Into the Weald

A hiker stumbles into a fantasy world and is transformed into a dryad deertaur version of herself. Explicit.

Skyler hadn’t planned on wandering into a fantasy world. She’d gone hiking up in the mountains plenty of times before and had never once slipped between worlds. She’d even hiked this very trail a couple months ago and had stayed well on Earth the entire time. Today that would change.

At the moment, she was still hoofing it up the side of a steep rise, which she remembered from last time because climbing it had made her break into a sweat last time, too. Just a little further and she’d come out on top of the ridge, with a great view of the reservoir that the trail encircled, framed by the foothills and distant peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Once she was there, she could find somewhere to sit for a minute and rest her legs, maybe have one of the granola bars she’d stuck in her bag on the way out. Already she could see more light coming in through the trees; she was coming up on it now.

But when she left the shade of the ponderosa pines, she found she was not standing atop a small, rocky outcropping. There were no familiar peaks poking above the tops of the trees, no reservoir, no scruffy alpine trees and scrub—not a single thing she recognized.

Instead, a lush meadow studded with flowers stretched out before her, nestled in the belly of a valley so thick with verdant foliage that it looked almost primeval. The towering peaks around her bore thick skirts of mist that shrouded their sharp purple cliffs, and slender waterfalls like silver strings that lost themselves in the clouds. Her gaze floated up into the sky above, where the ghost of a crescent moon hung, four times bigger than it should have been and bearing a broad ring around its equator.

Her eyes made several circuits of the album-cover-worthy view before Skyler found the words to say, under her breath, “What the hell.”

Even the trail she’d been on was gone. All she found under the soles of her hiking boots was the tall grass she’d trampled. Even her footprints only went back as far as the edge of the meadow. Beyond that, the thick roots of ancient oaks barred her way, so large that she’d have to clamber over them if she wanted to try to go back the way she came.

She huffed through her teeth. “What the hell.”

Okay. Stay calm. There had to be an explanation for this. Was she high? No, she’d been out of edibles for weeks. Plus they just made her horny, they didn’t make her hallucinate. Yet this felt too real to be a dream, and she didn’t remember touching anything that might have given her a weird reaction... Maybe she was dehydrated? She dug her water bottle out of her bag, took a few big gulps, let her heart rate calm down a little, and then got out her cell phone.

Calling for help felt embarrassing. She wasn’t the sort to just go and get lost in the woods like this; she’d been crawling around campsites since she was a kid. She wasn’t sure who exactly to call, but surely the 9-1-1 dispatch would know...

Except that her phone was dead. Not ‘no bars’ dead, not ‘red battery icon when you push the power button’ dead—it refused to do anything at all and rattled in a way it shouldn’t when she shook it.

“Oh, god damn it,” she groaned out loud.

Something stirred in the meadow. Skyler, who had assumed she was all alone, nearly dropped her phone in surprise, ducked to catch it, and then looked up to see a broad blue-furred flank, shaking itself off. An absolutely massive cat was rising to its feet. It stood as tall as she did at its shoulder, big enough that it could eat a horse for breakfast. Its long saber-teeth would make easy work of a horse, for sure. It rolled its ears back as it yawned, then perked them up, as if listening. As if it had heard her.

Skyler sort-of knew what to do when you saw a cougar. She did not know what to do when you saw a two-ton saber-toothed cat look right into your eyes, bare its teeth, and growl like an avalanche.

Suddenly those tall roots weren’t so impassable. She was scrambling over the top of them before she even knew that she was running. Her boots skidded on wet leaves and mossy bark. Branches and brambles left red tracks across her calves. Blood pounded in her ears. She barely saw where she was going—it was pure, incandescent instinct driving her forward. Every crack of the cat’s growl and every thumping footfall spurred her onward.

But as fast as she could run, it could run faster. The drum-beat of its steps drew closer and closer. Already she was out of breath. Any moment it would be on top of her.

Then her feet slipped out from underneath her. Stinging pain curled across her elbow and a blow to her back knocked the air from her lungs. Her head spun. Had she been caught? No—she’d fallen between two tall roots, and was now deep in the gap between them. Before she could wriggle back out, a paw settled on top of one of the roots, its claws curled as if gripping it. She held still, so still she could feel her joints threatening to lock up, and waited. A sea of white fur swept by only a few feet above her head, there was a flicker of a blue tail, and then the cat was gone.

After that, she had to wait a minute or two before her shivers passed. Once she felt confident the cat was no longer in the immediate area, Skyler crawled back out and scuttled off in the opposite direction.

