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Old 01-22-2016, 02:33 PM   #1
JimBob
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Default The Murmurs in Merablis (~BHM, ~BBW, ~XWG, ~Lovecraftian Horror)

~BHM, ~BBW, ~XWG, ~Lovecraftian Horror --- The stories one hears while on holiday...

(Got the itch again, and decided to try a little thought experiment - a story inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, springing out of the same world as my last piece. No idea of the crossover between Lovecraft fans and Fat Admirers - but in any case, I hope you find it an entertaining tale!)

The Murmurs in Merablis

by

JimBob



I - Arrival

In the city of Merablis, in the peninsula that lies south of XXXXXX, in the sea of XXXXXXXX XXXXXX, I stayed a while, to recover from my injury.

The ticket for my voyage had been afforded me by my good friend, T— F— N—, the witch, via her travelling companion and ‘familiar’, a gentleman calling himself H. M. It was, as he explained, an olive branch from her in consideration of our previous quarrels, that I might make the peace with her on my return.

Pacing the decks of the luxury cruiser that took me to the port of Merablis, I pondered the authenticity of T— F— N—’s offering. It was not her usual fashion to forgive, nor to forget; but this is my own failing a thousand times more often. Even if her offering had been sincere, there was no telling as to why she had given me passage to a place of which I had never heard, and had never expressed a desire to visit.

Such is the whim of such persons as T— F— N—, I reminded myself. It was her mercurial nature, not to mention the…unsavoury company she keeps, that had prompted our latest falling-out. A witch can keep many opinions and many moods, and shuffle them as she does her tarot cards.

So I did not dwell upon her motivations when my ship put into port, and I went among the people of the desert town of Merablis, where the sun bakes every creature in its skin by day and a low, black fog shrouds the streets in twilight by night.

Of the architecture of Merablis there is little to say, and tourist or resident would agree that this is the best one can say about it. The buildings are predominantly a yellow or beige stone, with the grey of office buildings cutting through at intervals. After finding my hotel, provided for free with the journey, I spent an afternoon wandering the streets aimlessly, taking care to mark my trail with a map provided by the hotel manager.

From above, the area appeared more impressive than at street-level. The curves and twists of the avenues around me, at bird’s-eye view, put me in mind of fossilised sea-shells, spiralling into themselves to a smaller degree than the eye could follow. In that sense, the city of Merablis is nobler than, say, New York or Paris, whose skylines are remarkable but whose overheads make them seem drab.

At the edge of the maps, certain stretches of the beaches were marked inaccessible to the public, for no listed reason.

I spent 12 days of my two-week sojourn to this little-known cityscape squeezing as much distraction as I could out of the tourist attractions. I took a bus to the highest point of the jagged mountains on the city’s outskirts, limped (I was still on crutches at this time) through the ragged museum of traditional clothing and ancient fishing and hunting equipment, joined a party of travellers who wished to drink by a fire in the middle of the desert and sing songs.

In all this time, a peculiarity: few of the native persons of the town had any desire to look me in the eye, or speak more than a few words. I would not have noticed, had the travel guides not claimed that Merablis and its neighbouring countryside depended in a large part upon tourist patronage to maintain their fragile economy. Nor did I notice similar treatment being afforded to other foreigners, and wondered if I had broken some form of etiquette that singled me out as an eternal outsider in their eyes. Alas, the dialect of XXXX spoken in Merablis eluded me, and my grasp of the more basic form of the language was tenuous at best, and so I could not ask.

The only son of the city to treat me as a gentleman was a gentleman by the name of Khalid bin-F——, who I met fishing on the docks early in my holiday. He spoke English like a professor at Harvard (who has grown in Tunisia, and been educated in English by third-rate teachers), and had a boisterous belly laugh, being uncommonly fat. In this degree, he also walked at a slow enough pace that he and I could keep up a conversation as we travelled the crowded streets, as (I have mentioned before), my crutches kept me from a natural stroll.

His walk was one which you may have seen in certain men who have carried a ponderous weight for many decades, where the legs are spread to accommodate the swing of the great belly. If you have not seen it, picture the stroll of Alfred Hitchcock in one of his myriad cameos, but magnified to a frame twice his size. Some may call it a ‘waddle’, but I have seen a near comical grace in it, rather like the way an alligator will lumber and stumble on the shore but glide like a cloud in water.

He was a fat man, of course, and a little ignorant of the world, but amusing enough to spend my time with nonetheless. Besides, I reasoned, who of my friends at home would ever find out?

On the thirteenth and penultimate day of my stay in Merablis, where wiry dogs sleep in the doorways stare with weeping yellow eyes at passers-by, Mr. Khalid met me outside my hotel room. He was dressed in his best white suit, and wearing a fez that sat on his large bald head at a comically jaunty angle, though it stayed as rooted on its spot as a falcon on its prey.

“Come with me to the cafe,” he said, the bottom of his goatee juddering over his double chin. He paused to dab at the sweat on his brow with a handkerchief. “We can smoke shisha, yes? - and talk a while."

This was, I had learned, a favourite pastime of his, along with drinking innumerable cups of coffee and swallowing box after box of dates until the cummerbund on one of his custom-fitted suits might threaten to burst and his handkerchief was soaked with sweat. But I had not come to enjoy his company for the humour of it, but for the general pleasure of his company, and so went with him through the cool afternoon breeze to an outside table at our cafe of choice, on the street of XXXXXXX.

There, after an hour or so of opining about the politics of neighbouring countries and puffing on the finest of shisha, Khalid removed his fez and his round, dark sunglasses, and leant his weight on the table. I leant in as well, partly in order to join in his conspiratorial nature and partly to steady the table, in case his bulk toppled it.

“Did I ever tell you the story of - this house?” he asked, indicating with his left hand, though he did not turn to look at it. The house he spoke of was directly opposite the cafe, and seemed as drab and ordinary as any other in the city of Merablis, where cactuses bloom in the alleyways where no-one treads. Nothing marked it out save for a curious, faded design on the door, which resembled a bear with its paws raised in attack. In my research, I had heard no mention of bears native to the peninsula that lies south of XXXXXX, since there are no forests there.

“You did not,” I replied, my curiosity piqued.

“Would you like to hear it? I promise it will be a good one, that you can take home with you to your friends,” he said. I had come to expect good humour out of my lone companion in the city, but till now had not seen seriousness in his expression. “It is a story worth hearing, I promise you,” he said again, and stifled a belch.

“Whether my friends would like it or not, if you tell it I’m sure I’ll be glad to hear it,” I said, knowing that I had nothing else to do.

He straightened himself on his chair, and called in the local language for a refreshment of coffee, and another plate of dates and some croissants.

"These waiters, you can't trust them. XXXXs, the lot," he said. I have my own opinions of persons from that particular country, but could not help but agree with him.

Having taken three of the former snacks and one of the latter, and brushed the crumbs from his shirt, and cracked his knuckles, and looked around to see no-one was listening, he sat back and told me the story of the house.

