token into Lori's collar, pressing gently but firmly against her throat. Lori felt a growing tingle, much like the one that had preceded the transition to this world when she'd first been captured, and then with a flash of light the same sort of jolt shot through her body, making her stagger. Jera took her hand away and Lori gingerly touched the fastener to explore how the token was affixed to it. Just great. It'll be even harder to get this bloody collar off now.
Jera nodded. "Good. The enchantment is primed, it will develop as you work." She didn't explain that somewhat unclear statement any further, instead directing them to a corner where some shovels and other tools were haphazardly piled. She gave them vague directions on where to deposit what, showed them a rain barrel for when they got thirsty, and then retired from the stinking barn back to the house. Lori and Maria were left alone with each other and their monumental task.
It was the first time they'd been left alone since shortly after Lori woke up and they both relaxed in relief. "If only there were a river we could redirect through here..." Lori sighed. Maria grinned at the Augean stable reference. "Good god. I can't believe it. We've been kidnapped by elves, dragged across the planes of existence, and all so we can shovel old cow manure?"
Maria looked around. "Well, it does need it, obviously."
Lori snorted. "Obviously. It's, what, six o'clock? Seven? Local time, anyway. I should be home by now. Instead I'm-" she broke off, noticing Maria's trembling lip. "Oh, I'm sorry." No further words needed to be exchanged on that subject, it was obvious to both of them that they weren't going home again any time soon. They hugged instead, giving each of them a familiar touch to cling to for a little while.
"Thanks," Maria said when they separated at last. "I needed that. I'm glad you're with me."
Lori chuckled. "I guess if one of us has to be here, it's better to have both. I wonder what Bryce is up to in there, something cushy no doubt... Oh, never mind him."
"So what do we do now?" Maria's question was plaintive.
Lori glanced around, double-checking for elves. "Let's look around. Maybe there's something we can do. Jera doesn't strike me as the most together sort of elf."
"I don't know..."
But Lori was already heading back to the barn door, left ajar by Jera when she'd departed. She peered outside and didn't see any sign of observation; a quick dash around the corner of the barn would take them out of view of the house altogether. When Lori leaned out to get a better view, however, she let out a gasp and jerked her head back in.
"What?" Maria yelped, worried something horrible had happened to Lori.
Something had, sort of. She rubbed her neck ruefully. "Got zapped. Probably something automatic, like one of those invisible dog fences. I think we're supposed to stay in here."
Maria nodded. "Yeah... so what do we do in here?"
Lori sighed. Jera had evidently covered the obvious approaches and Lori didn't relish the idea of poking her head out of every opening in the barn to see if she'd overlooked anything. She also didn't see any tools that looked like they'd be capable of cutting through their slave collars, at least not quickly enough to prevent their magical safeguards from taking a terrible toll. So if escape would have to wait... She shucked her jacket and picked up one of the shovels. "I guess let's do this thing."
They got to work. After breaking through the layers of matted manure and old straw they discovered that there was actually a flagstone floor buried under it all. The fact that it hadn't been visible gave them a disheartening impression of the scope of their unpleasant task.
At first they worked half-heartedly and chatted a lot about emotionally safe topics to break the monotony. Maria had apparently been a secret fan of a reality show called 'The Simple Life', where a couple of vacuous Hollywood girls went to live on a farm for the season, and she kept drawing amusing parallels between their situations. Lori had barely heard of the show herself but didn't mind letting Maria go on about it to distract from what they were doing.
But after a while the single-minded nature of the work slowly began to grow on them and they spoke less. The steady rhythm of motion and flex of muscle actually started to feel pleasant in its own right. Just like a workout in the gym, Lori realized. She kept slipping into the 'zone' and had to actually force herself to work less efficiently. She didn't want Jera to know exactly how much work she could really do, and she definitely didn't want to enjoy doing the work.
By the time the Sun set low enough in the sky that its reddening glow became hard to see by they'd managed to clear out a quarter of the central aisle and had removed the rotten feed from most of the troughs in the various stalls. Their muscles were solid aches, they were ravenously hungry, and they'd drunk so much water from the rain barrel that they felt quite bloated. Whatever those softly glowing tokens embedded on their collars were supposed to do it didn't seem to have helped much.
They were just about ready to give up when Jera finally returned, holding a cloth over her face to filter the dusty air inside the barn. Lori and Maria had had no such protection and Lori didn't want to think about the dust her nose was stuffed with right now; her face was puffy from some sort of allergic reaction. "Well well, girls, you've given me hope yet," she told them as she surveyed their work.
Lori was so delirious with fatigue that she actually smiled at the compliment for a moment and Maria murmured a quiet "thank you, Mistress." Part of Lori was upset at that - why should they be thanking her under these circumstances? - but another part decided it was best not to challenge her on that right now. She was in no condition for a fight.
"Well, then. I suppose I should let you stop for the night. And in recognition of your effort, I've brought you some food fresh from the garden. Sharelos harvested it but you'll be tending that yourselves eventually once this place is straightened out. I'll save a lot if I don't have to import produce. Bridgette!" She snapped her fingers. A figure they hadn't noticed following Jera stepped out meekly from behind her.
In their exhausted state it took them a moment to recognize Bryce. He was dressed in a French maid's outfit, of all things! It looked absolutely ridiculous on him and his cheeks were blazing red with embarrassment. He proffered a large wooden bucket and refused to meet Lori's gaze.
Lori stifled a snicker at Bryce's predicament, but found it hard to focus on that despite how amusing the moment was. She focused instead on the bucket Bryce held. She was hungry enough to start salivating without even knowing what was in it yet.
Jera nodded to Bryce, who set the bucket down just inside the door and then stepped demurely back out of the barn. "Eat up and sleep well, girls. You'll need your strength for tomorrow." She turned to go.
Lori blinked, confusion momentarily overcoming both good sense and the urgency of her hunger. She didn't want to eat here. "Um, can't we... Mistress, may we go inside now?"
The question was probably a breach of protocol but Jera must have been in a good mood because she merely chuckled. "Heavens, no. You can't go in the house, what were you thinking?" She turned back to them and pointed up. "You'll stay in the loft. There's straw up there for bedding. Bridgette, the door." Jera stepped back and Bryce swung the barn door shut, giving them a final apologetic glance. They were left alone again.
Lori and Maria looked at each other in dismay. They were sweaty and filthy, totally exhausted, and they wouldn't even have a bath or a bed for their troubles. But at least they did have food now... Without a word the two of them turned and hurried over to the bucket. It was filled with wilted lettuce, root vegetables that looked somewhat like yams, something like celery, and had a copious helping of weeds and grass mixed in. Sharelos had evidently done a pretty haphazard job of harvesting it.
Still, eating that was better than not eating. They controlled their appetites long enough for them to carry the bucket up the ladder-steep stairway into the loft and sit among the loosely baled hay before they started picking out the edible bits. It was a rough meal but they desperately needed it and for a long while their only conversation consisted of the crunch and chew of vegetables. When they finally finished Maria lay back in the hay with a sigh. Lori noticed with some chagrin that they'd actually completely emptied the bucket of both the good quality and the bad; they'd really been hungry.
And now she felt even more bloated. Lori joined Maria in the hay, the sunlight too dim to do much of anything else. She kicked off her shoes and and unfastened her belt. Her heels had rubbed raw and her toes felt numb, she apparently needed the next size up for doing heavy work like this. Even her bra straps were chafing and she was momentarily amused by the thought that Bryce might well be having the same problem. Where had Jera come up with the notion of dressing him as a French maid? He definitely didn't have the figure for it, if nothing else.
The bra, at least, she could loosen. Unfortunately she doubted there were any good shoe stores nearby... at least, not for slaves like her. She shivered, fingering her collar. Until this moment she hadn't really had time to think about it at any length. She'd been too scared and disoriented during the sale after she'd been captured, during the ride here she'd been too busy listening to Jera ramble on about elves and trying not to let her truculence show too overtly, and then once they got to work in the barn the simple physical exertion had kept her mind pretty much blank.
She would never see her family again, she'd started working her way towards accepting that even when she'd been lying stunned on the floor back in the biological sciences building. TV, chocolate, the Internet - more things she'd probably never experience again but that she may well be able to get over in time. There might even be substitutes in this world. But being a slave? It definitely wasn't her thing. There had to be some way out of this, some other place to flee to. She'd have to keep an ear open.
But after lying there thinking about it for interminable minutes and having nothing to show for it, she decided that she was officially way too tired to worry about anything right now. There would be time for that later. The soft snoring coming from where Maria lay suggested she felt likewise. Lori closed her eyes and eventually drifted off to sleep.
Lori was first to wake this time, eyes snapping open to the distant sound of a cock crowing and flinching as the recollection of the previous day returned. She gave a quiet grunt and sat up, noting that she was still in the hayloft and it had all really happened. The sun was just barely starting to rise, the barn lit only by the pale pre-dawn glow of the sky. They must have only had a few hours of sleep.