As the edge wore off her panic, her pace slowed to a walk. She had been lucky to get away with little more than scrapes and bruises and a skinned elbow, though it stung if she tried to move her arm, so she kept it cradled against her chest. While she was no longer in immediate peril, she was no longer just disoriented but completely lost. And this forest wasn’t just unfamiliar—it was unreal.

Mist drifted between the trunks of ancient trees, turning the sunlight splashing through the canopy into rich beams of dappled amber dancing along the forest floor. Motes of blue-green light bobbed lazily through the air as if to amuse themselves. Occasionally one would trail alongside her for a minute or two, then gambol off again once it got bored. (One seemed interested in her bleeding elbow; she pulled her arm away and whisked at the mote with her other hand. It teetered away dizzily, and her fingers were left with a faint glowing residue that vanished before she could wipe it off.)

Occasionally, she would pass by a monolithic stone standing among the trees, with an abstract pattern chiseled on its face. The sharp, deliberate angles reminded her of runes, but if they had any meaning, it was lost on her. She might have taken a closer look at the stones, but if she approached their carvings began to glimmer, so she backed off and gave them their space.

A red fox gave her a curious look as she passed by it. Instead of running or bolting it just watched her, tail curled around its paws, ears perked. Its narrowed sapphire eyes gave her the distinct impression of a sly smile, lingering in her mind even after she’d moved on. A few birds with long, striped tail-feathers twittered at one another as they quarreled on the ground, then retreated to the branches and chirped at her for interrupting them until she’d hurried by.

By now, Skyler felt hopelessly out of place. Here she was, in an old tee shirt and hiking shorts, with a cap stuffed on top of her messy reddish-blonde hair, stumbling around a wild, untamed, literal magical forest. Part of her was in awe of this oversaturated fantasy world she’d found herself in. The other part of her just wanted to take a shower, put a band-aid on her elbow, and crawl into bed forever.

For now, finding a stream would have to do. Splashing water on her arms and legs was no substitute for a warm shower, but at least she could wash the dirt off. Gingerly, as the water was nearly ice-cold, she dunked her elbow in a few times to clean the wound.

While she rested on the bank of the stream, she jealously eyed the bushes growing alongside it. Some of them bore fruit, as round and smooth as a cherry but as big as an apricot, and with mottled pink skin. Her stomach let out a sad groan. All that adrenaline was now taking its toll on her, but the thought of being lost, stuck in a fantasy forest, and sick from eating random fruit she found was enough to scare her off of trying one.

There were those granola bars in her bag, though. She’d been meaning to save them, since it might be handy to have food she wouldn’t have to forage for, but she could have one now and keep the rest for emergencies. She fished her hand into her bag, grabbed one of the bars, and pulled out a handful of oily goop.

The tarry mess of loose grains and raisins dripped down and oozed between her fingers. It smelled like raw petroleum. “Eeugh,” she groaned. She flicked her hand to shake it off and it plopped onto the ground beside her. The bar had been warm to the touch when she’d grabbed it, so sure, she’d expected it to be a little bit melty. But it couldn’t possibly have gotten hot enough to melt the wrapper too. It was like the whole thing had just come apart in her hand. What was going on?

While she pondered that question, she leaned over the stream again and scrubbed the muck off of her hand. She’d have to check the other bar; if they’d suffered the same fate, her whole bag would be a mess, and with the way her day had been going so far...

The quiet scowl on her face slackened. She paused and peered into the water. Her reflection had hair down to her shoulders, but just a few weeks ago she’d trimmed it even with the bottom of her ears. After wiping her hands dry against her shorts, she ran her fingers through her hair to confirm that, yes, it was a couple of inches longer than it should have been.

Suddenly the soles of her boots grew warm. With a gasp, she clambered up to her feet, only to find the soles had sloughed off entirely and were now just puddles of oozing tar. The tops of her shoes had remained on her feet but were now peeling apart, unraveling into spiral strips and fizzling into nothingness with a golden sunlight-glimmer of magic.

Beneath that were two pairs of cloven black hooves where her toes should have been.

“W-what—” Skyler began to say, before she staggered and fell back onto her ass with her hooves awkwardly dangling in the air. Her feet stretched, as smoothly as if she was sticking out her legs and curling her toes. White fur licked up around her ankles. The uppermost bit of one of her hiking boots still dangled there, unmaking itself, while the pelt climbed her shifting thighs like stockings. Panic clutched her chest. She scooted backwards, flailing her legs like she was kicking off a pair of flip flops.

