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been out in the night; flynn.
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Cal regained consciousness slowly, dimly becoming aware of her surroundings. Something felt off about it. Her pillow? The light gently but insistently tugging at her closed eyelids? The lingering taste of ale at the back of her mouth?

No – it was the whispering.

The voices were multiple, hushed, uncertain. They weren’t the kind of voices usually employed in the barracks. Cal rolled over onto her back, sat up and opened her eyes, rubbing them blearily. The faces of half a dozen royal guards swam into view, all of them crowded around her bed although none apparently willing to get too close. Some of them looked stunned; others were looking at her like she had a contagious disease. A couple of them back-peddled when she sat up.

The bunk wasn’t Cal’s, but it might as well have been; they were all standard issue. She only slept in her own bunk in the women’s barracks about half the time. The rest of the time – like last night – she preferred to crash on one of the spare bunks in the men’s quarters. All these guards were her male friends, and all were looking at her as if she’d just sprouted a pair of antlers.

Which actually, in Shaman, probably wasn’t that weird a thing to do.

“What’s up, guys?” She yawned, scratching her head. It was too early in the morning for this nonsense. There was a moment of silence.

“Er, seba’iqer,” Big Tom mumbled, “with all due respect… what are you doing here?”

“Seba-what?” Cal focused on him, frowning. “What’s up with you guys? Has something happened?”

Another pause.

“Is this a test?” Big Tom asked, confused.

“Maybe it’s Omniety.” Someone – Cal didn’t catch who – whispered.

“Hey, yeah, maybe it’s Omniety.” Laurie nodded. “Er – no offence, if this truly is you, your mightiness, but… who are you?”

“You all been at the drink already?” Cal grinned at them. “It’s me, ya caddies. Lorraine.”

Cal. She’d meant to say ‘Cal’. Lorraine had just slipped out, like it had been on the tip of her tongue anyway and was just waiting for her to self-identify. The corners of the men’s eyes widened and Laurie froze like he’d been struck by lightning – or was just about to be.

“I meant Lorraine,” Cal corrected herself. What? “I mean Lorraine. Lorraine. I’m Lorraine.”

Every time she tried to say her name, it was like it auto-corrected to the goddess’s.Cal was the simplest name in the world, but she couldn’t wrap her tongue around it. What was happening?

“Is she ill?” Someone whispered.

“I’m not ill! And I’m not Lorraine!” Cal threw the covers off and swung her legs off the bed, causing all the men to back up. “I’m Lorraine.

Why couldn’t she say her own name? Cal went to press the heel of her palm to her forehead, but yelped at the sight of it. Her hand was white. She held both hands out in front of her, staring at them. They weren’t her hands – they were perfectly manicured with dainty, pale pink nail-polish on proper fairy fingernails, not ker claws. And they were white. Her legs were white too. She was wearing a pearlescent pale pink nightie instead of the tank-top and tracksuit bottoms she’d fallen asleep in and the hair which fell over her shoulders was longer, softer, and golden-blonde instead of vibrant red. She was skinnier than she’d ever been before, too; even with her knees pressed together, there was a gap between her thighs.

What in Paradise was going on? One thought permeated the fog of bewilderment: Buddy. She had to get to Buddy. Cal stood abruptly, causing all the men to back further away from the bed. They parted like the Red Sea before her as she shot past them, ripping the door open and bolting down the corridor. A couple of cadets did a double-take as she sprinted past them. She shoved open the door at the end of the corridor and leapt out into the light, not even noticing that her eyes adjusted much faster than normal.

She couldn’t feel Buddy on the edge of her mind like she normally could, and when she reached up to touch her left ear she realised with a jolt that her communicator was missing. Fortunately, he rounded the corner of the barracks, yawning, before Cal had much of an opportunity to start panicking.

“Buddy!” She yelled, dashing towards him. Buddy’s electric blue eyes widened.

“Woah.” He stood up to full height. “Lady.”

“Cut it out, Buddy.” She skidded to a halt in front of him, her breathing sharp even though the distance between them was short. “It’s me, Lorraine.”

“Is there something you want of me, goddess?” Buddy asked respectfully. Cal reached up and gripped her silky blonde hair.

No, Bud, I mean it’s me. C’mon, mate, I really need you right now.”

“Uhh, okay.” Buddy backed up a couple of steps. “Er – I’m going to go and find Cal, and then… I’ll be back?”

He wheeled around and trotted back round the side of the building before Cal could stop him. She was left standing in the middle of the castle grounds, wearing Lorraine’s nightie, clutching her hair and staring at the corner of the barracks where Buddy had vanished.

What?

CALDERA



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