Still, she felt reasonably rested. Her muscles weren't nearly as sore as they might have been, though she still felt bloated from the bad food and drink she'd had yesterday. Her nose also still felt swollen but at least it wasn't stuffed up any more. She rubbed her eyes, trying not to grind in more dirt than she removed, and scratched her itchy skin with a yawn.
Maria was evidently not sleeping very soundly and Lori's motion woke her up too. She groaned quietly and stretched in the hay before propping herself up on one elbow and blinking blearily. Lori chuckled and reached over to pick some bits of straw out of her long brown hair. It had somehow managed to avoid getting matted with sweat and tangles, something Lori's much shorter hair had had trouble with. "Good morning," she murmured.
Maria gave Lori a smile, though with a haunted edge to her expression. "We're still here."
"Yeah." Lori fingered her collar. It was not uncomfortably tight but it was snug enough that she could always feel it against her skin. She resisted the urge to rip at it in a futile attempt to get it off, though. She could see the token fastened on Maria's still glowing faintly in the dim light; there were probably all sorts of booby traps in them that she hadn't discovered yet.
The two got up and started preparing for whatever the day might hold, refastening bras and belts and slipping their shoes back on. They were still uncomfortably tight and Lori wondered if perhaps she was having a more generalized allergic reaction to something. Or was it a side effect of the token, bulking her up to deal with the hard work? She shook her head, in no mood to be pondering anything deeply. They were hungry again.
Soon they heard the barn door open and the clicking of hard-soled shoes across the flagstones they'd cleared the day before. Both of them tensed taking each other's hand in mutual reassurance as whoever it was came climbing up the heavy wooden ladder into the loft. They both sighed in relief when Bryce's lace-crowned head poked up over the edge. He certainly didn't seem happy to see them but for once the feeling was not mutual. Breakfast. Lori and Maria moved over to help him the rest of the way up. He was having shoe trouble too, the glossy black high-heels not ideal for the terrain, and was moving quite stiffly in the tight black corseted dress.
He was carrying another bucket of wilted garden greens, obviously rejects from the pantry. The girls dug in almost as singlemindedly as they had last night, though, leaving Bryce to stand awkwardly in silence until the edge had been taken off their hunger. Finally Lori had had enough to sate her and she stepped back, leaving Maria to finish off what was left. She and Bryce regarded each other.
Bryce adjusted his frilly white apron, still blushing in embarrassment but keeping his gaze firm this time; without Jera present this now felt like more of a meeting of equals. "I know you don't like me," he began, "and I certainly don't like you. But we're stuck here together and I think we should compare notes."
Lori snorted. "I'm not so sure it's a good idea to tell you anything we're up to, 'Bridgette.'"
Bryce grimaced angrily. "Okay, look. I'm not happy about any of this, I want out as much as you do. But I've been playing along, get it? I'm pretending to be all meek and compliant so that Mis- so that elf bitch will let her guard down around me!"
The outburst yanked Maria's attention up from the food and all three of them tensed, glancing around and waiting for a long moment to see if Jera's wrath would somehow be triggered. But she wasn't omniscient, it seemed, and they finally relaxed again.
"I'm sorry," Lori apologized, and found that she actually meant it. "I guess I just like having someone to blame for all this."
Bryce nodded. "Me too."
"Blame the elf who shot us," Maria interjected. They could all agree on that, at least.
"So, I don't have much time out here," Bryce continued quickly once the tension had died down. "Mistress Livremor is expecting me back and I'm probably already tardy. Near as I can figure, these elves have been picking up fads from pop culture they steal from Earth; that may explain why they've got a mix of classic Tolkien and this sort of thing." He tugged on the hem of his frilly black skirt. "Though really, I have no idea why she made me a maid rather than one of you two. I can barely move in this getup. You're lucky."
Lori snorted again. "We worked really hard yesterday."
Bryce gave a wry grin. "I can see that. But you have no idea how complicated all the rules and etiquette are that I'm having to pick up in there. It's like navigating a minefield. And doing it while wearing this outfit... You just have to shovel crap and move heavy things."
Lori grudgingly nodded, admitting that their work was at least simpler and less demeaning. Jera had probably been right about her suitability for the role of housemaid. Though demeaning outfit aside, she was still rather envious of Bryce's obvious access to hygiene. He was even smooth-shaven. Lori absently scratched her itchy leg and cocked her head slightly, noticing that Bryce had had a glowing silver token similar to the ones they'd received yesterday installed in his own collar's fastener. Peering closer revealed that its engraved symbol was different, though; a vertical line that split halfway up into a triangular brush. A stylized feather duster, she realized with amusement. "When did you get-"
"Bridgette!" Jera's distant call interrupted her.
Bryce instantly snatched up the empty bucket and hollered "coming, Mistress!" in reply. He glanced quickly back at the two of them with an apologetic expression and lowered his voice; "Gotta go. Talk again later I hope." Then he hurried over to the ladder and climbed back down it as fast as his high heels and dress would allow.
Lori went to the nearest window and looked outside, taking in as much of the surrounding countryside as she could in the early morning light. Maria joined her. She hobbled a little, obviously having developed sore feet yesterday as well. "What're you thinking?" She asked.
Lori shook her head. "I'm thinking we've been bought by a bit of a nut. I'm not sure playing along like that is such a good idea, but I guess better him than us..."
"We've got a lot of work to do ourselves," Maria reminded her. Lori sighed. Since they were at least for the moment magically trapped in the barn - she could feel her collar tingling unpleasantly even as she leaned close to the loft window without poking her head through - there really wasn't much else they could do, short of setting up an ambush or some other such extreme measure. Going that extreme didn't seem like a good idea yet considering how little they knew about their circumstances, so work it would probably be. But she'd see what she could do to shirk it, if only on principle...
Jera came out personally about half an hour later and summoned the two down out of the loft. They reluctantly climbed down and stood before her. She spent a moment just looking at them, examining them with a clinical gaze that annoyed Lori greatly. Finally she asked, "so, how are you girls feeling? Ready to get back to your task?"
Lori and Maria glanced at each other. "Actually, I'm having some trouble with my shoes," Lori complained. "We weren't exactly dressed for this sort of work when we got captured. Mistress," she added quickly, and Maria nodded in agreement.
Jera smiled her half-smile. "Take them off," she ordered. They didn't hesitate long, their heels were already getting rubbed sore again and their socks were already filthy. Jera then indicated the open barn door. "Throw them away."
This time Lori did hesitate; she'd been hoping to be provided with a pair of boots or some equivalent first. But Jera subtly readied her wand and Lori decided it was too early in the day to feel that bad. She took Maria's shoes as well and walked gingerly over to toss both pair outside, her socks providing little protection against any sharp objects she might stumble across. She hadn't had tetanus shots recently. Fortunately they'd already cleared the area she was walking through, there didn't seem to be anything the soles of her feet couldn't handle on their own.
"Now, are you having trouble with anything else?" Jera asked when Lori returned. Lori flushed bright red in anger; it seemed the elf was toying with her. But she shook her head, not wanting to lose any other articles of clothing. "Good. Now, resume what you started yesterday. I will set Bridgette to some chores and when I am sure she can handle them unsupervised I'll return to see how you're doing."
As if shoveling all this cow manure wasn't bad enough, now they had to do it in sock feet? Lori sighed in exasperation as soon as Jera had gone out of earshot. "I'm going to get those shoes. Is there a rake or a hoe I can use...?"
Maria shook her head. "Wait, maybe it's a test. Maybe she's going to bring us work boots or something when she comes back."
Lori had to admit that it sounded like something Jera might do. The two reluctantly resumed shoveling. They took great care not to step on anything harmful, taking to walking around on tip-toes to minimize the risk. Their toes started going numb but at least neither of them stumbled onto anything that hurt them.
The rest of their problems only seemed to be getting worse, however. Their work slowed as Lori felt her bra straps cutting into her back and her belt applying ever more pressure to her unsettled, bloated stomach. On top of all that she was developing a headache and a pain in her lower spine. From the pained expression and stiff movements she could tell Maria was having the same difficulties. Finally she couldn't take it any more. She tossed down her shovel with an inarticulate yell of frustration and stripped off her shirt, fumbling with her bra's snaps and almost losing her balance as she unfastened it. She'd just go without that too.
Lori closed her eyes for a moment and sighed in relief, nipples practically tingling from the release of pressure. When she opened them again Maria was staring at her chest with a surprised expression. Lori chuckled. "Whew. Sorry for the sudden toplessness, I just couldn't take..." She trailed off, looking down herself. Her breasts had definitely grown, perhaps an entire cup size larger than she was used to. She hefted them in her hands, feeling the increased weight more easily now that they hung free. But perhaps even stranger was the growth of her nipples. They were as thick and conical now, protruding a full inch out from puffy areolas. "The hell?" She pinched one lightly and winced at its sensitivity.
