Past Present

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:

Kotep, today at 8:10 AM: hey dummy, did you get my present yet

Uh oh.

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.


The Barmaid and the Barbarian

In the middle of her shift, a barmaid turns into a handsome wolf barbarian. Oh no! Explicit.

Rosemary never spilled a drop of ale if she could help it. She knew the tables of The Red Hart so well she could weave between them with her eyes closed, and had a hand so steady that she could have been an archer or a craftsman, if either had been acceptable jobs for a young woman. So the full flagon she had upended over the wolf-kin’s head was entirely on purpose.

“Oh, I’m sorry, milord,” she said, to make it clear she wasn’t sorry at all.

She tugged a gray cloth from her belt and tossed it over the wolf’s snout, then turned sharply and walked away, leaving him to mop the ale out of his dripping fur and braided beard.

She heard the other wolves cackling and growling in delight: “Haw, that maid’s got steel between her legs!” “More steel than Wulfric’s got, that’s sure.” “You bend over and lift your tail like that for all the humans, or just the pretty ones?”

Rosemary’s cheeks were tinged pink. In the back of her mind, she wondered if she might have been mistaken, whether she really had felt those claws digging into her chest, trying to sneak a handful while she was bent over the table. She knew enough not to listen to that voice, though.

As she stepped behind the bar, she set down the flagon rather loudly and said, “Molly.”

The other barmaid lifted her cheek from her hand and turned to look at her with a curious but blank expression, as if she had no clue what Rosemary might want with her.

“Stop making doe eyes at the beast-kin,” Rosemary said. “There’s other tables to serve.”

Molly sighed. “Isn’t it exciting though? A whole pack of barbarians, right here in our tavern.”

“If by barbarians you mean Northerners and by exciting you mean a lot of work, then yes,” Rosemary said. She fetched a couple of mugs from behind the counter, and set them pointedly next to Molly’s arm. “The table by the fireplace has been asking about their mead.”

The mugs clinked together as Molly picked them up, then leaned in close and lowered her voice. “What if one of them wants to take me back to his room and fuck me like an animal? And then he carries me off to his longhouse to dress me in furs and make me his bride...”

Rosemary said, “Well, until that happens you’re still on your shift, so get to it.”


The Island

Part wish fulfillment and part Weird Tales, a party led by a ship's captain explores the strange island they landed on, only to find one of their number turning into a sheep-maid. General.

Today, the island took the first of our crew. I would say it is the fifteenth of September, in the year eighteen hundred and fifty-six, but I am no longer sure. Since we put in to land five days ago, not once has the fog which shrouds the shores lifted.

In that time, no two parties sent into the interior of the island could agree on what they had found or where. One claimed it was a ring of land around a wide lagoon, another an impassable jungle thick with vines. Irritated by this, Captain Clarke this morning formed a party of the 'most sensible and scientifically-minded' men among the crew, the least given to flights of fancy or tall tales. They were the captain himself, the ship's cook and navigator Sloan, myself as naturalist and unofficial doctor, and a sailor named Simon who was the oldest and most seasoned of the ships's men. We would determine at last the nature of this strange place.

We set out from our encampment in the shadow of our ship, climbing up the seaward slopes of the hills. The fog descended over us until the tents along the sand had vanished and we could hear nothing but our own footsteps and breathing. Sloan and the captain walked ahead together, leaving me to keep my company with the sailor.

Simon did not speak much. The lines dug into the corners of his eyes made it seem as though he was always peering at some far-off memory, and the flecks of white in his black beard could almost have been sea-salt. I knew little about him save that he was from Connaught and that the captain regarded him highly.


The Dragon and the Elf-Blade

What if the fey were just fantasy cartoons? A dragon and an adventurer get turned into "fey" versions of themselves. Mature.

With each great footstep beat the heart of the mountain. With each fiery breath its treasures glimmered like stars. Scarce light filtered through the slits cut into the vaulted stone roof while the vast cavern turned every sound into an echoing chorus. Aluin huddled behind a gilded longship half-sunk beneath the dragon's hoard. One hand lay over her mouth and the other across her chest, as if to still her breath and stop her heart.

The dragon's voice cracked the dry air. "Trespasser! My flame has killed noble warriors—you should be honored to join their kind. Now show yourself, and I will be merciful."

The floor shuddered. The goblets and diadems beneath her began to slip away and rob Aluin of her footing. Clinging to the hull of the boat, she fought to stay above the tide of riches. The thundering footsteps were terribly close now. A gasp died in her throat as a claw as big as her head came to rest on the boat just above her. Silver and gold spilled across her shoulders like sand.

The shower of coins woke the elf-blade bound to her belt. It began to quiver and clatter, as if sensing danger and eager to be used. Scowling, she clutched it tightly by its hilt. She knew not what magic was worked into its blade; she had not yet needed to unsheathe it.

