illustrated by Лусхүү (Luskhuu)
It felt like falling, at first. It felt like a sudden shift in angle, and gravity pulling him down, but there was no ground for him to hit, nothing to break the fall. It felt like an inexorable sinking, like some endless elevator, and then, just as suddenly, he realized down had become forwards and the dark empty nothing around him had taken on a more liquid kind of formlessness, and then two enormous, taloned hands scooped him up like so much flotsam and he was being held aloft in the burning-hot grip of a creature so big its fingers nearly met around his ribcage.
There you are, the creature said.
It looked human, at first glance. Larger than life, perhaps; strange and beautiful, certainly; but it had a face, eyes and nose and smiling mouth all human enough. The slope of its shoulders, the curve of its heavy breasts and wide hips, were all perfectly convincing, but the illusion ended at the thigh. From there, the smooth human skin vanished under layer upon layer of overlapping scales; behind it, a massive, serpentine body lay coiled. Its mouth did move as it spoke, but its lips formed words he didn’t recognize. Its voice rolled through his head like thunder, rumbling up from within rather than filtering through from without.
It couldn’t mean him: he was no one’s daughter, and never would be. Still, he felt strangely compelled to answer. He tried to focus. He didn’t remember much, but he remembered enough to ask the most important question. “Am I dead?”
Yes, the creature said.
Ah. Well, that was some relief. He’d been dreading work in the morning. Frankly, he’d been dreading turning sixty in a few years, too, without a damn thing to show for all his years on Earth. This was better. Nobody would be disappointed in him any more. Nobody would even miss him, except maybe his spider plant, but who knew — he’d managed to keep it alive for two decades, despite never remembering to water the stupid thing. Maybe it would outlast him.
“So it’s over.”
In a manner of speaking, said the creature. One life is over. Another waits for you up ahead.
Only then did he look around, and take note of his surroundings. The creature was sitting in a giant nest, beyond which stretched a foggy black river with a narrow dirt path worn into either bank. The nest was woven of huge red branches of some wood he’d never seen before, still wearing their glossy black needles, and lined with downy feathers and shiny mementoes. Piles and piles of coins peeked past the edges of the feathery lining, and tangled clots of jewelry dangled like glittering lichen from the enormous boughs of the nest’s walls. He looked back at the creature, and desire pulsed through him. It looked so soft; so strong; so beautiful. He wanted to bury his face in every velvety, pillowy crevice of its skin. He wanted it to hold him like an infant and cradle him close. He wanted things he didn’t even know how to name.
He shifted in the creature’s grip, legs pedaling uselessly in midair, and it lowered one hand to rest under him so he could sit up properly. Its hands were hot, nearly hot enough to burn. He was naked in its grasp, but it was naked too, so as long as he didn’t have to look at himself, he wouldn’t mind. He’d never liked having to look.
The creature hummed. Your people call it Hell, I think.
“Eternal damnation, then.” That much was hardly a surprise — he’d never been very devout — but he wasn’t exactly excited, either.
No, not at all.
Interesting. “Then what is it?”
A world of our own, the creature told him. A home. It’s beautiful.
He scoffed. “Sounds more like heaven to me.” He shifted, and the creature’s grip shifted to accommodate the movement. “So why am I here, and not there?”
You’re not ready.
“No? Ready as I’ll ever be. Could use a nap, maybe, but it sounds like I’ll find a place for that up ahead.”
Yes, the creature agreed. You will find a place. You will rest until you are no longer weary. But weariness only lasts so long, and when it is gone, you will have much to do.
He shifted again, impatient. “I’m sure I can entertain myself. Thank you.”
You want something.
At that, he felt a pang of something ugly — guilt, maybe — but it was gone as quickly as it came. “I want to get moving, so I can find somewhere to sleep.” He’d been so tired for so long. A nap was sounding better and better.
No. You want something of me.
He didn’t know how to answer. There were a lot of things he’d pretended not to want, over the years. He wasn’t sure he knew how to want, any more.
Speak to me, Daughter, the monster said. Tell me what you want.
“I don’t want anything.” Even to his own ears, it sounded hollow.
You do, it insisted. Tell me. I’m listening.
“It doesn’t matter.”
It matters to me.
“And who are you?” he demanded. “Who are you, that I matter to you?”