Maria started stripping too and Lori saw that she had the same developments. But she didn't stop there. She also undid her belt and pulled open the fly of her shorts, letting her lower abdomen bulge out of confinement. The soft bulge was even more bizarre tucked down there, looking very out of place on her otherwise fit physique. It had four small bumps protruding from it. "Oh... oh god, I need to sit down," Maria murmured and wavered unsteadily on her toes.
Lori hurried to support her before she fell, their enlarged breasts pressing firmly up against each other as she slung Maria's arm over her shoulders. The excess flesh rubbing against each other was very distracting but Lori tried to keep focused and helped guide her over to a stool. Her own pants felt extremely tight too, she hadn't tried undoing them yet but guessed she'd find a bulge under them much like Maria had. What else was happening to them? She pulled off one of her socks and was met with the biggest surprise yet.
Her toes had fused together until there were just two left on each foot, the merged toenails growing over the ends into thick masses that resembled a cloven hoof. No wonder they'd felt numb... The source of Lori's headache turned out to be two hard bumps on her scalp that were just starting to erupt into a pair of horns. Her backache, likewise, seemed to be due to the stub of a tail forming at the base of her spine. Her ears were longer, pointier, and definitely hairier than they should be, and her swollen nose was broader than could be explained by simple allergies. Once all the changes were put together out in the open it seemed pretty clear what was happening. By some bizarre elven magic they were starting to look a bit like cows.
"Ah, girls, I see you've made good progress this morning." Lori looked up from her toes to see that Jera had entered the barn again; she'd been too distracted to notice until now.
Maria actually whimpered in fear but Lori's gaze was venomous. "What are you doing to us?" She demanded.
Jera glared back. "I should think you would be more respectful by now. Address me properly or not at all." The staring contest held for a moment, Jera's hand steady on her wand, then Lori broke it off and decided on silence. There was no way she'd call Jera 'Mistress' right now.
Jera nodded, at least temporarily satisfied, and walked in to the barn. Lori hurriedly pulled her shirt back on, the fabric stretching tight over her chest and poking out over her enormously erect nipples but giving a slight modicum of decency. Jera glanced at her with obvious distaste. "Such plain clothing you people wear, you are really better off without. No matter. Bridgette is finally accomplishing her chores with some modicum of passable skill so I finally have some time to devote to you two. I haven't had much to spare since Sharelos went to town."
Lori's ears twitched and she tried not to let the unexpected physical reaction distract her from the information that had triggered it. Jera was apparently alone on the estate right now.
"It occurs to me," Jera continued, "that aside from my description of our elven civilization during the coach ride here I have provided you with very little information about what to expect for yourselves. Heh," she chuckled and walked toward them. "I only just realized as I came out here that I did not even know your names yet."
Lori gritted her teeth. "I'm Lor-" Jera cut her off with a wave of the wand, apparently not having intended her statement as a question.
"I decided on the way over," she told them. "You-" she pointed the wand to Maria- "are Annabell, and you-" she pointed to Lori- "are Bess."
Lori blinked in surprise. It was the final indignity. As Jera continued on to her next topic Lori surged to her feet and lunged for Jera's wand. Jera dodged with effortless elven grace and in an instant Lori realized she'd underestimated Jera's reflexes. But then at the last moment Jera seemed to change her mind and moved to allow Lori to grab the wand.
Lori fell past Jera and collapsed, completely paralyzed the instant she'd touched it. Maria leapt up and stumbled to her side. "Lori!" She grabbed Lori's shoulders and rolled her onto her back, checking for injuries.
"Ah ah," Jera chided, still holding her wand nonchalantly. "Bess."
Maria looked up at the elf with a moment of incomprehension mixed with her terror, but then realized what Jera meant. "Bess," she stammered, returning her attention to Lori. "Bess, are you okay?"
Lori couldn't answer, of course; she felt like she'd been hit with another stunbolt. She was reduced to fuming silently inside her own mind and hoping Maria wouldn't do anything as stupid as she'd just tried herself.
"This sort of uncouth nonsense is unfortunate," Jera told the paralyzed woman huffily. "I was just about to provide you with some answers to your questions out of the goodness of my own heart, but I suppose this demonstration was useful as an object lesson in its own right. Magic obeys only elves." She turned to Maria. "Do not worry about her, Annabell, she will recover. Now, do you have any questions? Ask properly."
Maria paused, thinking carefully before she spoke. "Mistress, why are we turning into cows?" Her voice cracked slightly on the last word.
"It makes you more suitable for working the land. You see, before we discovered your world we would enchant our farm animals to tend to the farms themselves, and so we keep up the tradition with our human slaves." She gave Maria her half-smile. "I suppose it's mostly a fashion these days. Technically, you aren't 'turning into a cow' as you so crudely put it. If I want a cow I will just buy a cow. No, you're developing into a Taurus, a common model of agricultural slave. You'll still seem mostly human for whatever that's worth to you." She patted her pocket. "The charms carrying the enchantment were cheap but you'll still make excellent groundskeepers."
Cheap! Lori managed a snort despite her paralysis. She couldn't believe it.
Jera glanced down at Lori and sighed. "You are such a troublemaker. Well, so much for hands-on training, I don't have time to wait. You'll have to muddle on by yourselves. Both of you resume your cleaning work when Bess recovers. I should like this barn to be usable by tomorrow." She turned and headed back out the door. Jera had answered only one question but that answer was a doozy. What exactly did a 'Taurus' look like? Lori dreaded finding out.
Maria stayed kneeling next to Lori for a minute, cradling her head and sniffling quietly. Lori wished she could say something reassuring. Or at least ask her to move a bit, the naked large-nippled breasts hanging over Lori's head were a bit distracting. Finally Maria seemed to pull herself together a bit. "Lori, I'm sorry," she murmured. "I don't know what to do but I won't leave you."
Lori remembered what it had been like when their positions had been reversed, with Maria paralyzed and Lori refusing to leave her side, and was surprised by the trickle of a tear of her own down her cheek. She blinked rapidly to clear her vision.
Maria noticed Lori's tear and mistook it for distress. Her confusion over what to do was overwhelmed by a desperate need to do something, and without further thought she leaned down to kiss Lori on the lips.
Lori blinked, startled but for the moment unable to react. Maria's kiss was long and tender, evidently with strong feeling behind it, and Lori found herself quite moved. She twitched her fingers slightly and realized the paralysis was already starting to wear off. If Maria would just hold on for a little while longer...
But she pulled away, suddenly awkward as she realized how presumptuous her impulsive act had been. "Sorry," she murmured again. But Lori managed to give her a hint of a smile and Maria smiled back, relaxing slightly.
She remained cradling Lori's head in her lap while full control slowly returned to Lori's muscles. The moment was actually very nice and Lori knew that once it was over they'd have terrible things to contend with again. She didn't rush to get up.
Eventually, of course, reality's rude intrusion forced the issue. Lori's comfort eventually began to fail as a pain in her backside grew, and she realized to her chagrin that her tail was getting long enough to have a kink. With a quiet sigh she reached up and touched Maria's arm, alerting her to her impending movement, and then with Maria's assistance rose unsteadily to her feet. She shook her head and ran her fingers through her tangled hair, avoiding the budding horns above her temples. She wanted to take these changes as slowly as possible.
"Are you alright?" Maria asked quietly.
Lori nodded absently, reaching down the back of her pants to adjust the stub of her tail into a more comfortable position. It was impossible. Her pants were just too tight with the growing bulge of her lower abdomen contained within them, and she was loathe to undo them and let it just hang out in the open like Maria had done. "Frickin' tail," she groaned uncomfortably.
"Yeah, I know," Maria commiserated. The tip of hers was already poking out of one of the legs of her shorts, it must have been approaching a foot long by now. If Lori's was the same size... she concentrated on the kinked feeling for a moment and jumped slightly when she felt it twitch.
With a little effort and prodding from the outside she was able to thread it down one of her pant legs. The soft brush of hair growing on the end tickled against her skin. "I think we'll need to cut holes for these."
Maria agreed. For the next few minutes they worked in silence on getting their clothing back in order, poking crude tail holes with the tines of a pitchfork and threading their new appendages through them. Maria put her shirt back on, but she looked somewhat uncomfortable about it and Lori figured she knew why. Without a bra on underneath the fabric of her own shirt rubbed on her nipples when she moved in certain ways, a not entirely unpleasant sensation but making it impossible to ignore how large and erect the things had become.
"Okay," Maria broke the silence after they'd got as comfortable as they could under the circumstances. "What do we do now?"
