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Melody of the Envious — a flute duet

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May 8th, 2021
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  1. Melody of the Envious — a flute duet
  2.  
  3. Amir gasps for air, bracing himself for the imminent disappointment of his teacher. His clumsy fingers tap away at the metal valves, sending out waves of musical torture. Noran’s yellow eyes squint, devouring the young human’s confidence. A flick of her tail, soon joined by a raised paw-palm, prompts Amir to lay down his instrument.
  4.  
  5. “I told you to practice this section last week. What excuse do you have this time?”
  6. “I… can’t. I tried. It’s too hard. Too fast.”
  7. Noran stands up, her triangular golden ears brushing against the stone ceiling. “And when you are faced with a wild beast, or a bloodthirsty mercenary, will you still fail? I understand your concern, but mercenary minstrels cannot afford dissonance. They must do away with free time, practicing out of the most intense passion. There is no other way.”
  8. “How do you do it?”
  9. “I just told you. Practice.”
  10. Amir stands up from his wicker-hewn chair, and pushes his finger against a set of sixteen notes, each separated by one hair’s width. “I mean, how is it even possible to get this part right? Can we learn a different spellsong?”
  11. “Repulsion is an entry-level tune. Not to discourage you, but this is as easy as it gets.”
  12. “I’m done, then. I’m going to run into the desert, and get gored by the wispgoats. I can’t be a hunter like my brother. I can’t be a farmer like my father. I can’t even be an apothecary like my mother. I’m good for nothing.”
  13. The young student takes a step towards the sunlight seeping through the doorway. The jackal rushes to him and wraps her furred fingers around the boy’s hand.
  14. “You can do it. Sit down, and practice. That is how I, and all those before me did it.”
  15. “I don’t even know what it sounds like.”
  16. Noran tightens her grasp. A sharp tooth flashes under her muzzle. She tries to hide it under her lip, but Amir notices, sending a shiver down his spine.
  17. “I showed you a hundred times. Do you seriously need another?”
  18. “No, I don’t. What I meant to say is, I don’t even know what it feels like. What my fingers are supposed to do. You say they need to dance, but they always end up squirming like a worm in a bird’s beak.”
  19. The jackal stares back, motionless. Amir giggles.
  20. “Don’t look at me like that! You remind me of my dog.” The boy immediately burrows his face in his palms, wishing he could take away his thoughtless remark.
  21. Noran pays no mind to the comment, and returns to her seat. She brings her flute up to her snout.
  22. “I have an idea. Your parents may not like it. You may not like it. But I believe it essential for your education. Don’t tell anyone about this, and remain calm.”
  23. The jackal’s flute resonates with a piercing staccato. The metal valves close down in perfect harmony, each pushed down by a black pawpad.
  24. “That doesn’t sound at all like it. I definitely don’t remember this part,” says Amir.
  25. Noran answers only with a sudden crescendo. Her fingers’ acrobatics accelerate. The music takes on the shape of a beastfolk howl.
  26. “What are you doing?”
  27. The boy flips through his sheets, looking for any pattern resembling his teacher’s performance. As he brings a finger to his mouth to coat it in saliva, he notices that the skin at its tip has turned significantly darker.
  28. “Ink...?”
  29. Her eyes closed in absolute focus, the jackal draws a quick breath, and unleashes a resounding siren from her instrument. Amir pushes his palms against the sides of his head in an attempt to silence the flute’s wails. The boy’s ears shift away from his hands, moving towards the top of his head. Flesh reshapes, earlobes turning pointed and triangular. A tuft of golden fur covers their insides.
  30. “In the names of the Ǧinn, stop this!” exclaims Amir.
  31. The student dashes towards his teacher, and extends his fist to knock the instrument out of the jackal’s hands. Noran ripostes with sixteen notes Amir instantly recognizes. A gust of wind pins the human to the ground. The beastfolk resumes her tune, now evocative of the desert birds' morning song. The boy’s armhairs multiply tenfold, covering his skin with a forest of yellow fur. The dark spots on his fingers protrude from Amir’s flesh, hardening into five black pawpads identical to Noran’s. A sixth appears at the center of his palms in a roughly triangular shape.
  32. “Why? The village wardens will not forgive this.”
  33. Noran remains unfazed. She molds her song into a reflective waltz, bobbing her head to the rhythm. Gold coats the student’s torso, then turns charcoal as it spreads onto his back. Pressure builds at the base of the boy’s spine, stuck between his vertebrae and the stone floor. Amir pushes his newly formed paw-palms against the ground, allowing a bushy amber tail to sprout above his hips. It swishes back and forth to the music a few seconds, before Amir forces it to remain still to reflect his indignation.
