"Are you sure you want me to drop you off here?" Janet looked across to her roommate and out the passenger side window. There was a large double iron gate, flanked on both sides by an aging stone wall that ran along the road. Their eyes met; Janet looked seriously dubious but Stephanie smiled a reassuring smile. "Ok sis, but I'm telling the reporters, I begged her not to go." Steph rolled her eyes and laughed as she unbuckled herself. Shutting the door to her roommate's car she looked at the gate and foliage grown over the wall.
Janet's car rolled off after the girls exchanged goodbyes, Stephanie lifted her backpack onto her shoulder, looking at the gate. There was a small intercom box on the wall's edge near the gate. Walking over, she pressed a button and leaned close to the small speaker behind a grate. "Um... It's me, Stephanie, I'm at the gate." There was only a small buzz of static from the speaker in response.
"Of course thatÕs where your at – I can see you on the security camera." Becca's voice came over the speaker, startling Steph as she started looking around. "I'll buzz you in; be careful, the moving van is heading your way." Stephanie stepped away as there was an electronic buzz and the gate clicked open, swinging inwards. The driveway was loose gravel and Steph's sneakers crunched under her soles as she walked, she glanced back as the gate automatically shut with a whine of rusty hinges.
To each side of the driveway were small green hills and a number of trees, all in a state of neglected overgrowth. Large weeds had sprouted all along the side of the gravel and Steph let her fingers brush against their tops as she passed. She looked up as the sound of an approaching truck caught her attention; moving to the side of the driveway she let it rumble past with a shared nod to the driver.
After a long but enjoyable walk, Stephanie finally came upon the large house and its surrounding lawns. Rebecca was already standing at the door, going over a stapled stack of paper sheets. She looked up to Steph as she walked onto the flagstone walkway towards the door.
"Hello, Mistress Stephanie." Rebecca folded the pages back and held her hand out the girl, who took it as she was led into the large house.
Steph shuffled uncomfortably. "Do you have to call me that?"
"You are the Mistress of this household now. What else should I call you?"
"Well, a little over a week ago I was working for you, so letÕs stick with Steph for now." Rebecca sighed but a smile crept to her lips. "If that is what my Mistress wants." Stephanie nodded and followed her further in. Stephanie's study of precious metals and gems had never really included architecture, but to her the house felt early turn of the twentieth century. An ornate style that had evidently fallen into decay.
"Welcome to your home." Becca held her arms out, indicating the manor house around her. "This is part of your inheritance from the Master..." Rebecca stopped and looked over her shoulder, her blue eyes swarming with intensity. "Mr. Craft I mean; he has bequeathed you all of his holdings." The house was beautiful, but the walls strangely were vacant, light splotches on the walls or alcoves revealed where decoration would have been. Once had been...
"Why would he do that?" Stephanie asked as she walked into the foyer of the house, the large amethyst stained glass windows over top giving the room a purple glow.
"ThatÕs the protocol; when a Master steps down, he gives all of his possessions and land to his inheritor." Rebecca held the packet of paper out to Steph. She took the bundle and looked at the thick stapled stack. "Some candidates have trained for the entire lives to replace their Mistress or Master." Becca grinned as they made their way down a small flight of stairs. Steph looked the top sheet over, it was filled with scrawled signatures and had a blank spot for her own signature at the bottom.
"Why me?" Steph asked.
Continuing to lead her through the manor, the other woman added. "Why not; you were a perfect choice to succeed him." Stephanie was far from happy with the answer and her former boss turned to face her before leading on. "The why's are almost never solved, hun, and they will be elusive until they want to be answered. If I were you I would just let the revelations come naturally." The light haired girl understood the meaning: let well enough alone.
Pushing open a large inlaid wooden door, the two walked into a nicely appointed den. Sitting off to the room's side was a familiar shape, draped in a light cloth. Becca nodded as Stephanie raised a questioning eyebrow. "The movers dropped her off for you earlier."
Steph dropped her bag next to the desk and walked over to the figure, unwrapping the protective cloth from over the golden woman inside. Lydia was posed kneeling, hands before her, and Stephanie felt herself immediatley captivated by what she had done. A thought occurred to the girl and she turned from the golden statue, "So am I a wizard or something now? How else would I, or any of you, be able to do all this?"