She came to a halt when her shoulders bumped up against hard stone. Tipping her head back, she looked up at the face of the standing stone she’d bumped into, sheltered in the crook of a small bow-shaped mound of earth. The stone roused at her touch; glowing light welled up into the carving on its face and began to pulse along the ground, rippling outward from the stone, and flowing into her.

Skyler’s mouth opened, her back arched, and she breathed, “O-oh.” She’d meant to say more, but she hadn’t thought this would feel so good.

Warmth welled up inside of her and flowed out to the tips of her fingers and hooves. The scrapes and bruises vanished, leaving behind nothing but an antiseptic twinge. The more of whatever-this-was that she soaked up, the more her body tingled with effervescent energy. She ran her hands through the fur on her thighs where the white now gave way to dappled purple, shut her eyes, and leaned back against the standing stone. Now this felt more like edibles.

Sitting still was hard when her whole body was buzzing. She combed her fingers through her hair over and over, trying to heave the rich red waves over her shoulders, but it was rebellious and unruly, and so thick that her hat was struggling to stay on. Her fingers bumped against the tips of her ears, pointed and poking out to either side of her head; for a short while their new shape captivated her interest, until it was stolen away by her tuft of a tail wiggling out from beneath her disintegrating shorts.

Bracing herself against the stone, she pulled her new legs underneath her, then slowly eased her weight onto her hooves. Her hooves bore her weight easily, even if she stood a bit bow-legged. What was left of her shorts was little more than a loincloth, laying atop her fluffy white crotch-fur.

“Faun,” she said. “Okay. I’m a faun.”

As if to say ‘no you’re not’ her center of gravity swung forward and threw her off balance. She arched back to try to keep herself from falling—back, back, and further back, and yet still somehow she was still tipping forward. She put out her hands (or so she thought) to catch herself and landed among the leaves with a thump. And yet she was still standing. How could she standing up and on all fours at the same time?

The answer was simple. From the waist down, she had the body of a deer, with lavender fur along her back and flanks, a soft white chest, and four long, slender legs.

Skyler stared over her shoulder at her new lower half. She picked up one hind leg, then another, then trotted in a small circle, and then came to stop. She couldn’t keep herself from fidgeting, though; brimming with that tingling energy, it was difficult to keep from messing with her new body.

Okay, she wasn’t a faun. She was a deer-centaur...thing.

The changes didn’t stop at her waist, but the fur did. From her waist up, her skin turned green instead. Along her back it was a light, verdant hue; on her front it was so pale as to be almost white. Rich, natural emerald flushed across her lips. Her nose tingled, her nostrils flared and twitched, and before she could lift her hand to her face, her nose had broadened and flattened and darkened until it gave the illusion of a dark snout. Her ears grew long from either side of her head, curling toward their rounded tips and free to swivel any which way they pleased. Her eyes narrowed into wild sylvan blue.

The standing stone’s flow of glowing light didn’t stop for a second, and it left Skyler unable to stand still. With each step she took, tufts of grass welled up around her hooves. She leapt up onto the mound that sheltered the stone, trotted along its length, then hopped back down with a little buck of delight. Everything felt so good and warm and tingly that she was almost out of breath.

She eyed the glowing rune on the standing stone and perked her elf-like ears. From some jumbled-up mix of memories and euphoria, the realization came to her that the stone was a reservoir, and it was feeding its...magic, or power, or whatever all this glowing stuff was, out into the land around it. Into her. And if her touch had turned it ‘on’ maybe she could...turn it up? Her tongue absently ran between her green lips. Just a little, of course. It’d be a shame to pass up the chance, it was a really good high.

Under her breath she whispered, “Okay.” Stepping closer, she pressed her hands against the warm stone, closed her eyes, and gave her willpower a little push.

The stone warmed underneath her hands, as if it had been sitting in the sun, and its carving blazed twice as bright. Eddies and wisps of of light rolled off the waves of energy radiating from its base. Flowers and clovers poured from the ground at her feet. Her hind legs nearly buckled. She staggered back on her hooves, her eyes lit by a blue glow, her eyelids fluttering. Her whole body tingled as pulse after pulse of nature mana flowed into her.

A quiver of confusion creased her brow. Wait a second—what was ‘nature mana’?

She shook her head; she must have been getting loopy from the high. Nature mana was what a dryad used to cast nature magic, of course.

