Blackshirtboy's birthday present is a free trip to Egypt Times, complete with a new catgirl princess persona. Mature.
Just as you settle down at your desk with some tea, your computer chimes with a new message:
You pause and double-check to make sure you’re not a panther, or a dragon, or a dog. You’re not. As far as you can tell, all your parts are still in their usual configuration. So you tell Kotep no, and wait for a minute or two to see if they’re going to send you something. When nothing comes right away, you shrug and grab your tablet pen so you can get to work.
A couple minutes into drawing, a warm draft ruffles the back of your shirt. You glance up at the window, which is wide open to the outside, with only a pair of linen curtains to soften the breeze. It’s not getting hot and sticky again, is it? Summer should be over by now. But the fresh air is light enough to soothe rather than stifle, and it carries the dry green smell of date palm blossoms into your room.
You narrow your eyes suspiciously at the window. It’s off, but you’re not sure how. You’re definitely not getting up to stick your head through, that’s for sure.
You turn back to your tablet and keep drawing.
The window stretches taller and taller and its panes disappear completely. Columns rise quietly from the receding walls, growing white and tapering until they blossom into wide lotus-petal capitals, painted red and green and gold. They meet the ceiling, then slowly and steadily push it higher and higher. Your small room isn’t so small any more.
You’re not paying attention to that, though. Your fingertips have turned black.
Black fur, smooth and short, sweeps over your hands. It ripples beneath your skin as it moves and reshapes your fingers, leaving them light and nimble. You barely have time to sit up in surprise before it moves up along your arms, like a pair of velvet gloves being tugged up past your elbows. The sleeves of your shirt cleave away from the rest, fall down your arms, and grip your arms as they re-form into gold armbands inlaid with blue lapis.
Okay, this is definitely your ‘present’. You switch back over to Kotep’s messages; you’re about to tell them that they really need to give you advance warning on these things. You come to a sudden halt, fingers hovering over the keys. The letters are all wrong. They don’t even look like letters, more like ruines. You look back up at the screen and try to read their last message. You know what it’s supposed to say, but for all you can tell it might as well be in Phoenciain.
Your eyes ache for a moment. You blink, then open them again, bright amber with pupils narrowed to slits. In the corners of your vision, you can just make out the golden paint that traces the edges of your eyelids, then sweeps back along your temple in a straight line.
A new message pops up on the screen:
‘Happy birthday’? Ah, at least you can still read. That relief only lasts until you realize what you just read. That’s not even how you’d write that—but how do you know that?
Meanwhile, the transformation of your body keeps on going. Your shirt unravels into thin air until all that’s left is the collar, turning gold as it stretches across your shoulders, studding itself with beads of green and red jasper. Black fur flows down your chest, wrapping you up as if you’re being stuffed into a skin-tight costume. More than skin-tight, in fact. Your figure loses a couple inches from shoulder to shoulder, a few around your chest, a few more from your waist. Combined with the fact that you seem to be just a bit shorter, you’re left feeling much more slight and slender than before.
You don’t have much time to get used to feeling small. A surge of pressure wells up against your chest, arching your shoulders back and catching your breath in your throat. Breasts spill forth from beneath your golden collar. Only a pair of golden caps covering your nipples keep you from being completely topless. Your cheeks flush pink and you clasp an arm across your chest for modesty.
You may not be able to type, but you can write—so you pick your pen back up and start scribbling a message to Kotep in the corner of a sketchbook page, writing in hieratic script.
The change hasn’t slowed down one bit. You gasp as it works its way up your neck, but your voice gives out. Smooth black slides over your chin, across your cheeks, up past your forehead. Your glasses tumble to the ground. Your eyes flutter open again to find a short snout poking out in front of them, tipped with a little pink nose. You brush it with your fingertips; it’s wet to the touch. You grab handfuls of black hair, oiled to a polished shine. You reach up to find your furry ears, hung with dangling earrings. A golden circlet snakes its way across your forehead.
