The Outsiders


The Outsiders
by Morpheus

Kyle Witnesses his neighbor in a strange fight and soon finds himself drawn into another life outside the rules of normal society and mortality.

This story was inspired from the Highlander movies and TV series but takes place in a separate world with its own rules.

The Outsiders
By Morpheus

It was a dark and windy night as I staggered home from the bar, more than a little drunk. I staggered just a little with each step, enough to reveal to anyone who saw that I wasn't completely sober. However, I made a straight line home, eager to climb into bed. I only dreaded going to work in the morning with the hangover I was bound to have.

This was the second time I'd gotten drunk enough to have a bad hangover this month, though at least this time I had a good excuse. I was helping my friend Ed celebrate his birthday until he'd run off with his girlfriend so they could celebrate in private. That left me to finish up my beer and go home alone. Fortunately, the bar was only a couple blocks from home so I could make it there without worrying about transportation.

"The guys at work would slaughter me if I got a DUI," I muttered to myself, especially after I'd chewed out one of them for driving to work drunk last month. If I got a DUI after that, I'd be heckled for weeks. There was no way I was going to risk that. "At least I don't have to walk far."

The garage where I worked as a mechanic was a pretty laid back place, but we tended to mess with each other whenever possible. The only thing that kept the practical jokes and taunting under control was that none of us was stupid enough to ignore safety. Well, except for the guy who came in drunk and I was quick to remind him of how stupid that was.

My name is Kyle Simmons and I'm a 22 year old auto mechanic, a career which I'd never really aimed for but sort of fell into. The work could get dirty and time consuming, but that was all right with me. The pay was decent, I dealt with different things every day, and I worked with some pretty cool guys.

Unfortunately, most girls guessed I was a mechanic pretty quickly from the fact that I was frequently smeared with grease. Other than that, I didn't think I was too bad looking. I was 6 foot 2, a bit on the skinny side and with dark hair that looked a bit messy. But that was me all over. I always looked unkempt and messy, which was probably why I didn't have a girlfriend at the moment.

"Almost home," I muttered as I looked down at my watch, wincing at the early hour. I wouldn't have much time to sleep before I had to get up for work, which meant I'd be tired and have a hangover. "Tomorrow's really gonna suck..."

I was just about home when a flash of light caught my attention. I blinked and looked over at my neighbor's house, hearing a bunch of noise coming from inside. There were the sounds of smashing and flashes of light coming from the window. Then the front door burst open and a man went flying back, hitting the ground on his back.

"Shit," I gasped as I saw my neighbor step out the door a moment later.

My neighbor Marissa was somewhere in her late twenties to mid-thirties, though I didn't know for sure. In fact, I didn't really know much about her other than that she was a pretty hot looking brunette who taught a renaissance art class at the local community college. At the moment though, she stood in the doorway of her house with a glowing sword in her hand.

"What the hell is going on?" I gasped, thinking that this was one hell of a lovers spat.

The man on the ground quickly got back to his feet, revealing that he was pretty tall and muscular. He also revealed that he had a sword in his hand as well, though his was a large two handed broadsword that reminded me a little of Conan. Then to my surprise, he charged at Marissa, swinging his sword.

"I've got to call the cops," I gasped, though I was unable to tear myself away from this long enough to do that.

Marissa used her sword to block the man's attack, then she swung her own sword at him, slashing his arm a bit. He didn't seem to notice though and swung his sword again. She blocked the slash but the force was enough to knock her off balance and to the ground. While she quickly scrambled back to her feet, he charged and ran his sword through her stomach so that more than a foot of metal stuck out from her back.

I could only stare in horror, frozen in the moment and unable to think of what to do. "No fucking way," I gasped, thinking that this was like some kind of movie.

Marissa gasped in pain while the large man sneered. But then Marissa snarled and swung her sword before he had a chance to pull his from her stomach and block with it. Her sword hit his neck and went through it as though there wasn't a single bone to get in the way. She gasped in pain and dropped to her knees while he collapsed to the ground with his head bouncing several feet away.

"Fuck...," I turned pale, then emptied my stomach onto the sidewalk beside me.

When I looked up, Marissa was getting back to her feet and no longer had the sword sticking through her. She looked like she was in pain but otherwise not badly hurt. Then I noticed that the man she'd beheaded was starting to glow. A white light began to pour out of his body and swirl around her. She stood there with the glow surrounding her, a strange look on her face. Then the glow faded and she collapsed to her knees again.

I winced at the sight, hardly able to believe what I was seeing. I gasped even louder when I realized that the dead man was gone, that his body had just vanished though his clothes seemed to have been left behind. It was then that I realized what this all was. I was drunk and seeing things. This kind of stuff didn't happen and it wasn't. It was all in my mind.

"I need to get to bed," I grumbled, shaking a bit as I turned and hurried home as quickly as I could. "I've definitely had too much to drink."

--------------------

I leaned back in my recliner and scratched my balls, absently thinking that I should probably get dressed. It was early afternoon and I was still sitting around in my boxers and watching TV. It was one of the benefits of having a day off, but I couldn't very well get anything done unless I bothered to move.

"Nothing on TV," I muttered as I flipped through the channels with the remote. After going through all of them twice, I finally turned off the TV and got up.

A few minutes later, I was dressed and ready to go. I absently ran a comb through may hair, though it didn't do much for it. Still, it was enough and I was ready to start my day. The only thing missing was something to actually do.

"Maybe I should go see if Eds up for something," I mused. I hadn't really seen him since his birthday a month earlier and was wondering what he was up to.

I tried calling Ed but there was no answer, ending that idea. Still, I was tired of being cooped up in my small house and decided to go find something else to do. Maybe I could go see if there were any new movies playing. If nothing else, I still had to get some groceries. My cupboards were getting dangerously empty.

When I stepped out the door, I saw Marissa in her driveway next door, looking under the hood of her car and cursing loud enough for me to hear. I couldn't help but remembering that strange dream I'd had about her last month, chuckling as I did so. It's strange the things you imagine while drunk.

"You need a hand?" I called out as I walked towards her.

Marissa looked up and sighed, "I'm afraid I don't know much about cars. It won't start."

"Mind if I take a look?" I asked.

"Go ahead," Marissa told me, stepping out of the way.

However, I didn't need to get under the hood just yet. Instead, I asked her to try starting the car so I could see what happened. Power was coming from the battery but the engine just wouldn't turn over. I got under the hood and took a look, quickly figuring out what the problem was. It would be easy to fix once I had the right part.

"Don't worry," I assured Marissa, "The parts only about twenty bucks and I'll throw the labor in free."

Marissa laughed at that, "Thank you."

"If you want," I gestured to my own car, "I can give you a ride to the parts store and show you what you need."

"I would appreciate it," she smiled at me.

About half an hour later, Marissa's car was running fine and she was obviously happy about it. "Thank you very much," she told me with a nod, "I don't know what I would have done without your help."

"You probably would have towed it a garage," I grinned at her, "and spent about three hundred between the towing and labor." Then I shrugged, "Just don't tell my boss or he might get mad I cost him a customer."

"I promise I won't tell on you," Marissa told me with a look of amusement. She hesitated a moment, "Would you like to come in for an espresso?" Then she quickly added, "Please don't get the wrong idea. I just wanted to thank you for your help."

"Sure," I responded, curious to see her house. We'd been neighbors for more than a year but I'd never been inside her house. In fact, this was the most time I'd ever spent with her.

When I stepped inside her house, I was a little startled by her choice of decor. The furniture looked to be mostly fancy antique pieces and there were some old renaissance type paintings on the walls. There were also several swords on the walls as well, suddenly reminding me of that strange dream I had.

"I have a fondness for antiques," Marissa told me with an amused smile. "Some of these pieces have been in my family for centuries."

"Wow," I said, looking at one of the swords and then at a painting.

"That is a DaVinci," Marissa stated proudly, then quickly added, "A replica of course."

"I kind of figured that," I grinned, "I mean, something he really painted would have to be worth millions."

Marissa merely nodded at that, "Of course."

"And you teach this kind of stuff at the community college?" I asked as I looked around.

"Making a living from my own interests seemed an intelligent thing to do," she told me with a look of amusement. "Now let me fix our espressos... How do you like yours?"

A short time later, we were sitting down and sipping espresso while Marissa pointed to the various paintings and art pieces in her living room, telling me a little about each of the artists. It was obvious that she both knew her subject and loved it. However, it was all kind of boring to me and I just nodded and pretended that I was interested.

Suddenly Marissa froze, her expression instantly becoming deadly serious. The only time I'd ever seen her with that expression was in my dream. She immediately looked around her living room, scowling deeply.

"You have to go," she suddenly insisted, "You have to go now..."

"What?" I gasped in surprise as she got to her feet, looking around with a dangerous expression, looking as though she was expecting to be jumped any moment.

I got up, beginning to get worried. Marissa was acting pretty weird and I wondered if maybe she had some sort of mental problems and was off her meds. She certainly was acting like it all of a sudden.

Just then, there was a loud crashing sound of glass being broken and Marissa jumped to her feet. "Go," she told me coldly. "RUN!"

I jumped to my feet, not about to just leave her with some kind of burglar. I reached for her phone to call the police but froze as a glowing sword appeared out of nowhere in Marissa's hand. It was exactly like the sword in my dreams.

"WHAT THE FUCK?" I demanded.

Almost before the words had left my mouth, a woman stepped through the door, coming from the next room where I'd heard the breaking glass. She was fairly tall for a woman, standing about 5 foot 10. She was also very beautiful, with dark blonde hair. She was wearing black boots, black pants, and a red shirt that drew attention to her cleavage. But in spite of that, the thing that drew my attention the most was the fact that she was holding a glowing sword as well.

"Patrice De Nasia," Marissa hissed furiously, apparently forgetting all about me as she focused on the intruder.

"What the hell is going on?" I demanded in confusion.

"I told you to get out of here," Marissa snapped, not sparing me a glance.

"It's too late for him," the blonde said, "You know the rules about witnesses..."

Marissa just snarled and jumped at the blonde, slashing away with her sword. The blonde blocked it and launched into an attack of her own. They two began slashing at each other and blocking, moving so fast that I could barely even follow it. I felt like I was suddenly caught in the middle of an action movie or something.

"I knew you'd come after me again someday Patrice," Marissa exclaimed, "I knew you were too stupid to stay away... I should have finished you then..."

"I'll be the one doing the finishing," the blonde...Patrice snarled, holding out her hand and suddenly shooting out a ball of blue light which caught Marissa in the chest and flung her across the room to slam into the wall.

Marissa scrambled back to her feet and held out her own hand. Suddenly a glowing disk of yellow light appeared in the air in front of her, just in time to block another of Patrice's glowing blue balls.

I stared at the fight in disbelief, then suddenly remembered the phone. I dove for the phone to call the police, but Marissa slashed the phone line with her sword. "Don't call anyone," she exclaimed, "Just run... Get out of here while you can..."

"I'm going to enjoy taking your head," Patrice exclaimed with a grin.

"You can try," Marissa spat back, "You couldn't last time you tried though..."

Patrice just laughed, "I've gotten stronger since then..." Then she launched into another attack with her sword.

I stared at their viscous fight for a few more seconds before I finally decided to follow Marissa's instructions and run. I turned and raced out of the house as fast as I could, afraid that the crazy woman would come after me with her sword next. At the same time, I was also afraid of Marissa since I'd never seen anything like this from her.

"Glowing swords and glowing balls of light...," I exclaimed in fear, "It's like I'm stuck in Lord of the Rings or something..."

I got home as fast as I could and grabbed my own phone to call the police. But as I started dialing the number, I thought about Marissa's warning not to call anyone. She was pretty insistent... Considering the fact that she had her own glowing sword, she probably had a pretty good reason too.

"DAMN!" I screamed, thankful to get away from there but knowing that I couldn't just abandon Marissa like that. I didn't know her all that well, but I couldn't just run away without doing anything at all. "I have to do something..."

I suddenly had an idea and ran to my closet, throwing things out of the way as I dug for what was in the back of it. I pulled out my old double barreled shotgun. It had been a gift from my dad back when we used to go shooting together. I quickly loaded a couple shells and ran back to Marissa's house, thinking that a warning shot and threat should be enough to end this insanity.

When I stepped back into Marissa's house, I gasped in horror. "Holy shit...!"

The living room looked as though a grenade had gone off in it, leaving large holes and tears in nearly everything in the room...including Marissa who lay bleeding all over the floor. Marissa's arm was bent at an unnatural angle and she was spitting up blood as she struggled to get back up.

"You didn't expect that trick, did you?" Patrice laughed coldly as she pulled her sword out of Marissa's abdomen, "Now your head is mine..."

"STOP!" I yelled as Patrice raised her sword to strike at Marissa's exposed neck.

"What...?" Patrice turned and stared at me with a look of surprise, "You came back?" Then she noticed my shotgun pointed straight at her and actually laughed. "You mortals are so predictable..."

"No," Marissa gasped weakly, staring at me in horror.

Patrice began to swing her sword as she came at me but I pulled the trigger, sending a barrel full of shotgun pellets right through her stomach. She was thrown back and landed on the floor while I stared at her, horrified at what I'd just done. I'd just shot a woman... I'd just killed someone...

"Oh shit," I gulped, shaking as I stood there.

But then Patrice got back to her feet and actually laughed. She ran a hand over her stomach, wincing as she did so. Then she looked at me with a cold fury. "You made a big mistake mortal. It's going to be your last..."

"You can't kill her with a gun," Marissa grimaced as she struggled to get to her feet, revealing large holes and punctures all through her body. She'd been hurt even worse than I thought but she was still trying to get up, though without much success.

Patrice came at me again, leaving no doubt that she intended to kill me. I held a loaded shotgun in my hands but I was actually terrified of some woman with a sword. She'd shrugged off being shot as though it was nothing more than an annoyance. It was the same way Marissa had reacted to being impaled in my dream...

"Not a dream," I gasped, fully realizing for the first time that what I'd seen hadn't been the delusional imaginings of a drunken mind. It had really happened. I had no idea how it was possible, but it had really happened.

"Do you really still think that toy can hurt me?" Patrice demanded mockingly. Then she raised her sword and came at me.

I stared at her in frozen terror, suddenly thinking of Marissa's other sword fight with that man... She'd stopped him with just a sword. She'd killed him by... She'd killed him by taking off his head... I reacted in desperation the instant I realized this, raising the shotgun a little higher even as Patrice was swinging her sword. Her head suddenly exploded in red mist and her body stood there headless for a moment before collapsing to the floor.

"Oh God," I gasped as I collapsed to the ground as well, feeling sick to my stomach.

"You couldn't have," Marissa exclaimed, staring at me in disbelief, "That's impossible..."

Just then, Patrice's body began to glow, just as the man Marissa beheaded had. A strange white light poured out of it and swirl around me. I sat up, gasping as I felt a strange pressure, a tickling that seemed to reach further and further under my skin. Then the glowing light began rush into my body, making my blood suddenly feel as though it had been replaced by acid. I screamed in agony, lost in the fire that filled my body.

"Kyle!" Marissa exclaimed as she pulled herself towards me, "This is impossible... IMPOSSIBLE!"

I barely heard Marissa though since I was lost in the overwhelming pain. It was so complete, so total that I begged for it to end. I begged for unconsciousness or even death. This burning agony seemed to go on forever though I later learned it was less than a minute before it finally ended and I collapsed to the ground in complete and total exhaustion.

--------------------

When I came to, I was in a room I'd never seen before in my life, laying on a king sized bed. I slowly sat up and looked around, feeling extremely strange. My whole body tingled and there was a sort of warm buzzing inside of me, as though my blood was somehow humming.

"You're awake," Marissa said, causing me to turn. I saw her standing in the doorway, still wearing her torn and bloody clothes. She was bent over a bit and when she stepped towards me she limped. "I'm surprised you're up so fast..."

"How...how long was I unconscious?" I asked, though I had a thousand more important questions I wanted to ask.

"Only about fifteen minutes," Marissa told me with a scowl. "I was just starting to clean up..."

I stared at her for a moment and climbed off the bed, noticing that my own clothes were now bloody as well. I didn't think I'd really been hurt, but maybe I fell on some broken glass when I hit the floor. Then again, I gulped as I realized it might very well be Patrice's blood.

"What...what the hell is going on?" I demanded, climbing off the bed and nearly falling on my face. My limbs felt all weak and rubbery for some reason. I obviously wasn't fully recovered from my little fainting spell.

Marissa stared at me for nearly a minute with a strange look in her eyes, scowling as she did so. I met her eyes and refused to look away, determined to find out what was going on. Then she nodded and turned away with a loud sigh.

"You...you saw what happened last month, didn't you?" she asked me quietly.

I took a deep breath and gulped, thinking of my drunken delusion which hadn't been. "Yeah," I said, my voice a bit shaky. "I thought I'd been imagining things..."

"I thought you might have," she sighed again. "I'm also glad you didn't tell anyone."

"Who'd have believed me?" I asked with a forced smile. "I didn't even believe I really saw it."

"I'll explain everything," Marissa said, looking at me again. "After this, you deserve to know the truth. But first, you have to promise me that you won't tell anyone." When I didn't say anything, she insisted, "You have to promise. It's important."

"All right," I responded grimly. I hated to make a promise when I didn't really know what I was promising, but I had to know what was going on.

"You'll probably find this difficult to believe," Marissa gave me a forced smile and gestured for me to follow her. "I think I want to have a drink while telling you... You'll probably want a drink as well..."

Marissa led me back to the living room which was just as destroyed as it had been, with her wet blood still staining the carpet. However, the only sign of Patrice being killed there were her clothes laying on the floor. There was no sign of her decapitated body, which I thought may have vanished the same way that man's had.

Marissa went to the dining room and pulled a crystal container from the liquor cabinet and poured two full glasses. She held the container for a moment, looking as though she was trying to decide how to say what she wanted to. After putting the container down and taking a large drink from her glass, she said, "This is not easy to explain at the best of times." She stared at me again, looking at me with an odd expression.

"What's going on?" I asked gently this time, urging her to start.

"My name...the name of my birth is unimportant," Marissa stated softly, staring into her drink rather than at me. "I gave it up long ago. I was born on the outskirts of Florence Italy in the year 1485. I am over five hundred years old...and I can not die."

I just stared at her in amazement, not sure what to say to that. I would have laughed and thought she was joking if it wasn't for the strange things I'd already seen. I mean, I'd seen her completely impaled by a man's sword and then up and going without any signs of it the next day. Now I didn't know what to believe.

"As you might have guessed," Marissa told me with a wry smile, gesturing to her living room, "I am not the only one of my kind. We call ourselves Outsiders because we live outside normal human society and concepts of time."

"That woman," I said weakly.

"Patrice De Nasia," Marissa frowned. "At least that is the only name I know her by. Yes, she is...was an Outsider. She tried to kill me about eighty years ago too, though she was a lot stronger this time."

"My God," I gasped, shaking my head, "Why...?"

"That is the big question," Marissa sighed, taking another large gulp of her drink, then filling her glass back to the top. "You must understand, we live outside normal human rules...but we do follow rules of our own. One of the most important," she stared straight at me, "is that we are not to have any witnesses to what we are. We are to kill anyone who knows of our existence."

"Oh shit," I gulped, suddenly wary of Marissa. Was she planning to kill me now?

"I will not harm you," she sighed, "Not now..."

"You knew I saw you last month," I said slowly, realizing that she'd known that and hadn't tried anything.

"I suspected," she admitted. "But when you didn't say anything about it, I thought you were safe."

"But now?" I demanded.

Marissa forced a smile, "Circumstances have changed. But you can't tell anyone of this. It is for their safety as much as my own."

"Okay," I nodded agreement, knowing that no one would believe me anyway.

"I don't know where we come from or why we are," Marissa admitted. "Some say we have always existed, though the oldest I know of is only fifteen hundred years old."

"Holy shit," I whispered, unable to imagine living that long.

Marissa merely nodded, frowning thoughtfully. "No one knows where we come from, though all have their ideas. Some think we are blessed from God while others think we are creatures of the devil. More recently though, some have decided that we are genetic mutations, the next step in evolution. I do not know about that though as our abilities are beyond anything I can imagine of science."

"So you're like mutants?" I asked, thinking of the X Men movies, though Marissa showed no signs of really hearing me.

She paused to sip her drink and stare at me, "We are born of normal humans and live as such ourselves. Even we do not know what we are until our true selves awaken. This happens while we are under great stress, often grave injury or the threat of death. When this happens, the hidden power inside us responds, making us nearly immortal and granting us special abilities."

"Nearly immortal?" I frowned. "Special gifts? Do you mean like that ball of light Patrice threw at you?"

"We cease to age," Marissa explained. "We are immune from disease. We also heal from even mortal wounds in a very short time. But as you have already seen, we can still die. If our vital organs are severely damaged and unable to heal, we will eventually die. However, the fastest and most sure method is the removal of our heads."

"Shit," I winced, thinking of the woman whose head I'd shot off. I felt sick just thinking about it, even if she had been about to kill both me and Marissa.

"As for our special abilities," Marissa told me, "There are a few things each Outsider can do, but each is also granted a unique talent or power. These start out weak at first but grow stronger and more powerful over the decades. Unfortunately, these special abilities are why we fight among ourselves."

"I don't understand," I frowned.