Lori shook her head. "I don't know. I... I'm feeling kind of confused." The admission slipped out before she'd fully analyzed her mental state herself. What did she want? Part of her wanted to rage, part of her wanted to cry. Those urges she understood. Part of her wanted to further explore the changes to her own body and part of her was repelled by the concept. Those were also quite understandable. Part of her wanted to explore Maria's body instead, to touch her lips again and feel the firm curve of her hips pressed-
Lori shook her head again. That part she didn't understand and she didn't want to approach it too closely right now. So what did that leave? There was one other major urge lurking in her thoughts right now, she realized.
"Maybe we should get back to cleaning up?" Maria asked, indicating it was weighing on her mind too.
Everything Lori wanted was conflicted. She definitely didn't want to comply with Jera's wishes, but at the same time the work really had started to feel good in some bizarre way. Calming, almost. And calming was something she could really go for right now. She needed to keep her mind off of all the other things competing for her attention.
The two got back to their task and as Lori had sort of hoped it soon sucked them back in to that single-minded focus again. The major part of the job - the shoveling - was finally finished after just an hour or two more, after which they did a thorough sweeping of what was left and started pulling out some of the larger debris piled in a couple of the stalls in back. Planks of wood, masses of tangled rope and rusted chain, and what looked like parts of two or three different broken carts.
And throughout it all their bodies continued to change. Lori had just enough attention to spare to keep track of that.
| Maria shows her changes
Their toes developed fully into cloven hooves, the shuffle of bare feet soon replaced with solid clopping on the flagstone floor. Their legs remained the same shape above the ankles but they sprouted a coat of short, dense hair from the knees down. A similar coat grew on their hips and lower back, spreading up until it just reached their ribs. Maria's new hair was brown, the same shade as her old hair, but Lori's was coming in white with large irregular black patches that were distributed all over her body. Like a Holstein, she recognized with embarrassment. Having an identifiable breed somehow made things seem even worse.
Their horns grew four inches long and their ears six, both sticking out from the sides of their heads. The pads of skin on the ends of their noses darkened and their nostrils broadened into cow-like snouts, though to their relief the rest of their faces remained essentially unchanged. Their ropy tails lengthened rapidly until the thick brush of hair at the ends almost reached the ground. They flicked reflexively, almost without conscious control, and Maria gave an occasional startled flinch when it brushed against her bare calves.
And their udders swelled, bulging out below their navels until even Lori had to bow to the inevitable and open her fly to let it out. The four teats sprouted from mere bumps to finger-length protrusions, gaining sensitivity to match their original nipples. Lori tried avoiding that part of her anatomy most of all but the way it bounced as she walked made it hard to ignore.
It was around mid-afternoon when the changes finally seemed to stabilize. Maria's breasts stopped at around C- or D-cup, large but not unmanageable, and while her udder would definitely get in the way of any pants she tried to wear it was a manageable D-cup as well... assuming that measure was actually applicable to udders. Lori's were both noticeably larger, but her breasts had started out larger to begin with so she assumed that had simply translated across.
Somewhat less significant, but still important, was the fact that they'd finally finished cleaning up the barn. The two were feeling emotionally and physically exhausted and they sat down together on their makeshift bench to recuperate, tails hanging restlessly in back and legs slightly splayed to give their udders room in front. For a while they just rested, leaning lightly against each other for support.
"Hey, your collar's stopped glowing," Maria suddenly observed. It was the first words either of them had spoken in quite a while and Lori's ears flicked in surprise at her voice's timbre; it was still feminine but it had dropped half an octave to a throatier tone.
"Yeah, yours too..." her own voice had also changed. She sighed; they even sounded a little cow-like now. "I guess the spell's run its course. So this is how a 'Taurus' looks."
Maria nodded, her expression haunted. "I... I guess it's not so bad..."
Lori snorted and her ears flicked again, this time in surprise at the increased snorting capacity of her snout. She reflexively licked the pad of leathery skin covering the end of her nose and flushed red with embarrassment. Her tongue had enlarged too, though fortunately not to as large a degree as her breasts. "I disagree," she mumbled once she'd regathered her wits.
"Sorry," Maria sighed. "I guess I was just thinking... I don't know." Tears welled and Lori realized she'd been struggling to put on a brave face. She silently kicked herself for her insensitivity and put an arm over Maria's shoulder, offering her own silent apology. Their horns poked awkwardly as Maria accepted it by snuggling in closer, resting her head against Lori.
Lori felt a pleasant tingle from Maria's closeness again, a warm sensation swelling in her gut. As if these new parts didn't feel strange enough already... She grumbled to herself in silent confusion.
They were interrupted by the sound of the house door opening and then approaching footsteps on the path outside, causing both to sit bolt upright again and turn their ears to catch any clue of their visitor's identity. The steps were slightly unsteady on the rough ground, not like Jera's graceful elven gait, so they both relaxed slightly even before the barn door pulled open.
Even though the black and white French maid's uniform was quite distinctive, both Lori and Maria did a double-take before they were sure of the identity of the person inside it. Bryce had also changed. His figure had pulled in dramatically at the waist and bulged at the chest and hips, his arms had slimmed, his legs become downright shapely in their fishnet stockings. His hair had lengthened and lightened in color and was now done up under the headpiece in - of course - a French braid. And his face was hardly recognizable, the features now clearly feminine and touched with a hint of makeup.
He, or perhaps now 'she', was carrying another bucket and blushing deeply. But when he saw Lori and Maria he did a double-take of his own, dropping the bucket in surprise and seeming to forget his own predicament for a moment. "Oh!"
Lori gave Bryce a rueful grin. "Come in, 'Bridgette.' I guess we've got stories to swap." Her stomach rumbled quietly at the thought of food but she figured she could hold off a bit under the circumstances.
Bryce's blush deepened. "Please, do not call me that," he asked as he walked over mincingly in his high heels. The pitch of his voice had raised a half octave, meeting theirs in the middle, and there was an odd cadence to his speech that Lori couldn't quite place at first. "It is bad enough that ze Mistress, uh, the Mistress, she calls me that all ze time..." He shook his head and paused for a moment, putting down the bucket again and rubbing his temples. "God, I can't keep my tongue straight. But what 'as 'appened to you?"
"We're 'Tauruses' now," Maria explained morosely. "Or Tauri, maybe. We're supposed to be agricultural workers or something..."
Lori let Maria talk, too caught up for the moment in studying Bryce. He was actually developing a French accent. She noticed that his collar had changed appearance somewhat, becoming narrow and black, but the silver charm with the feather duster symbol was still in place on it and unlike their own was still glowing faintly. "Are you still changing?" She asked bluntly once Maria had finished her brief summary.
Bryce grimaced and ducked his head slightly, tugging nervously at the edges of his skirt. "Oui. Uh, yes, dammit." He sighed. "I... I am still turning into a woman, I can feel it. 'Ell, even zis clothing is changing, it becomes tighter all ze time. And worse..." He trailed off, too upset to continue.
"Worse?" Maria prompted.
Bryce shook his head. "I've just been playing along with ze Mistress, pretending to like doing ze things she asks, trying to follow all ze little silly rules... but now it is getting hard to stop." She closed her eyes and took a shaky breath, chest swelling noticeably in the cups of his bustier. "I can't stop playing along. Is it even playing along any more when I can't stop? Were... were you right about me, mon ami?"
After all that had happened to them Lori had not expected to be in a situation to give Bryce comfort, but with the way he was opening up and on the verge of breaking down she couldn't help but offer a spot on their makeshift bench. The maid sat down very carefully and with some distance between them - Lori decided not to take it personally, he had delicate petticoats to consider - and gave a few dainty sniffles. She waited for him to either recover his equilibrium or lose it completely.
"I'm sorry," he said at last. "I'm being selfish. You two are obviously in a bad way yourselves..." He sniffed one last time, rubbing the tears from his eyes and reflexively smoothing his dress and hair. "I must look a mess, am I presentable?"
The concern over his appearance was probably another part of 'playing along' that he was having trouble resisting, but Lori gave a quiet chuckle she hoped would be taken as supportive. "Quite. You didn't even smear your makeup."
"I 'ave makeup?" Bryce blinked in surprise. Lori grimaced, realizing that what she'd taken for lipstick and eye shadow were apparently just altered skin pigmentation. She supposed it was pretty minor compared to the big black splotches she'd developed on her own skin, but it would probably still come as a bit of a shock when Bryce finally encountered a mirror.
"I take it you were sent to bring us food again?" Maria asked, quickly changing the subject to something a bit closer to their own hearts.
Bryce's expression became almost comically alarmed. "Oh! Of course, ze Mistress' instructions!" Then he smiled briefly. "I suppose it's promising zat I can still have zat... that I can still have that slip my mind." Lori nodded encouragingly, though her own thoughts were turning more firmly to hunger as well and she mainly just wanted him to get on with it. "She had some other things too, but oui, ze food is pour vous. For you."