"ThatÕs kind of a complicated question..." Rebecca walked across the office to a small cabinet and took a pair of glasses and a wine bottle out. Handing one to Steph, she continued. "It's all relative... To be frank, what one calls magic another will call physics." Pulling the cork, Rebecca poured a small measure of the crimson liquid into the glasses for both of them. "I'm gonna try and keep this as secular as I can; there will be enough people who can put their own religious or philosophical version on things to come." Rebecca brushed a dark black strand from the side of her face as she sipped the wine. Taking a small breath, she continued. "Inside of everyone – no, everything – there is energy. I'm going to use a familiar term but don't let it bog you down. Within everything there is a soul." Steph nodded and unconsciously held on to the top of the golden Lydia's head for reassurance.
"Around each soul there is even more energy, coursing this way or that. These energies play on one another and the souls the flow across. Some of these souls can interact with that energy and likewise the energy can interact with some of the souls.
"Where does all this energy come from?" Steph interrupted Rebecca's explanation.
"There are more ideas then stars in the sky, but no one has any proof of anything, so the majority of us who know how to control these energies just accept that they are there." The young mistress opened her mouth to ask something else but Becca kept going. "No one really knows why certain people can manipulate the energy and others can't." Nodding her light brunette-haired head, Rebecca smiled as she answered the unspoken question. "Some just can, and some just can't. That's not to say that those who can't can not learn how to; just for some it is a natural part of them that they have to realize, much like walking." Sipping again from her glass she wet her tongue before going on. "There are limitless things that can be achieved with the combinations of soul and soul, energy and energy, and soul and energy. From this many things are achieved. What we call it isn't really important so we have just used the catch-all term ŌarcanicsÕ. So I guess, yes, you are an arcanist now. Though what you want to call yourself is up to you, some have called themselves wizards... she nodded to Stephanie; others have used sorceress, or even goddess." A familiar look came over Stephanie's face as she sipped from her glass. Becca smiled, "Don't even ask what youÕre thinking; youÕre not the first to ask it and no you can't shoot fireballs or summon lightning." StephÕs shoulders sagged as she sighed. Becca added, "At least not yet," she grinned.
"Now Mistress... I mean Steph, if you would." Rebecca motioned to the desk and Steph walked over pulling the chair forward. Pushing herself in behind the desk, she began looking for a pen. Rebecca pulled a fountain pen from her pocket and held it out for Stephanie. "All you will have to do is just sign that top copy with your new name, and the transfer is complete." Stephanie sighed and took a deep breath, lifting the sheet up she seen the new name on the sheet after, carefully she put pen to paper.
"Stephanie Craft?" She lifted the piece of paper with a license attached to it; her license. Altered as it was.
Taking a long pull from her glass, the servant shrugged. Rebecca put the glass down and wiped her mouth. "You need to play the part." Stephanie flipped the page to the next to see that each of her previous identifications has been replaced with their altered equivalent.
"What about the people who know me?" Stephanie questioned as she flipped a page, seeing a picture of herself when she was 10 or so. This stopped her. She read the text above it.
"I have arranged it all. A lot of it coincides with your real past so it was easy to incorporate, along with your talents it is another reason why we picked you." Stephanie peered over the paper as she thought for the first time that being a child born to dead parents was being a good thing. "It's the game we play, hun, what some of us call the Grande Masquerade. The cultivation of persona's and lineages that we have worked to assume whenever needed." Steph's eyes darted back and forth as she sought to absorb the information. "Nearly all of us are, well, centuries old." Stephanie glanced up with a look of shock on her face. "Comes with the working with the energy; sooner or later you realize that there will never be enough time to do everything you intend to do in a single lifetime." A cocked eyebrow was Rebecca's response, "We'll get back to the differing types of immortality at another time."
Flipping the page over she shook her head, trying to comprehend everything she was being told, something stopped her as she noticed the page she was looking at. "Is this the deed to the Eternal Luster?" Steph tilted her head.