I reproduce it, below, in its entirety, and leave you to judge its meaning for yourself.
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Old 01-22-2016, 06:01 PM   #2
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Intriguing! I can't wait to read more.
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Old 01-23-2016, 12:06 PM   #3
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II - Crime

It was said in the city of Merablis, there once were as many gods as there were families, so that every house seemed a church and no neighbour fully trusted another.

In the house where now stood the assembly point for council meetings and trials, one may have found devotees of Kathuset, the cat-eater, whose body is riddled with sores scratched in him by his prey; or by Juddagash, whose eyes are like the circlets carved on trees where a branch is removed, or by the Five Sisters of Esch’atan, who with hands joined make a circle, shielding from the injustices of life those who have despaired in it.

It was said also that in these centuries ago, there dwelt two newcomers, a rich man and woman.

The man was lithe, and agile, and whispers said that he had been raised by the owners of an Egyptian Circus, where he had been engaged in the art of pickpocketing until he was old enough to take the trapeze with his masters. His name was K——.

The woman, however, was likely of a Russian heritage, from her pale skin and her fondness for furs, and her large build. It was said of her that her father had been a drug-smuggler, and through necessity she had become his bodyguard and enforcer, until a circus came to her town one night. Her name was A ——.

There was no telling from where they had come or where they might go next, for they kept to themselves; all that could be said of them was that they were in love, and that they worshipped no gods.

In such a place, this was a misfortune in and of itself, but it could not have helped that their souls were especially in need of cleansing, for they had arrived at their fortunes through thievery and robbery. Though they dressed themselves in the finery of the higher castes, it was apparent to all, for their language was coarse, and their hair mussed and dirty.

Worst of all, in them was still the lust of knaves, to do ill and cause mischief, and chief among them was a desire to steal from their neighbours, all of whom had many riches to offer their gods, now long-forgotten.

And so, a mere month after they had settled in a house overlooking the beach in the uppermost corner of the teeming city of Merablis, where the children tossed jewels to one another in street corners, they schemed and grumbled amongst one another, itching in their sinews to take the riches of others.

Now, at this time, at the other end of the city lived a woman of middle years who had descended directly from the founders of Merablis. She was called “Ursula” by some, remembering that in some obscure and forgotten tongue this name meant “Daughter of the Bear”. A renowned gentlewoman with an unshakeable character, she kept herself in relative privacy, the last to light a candle for a god whose name had only ever been spoken by a people now long dead. Her servants cooked, cleaned and ran errands for her; another gentlewoman, learned in laws, served as her voice when she was called-upon.

It was her house that the two unscrupulous criminals decided to visit and plunder, suspecting that her shy and retiring nature was indicative of some physical defect (for they had never seen her). Their observation of the movements of her servants told them that the gentlewoman had plentiful amounts of gold and finery at her disposal, and that impression was not lessened by the presence of a painting in gold leaf on her door, of a mighty bear raised up to defend itself against a hunter dressed in angry red rags, whose arrows lay broken at his feet.

“Was it that door?” I asked my companion, pointing across the street.

“It was that door,” he replied, stroking his beard.


So on a night some months hence, after much observation and planning, the unscrupulous pair resolved to rob the house of Ursula, the gentlewoman.

Their techniques can be as well imagined by a tiny child as by a learned scholar, and so it is unnecessary to repeat them here. Needless to say that they dressed in dark rags, and carried with them lock-picks, ropes, strings, small explosives, soporifics that would induce a hazy dream-state in the minds of unsuspecting servants and night-watchmen, and many bags of a soft material that would not rattle no matter how metallic their contents.

The job was done swiftly and professionally, and once inside the two set about walking through the house of the gentlewoman, Ursula. In that house, none save herself and her bloodline had ever stepped, for she kept a separate house, almost as handsome, for her servants to dwell in and allowed them only to pass meals and notices through various hatches between the two.

Into the house through such a hatch came the thieves, and once inside they set about their work, packing away silver cutlery and jewels set into the eyes of the reliefs in the walls. It was said afterwards that they had expected to find shrines to the great unnamed bear-goddess whom the gentlewoman revered scattered about the place, but this was not so.

The corridors and chambers of the gentlewoman’s house were not festooned with the images of bears, but of forests, where a bear might stalk. Long shapes spiralled out of the floor and into the ceiling, branches that became tendrils and unfurled into branches once again. A few stuffed birds sat in the alcoves of the walls and peered with beady eyes upon the couple. When A—— spoke of it later, she said the walls had felt like bark when her hand traced along them in the dark for guidance. When K—— told it later, he said that his feet had made soft crushing sounds over the carpet no matter how elegantly he tread, as though it were encrusted with leaves.

In all of the house, however, there was one uniting element in its architecture. The ceilings, doorways and even the hatches through which the servants sent meals were larger than could be conceived of for a human being, far larger, and in some places heavier. A——, as strong as she was famed to be, begged for her husband’s help to open the living-room door, it apparently being made of iron; and the two were vexed by the jewels which beckoned to them from the highest points of the walls, which they could not have reached on one another’s shoulders.

To this extent, the two felt dwarfed by the house; as though they dwelled in a place which had been the home of titans, in a past time. It did not take either of their notice until many years later, of course, that there were far too many rooms for the gentlewoman herself to occupy alone. In this it is generally concluded that she had been the last of a large family.

At the far end of the house, the two thought must be kept a greater vault of treasure than what they had collected; and silently beckoning his wife along with a well-practiced gesture, they stepped closer to this antechamber, which could have served as a Christian chapel in another land.

From this chamber arose a strange odour that neither of the two villains could place, and grew thicker as they travelled down the hall; and a light which shone beneath the doorjamb, and grew stronger and more piercing the nearer they drew.

As the two crept toward it, holding their hands in front of their mouths to shield their breath from the by-now oppressive odour, the doors swung open, and the gentlewoman stepped out before them, dressed in her velvet gown and leaning on a large walking-stick whose head resembled a furry paw.

“You must of understanding, she was not an old woman,” said my companion. “But she needed stick, because she was —”

He held out a hand in front of his own vast belly, and mimed a circular motion, the flat of his hand striking the underside and sending it jiggling within his shirt. I nodded, though I did not understand if he indicated she was as rotund in frame as himself or much larger by comparison. It did not seem to matter, as I confess that to my untrained eyes, one glutton will invariably resemble another.


Ursula, her restful meditation disturbed, looked from one thief to the other, searching for familiarity in their masked eyes. Before A—— could step forward and accost her, however, K—— held up a hand in a gesture that meant “pause” between them, and stepped forward.

“You are being robbed,” he said, as though stating that she had a drop of sauce upon her lapel. “We do not wish to hurt you, or cause you any pain, but we will if we have to. Please, do not alarm yourself."

Doubtless the rogue had realised that she was of a larger girth, and would therefore be at greater risk to heart disease; and he did not want to be found responsible for murder, having proudly avoided that crime over his many years in knavery. His wife, breathing heavily, only crossed her arms, giving her assent to this gentle touch.

