La Dame de la Louve Blanche
A wolf pursues her friend through noir-Paris, while getting hypnotized into an elegant femme fatale. Explicit.
Two blocks from the private investigator's office, Vicky heard the narration kick in.
“The water came down in sheets, giving Paris the cold shower it deserved. The city of love? When you’re lucky, love chews you up and swallows you whole. When you’re not, it tears you to shreds and leaves you drowning in the gutter. Whoever decided to make a city of love was mad, or French. The two were close enough.
“Anyone with sense was inside. Which was why one rain-drenched wolf climbed through deep puddles and streams of water running down the streets: madness. Or love for a friend. Close enough.
Vicky got the idea. She was inside a film noir that was set in Paris; she'd figured out that much when she showed up and everything was black-and-white except for her. She was still baffled how Liz had gotten here in the first place, but that wasn't important. What was important was finding her friend.
In a side story to ||||||||, a fox couple goes to a hookah bar and get turned into faceless latex drones. Explicit.
Jason couldn't stop staring at the sign. It said 'Matat Lounge' in simple, backlit black-on-white. There was nothing wrong with it. The longer he looked, the more the vertical strokes stretched in his eyes, the smaller everything else became until the letters were meaningless shapes. They were uniform blocks of black and white that meant nothing. A primal fear of emptiness rose from deep in Jason's mind.
Elle flicked his stomach with the backs of her fingers. Jason flinched and gasped and blinked. The sign said 'Matat Lounge' in simple, backlit black-on-white again. There was nothing wrong with it.
"Are we going in, or do you need some more stare time?" she asked. She leaned her elbow on top of his shoulder until he gave way. He couldn't find the words to explain the fear in the pit of his stomach. It was already retreating from the forefront of his mind like a bad dream.
Jason smiled at his vixen girlfriend instead. "Yeah, sorry, just zoned out," he said. He flicked his keyring into the palm of his hand, checked the car door to make sure it was locked, and then stepped up onto the sidewalk with Elle.
The Dragons Womb
An adventurer becomes host to a parasitic worm that turns her into an egg-laying dragon-insect hybrid. Explicit.
Talia walked through the ribcage of a dragon. Ten feet above her, its spine jutted from the rock ceiling. Its ribs were like curled pillars embedded in the rock walls. A tiny stream ran down the middle of the floor, fed by the trickle of water dripping over the ancient bones. With one eye on the floor and another ahead of her, she followed the slow incline of the tunnel. Up. Up to the mines, and then up out of the Dragons' Tomb.
A bag of drake scales rustled inside her pack. She'd plucked them fresh off a centipede drake's hide: her prize for braving the Tomb. Eline had said it wasn't worth the risk, but a suit of scale armor was a precious thing to have. Talia had found enough scales to make gloves for her roguish friend, too.
Her torch cast a flickering light over the damp. It lit her body: her banded steel armor, her short, dark hair, her young but stern face, and the muddy grit smeared on her cheeks. The centipede drake was still fresh in her mind; wet chittering, hundreds of scuttling claws, and a head that bulged with far too many eyes. She had only nearly bested it.
A flicker of movement caught her eye, shifting in the shadow beyond her torch. Her heart quickened. She gripped her mace. Torch low, she advanced step by step.
A pitch for an advertisement for Cougr-Lite cigarettes. They'll bring out the cougar in anyone. Mature.
The cloakroom doors swing shut behind him. It's the most important party of the year, and he's young, strapping, and anxious to the point of shivering. He watches the door as he draws a handkerchief from his pocket and drags it across his brow. His nervous breathing fills the room. He tugs at his tie for air.
"You look like you could use a light."
He didn't think there was anyone in the room. He turns, startled, then freezes as he drinks her in. She's a lioness with a heavy gaze and a black velvet dress. Her hips are ready to tear free from her clothes. The way she's perched on her heels, she's ready to pounce. With her hair tucked behind her ears, long and straight, she wouldn't even spoil her hairdo if she did. Some part of him enjoys how intimidating she is, all curves and confidence and sly experience.
"Oh, that's fine, miss," he says, searching for words while his heart hammers. "I've got my own matches."
Her lips glisten, a patronizing smile. "No, not ‘a light'. A Cougr-Lite." She pushes the cigarette pack into his hands. He looks down at the silhouetted cougar, the fine lettering, the silver trim. He raises his head to speak, but she's already at the door.
"Whenever I need a bit more pride," the lioness says, "I reach for a Cougr-Lite."
With a flick of her tail, she slides her magnificent body out of the cloakroom. It's just him and the box of Cougr-Lites. Beyond the door, there's the buzz of conversation. He needs to be out there, but without his courage, that door might as well be a wall.
The Treasury of the Sphinx
An Egyptologist and her partner discover a vast store of riches, then become its guardians. Mature.
To my esteemed colleagues, Victoria began. It was the third draft of her letter asking for more time and funding, and she still sounded desperate. Cambridge wanted another Tutankhamun, but all that the workers had uncovered was sand and stone.
"Ma'am? One of the boys thinks he may have found something."
William stood under the tent flap, surrounded by the glare of the desert sun. Victoria squinted up at her fellow archaeologist like he was a mirage. Then her blue eyes widened.
Victoria slapped on her hat and stuffed her feet into her boots and was still twisting her hair back into a ponytail as she followed William across the camp.
The young Egyptian man still clung to his pickaxe. He beamed brightly, standing next to the apple-sized hole into some deeper darkness behind the rock. William lifted his lantern to the hole. There was a flash of something beyond, but the hole was too small to see through properly.
In her best Arabic, Victoria asked the young man for the pickaxe.