That was all the prompting they needed. They got to their hooves and crouched on either side of the bucket, digging in right there on the floor. It was even lower grade kitchen scraps this time, just stalks and leaves and peels from various vegetables, but Lori found that it didn't seem to matter. Her molars had broadened and her jaw muscles were stronger now, allowing her to grind the tough plant matter up just as well as regular food. And the taste was quite good, actually.
For a long while they ate intently and in silence, tails twitching back and forth without thought. Then, as they reached the bottom of the bucket, they discovered that hidden under the greens was a small loaf of freshly-baked bread. Lori blinked, flicking her ears and licking her nose in a moment of confusion. Then she remembered Bryce, turning to look quizzically in his direction. He was still sitting on the makeshift bench, watching them eat with a vaguely appalled expression. She couldn't believe she'd forgotten he was still there.
He jumped slightly at Lori's attention and wiped the expression from his face. "Um, a present," he mumbled bashfully. "My first attempt at baking zis morning. Ze Mistress, she say eet is no good. But she did not tell me how to dispose of eet, so I bring you some... a peace offering."
Lori was actually a little touched; Bryce must really be feeling out of sorts. "Thanks. You didn't have to do that." Though she was absolutely stuffed she was sure she could handle a bit more. Real human food would be most welcome after all that roughage.
But Maria picked up the loaf and sniffed it while Lori spoke, an expression of distaste flitting over her bovine features that she quickly managed to hide. "Lori, can we save this for later?" She suggested.
Lori nodded. "You're right, it'll make an excellent snack. Thanks again, Bryce."
Bryce smiled. Then he looked startled again, remembering something. "Oh, ze rest of ze Mistress' instructions!" He shook his head. "She cannot be here zis afternoon, she is out on business. She say zat once you 'ave finished cleaning ze barn, you may go outside."
"May go out?" Lori asked with a snort.
Bryce nodded, repeating the words Jera had used if not the accent they'd been spoken in. Then, reluctantly, he climbed to his feet. "As for myself, I 'ave my own chores," he sighed. "I 'ave wasted enough time already... I hope I will be able to visit you again, and not just as Bridgette. Au revoir." He picked up the bucket and headed back toward the house again, his gait noticeably more feminine and steadier on his high heels than it had been even when he'd arrived not more than half an hour ago.
Lori shook her head after they'd watched him go. "That maid spell he's under seems even more extreme than our cow ones in some ways," she murmured. "At least in how it's affecting his behavior. These elves must have stolen some bad porn or something. I hope that thing on his collar wears out soon..."
"Lori, have some bread." Maria offered Lori the loaf, a serious tone in her deepened voice. Lori cocked her head, puzzled, but took the bread and raised it cautiously to her mouth.
It was still warm, the scent strong and as far as Lori could tell delicious. She had no idea why Jera had rejected it. But all the same, she found that she couldn't bring herself to take a bite. "Um..."
"Yeah, I got that too," Maria sighed. "It's not what we're supposed to eat."
That was a very disturbing feeling. Lori gritted her teeth - big, broad teeth intended for raw and fibrous plants, not for baked goods. "God damn it. I'll eat what I like." But she still just held the bread.
Maria smiled sympathetically. "Maybe later when we're hungry again. Bryce said we could go outside now, though, how about we try that?"
Lori nodded and set the loaf aside. They'd been trapped in the barn for almost a full day now, it would be a good change of scenery if nothing else. The two cow-girls went over to the door, approaching the threshold cautiously. Lori remembered well the terrible feeling she'd got when she'd tried passing here the day before... but this time there was only their own uneasiness and they poked their heads out without any outside influences moving to prevent them.
Lori and Maria stuck close together as they went out onto the overgrown lawn, their cloven hooves muffled by the sod. The Sun was still fairly high in the sky and it took a few minutes for their eyes to adjust after the relative shade of the barn's interior. The air was fresh and warm. The sense of freedom was almost overwhelming.
What's the catch? Lori wondered suspiciously, running her fingertips through her tangled black hair and rubbing her scalp in thought. Her hand came up against the base of one of her horns and she grimaced, taking hold and giving it a frustrated jerk that did absolutely nothing to dislodge it from her skull. Aside from the cow thing, of course. She knew it couldn't be as simple as just wandering off.
One problem was that she had no idea what the lay of the land was. This was the first time she'd been anywhere in this world on her own recognizance. "Let's explore a bit," she suggested. Maria nodded, taking Lori's hand.
The manor house's back yard was at the eastern corner of a large and roughly triangular open field, the rolling terrain bounded in the distance by hedgerow and forest. There was a large but weedy-looking garden patch with an ornate wooden fence around it, more decorative than a serious barrier, and several large sheds and other minor outbuildings that looked like they were dedicated to storage.
Really, what was to stop them from just wandering off? There wasn't a soul to be seen, elf or otherwise. Lori took the lead as they started off away from the barn and along the edge of the field.
Ironically enough, the field turned out to have been used most recently as a cow pasture. There were still strong traces of the scent in the air that they could identify despite the rather strong background odor they'd picked up for themselves from their work in the barn. Every once in a while one of them stepped in the remnants of an old cow pie hidden in the grass and Lori tried not to think of going bare-hoofed the same as going barefoot. It wasn't really the same.
"Ooh!" Maria's approving sigh came as they topped one of the taller rises and saw a small pond nestled in the hollow immediately beyond it. Lori trailed along as Maria picked up the pace, trying to keep up while minimizing the bouncing of breast and udder. Since hers were bigger she was at a bit of a disadvantage and released Maria's hand to let her go on ahead.
Maria's hooves squelched into the soft muddy soil at the water's edge and she paused for a moment to strip off her shirt. Lori blinked in surprise, huffing "What're you doing?" As she caught up.
Maria gave Lori a 'duh' look. "I'm hot, I'm sweaty, I've been cleaning a barn all day and I feel filthy. I'm going to wash." She tossed her shirt to Lori and then started wading into the water, moving slowly to keep her balance.
Lori was aghast. The pond was clearly just a large slough, from the old hoof prints churning up the shore the water must have had countless cattle polluting it over the years. But on the other hand... she looked down at her feet, noting how similar her own tracks in the mud were.
I am not a cow, Lori reminded herself firmly. No matter what spells these fucking elves cast on me. "I don't think that water's safe," she called out to Maria.
Maria was up to her mid-thighs already. "No, it's fine," she called back, continuing to forge ahead. "The slope's gentle. Kind of slippery bottom, but-" She stepped in a slight depression, stumbling a few steps, then suddenly stiffened. "Oh God! Oh! Oh!"
"What? What?" Lori dropped Maria's shirt and immediately splashed a few yards out into the water, intent to rescue her friend from whatever terrible fate had befallen her. But she skidded to a stop when Maria turned back toward shore and she saw the look on her face. She was flushed red with embarrassment but also the verge of barely constrained laughter.
"S-sorry," she stammered. "Cold water... on my, uh, my udder."
Lori blinked. It was an absurd moment, even after all the insanity she'd been through over the past day. Just about twenty four hours since I was kidnapped, she realized. Less than half that in this condition. I can barely accept that it's happened yet. I don't want to accept that it's happened yet.
Lori laced her fingers under her own udder where it protruded from the open front of her jeans, hefting it gently. "Thanks for the warning," she answered with a wry grin. Maria grinned back and then resumed wading deeper.
Lori's grin faded away, uncertain how to proceed. She was standing in water up to her knees, which meant her jeans were already soaked and wicking more moisture upward by the second. She waded back to shore and moved to a patch of reasonably dry grass. Getting her pants off to was a bit of a struggle on account of having to de-thread her tail through the back while balancing on hooves, but she managed it reasonably quickly and spread them out to dry.
Maria had reached the middle of the pond where the water was up to mid-chest, her breasts bobbing slightly as she moved. She seemed to be enjoying herself and Lori really did feel hot and filthy from all that work they'd done... The water couldn't be more contaminated than what they'd just spent all morning shoveling out of the barn, could it?
She realized there was no way she was going to be able to sort out her confused feelings right now, so she might as well just go ahead and act on them. She added her own shirt to the pile and, clad only in her panties and collar, headed down to join Maria.
The water was indeed cold, causing her already ludicrously large nipples to go 'spung' the moment her lower teats dipped in. She was more prepared than Maria had been so she just gave a little gasp and forged onward. It was nice to get the caked grime and sweat off, she had to admit, and the water wasn't so bad now that she was in it.
Maria had crouched down to wash her neck and she stood back up when Lori reached her, the water sluicing down off her breasts in a glistening display that was oddly captivating. Lori found herself flushed and feeling warmer than she should have at that temperature. She averted her gaze, ears flicking awkwardly, and started rubbing the water on her arms to get cleaned off more quickly.
"Would you like me to do your back?" Maria asked softly.
Lori's heart skipped a beat. She was so confused now she didn't trust herself to speak, her altered body sending her all manner of feelings and desires like she hadn't felt before. She wanted to deny them all but some of them were so strong... She nodded hesitantly.