The thief pressed the hand of Ursula into his own, and had he not been intent on calming her, would have leapt away with a yelp, for it was as cold as ice. Ursula, to her credit, did not seem to be alarmed, for over her puffy face was a warm smile, as though receiving compliments on the cut of her gown or the curls of her coiffure by an admirer. She let his hand fall into hers.

Then, with a squeeze, she broke every one of his fingers.

“She was also, big, in such a way —” my companion slurred, and held up his arm, flexing it. In this way he indicated that the gentlewoman and lover of bears had what he himself would never possess - their prodigious strength.

In a flash, she had him by the throat; and turning, brought the iron head of her stick down upon the knees of the other, more formidable thief, sending her toppling to the floor. Still with K——’s neck in her hand, this formidable personage of Merablis trotted calmly down the corridor and put her foot on the neck of his bride and companion in vice.

Though he pawed and scratched at her arm, her grip grew no less steely nor any less icy, and her bare foot stayed at the neck of the other as though rooted there; and the two began to drift into a shared sleep, black and dreamless, quite unpleasant in comparison to that which they might have induced upon her with the drugs in their disposal.

Then she opened her plump lips, which in the candlelight they saw bore a long scar, and spoke in a voice that bore many more years than her face could ever show.

“The law is clear in this city,” she said, “that when a thief is caught, their fate is in the hands of those from whom they stole. It would be no crime for me to kill the two of you, and have the stringy meat cut from your bodies and delivered to my butcher."

Relishing the whimpers that the two made in reply to this, she twisted her foot and tightened her grip, while they still could listen.

“But you did not attack me, and behaved as politely as a thief could, knowing what you know; and for that you incurred my amusement. I will not do such a merciful thing as kill you. Not when I might teach you a lesson."

And this last was said to two who had drifted out of consciousness, and found themselves helpless in the strange, cavernous house of a gentlewoman of Merablis, that city whose walls have never fallen to any invader nor been raised by any tyrant.
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Old 01-23-2016, 12:47 PM   #4
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Well done -- great start!
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Old 01-24-2016, 04:09 PM   #5
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III - Punishment

It is said among the races of men that temptation will lead one away from the path of the gods. It is less said that the gods’ own paths are strewn and lined with temptation up and down, and especially their perverse desire to do mischief to the denizens of the worlds below them - and indeed above.

No-one can say which gods Ursula called to that night, if gods she called at all. Though her own dear demagogue of the forests would have been invoked first, it had once belonged to a mighty pantheon, whose members walked their way stealthily in and out of other faiths and through other heads.

Which of them did she choose? Addalon, whose incarnation is a puffed toad? Krakoroth, bloated with blood like the tics and mosquitos she favours? The Aunt of the Harvest, Simatura, between whose thighs the sun was once rolled?

Or did she whisper the charming words of those whose names human beings might never speak, who dwell elsewhere than the universe? It is well-discovered that Yog-Sothoth manifests in the form of many glowing spheres, or that Saa'itii manifests as a ghostly hog. Even dread Cthulhu, in his house in the city of Rl’yeh, has been carved in figures that show him flabby and protuberant of frame, slumped over his stone tableau with his famed weary malevolence.

For this time, such idle speculations may be the pleasure of many and prove the satisfaction of none. One might as well ask how the two were transported in their slumbers to the place in which they woke, left in the mercy of a woman who never left her house and whose servants would be sound asleep for many hours. Or, indeed, who it was that arranged what happened to them next.

All that can be said for certain is that in those evening hours, the walls of the city of Merablis, where the wells are marked with long red runes that seem to gaze at passers-by, shuddered in their moorings and were feared to collapse; that the night-watchmen saw no birds alight on any tree-branch, and the night-fishermen caught no crabs or lobsters in their catches; that the dreams of all the children were interrupted by great thick fingers, that erupted from the clouds and tangled in their hair until they could not get away.
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Old 01-25-2016, 12:48 AM   #6
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I love your use of Lovecraftian lore! I cannot wait to read more.
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Old 01-25-2016, 04:16 PM   #7
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IV - Descent

The first of them to wake was K——, and he found himself alone, and surrounded in darkness.

Fearing that he had been cased in a coffin and entombed alive, he cried out, flailing before him in terror, but found no lid. In the corner of his eye, light flickered, not unlike candles.

Shifting about, the thief found his eyes adjusting to the light, dim though it was. He had been laid on a bedding softer than down, whiter than snow, that puffed around him like a blanket. Had his terror not still flickered over his heart, he might have laid back into it and settled down to rest, or scooped it under his arms and carried it where no-one else could find it, even his dear wife.

This white, cottony substance flowed under him and above him, in the form of a gigantic bower. In K——’s mind, the image of a cradle or a hammock became apparent, and more so when he swayed a little and felt the swing of his new bedding corresponding with him.

Above this snowy bower, without exit or entrance, were the rocky walls of a cave. With a note of caution, and feeling a tremble in his limbs, K—— shuffled to the extreme end and stretched out a singular leg. It occurred to him in that moment - where before the knowledge had been clouded by drowsiness, and the softness around him - that he had been stripped of clothing, rings and necklaces, and his hair uncombed and washed, leaving him in only his britches.

His foot hovered in the darkness, searching for purchase. It stretched out further - further - and the tips of his toes met a damp, soft surface some feet below. He let himself relax, let his weight lean upon it slowly - slowly…

A cry, as terrible as any babe in arms, resounded through the cavern around him!

Falling back with a muffled curse, the brigand let the downy white of the bower envelop him again, quite tangling him in its folds. Spitting and muttering, he chastised himself for startling at the cry of what surely had been a startled bat, fluttering away into the night. In his curses, he became aware all at once of several truths which until that moment had only tickled the edge of his consciousness.

The first of these was that his mouth was dry, and he was terrifically thirsty. The second was that as his foot had leaned down into the cave, all but his heel had found purchase; and that had hovered only over empty void. The third was that the light that allowed him to navigate his surroundings emanated from the cave far ahead of him. The fourth, that the echoes of the place around him - and here his days of trapezing amongst the performers of Egypt flowed back into his mind - told of a vastness, a drop that would break boulders at its end. The fifth was a sound, somewhere in the cave around him, that he could not quite place.

With a little more boldness afforded by the jolt of adrenalin his scare had gifted him, he crawled forward, using the swaddling cloth around him as a makeshift swing, and leapt. Rolling over in a heap onto the soft moss carpeting of the cave, he escaped the bruising that a lesser man might have, and sat up on the marshy floor with a wry, self-satisfied tug of his beard.

He stood in an alcove, naturally formed, over a sheer cliff-face, in front of which his resting-bower had been erected. The drop, as he had surmised, was deadly to all creatures not yet blessed with wings, and even one of his unique experience could not scale the walls it provided for long, with the condensation dripping from the stalactites above - which must have been maintaining the growth of the moss carpet.

Foremost in his mind was his wife A——, for though he respected her formidable nature, he did not long wish to be separated from her. Escape became his focus, after pooling a little chilled water from the many drips around him. The noise of them thudding against the floor did not seem to drown out that other sound, which he still could not place. Peering around him, he found a pulley system connecting the bower to the highest point of the ceiling, its mechanisms carved into the ugly smiling demons of an old and likely forgotten church. From out of the mechanism, a river of white cloth stretched the impossible distance down into the floor and pooled there. Crawling close, he gave it an experimental push with his hand. The bower shook, but did not sink.