  34. “This is completely hgphhh—”
  35. The boy’s morphing skull silences his words. Some of his teeth multiply, turning pointier. The student’s tongue flattens, and so does his nose, the latter becoming black and humid. Irises lighten from brown to gold. One blink, and the colors red and green completely vanish from Amir’s vision. He tries to resume protesting, but only lets out a stream of gibberish. The turning-beastfolk bolts towards the door, hoping to attract the attention of the mercenaries training outside. Noran blasts the jackal-boy with an explosive sforzando, slamming his muzzle against the floor. A final wave of golden fur finishes coating the rest of Amir’s body, remodeling his human feet and legs into beastfolk paws. Fully turned, mute and uncertain how to control his new body, Amir glances back at Noran, and whimpers. The teacher finally takes the flute away from her muzzle.
  36. “This is temporary,” she indicates. “But I’m not done yet.”
  37. Noran places her instrument back against her teeth. The she-jackal takes an inspiration, and releases a long, deep note. The flute’s cue prompts the lump in Amir’s throat to shrivel, increasing the pitch of his whimpers by an octave. The student’s eyes widen slightly, as his canine face takes on a female appearance. He tries to stand back up again, but the sudden loss in broadness of his shoulders disturbs his equilibrium. His arms and legs gain a little bit of muscle mass, while remaining feminine enough. His hands enlarge slightly, his fingers elongate, each of the latter taking on a thinner appearance. Noran’s song accelerates, alternating between shrill whistles and low growls. Pressure builds up once more, this time located on Amir’s chest. Two sensitive mounds of flesh grow underneath the boy-turned-girl’s desert-colored tunic, her new pair of breasts forming a visible bump underneath her clothing. At her crotch, the transforming beastfolk’s shaft and testicles recede into her insides, soon replaced with a vulva appropriate for her new sex. Her tibias, femurs and spine lengthen, increasing her height as to allow her golden furred ears to caress the ceiling. The student’s hips cave in slightly, her back bends as to increase her rear’s prominence, and her thighs enlarge until she bears an exact copy of Noran’s female body.
  38. “This is the grand finale. Try to stay with me through this,” the original she-jackal says before resuming her tune. The slow, dreamy chords now evoke the calming sounds of a lullaby.
  39. Her physique stable at last, Noran’s twin finally manages to stand up. She sweeps away the sand on her beige clothing, now almost identical to the fur covering her skin. As her fuzzy fingers brush against the cloth, a speck of purple appears where her pawpads met the fabric. The new color spreads quickly across the tunic, reshaping it into a perfect duplicate of the robe the true Noran wears. Out of thin air, a black string wraps around the replica’s neck, weighed down by a wooden wind chime resting on top of her chest. As if to make up for the necklace’s creation, her leather sandals dissolve, leaving her barepaws as is customary for beastfolk. Amir-turned-Noran gazes at her clone for a few seconds, utterly bewildered. If anyone were to enter the rehearsal room, they would immediately start looking, in vain, for a hidden mirror. The transformed student breaks eye contact and rushes for the exit, looking for anyone who could help punish this unwarranted violation of her body. Noran remains seated, paying no mind to her twin’s sudden escape. Her pawpads continue tapping away at her instrument, now playing a jolly march. Amir’s brother would instantly recognize it as one of the songs used to bolster the courage of thirsty hunters during their expeditions.
  40.  
  41. “Mistress Noran? Is the lesson with your apprentice already finished? I haven’t seen him exit your classroom.”
  42. The mercenary leader, a sun-scorched old man, approaches the she-jackal clone. She stares at him for a moment, remembering she has no idea how to speak with a flat tongue.
  43. “Mistress Noran? Is something wrong?”
  44. A romantic ballad emerges from the rehearsal cabin. Its slow, emotional flow draws a smile on the human’s face.
  45. “Is… Is Amir doing this? By the Ǧinn… I thought he had only started his apprenticeship with you three weeks ago!” the captain exclaims.
  46. For the newly turned beastfolk, however, the notes do much more than simply move her. She immediately recognizes the tune as the final movement of the Simulacrum—a controversial, extremely long spellsong which requires both a living person and an unparalleled mastery of the flute. She had spent six years studying its details, practicing it in a sandstone hovel far from the village so no soul could be affected by its influence.
  47. What? That isn’t right. Six years ago, she was duelling her brother with wooden swords, imagining herself the captain of a mercenary squad, defending her honor through the blade. And her brother was a… human? How was this possible? Had she been adopted? No, her real parents were long dead, slain in the expedition that would bring back a mysterious spellsong she is still learning to this day, in between the lessons she gives to her new apprentice Amir. But wasn’t she named Amir too? Did her apprentice have the same name as she did? How strange that she hadn’t noticed before. Was it because Amir was actually her last name? No. Noran Ajib. That was her name. Not Amir.
  48. “I am as impressed as you are, Hassan,” she answers, articulating her words through the careful placement of her tongue against her pointed teeth. “While he had potential, I found his lack of discipline to be a great barrier in his education. Had he been hiding his talent from me this whole time? I will go check on him immediately.”
  49. The music stops abruptly.
  50. “Glorious! Do you think the boy will be ready to join us in tomorrow’s expedition?” the old man asks.
  51. “That will depend on him. I must admit I find this sudden ability very unnatural. I need to get to the bottom of this,” the Noran-clone answers.