Her hat had been losing its battle with her hair, but before it fell off, it was lifted off by the antlers surfacing from beneath her red mane. Stray locks flowed off of the growing rack like streams of water and tumbled down to join the rest of her hair. Her hat was left dangling from one of her antlers’ furthest points, but it wasn’t long for this world—and neither were the rest of her clothes. The messenger bag hanging at her hip survived by turning itself into a pouch sewn together from leaves, her shirt had dwindled until it was barely more than a tank top.

Even that was too much. It was stifling. She grasped at the collar and pulled; between her fingers, cotton gave way to plant fiber and shrunk into an underbust top that hugged the underside of her chest and covered little else. With a warm huff, she threw her arm up around her chest to cradle it. Her nipples had grown fat and tender, and throbbed insistently against her clothes.

“Fff-fuck, I feel like I could ride a centaur,” she said, stamping at the ground with her front legs. Her back legs, on the other hand, had locked up completely. The waves of nature mana coursing up through her legs searched for somewhere to go and found their way in: right down between her legs.

The centaur thing had just been a joke, but the thought of it was now lodged in her head: A thick, muscular chest leaning against her lower half, her arms braced against a tree, getting fucked so hard enough that her hind legs were lifted off the ground with every thrust. Her eyes were glazed over, her hand absently kneading her chest. A small jolt rocked her hips. She dug her teeth into her lower lip and whined. A few drops of her juices dripped from her hindquarters and caused sprigs of grass to sprout where they had fallen.

It didn’t stop at one, either. Her body quivered as she bucked again, and again. She drew in as much nature mana as she could and let her body fill up with its sunlight-warmth. A purplish blush darkened her green cheeks. Unable to reach all the way behind her, her free hand instead clutched the fur of her deer-chest, right about where her crotch would have been. Another flinch, another squirt dampening the ground with her fluids. She’d never felt this wet before, and she’d gotten off while high before. Why did nature mana make her so horny?

Once again she answered her own question: Fertility magic was in the domain of nature, after all.

There was too much mana. Her hands balled into fists and her faux-snout scrunched as if she was concentrating. She couldn’t stop, it was going to come bubbling up out of her whether she liked it or not. She quivered once, twice, and then she sheer abundance of the High Weald overwhelmed the novice dryad and she orgasmed. Several fresh splashes of her fluids blanketed the ground between her hind legs with green.

“By the goddess,” she sighed. Dizzy with afterglow, she missed the slip in her vocabulary. Both of her chests were heaving. The sheen of sweat on her green skin smelled like the mist that hung thick throughout the Weald. As the last few waves of the standing stone’s stored mana washed over her, the gathering-rune on its face ceased to glow. At last, it too was spent.

The first thing Skyler wanted to do was to go again. Not only had absorbing that much mana felt amazing, but if she wanted to become a powerful dryad, she needed to push herself to extend her mana reserves. And besides, the stone had gone dormant again, and wouldn’t have drawn enough energy from the ley lines underneath it for another round until the next full moon at the earliest.

Okay, how had she known any of that?

Skyler cradled her cheek in her hand and rubbed slowly while she tried to catch her breath. This wasn’t just the high, this was something else. What nature mana was, how the standing stones worked, that she was a dryad, and that the scent in the air that was making her nose twitch and wrinkle was the scent of a saber-cat, like the one that had chased her...

Oh root and branch, not now!

Her ears bobbed up to attention though they didn’t have to. Its rumbling growl was more than loud enough to hear, and she could feel its footsteps through her hooves. It must have doubled back and followed her own scent here...or maybe the scent of her orgasm had given her away, or all her moaning and gasping. Either way, she felt completely exhausted, too weak-kneed to stand, her mind a foggy haze of afterglow and reeling from how saturated she was with mana.

Emerging from behind the trees, the great blue beast padded into view. Its savage snarl ripped the air apart as its amber eyes fixed on the new dryad.

All that mana... Skyler kept her eyes locked onto the saber-cat’s as she leaned forward and pressed her hands to the ground. A shiver ran down her spine, the sensation of roiling energy flowing through her. She pushed it through her fingertips, out into the earth. At her command, writhing vines burst from the earth at the saber-cat’s feet. They coiled and lashed around anything they could find, and the first thing they could find was the beast’s ankles. But though they twisted tight around its legs, a firm tug of its leg snapped the vines taut and tore a few of them in two. Unprepared for the jolt that shot back up her arms, Skyler recoiled, the creepers slackened, and the saber-cat broke free.