Maria moved behind her and gently ran her hands up Lori's spine, the touch of the cold water sending a shiver through Lori's body and setting all six of her nipples throbbing. She worked slowly, massaging as much as cleaning, and Lori tried to allow it to be relaxing. Maria leaned closer, the warm breath on the back of Lori's neck dispelling some of the chill. It was working.
"Did you know you've got a spot shaped almost exactly like the British Isles back here?" Maria asked.
Lori blinked, having actually forgotten about the patchy Holstein coloration her skin had developed. It broke the moment. She pulled away with a small gasp, though the sloshing muddy water preventing her from getting far, and turned to face Maria.
There was a look of confusion on Maria's face almost as strong as Lori's own. "I'm sorry, did I do something wrong?"
Lori shook her head. "No, I-" she broke off, considering her response carefully. Maria's expression was mixed with both longing and concern and Lori's heart was aching at the sight. "I liked it. I like you. I'm just confused. I don't like what these elves have done to us and I don't know which of my feelings are really real."
"What do you mean?"
Lori didn't think Maria was being deliberately obtuse but it surprised her all the same. "I mean, uh, this feeling between us... this attraction. I feel it, I'm sure you can tell. But I'm not sure where it's coming from."
Now it was Maria's turn to be surprised. "You weren't queer? I mean, back at university, before?"
"I... I don't think I was," Lori answered awkwardly.
Maria smiled, equally awkward. "I'm sorry, all this time I was getting those vibes, and I kind of always thought... maybe if... I didn't want to say anything. But now, stuck like this, I didn't want to be alone."
The two stood facing each other in the chest-deep water for a moment, the silence stretching as Lori's mind whirled and her heart pounded. I've been kidnapped by elves, dammit, she thought plaintively. After everything else that's happened why is this throwing me so badly?
Maybe because this is about who and what I really am, she answered herself.
Slave. Cow-girl. Lesbian. Which of those were real? Lori actually felt like her knees were about to give out, and Maria must have picked up on that because she moved forward to catch her before they did. Lori didn't pull away this time and they stood for a long moment in an embrace, holding each other with their breasts and udders pressing together warmly in the cold water.
"How do you feel?" Maria asked at last.
Lori looked searchingly at Maria's face, the bovine nose not making her any less attractive. This shouldn't be romantic, part of her thought giddily. But the fire in her belly said otherwise and she found herself leaning forward. Maria met her in a kiss. It was tentative at first but soon grew passionate, their tongues probing each others' lips and their hands moving more intimately over each others' bodies. Maria's fingertips slid down the side of Lori's thigh and under her panties to rub lightly over her labia, stoking the fire hotter and setting Lori throbbing with desire. "Ooh," Lori moaned deep in the back of her throat. "That's good..."
The two spent a while out there in the water exploring each other further. Lori was still a little uncertain of herself, though, and so they didn't keep at it long before Maria reluctantly eased off. They were both left hot and flustered despite the Sun starting to get a little low in the sky.
"Okay," Maria finally asked, "So what do we do about this now?"
Lori shook her head. "No fucking clue. I suppose we should get out of the water at some point..." She grimaced at a sudden realization and an even brighter flush reddened her face. "I've lost my panties in here somewhere."
Maria couldn't help but chuckle. The muddy bottom had been thoroughly churned up and if they weren't floating now there was no chance of finding them. "Come on out anyway, I promise not to look."
Her shyness was silly, Lori readily admitted to herself, but even after all that had happened to her there was a difference between walking around in her panties and walking around completely nude. Well, aside from her collar... Lori trudged determinedly to shore, trying not to think about it. She and Maria stood air-drying for a few minutes in what was left of the sunlight before they slipped back into the clothing they'd left on the shore.
They were relatively clean and felt energized. Lori looked out at the hedgerow marking the far boundary of the field, where they'd been heading before getting a little sidetracked - Lori snorted at the private understatement - and considered heading onward with Maria. Perhaps something would stop them, but perhaps not; she was in the mood for testing boundaries now.
But there was a competing urge welling up as dusk approached, one she had less of an explanation for. She swished her tail restlessly at the internal conflict. "We should be getting back to the barn now," Maria finally gave the urge voice.
This was definitely the cow part of her talking, Lori realized, no question. She could recall Jera mentioning that elves enchanted their farm animals to care for themselves, and they seemed to have inherited more than just the appearance. "I don't know if we should."
Maria smiled wryly. "What, become wild cattle? I don't think I have that in me. I..."
"We're people, Maria," Lori insisted. "We're not cows. This is just some spell, we'll figure out some way to break it. We don't have to do what Mistress Livremor wants."
Maria shook her head sadly. "I was paying attention in the coach too, Lori. I still don't know much about how elf magic works, don't know if I ever will, but she said that in this world enchantments can't be broken. If that's true... Maybe you should start calling me Annabell."
After feeling so good just so short a while ago it was a hard thought to have to grapple with. "We're not stuck like this forever," Lori insisted.
"Well... I guess she could have been lying." But Lori could tell from Maria's wistful sigh that she didn't really believe that. For Lori's part she was having a hard time putting herself in that mindset even hypothetically; there had to be some way out. She couldn't imagine thinking about what to do if this was forever.
With an uncomfortable silence between them now they both decided it was time to get moving, so they started off together away from the slough. It was only after they'd walked most of the way there that Lori realized she'd turned back toward the barn without a thought. For a moment she considered turning around again right then and there, stalking off into the night regardless of the consequences, but she was starting to feel a bit tired.
Tomorrow, she promised herself. I'll look for a way out tomorrow.
The cock's insistent crowing was loud in Lori's enlarged ears, dragging her awake without the help of an adrenaline surge this time. She sat up ponderously in her hay-pile bed, yawning and stretching with a groan.
Still a cow-girl. She couldn't really think of a good reaction to that any more. What was she supposed to do, wake up every morning screaming? Instead she just scratched the hairy hide on her hip and flicked the tip of her tail.
The soft clunking of hoof on wood elsewhere in the loft indicated that Maria was already up and about. Lori climbed to her own hooves and carefully slipped on her pants and shirt, wincing slightly at the sensitivity of her breasts and udder. They felt swollen, even compared to their 'normal' large size. She hoped she hadn't slept on them wrong or picked up some infection.
Lori found Maria at the far end of the loft, hefting bales of hay and moving them from one pile to another. She seemed pretty intent on the task and Lori was impressed with the strength she was putting into it. "Hey, how are you doing? And what are you doing?"
Maria looked up from her current bale and smiled in greeting. "Oh, good morning. I, uh, just felt like getting to work right away..."
Lori shook her head. There wasn't much tidying left to be done in the barn any more, rearranging the bales didn't seem particularly urgent or purposeful. But on the other hand, it did seem to be a good way to get the blood flowing after waking up. She helped Maria shift a few.
They hadn't spoken much after they'd got back the previous night. Nobody had been in the barn, though another bucket of fodder had been left for them - Jera had evidently been quite confident of their return. They had eaten their meal, rinsed themselves and their clothes as best they could with water from the rain barrel, and then had gone to bed in the loft much as they had the night before. This time Lori had spent a lot longer lying awake, though, gazing over at her companion already asleep in the hay beside her.
In hindsight she wondered if she had seen any signs that Maria was gay. Hell, she wondered if she had seen any signs about her own orientation. She probably had, but had just misinterpreted them without giving them enough thought. But at least there was the strange comfort that this wasn't the biggest change she was having to deal with right now.
Lori dropped the last bale into place in the reorganized pile with a grunt and took a moment to survey their work. "We need aprons," she suddenly announced.
"Eh?" Maria paused, shaking her head and brushing at her horns to get a snagged tuft of hay off. "Why?"
She gestured at her bulging udder. "I'm ticklish, okay?" And tender, she added silently.
Maria actually gave a deep-throated chuckle at the comment. A moment later, though, their ears twitched in unison and they were interrupted by the sound of the barn door being pushed open. Then they both sighed in relief at the click of high-heeled shoes on flagstone. Those shoes meant Bryce, which meant breakfast. The two quit what they were doing and climbed down the ladder to meet him halfway.
Meet her halfway. The charm on her collar - now a black satin choker with white lace edging - was no longer glowing, having evidently finished its magical work. Her face was unrecognizable now, features fully feminine and enhanced with 'makeup.' Her figure looked almost painful, waist held in snug by the bustier and breasts pushed up close to the size of their own. Lori noted with a twinge of irony that she actually did have a frilly white apron as part of her uniform, but decided she definitely didn't want one like that.
She wasn't carrying anything else with her this time. The two girls clopped to a puzzled halt. Bryce sighed, keeping her embarrassed gaze cast down at their hooves. "Bonjour," she lilted sweetly, "ah am sorry, ah 'ave no food pour vous zis morning."
The combination of her voice's altered tone and heavy accent made it hard to tell what her attitude really was and Lori swallowed nervously. "Um, Bryce?" She asked. "Or Bridgette...?"
