Everything, the whole world, all of existence itself was Light, and the ecstasy that was a component of its totality. Nothing existed, or even mattered, but the screaming of sensation through her sensorium; it had gone on forever, and would continue until the world ended....
Then a heavy weight crashed onto her chest, forcefully breaking the frenzy Zanika had been in. Panting-from the impact as well as the cessation of her sexual climax, she could simply lay there and let herself drift for a time, while her battered mind crawled back to its long vacant control position. She was almost numb with the loss of the most sensational orgasm she had ever experienced, and did not know how long she lay there with a huge lump of something across her chest. Only gradually did she realize, or even care, that someone must have caused it; with that finally came memory, and she croaked, "James...." She was amazed, almost irritated at the sound of her own voice-- then realized what might be happening, and steeled her will to ignore the temptation. "James," she said again, and found the strength to push him with a hand.
A long groan finally gurgled from James' throat, and his head shifted on her shoulder. Resolutely, Zanika pushed again, and managed to roll him off her to the other side of the bed. As his legs started swinging over the edge, he pulled in a huge breath of surprise and whipped his torso back, catching himself. He landed facing Zanika; she saw his eyes creak slowly open and fight to focus...somehow she could tell that, even if they were made of sapphires. "Zani?" he whispered, almost painfully.
She nodded slowly, uncertain whether to smile or frown. "That...was unbelievable," she said hoarsely. "Probably the number one sexual experience I've ever known...that anyone's known. It makes me love you even more. But...."
"But you don't know if you want to repeat it.... I can understand. That was almost too intense to dare do again."
"Almost...addictive. I think we just barely held on."
"At least we came down at the end of this cycle," James said. "God, Zani, I'm so sorry."
She just shook her head and said, "I forgive you. We both lost track of the time; that's what happened, isn't it?"
"Yeah...." Then a slow grin stretched across the ruby lips. "God, a 29-day orgasm! It was almost worth it."
"'Almost' being the key word here. But you're right, in a way."
"If you ever want to try it again, I can rig arcane buffers to keep us from getting addicted to it."
Zanika gave him a Look and said, "We'll see," and inched over to kiss him on the forehead. Her golden body immediately convulsed in desire, and she moaned and added, "Maybe you better start rigging some buffers now. I almost lost it there!"
"So did I," James whispered raggedly, and rolled aside before he was tempted to force himself on his queen.
They did not often lose themselves that way. The experience was intensely delicious, quite addictive, and (as Zanika put it later) "damned close to melting my mind into tapioca before it ended." But they did save it for the yearly anniversary of their entering the tomb, as a celebration ritual, once James had formulated buffering spells to protect their minds…. When moving about in the tomb in their own golden splendor, they usually confined themselves to less intense experiences, many nights simply reopening the tomb doors to step outside and look down on the town below them and at the turning stars above, sometimes changing their clothes temporarily when they desired a different look.
With those appearances, as the years rolled by and the town grew into a small city and crept up the hillside toward James' property, a legend began to grow about the cavern. The lovers' bodies reflected the smallest amount of light almost like beacons, and many people in the darkness saw a glimmer of gold up on the hillside every month, spawning rumors that ghosts or aliens were there, coming out of the cavern every month or so to make their presence known. Nobody knew why they were present there, or any history of the region and the cave that would explain the phenomenon. But a little more was known about what was going on by a select few who possessed telescopes. They had trained their instruments on the spot, and caught indistinct images of a pair of beings that seemed to be made of gold, often dressed in golden robes of ancient style, making them seem as if they were a pharaoh of Egypt and his queen.
Eventually, some brave souls heard the rumors as they stopped in town for a meal, became curious, decided to dare the "danger" on a lark before they left, and crept up the hill on the next night of the full moon.
"There it is," Rob muttered, pointing ahead of the trio into the darkness. A deeper darkness was there, proving in the sweep of his flashlight to be the entrance to a cave of some kind. "Nobody's around yet."
"Is that good or bad?" Tim said nervously, his bland face topped by bottle-bottom glasses. His gawky body twitched slightly. "Now we're here, I'm not sure I want to be."
"Chickening out?" Rob grinned, a handsome face with blond hair topped by a reckless smile.