She didn’t have many options left, and she didn’t feel like gambling on whether it saw her as prey or a plaything. Its eyes stared into hers as it stopped, snarling; it was unwilling to back down, even if it was perplexed by something that wasn’t fleeing in fear.

This was a long shot, but...her eyes blazed bright, suffused with the same glow that had overtaken them while drawing mana from the standing stone. Extending a hand, she rubbed her fingers together and said, “Here, kitty.” The saber-cat’s eyes widened and it relaxed it wrinkled snout. It blinked sleepily. A low, soothing rumble took the place of its growl. It placed its nose against the back of Skyler’s hand and sniffed, then brushed the entire side of its face against her forearm.

Bit by bit, she relaxed her gaze until the glow of her eyes had subsided. “Good...kitty,” she said as she wrapped her hand behind an ear several times the size of her fist and scratched. The cat shoved the front of its snout into her face and chest, rubbing its head against her torso one way, then the other.

When the saber-cat rolled onto its side, the thump rustled the leaves above. Wary of the beast’s size but wanting to keep it happy, Skyler rubbed along its chin and neck, until its tail beat against the ground and its huge claws dug furrows into the dirt. Soon, it rolled onto its back, paws tucked on either side of its chest and exposing its neck to her; soon after that, its purr softened to a gentle rumble and its eyes slid shut; and then finally it drifted off into slumber.

Once she felt assured that the saber-cat was soundly asleep, Skyler heaved herself up onto her hooves. She took a moment to stretch her legs, first front, then back, before slipping away from the big beast and the dormant standing stone, and set off quietly, following alongside the stream.

It was as good a path to follow as any. Water flowed downhill, so it was likely to lead out of the valley; water also meant plentiful plant life, which would bring animals and, perhaps, other people.

For the first time since she had shown up here, Skyler had an opportunity to relax and get used to her new body. As she followed the stream downhill, she leapt from ground to root to fallen tree. Her hooves danced atop the forest floor while it whipped by beneath her. One minute she banked into a bend in the stream and took it at a gallop while the next, she cleared the water in two bounds, kicking off the surface of the water itself and leaving behind a pair of water lilies in bloom. She had no need to even look where she was going—the ground beneath her, the roots and branches of the trees, the birds settling into their nests, voles scurrying through the underbrush, a herd of deer grazing in a nearby copse—she could feel it all, like a subtle mana-sense in the back of her brain.

The luminous sunbeams falling between the mist-wreathed trees slowly cooled from golden to orange, with shades of pink. Drooping blue and golden moon-blossoms unfurled their petals, casting their gentle luminous glow in the crevices of trees and from underneath bushes. She spied more of those big mottled pink berries she had passed up before: plumfruit, they were called. And to her delight, they were indeed safe to eat. She plucked an entire armful and snacked on them while she walked.

When she was satisfied and had a handful of pits and sticky pink fingers to show for it, she found an open spot on the bank, scattered the pits onto the ground, and willed a little of magical energy out over them. A small shudder of delight rolled up the backs of her thighs. Green stems and pale roots sprouted from the pits, rising into the air and sinking into the earth respectively. Leaves flourished, branches spread, and by the time she knelt down to wash her hands, a new thicket of plumberry bushes lined the bank behind her.

Washing the pink stains off of her hands, she wondered if she was even really lost any more. Sure, she still wanted to find a way back home, but the urgency was gone. She no longer needed to find food or water, or shelter, or protection. To her, being lost meant you were a stranger, out-of-place. Yet now, the Weald seemed to recognize her, and she had begun to recognize it, as if she had somehow been here before. As if it had once been, or could be, her home.

Before she rose, she studied herself in the water. Her thick wild hair was thrown back over her shoulders, the only way to keep it under control. Her antlers poked from it and crowned her head in white; her ears stuck out to either side, halfway between elfish and deer-like. She wriggled her dark little snout of a nose, then smiled down into the water. She spotted the little similarities, the shape of her lips, the spattering of freckles on her face—though against her green skin they were speckled white, rather like her flanks. Her softened features were prettier than she was used to.

And yet it wasn’t the face of a stranger. This was her face, as much hers as the one she saw in the bathroom mirror every morning. She just hadn’t realized she could have more than one face.

She felt much the same about her top half. Her frame was lighter and more delicate, as if meant to match the nimbleness of her deer half, and both her chest and hips had blossomed a bit in the process. Though it was different, it suited her so well that she hadn’t given a second thought to how little she wore.