The maid smiled, seemingly a vacuous expression but with a definite haunted look to her eyes. "Ah am still in 'ere," she murmured quietly. "But zis magic, zis charm..." she fingered her choker. "Eet is like she ees in my 'ead, you know? Ah try to say somezing, or ah try to do somezing, but eet is Bridgét who says and does..." She trailed off with a sigh, then shook her head. "Ah cannot believe eet has come to zis, my life. But ah must live, non?"
"Yeah, I know what you mean..." Lori nodded, relieved at least that 'Bridgette' was still only just a shell over the real Bryce. She had come to realize that their earlier antagonism had really been quite petty and she regretted it. She still didn't necessarily like Bryce, though... Heh. He's turned into a woman and he's still not my type. It was a strange reassurance in a way.
"Are you bringing orders from Mistress Livremor, then?" Maria asked.
Bryce nodded. "Oui. She say zat zis morning, you will go to ze garden and tend to ze plants yourselves. She say zat ah must prepare ze casserole, I need to 'ave fresh carrot, caulifleur..." She rattled off a short list of vegetables and the two of them nodded at each.
"Where is she right now?" Lori asked when Bryce was done.
"She ees going to teach me ze casserole she likes. Ze Mistress, she ees very hands-on. And ze magic charm, eets training only goes so far..." A rueful grin tugged at Bryce's pouting ruby-red lips. "Ah 'ave not even gained ze true Français, just a few random words and zis stupid accent."
Lori shook her head, tail lashing angrily. "We're fashionable slaves. It doesn't have to make sense or be practical."
"Oui. Ze Mistress, ah think she is trés vain. Ah do not think she ees as wealthy as she likes, and so she ees putting on ze airs..." Bryce sighed. "And ah must return to her now and play along. Ah will try to learn. Au revoir, mon vache."
Bryce parted their company, heading back to the house. They gathered up a few gardening tools from around the barn that they hoped would be useful - Lori found something resembling a small plough with a human-sized yoke and hoped it wasn't intended to be used by them at some point - and made their way out as well, heading for the garden patch.
Neither of them had much experience with this sort of thing but fortunately their task looked quite straightforward. The garden was overgrown but had apparently been well planted before it fell to neglect, the vegetables they were after were all there in abundance. They pulled a few of each, setting them aside on a sheet of burlap. The vegetables themselves were off limits just like the bread had been, Lori could tell that without even trying to eat any this time, so the girls were forced to satisfy their own hunger by browsing on some of the more succulent weeds as they went.
And without having to be zapped by her collar, either... Lori rubbed the thick leather band absently while she chewed. It hadn't zapped her since they'd finished changing, now that she thought of it. She'd just somehow known what was 'wrong', and that doing the wrong thing just felt bad. It was like the magic had moved inside her head too.
"Annabell! Bess!" Jera's distant call snapped Lori out of her uncomfortable train of thought. The two hurriedly picked up the corners of the burlap and carried their haul to the house. Lori felt a strange sense of foreboding as she and Maria got close, their hoofsteps faltering as they arrived at the back porch.
Despite Jera's summons going inside the house felt very wrong. Lori reached for the door handle experimentally. Dirty! The thought made her pull her hand back and she frowned in confusion. Dirty? It looks clean to me... oh.
She was dirty. And she realized that no amount of washing would change that feeling. It was just not appropriate for a farm animal to go inside an elf dwelling.
Jera opened the door and stepped outside. "Ah, there you are. I wondered what was keeping you. Bridgette!" Bryce stepped out to join her, giving an obsequious little curtsy. "Take these vegetables inside and prepare what you need, I'll be back to the kitchen shortly." Bryce curtsied again and took the burlap from Lori's hand, giving her a secretive little nod of thanks that Lori barely registered.
"You two, go put down some fresh straw in one of the stalls," Jera told them. "Make sure it's done by noon. I will be coming to inspect and instruct after lunch." Then she was gone too, leaving Lori to silently fume.
Maria put her hand on Lori's shoulder and gave her a supportive squeeze, then nudged her to come along with her back toward the barn.
"I am not a cow." Lori spoke through gritted teeth, the comment aimed at nobody in particular.
"I know." Maria's soft-spoken response seemed to Lori to be meant as just a platitude, and her anger only grew. Was Maria just accepting this? It had only been a day!
But Lori found she couldn't keep her anger up for long, and certainly not at Maria. She finally yielded to Maria's nudge and the two of them walked back to the barn. It seemed that this would be their living space for the foreseeable future now.
"Even Brittney Spears never had to put up with this..." Lori sighed.
Maria blinked. "Wha?"
"On that show you liked, 'The Simple Life'"
Maria shook her head. "She wasn't on that, it was Paris Hilton."
"Oh." Lori flicked her tail, thinking for a moment. "Okay, maybe she's woken up in a barn with her boobs hanging out before." Maria chuckled and even Lori felt a little better; even in her current state she could still look down on Paris Hilton.
The two got to work, hauling down a couple of bales of straw and spreading them on the floor in the two stalls farthest to the back. The padding muffled their hooves nicely but didn't otherwise make the stalls seem very comfortable or 'homey.' "I hope Mistress Livremor isn't thinking of banning us from the loft," Maria mused, obviously thinking along the same lines.
Lori snorted. "We can't go in a real house, so for now this is our house. We'll sleep in the loft if we want." It wasn't exactly the most ambitious line to draw in the sand but Lori was willing to set her sights a bit lower right now.
Maria nodded. "Still, let's go get some rest while we can. Be a shame to have rearranged it this morning for nothing."
Lori followed Maria up the ladder, curious about what she meant. When she took a second look at the bales of hay that she'd helped Maria stack that morning, though, she chuckled. She hadn't noticed how Maria had been laying out walls into a sort of crude apartment. "Hey, nice idea."
"Thanks." Maria sat down on the other side of one of the bales and stripped off her shirt with a relieved sigh. "I thought we could use the privacy." She lightly massaged her breasts.
Lori's ears flicked back in surprise and she was momentarily unsettled. But Maria's ginger touch didn't seem intended as sexy or inviting and Lori realized she must be having the same tenderness issues that she was. "After what happened yesterday in the pond I'm not sure privacy is really a major concern..."
Maria smiled. "I don't want to rush you into anything. I know that might have been just an impulsive moment..."
"No, I'm okay." Lori pulled off her own shirt and sighed too. "And if nothing else, I've been in plenty of locker rooms." She sat down and tried to relax, her enlarged nipples throbbing but feeling a little better now that they were out from under the constraint of her shirt. She closed her eyes and leaned back, waited for the throbbing to subside.
Maria gave a quiet moan. Lori tried to ignore it, not wanting to intrude. But after a few minutes Maria moaned again, more loudly this time, and then a third time. Lori lifted her head and opened her eyes, turning slightly to glance over at Maria. "Maoooh-" Lori clapped her hand to her mouth, stifling a moan of her own.
It startled Maria too, or at least its sudden cut-off did. "Lori?"
Lori lifted her hand and spoke very carefully, keeping her voice under control. "You were mooing."
Maria snorted incredulously. "I was just-"
"Moaah!" Lori clapped her hand back in place, the interruption having welled up without warning from somewhere deep in her gut. Her face flushed bright red. This is new, dammit. But we finished changing already!
Maria paused, and then resumed speaking with deliberation. "My breasts feel swollen. My udder, too. I feel full. I think..." She trailed off, not wanting to state the obvious idea out loud. Then she let out another loud moan and flinched, realizing for the first time that she had no control over making the sound.
Lori kept one hand firmly over her mouth and used the other to grip one of her lower teats. Stay calm, girl, she thought to herself. Now, how does this work? She squeezed gently, trying to find the right motion. It felt good, at least. It felt-
A squirt of white fluid shot out of the tip and sprayed on the wooden floor. "Mmph!" She barely stifled the startled exclamation, even though she'd been expecting it. Wrong! Wrong! This is wrong! Mustn't spill! She yanked her hand away and scrambled to her hooves, breasts and udder bouncing almost painfully from the extra weight that had accumulated in them since yesterday. "I'm not a cow, I'm not!"
Lori glaring around the loft for a moment as if challenging the universe to an argument. Then the response came from her own mouth in the form of another moo, as unstoppable as a hiccup. She clamped her mouth shut.
"We're lactating. We need to be milked, Lori," Maria spoke quietly and with infuriating resignation from where she sat. "We filled up overnight. That must be what this lowing is about. A signal that we're ready."