"Showing some sense, I'd say. If there is something there, I'd prefer not to bother it too much. I've been Drifting long enough to stay out of dangerous situations."
"Never wanted to spend time in a haunted house, Tim?" Katrina teased. Beneath the punkish hair cut and color, and the gloppy makeup she sported about her eyes, she showed promise of her youth blossoming into true physical beauty. Then she snapped her head toward the cave, shushing the boys, finally saying, "Listen...footsteps!"
"Okay; I'm gone," Tim said.
"Too late; over here!" She grabbed him by the jacket and dragged him behind rocks on the sides of the cavern mouth. Rob was not slow to follow, and the three waited in fear....
A few minutes later, Rob was whispering, "My God!!" to the others as the most amazing being they had ever seen emerged from the mouth, gazing about him with a contented smile on his face. He was solid gold in appearance, as if he was a statue of gold that had come to life and was walking about for a stroll, carrying a nimbus of his own light about him as he stopped on the porch of the hole. The man was nearly three meters tall, with a face as handsome as it was perfect. His head was enclosed in a skullcap of metallic green edged in gold, with a large clear jewel of some kind -- Katrina wondered if it was a real diamond. An open vest of green fabric with the sheen of satin or silk covered his body, while his legs were sheathed in dark blue leather pants -- the tightest pants they had ever seen on a man.
Then the man -- if that was what he was -- held out his other hand, and a woman came out from the cave. As she posed there beside him, with the same dreamy expression of contentment on her face, Katrina gasped to herself behind a hand over her mouth, felt something stir inside her mind and heart at the incredible apparition she saw. This woman, too, was tall and golden, only a little shorter than the man, long-limbed and definitely feminine; a deep turquoise leather bustier was wrapped so tightly about her body that her golden breasts were pushed firmly up and separated into globes of man-attracting desirability. The peaks of her nipples shown hard and clear through the leather, only a few centimeters below the edges of the bustier's cups. Another pair of leather pants covered her long legs, in black this time, or at least it was a good guess from the covering of her hips; for her legs were also covered in golden boots up their entire length, with enormously tall and thin heels. Black leather gloves were on her forearms, beneath solid runs of diamond and gold bracelets. Matching rings were on both hands. Her hair was bluer than Katrina's own dyed choppy shag, but looked as if she had enough to reach to her feet; it was wound up into a thick, massive tower of curly blue tresses behind her incredibly beautiful face. Resting in the depths of that hair, standing high above her head, was a tiara of diamond stars set in gold, on gold light beams; more stars wrapped her throat as a broad collar necklace. More tiny star-points seemed to sparkle from her heavily shadowed and lined lids, and flashed from her lips redly, just as they did on the man.
The woman had a golden cigarette holder in her teeth that she was apparently just reaching for, nearly a half-meter of gold with many small rings of diamonds and sapphires spiraling around it; the cigarette she smoked was long and wrapped in blue paper, with a gold filter on the end. As she came up to the man and dropped her hand in his, she pulled the holder and blew off a long stream of smoke that the hill's breeze ripped away into the night. She gave the man a loving look, but went serious as she gazed down the hillside at the lights of the city. The man turned eyes that glittered strangely in the light on her, finally saying in a rich voice, "A penny for them...or whatever the going rate is these days?"
The woman's snorted sigh as she dragged on her cigarette made smoke flow from her nose, joined by more as she finished the puff and blew it out again. She turned to him and said, "Just sometimes, don't you want to go down there and see what things are like now? After all, how many years have we been up here?"
"Some thirty-eight, by the stars.... Regrets, love? I half-expected you'd have some eventually."
She turned to him, showing her exquisite face again to Katrina as she smiled softly at him. "No, lover; not like that at least. I'd just like to stretch my legs farther away than this hill occasionally."
"Just remember, you're the one that decided to be buried, so to speak. I just helped you along."
"In your own inimitable fashion."
"I did add a few touches to it, I'll admit."
"Oh, I'm alright. And I think I can last out the rest of the time, unless the auguries have changed? I never have been able to master that part of the Art."
The man shook his head. "Getting clearer all the time, Zani. Everything's still on schedule for 2103."