As she continued downhill, one stream joined another, and then another. She found even her voice had taken on a new tenderness; to savor it, she began to sing. Quietly at first, and then with growing confidence, letting the words she knew by heart shift subtly on her tongue:

One morning in the month of May

As to the Weald I strayed

Just at the dawning of the day

I met with a fair deer-maid...

The setting sun turned the light pink, then purple, and then it eased into a gentle moonlight blue once the sun had completely set. Glowing motes danced and bobbed like fireflies, while the moon-blossoms were out in full bloom. Even without her keener senses, she would have had no problem finding her way with as much natural light as the forest made.

Part of her still struggled to believe this. Even if magic was real, it wouldn’t look like this. Right? The bright colors, the glowing runes, the particle effects—it was all too much. Too ridiculous. On the other hand, if magic was real, who was she to say it couldn’t be as campy as it pleased?

Skyler paused as she came to a small cliff, where the stream dropped some fifteen or twenty feet before continuing along its path. Below her was a narrow trail, winding back and forth along the face of the cliff; above her was the night sky. Without the sun to wash it out, she could see the colors of the moon: its bluish plains, its dusty white mountains, and the golden hue of its ring. The stars were out, and if she gazed up at them for long enough, she began to recall the dryads’ names for them, each for the plant whose seeds it first bore: there was Holly, and Yew, and Ivy...

After a minute or two spent appreciating the view, she took the cliffside path down, leaping from one switchback to another until her hooves were on solid ground again. She had not followed the stream much further before her nose wriggled and sniffed at the air. She paused mid-stride and lifted her ears. Her nose twitched again. She could smell smoke. Smoke and fur and sweat and hides and meat and... dog? No, it was larger, coarser—it was the scent of wolf-kin.

Although finding other people was the whole reason she’d been following the stream in the first place, she still wanted to be careful, especially after her encounter with the saber-cat. She closed her eyes, breathed in, summoned up her mana, and breathed out. Just a quick dryad trick: leaves slipped out of the way of her footsteps and branches bent to let her pass, allowing her to move without making a sound. The closer she crept, the more strongly she could sense the presence of outsiders, the same way she sensed the forest around her. Two of them. A mated pair? And a fire, and the weight of a tent against the grass. Staying low and in shadow, so that the brush would hide her from view, she crept closer until she could lay eyes on them.

One male and one female wolf-kin lounged by the fire, dusting the ground with their tails. They wore furs belted about their waists and ankles. From the male’s waist hung a minotaur’s skull; the female wore a fur cloak that draped over the top of her chest. They were both lean and muscular, and the edges of their weapons gleamed in the moonlight.

Although they were outsiders, and armed, she could sense no ill will in them. Just some travelers passing through. Still, she ought to be careful. The High Weald was dangerous; if she spooked them they might come after her, and there would have to be a chase

As soon as the word ‘chase’ crossed her mind, her mana began to churn and roil. Her hind legs locked their joints and the fur along her spine stood on end. Her hot breath steamed in the cool air. What was happening? Why was she so flustered all of a sudden? All she’d done was think about about... Ohh, by the Goddess, a chase. Her eyelids fluttered and her nails dug into her fingers, but she couldn’t hold herself back. It was like the standing stone all over again. An aching cry of delight left her lips as her juices dripped onto the ground beneath her. Then, all too late, a purple blush rose to her cheeks and she clapped her hands firmly over her mouth.

Two sets of ears swiveled in her direction. Four amber eyes peered into the brush. If she held still, she could almost completely blend into the shadows, but as much as her skin smelled like morning dew and freshly-plucked leaves, she couldn’t do a thing about the scent of her fluids, let alone the noise she’d made.

“What d’you think, just a deer?” the male asked.

The female took one more sniff, then curled her lips into a toothy grin. “Nah. That’s a dryad.” Heaving herself up onto her feet, she unbuckled her sword-belt and let it fall to the ground.

He snorted at her. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Gonna catch her. Dryads are on my list,” she said, shrugging off her cloak.

“What list?”

“Y’know, the list of the five bestiary entries we’re allowed to fuck? Mine were dryads, mermaids, sphinxes, selkies, and lamias.” She counted them off on her claws.

The male rolled his eyes and sneered. “Well, don’t get lost, cause I’m not gonna bother to come sniffin’ you out.”

The she-wolf stuck out her tongue, then shimmied the loincloth off of her hips. Skyler’s eyes were fixed on her, her broad shoulders, her firm stomach, her thick gray-white fur. The same instincts that made her effortlessly agile and a natural at magic was nearly driving her feral over the thought of leading this wolf-kin on a chase. The old tales went that if a dryad gave chase and you caught her, you could have your way with her. The truth was that no one could catch a dryad unless they wished to be caught. And right now, with her insides like molten lead and her mana threatening to overflow again, Skyler could use a good chase right now.

