The Elixir of Al-Rūn

A College mage tries to steal an elixir of suggestion from his alchemy teacher, but winds up pranking himself pretty hard. Mature.

The evening bells rang out over the blue domes and white walls of the College, calling all its students to dinner in the Great Hall. By rule, only primes or those with special dispensation from a College Master were exempted. Martin was neither of these, but he had come to learn that during dinner, when the halls were nearly empty, was the ideal time to avoid being caught.

The sleeves of his blue fifth-year's gown were rolled up above his elbows and his dark hair was tucked behind his ears. On his desk before him, a sigiled blue flame lapped at the bottom of his glass alembic. A vial underneath the spout collected the thin, milk-white fluid, a distillation of white betony and hyssop petals.

Crouching down, Martin tapped the side of the alembic, coaxing a few more drops to run down into the vial. The betony and hyssop was spent. They had given him less distillate than he'd hoped, but he was sure it would be enough. He only needed to make it to the alchemy laboratory and back.

Within the laboratory, in the personal collection of Isidore, the College's Master of Alchemy, there sat a glass decanter, inlaid with gold and filled with a rose-red elixir. Martin had seen it only once, when Isidore had taken it from his study to show it to a sixth-year. It had been a gift from a friend of his, a Master at the great University of Al-Rūn, the cradle of alchemy itself. As Isidore described it, the elixir was made of camomile, saffron, a lock of hair cut from a slave's head, and the claw of a tame tiger. If drunk, it would render the drinker pliant and suggestible for a time.

This was his aim: to steal a portion of the elixir of suggestion, enough for several doses, and use it for his own ends. First of these would be Nicholas.


Sync

Two strangers become linked during a procedure to transfer their minds into synthetic bodies. Explicit.

Based on a picture drawn by Proxer.

Two days ago, I sold myself off. I should feel worse about going synth. I feel bad that I don't feel worse. I didn't have to. Technically, I had a choice. I could have let myself get evicted, go squat in some alleyway under those sodium piss-lights, and tell myself I wasn't compromising my humanity.

Instead, I tapped a blue checkbox that says 'I have read and agree to the Terms of Transfer' and scheduled an appointment: tonight, at the nearest Adelpha office.

The skyscrapers downtown eat up the amber glow from the night sky. They bounce it back and forth between their windowpanes, speckled with light from the offices of everyone working late. Down on the sidewalks, the street lights pour blue-white glare over me, washed with corporate colors every time I pass a ten-foot illuminated logo.

A helmet-faced, gunmetal gray security synth stops me outside the Adelpha office and runs my credentials. I end up staring into the polyglas door while I wait—it's slicker than water and I can see my reflection in it. I try my best to look tough. If this is the last chance I get to see myself, I want to savor it.

After about half a minute, the synth steps to the side. The door parts and slides open. With a brief gesture, the synth says, "The waiting room is straight down the hall."

The interior of the office is so sleek and rounded that I feel like an intruder. The polished white floor refuses to let my sneakers leave footprints. At the end, the hall opens into a lobby, with white chairs along two adjacent walls and a few tablet readers tastefully arranged on a table between them. There's one other person there. He's about my age, and judging by his worn-down clothes and scuffed shoes, he's in the same boat as me.


Spiked

A reality-warping collar turns an office worker into a tough hyena porn star, and changes those around him in pornographic ways. Explicit.

It starts while I'm washing my hands in the bathroom. I look down at the sink, then back up at the mirror, and instead of my tie, I'm wearing a collar.

As collars go, it's not even very work-appropriate.

The band is thick black leather, about an inch and a half tall, studded with round, half-inch steel spikes. It's big enough that I can slip my fist between the collar and my neck and still have wiggle room. There's a clasp in the back. I spin it around so it's facing front, and try to pull it open. It doesn't budge.

All right, fine, I'll just pull the collar up over my head instead. I slide the back up my neck and try to squeeze the front over my chin. Even though it's a loose fit, it's not loose enough to slide off. I keep trying for a good minute, until my neck's pink from the collar rubbing against it. My ears are hot and my face is flushed, too. I let go and it clunks down against my shoulders and collarbone.

If I can't take it off and I can't pull it off, maybe I can cut it off. I've got scissors back at my cubicle. I crack open the bathroom door and peek down the hall before I leave. I don't feel like trying to explain why I'm wearing an oversized punk collar in the middle of the office.

The coast is clear, so I slip down the hall, turn the corner, and see my boss, Tricia, coming my way. She's the sort of person who likes gray suits because 'they're neutral colors' and cares about timesheets and dress codes.

Maybe she won't notice the collar if she doesn't look too closely. I step to the side to slip by Tricia and give her a shy smile.

She smiles back, doesn't even glance at my neck, and says, "Hi, Spike."

I'm already past her, but I stop and pause. Was 'Spike' a dig at the collar? But if she saw it, she would have told me to take it off. I turn back toward her. "Um, what?"

"I was just saying hello," she says with a friendly shrug.

"Yeah, but my name's not Spike."

Tricia frowns lightly, then lifts an eyebrow. "Oh. All right, Mister Ryder," she says with more than a little sarcasm, then turns the corner and walks off toward her office.

My name's not Ryder either.


The Spa

What could be more soothing than being turned into a big, fluffy snow leopard? After all, cats are very good at relaxing. Explicit.

The receptionist swings the door open, then steps to the side with a gentle smile. "You'll be right through here," she says. "You'll want to take off your clothes. You can use the towel to cover up."