Suddenly, I was hit by a seizure which shot through my whole body. I felt the strange warmth in my blood sparking up again. I gasped and clutched the table for a moment until it passed, then I just sat there panting.

"Are you okay?" Marissa asked me with a worried look.

"I...I don't know," I responded, closing my eyes and taking a large gulp of my drink. I had no idea of what was going on, but I hadn't been hurt in the fight. "You said something about your abilities..."

"Of course," Marissa responded, still looking at me with concern as well as something else I couldn't quite identify. "You might call them magic powers. Each of us has a different one. In past centuries, people sometimes called us witches or sorcerers because of them."

"Like the X men," I said, once again reminded of the movies.

"Humans fear that which is different," Marissa stated grimly, "And they destroy that which is different, especially if it is also powerful. Jealousy and fear and dangerous things. This is why we protect the secret of our existence so fiercely. It is perhaps our most important rule."

Marissa finished downing her second glass, then poured herself a third, not seeming to be drunk in the least. I was just finishing up my first and helped myself to another glass without asking.

"When one of us is killed," Marissa said carefully, as if trying to make sure she chose every word correctly, "Our power...the energy that is our life essence is left behind and is absorbed by the one who killed us. This life essence increases the strength of our own abilities...and gives us those of the one we killed. When I killed Eckart last month, I gained his abilities and those who had taken from others. They are still very weak in me and will take decades to grow to the strength they were in him."

I stared at Marissa, absorbing what she'd said. "So when you kill one another," I whispered, "you get new powers..."

"Yes," Marissa nodded. "Some Outsiders crave power and hunt down others of our kind to gain more. But it is also more than that." She grimaced, "We have a very old saying, that in the end, there can be only one. There is a very strong belief that we are meant to kill each other off until only one of us remains. Some believe it is a great game and the very purpose of our existence.

"My God," I whispered, suddenly thinking that immortality might not be all it's cracked up to be. These people could live forever but spent the entire time fighting among themselves and killing each other. It was insane.

"Many if not most of our kind believe that there is purpose to our existence," Marissa explained with a thoughtful look. "Think of it as a large puzzle and each Outsider's ability is a single piece. With every Outsider who is born, whatever force created us is placing another piece of that puzzle onto the table. Many collect as many of these pieces as they can, believing that one day every piece of the puzzle will be available and whoever is able to collect and assemble them all will see the complete picture and have the power of a god."

I just stared at Marissa, unable to say anything in response to this. This revelation was absolutely amazing and created a picture of immortal beings in a lethal, never ending game of king of the hill. As long as more Outsiders kept being born, the game could never truly end. It could go on forever.

"Some Outsiders hunt others because they crave more power," Marissa said as though it was perfectly normal. "Some because they want to complete the puzzle and win the ultimate prize."

"What about you?" I asked Marissa, realizing that I truly didn't know this woman. I'd been living next door to her but she was a complete and total stranger to me.

"I am not certain I believe in an ultimate prize," Marissa admitted, "Or if I would even want it. I merely wish to be strong enough to survive the hunters who come after me." She shook her head in disgust, "Two within a month... It's been years since the last attempt."

"All this...," I shook my head in amazement, "I never knew you people existed. I mean, this is all supposed to be impossible..." Then I gulped, "How many of you are there?"

"Not many," Marissa acknowledge. "Though no one is certain, I believe there are less than a thousand of us in the entire world." Then she stared at me again with a strange expression before finally saying, "There is a reason that I am telling you this."

"Because I saved you from her?" I suggested, remembering how Patrice had been about to chop off Marissa's head when I returned with my shotgun.

"In part," Marissa smiled faintly then stared at me with an odd expression that made me uncomfortable. "When you killed Patrice, YOU absorbed her life energy... I don't know how...but you're not human anymore. You're one of us. You're an Outsider."

"WHAT?" I stared at Marissa in disbelief, half sure she was joking in spite of the deadly serious look she had on her face.

"It's not possible," Marissa quickly exclaimed, "But I can sense your presence now the way I can any Outsider." She shook her head as though not believing this herself. "Mortals have killed Outsiders before... It's extremely rare, but it's happened. But this... I've never...NEVER heard of a mortal absorbing our life energies or becoming an Outsider. NEVER!"

"But thats...," I shook my head, positive that she was wrong.

"When an Outsider dies," Marissa continued, pausing to take a long drink. She looked just as shaken as I was. "When one of us dies, our energies go to a nearby Outsider...usually our killer. If there isn't another Outsider close enough, our energies quickly dissipate. I've never heard of them going to a normal human before. Maybe...maybe whatever force created us decided that if you could kill an Outsider you deserve to be one. I don't know. This is completely new to me..."

I was about to argue that Marissa was wrong when I felt the burning rush through me again. I gasped aloud and dropped to the floor, convulsing in seizures. Then my guts all clenched up into a tight knot of cramps, hurting like hell. I curled up in a ball of pain, though it was nothing like the agony I went through after killing Patrice.

"Kyle," Marissa exclaimed as she rushed to my side, looking worried.

"Damn!" I exclaimed as the seizures and pain faded away again. I winced as I sat up, demanding, "What the hell is wrong with me?"

"I...I don't know," Marissa admitted. "Outsiders don't go through this when our power awakens and I've never heard of a human becoming an Outsider. This is something completely new. I have no idea." However, Marissa stared at me with a dark expression that suddenly made me think that maybe she did have some idea. When I pressed her, she quietly told me, "I think... Your mortal body isn't able to handle the energies you absorbed from Patrice. I think... I think it's killing you instead of making you an Outsider like I thought."

"Oh shit," I gasped, suddenly even more aware of the warm tingling that was still running through my body. "Get it out of me then..."

Marissa stared at me, her expression turning very grim, "I know of only one way to do that. I'd have to kill you."

"WHAT?" I exclaimed, suddenly wondering if she'd kill me just to get those energies for herself. Or maybe, she just had to wait until they killed me, then she'd be able to claim them anyway. Either way, I could almost see those thoughts going through her mind.

"I'm sorry you had to get mixed up in this," Marissa told me sadly. "I truly am."

"Just great," I grimaced, pouring myself another glass and gulping it down. Maybe if I got drunk enough I could forget all about this. "And to think," I grumbled, "I was so happy it was my day off..."

Marissa continued telling me more about the Outsiders for the next half hour, though there was a definite feeling that we were both just waiting for my death. I felt like I had a time bomb inside of me just ticking away. I was especially reminded of this after I collapsed in pain and seizures again.

After awhile, Marissa looked down at herself and her blood stained clothes, scowling, "I suppose I should really get cleaned up..." She looked towards her wrecked living room and visibly winced.

"I guess I'll go home," I told her with a sigh.

When Marissa got up and walked me to the door, I noticed that she wasn't hunched over or limping in the slightest. In fact, she moved as though she didn't have so much as a bruise on her body. Then again, after what she'd told me about the Outsiders, maybe she didn't.

I went home and just collapsed into my recliner, ignoring the fact that my own clothes had blood on them. My entire world had been completely turned upside down and twisted inside out during the last couple hours. I'd learned that the world was a far different place than I'd ever imagined, filled with strange magics and immortal fights. It was all completely insane, but still nothing compared to being told I was now immortal one minute and then that I was dying the next. I had no idea what to think, what to believe.

After awhile, I decided that maybe I should follow Marissa's example and get cleaned up as well. I wasn't nearly as filthy as she was, but I still felt it having human...or not so human blood on me. I quickly climbed into the shower, hoping that I didn't have another one of those attacks while in there.

"After all this," I joked bitterly, "It would be pretty ironic to have a seizure and then drown in my tub..."

I didn't spend long under the shower though I really wanted too. I was too afraid of having another episode there. But while I was showering, I had a strong feeling that something wasn't quite right. Of course, it could have been the fact that my blood still felt warm and humming or that the rest of my body had a strange tickling sensation running through it, but I had a sense of it being something else.

Once I was done with my shower, I threw on a pair of pants and a T shirt, which didn't fit quite right for some reason. Of course I had much more important things to worry about than my clothes getting stretched out and didn't pay it much attention. Instead, I went to the kitchen to grab something to eat, trying to take my mind off of what was happening to me.

"At least I haven't had one of those weird seizures in awhile," I told myself grimly, feeling hopeful that this was a good sign. I didn't take Marissa's warnings that I might be dying too seriously since she had admitted herself that she didn't have a clue what was happening to me. However, that didn't mean I wasn't thinking about it or feeling worried. "Maybe it's all just wearing off."

I forced a smile, telling myself over and over that I was only a bit stunned and that I was going to be all right in no time at all. I was even starting to believe it, thinking that I'd be back at the garage and working on cars again as though nothing had ever happened. I'd be able to forget all about immortal Outsiders and weird magic sword fights, focusing instead on the world of car parts and grease that I was more familiar with.

I grabbed a beer from my fridge and took a nice long drink, a little surprised that I wasn't already feeling a good buzz from the booze I'd had at Marissa's. Then again, I had that weird buzzing in my blood so maybe that counted. With a shrug, I turned my attention to making a sandwich, deciding to focus on the normal things. It was a hell of a lot easier than thinking about all the weirdness. But as I went to cut my sandwich in half, I accidentally slipped and the knife slashed into the side of my finger.

"Damn," I grimaced, yanking my hand away before I got any blood on my sandwich.

The cut stung a bit but started to tickle even more. I just grimaced and washed the blood off under the faucet then reached for a paper towel. After gingerly drying off my finger, I inspected the cut to see how bad it was, expecting to see more blood coming out. But to my surprise, the bleeding had completely stopped. Even more surprising was the fact that the small cut in my skin was sealing itself back up again right before my eyes.

"What the hell?" I gasped as I stared at my finger in amazement. Within a minute, the cut had vanished entirely, leaving no sign that it had ever been there besides a few drops of blood on the counter. "No way..."

Of course, I immediately thought of Marissa's first warning that I was now an Outsider myself. She'd told me that Outsiders healed pretty damn fast and I'd seen the evidence with my own eyes. I just hadn't really expected anything like that from myself. I felt a strange mixture of excitement, relief, and fear at that, though I wasn't completely sure what the fear was for.

Then I noticed something else strange. I'd been feeling a strange tickling over my entire body, but it was now much stronger on my finger where I'd been cut. I stared at my finger, gasping when I saw a faint ripple run under my skin. After it passed, I realized that my finger didn't look quite right. For some reason, my finger now looked thinner, the hair on my knuckle was gone, and my fingernail looked just a little longer.

"This is weird," I whispered, not sure what to think.

I thought about the way my finger had healed and couldn't resist being curious. Was it a one time thing or did I really heal faster than normal now? Was I an Outcast or was I dying? Maybe it was something else entirely. I didn't know but I wanted to. After a minute, I decided to try a small experiment. I found a small but sharp paring knife and carefully myself across the palm of my hand. It wasn't a deep cut but it would prove whether I was really healing fast or not.

"Damn," I winced as I began bleeding more than I expected.

I quickly stuck my hand under the faucet again, knowing that I couldn't keep an eye on the cut if it was too covered in blood to see. As I expected, it stopped bleeding after only a few seconds. I held my hand up in front of my face and stared at it in amazement as this cut began to seal up as well. Within 30 seconds, there was no sign on my hand that it had ever been cut.

"It works," I exclaimed, "I really am healing fast..."

I soon noticed though that the strong tickling feeling that had come over my hand while it was healing was still there. I stared at my hand, my eyes going wide as she skin began to ripple along the whole thing. The hair vanished from my knuckles as I watched, pulling back inside my skin as through growing in reverse. At the same time, my whole hand began to change the way the finger I'd cut had. My hand somehow looked a little smaller and finer with more slender fingers. My nails were also a little longer than normal. When it stopped, I held my changed hand up to my normal one and compared them, stunned by the difference between the two. It looked like they belonged to two different people.

"What the hell is going on?" I gasped, not sure if I was more concerned by the seizures or what was happening with my hand. Marissa hadn't said anything about this happening, but she'd also admitted she'd never seen anything like me. "Like that helps..."

For a minute, I thought about rushing back over to Marissa's to see if she might have some ideas but then decided against it. I'd seen far too much over there to feel comfortable returning, especially with the blood still fresh in the living room. And besides, in spite of being over five hundred years old, which I still found hard to believe, she still didn't have any experience with something like this. I wanted someone who knew what was going on and could help me, but people like that were in short supply at the moment.

Just then, another of the attacks hit me and dropped me to my knees. I grimaced and bit back the scream that wanted to come, especially as my guts knotted up, feeling as though they were on fire. Then I felt as though someone kicked me in the balls too which broke my control enough to let the scream escape. I was in agony for a full five minutes before it receded, leaving me shaken and with every muscle in my body aching.

"That's it," I gasped weakly, "I've got to do something about this..."

After taking several more minutes to gathering my strength, I went back to Marissa's house. She might not have any experience with what I was going through, but she knew more than anyone else I had available and she seemed willing to help. I only hoped she didn't change her mind and decide to chop off my head.

I rang the doorbell but there was no answer for nearly a full minute. Then the door finally opened a little and Marissa peaked out, staring at me for a minute with her eyes going wide. "Come in," she urged, not taking her eyes off me as I went in past her.

Marissa's living room had been cleaned up a little since the last time I'd seen it but it was still quite a mess. She had a large garbage bag in the middle of the room for the completely destroyed items while there were several piles of things I think she intended to keep or recover. Patrice's clothes were gone, probably in the garbage bag, but Marissa's blood stains were still there. I thought she'd probably have to replace the carpet to get rid of those.

"Are you all right?" Marissa asked me urgently, "How do you feel?"

"I hurt like hell," I grimaced, glaring at her as though it were all her fault. Then again, I guess it was all her fault. Patrice had come here for the sole purpose of killing her after all.

"Everything aches and I keep having these nasty cramps all over."

Marissa said something in a language I didn't understand but assumed to be Italian. It had the feeling of some profanities too though I couldn't be certain. Then in English, she exclaimed, "The way you look..."

"What's wrong with the way I look?" I demanded irritably, wanting to talk about something a little more important than the fact I hadn't bothered to brush my hair.

"You haven't looked in a mirror," she said. It was a statement and not a question.

"Why should I?" I asked, having a bad feeling about this. I remembered my hand and held it up to look at it again, just in time to see another faint ripple pass under the skin. When it did, my hand looked slightly different yet again. The skin somehow seemed paler and smoother.

"Come," Marissa ordered, pulling me to a large ornate mirror that had somehow escaped the destruction in the living room nearly unscathed. "Look."

I looked into the mirror and gasped in surprise. My face was...different. For one thing, I'd skipped shaving today but all of my stubble was completely gone, leaving my cheeks smooth and clean. My eyes, normally a nondescript brown, had become a silvery gray. And then there was my hair which was several shades lighter than normal as well as four inches longer. There was something else about my face that didn't seem quite right either but I couldn't quite figure out what it was, other than I somehow looked...softer.

"What the fuck?" I exclaimed, turning to look at Marissa again.

"This is certainly...unexpected," she said carefully, frowning thoughtfully as she said it.

"You think?" I snapped, gesturing to my face. "What the hell is up with this?"

"I don't know," Marissa stared at me intently, "I've never seen anything like it."

I took a deep breath, holding up my hand and saying, "It started happening when I cut myself..."

"I don't see any cuts," Marissa commented.

"Because it healed up right away," I pointed out grimly. "Then my hand started changing right after... I just thought it was only my hands..."

Marissa stared at me with a look of interest. "Your injuries healed?"

I nodded, then hesitated for a moment before going to her kitchen to demonstrate with one of her knives. I hesitated for only a moment then cut into the palm of the hand I hadn't injured. Blood came out and puddled for a few seconds, then it sealed up and began healing right before my eyes. Almost as soon as it was done though, my skin shimmered a little and that hand changed just a bit more so that now both of my hands matched.

"Very interesting," Marissa told me. "You heal like an Outsider... Maybe my first thought was right after all... You are becoming one of us."

"Then how the hell do you explain this?" I gestured to my hands and then my face. "You said you Outsiders didn't have this kind of thing happen to you."

"It could be your special ability," Marissa started, then paused with a strange look on her face.

"You know what's causing this?" I demanded.

Marissa hesitated a moment before admitting, "I have an idea... But I want to be sure before I tell you." She stared at me for a moment, looking me up and down before ordering, "Strip."

"What?" I blinked in confusion.

"Get undressed," she told me. "I want to see how much the rest of your body is changing."

"What?" I asked again, sure that she had to be kidding. However, the look on Marissa's face was anything but humorous.

"I'm over five hundred years old," she snapped impatiently. "Trust me, you don't have anything that I haven't seen before."

I grimaced and began getting undressed, stopping with my underwear still on. Marissa might be pretty hot, but I wasn't going to do the full monty for her without good reason. "There," I snapped, "Is this fine or do you need more?"

Marissa nodded, apparently satisfied with my leaving my underwear on. She stared at me, but it wasn't the expression of a woman checking me out. It was more like the expression I'd get from a doctor. It was a cold expression that noted every detail but showed no real emotion.

"You have almost no body hair," Marissa finally said.

I looked down at myself and grimaced, "Damn..." My body hair was gone, having vanished with little trace. I ran a hand over my now smooth chest, surprised at how soft and puffy my chest now felt.

"I assume that's abnormal," Marissa said.

"Yeah," I agreed, noticing that the rest of my body was off too. Not only was I now nearly hairless, but my skin was all soft and smooth. "I feel so weird..." I touched my chest which felt especially tender and odd.

Just then, another ripple ran through my skin, leaving my skin even softer and smoother when it passed. What little hair that remained on my chest vanished as well while my skin seemed to swell out becoming a little more puffy. I gasped at the tickling sensations.

"I think I know what's happening to you," she told me with a grim expression.

"What?" I demanded, but Marissa just picked up her phone and gestured for me to be quiet.

"I must make a call first," she said. "I need to talk to someone a little more knowledgeable than me..."

I just stared at Marissa, scowling in impatient annoyance. However, I wasn't about to give her the satisfaction of pestering her like some child so went and got dressed again instead. I couldn't help noticing though that my clothes didn't fit right. It was more noticeable than before.

"Gregor," Marissa said into the phone, "Yes, it's me... No, I have something important and I need your advice." Then she gave me a sidelong look before she suddenly switched into another language and continued talking. Unfortunately, I couldn't make out anything of what was being said.

I was able to take a hint so I left the room, muttering, "Why couldn't I have just gone to the garage today?" I shook my head, "Man, I'd rather be rebuilding a transmission than dealing with this crap any day..."

Marissa only talked on the phone for about fifteen minutes before she hung up. She found me sitting on the couch in what was left of her living room and staring at the spot on the floor where I'd killed Patrice and her body had vanished. The fact that there was no body around made it easier for me to deal with, easier to pretend that it wasn't real. But the truth was that I'd killed a woman. Sure, she was a psychotic immortal who was trying to kill me at the time, but I'd killed her.

"Are you ready to tell me what you've figured out yet?" I asked her, trying to keep the biting sarcasm from my voice. It was such a nice way to deal with all this but not exactly the best to get someone to help me. And to think, I could have avoided all this by NOT helping her.

Marissa sat down beside me, remaining silent for a full minute before she finally said, "I think I know why you are changing and my friend Gregor agrees."

I turned to her, waiting for her to continue. However, immortal Outsiders were apparently a lot more patient than I was because I finally had to encourage her, "Okay..."

"I believe I was correct when I told you that you are now an Outsider," Marissa finally said, not looking at me. "But I was also correct when I realized your mortal body couldn't handle the stress of Patrice's power."

"I'm not an idiot," I told her with a scowl, "But you've lost me."

"As an Outsider," she said slowly, "I have a very powerful life force. I have an energy that exists within me, keeping my body in perfect condition and healing me of all injuries. When I kill another Outsider, I absorb their energy and add it to what I already possess."

"You already told me that," I reminded her gently, wishing she'd just get to the point.

Marissa stared at me with an intense look that made me gulp. If I'd been standing up I would have taken an instinctive step backwards. "When you killed Patrice," she said simply, "you absorbed her energy. As a normal human, you do not possess the life energy to maintain your body and absorb the energies you acquired from her. Because of this, Patrice's life energy has taken that place within you and made you an Outsider. It is her energy which now maintains your body and heals your injuries."

I stared back at Marissa, trying to absorb what she'd said but having a hard time. I tried putting it in terms that I might better understand, thinking of it like taking an oil filter from one car and switching it over to another. However, that didn't really make a whole lot of sense as far as this went either. Then I began to have a sinking feeling as I began to get what she was aiming at.

"That energy is trying to keep your body in what it views as the perfect physical condition," Marissa told me with a scowl. "It's trying to heal your injuries and restore your body to how it thinks it should be...."

"But it's Patrice's energy," I whispered in realization.

Marissa nodded agreement. "Without your own energy to control the process, hers have taken over. I believe they're trying to turn you into Patrice."

"No," I jumped to my feet in horror, "No way... That's..."

"Impossible?" Marissa supplied with an arched eyebrow. "Just like immortals are impossible?" She gave me a sad smile, "During my life, I have seen a great number of things I once thought impossible not only come to pass...but become commonplace."

"But," I looked down at myself, staring at my hands. They were a woman's hands I now realized.