Thus his dilemma. The only exit would conceivably be lower than that place. His only escape - save attempting to leap and slide down the thin sliver of white cloth, which did not seem at all supportive - would be to induce the bower to lower itself. Yet it had been made immovable. A fine torture this was, he reasoned, more starving the mind of solutions than the body of resources.

That flickering light came into his vision again, and he turned, shivering a little. It lay in a distant corner of the alcove, shimmering faintly as moonlight will over an ocean otherwise void of character (except in Merablis, where the fog that spews forth from the mountains hides the townspeople from the gaze of that milky orb). This was no pale moonlight, though, but a golden glow, and it suggested warmth. Hugging his arms around his bronzed torso, he strode forward.

In the half-light of that unearthly glow were illuminated what seemed to his peering eyes to be an orb atop a sleeping, coiled serpent possessed of a prodigious hood. Though he crept slower and softer over the moss carpet, the mass did not stir, and as he grew closer he recognised them for a clay cauldron, wide as two men at its diameter, under which someone had left a bellows and a long hose, as might be used to douse a fire. Smiling with bewilderment at the unfathomable mood of his captors, whomever they might be, he turned his attention to the cauldron. Out of its lid, that golden light seemed to spill, and he felt that warmth as a softer form of the heat that arises from an open fire in a fireplace. Gingerly, he placed his fingers through the handle of the lid, and drew it back.

Inside was blackness, darker than the shade around him. A liquid that oozed heat and gave off a golden corona, and yet bubbled black, so black it seemed scarcely solid nor of this dimension, as though a drawing moved before his eyes; yet crumbling a speck of moss over it, he found it solid indeed, and hovering his hand, it seemed as warm as porridge. Tiny flickers of gold seemed to spiral in it when its bubbles burst, and little pockets of heat flowed into his face, drawing sweat.

As his hand steadied itself on the cauldron, he found an impression in its stony side, and traced his fingers to find the shape of that which he could not see. In a gothic, cornered script, it said:

DESCENT

And beneath this, in smaller script:

Quaff me, and gain what many men desire; spurn me, and lose that for which all men strive

An ersatz warning! “Here is devilry”, he said to himself through parched lips, stroking again at his beard with the tips of his fingers. Though he had spent many minutes deciphering the letters, his eyes had not left the odourless, flowing mixture once, nor noticed in it any change in temperature or texture, despite the lack of a warming fire around it. Devilry it was, and charms too.

With a shrug, he scooped up a drop of the stuff on his index finger, which spooled around it like melted candlewax and - with tender trembling - plunged it into his mouth.

The sensation was pleasurable in the extreme, and quite unconsciously he groaned, as a man will groan who has striven at the grindstone through the hours of the day beneath a tyrannous sun and feels his head descend onto a welcoming bosom or a forgiving bed. Warmth tingled through his shivering body, flowed like caramel down his throat and fired into the muscles of him, rejuvenating him anew. The taste, somewhere between fresh gingerbread, oozing treacle and fine spiced honey, lingered over his tongue and shocked his brain, demanding he take more, if only to regain his full strength.

Without further hesitation, he plunged his left hand into the cauldron’s impossibly black contents, scooping up one, two, three handfuls into his greedy mouth. The frustrations of the current moment and his fear of separation from his formidable bride flew from the mind of the thief in his consumption of the warming, black-golden mixture, and it was only when the next curiosity came that he could be shaken into himself again.

He became aware of the side of the cauldron, as he leant against it, pressing into him.

Snapped out of his trance, he stepped away, conscientiously licking at his fingers. The cauldron had not moved - it could not, he saw now, for it was not clay but carved from the very rock of the cave - and yet he had felt it slide against his side, against his stomach...

He peered downwards at himself.

Over his abdomen, where once had been the familiar sight of his abdominal muscles, that sight had been softened, as the glowing golden half-light picked out. The effect was subtle, but noticeable. With his other hand, he probed at it, feeling the cushiony fat that wrapped around his middle; and it was warm to the touch, almost as warm as the divine picture had been. It could not be a delusion, or if it were, it was an ersatz one imbued by what he had consumed.

The thought occurred, the obvious one, and he followed it. Holding a hand over his navel, he gingerly licked from the tip of his middle finger to the base of his palm. Yes…there…like a dagguerotype developing…the rigidity of his stomach decreased ever-so-slowly beneath his grasp. He licked again, over his ring finger. That divine taste flowing into him, and a little more softness; and with a gasp, he felt a new softness to his buttocks, pressing closer together behind him.

Long years in the desert amongst his kindred brigands and swindlers had given him cause to find sustenance, in times past, in the crusts of bread left behind by others; and yet as he’d grown into his stature as a man of wealth, he had eschewed the sweetmeats of the gentry, preferring lean meats and olives, the better to maintain a lean frame for the acrobatics he employed.

Here, now, were those years of effort undone, wiped away as the ocean will crumble footprints in the sand. Undoubtedly, what he had tasted had changed him, altered him in ways beyond the ken of humankind; and yet his will was no longer his own. He desired more of it, craved the sticky, ebon delight, even down to the bare scrapings of the cauldron.

That part of the thief’s mind which exalted in scheming, in tricking and deceiving his fellows, began for the first time in many years to panic. Was this the punishment he would be afforded? To die, not of starvation, but of his bones crushed under the weight of his body, his mind drained as subtly until he resembled nothing more than a human pig? Bloated and alone in a dank hole, between a foodstuff that would kill him or a swaddling bed which he would roll out of...

There, then, the meaning of the couplet on the cauldron became apparent unto him, and he fell to his knees on the mossy floor, recoiling at the manner in which his belly spilled onto the crests of his thighs. Here was an artful trap indeed - to offer him a trap which would not kill the man he was, but the man he had been.

“Quaff me, and gain what many men desire”, it had promised, and he knew it was pleasure that it implied, and the results of pleasure; “Spurn me, and lose that for which all men strive” - the simplest and most valuable of treasures: freedom.

As he fell to his side, recoiling in fear and wonderment at the tangle of magic in which he found himself ensnared, that sound came to him again, that which he could not place before, and now it seemed to spiral into the air around him, cram itself into his ears and drown out every other thought that he might muster, and he knew what it was. It was the sound, low and threatening, of murmuring; of voices from a world invisible and without light, that spoke of unspeakable plans and pains they would visit upon him, devious experiments they would inflict on his young, flexible body, agonies they would force into his nerves and sinews, if he died in that place. This, then, was the proverbial stick that accompanied the carrot, which the cauldron’s contents provided; leave, and be made unknowably fat; stay, and be driven utterly mad.

In the mind of K——, there could be no choice. To compromise his body was an affront to his dignity and pride; to compromise his sanity would waste everything he had built in his years, and risk never seeing his beloved bride except in the fever dreams that would accompany whatever experiments those mad masters of hatred and despair would inflict upon his moral frame.

