Lemon couldn’t quite suppress a sigh as she stood up from the toilet, tugging her skirt back into place, back over her leg. She told her friends she was used to it, that seeing something there would seem super weird at this point, but, of course, there was very little that she wanted more than for some sign that, eventually, it would actually happen. So far, there was none.
Sometimes, Lemon wondered if she was the only person her age not to receive her Brand of Destiny yet. It certainly seemed that way, no matter what her parents told her. She knew that once she washed her hands and wandered out into the school hallway, she’d be there in the middle of a sea of them, of shorts and skirts short enough to show them off, or slit up the side or rocking a cut-out in the middle for the same purpose, as if nobody could stand there being a moment where people didn’t know what they were meant to do. By now, Lemon had gotten rather sick of it, determined that when hers did show up – if it ever did – she wouldn’t feel the need to constantly display it.
Of course, part of that stemmed from the fact that her wardrobe was designed not to do so – something that got harder and harder to buy for as she got older, and the clothing companies just assumed that she’d want to do just that. But despite her good intentions, she had no doubt that she’d buy at least one outfit for that, or at least roll her skirt up a little more to be sure it was seen, because she knew all too well that simply saying she’d gotten it, but didn’t want to show it off, wouldn’t work.
As if to prove her point, she’d barely stepped out of the bathroom before she felt her bottom half grow suddenly cool. She looked down in shock, cheeks darkening as she saw her skirt had fallen to her ankles, leaving her pink and white striped panties and bare legs on full display. She bent down as quickly as she could to pull them back up, but there was no way she could be quicker than the floating blur that shot out of the crowd, zooming behind her to grab her arms and hold them in place. Even though, in her struggles, she couldn’t see the other girl behind her, she knew exactly who it was, just as she knew who would walk from out of the crowd to reveal herself as the one behind her skirt’s “malfunction”.
“Look at that,” Jade smirked as she did just that, looking down at the half-naked girl in front of her. “Fresh as a newborn baby still, huh?”
Lemon knew her squirming would only draw more attention to herself, but she couldn’t help it. The girls usually didn’t go this far, not with so many people around. They had to know that there were no teachers in the immediate vicinity to be this confident. “Let me go!” she demanded.
“We will,” Jade assured her. “But we need to take you back where you belong. You seem to have wandered into the wrong building, sweet-pea. Come on, River, let’s help the poor little thing out.”
“Right!” River said eagerly, pushing Lemon to get her moving. Unlike Jade, she couldn’t use her magic on other people, only herself, but she was big enough that it was no problem for her to march the protesting Lemon through the halls, to the shock and amusement of the other students. After Lemon stumbled over her skirt a couple times, she felt her feet lose traction for a moment as Jade lifted her slightly into the air magically, just enough to be able to yank the skirt off her ankles, flinging it across the hall and into a trash can, glowing slightly as Jade’s magic guided it.
“Hey!” Lemon felt a sense of relief wash over her as a familiar voice rose over the din, and her friend Lucky pushed her way past the crowd, planting herself right in front of Jade. “What the hell is wrong with you, bitch?”
Lucky, like Lemon, had no magic at all, though she had, of course, gotten her Brand years ago, a pair of dice emblazoned across her leg, showing a pair of sixes. She could be rather imposing when she wanted, but against an enchanter and an aether, even with the latter currently busy, a regular person didn’t stand a chance. As Lemon watched helplessly, Jade’s hand began to glow, and Lucky started to glow and rise into the air.
“We’re just helping your little friend,” Jade explained with a calm, easy smile. “Clearly she isn’t ready to be a senior in high school, so we’re taking her to be with other people of her kind… Don’t worry, it’s right across the road. They should be just finishing up naptime, so she can spend the rest of the afternoon playing with blocks and finger-painting. I’m sure that will be much more her speed. And who knows? After a month or two of that, maybe she’ll finally grow up.”
“You’re the one who needs to grow up,” Lucky sneered defiantly, despite having been raised nearly to the ceiling now, unable to really do anything to help her friend from there.
“Whatever you say, dear,” Jade grinned. “You just hang out here for a while, and maybe I’ll let you down once we get back so you can go visit her.”
Luckily, things didn’t quite work out that way. “What are you doing, young lady? You know we don’t allow floating more than six inches in the halls!” Jade cursed under her breath at the sound of Mrs. Steel’s voice, starting to lower Lucky, but not fast enough. “Is that you up there, Miss Emerald? You’re not an aether.”
“Come on,” Jade growled to River, and Lemon felt her arms being released as the two girls hurried down the hall, letting Lucky fall the rest of the way to the floor as the teacher arrived on the scene.
“What is going on here? What are you wearing, Ms. Shuffle?”
Lemon blushed, trying to cover her panties with her hands, too mortified to explain, though Lucky was happy to take care of it for her as Mrs. Steel guided the two to the nurse’s office to get her some new clothes. Lemon had sort of hoped that this would be enough to let her go home for the rest of the day, but Mrs. Steel was notoriously strict, and instead simply promised to “talk” with Jade and River. So, in a pair of orange pants slightly too big for her, Lemon slunk her way back into the hall, making sure to go retrieve her skirt from the trash and stuff it into her locker so she could wash it once she got home.
“Just ignore it, Lem,” Lucky told her. “Those two are idiots, anyway. Who cares what they think?”
“I don’t,” Lemon lied. “But come on… You know it’s strange. What if there’s something wrong with me?”
“You’re just a late bloomer,” Lucky said, as if Lemon hadn’t heard that a thousand times before. Of course, she couldn’t really blame her friend – there wasn’t much else she could say. They were eighteen, far older than most kids were when they got their Brands. That was the sort of thing you would tell a twelve or thirteen year old when they were worried theirs hadn’t shown up yet. Then, it had been only a small comfort. Now it was practically an insult, though Lemon knew better than to take it that way.
“Besides,” Lucky went on, “isn’t it kind of nice? It’s better than having something vague like this.” She glanced down at her own leg. “I mean, what does this mean? Am I going to work in a casino or something?”
“You’re probably just going to win the lottery,” Lemon shrugged. It was the sort of good fortune her friend had always had. “But at least you have some kind of a clue. I don’t even know where to start.” She had grown to become fond of watching Ms. Sun, her guidance counselor, trying desperately to figure out which classes she should take each year, now that she was in her last year, she was starting to get scared. Most everyone else knew what kind of college they were going to, where they would ultimately end up, and she had nothing, just a smattering of courses that added up to nothing in particular, and probably wasn’t enough to get her into the least strict community college, despite Ms. Sun’s best efforts. “I mean, I swear to God, I’ve saw a homeless woman once who had a Brand of a shopping cart. And I almost wished I had that, you know? Just to know to lower my expectations.”
“You’re not going to be homeless,” Lucky said. “Especially if I win the lotto.”
“Oh, good,” Lemon pouted. “I guess I’ll just mooch off of you for the rest of my life.”
Lucky chuckled good-naturedly, but Lemon could tell that the other girl didn’t take it entirely as a joke. Even if she got her Brand the next day, she’d likely be way behind in studies for whatever field she was meant for. She might even have to stay in high school another year or two to try to catch up. And Lemon had heard horror stories about people who never got theirs, though whether they were true or just urban legends, she couldn’t really say. But if that happened to her, what would she do? Nobody would hire her… Why would they, when they didn’t know if this was what she was meant to do? She might be horrible at it, or get bored and want to leave after just a couple weeks. It was much better to wait for somebody they knew would be right for the job.
“It’ll be all right, Lem,” Lucky promised, giving the other girl a hug. “Don’t worry about it.”
But Lemon had spent eighteen years mostly not worrying about it. Sure, back when she was eleven or twelve, back when she truly expected it to come in at any moment, she tried some old wives’ tales to try to help. She’d slept on her right side for weeks to give the Brand’s spot air, she’d rubbed olive oil onto the spot where it should have been, she’d tried everything she could think of.
Or, rather, almost anything. There was one thing that, even then, seemed too silly to really work. It simply screamed urban legend, and not even a particularly original one. She’d heard of a few kids who claimed it had worked, that it was how they’d gotten their Brands, but there was never any evidence that they were actually telling the truth. Lemon had always assumed they weren’t, and had just wanted a badass story, rather than simply saying they’d woken up and found it, or just happened to stumble across a job they liked and got it.
It was kind of funny that, as a kid, she’d never seriously considered doing it, but now, when she was practically an adult, she had already practically talked herself into it. She knew quite well that there was barely a chance that it would accomplish anything, yet she had to try something. Besides, if it didn’t work – and even if it did, frankly – nobody needed to know.
That was how, that night, she found herself sneaking out of her house, telling her parents she was heading over to Lucky’s for a sleepover, and driving out to the edge of town. It was late enough that a decent number of the houses she drove by had their lights off, and she chose the one closest to her destination to park her car in front of before getting out and finishing the journey on foot. She didn’t want a cop driving by and seeing her car in front of where she was really going and deciding to investigate, especially since Jade’s mother was one. If the woman found out, she was sure to tell her daughter, who would know instantly just what Lemon was doing there.
Lemon tugged the hood of her shirt tighter around her head, keeping her face pointed down at the sidewalk as the concrete began turning dirtier, more cracks winding their way across the surface. In places, whole pieces had broken loose, but nobody had bothered to fix it, because the path led to only one place, and nobody had lived there since before Lemon had been born. She hadn’t thought of it before now, but as she made her way closer and closer to the house, she wondered just how long it really had been since it was an actual home, not just a bit of local folklore. This legend she was chasing seemed to have been around for quite a while, since she remembered hearing her parents scoff at it knowingly, back when one of her other friends had tried it and failed.
The house certainly looked old, though it wasn’t in bad shape for its age. The yard was overgrown with weeds, and ivy had creeped its way up the walls, but beneath the vines, the house looked fine. The paint was perhaps a bit faded, but all the windows she could see were intact, and there was no sign of grafitti or any other vandalism. She hadn’t been especially nervous about her task until she noted that, though she quickly reasoned it away, assuming that there had to be someone in the neighborhood taking care of the place for some reason.
