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Ripples in the water glistened in light emanating from the crescent moon high above. Serenity hung in the cool autumn air, a small nudge of a breeze pressed her hair in towards her neck. Glinting water caught her eye- the deep blue shades of the lake enchanted and seduced her. Awe overtook her entirely, the natural beauty of the untouched lake made her hunger for adventure.
She rose to her knees, then to her feet, just to fall seconds later into the frigid water below. Her body cascaded down through the virgin surface of the tarn, skin stinging from the sudden impact. Encircled with painfully bitter water, she squeezed her legs firmly together and grabbed her shoulders with opposite hands. There she lingered, unwavering for at least a full minute, before she felt a satisfying tingle arise in her legs.
Tender flesh on the inside of her thighs began to merge, her knees fused together and her feet morphed into a wide fin. Silver and midnight blue armor-like scales grew from her hipbones down. New muscles formed in strips down her new extremity- she flexed them with delight. Inhaling deeply through the freshly developed gills in front of her ears, she spread a smug smile across her lips. With a single thrust of her fierce tail, she was submerged a full twenty feet below the once again pristine surface of the lake.
Excruciating pain from water pressure and drastic temperature faded into the back of her mind. With cold blood now coursing through her semi-human veins, her lips became as deep a blue as that of her scales. She circled the lake like a hawk circles its prey, for hours- looking almost more reptilian than fish-like as she slithered about the lagoon.
Eventually becoming aware of the passing time, she retired from her precious time in the water and forced herself to return to land. Tail evaporating into legs and gills dissolving from her face, she dried herself at the edge of the lake. On her own two ordinary legs, she started towards home in the early hours of the morning, only thinking of the next time she could meet the serene waters of the lake.
With all the stealth she could muster, she crept almost inaudibly along the brittle leaves beneath her feet. Calluses on her toes dampened the painful bites from small rocks and acorns below. Home was just over a mile away now, and with dawn still hours away from peaking over the horizon, she was confident tonight’s midnight dip would go unnoticed.
Stumbling, her ankle became lodged in an exposed root. Arms flailing madly in the air, she searched for something to prevent her from collapsing. Quickly clutching a branch evidently ready to fall, she tumbled forward, taking the limb with her to the ground. With an earsplitting crack from the bough and her own magnificent thud against the forest floor, she seemed to have woken the woodland. Nearby scampers and scurries made her skin crawl with nervous tension. An owl seemed to hoot mockingly as she brushed herself off and broke into a run. Echoing sounds from her fall ricocheted off trees around her. Now feeling utterly trapped in the forest- in her own skin- she sprinted towards her house, no longer taking care to be quiet. It was certain her fall would be noted- tears of disheartened frustration threatened to form in her eyes as her throat choked up. Her entire household was surely awake now- searching for the source of noise, and her absence would be the only thing they found.
After bursting through a grove of trees, she quieted her shallow, panting breaths. A final open field before her backyard now in sight, and she gave a final push of energy into her exhausted legs. Thorned bushes grabbed her skin without intension of letting go, but she raced on, allowing the thorns to keep bits of flesh as souvenirs.
Regret swallowed her whole in the next moment, wishing she’d remained in the shrub’s clutching safety.
Massive, metallic bronze talons seized her shoulders and pierced her flesh. Panic
rose up in her stomach and into her throat- somehow stifling a scream more than ready to surface. She felt herself being lifted off the ground, slowly being hauled up by the remarkable claws planted firmly in her skin. Pain from the oversized fowl’s grip was more intense than even that of her deep, icy swim, except there was no joy in it for her. Just pain- she struggled and thrashed about to break free of the intolerable hurt, but her efforts were in vain. Now several yards above the secure ground, she was regrettably aware she was under her captor’s control.
Straining her aching neck, she turned her head upwards to gaze upon the fowl more fully. A ghastly sight greeted her unexpecting eye. The beauty of the sight struck her first; flawless scarlet and russet plumage was spread across the vast expanse of two exceedingly muscular wings. The same exceptional feathering covered the creature up until its neckline, from which rose an almost human head. Blotchy skin, a flared nose, and her angular jaw line made the face unattractive, but still apparently human. But those eyes… with only a thin sliver of iris around the beady pupil, they made it clear you were looking at something bird-like, even when ignoring the massive amounts of feathers below.
Her mouth dropped and her eyes filled with realization, then horror. It had bird’s body, and an ugly woman’s face… a harpy. Numb with fear from head to toe, she whimpered pathetically. Regretting tonight’s swim, cursing herself for being so thoughtless, she attempted to take the reigns of the situation. She removed her mind from her body, away from the hot pain swelling in her shoulders, away from the wrenching fear in her heart. She focused intensely on the harpy. Its obviously powerful claws had a bite behind their bark. Its wings, despite their elegance, appeared equally fortified. From tail feather to nose tip, she surveyed the bird, prepared to exploit the slightest of chinks in its armor. She found none.
Suddenly realizing how long she must’ve spent gazing at the harpy’s exterior, she caught sight of the harpy’s destination.
Distress engulfed her. All composure now lost, she began to struggle once more, but her attempted escape was pitiful. Smiling sickly, the harpy let out a snicker, and released her from its grasp. She fell briefly through the air, but was soon delivered onto the scratchy surface of the nest. Her heart accelerated. Eyes darting every which way, she leaned over the edge of the massive flat of straw she now lay on. With easily seventy-five feet of air beneath her, only a tree trunk separated her from the earth below. Anxiety swelled up in her stomach. She was at home in water- unstoppable. Land was feasible for her, certainly not her domain, but still somewhere she could function. Here though, the harpy was on home ground- and she was a literal fish out of water.