Shaking, with defeat-laced rage, he crawled back to the cauldron, to the odour of it that now threatened to overwhelm his senses. In his two hands, he drank deep, eliciting a noise somewhere between a sigh and a low growl, and felt the warmth of it seep into him from jawbone to toe, and flow back up as its curious work began. Kneeling there, he felt the ground pushing away from him, his calves, thighs and derriere ballooning swiftly outwards. Those proud pectoral muscles that had once taken him in seven loops around the trapeze oozed into soft mounds, resting over his burgeoning belly. Licking his palms clean as a dog might, he stroked his beard as was his habit and found a new roundness to his face, a cherubic shape to the cheeks and a loss of definition in the jawbone. Forlornly, with his chubbier fingers he pawed at the rolls that now pooled over his thighs. Where once his lithe torso had been, now it was buried in a brown, fuzzy orb of flesh.

Shaking a little, he raised himself on unsteady feet, licking his lips a little, and took up the hose and the bellows. that end of the hose which would receive, he let sink into the cauldron; and with a wobble of his new frame, he stepped closer to the bower, invitingly soft and white before him.

Keeping his mind well removed from the dignity of the situation, the thief turned around, and sank back, plopping down onto the feathery-soft surface of the bower. For a fraction of a second, he comprehended the idea of simply drifting back into sleep there again, but as he did so the thought of his wife in whatever awful predicament she had been left came to him, and the murmurs grew louder in his ear, twice as strong as before, until he longed to cry for silence.

Hiccuping foolishly, he gathered the near-endless spools of those hose in with him, finding that the bower had sunk only an inch or so since he descended into it, with a rattling click of the smiling demon mechanisms above. At the other end of the hose, a mask had been attached, along with a pump evidently meant to be connected to the blowing end of the bellows. Sighing, K—— pressed the mask to his mouth, enclosing his lips around the puckered end of the hose, feeling like the horse left in its stables with the feed-bag around its neck. Connecting the bellows, he stretched them in his two hands; and drew them sharply together.

He had not prepared himself adequately for what followed. The black, gold-glowing mixture flowed down the pipe quicker than lighting, and poured into his closed mouth as quick as that, so that he became forced to swallow or drown. The choice in the matter was hardly fair, for the compulsion that associated with a single drop of the fiendish brew was multiplied a hundredfold as it came in a rushing wave, and as it disappeared down K——’s throat his eyes rolled backwards in a surge of ecstasy that near resembled the unconscious.

When he came back to himself and surveyed the damage, he knew that he had gone past the point of no return. Before, one might have said the master-thief had been running to fat; now that man had disappeared forever. In his place was a podgy individual, thick of thigh and bountiful of belly, resembling an eastern trader of fruits who sampled his own wares exclusively, or a baker who shared out unsold stock of pastries with his staff at day’s end.

He ran his hands over the wine-barrel shape of his inflated gut, drumming fingers against its tight surface, and noticed the fuzz of his natural manly hair had grown almost unnoticeably thicker around it. Yes - and the hair of his head and beard had followed, adding a little red blush to his chubbier cheeks as the warmth of him grew beneath their new insulation. His britches, too had swelled around his plush bottom, wrapping snugly where his body did not touch the swaddling surface in which he lay, as a baby nestled in its crib. This was a thoughtful magic, that did not merely turn him into a fat man, but made it as though he had always been one; though his memory certainly told him different.

Almost as though expressing his surprise at this, he burped, and hiccuped, and followed it with another burp, that sent a tremble through his fattened frame as an avalanche flows down a mountain. His belly growled, newly born and newly unsatiated, and he patted it tenderly with a plump paw as though settling down an old hunting hound. With fingers that now had thickened and wrists that had dimpled, he prodded and pushed at his rounded figure, exploring with terrified curiosity. It was more horrible than he could have imagined, and yet not so bad as he thought he might have deserved; and he could feel a quiet warmth growing beneath the fold of his belly that seemed to confirm this feeling.

Worse, he leaned toward the edge of the bower, and peering into the immense distance found he had lowered a mere five inches. He groaned, despite himself. Much, much more was to come, it seemed.

A hiss at the edge of his ear startled him, and as he turned he felt his freshly doubled chin wobble beneath him; and replacing the mask over his mouth with renewed resolve, he began to pump and pump. The bubbling of the cauldron echoed through the alcove as its contents leapt excitedly down the hose to meet him, once again pulling him into a world of passion and pleasure such as he had not ever dreamed, and sinking him further into the wide expanses of his own body.

Thus - with the sweet, sticky taste in his ever-thickening mouth, and the sensation of fiery, transformative growth in his roundening, fuzzy frame, and the swaddling cloth spreading tauter beneath him, and the grumbling, conspiratorial voices of innumerable spirits echoing in his ears and sincerely promising his eternally painful demise, he began…slow as the waves may wear down a rock…to descend.
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Old 01-25-2016, 05:03 PM   #8
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Old 01-26-2016, 05:59 AM   #9
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V - Release

[Note: this particular part of the sequence is inspired by the video discussed here.]


When the brigand known as A—— came to, she found herself in a far less comfortable position than her newly tumescent lover. In point of fact, she was immobilised; unable to flex a single of her extremities save her eyelids. Even her hair, usually close by the side of her face, had been apparently gathered into a punching plait behind her.

As her eyes adjusted to the light, she saw that she was in a room sparkling with light and cleaner than a palace. Every surface was crystal; tiny buds of geode that sprang from the surface of great slabs, like mushrooms blooming on a fallen tree-trunk, and long slippery steps of crystal that spiralled upwards past a point she could not see - for though her eyes moved, her head could not turn upwards.

Built as she was, with the solid musculature that a professional bodyguard builds through long years of experience, becoming entrapped was a sensation she did not fear so much as loathe; such was the extent of this mania that she had requested she and her paramour sleep in separate rooms, after nights in which his embraces around her became warped in her dreams into a writhing mass of seaweed that drew her beneath the waters.

Thinking of him, she attempted to turn, and found herself unable; curled her hands to make a fist, and found herself unable; growled with frustration, and felt her hot breath pouring back against her face as reflected condensation. What confounding paralysis had she been placed under?

Her vision had become as one with the harsh light of the chamber, and as it did, a figure swam into her vision; an apparition. A black silhouette, hazy, with its hands dangling by its sides. It appeared to be waiting for her. A—— grinned despite herself, felt her biceps and thighs clench in anticipation. If this were a trial through a fight to the death, she would relish it. Sure, the other fellow might get in a few good licks. But she could endure it ably until he'd cracked this prison in which she found herself, letting her get enough leverage to pull herself away and grind him into dust and a splatter of blood over the gorgeous crystalline landscape around.

The silhouette did not move, however, for some time. Holding fast, she tended her limbs, intending to further test her boundaries; and with a surge of adrenalin, contorted her right arm. The sweet sensation of success erupted within her, for the elbow bent upward, and the fingers made a fist; and she cried out with an almost animal glee at this small triumph. Pushing harder, she began to pull herself beneath her constrictions into a low crouch, the better to spring at her opponent -

The silhouette had moved. It now had its fist raised, in mockery of hers; its fierce, dark eyes kept locked on hers as it crouched...lower...and a shock of hair bounced over its shoulder...