"Ah, well," she said, and raised the holder to her lips again; "at least we know it'll come...and there's always been things to do...." Her smile turned into a knowing grin at that, and Katrina thought she saw the attraction between the two. The woman hooked an arm about the man and pulled him into a deep kiss after exhaling her smoke...in a cloud that was blown toward the rocks and Katrina and her friends. Katrina was breathing in just as the smoke came across, and she coughed.
The golden pair suddenly froze; the woman stared toward the rocks in shock, echoed by the look on the man's face as he spun around. Tim shouted, "C'mon, let's get out of here!" and jumped up to run. He didn't make it any farther; a green bolt of light suddenly hit him from the direction of the couple, and Tim appeared rooted to the spot. Katrina started opening her mouth to scream -- then felt herself unable to move any farther; she was surrounded in a purple glow. She suddenly felt herself floating upward as her mind gibbered in panic, her body gently flexing until she was posed upright, and she came to rest in front of the gold-statue woman, from whose hand came the bolt of purple light that held Katrina. Her other hand was glowing purple as well, and Rob was in front of her, while Tim was "standing" in front of the man. "Well, Zani," he said, his gleaming face full of rue, "you wanted some change in our routine."
"Yeah, but not like this," "Zani" said with equal chagrin. "James, what the hell are we going to do?"
James drew a deep breath, and finally said, "Bring them on inside. Once we close the doors, they can't get out, and we can talk to them then...with suitable controls, of course."
"Okay," Zani sighed, and turned to Katrina and her friends. "We're sorry for this; but I assure you that you can relax. You don't have anything to fear from us in the end, one way or another. Right, James?"
"She's right," James said, with a nod. "But we need to talk to you, and under controlled circumstances. So we're going to bring you into our t--"
"Our home," Zani said quickly, punching him in the arm. He stared at her, then popped his brows over a silent O of glittering red mouth, and nodded again. A flick of his fingers, and Tim rose up and floated behind him as the golden man moved inside the cave. Katrina watched her own captor make the same sign with her flashing golden fingers, and then she was off, still panicking in spite of the pair's reassurances.
Through a pair of golden doors at least four meters high, and through a hall that looked like something from a pyramid, with royal thrones of black stone that moved aside as the pair passed toward an arch in the back wall. Past that, they found themselves in another hall, arranged somewhat more intimately. As Katrina floated in, she saw three strange chairs like camp chairs slide out from one side of the room, and arrange themselves before a loveseat against one wall. Katrina felt herself bending into a sitting position and drop into one of the chairs, while the golden man and woman sat on the loveseat, holding hands tightly. Fresh motions with their hands, their flesh gleaming in the burning torches of the room, and Katrina suddenly found herself able to move everything but her arms and lower legs; she was effectively bound to the chair she sat in. Before any of them could open a mouth and say a thing, start screaming to be let go, the woman said, "First of all, what do you think you saw?"
"What do you think, spazzes?" Tim said in his wonderfully polite manner -- not that Katrina blamed him right now.
"Why don't you tell us, really?" the man said.
"Aliens or ghosts or something," Katrina said, before Tim could get insulting again. If they were gonna get out of this, they needed not to anger these two strange...people.
The woman blew smoke from her cigarette, and shook her head. "Not a bit. What you see is a man and a woman, just like you...except we have a few more years on you, I suppose."
"How many?" Tim said. "Eight hundred? A thousand?"
The woman laughed. "Only about forty, I assure you. My name is Zanika, by the way, and this is James. Who are you, and would you like something to eat or drink? We don't need to in these bodies," and she waved an elegant had across herself, rings and bracelets glinting in the firelight "but we can make something for you."
The three looked at each other in surprise; this wasn't going as they had feared. "I'm Katrina...Katrina Harvene," Katrina said finally.
"And I'm Rob Goldmann," Rob finally said. "Do you really have some food here?"
"Anything you want," James said, and waved his hand, muttering some words as well. A table sprung into existence before the young ones, filled with sandwiches and fruit, and golden glasses with some liquid in them; a moment later, the bindings of energy about their arms and legs vanished. James took up a sandwich and popped a corner of it in his mouth, chewing and swallowing ostentatiously, with a grin. He followed it with a swallow from one of the goblets. Rob needed no more reassurance, and tucked into a fresh meal. Tim and Katrina satisfied themselves with drinking at first; the stuff in the goblets proved to be simple water, but the most delicious water Katrina had ever tasted. Encouraged, she took a sandwich, her first solid meal since lunch.