I've never had a massage before. Never been to a spa before either, but I got that gift certificate, and the way work's been lately, a full-day relaxation treatment is hard to pass up. I give the receptionist a shy grin. "Is that...should I take off my underwear too?"

She's probably gotten that question a ton. She shrugs and says, "Up to you, sir. Just lie down and ring the bell when you're ready."

I step into the room. She swings the door shut behind me. It's not a large room, but it's spacious. A thickly padded massage table sits in the middle, with plenty of room to move around it. The walls and cabinets are a deep, peaceful red. There's speakers in the corners playing a soft loop of natural white noise, wind rustling through leaves, birds chirruping, that sort of thing

There's a changing screen in the corner, so I step behind it and peel off my clothes. I want to be polite, so I fold up my shirt and pants and set them on the stool behind the screen. Then, after a bit of debate, I take off my underwear too, and tuck it between my other clothes. Before I step out again, I tug down the towel that's hung over the screen and wrap it around my waist.

I hop up onto the table, sit down with my legs over the side, and glance down at the brass bell sitting next to the headrest. Ringing a bell to make someone come feels weirdly posh, but if that's this spa's thing, I don't want to make it awkward. I pick up the bell and give it a loud ring.

A considerate couple of seconds later, the door swings open, and in come two women with short, dark hair and burgundy scrubs. "Hello, sir," says the more confident-looking of the two. "We'll be your masseuses today. If you would, please lie down on your back."

"Sure," I say. I turn around on the table, scoot in toward the center, then stretch out until the back of my head rests against the donut cushion at the top.

"Is this your first time getting a massage?" she asks.

"That obvious?" I say.


Birthday Blow-Up

Starring Blackshirtboy! A quick birthday story about becoming a real big cat. Explicit.

Happy birthday! Sorry I couldn't be there to blow up your balloons. Hope this makes up for it!

'This?' Was there supposed to be something with the card? I flip it over, check the back, pick up the envelope, peek inside. Nothing. Weird.

That's when I hear the hissing sound. It's in the back of my ears, like the sound of running pipes or a faucet left on. It's the sort of sound you never think much about until it happens when it's not supposed to. It's not coming from the kitchen or from the bathroom. It sounds more like—

I glance down. Just past the collar of my tee shirt, my chest is swelling outward. Each side is barely enough to fill a palm right now, but they're growing so quickly I can actually watch my skin expand.

Oh god damn it. I was going to go out for dinner soon!

Take a deep breath. This is fine, I'm under control. Yeah, I'm growing, but it's slow, just a gradual swell pushing against my shirt. Maybe a little tender, but that's the worst of it. I lift a hand to my chest. I prod at the edge of the swollen mounds; they give way beneath my fingers, as if they're filling up with air. Maybe I can just squeeze them back in, problem solved.

I clap my left hand flat against my chest. The pbbt sound against my ribs makes me flinch. So does the sudden shift of volume. On the left, my hand squeezes my chest flat, but the right side bulges outward in an instant, stretching twice as far as before, letting out a squeaky whine. I gasp. My hand jerks away. Without the pressure keeping it flat, the left side of my chest surges forward, until it's also twice as full and round as it was before.


The Bureau

A fox goes to the Bureau of Orthomorphic Management for a routine appointment and runs afoul of red tape. Mature.

Robin found the yellow envelope waiting in his mailbox on Thursday. It announced, in thick letters, that it was his final notice from the Bureau of Orthomorphic Management, and that he needed to renew his license by Friday or it would be revoked. As well as the final notice, it was also the first notice, and the only notice, that Robin had gotten.

The thought of letting his license lapse as some sort of protest came to mind, but then Robin remembered what a nightmare his friend Nick had gone through when he'd gotten his license revoked. He didn't even get his old name back; he'd had to take a crummy public-access name like Reginald.

So shortly after noon and still a little sleepy, Robin tugged the garage door open, threaded himself between his apartment-mates' cars, and climbed into his own. It wasn't a long drive, but he didn't want to leave his license's fate to the whims of the local bus route.

---

The building of the Bureau of Orthomorphic Management looked like a brick of tofu. It did have windows and doors, which aren't features of tofu, but even the un-tofu parts of the Bureau building were infused with that bland simplicity. Robin imagined vandalizing its facade with spraycans of sauce and spices.

There was a short concrete walkway that led to the front door, guarded by railings made lumpy by so many re-applied coats of black paint. Beside the double doors were two plastic signs mounted to the wall. The first said, 'Bureau of Orthomorphic Management, Regional Office'. Below, next to a small intercom, was the second sign. A drawing showed a stick-figure with large tusks hunched over, trying to fit through a door too short for them. 'Persons needing assistance please press button,' it said.

Robin pulled the door open and stepped inside. The top of the doorframe cleared his ears with two feet to spare. Foxes like him weren't the tallest species, but you'd have to be a giraffe to have trouble with the front door.

Past the front doors, Robin came to the lobby. The lobby was meant to have a directory. But at some point, someone had thought to pin up a sign directing visitors to their department. Then everyone else had realized what a good idea that was, and by now, the lobby had grown into a jungle of signage. Sheets of printer paper with arrows were taped to the walls and pinned to bulletin boards and stapled on top of each other, all begging the reader to follow their directions.

If you were coming to see the Exercise and Fitness Approval Board, that was on the other end of the building. Nonstandard Locomotion Permits could be found on the sixth floor, stairwell access only. The Body Planner's Office announced that it was "on the Mezzanine", which Robin thought was likely a made-up word to trick young interns.