"You look more and more like her with every minute," Marissa told me. "You even look shorter... And whenever you heal an injury, it merely speeds up the process."

"How do I stop it?" I demanded, "How do I keep from changing?"

"I don't think there is a way to stop it," Marissa said slowly. "Your body is being remade and there is nothing I know of that can stop it. You are going to become Patrice's twin." Then her eyes narrowed slightly. "My fear is that her life energies are not only transforming your body, but that her essence will consume your mind as well. If that happens, Kyle will be dead and I will be forced to deal with Patrice."

"Fuck," I whispered, feeling even more horrified at my situation. It was bad enough to be suddenly turning into a woman, but possibly being possessed by one on top of it... "How did I get into this shit?"

"At the rate you are changing," Marissa told me carefully, "I think that it will be finished by tomorrow, though it would be much faster if you were badly injured."

I winced at that, then spat out, "No thanks..."

Marissa nodded, "I know this all comes as a great shock to you. Yesterday you didn't even know we Outsiders existed, yet now you are becoming one of us."

"Sorry," I scowled, "But the possibility of being immortal isn't my biggest problem right now..." I grabbed my chest, feeling the softness that I now knew was the beginning of breasts. "I've got other things to worry about."

"I understand," Marissa told me sympathetically. "It will certainly not be easy to adjust..."

"So there's nothing you can do?" I asked, half demanded.

"I fear not," Marissa told me with a sigh. "Not about your physical transformation at any rate. I can help you a great deal with learning to be an Outsider though."

"Not now," I groaned, shaking my head and feeling hair brushing against my shoulders. I winced at that. "I just want to go home."

Marissa nodded again, "You know where to find me when you're ready."

I just grunted at that and left, going home as fast as I could. I didn't see any other neighbors out and watching me, but I could almost imagine them staring and wondering what was going on. I was a great relief when I got back into my own house and locked the door behind me.

"Just fucking great," I grimaced as I threw myself into my recliner, determined to just ignore my problems until they went away. Of course, I knew that was complete and utter foolishness but the idea at least made me feel better. It made me at least feel as though I had some kind of control over what was happening to me.

I turned on the TV but completely ignored it, instead staring at my feminine hands. I nervously touched my chest through my shirt and winced as I could now feel two small mounds starting to form. I shuddered to think about what might be happening between my legs and resisted the urge to reach my hand down and find out.

"I can't be turning into her," I told myself, as though this made it so. "Maybe I can control that energy I got from her..." I closed my eyes and concentrated on the energy I absorbed from Patrice, ordering it, "Don't change me any more... Turn me back into a guy... I'm supposed to be a guy..."

For the next hour, I just sat in my chair with my eyes closed, doing my little 'meditation' thing and hoping that my force of will and determination would turn back what was happening to me. But when I opened my eyes again and found that I was still turning girlie, I ended it with a stream of profanity that would have caused my mother to have a heart attack.

After awhile, I finally got up and got undressed, tossing all my clothes aside so I could get a good look at myself and mentally catalog all the changes that were occurring in my body. Absolutely everything was a bit off, though it was hard to point out the specific details. It was the color and texture of my skin, the shape of my waist and legs, the way my chest was starting to push out a little. Everything added up to the conclusion that my body was indeed becoming more feminine.

I spent the rest of the day naked in front of a mirror, staring at my body as it slowly changed and desperately willing it not to happen. I tried hard to force the changes not to occur, as though my willpower were enough. Unfortunately, it wasn't and I continued to slowly become more and more like Patrice De Nasia, the deceased Outsider.

Eventually, I turned away from the mirror and climbed into bed, too tired to keep fighting it. It wasn't physical exhaustion that drove me, but the dread realization that nothing I did could stop this. No matter what I did or what I wanted, I was going to become a woman. If that was going to happen, I'd rather not have to watch.

--------------------

Morning came far too soon, though that was largely my own fault. I'd gone to bed earlier than normal for a day off so was unable to sleep in to the late hour I preferred. As a result, I woke up groggy and half thinking that I had to get to the garage.

"Damn," I grumbled, rolling over to go back to sleep. However, the pressure on my chest suddenly shocked me to full wakefulness. "Oh shit..."

I sat up in bed and stared at my chest which now pushed out into two shapely breasts. They'd been pretty small when I went to bed and had obviously grown a great deal during the night. I estimated them to be about C cups, though I was certainly no expert when it came to sizes.

Long blonde hair came over my shoulders and I had to push it back as I moved to look over the rest of my body. My body had definitely continued changing during the night. In fact, I looked completely female, except for the small remains between my legs. My testicles were gone, but a small nub of my old cock remained. I winced at the sight, suddenly thinking that I was the size of a toddler.

"Fuck," I grimaced as I climbed out of bed and went to the bath room. I stood there, staring down at my toilet for several seconds, trying to decide if I had enough left to pee standing, or if I would have to start doing it sitting down. After a minute, I reluctantly decided that it might be safer and more hygienic to sit down. "Damn this is embarrassing."

Once I was done relieving myself, I finally took a deep breath and faced the mirror. Even though I knew what to expect, I still gasped when I saw HER in the mirror instead of me. It was Patrice De Nasia, the same psycho woman from yesterday who stared back. There was nothing of my face left, only hers. I looked exactly like her, or at least how she'd look if she just woke up and was pretty shaken up.

I put a hand to my face and ran my fingers over the smooth skin, hardly able to believe this was really me. I stared into my now silvery-gray eyes, blinking at them and then looking over nearly every detail. It was so eerie to see a strangers face in the mirror. I'd only seen this face one time before and that was before I'd killed the woman who wore it.

"My God," I whispered, suddenly thinking that this was some kind of instant karma. This was my punishment for killing Patrice... Then I shook my head and grimly reminded myself, "I didn't have a choice... The crazy bitch was gonna kill me..." It helped a little but I still felt guilty.

I now looked to be in my mid to late twenties and had a face that was beautiful but a little too hard to be considered overly sexy. My hair was now long and blond, going all the way down to my shoulder blades. It felt quite soft and smooth as well, though I was hardly in a position to appreciate that either.

My body was very nice and I normally would have paid a lot of attention to a woman with one like this. It was long legged, shapely, and fairly athletic. I looked like a woman who tried to keep in shape and lived an active life style. Then again, I guessed that chasing after people with swords and trying to cut their heads off did count as an active lifestyle.

"No fucking way," I grimaced, noticing that even the tattoo on my shoulder was now gone. And I'd been rather proud of that spider holding a wrench too.

I held up my hands and stared at them again, finding it hard to grasp that even my familiar hands had changed. They were definitely a woman's hands now. My fingernails were longer than normal, though not long enough to really get in the way. Still, they were quite a strange sight for me.

"Marissa was right," I grimaced, "It really is turning...turned me into Patrice." I winced at that, then gulped as I realized what else this means. "I'm... I'm immortal now..."

I stared at my reflection with a sense of awe now as well. The idea of being immortal, of living forever... It was everyone's dream. It was something that nearly everyone wished for at least once in awhile.

"Immortality," I whispered, then paused as I thought about everything that would come with it. "Outsiders chasing after me to kill me... All my friends will grow old and die... And I'll be stuck like this until I get killed..."

I shook my head and let out a long sigh, not sure whether to be horrified over what had happened to me or excited. It was all so much and it was so confusing. The only thing I knew for a fact though was that this meant EVERYTHING in my life was going to change. I didn't think that could be considered a good thing.

This was all so overwhelming that I wanted just scream and freak out. However, my practical side took hold and I decided to find out a little more about how I'd changed. I got a measuring tape and checked my height, finding that I was 5 foot 10. If I remember right, that was about how tall Patrice had been so I wouldn't be shrinking any more. I'd only lost four inches of height.

"Thank God," I muttered, relieved that Patrice hadn't been short or even average sized for a woman. If I'd lost more than four inches, I was sure I would have felt like a midget. As it was, I was already noticing the difference. Because of my new height, everything in my house seemed a bit off. "It could have been worse..." At least that's what I tried telling myself.

Since I didn't know what else to do, I decided to go through my normal morning routine as much as possible. If nothing else, it would help me pretend that everything was normal. However, taking a shower with this body was anything but normal. I washed up as fast as I could, looking over the changes in my body but forcing myself not to linger on them for very long. When I was done, I spent the next hour trying to get my hair dry again.

I got dressed, once again thankful that I hadn't lost too much height. Because of that, I could still use my own clothes for the moment. They might be too big and hang loose on me, but they still fit enough for me to go out in public with, at least when I chose the right ones. I winced as I got dressed, imagining what it would be like having to wear women's clothes. The idea wasn't one I liked so I tried not to think about it too much.

"Damn this is weird," I cupped my chest through my shirt, noticing the two breasts pushing out. I shook my head, "I'll never get used to this..." However, a quiet voice in the back of my head reminded me that I might have a VERY long time to get used to it.

I looked myself over, letting out a tired sigh. My eyes wandered to my crotch and I winced. The last time I'd looked at myself closely, there was almost nothing left of my male self. At this rate, my transformation would be finished and I'd be completely female within a couple hours at the most.

Once I'd waited long enough, I thought it would be safe to finally go see Marissa. By now she should be up and about so I wouldn't be waking her up. I was extremely nervous when I went over and knocked on her door, not to mention more than a little embarrassed. However, she was the only one who really knew what was going on with me and who might be able to help. Besides, she had told me that she'd be happy to help me out with this whole Outsider thing.

When Marissa opened the door, she stared at me with a guarded expression for a moment before warily gesturing for me to come in. I stepped past her, noticing she was tense. It took me a moment to realize that she was nervous of me. Of course, I quickly reminded myself, I looked just like the woman who'd tried killing her just yesterday. I could almost feel her thinking about killing me.

"This is...awkward," I told Marissa uncomfortably.

Marissa nodded and forced a smile, "It is... Intellectually, I know who you are but I still see Patrice De Nasia when I look at you."

"I understand," I responded with a sigh.

"It's amazing," Marissa continued, looking at me intently. "You look so much like her..."

"Too much for my tastes," I grimaced.

"Still," she mused thoughtfully. "Your body language is quite different. And in spite of the fact that you have her life energy, your presence feels different..."

"My presence?" I frowned.

"We can sense when another of our kind is nearby," Marissa explained. "You should be able to sense the energy within yourself. If you open your mind a bit and look outwards, you should be able to feel the energy within me as well."

"That's how you knew she was coming," I exclaimed, remembering the way Marissa had suddenly ordered me to get out of the house yesterday. She'd done it right before Patrice had come bursting in.

Marissa nodded, "Knowing when another Outsider is near before they can ambush you is often the difference between life and death. I suggest you master this quickly."

I stared at her, thinking she was joking until I looked into her eyes. She was deadly serious. I gulped and decided to try, easily feeling the humming within my blood. It had been really creepy yesterday but was now almost comforting in a strange way. Was this what she was talking about?

"I think I can feel it," I told her uncertainly.

"Then close your eyes," she instructed me, "and stretch out your senses. You should be able to feel my energy as well."

I did as she instructed, feeling rather foolish at first. But then I realized that I could feel her. It was a strange humming, similar to what I felt in my own blood. I could feel it from her general direction. And now that I knew what to look for, it was easy to sense. "I've got it," I finally said, "I can feel you..."

"Good," she nodded approval. "Keep practicing until you can do it all the time. It'll warn you when other Outsiders come for you."

"Why would Outsiders come for me?" I asked, feeling a little afraid. "I mean, they don't know I exist and you can always tell them that the real Patrice died..."

"For one," Marissa told me with an arched eyebrow, "You look exactly like Patrice and she has plenty of enemies who would delight in killing her...or anyone who looks like her. Two, you have her energy inside you now and that makes a tasty prize, especially after all she's killed."

I looked at Marissa, seeing the wheels turning in her own eyes as she stared at me. I gulped, realizing just how easily it would be for her to kill me and claim this energy for her own. After all, hadn't she said that she'd be able to get whatever powers Patrice possessed that way?

"Some Outsiders have abilities that could locate you," Marissa commented, losing the predatory look in her eyes and shifting back into a teacher mode. "Many like going after new Outsiders and those who aren't yet strong enough to defend themselves." At my gulp of dread, she smiled, "Don't worry Kyle. I'll teach you how to defend yourself if you'd like."

"Why?" I asked after a moment, my mind racing. "I thought you wanted Patrice's powers, and I know I probably couldn't stop you right now... So why are you helping me instead of killing me?"

"Because I like you," Marissa shrugged, giving me a more genuine smile. "You've helped me with my car more than a few times so now I can repay the favor. And since I'm not going to take your energy, I'm damn well going to make sure no one else takes it either." Then she sighed, adding, "It's also my fault you're involved in the first place..."

"Oh," I responded quietly, not sure what else to say.

Marissa abruptly asked, "You want something to drink?" She didn't wait for my answer before going to the kitchen liquor cabinet and pouring two glasses of scotch.

I accepted a glass and took a long gulp of the alcohol. Only after I put it down did I notice the large boxes on the floor or the fact that there were things piled up all over the counters. "What's going on?" I gestured to the boxes.

Marissa took another drink, then stated, "I'm packing my belongings. It's time for me to move on."

"What?" I asked in surprise. "Why?"

"I was attacked twice within a month," Marissa told me with a scowl. "My location has gotten out and I'm not safe here anymore. With you here as well, we'll be drawing Outsider hunters like flies."

"I thought you were going to teach me how to fight them," I gasped, feeling betrayed.

"I want you to come with me," Marissa said after a moment.

"I can't just up and leave," I exclaimed.

"Why not?" Marissa asked with a raised eyebrow. "You no longer look anything like your old self. No one would believe you if you told them who you were. If you were caught in your own home, you might very well find yourself facing charges in the disappearance and possible murder of Kyle Simmons."

"Oh shit," I whispered. When I'd thought about all the problems I was going to be facing, I hadn't considered those very real ones. "My family..."

Marissa's expression turned grim and sad. "You can't tell them anything about this..." She looked me straight in the eyes, "Remember what I told you... Our most important rule is that our existence remains secret."

"But," I started.

Marissa held up a hand to cut me off, "If you tell your family...if you tell ANYONE, you put them at great risk. Most Outsiders will kill anyone they discover who knows. There are even Outsiders who make it their mission to protect our secret. If you tell anyone, you're risking their lives."

I stared at her with my mouth open, grasping for something I could say to that. "My God," I finally whispered. "You told me..."

"You already knew too much," Marissa said quietly. "I should have killed you for what you already knew so wasn't risking anything by telling you more. As long as you kept silent, you should have been safe. But do you want to put that risk on anyone else?"

I stared at her with a horrible sinking feeling. After a minute, I finally responded, "No..."

"Your parents," Marissa started, gently putting her hand on mine, "Your friends... It might be better if they all think you died. If they know what really happened to you... It's much safer for both you and them this way..."

I just sat there for several minutes, stunned by the realization I might never be able to see any of my family or friends again. I wasn't extremely close to my parents, but this... I'd never thought that I'd have to cut off all contact with them for good.

"What am I going to do now?" I gasped.

"For one," Marissa told me with a gentle smile, "You should probably get dressed in some clothes that fit..." She went to the counter and grabbed a small stack of clothes, setting them down in front of me.

"I really don't think your clothes are going to fit me," I snorted in annoyance. I might have shrunk four inches, but I was still a bit taller than Marissa.

"These aren't my clothes," she told me with a shrug. "They're yours."

"Mine?" I responded skeptically.

"I found a hotel key in Patrice's pocket," Marissa explained. "So last night I went to her hotel room and retrieved her belongings." She gestured to a large briefcase in the corner, "I thought you'd need some clothes that fit..."

"Shit," I exclaimed, staring at the clothes and feeling a little creeped out.

"You're not in any position to be picky," Marissa reminded me, "And they're sure to fit. Go ahead and get dressed."

I stared at the clothes she'd given me for a full minute before I reluctantly grabbed them and went to the bathroom to change. It wasn't any different than wearing any other used clothes, I told myself. Of course, these used clothes happened to have belonged to a woman I'd killed.

"I really hope this stuff is clean," I grumbled as I unfolded it onto the bathroom counter and looked it over, especially the bra and panties. However, the fact that it had all been nicely folded was a good sign. "Damn this is twisted..."

Getting dressed in Patrice's clothes wasn't quite as difficult or unusual as I'd imagined, much to my relief. The bra was a bit difficult at first, but I remembered the way a former girlfriend had put hers on and was able to manage. When I put on the panties, I noticed that my crotch area had finished transforming. Though I couldn't be certain about my insides, my outsides looked every bit those of a woman.

"Damn," I winced at the sight but put the panties on and quickly got dressed the rest of the way.

Pants are pants, regardless of whether they're my normal jeans or these nice women's slacks. The shirt was a little more awkward since it seemed designed to show off my cleavage a bit, but I put it on anyway. The shoes however were a little more problematic. Instead of sneakers or something like that, they were nice shoes with a two inch heal. I couldn't really call them high heels, but they were certainly higher than I was used to. However, I wasn't going to give Marissa the satisfaction of complaining about them.

"Here I am," I said when I returned to the kitchen, walking very carefully since I wasn't used to that kind of shoe. "How do I look?"

"Just like her," Marissa responded, shaking her head. "You look good..."

I rolled my eyes, not exactly pleased by the compliment. My question had been more sarcastic than anything else. Then I noticed the pair of stiletto heeled shoes sitting on the table and was suddenly very thankful I hadn't complained to Marissa about these shoes. I had a feeling that she wanted me to just so she could show me those. I felt pleased at having avoided that trap, especially when she looked a little disappointed.

"What now?" I asked, trying hard not to think about everything that I was losing.

"I was going to get you a fake ID," Marissa told me, then held out three different drivers licenses, "But I found several Patrice already had. Patricia St. Laurent. Patricia Denny. Laura Kinkaid... You could use any of these, though I think we should probably get you some new ones soon anyway."

I just nodded agreement, not about to ask how Marissa knew where to get fake ID's. I had a feeling that she knew a lot of things I'd never even imagine. After all, anyone who lived as long as she did was bound to have learned some interesting things.

"For now," Marissa said with a scowl, "I suggest you go home and pack up anything you want to take. I plan on leaving tomorrow and not coming back."

I took Marissa's suggestion and went home, looking around my belongings to decide what I absolutely needed and what I just wanted to keep. My clothes were all out since they no longer fit me, but I did have a few things I really wanted to keep. To my surprise, I didn't have a whole lot that I considered absolutely essential.

Once I'd separated out what I wanted to keep, I spent the rest of the day sitting around staring at myself and thinking about everything I was leaving behind. It wasn't the physical things I would miss so much as all the little things. It was the people I knew and the places I was comfortable. Everything in my old life was gone to me now. I knew this but it was still hard to accept. I only wished it was tomorrow because the sooner I was gone the easier it would be.

--------------------

In the morning, I got dressed and ready as fast as I could, eager to just get away from here. If I had to end my old life as Kyle Simmons, I just wanted to do it the same way you took off a band-aid...fast and all at once. The longer it took, the more time I had to think about it and worry.

When I stepped outside, I was surprised to see an old U-Haul van in Marissa's driveway. It was one of those mid-sized ones that would be good for moving an apartment but not a full house with all the furniture. Then again, I had a feeling that Marissa could care less about most of her furniture.

"You sure rented this thing fast," I told Marissa when I spotted her climbing out from the back of the truck.

"I didn't rent it," she told me with a faint nod, "It's mine. I had it hidden nearby in case I had to move in a hurry. I've found that it not only lets me take more with me when I'm forced to leave, but there are so many of these on the road that no one thinks twice when they see one."

"Oh," I responded, looking into the back of the truck and seeing that it was already half full, mostly with antique furniture, artwork, and her sword collection.

"I don't plan on taking much more," Marissa told me. "Everything else is easily replaced. There's plenty of room for your belongings."

"Okay," I nodded grimly, then turning back to my house, "I'll get them..."

It only took me two trips to bring everything I'd chosen to take to the U-Haul. Marissa just stared at me in surprise that I was bringing so little. I had several bags of personal items and things that would be difficult to replace, Patrice's clothes, and the tool chest my dad had given me for my 18th birthday. Other than that, I was leaving my old life behind.

"Very good," Marissa nodded, seeming somewhat pleased by my decision to travel light. "It makes it easier to start fresh that way." Then she gave me a sympathetic look. "I'm only sorry for the need to do so."

I just grimaced and climbed into the truck, "Where are we going anyway?"

Marissa grinned smugly, "I learned long ago not to keep all my eggs in one basket. I have other places to go in case one gets too awkward and the nearest one is two days drive. We should be there sometime tomorrow afternoon."

When we pulled out of the driveway, I looked back at my house and winced, fighting back the tears that were threatening to come. I hated to leave it, to leave my entire life behind like this but I had no choice. As we drove away, I gave a silent farewell to that house and life and waved good-bye.

We were silent for the first hour or two with neither of us saying much. Finally, Marissa began telling me about the Italian Renaissance where she grew up, more to fill the silence I think than anything else. Some of what she said made it sound like a fantastic and magical time where new things were being discovered or thought of every day. At the same time, some of the other things made it sound cold and cruel, as though it might not have been a very good time to live.