The creature hesitated. No one, it said at last. It sounded sad, or perhaps resigned. A Mother.
“Not my mother.”
The creature made no answer.
He shifted again in its grip. “Let me go.”
The creature obeyed without hesitation, but with a touch of reluctance. The downy lining of the enormous nest was soft and springy underfoot. I would not have you leave my nest unsatisfied, it said, but he brushed it off and turned away, towards the wall of branches.
“There’s nothing you can do.”
But there is.
He stopped dead, half a step from starting to climb. The branches of the nest’s edge were rough and solid under his hands. “What?”
There are a thousand things I can do, Daughter. Tell me what you want.
He stayed frozen, facing the wall of the nest. His heart roared in his ears, thumped against his ribs. How strange, that he should still have a heart, and that it should still beat. He’d have imagined death would have taken it.
“I don’t know,” he whispered.
I think you do, the creature said, deep down. Don’t you?
That horrible feeling stabbed through him again. A flurry of images came with it — the creature holding him, kissing him, touching him. Something was off about those images. They flashed by so quickly he couldn’t even really make it out, but this was his own head; he knew what it was. His stomach clenched nauseatingly. “That’s not— I can’t have that.”
“Of course not.”
“It’s not possible.”
The creature leaned in closer. Fear rose, but something was holding it back, something he couldn’t place. The creature had called him Daughter, had called itself a Mother. It would not hurt him.
It is possible, the Mother promised him. It would be easy.
Yearning clawed at the inside of his throat. He swallowed it down, swallowed again as it churned sickeningly in his stomach. “Don’t mock me.”
The Mother crooned and reached out. One massive hand cradled the side of his head, to coax him back around; one massive thumb stroked his cheek. One long, wickedly sharp black talon swept past his eye, so close he felt it against his lashes. Its skin was so hot, almost scalding against his. He shivered, suddenly cold by contrast.
I would not mock you, Daughter mine, the Mother said. Its monstrous face was close enough, now, that he could see the fine feathers sprouting from what he had assumed to be its hairline. It set its forehead against his with astonishing gentleness. The skin there was as hot as its hand. Go on. Tell me what you want, and it can be yours.
Shame pricked at his eyes, but he held it back. “It’s… it’s stupid.”
The Mother knocked its forehead painlessly against his. Not if you want it. Tell me, my child.
He squeezed his eyes shut. Maybe, if he closed them hard enough, he could pretend the words came from somewhere else. Maybe he could go on pretending he’d never wanted such a thing. Maybe he could go on never wanting anything at all.
“I want to be different,” he whispered. “I want to be beautiful, and— and powerful.”
You want to be like me.
He screwed up his face, but the Mother’s thumb stroked his cheek, and the tension melted away. The easy fondness of it stuck like phlegm in his throat. “Yes,” he croaked.
Then this will hurt.
He could take pain. After a lifetime of numbness, the promise felt like relief. “Okay.”
The Mother’s other hand descended on him, curled back around his ribs. The brutal black talon of its thumb settled over his sternum, bladelike tip resting just against his skin. It meant to cut him open, he realized, but he knew, beyond all doubt, that it meant him no harm. It was waiting for permission.
The blade broke skin.
Blood welled up beneath it, and rolled in fat red drops down his chest. The Mother’s talon followed it down, slicing him open all the way to the base of his abdomen, until the blood poured freely, drenching him to the knee. Before he could gather himself to do more than grunt at the suddenness of so much pain, the Mother curled her talons into the cut and peeled him open.
It hurt, of course it hurt, and badly, to be so opened up. He cried out, but only once. The pain was exquisite, after the dull ache of nothing. No pleasure would have cut so deep.
The Mother’s hands dipped into the gap, slid beneath his skin like an open coat. The heat of its hands was easier to bear that way, but the touch still burned, like salt in an open wound. He gasped as its palms settled on either side of its waist, moaned as its grip tightened. He could feel his body warming, flesh and fat softening under the Mother’s hands.
The Mother’s hands moved, pressing upwards, and the flesh beneath its thumbs rippled like clay. Its touch was firm but slow, careful, as it reached the chest and stopped. The pads of its thumbs pressed into the softened mass, shaping the meat according to its whims.
The breasts it sculpted were more modest than its own, but so feminine, so beautiful. Death itself had not been so breathtaking.