Lori shook her head, refusing to believe it. No way is Jera milking us. That elf wouldn't get her oh-so-elegant hands dirty with something like that, anyway. Which means... Lori's ears pinned back and she bared her teeth. No way is Bryce milking me! She'd forgiven him for getting them caught, more or less, considering how bad his own situation had wound up. And there was no way she'd be making fun of his new accent now. But she still didn't like him - her - particularly much and the image of the maid working her teats was too much. "Mustn't spill. Damn that charm, mustn't spill... we need a pail. Maybe we can do this ourselvesmmm." She barely stopped herself from lowing again, though the sensation of doing so was as unpleasant as stifling a sneeze.
Maria got up and helped her search but to Lori's amazement despite all the junk that had been in the barn she didn't find anything that felt suitable. None of the potential containers were hygenic enough, large enough, or otherwise able to satisfy the magic compulsion lurking in the back of her brain that required her to make sure her milk didn't go to waste.
Lori kept herself muffled but Maria let herself moo freely, settling in to a frequency of about thirty seconds to a minute between each. It grated on her nerves. Finally, though, her big bovine ears picked up a different sound; a distant heavy clop of horse's hooves on the dirt road and the creaking rumble of wagon wheels. She and Maria halted their hunt and listened as it stopped for a minute out by the house. Then a smaller set of hooves started clopping closer. They stopped again just outside.
The door opened to reveal Jera Livremor. Lori tensed, reflexively pawing at the ground and snorting, and Maria put a worried hand on Lori's arm to keep her from doing anything rash.
"Good afternoon, girls!" Jera called out cheerfully as she entered. "I have brought your new charge, the start of a new herd for this farm. Her name is Clara. I hope you've prepared that stall for her."
She was followed obediently through the door by an ordinary young calf. It was still gangly and wobbly on its legs, clearly only a matter of days old. This was not at all what Lori had been expecting and in that brief moment of confusion she let her guard down, the moo she'd been holding in slipping free.
The calf perked up at the sound and began to advance toward her, giving an eager bleat of its own. Lori found herself retreating from a horror she couldn't have imagined just days ago. Jera actually let out a laugh at the scene. "Oh, don't tease the little dear, Bess! She had a long and hungry ride over here."
Maria took a deep breath. "Moooaaah!" The calf halted, turning toward her instead.
Lori halted too, locking gazes with Maria. She looked determined, and Lori realized that she'd let out that diversionary moo deliberately. Was she trying to protect her? "Maria..."
Maria shook her head. "Annabell," she murmured back. The calf nuzzled up to Maria's udder and she closed her eyes for a moment, wincing. But then the calf took her teat and began to nurse, and her expression changed to one of relief bordering on ecstasy. "Mmmooh, I needed that," she sighed.
Lori couldn't take the sight and turned, fleeing back up into the loft. The bouncing of her udder was quite uncomfortable by this point, all the moreso now that she knew there was relief for her condition waiting just downstairs. It was an unacceptable relief. Sure, perhaps she needed it right now, and she could perhaps handle it as a one-time thing. But would she be full again the next morning? And the morning after that? And...
I am not a cow! She grabbed her shirt from where she'd left it and gingerly tried slipping it back on, but her swollen nipples were just too sensitive now. Not to mention the quiet, insistent feeling in the back of her mind that she really should leave them exposed for ease of access... Lori let out a deep, moaning moo, and hurled her shirt angrily into the corner. "Fine, yoou want me naked? Fine!" She stripped off her jeans too, leaving her with just the collar. She grabbed it and started trying to pull it open, but although there was no warning zap this time she knew with sick certainty that there was no way it was going to come off. It represented the elf magic that bound her, that was now fully a part of her.
It was some time before Maria eventually climbed up into the loft too, approaching as gently as she could on cloven hooves. Lori was sitting on a straw bale and didn't speak, jaw clamped tightly shut to stifle her lowing, but Maria had recovered from her need and spoke softly. "Um... are you mad at me?"
Lori met her gaze. Maria hadn't been afraid down below with that ravenous calf bearing down at her, but now she was clearly frightened. Tears were on her cheeks not from the humiliation she'd just experienced but from fear of what Lori thought of her for it. Lori shook her head.
Maria smiled, looking as relieved as she'd been when that calf had started draining her. "Thank god. I swear, I didn't want to go first, but you looked so scared... I promise, it wasn't bad. Clara was eager but very well behaved. She should be a little less enthusiastic now, too."
Lori cocked her head, puzzled. "Mmroo?"
Maria glanced over to the ladder leading down. "For your turn. Taurids aren't as big as real cows, Clara's still hungry and I'm tapped out." The calf sent a plaintive moo of its own up from below, as if in confirmation.
Lori stood up, wincing at the heavy bounce of her swollen mammaries. "Nnoo!"
Lori froze and stared at Maria again. She was smiling earnestly, but was there something more to her expression? Jera sent her up, she realized.
Maria gave a small nod, the fear back in her eyes again. "Mistress Livremor wants me to bring you back down," she spoke quietly. "S-she gave me these..." Maria held up a set of fine silver manacles she'd been keeping tucked discreetly out of sight. "I don't want to use them, I don't want you to be mad. But it wasn't so bad, and we have to accept..."
"Moaaah," Lori lowed, then shook her head and tried again. "Moooah..." She gritted her teeth. She needed to be milked so badly now that she couldn't even get Maria's name out without mooing.
"She said she'd send Bridgette up if I didn't," Maria added tearfully.
That did it. There was no way Lori was going to let Bryce chain her up. But Maria, at least, she trusted. And there was no escaping her need to be milked, not any more. She reluctantly held out her hands.
"Behind your back," Maria specified. Lori flushed and embarrassed red and turned around, complying. The silver cuffs clicked into place and Lori thought she felt a tingle, but shook her head. Considering all it had done to her already there was little to fear from additional elf magic.
The two descended back down to the main floor, Maria holding Lori steady as she went down the ladder without free hands. Jera and Clara were waiting. Clara had been moved to the stall they'd prepared for her, and Jera stood impatiently just outside. "Finally, Bess. I swear, you are such a disobedient one. But I see you finally got rid of the rest of that horrid clothing, good girl."
She gestured for her to come over and enter the stall. Lori grudgingly did, feeling like she was walking the last mile. When she got there Jera hooked a short chain to her collar, pulling it around behind her to fasten her to the stall's wall. "There. Now you'll take your turn, and like it. Clara's very young, you know, they're cheapest when they're fresh from the mother like that."
The calf nosed around Lori's udder and she tensed at the lips mouthing at her teats. Just... just pretend... She thought desperately, trying to come up with some less humiliating scenario to console herself with.
Clara latched on and began to suckle, milk draining from Lori's strained glands and tears trickling from her eyes. Maria stood pensively just outside the stall and tried to meet her gaze again to offer what comfort she could.
| Lori feeding Clara
No. I'm not a cow, she grimaced. Maybe Maria was right. Maybe playing along might make things easier for now. But there had to be some way out of this eventually. And until then...
Clara was insatiable but perhaps that was for the best. It took her at least fifteen minutes to empty Lori's udder. Lori kept her eyes shut for most of it, trying to ride out the experience without paying it any more attention. But when she was done she could still feel a moo lodged at the back of her throat waiting to come out, and her regular human breasts still felt just as tight as her udder had. "Lean forward a bit," Maria urged. "Clara can't reach."
Lori shook her head silently, tears streaming down her cheeks. The chain wasn't nearly long enough and she couldn't take any more of this. But then Maria's soft touch on her shoulder pulled her back from the brink of despair. Maria had clearly seen Lori's problem and gave her a nervous smile. "Mistress is out of the barn right now," she spoke quietly. "Don't know when she'll be back to fix this chain. Let me help." She leaned tentatively closer.
Lori guessed what she meant to do and held still in quiet acceptance, though she found her heart racing and she had no idea what she'd think of it once this overriding need was passed. Maria took one of Lori's engorged nipples into her own mouth and started massaging its length with her tongue, sucking gently to get her milk flowing.
A small sigh escaped Lori's throat. This was quite different from Clara's mindless urgency, a more tender ministration that Lori had to admit actually felt quite good. Maria swallowed each mouthful she drew out, careful not to spill a drop. A corner of Lori's mind wondered why this wasn't considered forbidden 'elf food' like the bread or vegetables had been, but it was a very small corner; the rest of her mind was too busy feeling various flavors of pleasure and relief.
Eventually Maria switched breasts, and then some time later finished the second one too. Lori sighed again as Maria pulled away, her nipple slipping from the warmth of her mouth. "Thank you," she murmured. Maria smiled and just kissed Lori in response. Lori kissed back. The sweet taste on Maria's lips was from her own milk, she realized, but she found herself remarkably undisturbed by that.
A plaintive high-pitched moo from Clara interrupted their kiss by actually managing to trigger a small laugh. "Maybe she's feeling cheated?" Maria mused.
Lori shook her head. "Jera's fault, this short chain-" Maria cut her off by resuming their kiss.
Still chained up and with her hands bound behind her back Lori was unable to resist. Maybe she'd never learn to accept all aspects of her situation. But right now Lori found that she didn't mind this particular one.