It was fascinating to hear about history from someone who'd actually been there to live it. I thought that she was probably one of the only people in the world to remember what that time was really like. I could only imagine what it must have been like, growing up in the time of Leonardo DaVinci and Michaelangelo. If my history teachers had been like this in back in high school, I probably would have paid attention. I just wondered if one day I would be reminiscing back on the late 20th century or the 21st the same way.

"Things change," Marissa said gently. "That time is long past and now lives only in memory and art. For good or ill, everything changes...even those of us who can live forever. You either change or perish."

Marissa didn't look at me as she continued driving but I realized the point she was trying to make. I might not like my circumstances and how much everything was changing, but I would have to change and adapt as well. I didn't know if I even could, only that it might be the only way to survive and keep my sanity.

We had another long spell of silence as I just sat there, watching the road go by and thinking about what she'd said. I was lost in my own thoughts, wondering if I could adjust to all this. I didn't know if it was possible for me to adapt, to get used to being a woman, being an Outsider, and starting a whole new life from scratch. It didn't seem possible but I knew it was probably my only choice.

When we finally stopped for a late lunch, I was starting to feel pretty hungry thanks to my skipping breakfast. We went into the restaurant and I was suddenly aware of the way people...the way guys were looking at me. I squirmed uncomfortably, knowing exactly what they were thinking. This was really my first time in public looking like this and I hadn't expected to have this kind of reaction though I probably should have.

"Just ignore them and pretend that no one is watching you," Marissa advised me calmly. "You are an attractive woman now and can expect to be looked at."

"Like I needed the reminder," I grimaced.

After I got my food and sat down, Marissa leaned forward and quietly told me, "Don't sit with your legs spread apart like that. You might not be wearing a skirt but it's still unladylike and isn't a good habit for a woman to possess."

I glared at her but closed my legs, realizing that sitting with my legs open might give some guys the wrong idea. I blushed brightly as I thought about what they might think. This was definitely not going to be easy.

"It seems," Marissa gave me a wry smile, "I'll need to teach you how to be a woman as well as an Outsider."

I scowled at that, wanting to argue that it wasn't necessary but knowing that she was right. I had no more clue about being a woman than I did about being an Outsider. I was completely lost and having her help me would certainly be a lot more practical than trying to figure it all out myself.

After a few minutes, I made a decision and said, "I need a new name."

"What?" Marissa looked up at me in surprise.

"I can't keep calling myself Kyle," I sighed, gesturing down at myself, "Not anymore..."

"I know," Marissa nodded, looking rather impressed. "I was wondering how I could bring up the subject. I just wasn't expecting you to bring it up yourself."

"Now I just need a new name," I frowned, trying to think of one I'd be happy using. Most of the ones that came to mind were far too feminine or made me think of girls who had those names. "I'm certainly not gonna use HERS."

"Thankfully," Marissa muttered. Then she suggested, "How about Kylie? That should be easy for you to get used to."

"Kylie," I mused aloud, then slowly shook my head. "I like it but..." I shook my head, "It just feels too weird. My old life is gone. If I have to have a new life and a new name, I should probably do it right and really start over."

"Do you have anything in mind?" Marissa asked me with a curious expression.

"Not yet," I admitted. "I'll have to think about it..."

"Good idea," Marissa agreed. "Some decisions shouldn't be made hastily."

When we were getting up to leave the restaurant a short time later, a man in his thirties came up to me with a smile, "Hi. I'm Jim..." He held out his hand.

I froze in surprise, realizing he was hitting on me. Marissa quickly stepped in and told me loud enough for him to hear, "Come on. We'll be late for your husband's birthday party..." She tugged on my arm, getting me away from the man who was left behind with a disappointed look on his face.

"That was...awkward," I said uncertainly.

Marissa grinned, obviously amused by my discomfort. "You'll learn how to manage."

After this, we got back into the truck and continued driving. Marissa filled the time by telling me various random things about the Outsiders and giving me advice on how to be a woman. There was no real order or pattern to the conversation since she'd warn me about pickup lines that some guys might try one minute and then how to locate other Outsiders nearby the next. I just nodded and paid attention, soaking up every little bit of information since I had nothing else to do and no idea what would be useful. Things continued like this until we eventually stopped at a motel for the night.

--------------------

I stared out the truck window, watching the countryside and occasional house go past. We'd left the last heavily populated area about an hour ago and were out in the middle of nowhere. I was glad Marissa knew where she was going because I was completely lost, though of course I'd never tell her that.

"We're almost there," Marissa told me, repeating the same thing she'd been saying for the last two hours.

I just nodded, eager to just stop and finally get out of the truck. We'd been driving with few stops for the last two days and my ass and legs were both tired of it. All I wanted was to climb out, take a piss, and then forget about ever getting into a truck again. I'd had enough of that to last me a long time.

Marissa finally pulled off the road and went down a long driveway until we were stopped by a heavy iron gate. "This is it," she said as she climbed out to unlock the gate and swing it wide.

"Close it behind us," she told me as she got back into the truck.

I nodded my understanding and did as she asked, waiting until the truck had gone through and then closing the gate again. It was old and a bit rusty but seemed to be in pretty good shape. I looked at it for a moment, noticing some nice iron work decorations. However, I didn't want to waste any time there and climbed back into the truck.

We continued down the driveway for only a short distance, stopping in front of a large house. It looked old and stood about three stories. I thought it might be Victorian style though I didn't know enough about architecture to be sure. However, the brush around the outside was a bit overgrown, letting me know that no one had probably been here in awhile.

"This is one of my safe houses," Marissa told me as she gestured to the house. "I come here when I need to get away and disappear for while. It should be quite safe for us."

"But I thought you were strong enough to fight off the Outsiders that come after you," I told her, surprised that she would need to run away from the others.

"I am," she responded, giving me a level gaze, "You however, are not. Outsider hunters are attracted to weakness and frequently kill new Outsiders so they can get their power with little effort. With your inexperience and the large amount of energy you gained from Patrice, that makes you an extremely tempting target. I want you to be safe until you're strong enough to defend yourself from them."

"Oh," I responded, feeling rather foolish for having missed the obvious. "Then I'm the reason you left everything..."

Marissa didn't say anything to that for a minute, then shrugged, "There was too much trouble for me to maintain that life for much longer. Between the Outsiders who knew where I was and the fact that my neighbor just disappeared..." She looked at me with an arched eyebrow, "There would have been too much attention, and that's always bad for survival."

With that, Marissa went to the front door and unlocked it. I hesitated a moment and followed after her. The inside of the house was nice but dusty, looking as though no one had been in it for several years. Most of the furniture was covered with those dust tarps you usually only see in movies. But from what I could see of decorations and the paintings on the walls, it was expensively decorated with a lot of antiques.

"Impressive," I said, noticing a number of similarities to the way Marissa's abandoned house had been decorated.

"Thank you," she told me. "I tend to keep most of my real valuables and mementos in my safe houses rather than bringing them with me. They're safer that way."

"Oh by the way," I said, suddenly thinking about it, "I've decided on a new name."

"Oh?" she looked at me curiously. "What have you decided on."

"Sarah," I answered, holding my breath as I waited for her reaction.

"Sarah," Marissa repeated it slowly. "Short, simple, and practical. Very good."

I smiled self-consciously at that, deciding not to tell her why I'd really chosen that name, especially after making such a big deal about cutting ties with my old life. Before I'd been born, my mom used to have a younger sister who died in car accident. I'd never had a chance to meet my Aunt Sarah, but it somehow felt right to use her name now that I was starting a new life. I'd thought about it quite a bit on our drive and only made my final decision a few minutes ago.

"Well...Sarah," Marissa nodded to me with a faint smile, "Come with me and I'll give you the tour..."

Marissa walked down a hallway and flipped a switch, filling it all with light. I was surprised at that, "You pay the power bill when you're never here?"

"No," Marissa smiled with amusement, "I'm...off the grid. I set up solar panels and a submarine battery about seven years ago. I also have a backup generator." I just stared at Marissa, never having guessed that she was some sort of survivalist.

Marissa led me to a den where she pushed aside a book case to reveal a large metal door hidden behind it, a door that looked like a large safe. I was amazed and after she opened it, I followed behind her into a large room. There were paintings all over the walls and even stacked up against each other. There were swords, vases, several statues, and a variety of things that all looked old.

"That looks like the same painting in your living room," I pointed to a painting on the wall, protected in a glass case.

"There is one major difference," Marissa told me. "The one you saw was a replica. This is the original."

"What?" I gasped, my eyes going wide. "You said Leonardo DaVinci painted the original...that it was worth millions."

"It is," she smiled with a gleam in her eyes. "Many of these artworks are..." She gestured around the room. "I have always collected art that interests me and sometimes it pays off financially. I once bought a painting from a street vendor for the equivalent of ten dollars, and thirty years later it was worth three million. Some of these art works are centuries old and would be considered invaluable to collectors..."

"Holy shit," I whispered, "You're rich..."

"I certainly would be if I sold my collection," she admitted. "But I have always valued the art more than the money. Still, I have sold enough of my pieces at one time or another that I don't have to worry about money."

Marissa slowly wandered around the room, pointing out various things in her collection. I don't know much about art but I recognized some of the names she used like Monet and Picasso. I guessed that if you were immortal, being a pack rat really paid off big.

"What's quite common in one century often becomes extremely prized in the next," Marissa told me with a knowing look.

Once Marissa was done showing off her collection, she took me on a tour of the rest of the house. It was big and full of antiques, with several rooms dedicated solely to storing more. After seeing that hidden room, nothing else was nearly as impressive. She eventually showed me to one bedroom which she said was to be mine, adding, "My room is across the hall."

"There's a large tub for you to bathe in," Marissa told me, gesturing to the bathroom. "We'll relax and get unpacked tonight. Tomorrow we'll start cleaning the house and begin your training."

With that, Marissa left me alone while she went to take care of some things around her house. After being left empty for several years, I could imagine that it needed a lot of work. In fact, we'd probably have to do laundry just to get clean sheets for the beds. I certainly didn't want to sleep on a bed that had been collecting dust for that long.

I thought about taking the bath that Marissa had suggested but decided against it for now. I'd already taken a shower at the motel this morning and I hadn't gotten dirty enough for another. Now if I'd been crawling around under a car as I normally did instead of riding in a truck, that would have been another story.

Since I didn't have anything else to do for now, I went through the house again, peaking into rooms I hadn't looked into earlier and satisfying my curiosity. Without Marissa standing beside me, I felt a little more at ease to look around and actually touch things, though I was careful about anything that looked expensive or old.

"I wonder if there are any more secret rooms," I mused to myself as I looked around.

Remembering the things I'd seen in various movies, I checked a few wall sconces and bricks in the library to see if any of those might open another secret passage. I was disappointed when I didn't find anything else of the sort but not really surprised. Other than that one room, it seemed to be an ordinary but old house.

I was just about to go back to my own room for awhile when I heard some noises and went for a closer look. Marissa was busy taking the dust covers off furniture and wiping them down. In spite of saying that we were going to start cleaning tomorrow, it looked as though she'd started early. I momentarily thought about joining her then decided against it.

"I think it's time for that bath," I told myself, thinking that it was a good excuse to avoid housework. After all, she was the one who suggested it in the first place.

The bathroom was very nice and three times the size of the one in my house...in my old house. There was a large clawed tub in the center which was probably larger than any bath tub I'd ever actually used myself. I filled it and climbed in, amazed by just how much I could sink my whole body into it. I'd always hated baths because the tubs were too small and cramped, but this thing could definitely change my mind.

"It feels good," I sighed, feeling the stress just flow from my body.

I lay there for quite some time, just soaking in the warmth. Then I opened my eyes and looked at myself in the water, seeing my breasts bobbing to the surface. I winced slightly at the sight and then ran my hands over them. A gasp escaped my lips as my nipples turned hard and sensitive. I'd noticed I was a lot more sensitive than before, but this was something else entirely.

Up until now, I'd avoided looking too closely at my new body. It was just too weird, not to mention creepy. Every time I looked at myself in the mirror I remembered the moment I'd killed her. But now I took my time, slowly looking over my entire body, running my hands over it and taking it all in.

"This is my body now," I told myself, "This is me..."

I shook my head, amazed at just how much had changed in just several days. Just three days ago, I'd woken up and thought that it would be just a normal day. Unfortunately, it had been anything but that. In fact, that was the last normal morning of my life. I couldn't imagine anything ever being normal now that I'd been so drastically changed.

Eventually I climbed out of the tub and dried myself off, being careful since my body was definitely more sensitive than it used to be. I slowly looked over my body again, running my hands over it to refamiliarize myself with it. It was very strange, yet not quite as bad as I'd first thought. I mean, it wasn't like I was completely hideous or in pain. In fact, I felt kind of...good.

I closed my eyes, feeling the humming within my blood. It felt oddly comforting, giving me a strange feeling of energy and power though I had absolutely no idea how I could possibly use it. As shocking as this humming had been at first, I decided that I rather liked it. Now that I thought about it, it made me feel more vibrant and alive.

"No," I snapped when I realized what I was thinking. I felt a cold chill run down my spine as I was thinking about how nice this actually felt. "There's absolutely nothing about my changes to like..." However, a little voice in the back of my head reminded me of how great that humming energy felt within me. And of course there were the immortality and magic powers too...

With a grimace, I knew that I had to get my mind off this. If I kept thinking like that then I'd probably end up enjoying myself before I knew it. I realized the irony of my own thoughts even as I had them, though I was determined to brush them all aside. The best way to do that was to get dressed and help Marissa clean. Keeping busy would definitely be the way to go.

--------------------

I wiped the sweat from my forehead and scowled. I was sweaty, dirty, and felt like I needed a shower, which was no surprise since I'd spent most of the morning helping Marissa clean her house. We'd dusted, swept, vacuumed, mopped, and even cleaned the dishes in the cupboard. I was already wiped out and we'd only finished the first floor.

"I think that's enough for today," Marissa told me, handing me a sandwich which I gratefully accepted and bit into.

"Good," I nodded once I'd finished swallowing my first bite, "Now I can take another shower and relax. I don't remember seeing a TV around here though..."

"I don't have one," Marissa shrugged as though it wasn't important at all. "Besides, I should have been more clear. We're only done cleaning for today. We still have a lot more to do."

"Like what?" I asked suspiciously.

"Finish eating and I'll start teaching you how to survive as an Outsider," she told me with a grim smile.

A short time later I was sitting in the newly cleaned living room with Marissa. She watched me with a thoughtful expression as though trying to decide how to start. Then her expression turned dark and unreadable. "Raise your hands above your head," she instructed me.

"Okay," I responded, doing as she said though wondering why.

Suddenly Marissa's hand lashed out with a knife I hadn't seen her holding and she drove it right into my stomach all the way up to the hilt. I gasped in shock and pain and collapsed over while she pulled the knife back out.

"I'm sorry," she told me with in a grim tone. "But I had to make you understand that you're not mortal anymore. Something like this may hurt for a few minutes, but it can't kill you. I need you to understand what it means to be an Outsider before we go any further."

"Bitch," I spat out, holding my hands over my stomach where she'd stabbed me. It hurt, but it also had the same tingling as when the cuts had healed on my hand. After just a minute, the pain faded away and I slowly sat back up, no longer feeling injured at all. I pulled up my shirt and stared at my stomach, seeing no sign of any wound or scar other than a small amount of blood still on my skin. "You bitch," I spat out more angrily as I glared at Marissa, about to attack her. Only her calm expression and the fact she was no longer holding the knife kept me from doing that.

"I probably shouldn't have done that on my couch," Marissa mused, looking regretful. "I hope we didn't get any blood on it...."

"You stabbed me," I gasped, jumping to my feet. "I can't believe you stabbed me..."

Marissa didn't apologize again though she did bow her head slightly. "And yet you aren't injured anymore."

I stared at her, then down at myself, feeling a bit shaken by this. I'd actually been stabbed and given an injury that would have sent me to the emergency room for sure if it hadn't killed me first, but just a minute later there was almost no sign it had even happened. It was a strange thing to take...

"You aren't mortal anymore and need to really understand that," Marissa explained. "This was the fastest way. Your life...your perspective needs to change and take that into account."

"My God," I gasped. I'd known I was an Outsider intellectually, but she was right. I hadn't fully understood what that meant until I felt that surge of terror when she stabbed me, that fear that I was actually going to die.

"Trust me," she gave me a weak smile, "It could have been much worse. I know Outsiders who've been more brutal while making this point."

I just stared at her, not feeling much better. "And how is stabbing me supposed to help me learn to survive?"

"It's to show you how much you can take," Marissa said as she sat back down, "You're not very easy to kill anymore, but you can still die if you lose your head or too much of your vital organs. You do understand this now, don't you?"

I nodded weakly at that, "I...I think so." I looked down at the hole in my shirt, remembering how much it hurt just a minute ago.

"Now that we've gotten that out of the way," Marissa smiled, "we can really start. I've already told you some of this but there are details I skipped over. I've already told you that every Outsider has a single special power or ability when their powers first awaken. I suspect you've probably inherited Patrice's, but I don't know what hers was. When an Outsider takes someone's energy, we usually gain their special ability fairly soon and then the abilities that they've gained form others sometime after, though it often takes decades for all those abilities to appear and gain full strength."

"What's your special power?" I asked her, thinking of that force field she'd used while fighting Patrice.

"I can command birds to obey me," Marissa shrugged. "Most Outsiders don't really have abilities that would help in battle."

"You can control birds?" I stared at her, "Does that mean you can use them as spies or something?"

"Not really," Marissa laughed. "I can't read their minds so they can't tell me what they see. And they have such small brains that they can't follow complex instructions or standing orders. But I can make birds come to me when I'm hunting or attack someone I don't like... It has proven quite useful at times."

I stared at her for a moment then gasped, "Is that why Mister Garrison's car gets covered in bird shit every time he washes it..."

I thought of the loud and obnoxious neighbor who lived across the street from us. The only thing he seemed to care about was his classic convertible, which had a habit of drawing a flock of birds whenever he finished washing and waxing it. Marissa's evil grin was all the confirmation I needed as to who was really responsible.

"I have a number of abilities I've gained from other Outsiders," Marissa admitted. "Most aren't very impressive, such as the ability to turn wine into vinegar or being able to sense poison, but some like being able to create an energy shield definitely help. I don't know all the abilities Patrice possessed, but I can tell you the ones I do know of and the ones I suspect. That won't be too important at the moment though since you probably won't start seeing most of her abilities for at least a year or two."

For the next few hours, Marissa told me everything she knew about Patrice and her abilities, which wasn't quite as much as I would have liked. Patrice was apparently several hundred years younger than Marissa but an aggressive hunter who often went after new and inexperienced Outsiders in her quest to achieve the ultimate prize. And according to Marissa, she could throw energy balls, use some kind of shrapnel explosion and had a few other abilities that helped her win her duels against older and more powerful Outsiders. I'd seen several of these abilities with my own eyes.

"The older Outsiders usually possess many abilities that can overwhelm you in a duel," Marissa told me, "as well as the skills and experience. It's important to master what abilities you do possess when they appear and to never tell anyone everything that you are capable of, not even your closest friend. You never know when a surprise can save your life."

"Not even you?" I asked carefully.

"Yes," Marissa gave me an almost evil grin, "You can go ahead and tell ME everything. That way, if we're ever forced to fight for some reason I can use it against you."

"Oh," I winced, getting her point.

"One of the rules is that you can use any ability at your disposal in a duel," Marissa told me, "However, there is an old tradition that many of our duels are fought purely with swords. It's considered a matter of honor to fight that way, though as you saw with Patrice, it isn't always followed."

I frowned and asked, "You keep talking about rules. What are all these rules you keep mentioning?"

"A very good question," Marissa nodded approvingly. "I was going to get into that later, but since you asked..." She frowned for a moment, looking thoughtful, "The first rule I've already told you about is that our existence must be kept secret. You can't let anyone discover our secrets. And if they do..." Her expression turned grim.

I stared at her, once again reminded that she'd broken that rule to tell me about the Outsiders in the first place. From what she said, the rules said that she should kill me for knowing that much instead. I suddenly felt even more grateful that she'd made the choice she did instead.

"This rule protects us from being hunted down or being interfered with by mortals," Marissa explained. "Think of the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials and you'll understand its need. The second rule is that fights are one on one. This keeps groups of Outsiders from banding together to outnumber others and keeps the duels a little more even. The third is the one I told you several minutes ago about being able to use any abilities you possess."

"I don't exactly possess much at the moment," I responded with a grimace, hoping I never had to get into one of these duels. I'd already seen just how nasty they could get and had no intention of purposely putting myself in that kind of position if I could help it.

"Our last rule is extremely important to remember," Marissa told me. "Holy ground is sanctuary. If you're on specific holy ground for any religion, it's considered a truce area and we're not allowed to fight there. This is important to you as a new Outsider because if someone comes after you then all you have to do is make it to holy ground to be safe. But the moment you step off, you're fair game again."

"So that's how you people can meet up to talk," I said, wondering how they'd all be able to agree to these kinds of rules if they couldn't even meet without trying to kill each other.

"You are one of us now," Marissa reminded me, gesturing to the hole in my shirt. "These rules are important. They protect us from the mortals and each other. They keep our conflicts under strict control. Without these rules, we might have rival Outsiders sending armies after each other instead of meeting face to face. The whole world could easily get thrown into chaos because of us if it were not for these rules."