"And now," Zanika said after a few minutes, "what are you folks doing here?"
Katrina said, "We'd heard the stories about you up here."
"Stories?? Don't tell me people have been seeing us here."
Rob shrugged as he swallowed. "For ten or twenty years, from the sound of things."
"We aren't from around here," Katrina added. "We're Drifters," she added, as if that explained everything.
"Uhh, we're not exactly up on the specifics of society these days," James grinned. "What are Drifters?"
"We drift around, looking for the answers to life. Our lives at school and with our parents never gave us any answers, so we're trying to find them on our own."
"All you'll find around here is rain, unless global warming has done something about that."
"You must be out of touch," Tim said. "They finally started doing something about global warming twenty years ago. Since they started replanting the Amazon, things have gotten a ton better."
"Anyway," Zanika said, "you heard the stories and decided to check them out?"
"Yeah," Katrina said; she couldn't take her eyes off Zanika's golden, statue-like beauty. "And here we found you guys."
"And so you did; hopefully more won't.... Well, there's an explanation for that, too."
"I hope so," Tim snorted.
James frowned at him, and even Zanika spared him a glance before saying, "Is he always like that?"
Katrina shrugged. "He can be a jerk at times, but he's kinda fun on the road. Emphasis on 'kinda'. We met up a week ago down near the state line."
"So you three aren't, like, permanently together."
"No; Drifters group up and fall apart as they like. Rob an' me have been going along for nearly two years now, but he can take off whenever he likes." Unconsciously, though, her hand slipped into Rob's free one on her left, and their fingers interlaced tightly together.
Zanika turned her blue-crystal eyes toward Rob for a second, and quirked a cryptic smile. "I see. Anyway, as for James and me...," and she launched into her tale. It took only about fifteen minutes, but she included many of the details of their transformation. As she went on, Katrina became more and more excited; it sounded so romantic, so incredible....
"And so we're waiting for the cure to be discovered," Zanika finished, "and having fun with each other in the meantime. Most of each month, we live in the Otherrealms; but once a month, we return to our bodies and have fun here, so to speak."
"I bet," Katrina breathed, stubbing out a cigarette that Zanika had given her, while Tim and Rob grinned. Rob added, "But now we've seen you; doesn't that change things?"
"That rather depends on you," James said. "We could just wipe your memories, you know; we have that power."
"But we'd prefer not to," Zanika started saying.
"You won't have to on me," Katrina said quickly, drawing a look of her own from Zani. "What about you guys? Can you keep your mouths shut?"
Tim hesitated, then nodded. "Drifters don't spew on each other. Why should we on you?"
Rob, too, nodded agreement. "If you don't hurt Kat...hurt us, I mean, then there's no reason to talk about you. We do okay by ourselves on the road most of the time, so we won't even rat on you to the tabloids."
"Then we have no problems," Zanika grinned, but with another glance at Katrina; she went on, "unless there's something you'd like to ask of us."
Katrina jumped a little at that, and stared back at the incredible woman sitting before her. The firelight flickered off the perfectly smooth surface of her body, glowed in the gems she wore like contained rainbows, even gleamed in her satiny blue hair, so much more beautiful than Katrina's own chopped and dull locks. And she realized that Zani's eyes were jewels as well now; but their blue depths contained a light that had nothing to do with the light of the torches. She seemed to know that something was on Katrina's mind. If she did, there was no use in denying it; but, still hesitantly, she started, "I...," then fumbled into silence as the others turned to her, and bit her lip.
Zanika looked at her deeply; Katrina could feel it. Then she said, "Guys, would you excuse us for a bit?" She took Katrina's hand and drew her up, tugging a little harder as she felt Katrina's other hand resist leaving Rob's, leading her to the other room. There, she motioned Katrina to sit down in the throne beneath her portrait; with wonder, Katrina did so, stroking its arms to feel the smooth texture of the stone and the incised hieroglyphs, the cartouches...that's what they were called...that must have stood for Zanika's name. Then she looked into the golden woman's face again, and dropped her eyes in embarrassment.