The wolf, stripped down to naught but her pelt and with an eager growl in her throat, dove into the bushes. The trance was broken and the chase was on. By the time she had thrashed and clawed her way through to the other side, Skyler had bolted—but not too quickly. A flash of white tail and purple fur caught the wolf’s eye, before vanishing behind a fallen tree: a teasing glimpse to encourage her desire.

Just because Skyler was horny didn’t mean she had to make it easy. If she felt the prickle of the she- wolf’s amber eyes, she quickened her stride, or she roused the roots of trees to rise into hurdles, or she dove into thickets that parted to let her pass, then closed up again before the wolf could slip through. She crossed the running stream once and then back again to confuse her scent and force the wolf to track her by by straining to hear her hooves beating against the forest floor.

Skyler’s nature-sense could pick out the wolf-kin, feel the pounding of her heart, sense the mana building inside the wolf’s body alongside her mounting lust. In truth, the two were different aspects of the same force. What could be more natural than sex?

The mist that shrouded the Weald left Skyler’s skin slick with dew, and yet her body was still achingly hot. Both her chests were heaving. Though she tried to run the wolf ragged, the chase narrowed and she was close at her heels. A dryad had no need to play fair, though. She slipped between two trees, then emerged from between another pair some distance away, as if the intervening space had simply folded in on itself. She glanced over her shoulder, giving her pursuer a sly smile, then ‘jumped’ again, from tree to tree, until she was lost to sight and emerged in a small clearing some distance away.

Using the bit of time she’d bought herself, she swept her red hair behind her shoulders, straightened her back, and caught her breath, so that by the time the wolf-kin emerged from the woods, shoulders hunched and panting, she looked ethereal and majestic by comparison.

“These woods belong to the Goddess, outsider,” she said. The words came to her lips before she knew what she would say, as if she’d said them so many times they were second nature. “What gives you the right to stand before Silwyn Firemane of the High Weald?” Was that her name now? It had come to her as naturally as running and jumping, as natural as the quick thumping of her hearts. She liked it.

The wolf-kin bared her teeth, grabbed one of Silwyn’s antlers, and yanked her down snout-to-snout. With a stamp of her hooves, Silwyn tried to pull free, but her grip was tight and firm. “Oh yeah?” the wolf growled. “What gives you the right to prance around like a hind in heat, you leafy tease?”

Even though that grip alone was enough to make her melt, Silwyn pouted. “Let go,” she huffed.

“Don’t grow handlebars if you don’t want people grabbin’ em,” the wolf growled. She circled around behind the dryad, then tossed a leg over her hindquarters to straddle her hips. “Ever ridden bare-back?” she asked. She leaned her weight against Silwyn’s antler, pulling her head to one side so she could dig her teeth teasingly into the dryad’s neck. At the same time, she ran her claws through the soft white fur between Silwyn’s hind legs and rubbed her paw pads along her swollen mound.

Silwyn’s body hitched up against the wolf’s, and in response she pushed right back down against her. Silwyn was already achingly wet, and shuddered as the wolf spread open her folds and worked her paw pads into her pussy. Before long, their baser instincts had taken over and their hips were knocking together in short rhythmic thrusts, as if they were rutting. Every so often, some new hot ache seared through her as the wolf curled her fingers or adjusted her grip, and each time she shuddered and left the wolf’s knuckles running slick with her warm fluids.

“Oh, root and branch,” she cursed under her breath.

Beyond the physical pleasure, there was also the warm surge of mana flowing into her and refilling her reserves. Sex couldn’t compare to the raw output of a standing stone, but that didn’t make it any less satisfying. Blue light flared from her eyes as they began to roll into their sockets. Already she was on the verge of overflowing unless she put that surplus mana to use. So she let it roll through her, light her up, and then flow into the ground beneath her.

Beneath the wolf’s paws, the soil grew warm to the touch. Grass tickled her toes, clovers sprouted between her claws, and then vines split the surface and wrapped around her ankles. Creepers probed along her calves and thighs, then swelled into thick tendrils that rooted her legs to the ground. The wolf kicked one of her legs to try to dislodge the vines, but unlike the saber-cat she didn’t have the strength or the size to break free. On top of that, Silwyn had something different in mind than just holding her down. The creeping vines converged between the wolf’s thighs and slithered between her folds. They coiled together and pushed up into her pussy, pulsing steadily.