Doubting the harpy’s claws would be forgiving the next time they sunk into her, she began searching for an escape. Above her was nothing but dark clouds and, of coarse, a circling oversized bird of prey. The nest on which she lay was otherwise vacant. Down was the only way out of the harpy’s domain, down the enormous tree trunk staring patronizingly at her. She swallowed several large lumps in her throat, praying she could do the same with her phobia of heights.
Her heart pounded in her ears as she studied the harpy’s teasing flight pattern, and formulated her plan around it. Moments now worth their weight in gold, she immediately began digging her toes into the heart of the harpy’s nest. Attempting to appear nonchalant, she pushed her feet deeper and deeper into the dense layers of straw, mud, and clay. She kept her eyes darting from side to side, up and down, trying to put up an adequate show for her captor.
Obviously satisfied by the amount of fear exhibited on her face, the harpy redirected itself back towards the nest. Fear overwhelmed her and left her motionless. The harpy was coming- and she wasn’t ready.
Terror clear in her eyes, she stared at the harpy as it approached, petrified at the thought of being reunited with it’s merciless claws. Her breathing intensified when she realized it was now only ten feet away- five -an arm’s length-
She finally broke her gaze with the harpy as she felt it’s claw run through her hair, grazing her scalp- but that was all. She felt warm blood slowly, somehow comfortingly seeping through the new score on her head. It had decided to further toy with her before attacking- a mistake it would regret. With the harpy’s back now turned, she began her escape. She forced her shins through the hole in the nest, followed by her knees, then thighs. Squirming frantically, she squeezed her hips through the cavity, just in time for the harpy to swoop back towards her- and screech in rage. Most likely cursing itself for playing with her too long, it raced back with tremendous speed.
Panic stricken and swamped with adrenalin, she wrestled herself further through the gap. With her stomach now through, she felt her toes touch rough bark- but her triumph was short lived. Razor-sharp claws were once again lodged in her skin, this time with the intension of death. Emitting a shrieking battle cry, the harpy attacked relentlessly, any mercy completely out of the question. Talons were madly ripping at her shoulders and chest- she was able to squirm only enough to deny the bird her neck. With a large thrust, the harpy yanked her fully out of her burrow, back onto the flat of the nest. Now screeching with glee, it ceased its lethal attacks once more and began striking for its pleasure, for her pain.
Rage coursed through her veins, and possessed her to take the offensive. Painfully lifting her bloody arms into the air, she grabbed the harpy’s right wing and pulled. Feathers came loose and there was an unexpected give in the wing. A mighty howl of pain escape from the harpy’s mouth, and its face twisted in fury. She bared her own teeth in ferocity, and nearly pulled the bird out of the air with a sudden surge of strength. The harpy took this opportunity to burry its claws deep into her exposed legs. She screamed- but the harpy kept on. Once again shooting for vital points of her body, it was clear now that only one would emerge from the nest.
Still screaming, she ripped handfuls of plumage from the bird’s previously flawless coat. The harpy gave an objective screech, but did not let its relentless attacks cease. Pain was ever present in her body, and she knew her strength would not remain with her long. She needed to end this.
She had stubby, round fingernails rather than the harpy’s claws, and legs instead of her preferred tail. Scouring her body for a suitable weapon, she came upon one viable- but revolting- option. Cringing, she opened her mouth fully and sank her teeth into the harpy’s humanoid neck. Cruelly ripping away flesh, she leaned in for another bite, and another. As she spat away blood, the harpy collapsed onto the nest- it’s wings still weakly flapping. It wasn’t long though, until the flapping subdued into a distant twinge, and the twinge into absolute immobility.
The gentle rising and falling of the bird’s belly began to slow too, and like the harpy’s wings, soon became motionless. Slowly kneeling at the fowl’s side, her mind flooded with contradicting thoughts and emotions. Triumph, utter disbelief, fear, lingering anger, and somehow regret all fought for precedence in her mind, but there seemed to be no long-term winner. They all took turns ruling her psyche as she replayed the fight’s events over and over in her head. Realizing how brutally she’d fought with the harpy, she assessed the damage it had inflicted upon her. Unsurprisingly, gashes and lengthy cuts covered much of her skin, but to her delight, patches of scales had already formed over several of them. She thanked her stars for the hidden perks that came packaged with her already astonishing gift.
As her adrenalin supply ebbed away, her terrestrial concerns returned to mind. Dawn peaked through the clouds crowning the harpy’s nest, injecting fear into her heart. Realizing she had little time at the present to dwell on her harpy attack, she quickly found her way out of the nest and back through the forest, once again to the field before her house. She slipped noiselessly over her fence and climbed into her mother’s beloved garden fountain. There she washed away the abundance of blood covering her head to toe. Although she was rather tempted to allow her majestic tail to reappear, she suppressed her desire for fear of discovery. No, she lay there still in the shallow water now slightly murky with blood. The water felt lovely against her skin, and as she had hoped, after only a few seconds of sitting in the shallows, the patches of scales that had formed over her battle wounds began to dissipate, leaving behind nothing but ordinary flesh.
An unusual feeling came over her as she pulled herself out of the fountain. While climbing the gutter on the side of her house and slipping through her bedroom window, she couldn’t help but wonder about her fight with the harpy. She thought about the harpy’s lethal claws and ruthless fighting technique. It had every advantage over her. Somehow, she’d managed defeat the wretched thing, but as she remembered the image of the bird’s limp, dead body that was undoubtedly burned deep in her mind, something troubled her. She remembered the fatal wound she’d inflicted on the fowl- the bites on the bird’s neck. She remembered how gruesome they had seemed when inflicted, but as she looked back, she realized that her few feeble bites shouldn’t have been enough to bring the beast to its end. And yet, somehow, the harpy was no more.