Zanika stood before her for a few moments, thoughtfully packing a fresh cigarette into her holder, lighting and drawing on it. At last, she said, "How long have you been Drifting?"
"Maybe three years, since I was fourteen," Katrina murmured, still staring at her hands in her lap.
"Why did you leave home?"
"'cause my parent's were jerks...especially my father."
"How so? Was it just the usual stuff between parents and kids?"
Her shoulders started shaking a little bit; but for some reason, Katrina found it impossible to resist telling the truth. "There was more.... Dad kept on cheating on Mom; he'd done so for years, and they'd...get into horrible fights about it; but she kept on taking him back, no matter how many times. I tried to make her see sense...but she just loved him too much."
"Some things don't change, do they?" There was a ton of regret in Zanika's voice, and Katrina stole a glance, finding sympathy in the golden face and sapphire eyes. "Too many women fall in love with jerks like that, and not enough realize it until too late."
"Well, as far as I know, Mom never did. I finally got fed up with the arguing, and the lack of attention for me and my needs and accomplishments, and skived off from Akron. I've been Drifting ever since, looking for something real in my life, somewhere I could call a home."
"I see...." A pause, and Katrina heard her exhaling deeply, smelled the smoke from her cigarette. Eventually: "Have you ever had sex with anyone, if you don't mind my asking...especially Tim or Rob?"
"I don't mind. And yeah, I have; it's one of the few easy pleasures of a Drifter's life. I make sure to stop into free clinics and get my anti-pregnancy jab up to date every year.... As for who, I've done it pretty frequently with Rob; never with Tim." She let her distaste for the idea of sleeping with Tim show.
"And how long have you been in love with Rob?"
"What??" That one got a look, of shock.
Zanika grinned at her. "It's plain, Katy, from the way you were holding hands. He's in love with you, too. Haven't you ever told each other?"
"But...but I can't be in love; I just can't!"
"Why not?" Her eyes glittered slightly more.
That glitter somehow laid bare Katrina's fear, at the same time that it compelled an answer, but she still had to whisper the words out hesitantly. "Because...because I'm afraid.... I'm afraid that we'll become like my mom and dad." She glanced up again, into the sparkling eyes, and slowly added, "But that's stupid, isn't it?"
Zanika shrugged as she puffed on her holder. A long slow exhalation, before she said, "Maybe not that bad. Call it self-preservation, if nothing else. You can't be hung for that. But if you never take the chance on love, you'll never know if you can enjoy it together. Shakespeare said that a long time ago."
"Who chooses me must give and hazard all he has," Katrina said slowly to herself, then grinned at Zanika's surprised look. "Just because I Drift doesn't mean I never learned anything. Shakespeare's one of my favorites; I always love reading The Merchant of Venice."
"At least you appreciate the greats. Have you tried to keep up your education?"
"Not in the way the govs say I should. I'm a student of the world."
"Did you enjoy the more usual learning?"
"I actually did, believe it or not. I was already planning for college, to major in literature, when I took off. I suppose I'm a few credits shy yet of getting in."
"No doubt," Zanika said dryly. "You're intrigued by us, aren't you? I saw it in your face."
"Yeah. I mean, who wouldn't be? You're both so beautiful; you've restarted a love that could literally last forever if you wanted it; you're rich, you have a home that isn't trying to fall apart." She drew in a deep sigh, and let it out in a sob without realizing it. One cheek started itching, and she scrubbed at it, surprised to find her hand wet.
Zanika didn't answer after that; Katrina saw the creases of thought put unwonted wrinkles in her face as she turned and crossed the chamber. She sat down in the other throne, which suddenly started gliding silently across the floor until the black platforms of the two chairs touched. Katrina did not even flinch; by this point, nothing was strange anymore. She simply watched quietly as Zanika thought for a few more minutes; then the woman looked back at her, those jewel-eyes glittering again, and once more Katrina felt her thoughts seemingly become crystal clear, as if it were impossible to hide anything from herself with double-thinking. "Other than your friends on the road...has it been lonely for you? No real family that you felt loved you, or at least cared for you?"