Then it clicks. “I’m turning into a cat,” you say to yourself. At least it’s not a panther again. But the soft-yet-lavish sound of your own voice surprises you, almost like hearing a stranger in your own head. You put your hand to your throat and say, “Oh, my...”
You have a growing suspicion that you’re not speaking English any more, either.
This is just the sort of thing that wicked jackal would do on your birthday. The more you think about it, the more you wrinkle your snout into a haughty pout. Shouldn’t the other gods have done something about Kotep by now? At the very least, the priests ought to keep them at bay...
You shake your head. Where did all that come from? You grab the cup of tea from your desk and take a long sip of the thick, sweet...beer. Not what you expected, but you know what? You’ll take it.
After finishing off your drink, you take a few moments to calm your thoughts. You savor the fresh air sweeping in through the tall windows. There’s two of them now, flanking a a bed strewn with soft pillows. The morning sun splashes against the white-washed stone walls and polished floor, filling the room with a faintly orange light. Even when you close your eyes, you can feel the warmth against your eyelids.
Now that you’re more clear-headed, here’s your plan: you’ll finish that message to Kotep, get them to ease off until the evening (and maybe skip messing with your head) and then get back to work. Being an Egyptian cat shouldn’t slow down your work...too much.
One problem. When you open your eyes, you find a scroll of papyrus spread out on your desk where your tablet ought to be, complete with some sketches and the half-written note tucked into the corner of the scroll. Instead of the tablet pen, there’s a reed stylus perched on top of an ink well. And where your computer should be are more scrolls, stacked neatly on top of one another.
While you try to come up with a plan B, your black pelt undulates down across your legs. Your pants roll up past your knees, fluttering as flannel rearranges into a pleated white linen skirt. A tail flicks out from underneath it and swishes through the air as if moving of its own accord. Sandals strap themselves around your calves.
You gasp softly and bend forward, pressing your thighs together. You’d bother to slip a hand down between your legs to check if you didn’t already know what you’d find. While it’s hard to tell exactly how tall you are now, judging by the level of your desk you’ve lost at least a foot in height. With your ears bashfully folded back and an arm still wrapped around your chest, you put on the sharpet pout you can manage and say, in the direction of the rafters, “I thank the great god Kotep for their generous gift. Now, I assume you’ll be putting my bedchambers back in order...”
You trail off into silence. The curtains ruffle in the breeze. Your jewelry clinks faintly as you cast your gaze around the room. Any moment now, the lotus-columns will pull back their petals and sink into the floor, or the walls will shrink back down to their proper size, or your tablet and computer will reappear.
Any moment now.
There’s one thing you can spy that hasn’t been subsumed into your palatial bedchambers. The door, still in its wooden frame, with a doorknob and everything. Which means, perhaps, that your ‘gift’ is still spreading. It might not have reached your entire apartment yet. If you’re quick enough, maybe you can make it out. You’ll still be stuck as an Egyptian cat woman, but that’s not so bad, and it beats being stuck here until Kotep remembers to let you out.
“Hmph. I suppose I’ll have to get back to work on my sketching for now,” you announce.
You take a few steps toward your desk, then turn and slip quietly over to the door. That kind of quick, fluid motion comes naturally to you, though your jewelry and your toplessness both limit just how nimble you can be. You take hold of the doorknob; it shrinks in your hand but you pull open the door before it vanishes completely.
You pad down the hallway, trying to keep low and out of sight. The walls and floor yawn wider all around you, and new passageways open up as you sneak by. Even with all the changes, you know the palace halls like the pads of your palms.
Er, you meant ‘apartment’, not ‘palace’.
You must have crossed at least twice the length of the hall by the time you reach the front door. It’s starting to slip away too, but you’re there just in time. You open the door and step outside.