There was a sharp growl and a yank on Silwyn’s antler. The wolf’s chest heaved and her tongue lolled out over her fangs. “Think you’re tricky, little doe? I’ you...” She trailed off into a low growl as she sagged against Silwyn’s back. Her eyes were glazed and distant and the air was so rich with thick floral scent that she could practically taste nectar rolling down her tongue.

Silwyn tried to give her words some bite, despite her own gasping and moaning: “Oh dear, hff hff, is the mighty huntress, hff hff, all spent?”

All the wolf-kin could do was growl in reply. She laid her muzzle across Silwyn’s upper back, and let go of her antler to clutch at her chest instead. Silwyn arched her back and whined. She couldn’t get rid of all that excess mana fast enough. Any second now, it would bubble over, but somehow she was holding it back, stretching herself beyond her limits.

Neither of them could hold out forever, though. Maybe it was the wolf who broke first, yowling and leaning into the dryad’s back as her orgasm buckled her knees and melted her from the inside out. Maybe it was Silwyn, trembling and squirting against the she-wolf’s fingers, letting out all the surplus mana at once in a shockwave of magical light that made every bough and bush in the vicinity burst into vigorous bloom. Even the two of them slumping onto the grass together seemed to take place separate from time, in some dreamlike realm of afterglow.

The wolf-kin sighed, “Fuck.”

“I hope the prize was worth the chase, outsider,” Silwyn said. Then, lifting the wolf’s chin in her hand, she leaned in and kissed her on the lips. Warmth flushed underneath the wolf’s fur and her ears folded flat against her head, which pleased her immensely to see. “Now, I think it’s time the huntress took her rest.”

The wolf-kin opened her mouth to object, but Sylwyn gazed straight into her eyes. Before the wolf could get a single word out, she yawned, rolled off of the dryad’s back, and sunk down into the soft grass. In seconds, she was sound asleep.

Using the same trick that let her slip between trees, Silwyn folded the forest on top of itself, then left the wolf along the bank of the stream, just a short distance from her mate’s camp. In an hour or two, she’d wake up and stumble back with a story to tell about how she’d managed to catch a dryad. Maybe her partner would even believe her. Silwyn then rose onto her feet, stretched her legs, stepped between the trees, and was gone.

Back in the valley where she first arrived—Forest’s Heart was its name, as it was nestled deep in the High Weald and sheltered by its mountains—Silwyn laid back on her flank and gazed up at the stars. She could choose to sleep anywhere she liked; no one part of the forest was her home more than any other, but Forest’s Heart was uniquely beautiful and tranquil. The threads of waterfalls falling from the mountain cliffs caught the moonlight like streams of silk, and the grass was as soft and warm as any blanket.

She turned her new name over in her mind, testing its shape and sound. Silwyn Firemane—she could see where the second part came from, she thought to herself, threading a lock of crisp red hair between her fingers. As for Silwyn, it fit her more comfortably than Skyler did, especially after her encounter with the wolf. (While washing in the stream on the way back, she had discovered that as a result of extending the amount of mana she could hold at once, her figure had grown as well, reflecting how much of nature’s bounty she could hold within her.) And yet, she still felt like herself.

She had a new name, a new role, a new life, but not for a moment did it feel like someone else’s. Nor did she feel as though she was no longer her old self. It was like a coin: you could flip it over, change heads to tails, but it was still the same coin, itself neither heads nor tails but both. You could flip her over, change Skyler to Silwyn, but she was still the same person.

She smiled. That probably made her tails, didn’t it?

Now that she’d discovered this new side of her, and a whole new world to go with it, she couldn’t give it up just because her cosmic coin-toss had come up heads the first time.

And so she decided she would stay for as long as she wished, and return only once she was ready. She still wanted to know why and how she had come here, her curiosity being a constant between her two sides, but there were so many other questions to answer. How big was the High Weald? What lay beyond its borders, and who lived there? What were other dryads like? How did ley lines work, and who first raised the standing stones? And what was her place in all this?

She’d have time enough for all of that, she decided—tomorrow. Today had been a long day, and even nature spirits needed their rest.

With the last dregs of anxiety drifting away from her thoughts, she stretched her arms and legs out until her tail quivered, then relaxed into the gentle embrace of the meadow-grass. Sleep beckoned her in and she came eagerly, though she was just as eager to wake come morning. She’d only had a taste of what her new life might be; she couldn’t wait to see what all the tomorrows ahead of her would bring.