"Yes," she whispered, slowly through a stab of pain.
"So what you're really looking for...what you want is a home, isn't it? A home that could last forever, where the parents don't bicker constantly.... And it looks to you like we could be that home."
Katrina slowly shook her head yes, tears falling down her face more vigorously. She suddenly pushed up from the throne without thought, and was kneeling before this woman who had the beauty of a golden goddess and the power of a master sorceress. Like a small girl begging, she cried out, "Please, Zanika; I know I have no right to ask this, you have your own worries. But I've got nothing out there, and I don't want so much in the end, just another chance for a real life, and you and James can do it! At least you seem like you can, can't you??"
"Oh, gods," she heard Zanika say; and then she was being lifted up and pulled into the woman's arms, and she felt something she had not believed for years she could know again -- the hug of an unconditionally caring woman. Zanika rocked her back and forth for a time, making nothing-noises in Katrina's ear as she soothed her. It didn't matter that the she was a meter taller than Katrina, or could have passed for a fantastically sexy statue in a museum. She simply cared, and was there to offer that caring.
It took a while to cry out eight years of pain, but Katrina finally sniffled and tried to push up from Zanika's shoulder. Zanika eased off her hug immediately, but still held her by the shoulders; and as Katrina scrubbed at her eyes and focused, she saw that Zanika's face was wet as well, with tears of a silvery liquid. "Your tears--"
Zanika snuffled once as well, and flicked her fingers to summon a pair of handkerchiefs into existence. "I'm as alive as you; just a different body chemistry, so to speak.... According to James, this is platinum. Here." She passed one of the hankies over, and nothing was said as they sniffed and dabbed at their eyes for a bit. When she had repaired her face, she finally said, "Katy, I would love to do what you need, but I don't know if I can. James has taught me his magic over the years, as you can see; and one of the things I've learned is that the transmutation process requires what's called Philosopher's Stone."
"The stuff that was supposed to change anything into gold."
"Yes; and give immortality. We don't have immortality, just a variation on it, but the Stone is still necessary for the trick."
"We have it," a male voice said from the side. Both women turned and saw James standing in the archway, flanked by Tim and Rob. "I didn't use all of the Stone that I wangled forty years ago, just enough to achieve the effect I wanted. What?" he added defensively. "Didn't you think we could hear you? Especially me; remember, heightened senses? Hearing's one of them, after all. But is this the right thing to do, guys? Katrina does have a mother and father, and whatever other family is out there for her."
"Family like me," Rob said suddenly, and shot forward to grab Katrina's hand. "James heard you say you love me, and he found out how much I love you. After all, who else would put up with a horse's ass like you for so long?"
Katrina grinned through her tears, and laughed as Zanika growled, "Yeah, that's real love there." She herself kissed Rob and said, "I can admit it now to you, honey; I love you. You've been holding back some on me, haven't you, because I haven't said anything...because I've been afraid."
"Yeah, I have. But now, with this...! Why would you want to leave me, lover, when you can see it now?"
"I wouldn't want to.... But this would be too good an opportunity to miss, if they're willing to grant it to me. You know everything I said? Wouldn't you go for something like this if you had the opportunity, for a home and an education and everything you thought you'd lost for years, if not forever?"
Rob grimaced slightly, as if he was trying to hold something in, and made an effort to smile. "Yeah...yeah, you're right, Katy. If this is what you really want, I shouldn't stand in your way."
"Hold it, both of you," James said, walking over to the thrones. "Nobody's said anything about anything happening--"
"James," Zanika suddenly said, "come over here for a minute." She beckoned him to follow her into a corner of the chamber, and they started gazing at each other without saying a word. The teenagers stared at them in turn, the pair seemingly oblivious to them, until Tim said, "Have they gone statue or something? I thought that wasn't for hours yet."
"No," Katrina said slowly. "I think they're talking to each other...talking in their minds."
"Telepathy?" Rob said, then shrugged. "If they can do magic, they should be able to do something like this."
Whatever was happening between the golden man and woman, it went on for some five minutes. Then they smiled, and Zanika leaned over to kiss James. They returned, hand in hand, and James said, "My lady...my wife, essentially...." She grinned at him even more, and he paused to kiss her hand. "My wife here has pointed out something to me...that if one pair of lovers could do this thing, why couldn't another?"