"My treasure is mine by right," the dragon said. He lifted his claw and beat his wings, rising into the air. "None can lay claim to a single coin of it. I am the King Beneath the Mountain. I am black smoke and the coming night. I am death and the ruin of cities." With a mighty crash, he landed in front of Aluin wings outstretched, fire brewing between his fangs. "I am Glaud!"

Gilt timbers groaned. The longboat listed to the side and spilled over. Aluin scrambled out from underneath it to keep from being drowned beneath a sea of silver. Now she stood face-to-face with the dragon. His scales were the color of porphyry, or dried blood, stretched taut across the sinewy frame of some great beast or tyger. Fangs filled his narrow snout and goat-like horns curled back from his head. His eyes gleamed yellow-green like tarnished gold.

She said, "I am Aluin." Where the courage to speak came from she could not guess. The elf-blade bucked and jostled at her side like an over-eager hound. "I come in search of a stone which belonged to my family generations ago, a sign—"

"You are a thief," Glaud snarled.

Aluin wrested the sword from its sheath. Its hilt was red and its blade blue, both blazing so bright it seemed as if they shone with their own light. From the hilt toward the tip, it thickened so much that she could not say how it had fit in its sheath. A shiver ran down her back and the sword wobbled along its length.

"I will not leave this mountain without that stone," she said.

Glaud's lips peeled in a beastly grin. "Then you will never leave."


Twisted Wish-ters

Kotep poofs two of their friends into a couple of useless stoner genies. Mature.

Above a sea of lotus columns, an impossible number of stars swirled in the purple of the night sky. Below the columns, Rush and Tama followed close at Kotep’s heels. They both guessed that getting lost in the jackal-god’s home was an invitation to get hit by some ironic curse or another.

"This is the hypostyle hall," Kotep said with a sweep of their hand, looking back over their shoulder. "It's where I do festivals, parties, strip clubsthat kind of thing."

Tama was only sort-of listening, but she nodded along. "Sick."

"So how do you fit all this into one pyramid?" asked Rush.

Kotep did their best not to sigh out loud. "This is a temple, not a pyramid. Pyramids are for dead people."

"Wait," Tama said, "You're not dead? I thought you were a mummy or something."

"I'm a god."

Rush asked, "Aren't mummies kinda gods though?"

Kotep didn't bother answering that. Instead, they led their two guests onward, past braziers filled with golden flame spilling light across the open hall, and into a smaller, cozier room, lit by oil lamps that filled the air with fragrance. Several couches surrounded a table spread with grapes and candied dates, roast vegetables and morsels of meat stuck through with ankh-shaped skewers, and sitting in the middle of it all, a tall silver hookah.


The Mansion

Four horror-style stories from a haunted-style mansion: "The Portrait," "The Trophy," "The Conservatory," and "The Stables." General.

1 – The Portrait

At the front of the hall hung a portrait painted in oils: a woman in a gown and corset, with dark lips and darker hair. Its eyes didn't follow the viewer so much as pierce through them. Though its mouth curled down into the slightest scowl, the light and shadow across its cheeks made it seem, if you caught it in the corner of your eyes, as though it was smiling.

Paintings lined the hall, but it was the portrait that Jason's flashlight lingered on. He stuffed a fist into the pocket of his puffy jacket and hunched his shoulders to fend off a shiver. Did it count as creepy? It was working on him, but he'd have to convince the rest of his friends if he wanted to win their contest. Setting his flashlight down on a nearby table, he dragged his phone out of his jeans pocket.

While he framed the portrait in his phone's camera, his fingers grew cold. He clenched his hand into a fist, then blew on his knuckles, then patted his cheeks, but they remained cold and oddly pale. Hurry up and get the shot, he told himself.

With a ruby-nailed finger, he tapped the screen, then lowered it to peer at the finished picture. The zipper on the front of his jacket twitched before sliding downward, slowly baring the front of his shirt.

No good. The picture had come out blurry. Jason took a few steps forward. His sleeves thinned out while he rubbed his hands together to warm them up—slender fingers, slim wrists, goose- bumps along his soft skin. He swept a lock of darkening hair behind his ear, out of the way of a red teardrop earring.

The portrait's hands, folded in its lap, now looked large and plain in comparison, and its ears were conspicuously unadorned.

Lifting his phone again, he held it as still as possible. His pursed lips were overtaken by red lipstick. The collar of his shirt stretched lower across his chest and his copper-red hair tickled his slender shoulders. He tipped his head back, held his breath, and snapped another picture. This time, the shot was clearer, but the photo itself seemed wrong. Instead of eerie scornful beauty, there was a confused, almost shocked look in the portrait's eyes.