The relieving rush of cool blood beneath her skin did nothing to alleviate the sense that she had made a fol of herself. For looking at the frame of the dark figure before her, she could see clearly it was nothing but her own reflection, in a transparent crystalline slab, that now looked back not in fury but in disbelief. Yet there were imperfections in the glass, tiny bents around her shoulders that seemed deliberately made.

Grinding her teeth and muttering a curse at her captors, whomever they might be, she strode forward, with all the smoothness of one whose bones are broken and set in plaster. Whatever this black material was, though it made her sweat and itch like leather, its constrictive nature more resembled hardened tree-sap, inflexible and sticky to the touch. The effort expended in merely raising the sole of one foot from the ground took all her might, and left her panting.

After some minutes, she found herself before the crystalline slab, and hovered her forearm over the delicate lines cut into it, to try and decipher their meaning. In large, square script, one word was carven:

RELEASE


And underneath it, in smaller letters:

Repent, and free thyself; delay, and be restrained forever


A—— stiffened, even beneath her stiff bonds. Repent? Of what? What sins could they be hinting at? She had been a miscreant in her past, this was something she would not deny; such was the gauntlet life had thrown her, and (though she noted the irony in this choice of wording), she had slipped it on with glee, the better to beat her enemies in comfort.

The reflection before her, in better resolution as she had come closer, glinted a little amongst its blackness; and her eyes darted to her forehead. There, dangling like a third eye open in wide, imbecilic shock, was a silver ring, that lined itself with the seams of her new apparel. The way in which the two connected gave her an idea of escape, and this became a fever that threatened to overwhelm her.

The cool, reasoning part of her, the tactician that had led many operations to glory and anticipated the threats of so many clients in the past, rushed in to remind her that she'd no idea of the vindictiveness of her tormentors; to remove the mask might be to take her skin along with it, or expose her to some poison that the armor guarded her against. Yet something told her that these two punishments would be instantly fatal, and this was not the desire of those who wished to trap her; their preference was that she suffer for a good long while, and be made aware of her punishment. And the legend on the crystal had promised freedom; it could not be an empty promise, surely?

Twisting and gyrating, she found the wide silver ring between her two index fingers and began to tug. The tightness of it against her skin and the stifling nature of the ordeal brought on a fair amount of pain, this was true, but it had none of the pain of being burnt nor beaten, as she had been in her past lives; and nothing could dwarf her fear of being contained or constricted.

With a sigh and a soft pop, the mask drew free, and she gasped, near screaming with relief; and in the fresh, cool air against her sweaty face (though she remained bound in the suit from her neck down, she became aware of three new sensations.

First, an odour, not unlike cinnamon, that filled the air around her and vanished down her throat and into her nostrils. From where it came, there would never be an answer; but it was sweet and comforting, reminding her of her grandmother, and she did not mind it.

Second, a sound, like rushing water, or like birdsong, or like a lullaby, that she recognised as the murmuring of human voices; but the language and cadence at which they spoke, the dialect and the rhythm, were jarring, irritating her as tiny droplets of water will irritate on the back of one's neck.

Third, and last, that the material of which her new clothing was made, though it had taken nothing, had certainly left something. Her face was covered in markings, resembling tattoos drawn with the most delicate of brushes and yet bearing a raised texture that tattoos could never achieve. All over her face were long lines, droplets of ink-splatter like freckles beneath her eyes, a crowning shape over her forehead, spirals nestled beneath her cheekbones. In a younger maiden, she might have found them pretty; but on her face they seemed out of place. Her brow furrowed, and the crown contracted with it. Again, the unfathomable nature of her jailers became apparent to A——; if she were to be marked as a thief, or a murderer, or something similar, should it not be plainly spelled in human letters, rather than childish scrawl?

Then she made her second mistake of that night; huffing with frustration, she took a long deep breath in, and sighed out.

The sensation, as she felt it, was wholly pleasant, as though slipping into a warm bath; but watching it happen seemed more akin to the horror-bound fascination of seeing a house collapse upon its moorings. In the mirror, her face rose, like dough in an oven. Her lips puckered, took on a rosier shade, and a fuller shape. Her cheekbones, well developed and hard enough to blunt a knife, began to disappear beneath her cheeks, rounding like fresh peaches and taking on a similarly rosy colour. That nose of hers, always a little flat, bloomed like a mushroom to become truly buttonlike. A little swelling applied itself to her eyelids, making her gaze more narrowed, and a fair bit more sultry; a small second chin settled beneath her softening jaw, only noticeable when her face pointed downward.

The markings themselves, infused with an ersatz charm, did not stretch as tattoos might, but grew, like the roots of a tree, or a fork of black lightning, ever more complex. The spirals on her cheeks became deep whirlwinds, the crown a thorny coronet over her forehead, the long bars under her eyes into soft waves like rushes dancing in te wind. The effect was not merely to illustrate the new contours and folds of her plumpening face, but to highlight them, draw the eye to their shape.

Breathing heavily, gasping with fright, A—— looked down at herself. No, impossibly, her frame remained lithe and muscled as ever. Only her face had become wobbly, only her cheeks chubbier. Her lips, sticky, seemed stuck together by the new tightness of the collar against the skin of her neck, and she moaned between them in frustration. Repent, the words on the crystal slab said, unable to change as she had. Repent of what?

Bending painfully, she scooped the mask up, tried to cram it back onto her face in order to undo what had been done, but it was far too late; its sculpted lines could not map against her own. Besides, removing the mask had not expanded her, logic told her that; it had been the breathing in of that sickly cinnamon scent that had done so. The mask had only afforded protection while she wore it.

Her teeth ground within their new pillowy prison, and she flung the mask against the crystals; and in doing so, noticed another ring, over the last joint of her thumb, where it met her wrist. Curious, she peered at it, constricting her wrist as close to her face as she might, breathing heavily. There it was, but it had no partner on her left hand; yet there was another, in the centre of her left palm. Looking about, twisting as hard as she could in the reflective surface, she found them in no single symmetrical place; at the base of her ribcage, over her collarbone, nestled underneath one knee and over another, snug around her big toe.

She glared again at the mask. When she did, a sound broke the barrier of the murmurings around her, which had almost unnoticeable you increased in volume; and she knew of what the crystals were referring when they demanded she repent of her deeds. That precise spot, above the eyes, had been the spot of the blow where she had first killed a man, in a drunken brawl over a pair of horses, when she was nineteen years of age. The sound, amongst the murmurs, had been the gasp of air leaving his body as he'd fallen at her feet, a sound she alone had heard amongst the cries of encouragement and congratulations yelled out by her fellow gamblers at the time.

Here, where her thumb met her wrist, that was the spot she had smashed with a hammer on the body of a bordello Madame who had not wished to deal with A——'s employers; there, behind the knee, where a knife had met the leg of a king's archer, who would otherwise have shot her husband from a rooftop; there, at the back of her neck, where she had cracked the the spine of a blind man, who had begged her to do it, and relieve him of his pained life.