Still, she paused for just a moment longer on the sidewalk, staring in at the building, biting her bottom lip. She knew this wasn’t going to work. She knew it was a huge waste of time. She knew there was no reason to be scared, that this was just a silly rumor meant to scare tweens, and not much else. But she had tried everything else, every therapy and theory that her parents had tracked down to try to help her, read every book, tried every activity she could in an attempt to find a match and create a reaction.
She sighed, looking down at her watch. It was time; if she was going to go through with this, she needed to do it now. Feeling supremely silly, she marched across the yard to the front door and knocked three times. “I am a seeker of truth,” she said quietly, slightly unnerved by how loud her voice sounded in the still midnight air. “I am here only for a glimpse of destiny, not to disturb your slumber.” She knocked three more times, then reached for the doorknob. It opened, but that hardly proved anything; it had probably been unlocked to begin with. According to the legend, however, if she were to try it before saying the words, then the whole thing wouldn’t work.
Either way, however, it did give her the slightest chill down her spine as she stepped inside, pulling her flashlight and the rest of the directions from her pocket before shutting the door behind her. From there, things got very precise, with any manner of things potentially rendering the entire trip pointless. There was a very particular path she had to follow, down to the number of steps – though, of course, her steps would be longer than that of most of the people who came here, so she had a feeling that wouldn’t work. She’d give it a try, but she knew that, at the end, she was looking for a bathroom, so she just hoped that she wound up close enough to it that she’d be able to find it without having to stumble around in the dark for too long. Of course, technically, she wasn’t supposed to be looking around, because that would either end the ritual, or invite whatever ghouls and ghosts were supposed to lurk here to attack her, depending on who you asked, but she wasn’t too worried about that.
Surprisingly, once she had finished following the instructions, she was right at the bathroom door, flashlight beam shining inside. She hadn’t paid much attention to the rest of the house to see what kind of shape it was in, other than dusty and full of cobwebs, but this room was wrecked. Had the rest of the house been in so bad a shape, she was pretty sure she would have noticed, though perhaps she’d just been too lost in her own thoughts. Or maybe, like her, those who had come before had simply went right there, then, when the rest of the ritual failed to work, decided to take it out on the furniture. Or perhaps it had worked, and they just hadn’t liked what they heard.
Either way, almost nothing was intact. The toilet bowl was broken, half of it cracked off and lying in pieces on the floor. Though it looked like that had happened long ago, the floor shone wetly around it. The bathtub had been similarly broken, but the shower curtain, half torn down, hid the full extent of the damage. The doors of the cabinet under the sink were smashed in, like they’d received more than a few good kicks, and above the sink, the mirror was still intact, but just barely. It had been shattered, refracting the light of her flashlight into a hundred different directions.
“Damn it,” she sighed, staring up at it. The final part of the ritual involved the mirror – would it really work with it broken like this? She had been skeptical of it working at all, but now it seemed even more unlikely, and after going through all the stupid motions just right. She shook her head, taking a step back and to the side, examining the mirror with a grimace. She turned, glancing back out the way she’d just come, then turned back. She’d already come all this way… It seemed silly not to at least try.
Stretching her foot out, she pushed the bigger pieces of porcelain out of her way, though when she stepped inside the ruined room, she still felt crunching beneath her toes. Swallowing, she turned, facing the mirror before switching off the flashlight, slipping it into her pocket. “I am a seeker of truth,” she intoned. “I request only a glimpse of destiny.”
She waited a few long moments, wondering if she should try repeating it. The instructions said not to, but she wasn’t sure how loud her voice had been, or how loud it was supposed to be. She watched dozens of versions of her face contorting anxiously, chewing on her bottom lip as she thought. It took her a second or two to glance down, remembering she had turned off her flashlight, that there was no other source of light that stretched this far inside, not this late at night. She’d assumed her eyes had just adjusted, but there was no way she should be seeing things this clearly. It was only once she realized that that she noticed the slightly greenish hue to the light.
She jumped as the door slammed shut beside her, eyes darting towards it, only to notice that a long, green, smoky tendril had slithered its way from the bottom corner of her mirror while she’d been staring at herself, poised now in front of the door it had just closed. Eyes widened, she stepped away, but she could only go further into the bathroom, where there was no way out. “Wait!” she wailed, scrambling for the flashlight. She managed to get it out of her pocket, but her shaking hands couldn’t keep ahold of it, and it fell to the floor with an unpleasant sounding crunch. “I-I don’t think this is supposed to happen! I-I’m just a… a seeker of truth! Glimpse of destiny!”
She gulped as the green light intensified, just as more of the green tentacles began to squirm their way out of the broken glass. She let out a shriek as the first few shot straight out, punching into the wall opposite the mirror, creating a further barrier between her and escape. “Go away! I am a seeker of tr-truth!” she demanded as the other ones began heading her way, no less scary for their misty, nearly intangible look, especially since, as one wrapped around her wrist, it felt perfectly solid, and cold. “Let me go!” she demanded, trying to shove it off of her, smacking it with her other hand. To her surprise it worked, but the sudden loss of that force tugging on her caused her to stumble backwards, tripping on a piece of the broken toilet and starting to fall.
The only thing that stopped her from tumbling into the ruined toilet was another two tentacles, reaching out and wrapping around her arms, stopping her mid-fall. “Let me go!” she repeated, trying to regain her footing and shake herself free at the same time, while the tendrils slowly twined their way further up her arms. “Let go!”
Another, larger, one burst forth, heading straight for her while she stood there, helpless to do anything but scream as it wound round her stomach, squeezing her tightly before lifting her off her feet and pulling her forward, right toward the shards of glass that had once been a mirror. Lemon whimpered, wincing, sure she was about to crash right into it, but the impact never came. Right as she would have hit the mirror, she felt a strange sensation, and she found herself suddenly somewhere else. The tentacles around her arms felt different somehow, stronger, more solid, and a little slimy against her skin. That green glow that had lit up the room was still there, radiating from the tentacles, and from something else far below her, but if there was anything in the inky blackness all around her, the light wasn’t strong enough to reveal it.
“Oh, shit,” Lemon whispered, her struggles growing weaker as she realized how hopeless her situation was, suddenly not so sure she wanted them to let her go, since she didn’t know what she might land on – or if she’d ever land at all.
“Why have you disturbed my slumber?” The voice echoed through her body, seeming to grow louder as the tentacles gripped her tighter, winding their way around her further.
“I-I didn’t!” she answered, although obviously it was a silly thing to say. “I-I mean… I didn’t meant to! I just came here for a glimpse of d-destiny!” Of course, she hadn’t bargained for all this. As she twisted in the thing’s grip, she could see no sign of the mirror, the bathroom, the world she had come from in the darkness around her.
“Destiny?” She almost could have sworn she felt a chuckle jolt through her after the word. “Are you sure it is just destiny you want, child?”
“Yes!” Lemon nodded her head. “Yes, I just want my stupid Brand!”
“Are you certain? I think there is something more you desire.” Lemon squirmed helplessly, a sickening feeling washing over her, like the thing was picking through her brain, searching her innermost thoughts.
“I don’t know,” she whimpered. “I just… I want them to leave me alone,” she said finally.
“But getting your Brand won’t stop that,” the voice told her. “You’ll always be the last in your class to have gotten it. They won’t let you forget that.”
Lemon frowned, knowing it was true. “Y-Yeah, I guess, but there’s not much I can do about that.”
“Not if all you want is a glimpse of your destiny,” the voice said, now sounding almost like it was teasing her, or toying with its prey. “You would need more than that.”
“Power.” The voice let that settle into Lemon’s mind for a minute before it continued. “Is that what you really desire, child?”
Lemon bit her bottom lip, staring off into the blackness surrounding her. Was this a test of some kind? Nothing she’d heard about this legend had mentioned anything like this – not that she would have believed it if they had. She probably wouldn’t have bothered making the trip to the house if the stories claimed something this far-fetched would happen. But she’d already told it several times that all she’d wanted was a glimpse of destiny… It would make sense that she was supposed to stick to that. Of course, it was rather hard to reason through all that in the midst of this insanity, with some otherworldly being picking through her every thought as she worried she was about to become its lunch.
“I-I am a seeker of truth,” she gulped. “I am here only for a glimpse of destiny.”
“There is no destiny, child. When you have existed as long as I, that is one thing you become certain of. Destiny is only what you create for yourself.”
“But I don’t know how,” Lemon said. “How do I create it? I’ve tried everything!”
“Have you ever thought that you are lucky?”
Despite her fear, hearing the same thing she’d been told for years and years now only pissed her off. “No! No, I’m not! I don’t know what I’m supposed to do! I’m not trained for anything because my stupid teachers didn’t know what to do with me either! I have nothing to go off of! My name doesn’t even help! I feel helpless, and I hate it!”
“And getting your Brand will change that?”
Lemon shook her head. “No,” she sighed. Once she had it, she’d probably wind up getting pushed back in school, so she could get in all the classes she actually needed. She’d go from being a senior to a freshman, or even back to junior high. She’d always been one of the smallest in her class, but now she’d probably be the biggest, and that would hardly be an improvement, considering how many years she’d have on her classmates. And the voice was right – Jade and River wouldn’t let that stop them from tormenting her. It would probably only encourage them more… Especially since Jade had a younger sister who had just started high school that year. “What am I supposed to do?”
“I can show you your Brand,” the voice offered, “or I can give you the power to create your own destiny.”
“Okay,” Lemon said quietly. “Give it to me.”
“What is it you want, child?” the voice taunted.
Through the tentacles, she could sense a smile, somewhere deep in the abyss below. “It is yours, child. Find that destiny you want for yourself, and take it.”