"If you'll check the next page you'll see that it is as well as the deed to 8522 Grove street, it's the house next door." The light brunette just shook her head as she returned the folded pages back to their front. "There is also the deed to the land here as well as the houses in Yorkshire and Rome, and a couple of warehouses here in town and in Europe."
"And what do you do with a place like this?" Stephanie tossed the papers onto the desk.
"Throw a party, of course." Rebecca grinned as she opened the den's door and held her arms out indicating there was more to see. Steph groaned, she wasn't sure if she could handle inheriting much more.
"So why would someone take this power they gained and use it to do..."
She stopped as they walked through the house. "You do like to ask complicated questions don't you?" It was Stephanie's turn to offer a shrug. "Well when you say TO DO, I believe you mean the things we do, like with Lydia?" Taking the nod, Rebecca went on, "You ever get on the Internet?"
"Of course." The answer was incredulous.
"Right, of course." Rebecca mocked playfully. "I bet you have used it to do your homework right?" Steph again replied via a nod. "Used it to learn about a place you have always been interested in?" A nod again. "Looked at a guyÕs dick?" The shocked and blushed response made Rebecca laugh. "Think of arcanics in the same way. People have used it over time for anything a human can ever dream of. Some have used it for great things, some have used it for small things, petty things. Like the web it was a great invention, a tool to allow people of similar passions to connect to one another on a level that had been unheard of until the Internet" She leaned against an arched opening that lead into the living room. "Humans are unique and individual beings, but they are ultimately social creatures. They are also passionate beings and find great pleasure in a wide variety of subjects. Yet unfortunately there are a host of things many people will never understand or may even be intolerant of." Rebecca paused to make sure Steph was following what she was saying. "Sexuality has always been something taboo in nearly all cultures, so just like the Internet, people found ways to be sexual with one another via this tool."
"So people found magic and used it to get off with one another?" This made Rebecca frown.
"I guess that paraphrases it well, though you have just reduced our entire glorious history down to a masturbation session."
Stehanie stepped into the living room, looking around at the posh decor. "Becca, how many more are there like you, I mean us?" The look on Becca's face summed it up, "Another complicated question?"
"Well you have to be more specific, do you mean those who can tap into the energies or those like US?"
"Like you and I and the woman who made the statue in the park." Steph asked as she walked slowly through the room looking around.
"If you count us in all the guilds, IÕd say several thousands worldwide, if you count us in our guild specifically, maybe a few thousand worldwide, I don't really know anymore." They walked down the small step into another room.
Examining another vacant alcove Stephanie asked Becca, "The guilds?"
"It's a term that was coined around the turn of the last millenium."
Stephanie stopped short, "You mean youÕre over a thousand years old?"
"Try over five thousand." Rebecca grinned and tossed her hair back, "I know and I don't look a day over two millennia." With a childish giggle, they kept walking. "As I was saying there was a rise in what was later to be called guilds across the world and many of us in the art began to band together and we soon found that those of a like mind were drawn to one another. It was soon afterward we found out that there was a desire to procure our services. Next thing we knew we were bartering our services back and forth to one another and thus the guilds were born."
"Which guild are we?"
"Well each one has a lot of names, but I guess Dolus Mutatio is the closest to our true name." Seeing the vacant look on Steph's face, the black haired woman answered. "It's Latin for transformation group. Though not a lot of people pay much attention to which guild you are a member of, only that youÕre a member of the guilds."
"Are there anyone who is not in one of the guilds who does what we do?" Stephanie asked.
"There are a number, it's not a necessity to be a member and most of us don't hound others to join like we use to."
"What about other groups?" Her reasoning and questions were going in a direction that Becca was not too happy to go.
"That there are."
"You don't sound like you want to talk about it." Steph stepped around a rolled up rug that was in the center of the hall and walked into another large room furnished with a number of couches.
"It has to do with the split; our schism." The playfulness in BeccaÕs conversation was suddenly gone. "I guess it was around the turn of the twentieth century, before the great war at least." They took seats on the one of the leather couches, facing each other as Rebecca continued, "As I said the guilds were a collection of arcanists who delved into the sexual side of the craft; for centuries they had perfected the arts and in so became perfectionists." Steph could feel the history behind each word, the type you have to live to be able to speak about. " The nineteenth century had been rough on all of us, war had raged unchecked for it's entirety and a good portion of us had relocated to the United States, where things seemed a bit quieter."