Each of their cries, death rattles and curses echoed around her, mixed with the ceaseless murmurs; and she understood the intent of these ill spirits. She had broken their bodies, and now, at the same spots, they intended to bury hers.

Twisting, with the newfound freedom afforded by her more pillowy face, she sought an exit; and saw a patch of darkness, many miles away, down long stone steps of crystal. There could be no reaching it as she was, imprisoned and constricted and losing hydration with each passing second the stifling material enclosed her; but to remove it would be to alter herself forever, to lose the fear she had once commanded. Her husband she knew to be true, no matter how she changed; and yet she would sorely miss the mischief that they could get up to together, deprived of her if she shrugged on the robes of a roly-poly rich man's wife.

"Delay," the message said, "and be restrained forever." With a sigh, one that wobbled her newly passed cheeks, she reached down to her thigh and tugged swiftly. The material gave way like the peel of an apple, spiralling off her leg, and reddened flesh oozed out, like dimpled honey, waving and shuddering underneath the toned musculature which they covered.

Another struggle, another swift pop and the collar and shoulder pads came free; she breathes again, opened her cherry lips and felt the softening spread downwards as the cinnamon smell flowed into her. That double chin became no longer unnoticeable, nestled snug upon her podgy shoulders; and curiously, the long plait in which her hair was bound grew an inch or so longer with the transformation.

The inky patterns now raised about her skin spiralled and flowed, resembling maps, scenic hillscapes, zodiacs of a forgotten sky and the currents of unnameable oceans; and the fresh screams of her old victims echoed forward and backward over the incomprehensible, babbling murmurs that created the background noise of that ersatz chamber.

After considerable effort, both her legs were freed, jutting out against wider hips, and her taut behind blossomed into a wobbling derrière that could have rivalled any lady's bustle. Her feet, solid and bloated, thudded over the cool crystal steps, and the vibration sent tremors through A——'s frame, eliciting an unladylike belch. She grinned a little madly at her reflection, a comical sight; the waist, chest and arms of a trained warrior, supported by the tree-trunk legs, wobbling buttocks and heart-shaped hips of a milk-fattened farmer's wife, and the shoulders, neck and head of a spoiled countess.

Striding uncertainly forward with many a jiggle, she resolved to remove the rest slowly, lest she become too heavy to move at all, and become trapped before the entranceway was hers. Already she feared her girth might be too wide to escape it frontways, necessitating a shuffle through it sideways; better not to tempt fate, and become stuck entirely. Delay it too long, though, she guessed, and her growth would be disproportionate; whoever came to rescue her (and her heart trembled for the shock her poor husband would feel!) might need to roll her out, so roly-poly might she become.

Shuddering at the thought, and feeling a wave of sensation that she did not wish to think of as pleasurable, she began - slowly - to cross the crystal steps, worrying her fingers around silver rings as she thudded downwards, her ripened bottom doing a sensual samba with every unsure step, wrapping her lengthening plait over her shoulders like a fur, lest she trip over it. Above her head, the maddening murmurs continued, pronouncing judgement, suggesting sentences, and punctuated with the screams of the dead.
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Old 01-28-2016, 10:17 AM   #10
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VI - Escape

The long hours passed, in that place, in the vast underground palaces of the ones who feast on sin, and the court of the devil who loves the accursed.

It was into this court that these two monsters stepped, padding softly on newly cushioned feet. One of them rolled and rocked away from a long white cradle that dangled from a height too distant to be observed by the naked eye. The other stepped through a doorway ringed with dazzling white light, the edges of her hips brushing their sides as she passed.

Speculation and experience in such horrors of the flesh may cause you to suspect that the two did not recognise one another as they approached each other across that vast carven court. This may well have been true, for they were much changed; but the expanse of the empty architecture around them arrested their attention, and each did not immediately regard the leviathan figure before them.

Above and below, the stone was not jagged as one expects, nor lined with gravel and dust, but smooth and cold to the touch, as though worked with pumice by tiny hands for many centuries. The pleasantness of these sensations escaped the thieves, however, for the shapes in which they were carved. From the white cloth bower, at one extreme of the diameter of that circular room, to the white doorway at the other, the place was fashioned in the shape of an immense cathedral. Altars, pulpits, stalls and little worshipping-alcoves arose as naturally from the stone as branches on a tree, and each was empty, and each was immense, as built for giants; but from the newly changed perspective of A—— and K——, this was not immediately apparent.

Around them, too, in each space that lay unoccupied, were gargoyles and friezes of a terror that gains more from ignorance than from description, being too ghastly to look upon. Leers and grins of ancient rock met the eyes of the victims as they circled around the massive seats of worshippers long-dead, each of which faced out to the monsters which surrounded them.

And all around, the murmurs sounded, quieter and yet more insistent than before.

After some time of silent wandering, punctuated by low breaths and wheezes, the two faced one another in the half-light of that place. In K—— the transformation was long complete. He had become a man of immense girth, whose belly hung low over his thighs and bounced merrily as he walked; and hairier than an ox, with a beard that melded with the hairs of his oozing chest and hair that cascaded down his shoulders. He raised a flabby arm and waved in greeting, as though afraid that the sight of another human being would be a mere hallucination to torment him.

A——, by contrast, was far from complete, for the final piece of her suit she had left to last - unable to move it. In all things, her pale frame had expanded, softened, bloomed like a forest mushroom - save her waist, still constricted by black, unearthly material. The effect was one as comical as it was tortuous, as though she had been devoured by a python and burst out of it mid-meal. She carried the new weight better than her husband, blessed as she was by years of musculature, but the awkward elevation of her arms by the corset prevented her from reaching the silver ring that lay on it, just over the base of her spine. One arm supporting her drooping bosom and valiantly attempting at covering it, she indicated downward with the other, her thighs quivering.

Understanding flooded into K——, and he made a circular motion with a pudgy paw. She turned, leaning on one of the heavy carved stone pulpits, as he lumbered toward her, his heavy gut swinging to and fro with each step. With the tip of his little finger, he was just able to find purchase upon the ring, and as well as exerting his strength greater than he ever had before, he leaned backward, letting his newfound girth act as a counterweight. The corset clung like a jealous lover for many minutes, and K——’s heels dug into the carven patterns and grooves across the stony floor, until - finally - it yielded, splitting down the middle into two fragments that fell to the floor with a rattle.

Red in the face with exertion, A—— howled, as much from despair and confusion at her new state of being as from relief as the last of her joined in the rest of her body’s metamorphosis. K—— was able to appreciate a final glimpse of her once-sculpted waist and back muscles before they puckered, inflated, flowed and trickled as slow as honey, forming a cushiony doubled-over waist that barely supported her pendulous bosom. The effect still resembled an hourglass, but one produced by an apprentice glass-blower, unstudied in the art of pinching it at the middle. The bodyguard turned, and found the release had sent her husband flying backward and landing on his softened bottom, where he sat, ridiculous and oafish, attempting to roll himself back into a standing position. She watched him for a moment, panting and wheezing, a single hand on her hip, half-amused at the sight, and played with her long braid, which had grown to an extent that she had used it to protect her upper-body from warmth, wrapped like a shawl over her pudgy shoulders. Like him, her hair had grown prodigiously; her upper arms, thighs and calves were also projected with a layer of downy hair, that sent little frictions of electricity when they rubbed together against the rest of her.