With that, Lemon sat up in her bed with a gasp, panting as her eyes scanned her bedroom – dark, though not nearly as much as the place she’d just been. Or dreamt she’d been. Desperately, she fumbled for the lightswitch, wincing as her room flooded with light. She glanced down at herself, surprised to see she was still in the clothes she’d worn for her trip to the house, even though she was no longer certain it had ever actually happened. Nervously, she rolled up her sleeves, then lifted the hem of the shirt, looking for some mark, some sign of the tentacles that had clung so tightly to her flesh. There was nothing.
“It was just a dream,” she told herself out loud, shaking her head. “Just a dream.”
But once she’d calmed herself enough to lie back down, clicking her lights back off, she could see a faint green glow from the opposite side of her room. She pinched herself, making sure she wasn’t still in a nightmare, before turning the light on once again and creeping across her room to the desk, where the glow had seemed to be coming from. Sure enough, there, on the desk, sat a large, silver knife, rather plain looking. She picked it up, hands shaking, then walked back over to the switch. Once the room was dark again, the glow returned, and she dropped the knife with a faint gasp and a clatter. Anxiously, she re-lit her room and gingerly grabbed the knife, dashing back to her desk and sticking it inside one of the drawers so she wouldn’t have to see it.
And yet, she couldn’t bring herself to shut the drawer once the thing was inside. She stared down at it, trying to figure out what it could mean, what she was supposed to do with it. The voice had told her to take her destiny, but how? She reached down, running a finger along the knife’s blade, trying to will it into telling her what it was meant to cut. It felt cold, yet, like the tentacles before she’d been pulled through the mirror, not entirely solid. Curiously, she picked it up again, then delicately touched the edge with her thumb, as she’d seen many people do in movies to test sharpness. She pressed down harder, but, despite how sharp the blade looked, it never pierced her skin.
At least, not until, on a whim, she pulled down one side of her pants, revealing the spot where her Brand should have been. Carefully, she pressed the tip of the knife in, pulling it back when it drew a drop of blood. Inches away, it was just as ineffective as it had been on her hand. Her stomach turned, as she began to wonder if she was supposed to create her own Brand and carve it into her own flesh, but that wasn’t what the voice had said. It had told her to take her destiny… It hadn’t told her from where, but she was beginning to get a very good idea of just what it had meant.
It was crazy, of course, far-fetched, though hardly more than what had happened to her earlier that night. The idea made her feel a bit queasy. Was she really supposed to just take somebody else’s Brand for her own? It seemed awfully cruel, though the longer she thought about it, the less it bothered her. After all, they already knew what the Brand was, what they were meant to do; it wasn’t like losing the Brand itself would destroy that knowledge, would it? Would it? She really had no way to know.
She put the knife back in the drawer and closed it. She was in over her head here, dealing with something that could be extremely dangerous… It was better to just forget all about it, tell herself it was nothing more than a very vivid nightmare.
That resolve lasted until the next morning, on her walk to school. Despite her resolve to forget the events of the night before, she still found them clouding her thoughts, keeping her from paying too much attention to what was going on around her. She felt certain that using that knife was wrong, but did she have any other option now? By getting it, had she insured that she would never get her Brand any other way? Or, if she didn’t use it, would the thing that voice was attached to come looking for her?
That was, unfortunately, what she was thinking about when she felt something wrapping itself around her legs. She let out a yelp, trying to kick it off, only for it to continue twisting upward. “Let me go!” she shrieked, sure she was about to get pulled back into that darkness, so freaked out that it wasn’t until a few moments later that she noticed something warm and wet dripping down her thighs, and she realized she had wet herself in fear.
“Oh, my God,” Jade giggled, walking around to in front of Lemon, eyeing the still-growing wet spot as she continued to magically manipulate the jump rope around the other girl’s body. “You really do belong here, don’t you?” Lemon looked around, angry, humiliated, but also confused until she realized they were right in front of the daycare. Curious, River floated down from the top of the tree she was watching from, giggling as she realized what had happened.
“We were just going to tie you to the see-saw, or something, in the playground, so everyone could watch you having fun with the other kids at your maturity level,” Jade explained, winding the rope around Lemon’s arms, “but you do a better job of embarrassing yourself than we ever could.”
“I don’t know about that,” River spoke up, an evil glint in her eye as she whispered something to Jade, whose own eyes lit up. The jump rope flopped to the ground around Lemon’s ankles, but before she could get away, she felt her own arm being jerked upwards, fingers being forced into a light fist with her thumb sticking straight out, all glowing lightly as Jade controlled them. As Lemon tried to ask what was going on, or call for help – she wasn’t sure which to do first – her hand flew forward toward her face, jamming her thumb into her open mouth.
River grabbed her other hand and pulled her roughly forward toward the daycare, hovering closer and closer to the ground as they approached, until she was actually walking on the ground – a rarity for an aether – by the time they reached the door and she rang the doorbell. Lemon wasn’t sure why until the door was opened by a rather kind looking young woman, an open diaper pin Brand clearly showing from the cut-out on the side of her jeans. “I’m so sorry to bother you,” River said, “but my sister here… She’s a little… slow… and, well, you can see she’s had a bit of an accident. It’s a long walk back home, so I was wondering if you might have something that would fit her. Something a little… absorbant, if you know what I mean. She told me she didn’t have accidents anymore, but obviously that’s not true, and I don’t want her to have another before we get home.”
Lemon was mortified, but she couldn’t deny any of it with her thumb so firmly stuck in her mouth. In fact, as she stood there trying not to look the daycare worker in the face as the woman glanced her over, she felt her thumb begin moving just slightly in and out, as if she were sucking on it. Lemon looked behin herself angrily, just barely able to see Jade hiding behind a tree, as she controlled her like a marionette.
“I think we have something that will work,” the worker said after a moment, before reaching over and patting Lemon’s head. “Don’t worry, sweetie, we’ll have you nice and dry in just a minute. Come on in, you two.”
For a moment, Lemon thought she would have a chance to explain what was really happening, as the door closed behind her, blocking Jade’s line of sight, which she had to maintain to keep her magic working. And she did feel her hand slip back under her own control, but only for a second before it was pushed back inside. From the corner of her eye, she could see Jade peeking in one of the building’s windows, but with both her hands being controlled by other people, she couldn’t point it out to the worker to try to get her to understand that things were not as they seemed.
Lemon could hardly believe it when the worker returned, carrying a pair of padded training pants decorated with cartoon characters, obviously meant for a young child, yet just as obviously big enough for her. There was no way she was letting River put her in that… And yet, she couldn’t stop her free hand as it reached down and hiked up her skirt, exposing her wet panties there in the entrance of the daycare. River and Jade had played a lot of nasty tricks on her over the years, but this one was shaping up to be the one to take the cake. What the hell was wrong with them?! Were they just trying to get it all out of their systems while they were all still at the same school?
As River bent down to begin removing Lemon’s underwear, Lemon trying in vain to squirm away, pressing her thighs together, the worker told her, “We do have a changing room you can use if you like…”
Lemon’s eyes lit up at that, knowing it would be quite difficult for Jade to follow them there, so it might give her a chance to get away, but River simply said, “Oh, we’ve taken up too much of your time already, and we’re in a hurry, too, aren’t we?”
“I’ll grab you some wipes, then,” the worker offered helpfully.
Lemon whimpered softly behind her thumb as she felt her feet being pulled away from one another, held in place much like her hands, allowing River to easily yank the underwear down. Lemon nearly lost her balance when one of her feet was lifted, and then the other, as River finished the first part of her job. Lemon could feel tears starting to roll down her cheeks, but she couldn’t even wipe them away.
After another moment, the daycare worker returned, handing River a packet of baby wipes that the girl quickly went to work with, leaving Lemon shivering from their cool, embarrassing touch. “You can put them in this bag,” the worker told River, handing her a little plastic bag. “I’ll throw them away with the rest of our used diapers and such.”
“Thanks,” River smiled at her. “Do you mind if I put these in there, too? She won’t be needing them for a while, and certainly not this pair – it’s quite a mess.” Lemon sniffled as she saw the girl was talking about her underwear.
The worker nodded, then patted Lemon’s head. “It’s all right, dear. Everyone learns at a different pace. You’ll get there eventually, I’m sure. You should be happy you have such a nice sister to help you out.”
Lemon glared at River, but the worker didn’t notice, and if she noticed how much Lemon wobbled as her foot was lifted to have the training pants slid over it, she didn’t think anything of it. She pouted and whined as she felt the infantile garment being pulled up her legs, stomach turning as River let it snap into place, fitting perfectly.
“You have a good eye!” River complimented the worker, patting the training pants with a nod. “These will work great! Thanks so much!”
“No problem, dear, glad to help. Oh, and here’s something else for her… I didn’t want her to have to walk all the way home with a wet spot on her skirt, poor thing.” It was a pink denim skirt, and, like the trainers, meant clearly for a rather young child, as it was decorated with a parade of animals playing instruments marching all around itself, with a pink ribbon laced through the belt loops, tied in a bow in front.
River, however, seemed to have wanted Lemon to have to deal with the wet spot, but it took her a moment to figure out how to turn down the offer and remain in character. “That’s very nice of you,” she said finally, “but I don’t know when I’d be able to return it…”
“That’s all right. We have some spare clothes here for the children if they need it, and a lot of the time, they forget to return it. I even brought you another bag to put her old skirt in.”
River knew she was stuck, so she said, “Thanks,” and took the skirt, letting Jade move Lemon around some more to allow her to change her into it. River dropped the wet skirt into the bag and tied it up, then stuck it into Lemon’s backpack, patting it once she’d zipped it back up. “I guess we’ll have to keep some changing supplies in here from now on, won’t we, sis?” She took Lemon’s hand, then said, “Thank the nice lady, Lemon.”
Lemon, of course, couldn’t, since Jade didn’t release her thumb from her mouth, but the worker didn’t mind. “It’s all right. My pleasure, sweetie.” She patted Lemon’s head again and gave them a smile before River guided them back outside to Jade. The two were obviously on the verge of bursting out laughing, but they made themselves stay quiet until they were away from the house, in case the worker was watching.