I scowled, then demanded, "Who came up with these rules anyway? And who enforces them?"

"I don't know who created them," Marissa admitted. "They were in place long before my own power awoke. Most Outsiders follow the rules of our own free will since we know they protect us. However, there is a self-proclaimed group of enforcers who specifically hunt down Outsiders who break the rules. They also get rid of any evidence of our existence." She looked grim and I realized 'evidence' meant people who knew about the Outsiders as well. It was no wonder she warned me not to say a word about their existence.

"You said they're a group of Outsiders," I said, "Doesn't that conflict with one of the rules they claim to be enforcing?"

Marissa shook her head, "They work together to find their targets but their fights are still one on one. They're sticklers for obeying the rules."

I just nodded, somehow feeling offended by the very idea of these rules. Intellectually, I thought that they sounded like a good idea. But at the same time, it annoyed me that people were expected to obey these rules just because they've always been around. Who had the authority to make these rules for everyone else? It just seemed...arrogant.

Then as I thought more about the rules, I had to wonder how much of them were for the good of everyone else. The second and third rules that dealt specifically with the fights seemed to actually favor the older and more powerful Outsiders. They gave those with more power and centuries more experience a definite advantage in the fights. Without numbers or some kind of equalizer, someone like me wouldn't stand a chance in one of these 'fair' fights.

"There are traditions as well as rules," Marissa told me after I'd had a chance to think over the rules. "These aren't mandatory or enforced like the rules are, but they are important to know."

"Okay," I urged her to continue.

"There's the tradition of using swords for your fights," Marissa told me. "A lot of Outsiders prefer to keep the fight physical rather than resorting to our magic abilities. It's considered a matter of fairness and honor since the outcome relies more on skill and ability than on whomever has the best power..."

"You've mentioned that one," I told her.

"There is a tradition that some of the more honorable Outsiders follow," Marissa told me with an amused smile. "If you find a new Outsider, you take them under your wing and train them to defend themselves. The idea is to give them a fair chance later on. Unfortunately, new Outsiders are often too tempting to pass over and there are more Outsiders actively seeking them out to kill them than ones seeking them out to train them. Most new Outsiders aren't able to survive long enough on their own to become strong, and those who do are often the dangerous ones."

After this, Marissa spent the next few hours telling me about various traditions among the Outsiders, some of which seemed serious while others were the equivalent of a college fraternity secret hand shake. It was a bit boring but I listened anyway, trying to pay attention. If I was stuck in this whole Outsider thing, I knew that I'd better learn everything I could.

"I doubt you'll have any abilities to work with for awhile," Marissa told me after she was done going over the traditions, "So let's try calling your weapon."

"Calling my weapon?" I asked in confusion.

"It's one of the abilities that every Outsider possesses," Marissa told me.

She held out her hand and a glowing sword made out of silver light appeared in her palm. It was a broad sword with a thin blade that reminded me a little of a rapier though it was thicker than that. It was the same sword I'd seen her use before. She slashed it through the air a few times, then opened her hand and it vanished.

"We can take some of the energy from within ourselves," Marissa explained as she held her hand out again, "and push it to the surface." With that, a ball of silvery light appeared in the palm of her hand. It was the same silvery light that her sword had been made from. "I can use this as a light source," she smiled, "Or I can have it take a different shape..." With that, the ball stretched out into her sword again.

"Shit," I exclaimed, "That's fucking awesome..."

"Come on Sarah," Marissa smiled at me with a look of amusement, "Ladies don't swear like that..."

I just rolled my eyes, then said, "You said any Outsider could do that..." I remembered that Patrice and that guy Marissa had been fighting both had swords made of the same material.

Marissa nodded, "Close your eyes and feel the energy inside you..." I nodded and did as she instructed, feeling the humming within my blood. "Now you simply will it to come to the surface in your palm. It should be almost instinctive."

I took a deep breath and willed the humming energy to go into my palm, feeling rather foolish for doing so. To my surprise, it reacted almost immediately and I found myself holding a ball of silvery light. I just stared at it in amazement though it faded away as soon as I stopped willing it there.

"A good start," Marissa told me with a smile. "Now keep practicing that and see how long you can hold it in your palm at one time. And while you're at it, keep trying to sense where I am too..."

"Okay," I sighed, bringing the ball of light back into my hand.

Marissa watched, then shook her head. "This is so strange..."

"You think it's strange?" I demanded, losing the ball of light at the distraction.

"You look like Patrice," she reminded me. "It just seems a bit awkward to be teaching you this when I remember the real Patrice using it quite well." Then she shrugged, "Just keep practicing and we'll get to the next part when you're ready." With that, she got up and left, leaving me to sit on the couch and play with the silvery ball of energy.

I looked down at myself, at my breasts and then past that to the hole in my shirt. I sighed, remembering my stabbing and just how dirty I'd been from the cleaning. Between the blood, the sweat and the dust, I was going to really need a bath when this was done. But I was well used to dirty work so easily pushed that thought out of my mind and went back to my task.

"This Outsider stuff certainly is weird," I sighed as I held up a ball of silvery light, wondering what it would be like turning it into a sword. I had a feeling I'd be finding out soon enough.

--------------------

Dust, sweat and grime. For the second morning I was completely covered in it. It was probably much cleaner than all the grease and stuff I normally got all over myself while working on cars, but for some reason I felt dirtier and really wanted a shower. However, Marissa had something else in mind first.

"Concentrate your personal energy for me," Marissa instructed me as she put away a broom. She looked at the glowing ball in my hand, "Good... How long can you hold it for?"

"I got up to fifteen minutes last night," I told her, "I haven't had a chance to practice any more today..."

"That's a good start," she nodded. "Now we'll turn it into a weapon..."

"Like your sword," I said.

Marissa nodded. "A sword is the most effective weapon for removing heads as well as defending yourself from other swords. Of course, you can't very well carry a real sword wherever you go unless you're wearing a bulky trench coat all the time. That's not only awkward and uncomfortable, but highly suspicious too. So instead of carrying a sword at all times, we simply turn our own energies into swords when we need them."

"And how often is that," I asked with a smirk.

"Too often sometimes," Marissa sighed. "Like twice in one month..." Then she looked at me intently. "Concentrate your energy again and will it into the shape of a sword."

I did as Marissa instructed, forming the ball of silvery light in my hand and then willing it to stretch into the shape of a sword. A moment later, I was holding a sword in my hand. It was somewhat like a katana but the blade was just a little different, more like a fantasy movie version of a katana. I hadn't really intended anything like this...only a basic katana shape, so I was a bit surprised by its appearance.

"Very...interesting," Marissa said.

"Not exactly what I was trying for," I told her.

"Your subconscious tends to shape the blade into something familiar to you," she told me with an amused look. "Since you obviously aren't familiar with real swords, I suspect the image was taken from your imagination."

"It does look pretty wicked though," I grinned, feeling oddly proud of myself.

Marissa rolled her eyes. "Not the primary purpose, I assure you."

"Maybe not," I grinned even more, "But it's still pretty damn wicked looking."

"Using a katana requires somewhat different moves than a broadsword," Marissa told me. "But I am familiar enough to help you... Now take this pose with your sword like this..." She demonstrated the stance for me and I did my best to copy it. "No, right like this..."

With that, Marissa had me go through a number of different stances, slashing through the air with my energies word. It quickly faded out though after a single swing or two. She nodded as though she was expecting this and had me summon it up again and continue, giving me advice on how to hold it in existence for longer.

I spent the next four hours working on my ability to form my sword and keep it in sword shape as I moved around and swung it. Marissa was starting to teach me some of the basic slashes, but she was far more intent on making sure that I could keep the sword. It was exhausting, more than I ever would have thought something like that could be. And by the time we were done, I was thankful I hadn't taken a shower yet because I would have needed one again just after that practice.

"Once you use your sword enough," Marissa told me as we finished, "It'll take that shape automatically and retain it easily for long periods. The hard part is training your energy to take that shape."

"Can it take other shapes?" I asked, wiping the sweat from my forehead.

"To a limited degree," Marissa admitted. "You only have a limited amount that can be focused outside your body at any one time, and as you've seen, it can get draining after awhile. Right now your energy isn't trained so you can push it into a variety of shapes if you wish. But after you train it to become a sword, it will automatically assume that shape and resist taking any other."

"Joy," I sighed, turning and starting towards the bathroom, "A tub of hot water never sounded so good..."

Marissa laughed at that, "Just wait until you try it with scented bubble bath."

"I'd rather not," I responded. Just because I'd become a woman didn't mean I had to start acting all girlie.

But as I left the room, Marissa called out, "Trust me... You'll enjoy it."

"As if," I called back before slamming the bathroom door behind me.

I slowly undressed, dropping my clothes to the floor. I couldn't believe how tired I was after just a couple hours of holding an imaginary sword. I guessed that kind of thing really did take it out of you, though Marissa assured me it wouldn't be so bad once the energy was trained to become a sword on its own.

Once I was fully unclothed, I looked myself over, gulping at the sight. Even after several days I still hadn't gotten used to seeing such a different body than the one I was used to. I still wasn't used to the feel of this extra weight on my chest, though I did have to admit that there were an increasing number of times that I forgot all about it.

"At least Patrice was a looker," I admitted reluctantly. If I had to get stuck as a woman, I thought that it would have been infinitely worse if I'd become an ugly one. As it was, there was something strangely erotic about being a hot looking woman though I'd certainly never admit it to anyone else.

After a minute, I turned my attention to the bath and began filling the tub. I glanced at the bottle of bubble bath beside it, knowing that it hadn't been there yesterday. Marissa was obviously trying to tell me something which only made me want to avoid using the bubble bath all the more. Then I realized that she probably expected me to avoid using it and was just teasing me. With a grimace, I grabbed the bubble bath and poured some into the water just to spite Marissa.

"At least it smells like raspberries rather than flowers," I grumbled, feeling a bit foolish for making such a big deal about whether or not to use bubble bath.

I decided not to worry about it anymore and just take my bath. I climbed into the tub, letting out a long sigh of relief as I settled into the water. The warm seeped into my bones and let the stress just float away. Of course, with bubbles all around me it was hard to be stressed anyway.

I just lay there and soaked for awhile, feeling rather good about it. Even the raspberry scent was pleasant and easy to enjoy. Eventually though, I had to get down to business and actually start washing. I took my time about it, carefully washing every part of my body and familiarizing myself with it a little more...or perhaps just making myself a little more comfortable with it. Someday it might even feel like my body rather than some strangers.

Once I was all cleaned and dried off, I got dressed again and returned to the living room. Marissa looked up and me and sniffed a little before grinning, "I see you took my advice about the bubble bath..."

"I was just seeing what it smelled like and some accidentally spilled into the tub," I told her defensively. She just grinned in amusement.

"You know," Marissa said after a moment, "I should probably start teaching you how to be a woman too..." She looked me over, making me feel self-conscious.

"I know," I rolled my eyes, having been thinking about this very thing quite often during the last few days. "I need to learn about pads, tampons and all that feminine hygiene stuff..." Then I sighed, "I think I'd rather practice more with the sword though..."

"It's not going to be nearly as bad as you think," she told me with a wry grin. "In fact, I'm sure it'll be much easier. You see, Outsider women don't have a menstrual cycle."

"They don't?" I asked in vague surprise.

"No, WE don't," Marissa told me with a look of amusement. "I haven't had a period since my power awoke."

"I bet you're grateful for that," I chuckled weakly.

"I am now," Marissa admitted with a frown, "But for a long time it bothered me." At my confused expression, she continued, "You have to grow up female to understand. It may be unpleasant, but it's also a badge of womanhood. When I stopped having period, I felt like that made me less of a woman for a long time."

"Oh," I responded quietly, not sure of what I could say to something like that.

"Outsiders are sterile so you won't have to worry about birth control either," Marissa told me, amused by reaction to that. However, I thought I saw a brief look of regret pass over her face before she hid it. "I don't know a single Outsider woman who has ever given birth even before her power awoke. Several Outsider men claim to have fathered children, but to be honest, I don't think those children are really theirs. Being childless is part of the price we pay for immortality, though I suppose it's for the best too since our lives wouldn't be very healthy for children."

"I don't think I'd have to worry much about that one anyway," I told her with a grimaced, unable to even imagine myself getting pregnant. The idea was so...ludicrous.

"I supposed that in these times you could get away without learning much," Marissa admitted. "However, it would certainly help you fit in and adapt if you knew more. There are certain things that all women are expected to know and be comfortable with."

Marissa started to list off things that I might be expected to know now that I'd switched teams, but most of those didn't seem all that important or urgent. A lot of it was about certain types of doctor visits and exams that only women got, periods, and general feminine hygiene. And even though I wouldn't need to worry about that, she suggested that I go through some of those exams and discomforts just to get a better understanding of what normal women go through.

"I don't think so," I shuddered at the thought of willingly subjecting myself to those indignities.

Then Marissa started talking about fashion, makeup, manners, and how to both act and talk like a woman. This stuff wasn't nearly as important as it might have been in the past since there was such a variety of different people that most people wouldn't think twice about a woman who acted a bit like a tomboy. However, I paid close attention anyway, making a conscious decision to at least pick this stuff up. I might not like it, but it would help me fit in a little better.

"Let's try a little something to ease you into the idea," Marissa told me with a thoughtful look.

I stared at her suspiciously, "Okay..."

Marissa left the room and came back several minutes later with two dresses. One was a sleek red one, the kind that a woman might wear to a party while the other looked much more casual. Both of them looked a little too large for Marissa.

"Patrice had some other luggage in her hotel room that I didn't think you'd want," Marissa told me as she set the dresses down, "But I took it anyway in case. I thought that this might help you adjust a little..."

"You want me to wear a dress?" I stared at her as though she was insane.

"It will help drive in the fact that you are a woman now," Marissa pointed out with a shrug. "And it's not like anyone will see you in it but me, and I already know who you are. Trust me, I don't expect you to wear skirts or dresses very often, but I think it will help you to at least be familiar with them."

I grumbled and complained but already knew that I was going to give in. I'd already made my decision to at least try adjusting to my new body, but I had to put up a nice show...for her benefit and my own. I might have a woman's body but I still had my male pride.

"You can do the casual for now," Marissa told me, "or you can dress up nicely for dinner. And I'll make a deal with you. I'll dress up just as nicely as you do..."

I stared at the two dresses she'd offered for a moment, about to reach for the casual one. However, I'd always been one for jumping into the deep end right off so pointed to the nicer of the two dresses, surprising Marissa just a little. She smiled at that and nodded.

"If we're gonna do this," I told her, hardly able to believe I was suggesting this on my own, "we might as well do it right. I think that means make-up..."

Marissa looked surprised again as well as a little disappointed. I suddenly had the feeling that she'd been wanting to pop that on me herself later on. Getting the jump on her little fun made me feel rather smug for the moment.

A few minutes later Marissa instructed me to get undressed and take off everything except my panties. Even the bra had to go before I could put on the dress. I held back from complaining and did my best to go through with it, reminding myself that this was entirely of my own choice. The dress wasn't very difficult to get on, though it was somewhat uncomfortable and made me feel extremely self-conscious.

"It's a bit tight," I said carefully, complaining for the first time though I didn't really think of it as that.

I looked down at myself and saw my new cleavage exposed a good deal more than I was comfortable. Of course, I was well aware of just how stunning it looked and how much it would draw the eyes of any men who saw me. That was why I was uncomfortable with it. And then there was the slight breeze between my legs, the strange openness rather than the confined pants or even shorts I was used to. However I did my best to ignore my discomfort.

"Let me brush your hair a bit," Marissa told me, "then we'll get started on your make-up."

Marissa was the one who applied my make-up while I just sat and watched in the mirror. She explained what she was doing a little, but it was obvious that this wasn't so much a make-up lesson as it was an attempt to get it done fast and nice. By the time she was finished, I felt like a clown with all that stuff on my face but had to admit that I looked pretty damn good in the mirror.

I held up my hand and stared at the nice red polish that covered my nails. "Damn, I can't believe this is me..."

With that, I stared even more intently into the mirror, seeing a very beautiful woman staring back. For the first time, my reflection didn't really make me think of the moment when I'd shot Patrice. In fact, I hardly even looked like that crazy woman at the moment. I looked like someone else, someone who was sexy and sophisticated though the look in my eye certainly gave me away.

"Of course you're going to need some jewelry," Marissa told me, pulling out a box and some jewelry that looked old and expensive. She put several bracelets around my wrist and a diamond necklace around my throat. She looked at a pair of ear rings but then put them back. "Since we heal so fast, we either have to wear clip-ons or pierce our ears each and every time." She gestured to the small ear rings that she herself was wearing. "I'll save you that for now."

"I appreciate it," I said with a wry smile, wondering what it had to be like for Marissa to punch holes into her ears every morning when she put those things on. Then again, I guess you'd get used to it eventually and she'd had more than enough time to do that.

"And of course," Marissa grinned evilly, "You're going to need shoes..." With that, she pulled out the pair of high heeled shoes she'd shown me the first day.

I stared at the high heels, gulping and wondering how in the world I'd possibly be able to walk in them. But I smiled politely and told Marissa, "Of course..." She frowned, disappointed by my reaction yet again, much to my delight. That alone would make those shoes worth facing. I slipped the strappy high heels on but hesitated to actually stand up in them.

Marissa asked, "Is something wrong?"

Even though I was tempted to keep playing like I was perfectly comfortable, I finally gave her what she wanted and admitted my discomfort. "Just the fact I'll probably fall flat on my face."

Marissa grinned at that and I could see the flash of triumph in her eyes. "Don't worry about it," she told me with an evil grin, "If you break an ankle, it'll heal in only a couple minutes..."

"I think I'd rather avoid that in the first place," I sighed as I carefully stood up, keeping hold of the make-up table for balance. "I feel almost like I'm walking on stilts here."

"There's a reason I usually avoid dressing up," Marissa told me with a look of great amusement. "For one, it's not very practical if another Outsider comes after me..."

I just nodded, then reminded her, "You said you'd be dressing up as well..."

"So I will," she bowed slightly, then went into her own room.

I started to follow....very slowly, but she closed the door before I could get there. She might be willing to help me dress, but she obviously still thought of me as a guy enough that she didn't want to get undressed in front of me. I felt rather pleased by that, especially considering the way I was currently dressed up. But on the other hand, I certainly wouldn't mind seeing her without any clothes on either.

Since I had to wait for Marissa anyway, I spent the time carefully practicing how to walk in high heels. It was awkward and unbalanced, but I found I could manage as long as I moved slowly and paid attention to what I was doing. I could only imagine what I would have looked like to someone else.

Marissa finally came out of her room, dressed up very nicely and looking stunning. She had on a sleek dress and high heels, looking every bit as good as I did if not better. I had to stop and just stare at her for a minute, which obviously amused her.

"Don't get any ideas," Marissa warned me with an expression that seemed to be half joking and half serious. "I'm heterosexual and have absolutely no interest in other women, even ones as lovely as you."

"The thought never entered my mind," I lied, hiding my disappointment. I'd been rather hoping she'd suddenly confess that she was a lesbian and had taken me under her wing because she had an uncontrollable attraction to my new body. Unrealistic I know, but since when did fantasies have to be otherwise?

"Well don't let it," she warned me in a friendly tone though something told me she was very serious. Then she abruptly changed the subject and said, "I suppose we should start dinner... How does a classic Italian meal sound to you?"

"Great," I grinned.

Marissa went into the kitchen and began looking around then sighed, "It looks like the nice Italian meal will have to wait. We only have what we brought with us thats not enough for what I'd like. We'll have to go to town tomorrow and pick up some more groceries..."

I frowned, "Too bad. I hate to think I got dressed up for nothing."

"We can still have a decent meal," Marissa assured me, "We just don't have the ingredients for what I'd like to cook." Then she sighed, "We'll just have to take the truck though because the car won't start."

"Car?" I asked her in surprise. We'd both left our cars behind when we'd taken off in her U-Haul truck.

"Oh, I have a spare car stored in the garage in case I had to come here," Marissa told me with a frown. "Unfortunately, it won't start."

"How long has it been sitting?" I asked thoughtfully.

Marissa shrugged, "Several years..."

I let out an exasperated sigh and rolled my eyes, "Cars aren't meant to just sit like that. They need care and use... I bet your battery is dead. And then the rubber seals could have dried out and cracked, along with some of the hoses... You could have leaked away all your fluids or had corrosion lock things up..." I shook my head, hating to think of a good car being ruined from mere neglect. "I'll go take a look at it..."

I started for the door but Marissa grabbed my arm and exclaimed, "Not dressed like that you're not..."

I looked down at myself and blushed. "I guess this isn't exactly the right outfit for working on cars..."

Marissa just laughed, "I guess this proves it Sarah. Regardless of your body, you're still the same Kyle inside..."

"I guess the car can wait till tomorrow," I muttered, feeling a bit embarrassed by this. So instead of dwelling on that, I grinned, "Now what are we having for dinner?"

"Come into the kitchen and help me," Marissa grinned, "and find out for yourself." I shrugged and followed after her. I wasn't sure that this was the right outfit for cooking either, but I was getting pretty hungry and the sooner dinner was done the better.