Rebecca laughed humorously. "Coming to America for peace and quiet, now thatÕs funny. But anyways the relocation did nothing to quiet the discontent that was becoming rife in the guilds. Some, well nearly most, had begun to feel that things in our craft had become stagnant." A tinge of sadness crept into her voice, "A lot of fights broke out; some of the best and brightest were..." She could see the look of shock on Steph's face. "LetÕs say a lot of art galleries gained pieces of honor. The Mast... I mean Mr. Craft, could sense that things were not well in our community and was doing everything to keep us together... or at least keep us from wiping one another out. Then, when things were at the worst, thatÕs when Adrian..."
"Broke off and took the world of transformation by storm!" Both of them whipped around and stared at another woman standing under the arch. She had long wavy black hair pulled into a loose pony tail and she still wore her sunglasses over a cocksure smirk. Rebecca stood up quickly composing herself.
"Ste... Mistress Stephanie, please meet Mistress Adrian Kenedy." Adrian took her glasses off her powerful green eyes and her demeanor spoke of confidence that dripped from her business skirt and blazer. She stepped forward boldly and took Steph's hand that hung by her side, lifting it up planting a kiss on its back.
"The master's protˇgˇ; so nice to finally get to meet you." The woman Adrian Kenedy's solid grip was as if it were petrified in its firmness.
Rebecca and Adrian walked and talked ahead of Stephanie, speaking in clipped yet courteous tones; Steph was glad she wasn't up there with them. The trio had made their way back through the manor, Becca trying to give a tour while they moved along, but it was obvious she was distracted by their visitor. Down through the basement into another area that was akin to the basement of the Luster, a concealed door lead them into a larger chamber. Steph had seen places like this in movies and on a smattering of sexual pictures. This was a dungeon. There was a massive mirror running on the back of one wall with a number of cabinets under it. Like back at the jewelry store, there was a large bed in the roomÕs center and a large stone slab off to the bed's side. Her eyes drifted around; although the room was clean and impersonal for the most part, Steph was picking out the small things. Cabinets with locks, small hooks and loops all over the place. Suddenly she realized the two women were talking about her.
"I figured I'd bring her someone, what's the harm in that?" Adrian was asking.
"I would rather her do this at the Eternal Luster she's familiar with it." Becca retorted and Adrian Kenedy waved her hand dismissively.
"Isn't this the main workshop? Shouldn't she get to know it?"
"Adrian, we appreciate the offer but..."
"Becca..." That name coming from the visiting woman's mouth sounded familiar. "LetÕs not get into the books right now, but you better make some sales real soon."
"Personally Adri, I don't think thatÕs any of your business anymore. I think we are doing quite well and would rather keep things in house." Becca's scorn was palatable.
"Oh come on!" Adrian laughed as she slung her sunglasses around by the arm. "I know that the Master..."
"That the Master is gone and THIS is the MistressÕ home and her affairs now," Becca concluded with firmness in her tone. The other woman conceded and smiled, holding her arms apart in a Ōwhatever you sayÕ gesture. Again she went to speak.
"All right," Rebecca hissed to the dark haired woman. "Fine. We'll accept the gift, and we'll make sure to deliver the result to your offices as soon as she is done."
"How come I can't watch so I can gauge the competition, so to speak?"
"YouÕre not gonna let up, are you?" Rebecca shook her head.
"Have I ever?"
Rebecca crossed her arms. "Fine; use the freight elevator, and she better be legitimate or I swear."
"You swear nothing Bec, and I wouldn't start this early in." Adrian giggled and turned leaving the dungeon.
Sighing Rebecca took Stephanie by the shoulder. "I wanted to wait for a while, but I think this could do you some good."
Rebbeca was leaning against the two way mirror looking out onto the dungeon as Adrian Kenedy entered into the observation room. As she shut the door she pulled a chair up and looked out through the glass as well.
"You have to admit this is kind of exciting, like that time in Vegas." Becca nodded but didn't say anything, after a moment the smile faded from Adrian's lips and she turned back to looking out the mirror.