“That was perfect!” River squealed. “Can you believe how easily she bought that you needed those?”
“Well, look at the evidence she had,” Jade pointed out. She reached out to lift Lemon’s skirt, and when Lemon tried to swat her hand away, she was surprised to find that she was able to break free of the girl’s magic, though she still wasn’t fast enough to stop her. She did manage to yank it back down afterward, but that was a small comfort, since it was quite a bit shorter than her own skirt had been. At the same time, she managed to yank her thumb free of her mouth as well.
“What the hell is wrong with you two?!” she demanded angrily, stepping away from them. “What did I ever do to you?!”
Lemon could feel the magic tugging at her arm again, but she managed to fight back. “Man, that was draining – I’m going to regret all that later. At least until I pass you in the hall and see this.” Lemon felt a sudden breeze on the back of her legs, up much higher than it had been even a second earlier, as the hem of her skirt lifted up, tucking itself into the waistband of her training pants. Since it offered no resistance, Jade could still manipulate it quite easily, to Lemon’s dismay.
“That is going to stay that way,” Jade informed her. “If I see you at any time today and it isn’t like that, I’ll simply do it again. So if you try to take your little diapies off, you’ll be showing off a whole lot more to the school, won’t you?”
“No!” Lemon insisted, stomping her foot. “I’m not going in there like this!”
“Would you rather go without your skirt at all? I’m sure you’d find yourself in the principal’s office pretty quickly that way… I’d love to hear the explanation you came up with for that.”
“I’d tell them the truth,” Lemon glared at her angrily.
“That you’re a little baby who peed her pants when she got a little surprised? And your nice friends decided to help you out so you didn’t embarrass yourself at school?” Jade grinned. “Because that’s all that happened, wasn’t it, River?”
“It sure was,” River nodded.
“This is not fair!” Lemon stomped her foot again. “It’s not fair, it’s not fair!”
“Be careful,” Jade smirked. “Little girls who throw tantrums get corner time. And you might want to think about how much noise you’re making.”
Lemon turned, face flushing as she saw a flock of people watching, or pretending not to watch, knowing that they’d just seen the back of the thick, wide garment under her skirt, quite clearly not regular underwear. She gave a little jump as she felt one of the girls pat the back of her trainer with a light crinkle. “Run along and play, Lemmy. We’ll be watching.”
Knowing she didn’t have much of a choice at this point, Lemon gathered up as much courage as she could muster and started to march inside. As she reached the steps leading up to the front door, Lucky appeared, just a few moments too late. “Morning!” she chirped, her expression changing as she noticed Lemon’s attire, quickly fixing her skirt. “Umm… Is something wrong, Lem?”
Lemon sighed, not wanting to relive that whole experience, especially not so soon. “I’ll explain later,” she told the other girl. “Come on, let’s just get inside.” She grabbed her friend’s hand, trying to pull her into the school to try to get lost in the crowd before Jade could flip the skirt back up. She didn’t make it, ensuring she was surrounded by barely – or even not-at-all – concealed giggles until she pulled it back down a few moments later.
“Lemon, you have to do something about this,” Lucky told her gently. “They’ve gone too far.”
“I will,” Lemon assured her. “I will.”
Unfortunately, before she could, she had to wait for the two to separate, which she knew wouldn’t happen until after second period, when they all had different classes to go to. Until then, Lemon had to squirm in her seat, the thick, fluffy undergarment rustling softly beneath her, trying to sink down behind her desk so her teachers wouldn’t notice her and call her to the board to answer a question, knowing that as soon as she did, Jade would yank up her skirt. She tried waiting the terrible twosome out, but they stayed at their desks, chatting, until she got up from her own and headed for the hall, waiting until they were out of the teachers’ view before Jade worked her magic. Lucky did her best to run interference, helping her to keep her skirt down, walking behind her to shield her from view from Jade and the other students, but there was only so much that could be done.
After second period, however, Jade and River went off to different sides of the school, as did Lucky, though she offered to stick with Lemon. “I’ll be all right,” Lemon told her, but really she knew she couldn’t do what she needed with her friend around. Lemon had her own class to go to as well, of course, but she skipped out, ducking into a broom closet close to Jade’s class instead until all the bells had rung, and the hall outside went silent. She opened the door just a bit, peeking out, then finally stepping back outside. She knew she wouldn’t have to wait for long.
Sure enough, perhaps ten minutes later, she saw the classroom door open, and Jade step outside. “Sorry!” she called inside as she scurried out, just missing the sight of the closet door shutting. The sound of her footsteps echoed through the empty hall, then stopped as they reached the bathroom door. Lemon gave her a minute, then followed.
When she pushed the bathroom door open, Jade was standing by the window, one hand behind her back, doing her best to look innocent despite the thin trail of smoke rising behind her. “Oh, it’s you,” she rolled her eyes, lifting her cigarette back to her lips and taking a drag. “What are you doing here? Do you have to go potty?” With that, all the stall doors lightly glowed as they slammed shut, and Lemon heard a squealing noise as the heavy garbage can behind her slid in front of the exit. “Go ahead, baby Lemmy… Go potty.” Lemon’s skirt fell to the floor. “Come on, go potty, sweetie. Then you can go back to daycare at lunch and get a real diaper.” She chuckled to herself as she continued to smoke, barely seeming to care, or notice, that Lemon was sliding her backpack off. “You can stall all you want, but you aren’t leaving here until you’ve used your trainers like the stupid, little baby you…”
Her words trailed off as she saw Lemon pull the knife out of her backpack, the green glow gone in the daylight, though it still looked just as sharp as ever. “Hey, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Lemon just smiled, stepping forward, kicking the skirt away. “Listen, this is just a joke… Can’t you take a joke?” Lemon could see the glow around the girl’s hand intensify, as if she were trying to use more magic, but nothing happened. Whether she was still too worn out from controlling Lemon that morning, or whether she’d attempted to take away the knife only to find that it wasn’t possible to do that, it was hard to tell. Lemon could feel the grip of magic over her hand again, but she easily broke free.
“Lemon, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean…” The stall doors swung open as the magic on them dropped. The trash can screeched forward behind Lemon, though the sound quickly stopped as she rushed forward, raising the knife to the other girl’s neck. She knew perfectly well that the blade couldn’t hurt Jade… But Jade didn’t. “Please, I’m sorry! I’ll never do it again!” Jade whimpered.
Lemon couldn’t help but smile a little as she saw this girl, the one who had made her life hell for years, shaking in front of her like this. As she looked down, she saw something that amused her even more, twin rivers of yellow liquid trickling down the girl’s legs. “What do we have here?” Lemon asked playfully. “Maybe you should be the one in these, not me.” That gave her an idea, as she lowered the knife down to Jade’s leg, to the green scales emblazoned there, just like the one Lemon had seen on the girl’s mother once, a long time ago, when she’d come in for career day to talk about being a lawyer.
“Do you think there are many lawyers who have to wear diapers while they try their cases?” Lemon mused out loud, pressing the tip of the knife into the Brand, just enough to draw a little blood.
“Ow! What are you doing, you freak?!” Jade tried to push Lemon away, but Lemon only pressed the knife in deeper, sliding it across the girl’s leg. It made her feel a little sick, at least until she thought back to everything the other girl had done to her, just because she hadn’t gotten her Brand. As she started to slice upward, Jade realized what was going on. “Th-That isn’t going to do anything!” she said, though there was some clear panic in her voice anyway. “That won’t change anything!”
Lemon saw Jade’s hand start to glow again, and glared up at her, lifting the knife slightly. “Don’t even try it,” she warned. The glow died off instantly, and Lemon went back to her work, cutting a line over the Brand, and then down, trying to ignore the blood dripping down the other girl’s leg, no matter how queasy it made her. Finally, she cut downward, connecting the lines, creating a bloody box around the Brand. Lemon gulped, not quite sure what she was supposed to do from there, if she would have to gouge the thing out the rest of the way, but, to her surprise, as soon as she finished, the wound began to glow green. Cautiously, she reached out to touch the Brand, and it peeled off like a sticked, leaving a patch of bare skin, completely healed.
“H-How did you do that?” Jade stumbled away, hand reaching down, running over the spot. “That’s not possible!”
Lemon was just as confused, staring down at the Brand, looking very much like a temporary tattoo now. She had a very good idea of what she needed to do with it, but now that she had it, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. She had spent so long wanting a Brand, any Brand, but did she really want to become a lawyer, or a judge, or anything like that? It didn’t sound very interesting, at all. But she’d already gone through with it, taken it away from Jade… Had she just sentenced herself to a destiny she had no interest in? She should have thought about this, instead of just looking for revenge…
But she still had the knife. She could still find another one, couldn’t she? The knife didn’t feel any different, like it had lost its power. Surely it would still work. What should she do with this Brand she didn’t want, though? Part of her knew she should give it back to Jade, that it was a part of her, quite literally. And then she thought again about the last few years, and she knew she wasn’t going to do that. Curiously, she raised the knife to the Brand, pressing the tip into the center, then, once the blade had slid its way through the thing, she sliced it in half, letting it fall to the bathroom floor.
“Th-This doesn’t change anything!” Jade spat, though she sounded more like she was trying to convince herself rather than Lemon. “I-I’ll still be a lawyer!”
Lemon wasn’t sure if that was true or not – at the very least, she couldn’t help but wonder if the law schools she’d been applying to would still accept her. Part of her wanted to see, and wanted to watch what happened when people realized she was blank again. Would they assume she’d been faking it all this time? Perhaps they’d assume that her torment of Lemon had been to try to hide the fact that she had the same problem.
“No,” Lemon mused out loud, “I don’t think you will.”
