“So, to save you from asking, I’ll just give you a brief biography, shall I?” she smiled. “Okay… my parents were human too, but my grandmother was a shape shifter.”
“I thought you said you had to - “
“I’m not a shape shifter genetically,” she interrupted, holding up a freakishly long and thin finger. “Obviously, she was turned into one. She was touched before I was born, when my mother was about twenty. She had me a few years later… so I kind of grew up knowing about the whole Immortal world. My grandma always came to see us, especially me, but she was never allowed to even touch me. One day, when I was just turned fifteen, she had brought some roses around and was putting them in the vase. My mum loved roses, see. Her name was Rose. Anyway, I startled her - quite difficult for a human to do, actually - by slamming a door when I got into the house. She dropped it, and the vase shattered. I ran to help her pick up the pieces of crystal…”
I already knew what happened next., but I let her continue.
“… I cut my fingers on the shards, they were so sharp. Unthinkingly, she grabbed for me to try to stop the bleeding, but she scratched me with her nails. Even that is all it can take.”
It was quiet for a minute.
“Is it always like that? The transformations? Has nobody ever… well, like, willingly tried…”
Willow caught on to what I was saying. “Well, yes, sometimes. But there’s an Eternal rule for that. Only people who have led some form of decent or honourable life can be changed by asking. Mostly it’s just accidents. The Eternals don’t want the Immortal community to grow too large.”
“So, Meena, where’s your family now? Can’t I meet them?” I asked hesitantly, not wanting to hurt Willow’s feelings. They shared a look. I suddenly understood that these two must have known each other a while.
“How long have you two known each other?” I asked, frowning as I thought that it must have been ten years at the most.
“My family is dead,” Meena said. Unlike Willow, she stared straight into my eyes so I could see that they weren’t full of tears or hatred. In fact, they were almost apologetic. “I mourned them for a time, but after forty years I have learned to live without the grief.”
Willow grinned again as I silently mouthed the word forty?!
“I was born in 1888,” she grinned, enjoying the shock on my face. “I was changed in the autumn of 1903. In fact, I’d say it’s just passed the 107th anniversary. Maybe she should do something special?”
“Sure! Like meet your grandmother? If she was immortal, she would still be alive after a hundred years, wouldn’t she?”
“Yeees,” Meena said slowly. “She was only in her forties when she was changed into a shape shifter. The problem is, I have no idea where she is.”
“What? She didn’t - ?”
“She was incredibly ashamed. She didn’t want to change me, but there was nothing she could do. It was only about fifty years ago that the centaurs managed to proclaim a method of producing elixirs to withhold the conditions. So, I changed. She couldn’t face my parents. She stayed until I had completed the change into a shape shifter - it’s not painful, but it’s very quick - then fled. I think she might have gone to Chicago in the USA, because my mother’s side of the family had some immigrant relatives over there. They’d have died by now too, though, I suppose. If she left after that, I don’t know where she would be.”
“You didn’t go to follow her sooner?”
“She’s a shape shifter, Ruby. Much more powerful than I was at the time. We have ways of covering our tracks. If we don’t want to be found, we won’t be.”
Before the next awkward silence could descend, I stood up and stretched. We had only been sat like this for twenty minutes but it felt like longer. When I stood up, my head spun a little and I thought I might fall. I righted myself by clutching the bedpost. Luckily neither Willow nor Meena had noticed as they put their beanbags back into place. Now it was time to actually do something.