Is this what you want? the Mother asked.
“Oh,” the Daughter whispered. “Oh, Mother, please.”
She raised her hands to touch, but the Mother clicked its tongue to stop her. Not yet, Daughter. Let me finish my work.
With the very apex of one talon, it pricked the surface of each white-and-red swell, and sensation bloomed, fire-hot pleasure burning through the pain. The Daughter gasped. “Mother, please—”
The Mother hushed her. Patience, sweet child. Once more it traced the outline of each breast, leaving them perfect and smooth, and then drew the old skin closed over the new flesh. They knit together eagerly, impossibly, as though reaching to embrace each other. Down the length of her sternum, her Mother’s incision sealed itself shut.
There, the Mother crooned. How does that feel?
Her hands flew to her chest, sank into her new flesh, and she moaned. It felt good, so good, better than anything she’d ever felt. It felt… “Right.”
Her legs had given out, at some point or other, but the Mother’s grip held her; the Mother’s blood-slicked hand scooped her up effortlessly. Then come closer, it said. This is only the beginning.
The Daughter massaged her new breasts with both hands, legs spilling eagerly open. “Keep going,” she begged, fingers plucking at her nipples to make herself squirm.
Hold still, Daughter, the Mother replied, laughing. One talon settled into the gap where the Daughter’s skin still lay open, waiting.
The Daughter did her best to force herself still. Her fingers dug hungrily into the swell of her breasts. Pleasure and anticipation buzzed under her skin like electricity. She’d never felt so awake. She’d never felt so alive.
The Mother sliced downward, with impossible delicacy, and the Daughter’s skin split and peeled back, all down the length of her cock. Despite the pleasure and desire coursing through her, it was still only half-hard; the Mother stripped it bare, cupped it in her molten-hot palm, and the flesh melted away to nothing. The loss was a relief.
Better? the Mother asked.
“Thank you,” the Daughter keened. “Thank you, Mother. Please don’t stop.”
One sharp talon reached deeper, carving a long, straight furrow into the empty space between the Daughter’s legs. That talon worked deftly, shaping all the hills and valleys the Daughter knew but couldn’t name, and one small nub that she could. The needle-sharp point of the Mother’s talon pricked that new organ shallowly, and the Daughter gasped and moaned as, for just a moment, pleasure bloomed, more intense than she’d ever felt. Her hips jerked, but whether to get away or push closer, she wasn’t sure.
The Mother’s hand retreated, slipping free of the Daughter’s open skin. The Daughter made a sound of protest.
Patience, Daughter, the Mother soothed. Its blood-drenched fingers moved deftly over the Daughter’s skin, smoothing and sculpting it over the mounds and furrows it had formed as the skin once more melded to the new flesh. Heat was building steadily under the Mother’s fingers as the bleeding gap over the Daughter’s belly knit closed.
The Mother rubbed its thumb over the head of her clit, as though to test the fit, and the Daughter cried out, arching into the touch as her fingers sank into her breasts. Blood slicked the way, warm and wet; the Mother stroked again, and the Daughter sobbed happily. Something inside her, deep below the surface of the place her cock used to sit, yearned to be touched. “Please—”
The Mother’s thumb dipped lower, then pushed.
The Daughter cried out. She could feel her flesh shaping itself like clay around the Mother’s thumb, skin stretching to accommodate the intrusion. She moaned weakly, instinctively flexing the muscles of her pelvic floor, and the way they clenched tight around her Mother’s thumb made her moan louder. The Mother kept pressing deeper, inexorably but with agonizing slowness. Every solid millimetre felt impossibly enormous, but each one went a little easier than the last. The Daughter could hear the desperate, gasping moans falling from her mouth, but nothing could have stopped them.
The Mother’s palm settled against her hip. The base of its thumb stretched her entrance wide, with an aching sweetness. The yearning deep inside her had found a taste of relief, but it wasn’t enough.
“More,” she whispered. “Mother, please.”
The Mother’s thumb flexed, then began to pull out.
“No—” The Daughter grasped at the Mother’s hand, tugging uselessly. “Come back!”
Patience, the Mother told her. I will give you more.
Its thumb slipped free. The Daughter sobbed once, wanting, but held still.