She slashed out with the knife, catching Jade across her Brand spot, carving a new line there. The girl whimpered, trying to back further away, too freaked out by the whole thing to even try to use her magic, or to realized that she’d backed herself against the wall. Lemon smiled as she approached, pushing the other girl’s hands away as she went back to her bloody work, crudely cutting a new shape into Jade’s leg. It wasn’t perfect, but it was clearly good enough, since, once she finished, it emanated the same green light from before, then healed itself into a perfect near-duplicate of the Brand Lemon had seen earlier on the daycare worker, with one big difference – this time, the diaper pin was closed.
“Wh-What is that supposed to mean?” Jade snorted. “A safety pin? Th-That’s the best you could..?” Jade paused, wiping her suddenly wet chin in confusion, looking behind her at the mirrors, shocked to see the drool dripping from her mouth. “Wh-Wha’ did you…” Her eyes widened as a loud fart emanated from under her skirt, and with a tiny squeak, she clamped her hands to her backside, though the smell told Lemon just how little good that did. “No! You can’ do dis! I-I’m no’ a baby!”
“You are now,” Lemon told her, tapping the girl’s new Brand. “See? It’s your destiny. Now, maybe you’d better hurry over to the daycare, where you belong, before you make an even bigger mess.”
“No! I’m a big giwl! I don’ go to daycawe!” Jade stomped her foot angrily, jamming her thumb into her mouth to suck on it and pout while Lemon dragged the trash can away from the door, then go over and take her hand. By then, the girl barely resisted as she was led out into the hall and to the front office, where none of the workers questioned Lemon one bit when she explained that Jade needed to be across the street instead.
“I just found her wandering around the school while I was heading to the bathroom,” Lemon had said, and they’d taken it from there. Whether it was her full pants, or her Brand, Lemon wasn’t sure, but either way, shouldn’t they have recognized Jade and tried to ask her what was going on?
She ducked into the nearest bathroom, locking herself into a stall and sitting down on the toilet, digging the knife back out of her backpack, staring at it uncertainly. It still looked shiny and new, not a drop of blood remaining on it. What was this thing? What did it really do? It hadn’t just changed Jade’s destiny… From the look of things, it had completely re-written it. She still had the hall pass Jade had gotten from her teacher so she could go smoke, but when she looked at it, the ink was faded and blurry, and she could only tell it bore the other girl’s name because she knew what it had said. Was she the only one who remembered the way things had been, only a few minutes before? Well, her and maybe Jade herself, who had looked quite confused and a little scared as Lemon had walked out of the office.
Lemon wasn’t sure that she regretted what she had done, exactly, but it was definitely more than she had expected to happen. Who knew what other repercussions it could have? Was there any way to really tell? Perhaps it would be better to wait until she had a better idea before she used the knife again… If she ever did.
Now that she didn’t have to worry about Jade, Lemon considered going to the nurse and seeing if perhaps there was a spare pair of panties there she could borrow, instead of the ridiculous training pants she had on. It would be awfully hard to explain, however, so she decided, for the moment, to stick with them. Besides, she still had River to contend with.
Or so she thought. Later that day, River spotted her in the hallway and made a bee-line for her, the superior speed that came with being an aether making it easy for her to catch up, despite Lemon’s attempt to shy away. But when River got to her, she smiled and said, “I’m so glad it’s time for lunch, aren’t you? I wonder what we’re having today.”
“I… uh… I don’t know,” Lemon shrugged, looking at the other girl, confused at this sudden friendliness.
“Come on, let’s go see!” River grabbed Lemon’s hand, guiding her through the hallway toward the cafeteria, but not in the same way she’d dragged her into the daycare earlier. It was much gentler, almost as if they were… friends? If Jade’s destiny was to be a big baby, then maybe she’d never met River in the first place, in which case, maybe Lemon and her were friends. In that case, she probably didn’t even know about the training pants. She probably didn’t know about anything she and Jade had done.
That was certainly how it seemed as they sat together, River babbling on about all sorts of silly things while Lemon contemplated what this all meant. She hadn’t particularly wanted River’s Brand, either – the picture of the ballet shoes on the girl’s leg interested her even less than Jade’s scales, unless they came with some extra coordination – but earlier that day, still angry about the daycare incident, she had intended to take it anyway. But now, with River’s memory apparently overwritten, was that even fair? It had happened – Lemon had proof of that under her skirt, heck, even the skirt itself was proof – but if River didn’t remember it, would she just see it as some cruel, baseless betrayal by her apparent friend?
“Did you hear about the ethics wing bathroom?” River continued on as Lemon sat, lost in thought. “They say someone painted all the mirrors black or something. Weird, huh? Arc said it might be like an art piece or something, but that seems stupid to me. Hello? Lemon? Are you there?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah… Sorry,” Lemon smiled at her. It was odd to be treated so civilly by River, but it was even odder how well they seemed to get along together, without Jade there to mess things up.
“You know, lunch is almost over. You should at least finish your pudding.”
Lemon looked down at her mostly untouched food with a shrug. “I guess I’m not very hungry. Do you want it?” She picked up the little cup of chocolate pudding, starting to hand it over to her former enemy.
River shook her head. “You need to eat something!”
Lemon hesitated, then shrugged again. “I guess you’re right.” The pudding was certainly the most appetizing looking thing on the tray, so she took River’s advice and started to eat, though, as usual, she was disappointed with the actual taste, which seemed off even more than usual that day. When she tried to stop halfway through the bowl, however, River encouraged her to finish it up, and, with a little reluctance, Lemon decided to go ahead and do it.
When they went to get rid of their tray, Lemon was ambushed by Lucky, grabbing her arm and pulling her aside. “What are you doing?” she asked, shaking her head. “Why do you put up with her, Lemon?”
“Oh, sorry, I forgot to look for you. You could have joined us, though, I’m sure.” But the look on Lucky’s face made her less certain. What else had changed? Were they not friends anymore?
“You can be such an idiot sometimes, Lemon,” Lucky sighed. “Or is your memory just that short?”
“Wait… You remember?” Lemon furrowed her brow, looking down at her skirt doubtfully.
“Of course I remember!” Lucky bristled. “Just because I’m not as popular as her doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”
“I didn’t mean that! I just…” Lemon stammered, feeling a little disoriented, not knowing just how much she didn’t know.
“You know what? Never mind. I was trying to look after you, but obviously you’re too good for me now. Well, don’t come crawling back when she finishes playing with you.” Lucky stormed off, leaving Lemon standing alone, confused, until River returned.
“What’s taking so long?” she asked with a smirk. “Get lost?”
Lemon blushed and hurried to drop off her tray, after which River linked arms with her and started leading her back through the cafeteria, leaning in close as she whispered, “Any more accidents?”
“I, uh… I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lemon looked down at her feet, Lucky’s words repeating themselves in her mind.
“Oh, come on, you don’t have to be shy with your ‘big sister’,” River chuckled. “I was right there with you.”
“Yeah, uh… I guess you were…” Lemon bit her bottom lip, now very curious as to what exactly had gone on that morning in everyone else’s mind. She knew it would make her sound a bit ditzy, but the only way she could find out was why asking, “Why?”
“Because you were nervous, silly! But I told you it would be better than coming in here all wet, didn’t I? And it was kinda fun, wasn’t it? Pretending to be sisters?”
“I suppose,” Lemon said apprehensively.
“You didn’t take it off, did you?” Lemon shook her head, starting to feel rather nervous about this whole thing. “Good. It’s just a few more hours now.” The bell rang, and River gave Lemon a hug. “I’ll see you next period, okay?”
Lemon nodded, watching the girl run off before heading to her own class. She knew something was up, but it wasn’t until partway through the lesson that she began to realize what it was, as her stomach began to rumble ominously. She thought back to her lunch in horror, to that pudding that River had been so insistant that she eat, to the strange aftertaste it had. She’d been so distracted, and River was so quick… She could have easily put something into it without Lemon noticing. She looked down in surprise as she heard a loud snap, only to see that she had broken her pencil in half without noticing, and as she bashfully began to dig through her backpack for another, her fingers brushed against the cool metal of the knife. She felt a small smile play at the corner of her mouth – maybe she should reunite River and Jade after all.
River was waiting for her outside the classroom. “You guys went late, huh?” she asked, pulling Lemon along with her toward their next class.
“No, I don’t think so. Hey, I have to go to the bathroom real quick, so…” Lemon said.
“Oh, you were. We don’t have time! Come on!” Lemon had to struggle to keep up, making it very hard to get River to even acknowledge her protests, which was clearly the other girl’s plan. They were in the class well ahead of anyone else, including the teacher. “I guess you were right after all,” River chuckled. “Let’s just get our seats, okay?”
“Why don’t we just go to the bathroom first? We have time,” Lemon suggested.
“You silly, silly girl. You still don’t get it, do you?” River smiled at her, pulling her into the classroom, shoving her down into one of the desks in the second to last row of the classroom, pulling the desk in the very last row a little closer to it. “You’re wearing your bathroom. You’re going to prove to everyone just what a little, blank baby you are.”
“I am not!” Lemon declared, standing up, only for River to quickly push her back down.
“Yes, you are. I’m sure you can feel it.” River reached down, massaging Lemon’s lower stomach, her hand moving faster and faster as the other girl squirmed in discomfort, until the teacher came in a moment later. River quickly sat down in the chair behind Lemon, who immediately tried to ask the teacher to be excused, only for River to clamp her hand over her mouth before a sound could escape, as the teacher began writing on the board, paying no attention to them besides a perfunctory hello. The other students, as they entered, seemed to pay no mind, or thought they were playing some weird game, and River’s heightened reflexes from being an aether let her pull her hand away whenever the teacher looked their way, at least until the class started.
“Mrs. Terra!” Lemon chirped up as soon as the lecture started, knowing that, with the teacher paying more attention, River couldn’t get away with silencing her for long.
“Ms. Shuffle,” the teacher replied sharply, “You know you are supposed to raise your hand before you speak in my class.”
Lemon rolled her eyes and start to raise her hand, only to feel River holding her arm down. “I..!” Lemon tried to explain, only to be cut off with a stern glare.