--------------------

Marissa stood across from me with her sword at the ready, staring at me with a cold and ruthless expression. Without warning she came at me, swinging her sword right for my head. I jerked my own up to block her attack but she suddenly shifted her angle of attack so her sword came towards my stomach instead. Again, I desperately tried to block it, stumbling backwards a bit as well.

"Shit," I cursed, regaining my balance and then slashing my sword at Marissa.

"Don't over extend your attack," she said as she knocked my sword aside and then slashed in with her sword, driving it straight into my stomach. I collapsed to my knees in pain while Marissa withdrew her sword and placed it against the side of my neck. "It leaves you unbalanced and open."

"Fuck," I grimaced, thankful that my wound would be healed up in just several minutes. Unfortunately, it was going to hurt like hell until it did.

When Marissa had started training me in how to fight with a sword last week, I'd had no idea she would be so vicious. She didn't hold back much and was perfectly willing to run me through and do just about anything short of taking my head. I'd already lost track of how many times I'd been given what would have been mortal wounds before. I was getting better, but as this proved, I was still no match for Marissa.

"Pain is just the warning that you've been injured," Marissa reminded me for what was definitely not the first or even tenth time. "As an Outsider, anything short of death will heal so you can't dwell on it. If you give into the pain...you die."

With that, Marissa stood back and waited for me to recover enough to go at it again. I took several deep breaths and forced myself to my feet in spite of the pain. I'd been getting a lot of practice with that over the last week. Without waiting for my injury to heal the rest of the way, I reformed my sword and swung it at Marissa, hoping that I'd catch her by surprise but failing.

Marissa and I continued fighting, slashing at each other and blocking over and over with me losing each and every bout. One time I got a nasty slash through my side, the next I had my legs injured too much to stand, and one time I'd been nearly entirely disemboweled. Each time, I'd wait a few minutes until I healed enough, they I forced myself to stand and start over again.

"You're improving," Marissa told me with a nod.

"You wouldn't know it," I snorted, gesturing down at my training clothes which were covered with nasty holes and blood stains. I was more than a little tired of being slashed to pieces.

"I have centuries of experience," Marissa reminded me unnecessarily. "You won't be good enough to beat me for a long time...if ever. But you are lasting longer between injuries."

I just winced at that, wondering how I could possibly be expected to survive a fight against some immortal who'd been doing this for centuries. It was becoming increasingly clear to me that the current way of doing this really favored those old Outsiders a great deal. I REALLY didn't like this.

"Who fights with swords anymore?" I grumbled as I prepared myself for another round.

"I think we're done for today," Marissa told me as her sword vanished. "You look wiped out. Go clean up and we can spend the rest of the day relaxing some."

I nodded and let out a sigh of relief. I'd REALLY had enough of getting cut up today. With that, I let my own sword vanish again and started for the bathroom. Once there, I tore off my clothes and dropped them into the garbage, thankful that Marissa had the foresight to buy a bunch of used clothes at the thrift store in town. She obviously knew what to expect of my training.

"If anyone ever sees all these clothes in the garbage," I muttered with a shake of my head, "they'll think we're a couple of serial killers or something..."

With that, I turned my attention to filling up the tub, even pouring in a small amount of bubble bath. Yeah, the bubble bath is a bit girlie, but it's a small indulgence that I've started to enjoy. Something about it and the smell was just so relaxing, especially after a viscous workout.

The bath was nice, warm and comfortable, and though I would have liked to really soak I was more concerned with cleaning off the blood this time. I didn't really have much interest in soaking in bloody water. It just seemed gross. Because of that I finished my bath off fairly quickly, regretting the waste of the bubbles.

Once I was done with the bath and dried off, I briefly thought about putting on the casual dress but decided against it. I'd worn dresses and skirts several times since Marissa had first talked me into it, and though I was getting less self-conscious in that type of clothing, something inside me still balked at the idea. My old male pride just didn't like the idea of wearing such girlie clothes, even if I was a girl now. So instead of the dress, I stuck with a pair of slacks and a nice shirt.

I sat back and brushed out my hair, both cursing the extra effort that long hair took but knowing that I wouldn't dare cut it. I'd always thought women looked better with long hair and couldn't bring myself to cut it off just because it was a bit inconvenient. Still, that didn't stop me from cursing with almost every brush stroke.

By the time I went back to the living room, I saw that Marissa had cleaned up and changed as well. Of course, I reminded myself ruefully, she hadn't had all her clothes slashed to pieces and covered in blood. All she had to do was wash hers while I threw mine away. Then again, that's why she bought me a bunch of used clothes from the thrift shop in the first place. I was determined that one of these days I'd make her throw her whole outfit out too. I really looked forward to being able to beat her.

Marissa must have guessed what I was thinking because she told me, "You're making excellent progress."

"Just not fast enough," I grumbled.

Marissa shrugged, "It takes awhile to master these things." Then she hesitated for a moment before adding, "I've asked a friend to come and help with your training."

"What?" I blinked in surprise

"Gregor is the man who helped train me, much as I am training you," Marissa told me with a self-conscious smile. "He's the wisest Outsider I know, so I called him for advice about your situation. If anyone would know about what happened to you, it would be Gregor. He's coming here in several days to see you for himself."

"And you trust this guy?" I asked suspiciously.

"Of course," Marissa seemed almost surprised by the question. "As I said, he's the one who trained me and he's my oldest friend. If anyone can understand what happened to you, it's him."

I just nodded at that, then sat down and sighed, "I need a drink..."

"A glass of wine would be nice," Marissa mused, "I have some good vintages in the wine cellar..."

Marissa's wine cellar wasn't really a cellar, just a large windowless room of her house that had been converted to the storage of wine some time earlier. She'd shown it to me during my initial tour of her house though I hadn't been in there since. When she went to get the wine, I followed after her.

"I'm not a big wine person myself," I told her when we stopped in front of the door. "I prefer beer."

Marissa just nodded as she went to open the door, then frowned, "I forgot the key..."

When Marissa turned to go back and get the key, I absently tried the door myself. The door knob stuck for a moment, then I felt a faint tingle on my hand before the door clicked and opened for me. "It's not locked," I told Marissa with a smug grin, opening the door for her.

"What?" Marissa asked as she turned back, "I could swear it was locked..." Then she shook her head, "It's an old lock. I suppose it's time to replace it."

We went into the room where Marissa looked over the shelves full of bottles, pulling one out and blowing a thick layer of dust from it. She nodded, seeming pleased as she left the wine cellar with it in hand. Several minutes later, we were sitting down in the living room, each with a glass in hand.

"It's a good vintage," Marissa told me with a smile as she sipped hers. "I bought it in Paris several decades ago. That was the same day I bought this delightful painting from a street vendor... Fantastic colors..."

I just sat back and nodded as Marissa told me all about that trip to France and all the fun she'd had. In a way, it reminded me a lot of when I was a kid and my grandpa would go on telling stories for hours, usually boring everyone else to tears. Still, Marissa was at least more coherent than my grandpa had been and didn't go off on so many tangents that led nowhere.

Eventually, Marissa leaned back and said, "I think I'm going to drive into town. There are a few things I want to pick up and didn't think about last time... Do you want to come along?"

I thought about it for a moment before shaking my head, "No thanks. I think I'll just hang around here for awhile. Maybe I'll take a look at your truck. It runs a bit rough..." And, I added silently to myself, I just might go back and take another bath...doing a nice long soak this time.

Once Marissa was gone, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to look around her house again and even snoop a bit. I went through one room after another, looking at the art works on the wall and trying to guess how old they were. The truth was though, I knew almost nothing about art so didn't have a clue. Marissa seemed intent on changing that though I didn't think she'd have much luck.

I felt a little naughty as I poked my nose into nearly every closet, hesitating only when it came to Marissa's own bedroom. I might be snooping in her medicine cabinet as it were, but I respected her privacy enough to at least leave her own room alone. Then I decided to go take another look at her secure vault, the room with all the really expensive art.

"It's probably locked though," I told myself, though that didn't stop me from pulling aside the book shelf that hid it and trying the secure door.

I was right and the handle wouldn't budge...at least at first. After a second, I felt a tingle along my hand and then heard a clicking sound from deep within the door. A moment later, the handle moved under my hand and the door opened. I just stood there and stared at it in surprise.

"No fucking way," I gasped in confusion. "It was locked. I know it was..."

I shook my head and then went into the room which was almost exactly as I'd last seen it except with less dust. Marissa had cleaned it up pretty good a few days ago and it showed. I slowly walked around the room, looking at all the artwork and being very careful not to touch anything. I was well aware of the fact that some of these pieces had to be absolutely priceless and I didn't want to so much as get a fingerprint on any of them.

I didn't spend very long in Marissa's vault, feeling a little guilty for being in there in the first place. After all, these were her most prized possessions and she kept them locked up for a reason. Then again, I told myself, the door hadn't been locked and I'd been able to go right in. That had to mean something, didn't it?

When I was done, I left the room and closed the heavy door behind me. It closed with loud clicking sound that indicated it had locked. I even shook the handle again to verify that it was locked. Still, it had opened the first time when I'd thought it was locked so I tried to open it a little harder. Once again, I felt the tingling along my palm just before the door clicked and opened for me.

"Damn," I grimaced, realizing I was going to have to tell Marissa she had another lock to replace. Or in this case, it was probably the whole door. However, this one didn't really look all that old. Then I thought about the strange tingling I felt on my hand when it opened. My eyes went wide as another thought suddenly occurred to me, "Maybe there isn't anything wrong with the door..."

Marissa had said I could expect to start gaining all the various powers and abilities Patrice had collected, starting with her own original one. Could this somehow be one of those abilities? Could this be Patrice's power? I stared at my hand as though expecting to see something different but it looked exactly the same as it had that morning and every day for the last week and a half.

"The wine cellar opened when Marissa said it was locked," I thought aloud, "Now this door opens when it's supposed to be locked."

There was only one way to know if this really was some magic Outsider power or if I just had an overactive imagination. Since this seemed to work with unlocking doors, I would just have to try to open a door that I knew was locked. I went to the side door of the house and made sure it was unlocked, then I went out the front door and locked it behind me.

"Now to see if I'm fucking crazy or not," I muttered, turning the knob and verifying that the front door was indeed locked.

As soon as I tried opening the front door, even though I knew it was locked, the warm tingle appeared in my hand again. A moment later, I heard a click from the lock and opened the door. It was true. I could open a locked door just by trying to.

"Holy shit," I exclaimed, staring at my hand. "I've turned into some kind of fucking skeleton key?" I actually felt rather impressed by that.

I spent the next fifteen minutes playing around with the front door, the side door, and just about every other lock in the house. It seemed that I my new ability worked on just about everything, including the door of Marissa's U-Haul. All I had to do was touch a door and try to open it and it would unlock for me.

"Just wait until I show Marissa," I grinned, eager to show off and somehow feeling like a little kid who'd just learned a new trick.

Just then, I felt the tingling on the edge of my consciousness I always felt when Marissa was close by. I'd gotten so used to feeling it lately that I normally didn't even notice it until it was gone. I guessed Marissa must come back early for some reason. But when I looked to the driveway with the expectation of seeing her car, I was surprised that it wasn't there.

Seconds later, I caught some movement from the corner of my eye and snapped around to see a large man emerging from a cluster of brush. He was big and muscular looking, wearing a red flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up and making me think of either a trucker or a lumberjack.

"Fuck," I gasped, realizing that the other Outsider I was feeling wasn't Marissa...it was him. "Oh shit..."

Only then did I notice the large double-edged battle axe that the man was holding. It wasn't glowing the way my sword did so that meant it was a solid object and not something he'd conjured up from his energy. With that axe, he no longer reminded me of a lumberjack or trucker...but of a viking. And as an Outsider, he might very well have been a viking for all I knew.

The large man came straight at me, walking fast but not bothering to run. He had a sneer on his face and a menacing glare that sent chills down my spine. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind as to what his intentions were. Marissa had made it more than clear that other Outsiders would be after my head and here was the first.

"Oh shit," I whispered again, wishing Marissa was here.

I stared in terror at that massive axe, feeling knot in my stomach as I thought of it chopping through my head. I took a deep breath and summoned my fancy katana, bracing myself to fight the best I could when all I really wanted to do was run away. I'd seen what these kind of people could do before and wanted no part of it. Unfortunately, I didn't have much choice.

The man grinned at the sight of my sword, then swung his axe at a tree. The tree was only six inches wide, but the ax went all the way through it with a single strike. Then as if that wasn't showing off enough, he bent over to a large rock...one that was too heavy for even someone as big as him to lift. But to my surprise, he was able to knock it aside with just his free arm. He grinned at me smugly, letting me know how easy he thought this was going to be.

I took a defensive stance the way Marissa had taught me, realizing that she'd been teaching me to fight against swords...not axes. I had no idea how to deal with him, especially with someone as powerful as him. He'd taken that tree down with a single swing so I doubted I had any chance at all.

When the man got closer to me, I saw that he wasn't as large as I'd assumed. In fact, he was only about as tall as I was, though he was still much bigger...about twice as wide. He wasted no time with threats or bravado, swinging his axe the moment he was close enough. I didn't want to block it so jumped back instead.

"Don't make this harder on yourself than it needs to be," the man finally said, his voice all rough and gravely. "Just stand still and I'll do this quickly..."

"I don't think so," I spat out angrily, hiding my fear with some bravado of my own. "With a weapon that big, you must be compensating for something..."

The man didn't take my bait and get angry like I'd hoped. Instead, he acted as though he'd heard it all before and perhaps he had. He swung his axe at me again, acting more as though he were testing me than really trying to kill me yet. Then his expression darkened ever so slightly and he swung the axe at me again, this time right at my neck. I barely got my sword up in time to block it and the force of his blow was enough to send me flying back, my arms feeling almost numb from the impact.

"So you're the one who killed Patrice," he said with a dismissive look. "You don't fight like her... You're soft and weak..." Then he grinned, "It will be easy to take your head and her powers..."

"How...?" I gasped, staring at him in shock. How the hell had he known about me and Patrice?

However, the time for talk was over and he didn't say another word as he came after me. I certainly didn't think he was going to wait to answer my questions either. I knew I couldn't keep blocking his axe, not with as much force as he swung it. I was lucky he hadn't broken both of my arms with the one time I had. Instead I had to keep backing away from him, staying out of his reach.

He didn't say a word as he swung his axe at me several more times, nor did he need to. I already knew his intent and knew that this wasn't like some movie where the hero and villain shared some banter and clever comments. Then again, I sure as hell wasn't some kind of hero.

While I was dodging and running away from his attacks, I began to notice something. Every time he swung at me, he left himself open...the same way I'd done against Marissa. When I saw the opportunity, I grabbed at it, knowing it was my only chance. I lunged forward and rammed my sword into his midsection, hoping it would drop him to the ground. Unfortunately, he just grimaced and knocked me back, acting as though he'd barely even felt it.

"Fuck," I grimaced, realizing that this wasn't going to work out well at all. I had to try something else. As long as he had that huge axe, there wasn't much I could do. "The axe..." I had to get rid of the axe...

The next time the man left himself open like that, I realized it was a trap to get me close enough to grab and use his incredible strength on me. I was only lucky he hadn't done that the first time. So instead of trying to disembowel him again, I slashed at his arm instead. My sword cut halfway through his forearm and he gasped in pain and dropped the axe.

"YES," I exclaimed in triumph, desperately swinging my sword straight at his neck. I couldn't believe I'd done it.

When my sword hit his neck, instead of cutting through there was the clanging of metal striking metal. He grinned and pulled his collar down to reveal a glowing silver collar around his neck. I gasped in shock, realizing that instead of using his energy to create a weapon...he'd used it to create a defense. He'd protected his neck from being cut.

The man grinned smugly and used the distraction of my surprise to pick his axe up again. Then he came at me with the grim determination to have my head. This time I turned and ran to the house, slamming the front door shut behind me, hoping to buy a few seconds. It didn't do much good though as the door practically exploded inward under his force.

"FUCK!" I yelled, shaking in terror. I looked down at the useless sword in my hand, wishing that I had something that would actually take care of this bastard. Then I had it. I knew exactly what I needed to deal with him.

But before I could move, my attacker came at me again, swinging his axe. This time I wasn't quite fast enough with my blocking and his axe slid down my sword and into my thigh, cutting all the way to the bone. I screamed in pain and dropped to the ground, unable to stand on that leg anymore. He stood above me, raising his axe to remove my head and finish the job.

I stared up at him in absolute terror, seeing my death mere moments away. Then I saw something else that gave me the slightest hope. Outsiders are almost impossible to injure permanently short of death, but we can sure as hell feel pain. I grabbed my sword and drove it upward as hard as I could...right into his groin.

My attacker howled in agony, his gravely voice going up in pitch. He even dropped his axe for a moment, though I knew better than to get close to him at the moment. Instead I struggled to pull myself away before he recovered, fighting against my useless leg with the desperation of a cornered rat. I half hobbled and half pulled myself all the way to my room and reached under my bed, pulling out the shotgun I'd used on Patrice.

"Fuck," I gasped as I struggled to remember where I'd put the shells. "My dresser..." Fortunately, they were in the bottom drawer since I didn't think I could reach the top one very well at the moment. I grabbed for the shells and scrambled to load them, my hands fumbling and dropping them several times in my fearful desperation.

I had just barely loaded the shells when the other Outsider burst into my room, a look of fury and raw hatred on his face. He didn't even glance at the shotgun in my hand as he hobbled forward and swung his axe right at me. I strong sense of deja-vu as I remembered Patrice and pulled the trigger, causing his head to explode into a mass of red mist the same as hers had. And to make sure, I unloaded the second shell on what was left of it the moment his body hit the floor.

"Bastard," I gasped, letting out a sigh of relief.

I sat there for a few seconds just shaking from the events when I noticed his body was starting to glow. I gulped, suddenly remembering what had happened the last time. A moment later, the white energy flowed into me, rushing through my body. I opened my mouth to scream, expecting the same pain as with Patrice though this time it was somehow different... The energy was there, but it wasn't painful. It rushed through me, merging and being absorbed the energy that was already inside me. The sensation was powerful and nearly overwhelming, but instead of agony I felt almost the opposite. I was awash in a feeling incredible power that almost seemed to go on forever.

Once the feelings all passed enough for me to recover my senses, I was vaguely aware that the other Outsider's body had vanished, leaving only his clothes and axe behind. I didn't look at them though and remained where I was, feeling completely stunned and trying to terms with what I'd done...and how good it had felt afterwards.

A short time later, I felt the tingling on the edge of my consciousness again, the warning that another Outsider was close again. I got to my feet, finding that my leg was working again. I was still shaky but managed to summon my sword and brace myself for the attack, grimly determined not to go down easily. I'd killed two Outsiders now and I was damn well going to kill any others that came after me as well.

"SARAH?" a woman's voice yelled, filled with both anger and fear at the same time. It took me a moment to realize it was Marissa. Then she burst through my doorway, demanding, "What's going on...?" Then Marissa froze, her eyes going to the nasty gash in my leg and the pile of empty clothes on the floor. "Sarah?"

"He…he tried to kill me," I said, my voice shaking a little though I tried to keep it steady.

Marissa exclaimed something in Italian that I couldn't understand, then she looked at the axe on the floor and gasped. "I know this axe..." She stared at me with an expression I couldn't really read, though I think there was pride in it as well as fear. "This belonged to Erik the Strong..."

"Erik the Strong," I whispered, realizing that it was a very accurate name. "He didn't tell me his name..." I relaxed and let my sword fade away.

"One of his abilities was incredible strength," Marissa whispered, still staring at his clothes. "I don't know of it was his or one he took..." She shook her head then looked at me, forcing a smile, "You realize," she said carefully, "once you fully gain that power, you'll be the strongest woman in the world..."

I just nodded absently, hardly caring about that at the moment. "I think," I told her with a forced smile, "I think I need another bath..."

--------------------

Boredom. That's all I felt as I read through the history book Marissa had given me. She claimed it had actually been written by an Outsider, someone who had been there through it all. But in spite of what was probably incredible accuracy, the writer wasn't very good and I was too bored to give it much more attention. Of course, the strong scent of paint in the air made it even harder to focus on the book

Marissa was on the other side of the room, slowly applying paint to the canvas that she'd been painting for the last few hours. It seemed that her interest in art went beyond teaching and collecting it, though she modestly described herself as a 'highly experienced amateur'.

"I fear that I'm not very talented," Marissa told me a short time ago. "Even after five hundred years of practice, I'm still not very good. I do find it relaxing though, which is why I still try my hand at it on occasion."

I turned my attention away from the book for a minute and watched Marissa worked. Unfortunately, I did have to agree with her assessment of her skill. I'd seen better paintings from junior high kids, though I certainly wasn't going to tell her that. After all, she seemed to be enjoying herself which I suppose was the entire point.

I might be bored, but it was still nice to take a break from my training and relax. I was exhausted, having been pushed almost to my limits with nonstop sword practice over the last two days. Ever since the fight with Erik the Strong, Marissa had been even more intense about the training.

Marissa didn't talk much about it, but I could tell that she was worried. I guess that was to be expected though since we'd abandoned our homes and come here to get away from other Outsiders, yet one had found us almost right away. I think she was tempted to move again and might have if it hadn't been for the fact that this was an old home of hers and one she didn't want to abandon.

"We should have kept that truck," I told Marissa, suddenly thinking about the pickup we'd found parked a short distance away.