Katrina gasped in surprise, then joy, barely hearing Rob stammer, "You mean...you mean you'd convert me, too?"
"If you chose," Zanika said, "and only then. "We aren't going to force this on you. But James told me about questioning you, just as I did Katy. Your home situations weren't quite the same, but you sound as if you were underappreciated by your parents, too. You sound as if you're bright, and willing to learn...which both of you will have to do while you're with us; we're going to take this parenting thing seriously, even if it's rather sudden. And life as lovers under this spell, well...." She rolled her eyes, and the four of them laughed.
"So it's your choice, Rob," James said. "I'd say yes, but you have your own mind. What do you think?"
"Thirty minutes left, lover, before the moon sets," James said to Zanika.
"Finishing up right now, darling," she replied, applying the last of the ruby-red lipstick to Katrina's lips. Katrina studied herself with a grin in the summoned makeup mirror as Zani moved away. Just from the view of how she looked now, she had gone through a definite improvement in her appearance. Even before applying the liquid latex to her skin, simply scrubbing her face of the goth makeup and shaving her head had made her much more the beautiful young woman -- had even given her a strange sophistication that was hard to define. And now her flesh glowed in the same hue of gold as her adoptive mother's did, while a new light of life burned in her still-normal eyes. She smiled to herself; according to Zanika, wait until she came into the Otherrealms, and really started living....
Zanika said, "How about you?"
"Just did the last glyph."
In the mirror, Katrina saw Zanika glance over at James and Rob and approve the work; Katrina had done so long before. Rob now resembled a younger version of James, if a little paler in handsomeness, and the gold of his transmutation made him, too, resemble a young demigod.
Looking back down at Katrina's shaved skull, Zanika went over the intricate spell's symbols, added one last line to the final glyph; Katrina felt a pulse of energy across her head, directed at the paint to dry it instantly. "Done here," she said, and patted Katrina's shoulder.
The girl stood, running her hands yet again over her transmuted golden body. The latex treatment, assisted by magic to coat and cure her and Rob before the moon set, had done something else besides prep her for transmutation; the curing and compression had made her figure, especially her breasts, far more lush than she had a right to be for seventeen. She had noticed Rob force himself not to run over and jump her. Tim was looking the same way, but he was just going to have to keep his hands to himself. "Now what?" she said with an eager smile to Zanika.
"Now I dress you, and James dresses Rob, and we finish getting ready for the big freeze. You're laid under the same spell as us now, and when we go stiff, you two do as well. But first, it's time to say your goodbyes to your other traveling companion."
"Okay." Actually, it was going to be a relief to say goodbye to Tim; she and Rob had been planning to leave him soon anyway. She and Zanika went over to where he sat in one of the chairs, and she glanced at him, then looked again. The only way he could have been sadder was if he had loved her as well. She hastily revised her opinions; if he could feel a separation, then maybe he was a better person than they were giving him credit for. She heard the others come over as she said, "You gonna be okay?"
Tim shrugged. "Yeah, I suppose."
"Not gonna tell anybody?"
"Nah. I promised before; now I got more reason to keep the promise. I know I can be a pain at times, that I've been more irritation than pleasant, but that's just the way life's made me. I'll do you people right." He finally grinned slightly. "Who knows? You may find me around in sixty or so years, waiting here for you to come out and meet the world. But it'll be only me or my family, unless someone else gets enough stones to come up here on a full moon night."
Katrina smiled, then, and bent down to kiss him on the forehead. "Thanks," she said as he stared in surprise. "What's the matter? Never been kissed back by a statue before?... Take care of yourself, lunkhead."
The farewells were equally brief but less sad from the others, and Katrina escorted Tim to the doors, which opened in their usual silent fashion. The whole "family" waved goodbye to him as they watched him turn and leave, and then the doors closed and locked, the unseen seals wrapping themselves into place. James said, "You take her, and I'll take him, and we'll each clean up our room before changing things around."
"Got it; about twenty minutes?"
"Right." And he led the gleaming Rob into the living chamber.