“Do you want detention, Ms. Shuffle? Then be quiet.” Lemon sank down in her chair, feeling trapped. Mrs. Terra was one of the older teachers at the school, and her eyesight wasn’t great, so even if River wasn’t capable of moving so fast, she might not have noticed what she was doing. Probably, that was part of River’s plan. Lemon heard the desk behind her squeak as River moved in even closer, ensuring that Lemon wasn’t going anywhere until she decided it was time.
Lemon sighed, her stomach gurgling as she squirmed in her seat. It wasn’t long into class that the cramps began, and she knew the end was near. She tried not to give any outward sign of it, not wanting to give River the satisfaction, but it was hard to do. She tried again to raise her hand, to beg for a hall pass, but River held first one, then both arms down, and Lemon was too embarrassed to yell, “I have to use the bathroom!” across the entire classroom, especially since she knew Mrs. Terra would probably make her wait even longer because she hadn’t raised her hand.
She was sweating now, pressing her bottom against the hard, wooden seat of her desk in desperation. That helped, at least for a couple minutes, until the next cramp hit, and she felt a noisy blart escape from her backside… Along with something else. She gasped as she felt the warm, thick mess ooze its way past her defenses, into the waiting trainers, and while she managed to stop its advance, she knew it wouldn’t be for long.
River knew as well. Whether she smelled it, or had heard the fart and gasp, she clearly knew it was time to put the end of her fiendish plan into action, and as soon as Mrs. Terra asked for a volunteer at the board, Lemon felt her hand being shoved up into the air. “Well, Ms. Shuffle,” Mrs. Terra smirked, looking at her over the top of her glasses. “Are you ready to finally contribute something useful today?”
“N-No, I…” Lemon tried to explain, hoping she’d have time to dash out at least into the hallway before she had any more of an accident.
“No, Ms. Shuffle, I didn’t ask you to talk. You’ve done enough of that. Just come up here and solve this problem for us.” When Lemon didn’t move, she tapped her pointer against the chalkboard. “Now, Ms. Shuffle! If you are wasting even more of this class’s time, I will send you to detention for the rest of the week, young lady!”
Every eye was on her now. Lemon turned white as she fidgeted in her desk, panting with exertion and humiliation, trying to decide what to do. Before she could decide, she felt a tug, looking up in horror to see that Mrs. Terra’s hand was glowing as she magically picked Lemon up out of her seat, setting her down on her feet in the aisle with another impatient, “Now!”
The sudden loss of the firm chair beneath her was enough to send another burst of mush into the seat of her training pants, and it was all she could do this time to stop it, knowing she couldn’t just sit back down without attracting even more attention. Sweating bullets, she nervously inched forward, able to take only tiny steps, for fear that a cramp would hit mid-stride, and she’d be unable to even clamp her thighs together to try to fend it off. She was so worried, she didn’t even notice the breeze as River leaned forward and tucked the rear hem of her skirt into the waistband. With Jade out of the picture, Lemon hadn’t even thought about that, but apparently the pair thought even more alike than she’d thought… That, or River had come up with that in the first place.
She heard the giggles, of course, but she assumed it was from the smell of what she had done so far, and all she could do about that was walk more quickly, which only made things worse. She did start to get suspicious when she was forced to stop partway, letting out a tiny, high-pitched squeal as, once again, she fought to keep her bowels from evacuating, only mostly succeeded, and she heard the laughter get louder, but she assumed it was her imagination. Her trainers were starting to feel quite disgusting now, her little accidents adding up to a fairly good-sized mess in them, and she could only hope that Mrs. Terra would allow her to go to the bathroom after she solved the problem, though she didn’t look forward to cleaning herself up.
And then, as she reached the front of the room, the gurgling in her guts reached a frenzied pitch. For a split second, she thought she could hold out a little longer, but only until she realized the seat of her trainers was already starting to bulge out further, her control vanishing without her even noticing. She bent forward, doing her best to stay quiet, to not let anyone know what she was doing, not knowing that they could all see her disposable underwear expanding beneath her, straining to contain the laxative-fueled load she was pushing into it. She was terrified that it would be too much, that some would start to ooze its way out of the leg or waist band, but the childish garment managed to contain it all as far as she could tell.
As she came out of her reverie, however, noting just how rowdy the rest of the class had gotten, she couldn’t help but wonder if she was wrong. Nervously, she raised a hand to her backside, too shell-shocked to consider how that would look. A cold chill ran down her spine as she felt the slick outer cover of the trainer beneath her hand, rather than the skirt, and desperately, she spun around, though seeing her classmates’ mocking faces only made her feel worse, and her desperate tugging down of her skirt wasn’t fast enough to hide what she had done from Mrs. Terra.
“I, uh, think you’d better go to the nurse, Ms. Shuffle,” the teacher said after a moment, clearly confused by the whole affair. Lemon nodded dumbly, waddling up to the teacher’s desk to get the hall pass she’d been wanting for that whole class, then hurrying back to her seat to grab her backpack before leaving, not wanting to have any reason to have to come back that day, even if making her way through the class in her full trainers was absolutely humiliating. River just grinned at her as she approached, and delivered one super-fast swat to her swollen underthings as she turned back around to get out of there.
All Lemon could think about as she made her way through the school, mess squishing and squelching between her legs with every step, was Jade, and how she’d made her take a similar journey earlier. She hadn’t expected to be in so close to the same position, not with her safely away in the daycare. Jade had tried to make her use her training pants, but that had just been in the bathroom… Lemon doubted she would have taken things this far. Perhaps it was karma, or perhaps she’d been wrong all along to assume that Jade was the more sadistic of her tormenters. Maybe it had been Jade who kept River in check.
Lemon, of course, wasn’t about the let yet another person see her in her full training pants, so instead she snuck back into the cafeteria and out the doors there, since those wouldn’t set off an alarm. It was a long, humbling walk home, as she put her head down and sped up every time she passed somebody else on the sidewalk, especially people out taking babies and toddlers on a walk, sure that if she stuck around too long, they’d know exactly what she had done, her classmates’ laughter echoing in her mind as she scurried away, not daring to look behind her to see if she was being watched.
The clean up, as she’d feared, was horrendous, even if it was a relief to get out of the filthy trainer. Fortunately, the next day was trash day, so she was able to bag the thing up and drop it at the bottom of the trash can before emptying the rest of the house’s trash on top of it and pushing it out to the curb. It was early, but her parents wouldn’t be home for hours, and they’d probably just be glad that she’d done it in the first place, especially without having to be reminded. She nearly threw the skirt away, too, but decided at the last second to spare it, instead tucking it into her backpack while she pulled out the knife, sliding her pants off.
She stared at herself in the mirror, at that bare spot on her leg. Should she do it? What she was planning to do could be much riskier than what she’d done earlier that day, but what if, by giving herself a Brand, the knife lost its power? That was its actual purpose, wasn’t it? That would be a pity, especially since she could always just wait until the next day and see if she could replicate the plan she’d used with Jade. River didn’t smoke, but if she just followed her around enough, she was sure she’d find some time where she could get her alone and start carving.
Did she really want to wait that long, though? “Long enough” in this case might mean more than just one day, which meant that River would have more chance to come up with some plans of her own. No, it was better to take care of it now, if she could. She looked back down at her leg again. She was going to need a little luck… Lucky’s worries about not knowing what her Brand really meant for her adult like had never struck her as important before, since she’d considered her own condition much worse, but now they seemed quite legitimate. If she did this, what would that mean? If she did just win the lottery, that was great, but what if Lucky was right, and she just would up working at some cheesy casino? It was better than nothing, she supposed, but was it really worth spending her life doing that just to get a little revenge?
She turned the knife over in her hands, biting her bottom lip. It still felt quite solid and real, certainly not like it was going to vanish if she used it another couple times. If she could remove Brands from other people, why couldn’t she do the same to herself? And since she hadn’t had one before then, surely she’d be all right getting rid of one. Who knew? This could be quite useful… She could just give herself whatever Brand she needed for the task at hand, then discard it afterward and move on to something different. She really could do whatever she wanted, then.
She nodded her head in resolve, pushing the tip of the knife into her leg. She winced a little at the pain as she sloppily drew a pair of cubes, topping each with six small, bloody dots. She worked fast, knowing that once she finished, the wound would heal, trying to ignore the blood until then. Sure enough, as soon as she’d drawn the final pip, the grisly drawing glowed green, but once that glow had faded away, so did the crude pair of dice she’d tried to create. She stared down at herself in surprise, trying to figure out what was going on. Did it not look good enough?
Sighing, she sat down on the edge of her bed to steady herself before starting again, taking her time, but the whole thing still vanished in the end. Had she broken it? Was it only able to inscribe one person with a new Brand? She did think Jade deserved what she’d gotten, but it seemed like an awful waste if she couldn’t give herself a Brand as well, since that was what this whole thing was about. Or maybe her initial suspicion was correct. Maybe she could give other people new Brands, but she had to take someone else’s to get one for herself.
Briefly, very briefly, she thought about paying Lucky a visit. She’d just borrow it temporarily, she reasoned. Surely her friend wouldn’t mind sharing for one afternoon. She really didn’t know if it worked that way, however, and even if Lucky didn’t seem to want to be her friend anymore, now that everything had changed, that could be different once Lemon changed everything again. With River out of the picture, too, there would be no reason why Lucky wouldn’t be friends with her again… At least if she didn’t slice her Brand off in the meantime.
Lemon sat there, on her bed, for a while, thinking, trying to convince herself to try to sneak into River’s house after all. But, really, she knew nothing about it, or the family’s routines, or anything. She really would need a lot of luck to attack River there and not get caught by someone. She didn’t particularly like it, but it seemed that her best option was going to be to wait until school the next day after all.
School, however, did not come.
“You can go back to bed if you want, dear,” her mother told her the next day as she dragged herself into the kitchen.
“Huh?” Lemon looked out the window blearily, half expecting to see a few feet of snow out there, even though it was still only autumn. She couldn’t think of any other reason they would cancel school.