  52. “As you will, Mistress Noran. If you judge him worthy of coming with us, know that I will be very pleased to have a new minstrel on our squad.”
  53.  
  54. The transformed she-jackal approaches the classroom door, and closes it behind herself. She freezes.
  55. “Right,” she comments.
  56. “If I hadn’t stopped the song early,” the original Noran says, “you would—”
  57. “—irreversibly be nothing else than an exact copy of me. I am aware of this spellsong’s function,” the Simulacrum interrupts.
  58. “Your name is Amir,” the true jackal says. “I did this to allow you to feel how your fingers must dance on the flute. Do you understand?”
  59. “Yes. I remember now. The Repulsion spellsong. An easy exercise for beginners, yet essential for survival. However, Amir finds it difficult. I mean, I find it difficult.” The replica pauses. “Well, I find it easy now, but I used to be challenged by it. Because I didn’t practice enough.”
  60. “Correct. Now, we didn’t go all this way for nothing. Sit down, and let your hands flow.”
  61. The clone sits on Amir’s chair, and grabs the boy’s flute. She wraps her fingers around the tiny instrument, the tip of her pawpads touching her palm.
  62. “This won’t do at all. This is a flute for children,” the Simulacrum protests.
  63. “You can borrow mine,” true-Noran suggests.
  64. The twins exchange instruments. The replica brings the flute to the tip of her muzzle, struggling to find a suitable place for the blow hole. She remembers the beastfolk technique she has used for decades, and quickly moves the instrument to the side of her snout. Without even looking at the music sheets, she plays the sixteen notes that gave Amir nightmares with extreme agility.
  65. “You should—”
  66. “—do it over and over. I know,” the clone interrupts again. “I would never waste an opportunity such as this. You would know.”
  67. The Simulacrum repeats the sequence twenty times. She struggles to stop relying on muscle memory and memorize her actual movements, but she eventually forms a good mental picture, aided by her years spent memorizing the difficult passages of the Transport, Burrow and Cook spellsongs.
  68. “I’m done,” she says.
  69. “Twenty minutes of confusion for two of learning. I know this might have seemed overkill to you, but it was the best way I could imagine to rekindle your passion. To know what lies ahead of you is a great motivator,” the teacher says.
  70. The replica remains silent.
  71. “I suppose it would be wise to turn you back now. You won’t keep my memories, but you will remember the time you spent as my Simulacrum. I hope this was useful for you.”
  72. “Why can’t I stay like this?” the clone asks.
  73. “What?”
  74. “You’re better in every way that I could ever hope to be. Taller, stronger, ridiculously more talented and respected. How could I ever go back?”
  75. “There can’t be two of us. You understand this, right?”
  76. Only silence meets the teacher’s question.
  77. “Yes, I am all of what you mentioned, and more. But if all minstrels thought like you, there would only be one spellsong. How could the diminutive power of Cook ever rival the explosive splendor of Detonate? The truth is that you cannot prepare a meal with a bomb, just as you cannot defeat a thirst-wight with a steel pan. I may be Noran, director of mercenary minstrels, but you are Amir, the young boy with a great dream and the years in front of you to achieve it.”
  78. The Simulacrum lowers her head, not daring to make eye contact with her twin.
  79. “We all have our part to play in the orchestra of life,” Noran explains. “Does the resting musician envy those who are playing? No. They wait for their cue, ready to join the others when the next movement comes. Yours will come too. Work hard, practice well, and become the best version of you by your own standards. Even if it’s twenty, thirty, or fifty years from now.”
  80. “I should have understood this on my own. Thank you for bringing me to reason,” the replica says. “Can we play together? Before you turn me back, and send me to my family?”
  81. “Of course. We’ll need another flute, though. I think I left my spare in—”
  82. “—the wooden chest under my bed,” the Simulacrum interrupts.
  83. The two she-jackals let out a crystalline laugh.
  84. “Can I go fetch it?” the clone asks. “It’s going to be fun walking through the military district as myself. As you, I mean.”
  85. “Sure thing. But don’t tell the mercenary captain Amir — I mean you — is ready to leave the boundaries of the village yet,” the teacher insists.
  86. “He needs a lot more practice. I’m sure that today’s lesson should be memorable enough to light the flame of passion in his heart once more.”
  87. The twins laugh again. The Simulacrum leaves through the doorway, leaving Noran alone in her classroom. She picks up Amir’s small flute, and smiles.
  88. “This is where your journey truly begins, boy,” the teacher says to herself. “I hope the hours you will spend seated in the darkness, frustrated to have forgotten how to perform Harvest’s rapid finale yet again, will be as enjoyable as they were to me.”
  89. The beastfolk puts the tiny instrument back on her thighs, and closes her eyes, waiting for her twin’s return.
  90.  
  91. ***
  92.  
  93. This story was also posted in L0ST-S0UL’s page. If you so wish, you are free to distribute it without crediting me. The act of sharing my work is already great enough an honor.
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