Zanika turned to Katrina. "Well, Katy, ready to become a princess?"
"Bring it on," Katrina said with a smile. "How do you do it, though? I doubt you have any clothes in her for someone like me; you weren't planning on company!"
"We definitely weren't that, thirty-eight years ago," she laughed, showing off her green tongue and gums and golden teeth, aspects of the body that Katrina now shared. "But we're surrounded by matter in this mountain. James showed me how to pull slices and blocks of stone from deep in the earth, and rearrange them to our desires. That's how we were able to create the liquid latex, for instance. The only thing impossible to duplicate that way is the Philosopher's Stone; its magical properties make it impossible to create like that. And now, for a practical demonstration on your person." Zanika stretched out her hands toward Katrina, and the girl felt figurative hairs standing on her body as energy flowed and crackled about her....
An hour later, the tomb was silent again for another lunar month. But much redecorating had been done to the place. For one, the living chamber was now dedicated purely to seating and comfort; the bed had been removed. However, it was now residing in another chamber, deeper into the hill's heart. A fresh corridor led to this chamber, designed by James and Zanika to resemble the Great Hall at Abu Simbel, down to the tall statues of Egyptian kings and queens serving as pillars. Four of them were "carved" to resemble Zanika, as the chief of the "royalty" in the tomb; two to James as her consort, and one each to two new people, and all were done in solid gold.... Arches with closing, locking doors were at the ends of corridors behind the rows of statuary, leading into spacious sleeping chambers, one for each couple.
And out in the Hall of Thrones, the walls had been "repainted" again, adding two scenes of family life flanking the doorway to the living hall. But on the floor, the two great granite thrones had been brought together to rest on one single black marble dais, close enough for the Queen Zanika and her royal consort to sit gazing out at the world from sapphire eyes, golden hands clasped together; the Lady Zanika held the crook, while James carried the flail, symbolizing their joint "rule" over the worlds they created.
And on a broad lower platform across the way, where the consort's throne had been, two chairs of rose marble had been placed close together, also carven over with glyphs of virtue and the names of a noble pair in cartouches. In the seats rested two more golden bodies, another man and woman, though younger in their gilded appearance than the older pair, facing the Lady and Lord with visages capped by emerald eyes. The man wore a gold-and-blue satin copy of the classical men's headdress of ancient Egypt, over a nearly nude body covered only by a kirtle-apron of golden leather that lay across his lap. In one beringed, golden hand rested the golden feather-scepter of Ma'at, the goddess of justice; his other hand reached out as the king's did, to twine fingers with his thronemate.
She was fashioned as a young woman whose beauty of face and body had just ripened into full promise; her tight shift of silver silk covered only one full breast, leaving the other's gleaming globe to view, her nipple tipped by a ruby surrounded by a ring of emeralds and diamonds. Emeralds made up her "eyeshadow," above her diamond-stippled lids and the ruby-covered lips of her mouth. Rings and bracelets similar to the Queen's glittered from her own fingers and forearms, covered in gloves of silvery leather. Silver leather boots covered her legs tightly, stamped in green with prayers to Isis and Hathor, and her Name in the holy circle of protection. And upon her head, over a wig of golden "braids" sealed in emerald and silver beads, rested the Crown of Hathor-Isis-Ma'at: the sun's disk between the tall horns of the sacred cow, backed by the feathers of Justice, all in gold and springing from a golden platform carved to resemble the protecting Falcon of Horus. Its shining wings wrapped about her head, the tips touching beneath her chin and holding the tall headdress on her smooth metal skull; its taloned foot on each side grasped the ankh, the key of life, shielding her cheeks. The crown designated her as the Wife of Amun-Ra, handmaiden to the creation of the universe. In a deviation from the classical form, however, the blade of the statue's bared shoulder was "tattooed" in sapphires with the glyphs of the Name of Djeheuty, or Thoth, the god of wisdom, learning and the scribes; and she carried in one hand a scroll of golden papyrus on rods of ebony.
Quiet smiles were on all four golden faces; but emotions seemed to burn within the sapphire and emerald eyes...joy, and hope rekindled. And so did the quartet sit their vigil, waiting out the turning of the stars until the time prophesied in the auguries came....