“There was some kind of freak earthquake last night,” her mother explained. “It only seemed to hit the high school, thankfully, but its pretty much destroyed. They’re canceling classes until they can figure out some other place they can hold them until they can rebuild.”
Lemon excused herself back to her room, but she didn’t go back to sleep. Instead, she flipped on the television, and immediately she was greeted with the sight of a pile of rubble that she could just barely recognize as her school. One corner was still standing, though even it looked unstable; the rest had collapsed completely, imploding in on itself like it had been sucked into some huge hole in the ground below. She changed channels, greeted by different angles of the same thing on each, and no real information as to what might have caused it. An earthquake was the most common explanation, but nobody seemed particularly convinced by that, considering that nothing else around was damaged.
Lemon felt a chill run down her spine as she looked at the images. She turned off the TV, but a split second before the picture faded, she could have swore she saw a small patch of glowing green there, in the wreckage, squirming ever so slightly. Frantically, she switched the television back on, but by the time the video returned, there was nothing.
As soon as her parents had both left for work, Lemon went out herself, heading for River’s house. This could work out even better than she’d hoped, she thought. She wouldn’t have to worry about waiting for River to go off by herself somewhere they could be alone for a few minutes at school, and, hopefully, she wouldn’t have to worry about the girl’s parents, either. She could take her time if she wanted, really freak her out before striking. Except, of course, that, when she pulled up onto River’s street, she saw the girl walking out of the house, getting into a car with some of her friends.
Lemon trailed the car through town to the mall. She wasn’t sure why she did it, since she knew this was probably the least likely place to be able to corner somebody, especially with high school being called off for at least that day, but she followed them inside, trying to hang back just enough to keep them from noticing her. What she managed to hear wasn’t encouraging for her plan, as they seemed to be deciding how to spend the rest of their day together and yammering on about boys, at least until one of them got a phone call just as Lemon was about to give up.
“All right, girls,” she said as she slipped her cell phone back into her purse. “I know what we’re doing tonight! School destruction party at Arc’s tonight!”
“She sure didn’t waste any time with that,” River mused. “She should be careful – people will think she blew the place up herself with one of her experiments.”
“Who cares?” one of the other girls sniffed. “This is gonna be great!”
Lemon had to agree. This could be just what she was hoping for. Casually, she slipped away, heading back for her car, stopping to buy a few things before going back home until it got dark. She looked up Arcing Charge’s address and headed over, finding the party already in full swing. She managed to slip inside unnoticed, helped greatly by the huge mass of people that made even this big house feel far too small and the pounding music,making her way up to the second floor to find the master bedroom, luckily still unoccupied. Once she had everything set up, she went back downstairs, keeping an eye out for two people.
The first nearly found her, pushing through the crowds with her entourage, barely giving Lemon enough time to turn away, not wanting River to spot her too soon. “Let’s go outside,” River was complaining. “It’s way too noisy in here.”
Lemon watched them walk out onto the back patio, which didn’t look much less crowded, then continued her search. The second person she’d seen only in passing – she was pretty sure she’d recognize him, but she wasn’t positive about that. She could narrow the field down to just the aethers, at least, but none of the ones in the living room looked right, and if he was in the back yard, that would be too risky. She’d have to pass right by River to get to him, and risk the other girl seeing through her plot if he was too close by.
She needn’t have worried, about any of it. As her searching took her to the kitchen, she immediately noticed a rather attractive guy floating above the others, his dark hair exactly the same as in her hazy memories of him. “Hey, uh, Cloud?” she walked up to him, feeling emboldened by how well this was falling into place.
He looked down at her with a wide, intoxicated grin. “You’re the girl who was wearing a diaper yesterday, aren’t you?” he asked, much more loudly than she would have liked.
She shook her head. “No, we were lab partners a couple years ago, remember?” It wasn’t true, but he was drunk enough that he bought it. “Could I borrow your phone? Mine just died, and I was in the middle of talking to my friend. She’s on her way here, and her car broke down, so…” She trailed off, hoping that their fake history together would be enough to get him to trust her for a moment. “I’ll give it right back,” she promised.
“Yeah, sure,” he shrugged, fumbling it out of his pocket.
She faked dialing a number, holding it up to her ear, then shook her head. “I can’t hear anything in here. Do you mind if I go outside for a minute?” But Cloud was barely even paying any attention to her, as he’d gone back to drinking. She made her way back up to the bedroom, peeking out of the window at the patio below. River’s number was already in his phone; she assumed his would be in hers as well, so she didn’t bother to say anything in her text except, “Meet me upstairs. Second bedroom on the left.”
Lemon watched in amusement while River checked her phone and did her best to hide her excitement as she excused herself from her friends. Lemon walked over by the door, pressing her ear to the door, trying to hear what was happening outside over the sound of the music. After a minute, the door swung open and River stepped inside, practically beaming as she scanned the room for the boy she had a crush on. Behind her, the door slammed closed, and almost before she could turn back around to see what was going on, Lemon had launched herself at her, tackling her to the floor.
There was no time to mess around – Lemon knew River was quicker and stronger than her, plus she could fly, so if she got away, even though Lemon was blocking the door, River could always get out of the window. So, immediately, Lemon began hacking away at the girl’s leg, slashing across her Brand, cutting those ballet slippers into gory ribbons in her desperate attempt to get rid of them before River could throw her off. Even if she’d wanted it, there was no way she could have used this Brand for herself, and once she managed to get the whole thing off, it flaked off the girl like strips of old wallpaper.
By then, River had begun to figure out what was going on, although the shock of it was enough to slow her down a bit, like with Jade. She screamed in horror and disbelief, but if anyone downstairs could hear her over the din of the party, they made no attempt to check on her. She shoved Lemon off of her, stumbling away, goggling down at her now bare leg. She was so surprised, she wasn’t even hovering, which let Lemon know she had time to collect herself a little, pulling herself back up to her feet and advance on the girl.
“You stay away!” River warned, tripping onto the bed as she backed away. “Get away!”
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Lemon told her, setting the knife down before continuing to move toward the bed.
“What did you do?” River demanded, still scooting backward on the bed. Lemon had to admit a certain feeling of satisfaction at that, at seeing someone she’d been so scared of for so long trembling in her presence. “I-I don’t…. I don’t feel so good…”
“Don’t worry, you’ll get your Brand back,” Lemon promised. “I just want you to know how it feels to be without one for a couple minutes first. It isn’t fun, is it?”
River shook her head, but she stopped moving away as Lemon reached the side of the bed. “So it isn’t very nice to make fun of people who don’t have them, is it?” Lemon asked, reaching out, lifting the girl’s chin up with one hand to look her in the face.
“N-No,” River stammered. “No, I won’t do it again!”
“Not having one doesn’t make someone more immature, does it? It doesn’t make them some kind of baby.” Lemon stared River in the eyes, as her free hand slowly inched under the bed.
River shook her head. “No, it doesn’t!”
“No,” Lemon smiled, carefully pulling something free from under the bed and pulling it out. “No, but having a Brand can do that. Do you remember Jade? Your best friend? She’s just a big baby now. I’m sure she’s safely tucked away in bed right now, fast asleep, peeing her nice, thick, nighttime diapies. You don’t remember her? I’m sure she remembers you, and all the awful things the two of you did together. Don’t worry – I’m sure you’ll get well acquainted with one another very soon.”
With a click, Lemon closed the handcuff around River’s wrist, chaining her to the bed before turning and going back for the knife. “Y-You’re going to turn me into a baby?” River asked, confused and afraid.
“No, not quite. That would be too boring, don’t you think? I already did that. I have something a little different in mind for you. Now, hold still, little River… This will only hurt for a minute.”
It was another hour or so before someone else made their way into the room, now cleared of all signs of the struggle, such as it had been, not that the new occupants would have noticed anyway as they drunkenly stumbled toward the bed, shedding bits of clothing as they went. They half fell into a pile together on the soft bed, anxious to make full use of it. She fumbled with her bra, giggling as her clumsy fingers failed once again to get it undone.
“Help me,” she begged with a pout. “My hands aren’t working right!”
“I’m getting there!” he promised. Only then did she notice both his hands were occupied with getting his pants off. Even through the fog of the alcohol, she knew something was wrong about that, and she began to slide her own hand down her back, to the hand she had been sure she’d felt there.
As soon as she touched it, she knew something was wrong. It felt like ice against her own sweaty hand, almost slimy, and most definitely not human. She opened her mouth to scream, just in time for it to wind its way around her, pulling her bodily backwards off the bed, across the room, and into the mirror over the dresser. The boy barely had time to react before another tentacle burst forth from the mirror, slamming against the bed hard enough to send him flying into the wall, with the bed smashing into him just a second later, cracking a few ribs at the very least.
As he lay on the floor, panting painfully, head spinning, he could see more and more tentacles spilling out of the mirror, smashing through the door and, in a shower of broken glass, the window. Moments later, he saw classmates being drug back inside, screaming, only to vanish into the darkness of the mirror.
“So, you think you might want to look into a career working with children?”
Lemon shrugged. “I guess it’s just as good as anything else, right? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, so…”
“If you’re right for it, it’s a very rewarding job,” the daycare worker, Sweet, smiled at her. “You know, I almost envy you… I always knew this was what I was supposed to do. There really was never any other option. At least you still have a choice.”
“Would you have wanted to do something else?” Lemon asked. It felt strange to be talking to this woman like this, when just a few days earlier, she had been giving River training pants to put on her. Now, just a few feet away, River was sitting on the floor, squirming in a way that even Lemon, who knew very little about children, could tell meant she was either going to have an accident very soon, or already had. Lemon tried not to let on any of that, however, even if that was one of the main reasons she’d come here.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do,” Sweet told her. “I just can’t help but wonder if there would have been something else I’d have liked, just as much, if my Brand had been something different. But you can’t change destiny, now can you?”
“No,” Lemon tried not to laugh, “I guess you can’t.”