The Mother’s grip shifted. Instead of one hand keeping her aloft, it was both, now, side by side under her ass and thighs. Both thumbs, now, pressed up to the Daughter’s entrance, teasing it open with the backs of both curved talons.
That’s it, the Mother said, well done, and entered her again.
The Daughter wailed with pleasure. Her hands flew back to her chest, pinching and twisting at her nipples to make the sensation burst through her. The passage was open, this time, and blood still slicked the Mother’s hands, easing the way; before the Daughter realized, the Mother’s palms were against her folds, the Mother’s thumbs buried inside of her.
The Daughter moaned again. The Mother’s thumbs shifted in their confines. The depths of the Daughter’s body flexed and rippled around them, shape changing as the Mother willed. It should likely have hurt, but after so much pleasure, the Daughter couldn’t tell the difference any more. On her chest, where the Mother’s talon had first broken skin, heat prickled along the seam.
How does it feel? the Mother asked.
The Daughter sobbed. “Good, it feels so good.” The yearning deep inside was easing, now, desire gorging itself on the burning-hot fullness the Mother had granted her.
The Mother’s thumbs moved apart, testing the give of the Daughter’s flesh. The Daughter moaned. I will leave your body empty, the Mother told her, that you may take and take without ever giving back. You will be a greedy thing, and it will ache inside of you.
She’d never heard anything so perfect. “Thank you, Mother.”
Your pleasure is gratitude enough, the Mother replied. My beautiful Daughter.
The Daughter moaned again. The heat under her healed skin was spreading, down to her mons and out across her chest. Something was creeping forth, lifting the drying blood from her skin. She knew without looking that, when it was done, it would be a coat of glossy feathers.
I would have you satisfied, the Mother said. The Daughter’s flesh pulsed around her, the Daughter’s body tensed like it would snap, and the Daughter tumbled into orgasm with a startled shriek.
The pleasure was blinding. Sensation crackled through the Daughter’s body, arcing through every point the Mother’s hands had shaped and every point they’d left untouched. She could feel the brush of her new feathers as they unfurled against her skin, more sprouting across her scalp and down the back of her neck. She could hear her own cries, muffled by the pounding of her heart in her ears.
As the pleasure ebbed, the Daughter slumped forward, shivering. The Mother caught her easily against its voluptuous chest. Strangely, after her climax, the Daughter’s mind felt clearer, more alert. No exhaustion threatened to claim her yet, and arousal still burned through her limbs and throbbed where the Mother still stretched her open.
The Mother’s hands shifted, and it pulled them free. The Daughter whimpered involuntarily, rocking her hips to chase her Mother’s touch.
Easy, Daughter, the Mother crooned as it adjusted its grip. Two of its fingers pressed into her, stretching her effortlessly back open, and she moaned. You’re all right.
The Daughter keened and snuggled closer. Her Mother’s breast was warm and pillowy beneath her cheek, but the burn of arousal and the sweet aching fullness in her cunt kept her wakeful.
The Mother’s other hand stroked over the Daughter’s head, down her neck, along her shoulder. In its wake, the Daughter’s skin burned as feathers sprouted furiously, practically bursting into being. The Mother trailed its fingers down the Daughter’s arm, coaxing longer, stiffer feathers from her skin; on the other arm, the growth followed, echoing the Mother’s touch a quarter of a second behind.
The Mother’s hand reached the Daughter’s fingertips and dropped away. The Daughter flexed her glossy new flight feathers experimentally. They rustled pleasurably against each other.
Beautiful, the Mother crooned, don’t you think?
Its Daughter only squirmed on its fingers in reply. The wakefulness wasn’t subsiding with the aftershocks of her orgasm; she could feel her senses sharpening, her awareness shifting. Even at arm’s length, she could see every barb of the long, straight feathers that sprouted from the backs of her hands.
The Mother’s fingertips danced down her spine, and the feathers followed eagerly. Deep in its Daughter’s cunt, its fingers shifted, and she moaned shamelessly as the Mother raised her higher. Her spine arched at the pleasure, lifting her to rest again in her Mother’s grip. The shift drove her down onto the Mother’s fingers, and she followed the motion eagerly, riding the intrusion with all the leverage she could find.
The Mother’s hand reached her tailbone, stroked the roots of her tail feathers as they sprouted. It curled its hand around her rear, coaxing the spread of feathers across her hip and down her thigh. As it reached her knee, the sprouting feathers slowed to a halt. The skin of her lower legs rippled, toughening into a texture like scales.