A familiar warm breeze brushes against your hair as you walk to the edge of the balcony. Down below you is the palace courtyard, with its glittering pools of water shaded by trees and flower bushes, and bathed in the scent of lily and myrrh and cinnamon. Beyond the palace walls, you can see the royal city stretching all the way to the riverbank, dressed in colorful banners of red and green and gold.
A little excitement tickles your belly at the sight of the city all prepared for a festival. But no, right, you’re not even supposed to be here. Though you wonder if maybe you couldn’t have a little bit of fun before figuring your way out of this...
A voice somewhere in the distance calls out, “Princess?” Your ear twitches; you glance over shoulder. They couldn’t be looking for you. You’re not a princess, you’re...uh, your name is...
King’s Daughter, God’s Wife of Amun, the Princess Nebet?
You lean against the railing with one hand while massaging the side of your face with the other. Every line of thought you follow leads back to the same place. You know it’s not the right answer, but it feels so right you keep thinking that it must be.
“Princess Nebet?” the voice calls, closer now. You can hear their footsteps coming closer, but by then, it’s too late to slink off the balcony and find somewhere to hide. “Ah, there you are!”
Standing in the doorway is a dark-furred jackal, wearing a linen kilt about his waist and a small golden collar draped from shoulder to shoulder. Your head only comes up to the level of his chest, and he’s handsomely built too. Your mouth drifts open slightly. He’s, ah...cute, and...
And your chest is practically naked.
Flushing and flattening your ears, you wrap your arm around your chest and tear your eyes away, staring pointedly at the floor instead.
“Are you all right? You weren’t in your chambers,” he says.
You frown and purse your lips. “I most certainly am not. They-of-Many-Forms has hounded me all morning—first they turned me into this cat, and now they’re trying to confuse me into thinking that I’m Princess Nebet!”
The jackal lets out a laugh, then frowns when he realizes you’re being serious. “You do sound confused,” he says carefully. “But surely not even a god would toy with the king’s daughter on her birthday.”
“No, you’re not listening! I’m not the king’s daughter! My name is...well, it’s not Nebet. and I’m an artist, not a princess!”
The jackal takes a step closer to you and places a hand on your cheek. You feel surprised, upset, and like you want to hold his hand and nuzzle against it all at once. Your eyes meet, and he begins to smile as he leans toward you. Your heart flutters, you’re almost gasping for air, and you don’t even know why you can’t look away.
He says, “I think I’d know better than anyone who you are, my lady,” and then kisses you.
Your eyes go wide, then flutter shut. You lean towards him to return the kiss, nearly standing on your tip-toes. The golden paint that lines your eyes glitters as it curls across your cheeks, spreading into an elaborate eye-of-Horus pattern. All of that confusion fades into the back of your mind; not forgotten, just muffled. Your arm falls away from your chest. You’re free to be yourself again.
Ranefer lifts his hand from your face and gently parts the two of you. “Do you feel better now?” he asks, with a playful smile on his lips.
No longer so concerned about modesty, you straighten your back, puff your chest out a little, and lift your chin. “Much better. Was there anything else?” you ask.
“Oh, yes. The preparations for your festival are complete, so if you would proceed to the banquet hall—I’m sure the priests are eager to get things under way,” he says with a polite bow of his head.
Your eyes light up and your tail sways eagerly behind your back. Of course, your birthday— that’s why the whole city’s celebrating, after all. There’ll be feasting, drinking, processions, music, gifts...but before you hurry off to begin the festivities, you clear your throat and say, “I expect I may need some assistance in my chambers tonight. See to it that you make yourself available. I’d hate to have to find a substitute.”
You trail your fingertip along the underside of Ranefer’s chin, then give him a smile before turning with a swish of your tail and striding off down the hall, as eager as any princess would be to have an entire day dedicated to celebrating herself.
Ranefer lets out a deep breath as you leave, then hurries off to take care of his other duties, so that he would have plenty of spare time to spend that night.
And Kotep, no longer lurking around invisibly, sits up from their seat on the railing of the balcony and looks right into the camera as they wink. “Happy birthday, princess.”