“And you never really know what you’ll get. I’m sure you’ll get something great when the time comes! It could be anything! I mean, really, anything… Have you ever met our little Jade? Her destiny is literally to be a big baby all her life. I’d never heard of anything like it until I started working here. And River is a lot like that, too, aren’t you, sweetie?” Sweet looked over at the girl, who blushed heartily as she felt the woman’s eyes on her. “Uh-oh… Do you have something you need to tell me, River?”
“Noooo,” River claimed, but from the way she was pressing her hand to her crotch, it was clear that was a lie.
“Are you fibbing, River?” Sweet asked. The girl blushed and shook her head, shrinking away as Sweet got to her feet and walked over to her, folding her arms as she stared down. “River, do I need to check you?”
“Nuh-uh,” River shook her head, glancing over nervously at Lemon in a way that made Lemon suspect that there was still a part of her that remembered her life before. Good. Lemon could only hope that Jade still had that same look in her eye the next time she saw her – when Sweet had taken her into the infant room, she’d been fast asleep in her oversized crib.
“River, don’t be a bad girl,” Sweet lectured. “Stand up.”
Reluctantly, River did as she was told, getting to her feet, skirt clutched anxiously in her fists. Sweet brushed the girl’s hands away, lifting her skirt and shaking her head. “Where did your flowers go, River?” River’s face flushed. “Oh, River… Are you ever going to be potty trained?”
Of course, the answer was no. That was her destiny now, to spend her life flunking her way through potty training, as indicated by the potty chair and paddle Lemon had etched into the girl’s leg, nicely visible as Sweet changed her before sending her off to the corner.
Lemon had to admit, she was a little disappointed that was all. “Shouldn’t you have given her a spanking?” she asked, trying not to sound too eager.
“What? Oh, you saw her Brand? Well, you can’t always take those literally, dear. It just means she’ll need some tough love, that’s all. Besides, we don’t paddle here. It seems awfully mean to spank her for something that’s so out of her hands, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Lemon sighed. She supposed the woman was right, and even if she wasn’t, she knew she couldn’t seem too eager to want to see River get punished, no matter how much she would have liked it. Jade, as far as she knew, was just an oversized baby, oblivious, but she had hoped that River’s life was a little more embarrassing, a never-ending sequence of playing with baby toys, fighting to keep her pants dry, failing, and getting her bratty little backside paddled before starting all over again.
Of course, with people like Sweet working at the daycare, she supposed that was what she had to expect. If she worked there, she could make sure River got what she deserved… Her eyes strayed toward Sweet’s Brand, then darted over toward her purse, and the knife hidden within. Was that really what she wanted? To spend her life looking after little kids, just to ensure her revenge was carried out fully? It did seem a bit overkill, but at the same time, it was just a good a job as any, she supposed. She didn’t have any other ideas, and she at least knew she could have some fun with this. Besides, if she changed her mind, couldn’t she just try again?
“Ms. Ward,” she smiled, “you mentioned a cup of tea?”
“Oh, yes!” Sweet chuckled. “I’ll go get it started. Do you mind watching the children for a minute?”
“Not at all.” And Lemon did, for just long enough to let Sweet make it to the kitchen and start filling up the teapot before she crept up behind her, knife in hand. “I’m sorry, Ms. Ward,” she whispered as she shoved the woman against the wall, using all her strength to hold her still long enough to cut off her Brand. “At least you’ll have a chance to try something new.”
As she peeled the Brand off the terrified woman, she couldn’t help but have a few second thoughts. She had just wanted some hint about what her Brand was supposed to be. It was never meant to be about completely humiliating River and Jade. It definitely had never been about hurting some poor innocent person who had just been caught in the middle through no fault of her own. Maybe she was going to far… But she’d already done it. She’d gotten quite used to the feel of the knife in her hand, to the action of slicing into another person’s flesh. She wasn’t sure the Brand would go back onto Sweet even if she did change her mind.
“I’ll take good care of them,” Lemon promised. “Well… Most of them.” She pressed the Brand to her own skin, only to let out a shriek as it took hold, burning into her leg like a red-hot ember. She dropped the knife in shock, not even noticing as it dissolved into green mist at her feet, as she was too busy collapsing on the floor, watching the image of the diaper pin sink down into her skin. Behind it, glowing green, she could faintly see the outlines of the Brands she’d given with the knife, the same diaper pin closed and the potty and paddle, just for a moment. She let out a gasp as the pain moved to her head, a very similar burning sensation running through her brain as her memories were rewritten, her past transforming to suit her new destiny.
Finally, it ended. She managed to open her eyes enough to see she was still in the kitchen of the daycare, curled up in a ball. Anxiously, she looked down at her leg, a small smile emerging as she saw, for the first time, a Brand there, the open diaper pin. Maybe it wasn’t the most glamorous one out there, but it was better than nothing.
Carefully, she got to her feet, glancing around in surprise to see that Sweet was gone, probably run off in confusion while Lemon was in pain. Lemon walked over the the stove the teapot was whistling away on and switched it off, then began to head out into the daycare, to get a taste of what her new life was going to be like.
She didn’t even make it to the door before another woman burst through it, one that Lemon recognized only through a memory that it was growing increasingly difficult to recall as being new, freshly implanted. “Oh, hi, Stone,” she smiled at the tall, imposing woman. “What..?”
“I told you not to call me that, young lady!” the woman boomed at her. “You haven’t earned the right to call me by my first name, you irresponsible little brat! I told you I would make you some tea in a minute, and for you to watch the children! What are you doing in here?!”
Lemon quivered in fear, getting worse with every second as newly minute memories began coming to her. “I-I’m sorry, Ms. Anvil, I was just…” Lemon let out a gasp as she felt warmth envelope her little cotton panties, just seconds before it began to run down her legs. With it came even more memories – her in her caretaker classes, terrified that she’d have another accident and be used to teach diapering skills once again; her peeing her pants on her first day of interning here and being spanked and sent to the corner, then spending the rest of the day treated like one of the children; that same thing happening over and over again, to the point where the children had no trouble teasing her like one of their own, and Ms. Anvil only encouraged them.
“What is this, Ms. Shuffle?” Ms. Anvil asked, flipping up the girl’s skirt without even asking permission. “Not only are you not wearing your training pants, you’re wetting yourself like one of our infants. Honestly, will you never learn? Go get the paddle, young lady.”
“No!” Lemon shook her head in disbelief. This couldn’t be happening! This wasn’t her destiny, this was supposed to be River’s! She looked down at her leg again, making sure that it really was an open diaper pin there. It was, but when she moved it, ever so slightly, she could just faintly see a green outline beneath it, under her skin, an echo of those Brands she’d created for River and Jade. “No…”
“What did you say?!” Ms. Anvil exploded. She grabbed Lemon by the ear, dragging her through the daycare, into her office to snatch a paddle before heading back into the main room.
Even though Lemon could remember quite well this situation playing out many times before, she could also recall Sweet saying something, only minutes before. “I-I thought you didn’t paddle here…”
“You know full well we don’t,” Ms. Anvil informed her roughly. “Not that students. You are not a student. You are supposed to be an adult. You should know better. That’s why you are the perfect example, young lady.” With that, Ms. Anvil pulled Lemon over her lap and began a particularly punishing paddling, not sparing an inch of the girl’s wet bottom, not stopping until it was a bright red, then wasting no time in swaddling that crimson backside in a thick diaper and putting her in the corner, bar of soap clenched between her teeth for saying ‘No’ to an order.
At the very least, Lemon knew she wouldn’t have to stay there for long. There was another crib Jade’s size in the baby room that she would find herself deposited in very soon as she was forced to take a nap for the rest of the day, until she was sent home, backpack bulging with diapers, a note pinned to her shirt detailing what had happened, with instructions that she be sent back to work the next day diapered again. After a week or so, she’d be allowed training pants again, but that never lasted long…
She remembered the knife, very faintly, something from another life. Where had it gone? Her eyes darted toward the hall that led to the kitchen, then back toward Ms. Anvil, who seemed busy with River. She could feel her diaper expanding slightly as she nervously peed into it at the very thought of what she was going to attempt, but she had to do it.
She barely got the kitchen door open before Ms. Anvil caught her and dragged her back for another spanking, and then an enema before naptime. As the warm, soapy water filled her, and the bar of soap between her teeth began to tingle against her tongue, she thought back to the glimpse of the kitchen she’d seen. She knew that had been where she’d used the knife, and she remembered dropping it, so she’d been looking at the floor, but she hadn’t seen it anywhere. This was her destiny now, unless she managed to make it back to that old house. But that would be awfully difficult, now that her bedtime was 7:30, and her mommy and daddy kept a baby monitor in her room.
Even if she could have stayed awake until midnight, and escaped without the crinkling of her diaper giving her away on the monitor, she would have found very little in that old house that would have helped her. Even if she followed the steps to the letter, only a ruined bathroom would have greeted her at the end of her journey.
As the years went by, however, new urban legends would begin to spring up, telling a very similar tale about Arcing Charge’s house, a house that nobody ever seemed to buy. If you just whispered the right words, however, and followed the right path – and made sure to stay exactly on the trail – you would find yourself in what used to be the master bedroom, where you could get a glimpse of destiny. It was said that the ruins of the old school were haunted, too, that if you walked by too closely at night, you would disappear, never to be heard from again. Nobody believed it, of course, but the board decided to build the new school a few blocks away, for reasons they never completely explained.
If Lemon had heard these rumors, maybe she would have tried again, looked for a second chance to choose her destiny. Her memory of that first trip was hazy, but the more she replayed it, the more she wondered if she had stayed on the path after all, or if something had gone wrong. But she spent most of her time with toddlers – supposedly taking care of them, but more often being taken care of alongside them – and they had no interest in those stories.
But some day, another would come. Their foot would stray, their words falter just enough, and they would belong to it. In the darkness, the mass of tentacles quivered at the thought. It had waited a long time for a meal that delicious. It would surely have to wait even longer for another as good, but that was all right. It had nothing but time.