The Mother curled its hand around the Daughter’s calf, thumb against her shin. Its grip was gentle, but after a moment, the bones snapped with an audible crack.
The Daughter wailed. Pain burst through her leg, then the other as well, and shuddered up through her whole body, into every bone. After such pleasure, the agony was unbearable, tearing sharp, inhuman cries from her throat. “Mother!” She reached out, grasping desperately. Fresh black talons scraped down the Mother’s face, leaving stark pale lines that faded in an instant.
Brutal as it was, the pain ebbed quickly. The Daughter sobbed with relief. Her body felt lighter, she realized — as though her bones had been hollowed out to let her fly. Her Mother had made her to fly.
“Mother,” she cried, “I love you, Mother, I love you so much.” Her hands grasped at its face, at the resplendent mane of feathers that framed it. “Hold me closer, Mother, please.”
In answer, the Mother only smiled and kissed her.
The Daughter keened. The Mother’s tongue swept through her mouth, and as it passed, she felt her teeth sharpen, felt the sounds pouring from her throat grow sharper and more musical. She clung in the Mother’s embrace, and the Mother cradled her close, fingers shifting to pleasure her. Her feet curled, closing their new talons around her Mother’s arm.
The Mother’s mouth pulled away. The Daughter trilled sadly at the loss.
One thing left to do, Daughter mine, the Mother promised, and raised her up.
As the Mother’s tongue dipped between her legs, slid between its parted fingers and into the Daughter’s waiting cunt, the Daughter buried both hands in the Mother’s feathers and let her voice rise. The Mother’s tongue was long and wet; the Daughter felt it coax a different kind of wetness out of her skin, teaching her new body its last sweet lesson, until her juices ran like blood down her thighs with every slick shift of the Mother’s fingers. Another climax was coming, pleasure building more gradually, this time, but no more mercifully. The Daughter rocked her clit against the Mother’s tongue, chasing that pleasure.
“Mother,” she gasped, as the edge rose to meet her. “Mother, thank you.”
Her orgasm tore through her, until her legs shook and her voice echoed off the sky above. As her cries faded, she felt exhaustion pour over her, as sudden and consuming as a tidal wave. The Mother caught her before she could fall, and lowered her to the downy lining of its nest. Its fingers slipped out of her, leaving her empty and aching with use.
Rest, Daughter, the Mother said, combing its talons through its Daughter’s feathers. The Daughter chirped quietly and arched into the touch, already halfway to sleeping.
Rest, the Mother said again, and the Daughter obeyed.
When she woke, she felt rested for the first time in a lifetime. Emptiness ached inside her, as the Mother had said it would, but it was easy to bear the ache of desire after a life spent numb from wanting nothing at all.
The Mother was curled around her, preening itself. Its fingers worked rhythmically, plucking downy under-feathers from its mane. Patches of the nest’s lining were missing; the Daughter could smell the lingering tang of her own blood, but only faintly.
She pulled herself to her feet and stretched, felt the way her new muscles shifted against her hollowed-out bones. Her feathers rustled sweetly; she ran her talons through them, instinctively, and the Mother’s massive hand reached to join her in arranging herself.
When her coat was in order, the Daughter stretched again, shifted her weight on her new feet.
Now, the Mother crooned, you are ready.
The Daughter looked up. The Mother’s knowing eyes were on her, even as its fingers returned to the long feathery mane that ran down the length of its serpentine spine. The Daughter would stay longer, and happily let her Mother teach her everything she would ever need to know about her new form, but she couldn’t. The world ahead was calling, and she couldn’t say no.
The Daughter’s wings stirred the nest’s downy lining as she hopped up on the edge. The river stretched out before her — no longer the dull, misty black she’d seen before, but shimmering, iridescent like an oil spill. In the distance, she could see a city waiting, beckoning her with glittering golden promise. She couldn’t wait to reach it, but something held her back.
She turned. The Mother was watching, head pillowed on its folded arms where they rested on the coils of its long, scaly tail.
“Can I come back?”
The Mother smiled. I will always welcome you, Daughter mine.
The Daughter’s mouth curled into a smile, then split into a grin. Once more, she turned, then launched herself into the sky.