The pickup had belonged to Erik the Strong, or Erik Ericcson as the registration said. He'd parked it far enough away that we wouldn't see it right away and had then kept out of our sensing distance until it was time to strike. Once we found it, Marissa immediately found a place to dump it where it wouldn't be found for a long time. Personally, I rather would have sold it to a chop shop where we could have at least made a few bucks from it.

"We didn't need anything to make the police suspicious," Marissa told me, not even looking my way as she continued to paint.

Marissa was about to say something more when suddenly we both felt another Outsider presence. I jumped to my feet and summoned my sword, glancing around nervously. Marissa was tense and suddenly looked ready to fight, though she still hadn't summoned her own sword. Still, the way she had her fist clenched indicated that she was ready to do so at a moment’s notice.

"Hold a moment," Marissa cautioned me, looking out the front window and then smiling faintly.

I looked out the front window as well and saw someone parking a motorcycle right in front of the house. It looked like one of those expensive BMW bikes, though I was a little far away to tell for sure. The rider climbed off the bike though he was still wearing a helmet so I couldn't see his face.

"How the hell did he get past the gate with that thing?" I demanded of Marissa.

"There are several ways," she responded as though it wasn't important. However, she had a grim expression as she stepped out the front door.

I followed Marissa outside where the other Outsider just stood there with his hands to the side, making no aggressive moves. Once we were both there, he slowly reached up and removed his helmet. The man looked to be about nineteen or twenty with dirty blonde hair and a bit of a goatee. However, I was learning that you couldn't tell an Outsider's real age from the way they looked.

My first impression of the man himself was that he was very cute...very attractive. I gulped as I realized where my thoughts were heading and I quickly locked them down, wondering where they could have possibly come from. A little voice in the back of my mind reminded me that I had a woman's body now and that included all the right hormones. Still, that didn't mean I wanted to think of some guy I didn't know as attractive, especially when he was an Outsider.

"Hello Gregor," Marissa greeted him.

"Greetings," Gregor responded with a formal bow. When he straightened up, he grinned, "It's been awhile..."

"About seventeen years," Marissa agreed, looking more relaxed.

Then Gregor turned and looked at me, staring at me intently. "So this is the new protégé you told me about... Unbelievable... She looks just like Patrice De Nasia..."

Marissa nodded, then told me, "This is my old friend Gregor."

"I'm Sarah," I said, staring at Gregor suspiciously. When Marissa had told me about her instructor, she'd said he was old and wise so I certainly hadn't expected him to look like one of the guys in my garage.

Gregor bowed again, somehow making it seem formal rather than mocking and silly like it would have for most people. "It's a pleasure to meet you," he told me. Then he smiled, "I doubt I am quite what you expect..."

"I kind of expected someone older," I admitted cautiously, "Or at least someone who looked older."

Gregor nodded and then closed his eyes for a moment. As soon as he did, he started to change...to grow older. He aged decades right before my eyes, taking on all the traits of an elderly man from the white hair to the deep wrinkles. When it stopped, he looked as though he could be seventy years old, though I knew that in truth he was far older.

"Is this closer to what you expected?" he asked, his voice now matching his new age. However, there was nothing weak or infirm in his voice. He still sounded quite strong.

Marissa smiled with amusement at my reaction, then told me, "One of Gregor's talents is to alter his own age..."

"It comes in quite useful when creating a new identity," he chuckled, starting to become young again. When he stopped, he was back to the same age he'd been just a few minutes ago.

"Please come in," Marissa told Gregor, gesturing for him to come inside. "I'll pour some wine..."

A few minutes later we were all sitting down in the living room though I continued to watch Gregor suspiciously. So far, my encounters with Outsiders other than Marissa had NOT been pleasant. I know she vouched for Gregor, but I wasn't ready to let down my guard just yet. He on the other hand seemed perfectly calm and was acting right at home.

"I came as soon as I was able," Gregor told Marissa, turning to glance at me. "Your story is quite amazing and I wouldn't have believed it if it had been anyone else telling me..."

"I've never heard of anything like this happening before," Marissa told him, glancing at me as well. "As far as I know, Sarah is the only person to go from being mortal to Outsider like this..."

"I've never heard of it either," Gregor admitted. "Though it is extremely difficult and rare for a mortal to kill one of us in the first place, and when they do, it's usually from a great distance so there is no way for the energy to enter them..." He frowned thoughtfully, "I can see where it might have happened in the past though and the new Outsider didn't survive long enough to spread the tale..."

"You mean another Outsider took their heads while they were weak?" Marissa asked doubtfully. "We would have heard about it."

"No," Gregor shook his head. "What if the mortal merely didn't survive the transformation into Outsider? Or what if other mortals saw them transforming and took it for demonic possession, killing them before they could fully become Outsider?"

"Possible," Marissa said skeptically, "But I've never heard of it."

Gregor merely shrugged as though it had been enough to offer the possibilities. "It certainly is a unique case," he said, staring at me again with a thoughtful look. "If it were not for your body language and your presence feeling different, I would swear that you were truly Patrice De Nasia..."

"But I'm not," I scowled, not liking to be reminded that I was the clone of the woman I'd killed. Of course, I was reminded of that every time I looked into the mirror.

"Marissa has told me what happened," Gregor told me gently. "But why don't you tell me in your own words what happened to you..."

I looked to Marissa who nodded her encouragement. "Well," I said slowly, not sure how to really start. This was pretty embarrassing after all, "A bit over a month ago I was walking home from the bar one night..."

I went into my story, telling Gregor what had happened to me in my own words. I skipped over a few things and glossed over others, though Marissa was quick to add any important points she thought I didn't cover enough. But for the most part, I thought I was pretty accurate in describing what had happened to me, even if I did try leaving out the more embarrassing parts.

"Very interesting," Gregor mused, sipping his wine and then looking at me thoughtfully.

"What are your thoughts?" Marissa asked. "Do you think there's at least a way to let her become Kyle again?"

I stared at Gregor even more intensely at that, suddenly feeling a tiny surge of hope though I tried to fight it down. The truth was that I hadn't expected any way to reverse this and change me back to normal. I'd been trying hard to accept my new body or at least to adapt to it, but if I could get back to my old body...

"When she killed Patrice De Nasia, she gained her energies and the body pattern that came with them," Gregor said, sounding more like he was thinking aloud than actually talking to us. "When she killed Erik the Strong, those energies were absorbed more properly and her body didn't change again..." He turned to look at me, "I would assume that the first energies you absorbed became the new core of your body. Since Erik's energies were absorbed into that core rather than replacing it, I can only assume that Patrice's energies are now permanent and fixed inside you. I can think of no way to remove that core without killing you."

"So you think she's remain like this permanently as well?" Marissa gently pushed him for a more straightforward answer, for my benefit rather than hers I suspected. She wanted to make it perfectly clear that this was my body from now on so I wouldn't hold onto any false hopes.

Gregor stared at me for a moment and nodded, "I do think this is now your permanent form...short of any abilities you gain to alter it that is."

"Ability to alter it?" I asked with sharp interest. Marissa just scowled.

"Such as my ability to alter my age," Gregor told me with a wry smile. "Outsiders with the ability to alter their form in any way are rare since those abilities must work against the very thing that makes them immortal."

"Oh," I responded with a sigh.

I couldn't say that I really felt disappointed by this since it was actually what I'd been expecting. I'd been expecting to remain as Patrice's clone for the rest of my life, no matter how short or long that eventually turned out to be. In a way though, I did feel a little relieved since I had an answer from someone who seemed to be the closest thing there was to an expert.

"I was just curious," Gregor mused after a few minutes, "Have you started to develop any power yet? Most Outsiders starts showing signs of their unique talent within days of their power awakening... Of course, you are a unique situation..."

"No," I blinked, glancing to Marissa, "Not yet."

I sat there with what I hoped was a blank and innocent look on my face as I lied. So far, I still hadn't told Marissa about my ability to open locks so I wasn't about to tell someone I just met. I had intended to tell her at first, but then I was so distracted by the incident with Erik the Strong that it slipped my mind entirely. Then once I had thought about it again, I remembered Marissa's warning to keep some things secret from other Outsiders and decided to do just that.

Gregor just nodded, "Please let me know as soon as you start to develop something. I'd be interested to see how you develop as an Outsider."

After this, Gregor and Marissa started talking among themselves about old times and what they'd been doing since they'd last seen each other. While they were catching up, I was completely left out of the loop and feeling bored. So instead of sitting there and being ignored, I got up and found a few other things to do, though I did come back and check on them occasionally.

Marissa and Gregor had been talking for several hours almost nonstop when he suddenly turned to me, "Why don't you show me what you've learned so far Sarah?" With that, he stood up and a glowing silvery sword appeared in his hand. It was a large broadsword that looked like it should require two hands to use, though he only used the one.

"Fuck," I exclaimed, feeling a tiny surge of fear shoot through me. I knew that he probably only wanted to spar in order to test me, but he was a damn old Outsider with a LOT of experience. If he decided to take my head while he was at it there wasn't a lot I could do.

"Not very ladylike," Gregor admonished in a pleasant tone.

"She's not much of a lady yet," Marissa said, watching us carefully, "But she is learning..."

I just grimaced and summoned my own sword, just in time to block Gregor's swing. He'd made it slow enough for me to prepare for it since he wasn't out to kill me...yet. He swung again and again while I blocked each time. Then his attacks began to speed up and get stronger, driving me back across the living room.

"Rather clumsy style," Gregor commented absently as he took one swing that knocked me off my feet while blocking. "And you need work on your balance."

"Well some of us haven't been doing this for five hundred years," I snapped at him.

Gregor just smiled pleasantly, "Actually, it's seven hundred in my case..."

"Well lah te dah," I snapped in annoyance, tired of feeling like a complete incompetent in comparison. "I don't need to use a sword. I've managed to kill two Outsiders with just my shotgun."

"That is NOT how you fight Outsiders," he told me, his expression turning serious. "It has no honor and violates the sacred combat... The tradition..."

"But is it against the rules?" I demanded, being shoved back by another of his attacks. "Marissa never said anything about not being able to..."

Gregor scowled, "Technically no," he grimaced. "The rules were created before such weapons were available. But it still violates nearly every tradition..."

I just snorted at that, once again annoyed. These traditions seemed designed to give all the advantages to the older and more powerful Outsiders. That might be all right if this was some kind of game, but it wasn't. It was life and death. I saw no reason not to use whatever I had to in order to save my neck.

Gregor didn't say anything about this though he did hold back for a moment to give me an opportunity to attack him for a change. I eagerly took it and slashed at him as fast and as hard as I could. I went into a series of attacks using every trick that I'd learned, though none of them got through. Gregor had a huge sword, but he swung it fast and easily, blocking every one of my attacks as though they were nothing.

Finally Gregor said, "Enough." When I took one more swing, he knocked my sword right out of my hands and sent it flying. Fortunately, my sword vanished right before it hit one of Marissa's paintings on the wall.

"Damn," I grimaced, embarrassed at having been beaten so completely and easily.

"Not bad for a beginner," Gregor said as his own sword vanished. "But since you look so much like Patrice De Nasia, I half expect you to fight like her as well..."

"We've been working on her swordsmanship every day," Marissa told Gregor, looking a little embarrassed that I hadn't done better.

"You've done very well so far," Gregor responded with a pleasant smile. "After all, people in this time don't have any background with swords and you've had to start from the beginning. But as I am here, I would like to work with her as well...if you don't mind."

"Not at all," Marissa told him.

"Don't I get a say in this?" I asked with a scowl.

Marissa just grinned, "No, not really."

"Good," Gregor smiled at me, "We'll begin tomorrow. For now, I think it's nearly time for dinner..."

I just groaned and shook my head while Marissa and Gregor went off into the kitchen. I had a feeling that if Marissa was tough on the sword training, Gregor would be even worse. I winced at the thought of all he pain and exhaustion tomorrow would bring. But at least for now I had the rest of the day off and I planned on enjoying it as much as I could, even if we did have another strange Outsider in the house.

--------------------

My arm was sore and a little numb from blocking Gregor's sword. He could swing that thing with nearly as much force as Erik the Strong, or at least it felt like it at times. Fortunately, I was learning to angle my sword to deflect the blow's force rather than just stopping it dead, though it didn't work yet every time.

Gregor came at me with several more slashes that I blocked and deflected, making me feel a little better about my progress. However, I didn't lose my focus for an instant, paying close attention to what move Gregor was going to make next. I'd learned that lesson the hard way yesterday when Gregor had taken advantage of a single moment of distraction to actually cut off my arm below the elbow and then impale me. It had hurt like hell, though the bleeding had stopped within half a minute and the arm grew back in just a couple hours.

I grimaced and came at Gregor, slashing at him with my katana and then sliding the blade down so that it slashed into his thigh. He gasped as my blade cut deep into his flesh, then he actually stood there with a proud grin on his face. It might have been lucky on my part, but it was the first time I'd drawn blood in the three days he'd been teaching me.

"A definite improvement," he said, launching at me with another swing.

Marissa stood back, watching us fight with a look of amusement. Gregor hadn't actually taken her place in teaching me how to use a sword, but instead gave me additional lessons once she was through. That meant twice as much practice as before and twice as much pain. I was really getting tired of being slashed and stabbed, though it certainly gave me motivation to learn how to stop it.

When we finally stopped fighting, I was covered with a mixture of sweat and blood. I felt rather pleased with myself because I hadn't been nearly as injured as I had been every other time. Gregor and Marissa both seemed pleased as well, though I suspected that once I learned to fight well enough with the sword they'd start throwing in weird powers and abilities. I couldn't help but wondering if I'd be allowed to use my shotgun. It only seemed fair.

"I'm definitely going to need some more workout clothes," I sighed, looking down at the slashed and bloody clothes that I currently wore. "I've only got one more set to use."

"I thought they'd last longer when I bought them at the thrift store," Marissa mused with a shake on her head. "I guess you're harder on them than I'd expected."

I just snorted at the way she'd suggested it was my fault that my workout clothes kept getting shredded when she and Gregor were the ones who kept sticking their swords through them. It would have been nice if my clothes would heal up as fast as my body. As it was, I had a limited supply of real clothes and wasn't about to waste any of those in a practice session.

"I suppose we shall have to purchase more then," Gregor mused he looked me over. "I do have a few things I'd like to pick up in town as well. I fear that my motorcycle doesn't allow for a great many items when traveling."

"Then let's go after I'm cleaned up," I suggested with a grin. I'd been stuck inside this house since we came here last week and I was beginning to feel a little cooped up. "I need to get out of here for awhile."

Marissa nodded, "I know what you mean. This is my safe house and I'm feeling cramped here as well."

"Then it is decided," Gregor said with a slight bow of his head. Then he smiled, "We shall go once you ladies are ready."

"Ladies," I snorted to myself as I turned to go to the bathroom. I NEVER would have thought that word would be used to describe me. Then again, Marissa agreed that in spite of my progress in adjusting, I wasn't very ladylike and probably never would be.

Once I was in the bathroom, which I had come to think of as my personal sanctuary, I dropped my ruined clothes into the garbage along with the ones from the last two days. I stood there naked and looked myself over, seeing a red mark on my abdomen which was all that was left of my most recent injury. As I watched, even that faded away to nothing, leaving smooth and clear skin that looked as though it had never been damaged.

"This immortality thing certainly has its benefits," I smiled. In spite of being injured so frequently and walking away without any lasting damage, my immortality still hadn't really sunk in. I couldn't imagine what it would be like living for centuries, and I had certainly been trying.

Several minutes later, I climbed into a hot tub of water that was covered with a thick layer of bubbles. I smiled as I slipped in, feeling calmed and relaxed from the raspberry scent. Bubble baths were something that I had definitely grown to enjoy, though I still wouldn't admit that to Marissa. Of course, I don't think I had to though since she must have noticed the bubble bath bottle going down.

I decided to just relax, soak, and enjoy my bath rather than rush through it. After my latest workout, I felt quite justified in taking my time, even if that did make Gregor wait for quite awhile. Women had been making men wait on them since time began so I felt rather pleased to be on the other side of that equation for once.

"Besides," I smirked, "As old as Gregor is, I bet he has a lot of experience waiting on women..."

I laughed a little as I counted myself among the fairer sex. I still found a hard time believing it myself, though it certainly was getting easier. After all I sat down to go to the bathroom, I wore dresses and makeup at times, and took long baths in sweet smelling bubbles. That all sounded very feminine to me.

"I am woman," I sighed when I finally climbed out of the water, "Hear me roar..."

I just wondered what my last girlfriend would think if she saw me now...or my family. I frowned and felt a surge of sadness and regret as I thought about them. I would never see my family or friends again. I couldn't. Or at least I couldn't ever let them know who I was. For their own safety, Kyle had to remain gone for good. Still, that didn't mean I couldn't miss them.

By the time I was finally finished drying off and getting my hair done, I was in a better mood again. I felt pretty sad when thinking about my lost life but it grew much easier when I started thinking about what I'd gained. I'd gained immortality, magic power and access to a world that I never even knew existed. When I thought of it that way, I actually felt excited instead.

When I was finished, I went into the living room where Gregor and Marissa were waiting for me. They were deep in a conversation that stopped the moment I entered the room, though I'd overheard enough to know they were talking about me. Gregor turned to look at me with a strange expression, as well as an admiring one.

"Do you like?" I asked as I slowly turned around.

Since we were going into town, I'd decided to dress up a bit. It was the first chance I had to really dress as a woman for someone other than Marissa. I was feeling especially daring and had chosen a nice shirt that revealed some cleavage, a skirt, and a pair of pantyhose. I was even wearing the high heels which I had finally mastered.

"You look...incredible," Gregor said, staring at me with a very appreciative look. I blushed at that, suddenly feeling both self-conscious and pleased at the same time. "You truly do look like..." He broke off, then quickly asked, "Shall we go ladies?"

"Of course," Marissa said with a smile, giving me and Gregor both odd looks as she led the way to her car, the one I'd fixed up for her after we arrived.

Marissa's safe house seemed fairly isolated, but the truth was that it was little more than half an hour or so from town. We were far enough away from town and other houses to have our privacy but still close enough to be connected and get anything we needed. And with the way Marissa drove, we were able to reach town in less than half an hour.

I immediately felt self-conscious and wished that I'd worn something other than this sexy outfit. This was my first real time out in public as a woman, other than my trip with Marissa in the U-Haul. Still, this was definitely the first time I'd gone out wearing such feminine clothes and I wasn't quite sure what to do. However, I did my best to smile and act as though everything were perfectly normal. It must have worked because none of the people we walked past seemed to think anything was wrong.

When several men gave me admiring looks, my first thought was that they saw through me and realized who and I what I really was. Then I suddenly feared that there was something wrong with my outfit, that I'd smeared my makeup or had my breasts poking out. Only after that did I blush with the realization that they were checking me out. I felt a bit embarrassed about that but rather pleased as well.

"I need to get some groceries," Marissa said, heading towards the grocery store.

"Then we can get some more training clothes," I sighed, wincing as I thought of the pain I'd feel wearing those ones out. "I wonder if they have enough left or if you cleaned them out the last time..."

Gregor just walked beside us, not saying a word. He looked around us with a pleasant smile, though that smile didn't quite meet his eyes. They were darting around as though he was looking for something specific, though I had no idea what that might be.

Just as we entered the grocery store, we walked past an extremely cute guy. I stared at him for a moment, feeling my heart rate speed up. I blushed as certain thoughts passed through my head then gulped as I realized exactly what I was thinking. I quickly averted my eyes though it was too late.

"You were checking him out," Marissa exclaimed, staring at me in surprise.

"I was not," I snapped defensively.

Marissa glanced at Gregor, then quietly whispered, "It's not the first time I saw you looking at a guy that way."

I glared at her, embarrassed at having been caught...not to mention doing it in the first place. "You're imagining things."

Marissa just nodded faintly, then smiled, "Your mind and memories may be male, but it seems your body has its own ideas." Then she walked away from me to start shopping while I stood there glaring at her.

As much as I hated to admit it, Marissa was right. I'd already started to notice changes in my own interests, even though I had been trying hard to ignore them. When Gregor arrived, I found him to be quite attractive and appealing, though that ended the first time he impaled me. At the same time, I still thought of Marissa as attractive but no longer found myself attracted to her. I wasn't even sure when that changed, only that it had.

I continued thinking about this while Marissa shopped for food, looking at the various people I walked past in the store and trying to determine if I was attracted to them or not. However, that didn't do a lot of good since most of the women were ones I wouldn't have been interested in before anyway and the few guys who were available wouldn't have been attractive to most normal women.

When we left the store, I was finally given another chance to examine my new sexual preferences. I saw a woman with a nice body, one I definitely would have been turned on by before. When I looked at her, I knew intellectually that she was gorgeous and that I should be drooling over her, but I just didn't feel that way. Instead, I felt a tiny surge of jealousy. I'd never had that reaction from staring at a hot woman before though I was beginning to suspect it wouldn't be the last.

"All this estrogen is really doing a number on my head," I muttered to myself, not sure whether I should try fighting it or just go with the flow. It didn't seem that I had much choice about it though and I knew that fighting it probably wouldn't do a whole lot of good. "Just great... At least I don't have to worry about periods and PMS..."