The young woman that Adrian had introduced them to, Maxine, sat on the bed, trying to keep her breathing as level as she could. Stephanie glanced over her shoulder to the mirror she knew now was a pane of one way glass. Things had somehow gone from a fun tour and explanation of her new home and life to a test administered by the woman, Adrian Kenedy. Steph already felt she didn't like her. Just as Rebecca was beginning to explain the history of this new world, this villain had been introduced. She took a deep breath and reached into the pocket of the robe pulling out the ring she had put there. It was reassuring in its presence in her hand and as she slipped it on her finger she felt herself feel that she could pass this test and she would show this woman she was worthy of what she had been given.
With a final long deep breath Stephanie pushed the robe back from her shoulders, letting it fall to the floor behind her and walked around to face the woman. "Rise," she commanded and the woman. Maxine stood up, keeping her eyes level with hers. Adrian had said this woman had come to her seeking an escape and wanted this; Stephanie reached her hand out to her and as she took it she could feel that was the truth. The surface emotions that poured off the woman were immense and Steph could feel the craving for escape she was after; she was running from something. However, becoming a work of art was her true desire; to be free of some burden was secondary. Stephanie decided to put these things aside and led her a few feet from the bed.
Slowly she circled her, letting her ringed hand gently stoke the shoulders of Maxine. Let your thoughts become serene, Rebecca's words came back, just relax. She kept her breathing even and reached out as she decided on a pose to set the girl's form in. Taking MaxineÕs left arm, she lowered it to her side and pulled the hand into in front of her before doing the same with the other. Her hands were now positioned to in front of her as if she was holding something. She bent down and eased the womanÕs legs apart so she had a slightly wide stance. Stephanie tilted her head forward so she was looking straight out and moved behind her and out of sight.
"Imagine the texture." the young mistress/sorceress/wizard said to herself as low as she could.
Reaching her hands around, she slid them up to between the positioned arms and cupped each breast. Maxine's breath quickened a heartbeat faster but she kept her stance, doing as she had been instructed by Adian prior to their arrival; she wanted to look her best for eternity. Closing her eyes, yet retaining the image of the youthful face of the red-haired Maxine, Steph began to imagine those breasts rendered in stone. The orbs were large for the rather petite Maxine's frame and she could imagine them turning hard and solid, held in perkiness by their transformation from flesh to stone. The womanÕs skin was becoming as Steph envisioned it, a dull rock-like appearance spreading over the nipples as Stephanie unconsciously played with them between her thumb and forefinger. The warming tingle of the arcane transformation was spreading as she pictured it more and more clearly. Next, she could see the curves and lines of her subject's stomach becoming rendered in minute sculpted detail. Her navel succumbed to the transformation as it fell and the shallow indents of her collar bones did as they rose. Steph wanted to feel both the next parts as she could see the transformationÕs texture moving down between the legs of Maxine. She gently but quickly slid her finger between the wet sex of the petrifying girl as she felt it become tight as it became stone. This caused Stephanie to become aroused in turn, so much so she began to kiss the stone neck of the girl. Maxine's breathing was becoming shallower and shallower and as Steph envisioned the creeping stone coming to her lips and then it stopped all together. The strands of hair fused to one another until all that was left was a mass of finely sculpted stone. With the vision in her head now complete, Stephanie slowly opened her eyes and saw that so was the transformation.
A sudden thought occurred to her, I did not envision a very good texture... Where the other statues that she had seen were of the highest quality marble and Lydia was of pure gold, she had not done that for poor Maxine; she had just envisioned her as stone. And so she had become. She turned and looked from the statue to the window where the two other women were concealed.
She had a feeling this was not a high grade in either one's book.
The limo's door shut and Adrian slid into the seat across from where the car's other occupant lounged swirling a glass of liquor in her hand. "What do you think Mistress?" The platinum blond haired woman asked as she stared into the liquid.
"I think they're screwed," Adrian stated. The woman looked up, her blue eyes flashing through her bangs as she giggled at the comment. ŅI think though we need to give them some encouragement to help some fellow sisters in the art along. I think you know what I want."
The woman leaned back and brushed a lock of near silver hair from her face. "Your wish is my way Mistress." Vera's smile widened.
To be continued...