"Do not fret," Gregor told me when he saw me looking at the other woman, "Your own beauty surpasses hers..."

Marissa rolled her eyes at that line while I felt strangely pleased. I wasn't quite sure why I was happy with his compliment, especially when the line was so cheesy, but I was. Perhaps his impaling me like that hadn't made me lose complete interest in him after all. Damn this could get awkward.

Just then, Gregor and Marissa both suddenly froze and looked around. I wondered what was wrong when I realized that I could sense it too. There was another Outsider nearby. I'd gotten so used to sensing Marissa and Gregor that I hadn't even noticed the newcomer. I looked around nervously, trying to spot the new Outsider.

"This way," Marissa scowled, walking towards a side alley that was out of view.

"Don't," Gregor tried grabbing my arm but I pulled away from him and followed after Marissa. "Come back here Sarah," he ordered, sounding almost angry. He came after us but we were in the alley before he caught up.

There was a large truck parked in the alley, a bit larger than Marissa's U-Haul. However, I could see no sign of the Outsider that we all sensed. Then a little girl in a dress stepped out from behind the truck. She was about ten years old, with light brown hair that had ribbons in it. I stared at her for a moment before I realized that she was the one I was sensing. She was the Outsider.

"Bonjour," the little girl said with a bit of an accent. She gave a cute and charming smile, though somehow her eyes were hard and dark at the same time. She looked at all three of us with a hungry expression. "I am Marie..."

"Come," Gregor grabbed my arm and started to pull me away, "This is Marissa's fight..."

"Oh, do not leave," Marie said with a cute pout. "After all Messieur Gregor, you are the one who told me to come here..."

"What?" Marissa gasped, turning to stare at Gregor.

"Did Messieur Gregor not tell you?" Marie asked with a look of mock innocence. "He instructed Erik and I to come here last week and wait... I do so tire of waiting, especially with my Erik gone..."

"You told them...?" Marissa glared at Gregor, looking confused at the same time. Then her eyes widened, "I wondered how Erik found me... You were the only one I told where I was going..."

Gregor scowled, glaring at Marie for a moment before bowing his head. "What Marie says is true."

"What?" I gasped in surprise pulling away from Gregor and backing up. I was a bit confused as to what was really going on, but I knew it wasn't good.

"You sent Erik to kill me," I exclaimed, glaring first at Gregor and then Marie.

"I told you to wait on my orders," Gregor told Marie with a scowl. Then he sighed, "Erik was supposed to wait as well, but I fear he couldn't resist the temptation of a weak and untrained Outsider...especially one with Patrice's energies..." He looked at me with a sigh. "I'd told him to leave you to me, but he didn't listen..."

Marissa stared at him in horror, then gasped, "You... You sent Patrice and Eckart after me... I trusted you with my location..."

"Yes," Gregor nodded with a sigh. "I told them your location..."

"But why?" Marissa demanded with a hurt and betrayed expression. "You were my friend...

"That is why I could not kill you myself," Gregor said with a sad...even apologetic look. "I grow tired of these eternal conflicts so made an alliance with several others. We help each other gain strength and power so eventually we will become strong enough that none will be able to threaten or stand against us."

"Then you all start killing each other," Marissa hissed, her hand clenching tightly. I saw that she was ready to summon her sword at an instant. I was preparing myself to do the same, though I knew I didn't stand a chance against Gregor. Maybe I'd go after the little girl.

"No," Gregor gave her a sad smile. "We have an agreement to never harm each other. We take strength from numbers, working together instead of fighting."

"Isn't that against the rules?" I demanded, "I thought the duels were all one on one..."

"So they are," Gregor nodded slightly, "We merely select the one most likely to win for each target..." Then he looked back at Marissa, "My former protégé... I knew you would never agree to such an alliance, even if it were for your best interest. That is why I never asked you to join. But when the others discovered I knew of your location, they demanded I give it..." He bowed his head, "I apologize for the necessity of this betrayal..."

"In the end," Marie added with an almost cruel grin, "there can be only one."

That drew Gregor's attention back to her and he glared at her angrily, "I told you to stay hidden..."

"I grow tired of waiting," Marie hissed, glancing to Marissa, "You promised her to me..."

"Erik grew impatient and look what happened to him," Gregor snapped angrily. "I told you both that this one is mine..."

"What?" I gasped in surprise.

Gregor turned to me, staring at me with a strange expression. "I am curious as to how you became this way and wished to study you..."

Marie just laughed sharply at that, saying in a mocking voice, "You do not fool me Messieur Gregor... Patrice was your lover and you just haven't decided whether to avenge her death or take this one as a replacement..."

"Mind your tongue," Gregor snapped.

I just stared at Gregor in horror, suddenly imagining what had to be going through his mind every time he looked at me. If Patrice and he really were lovers, it suddenly made things even more awkward. I felt nauseous as I thought about how I'd been attracted to him too.

"If you are so eager to take Marissa that you would ignore my instructions and risk public exposure," Gregor exclaimed, angrily gesturing to the parking lot beyond the alley. "Do it and get it over with. But Sarah is mine..." He stared at me possessively, making my skin crawl.

"What if I were to challenge you instead?" Marissa demanded of Gregor, her sword appearing in her hand.

"I think not mademoiselle," Marie said with a grimace, holding out her hands.

A green mist began to form on the ground around Marie and quickly spread outward so that it covered the entire alley. She stood there with a look of intense concentration on her face as well as an almost evil grin. I suddenly felt weak and dizzy, staggering as I tried to back away. I collapsed to my knees, unable to remain standing any longer while Marissa did the same.

"This one is MINE," Gregor exclaimed angrily.

"Non. I think not Messieur Gregor," Marie grinned at him, "She is mine as well..as are you..."

"What?" Gregor gasped as he suddenly began staggering and dropped to his knees, "Our alliance..."

"You and I are the last of our alliance," Marie pointed out sweetly, "and I no longer see the need... Besides..." She grinned cheerfully, looking like a child with a new toy, "I knew I would have your ability to change your age since I first saw it... I have been a child for over three hundred years and now I have the means to finally grow up..."

"No," Gregor grimaced, "You betray me..."

Marissa laughed at that, though it was very weak. If she was feeling the same way I was, it was amazing that she had the energy. It was everything I could do just to keep from collapsing entirely, and even that was still coming fast. The darkness quickly started to overwhelm me and drag me under.

The last thing I was aware of before I lost conscious was Marie's childish voice cheerfully exclaiming, "At last I shall become a woman..."

--------------------

I was pulled from the dark comfort of unconsciousness by a tingling charge of energy along my skin and a surge of power just on the edge of my awareness. It immediately pulled me back to the waking world where I looked around me and took in my surroundings.

"Oh shit," I exclaimed, probably foolishly as it gave away the fact that I was awake again. However, I was so surprised that I couldn't hold back, nor even thought to until it was too late.

I was inside the back of a large truck, probably the very truck that I'd seen in the alley. Thanks to the light on the ceiling I could see everything inside, in spite of the fact that the doors were closed, probably to keep anyone from seeing what was going on inside. Towards the front of the truck there were several dressers strapped into place along with two folding beds, indicating that this was someone's living space. Marissa and I were towards the back, tied up with chains right beside the doors.

"You're awake," Marie said with a scowl, not looking at all happy about that.

I stared at Marie, going pale as I saw the device beside her along with what was scattered on the floor. Marie stood beside a small guillotine, one that hardly looked all that threatening compared to the massive ones that used to be used for executions in France. But from the clothes...from Gregor's clothes spread out in front of it, I saw that it was lethally effective.

"Gregor," Marissa gasped from beside me, revealing that she was awake too. The energy released with Gregor's death had probably woken her up the same as it had me, even though neither of us was the one to actually absorb it. "You killed him..."

"Oui," Marie responded with a cheerful smile. "Just as I will kill you mademoiselle."

She turned and raised the blade on the guillotine again to ready it for another use. It was strange seeing someone who looked like nothing more than an innocent child playing around with a death machine. My instincts were to pull her away and warn her not to play with dangerous things. However, I knew she was far from the child she appeared.

"I have never killed several in a row like this," Marie said in a conversational tone. "Always before, it was but the one and they were usually still asleep at the time..." She looked at the two of us, "This will be more difficult with you awake..."

"You can't kill us with THAT," Marissa looked to the guillotine, "It's against the rules... It's dishonorable..."

Marie merely laughed, "Honor is for those who can afford it. With my size, I stand no chance in a duel and you know it. It is far simpler to kill my enemies while they sleep, as well as safer for me." Then she shrugged, "As for rules, it is no more against the rules than the using of a firearm." She glared at me with a dirty look, as though I'd taken her favorite toy away from her.

"So you're going to cut our heads off with a guillotine?" I glared back at her, trying to gain time for myself.

Marie's eyes narrowed as she held out her hand, summoning a long thin dagger that looked almost like a sword in her hand. "I could have removed your heads while you slept," she pointed out with a cold glare, "But I find the guillotine far more civilized... And besides," she gestured down at her dress, "killing with this gets blood on my dress and ruins it..."

Marissa grimaced and spat out something in Italian that sounded like profanity, though I couldn't understand exactly what she said. Marie however did understand and spat something back in the same language. The two of them just glared at each other for nearly a minute with Marie being the first to look away. However, Marissa's victory there didn't really mean anything with the two of us still tied up.

"You," Marie hissed as she came over and looked me in the eyes. There was anger there, a lot of it. "Erik was my partner for more than a century. I shall avenge his death..."

"He tried to kill me you psycho," I spat out angrily, pissed that she'd blame me for trying to defend myself.

Marie just shrugged as though that was completely unimportant. Then she suddenly brightened up again, looking like a kid who'd been given exactly what she wanted for Christmas. "I suppose it will not matter for much longer. Once I fully acquire Messieur Gregor's power, I can finally become an adult and will no longer need people like Erik to pretend they are my parents. But until then..." She glared at me again, "You have made things very difficult for me."

"Poor little girl," I mocked her.

"That might not be a good idea," Marissa warned me as she struggled to get out of her chains. Unfortunately, it did little good. We were both tied up pretty tightly with them.

"Come on," I spat out, "Can't you see that she's nothing more than a spoiled little girl..."

Marie glared at me even more furiously, making me think I'd really hit a nerve. From the way she was going on about finally being able to grow up, it looked like she REALLY hated being stuck as a little kid. To be honest, I could actually sympathize with her a bit on that since I know it would be like a living hell. However, that didn't give her any reason to kill me and Marissa.

"I was going to make your deaths swift and civilized," Marie snarled at me and Marissa. "It would have been painless... Now... Now I suppose I shall have to buy a new dress..." She started coming closer with her glowing dagger.

"You don't have to do this," Marissa exclaimed, fear evident on her face. "You've already got Gregor's powers and can become an adult... You don't need us too..."

"Oui, I do have Messieur Gregor's powers," Marie agreed, "But once I have yours and Patrice's as well, it will be enough to make me one of the strongest Outsiders..." She grinned evilly, "Perhaps I shall be the one to claim the prize and become a goddess..."

"You're fucking nuts," I yelled at Marie, struggling with my chain for a moment before I suddenly remembered something important.

"Non," Marie hissed as she readied her dagger to slash at my neck, "But you mademoiselle are dead..."

Just then, I used my own special power to unlock the lock that held the chains around me. Unfortunately, the chains were still wrapped around me and didn't just fall off, but they became loose enough to give me room to move. I rolled to the side to avoid the strike to my neck, taking a deep slash into my shoulder instead.

"Fuck," I spat out at the pain, flailing with my foot and kicking Marie. She was small enough that the kick sent her half flying across the inside of the truck.

"Sarah?" Marissa exclaimed in surprise.

I used the opportunity to slip free of the chains while Marie got back to her feet and came at me with her dagger. I would have summoned my own sword which had much more reach, but there wasn't any room to swing it in this confined space. If I tried, I'd probably hit the walls, ceiling and Marissa by accident. Instead I lashed out with my foot again, taking a long deep gash down my leg for the effort.

Marie was small and physically weak compared to me, but she had her viscous knife and probably a lot of experience in using it. Even though I didn't have enough room to use my sword, I summoned it anyway, hoping that the bluff would keep her back. Unfortunately, it didn't work and she came at me again anyway, slashing past my blade and tearing into my stomach.

"Fuck," I grimaced as I dropped to my knees in pain.

Marie saw that and quickly came at me again, her blade coming right towards my neck. Practicing with Marissa and Gregory had gotten me used to pain though and I quickly got back to my feet, getting her dagger driven into my chest instead of my neck. I gasped, unable to breath anymore. I wasn't even sure my heart was beating at the moment. For a moment, all I could do was stand there in stunned horror.

"I did not care for Patrice," Marie hissed at me, "But I deserve her power far more than someone like you..."

With that, Marie's eyes began to glow blue as she summoned up some other special power of hers. I had no idea what this power was or what it would do to me, though I had no doubt it would be something extremely unpleasant...probably lethal. Knowing that I didn't dare find out what she was doing, I shoved aside the pain from the gaping hole in my chest and focused on saving the rest of me.

"Sarah," Marissa cried out fearfully, "Look out..."

I grimaced painfully and tried to give a war cry though only a gurgle came out. It might not have sounded impressive, but I still grabbed hold of Marie as fast and as tightly as I could. She tried to struggle but even in my weakened state I was still stronger. Then before she could unleash whatever it was she was trying, I slammed her down as hard as I could...right into the guillotine. I didn't even hesitate before I pulled the lever on the side.

Marie stared up at the dropping blade with a frozen look of horror which lasted a mere moment but seemed to stretch on for much longer. An instant later, the razor sharp blade sliced through her neck just as smoothly as it must have gone through Gregor's. Her head just dropped to the side though I refused to look at it.

Now I felt sick to my stomach along with everything else and just dropped to my knees. I spat up blood and tried gasping for breath though my chest seemed to gurgle a bit instead. Somehow though, I remained conscious in spite of my wound and I could even feel the strange tingling as my body was hard at work healing.

A few seconds later, Marie's body began to glow, just as Erik and Patrice's had before hers. I tried bracing myself for what was to come but it still didn't prepare me for the rush of energy that suddenly flooded through my body. It felt the same as it had with Eric, raw, powerful, and nearly overwhelming. At the same time, it was also incredibly pleasurable, filling me with a sense of incredible power before it all settled down and was absorbed.

I remained where I was for several more minutes, barely hearing Marissa as she tried talking to me. I just tried to focus on breathing, though it wasn't for another few minutes that I was able to draw my first real breath again. It was strange to realize that I could survive without really breathing like that, though Marissa had warned me this kind of injury could kill me if it was too severe and went too long without healing.

"Damn that hurt," I whispered when I was able, slowly getting to my feet again.

Marissa stared up at me with a strange expression on her face, one that looked a bit fearful. It suddenly dawned on me that I could take her head right now without any real effort at all. I could get her power as well...feel that awesome sensation again and become even stronger. She had obviously realized it as well which was why she was afraid of me. To my surprise, I actually felt a temptation to do so...to get even more power.

"Damn," I shook my head, cursing the idea that I could ever have such thoughts about Marissa. I would NEVER do something like that to her. NEVER. "Let me get you out of that..." With that I touched the lock on Marissa's chains and willed it to open.

"How did you...," Marissa started to ask with a look of surprise when her chains came loose. Then she stared at me in realization, "You have a talent..."

I nodded self-consciously, "I was going to tell you..."

"Never mind," Marissa told me, looking around the inside of the truck.

She stared at Marie's clothes on the floor and then Gregor's. She especially stared at his, obviously still shaken by his betrayal and then death. I could only imagine what it was like having her oldest and most trusted friend, someone she'd known for five hundred years betraying her like this. It might have been one thing if she'd been able to kill him herself, but to have it happen like this would doubtlessly leave some unresolved issues.

After a moment, she finally grimly said, "Let's get out of here..."

Neither of us said a word as we made our way back to Marissa's car and quickly drove out of town. The fact that we hadn't gotten any new training clothes was unimportant compared to what had just happened. We both had a lot on our minds and weren't ready to share it.

It wasn't until we reached the safe house and parked that Marissa said, "You know that you could have taken my head back there..." Her hands were still clenched on the steering wheel and she didn't look at me. "Why didn't you?"

"I thought about it," I admitted after a moment, feeling bad for saying that much. "But I couldn't. I don't want your head or your powers. You saved my ass... You're my friend...my only friend."

"Thank you," Marissa told me, sounding completely sincere though a bit sad. "I hope you understand if I'm a little nervous around my friends for awhile..."

"Yeah," I admitted with a sigh, "I can't believe Gregor..."

"I can," Marissa said grimly. "Gregor hasn't been the same for the last century, not since another Outsider killed his last wife while coming after him. I think there may have been a few signs that things were wrong but I just thought it was grief and that he'd work through it..." She shook her head sadly.

"I can't imagine what its like," I shook my head in amazement, "I mean, talking about centuries as if they're nothing..."

"You'll understand soon enough," Marissa told me with a sad smile. "You'll learn that being an Outsider isn't so much about living forever and having power as it is about surviving everything and everyone you know. There will be good times...and bad. You'll have more than your share of those..."

"But doesn't it also mean you have a lot of memories to share with your friends?" I asked her hopefully. "I am your friend you know..."

"Are you hitting on me?" Marissa asked with a suspicious look, "You know I'm not into women..."

"No," I responded quickly, a bit embarrassed that she'd think that. Then I quietly admitted, "Besides, I don't think I am anymore either..."

Marissa stared at me for a moment before nodding. "I suppose that must be difficult for you, but you'll have plenty of time to adjust." Then she smiled, "And you can tell me about it anytime you want. That's what friends are for."

"Thank," I told her, feeling like I was about to start crying though I wasn't sure why.

We climbed out of the car but Marissa stopped and just stared at the house with a long sigh. "Too bad we have to go already. I just got this place cleaned up again."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

Marissa frowned. "I don't think there was anything in that truck that could be traced back to us, but I don't want to take the chance. Besides, we've already had several other Outsiders show up here so it would be a good idea to move to another safe house for the moment."

"Another safe house?" I groaned.

"It's not as nice as this one," Marissa admitted, "But it's in the city so everything will be closer. It'll also be a good place to continue your sword training."

I rolled my eyes at that, then pointed out, "I've killed three Outsiders so far and I haven't had to use a sword for any of them."

Marissa looked annoyed at that, then she pointed out, "You can't carry a shotgun everywhere, but your sword is always available."

"Great," I sighed, wondering if there was a way to summon my shotgun instead of a sword. I just might have to look into that once I had a better feel with what was possible and what wasn't.

Marissa scowled, turning to give me a serious look. "You have killed three Outsiders... You've absorbed all the combined energies of Patrice, Erik, Marie...and Gregor. Once you fully acquire and master all of their abilities, you'll be extremely powerful...one of the most powerful Outsiders. But until then, you're not only vulnerable but an extremely tempting target to any Outsider."

"Including you?" I asked with a grin.

"Including me," she admitted with a faint smile. "But you're my friend and I'd never do something like that to you. That's why I'm going to make damn sure you can take care of yourself."

With that, Marissa went inside the house, no doubt to start packing again. I remained outside, staring at the door though not really seeing it. Instead, I was lost in my own thoughts, thinking about what had happened to me and what the future might hold.

My old life was gone with no chance of ever getting it back, along with my old family and gender. I truly mourned the loss of my family, regretting that I would never be able to see them again, at least not as my old self. I dare not ever tell them who I really am or what happened to me so it would be safer for them if I stay as far away as I could. That would be best for them and myself.

I mourned the loss of my gender too, though not quite as much as I had before. There were good things about being a woman, things that I was slowly coming to understand. I was slowly coming to accept that this was what I was now, who I was. I still saw Patrice when I looked in the mirror, but more and more I was seeing myself.

Gregor had said that some Outsiders possessed abilities that allowed them to change shapes. I knew that there was a chance, that someday I might encounter an Outsider with the power to change their sex at will. However, I was well aware that even if such a thing did happen and I did gain that ability for myself, by then I would probably have become so comfortable as a woman that I would no longer know what to do as a man.

"I am a woman now," I said quietly, stating a simple fact. It was something I would have to get used to and was already well on the way on the way to doing. "I probably will be as long as I live...however long that is."

Strangely enough though, I didn't really miss my old life that much. I spent my days working on cars and my free time hanging out or watching TV. I was drifting through a life with no meaning or purpose. But now... Now I found myself caught in a completely different world, an amazing world that I never would have imagined before. It was a world with immortals and magic, a world that was outside the normal world. It was the world of the Outsiders, the world to which I now belonged.

It was strange to think about just how much things...how much I myself have changed in such a short time. I could only imagine how much more I would change in the decades and centuries ahead of me. Eventually, I doubt I would even recognize the person I had once been.

One thing that I knew for certain was that Kyle Simmons was dead and gone, never to return. My old life was behind me and there was no returning to it even if I wanted. But in its place, I had been reborn as Sarah, given a fantastic new life where I could see and experience things I'd never before imagined.

"From now on," I told myself firmly, "I am Sarah...a woman and an Outsider." These were the new truths of my life, the ones that would frame my identity for the rest of my life. I accepted these truths, though it might take awhile to fully adjust to them. "This is who I am now..."

I remained where I was for another minute, thinking these deep thoughts about my past, present, and future. Then I shook my head and let out sigh before going inside to help Marissa pack.



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