K—— rolled and rocked on the floor feebly, disadvantaged by the lack of supporting musculature beneath him. “Muh wyuf," he said through his inflated cheeks and thickened tongue, and hiccuped, sending long quivers through his sweaty frame. "Muh byutiful wyuf. Arr - arr yuh - " and he broke off. His pudgier face was bringing about a slurring he did not like. It did not show the dignity which he hoped to retain, despite the circumstances in which the two now found themselves. He took a moment to compose his wobbling face.

“Arr…youuu…well, my wife?” he eventually asked, a hand held under his mouth. His voice was deeper, now, compressed in layers of softness.

“Yes,” she replied, not so encumbered as he. “I remain myself. And you, husband?"

“Mmmff,” was his only reply, and a thick nod. Finally exerting the energy, he grasped at a carved seat and hoisted himself upward. Padding close to her, he held her hands in his, their newfound girth preventing them from the warm, comforting embrace they longed to initiate. Bending down, steadying her monstrous bosom, she kissed him, expressing their mutual happiness at finding the other unmolested.

“We are much changed, my husband,” she whispered in his ear.

“Thuht we arr,” he rumbled, squeezing her hands again. “‘nd we…hic!…dwuhll in strunge pluhces."

In the darkness they stood, and shuddered unconsciously at what met them in the silence between their words.

"Have you heard the murmurs?” said the one.

“Yas...and you too?”, said the other.

“I have. So we are not mad,” she replied, though the way in which she said it made it seem less comforting than it might have been.

Hands still clasped, they stood side by side, and began to walk toward the nearest doorway to that place, leading far out of the unearthly church that hung around them. The blank eyes of the gargoyles followed after, and the murmurs waxed and waned in volume with their shuffling steps.

To dream of what they saw in that place would be easier than to speak of it, or so my companion told me. Those things of which men speak when they speak of gods are only ideas, that will never truly touch them, not in a physical sense. Here was a place where the fingertips of those which once inspired gods had grazed, and where frenzied, lunatic artists had sought to preserve that touch in stone forever. Each step upward on the slope was as torture to the newly fattened forms of the couple; and yet their desire to be out of the place washed away all fatigue.

Perhaps the murmurs, which neither ceased nor retreated with their ascent, were another design. It is true that one may hear strange things in the wind that drifts over the sails of a ship at night, or the rustling of an animal’s paws in dry grass. It is not for one such as I, unskilled in determining the nature of the human mind, to guess at.

When they entered the mouth of the cave, and collapsed together on their knees before it, dawn had begun; and in the red light of the rising sun they found themselves at the beaches on the edge of the city of Merablis, the areas which for centuries and even now are forbidden to be entered, for reasons which town councilmen are never able to clearly express.

With a huff and a puff, wife helped husband to his feet, and with their footsteps imprinting heavily in the sand, naked save for hair and each others’ arms, they waddled away to the city walls, their minds harrowed and their frames sweating in the humid morning air. They had each been taught a lesson, in fear and in respect; and their new bodies were made to reinforce that lesson, and prevent them from returning to their ways.

They made a comical sight, the podgy pair, there is no doubt, for they could only keep upright in their new bodies by leaning on one another; and those who crossed their paths were obliged to go around. The good citizens of Merablis, where peddlers speak the language of a world long dead, did not spread rumours nor jokes - not in front of the two, anyway. However, it was said among most of them, from elderly gossips to schoolchildren, that the naked brigands, now too slow and too afraid of the folk around them to resume their old trickery, did not return to their own house, but to that of the gentlewoman, where the door was marked with a bear. Somehow their feet drew them to it, and found it swung open for them, with the servants of the house stood at its steps, hands folded respectfully.

With a shrug and a cursory glance in each others’ tired faces, the two shuffled up to the doorway, husband before wife so that she could support him, and thereafter followed by the attendants of the bath, the bed, and the kitchen, and others soon after. Of the gentlewoman, no more can be said. She did not dwell in the city any longer, and had fled to wherever her own masters called her.

The door shut; and their old lives shut with it.
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Old 01-29-2016, 12:59 AM   #11
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Great update! You have crafted a very intriguing tale.
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Old 01-29-2016, 02:26 PM   #12
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VII - Fin

It was many hours after my friend had finished his story that I thought to ask him anything about it, my head being muddled with the coffee and shisha we had imbibed. The coffee-house in the street of XXXXX had grown quiet inside, the murmur of customers hushed as people returned home, observing an unofficial curfew.

Khalid was on his sixth or seventh cup of sweet, hot coffee, with his black round sunglasses once more perched over his short, snub nose. He set down the cup with the kind of deep gasp of satisfaction that can only emerge from the lips of a big man.

I toyed with my own second cup, sniffing at the fine ginger spice over the foam. “How much of what you told me is really true?”, I asked him, being careful not to offend.

He shrugged, a wave bucking under a sailboat. “It is true that you cannot go to the beaches."

“When did the city decide that?”

“Before a hundred years ago. Maybe longer since."

I did not quibble the inaccuracy of this date, knowing full well how unable I would be to quote the history of my own home-town.

“And has anyone come out of the door of that house since?” I asked, sipping at my coffee, sweeter to the taste than I had asked for. The sounds of conversation and laughter from within the cafe continued; the waves broke far away, car horns beeped, stray cats sang tunelessly, a little rattle of some machine or other underneath it all.

“Not that I have seen. Why do you ask these questions? I tell you only a story."

I waved a hand to pacify, slurping down the rest of my drink quickly; it having grown dark, I wished to return to my hotel and sleep in peace before my journey. “Never mind, never mind,” I said, my curiosity sated; and yet not fully sated. His eyes remained hidden behind those black glasses of his, and I almost wondered if he were about to doze off, despite the caffeine coursing through his veins. Eventually, my courage got the better of me.

“Did you - ” I leaned in conspiratorially - “did you ever see anyone go in?"

He smirked, then, confirming his wakefulness, and patted my shoulder with his great paw. “Not before today,” he said, with a chuckle unlike any I had heard in him before, and straightened the tie of his suit, still immaculately white in spite of his prodigious appetite, a true skill on his part.

I settled back into my chair, filled with the warm glow of my coffee against the cool night breeze of the streets, interrupted by that machinelike rattling. At the time, I wondered if I might eventually seek a truce with T— F— N— when I returned to the country of my birth, and sit down to consult with her again and that H. M. fellow whom she was transforming into her personal doll (or teddy bear, I might say, considering the beard and the flab on him). She had done me a better favour than I had anticipated.

Ignoring Khalid at my side for a moment, breathing in the fine sea air, I decided that yes, I would make peace with the witch T— F— N—, and with all of the jealous and exacting brood that hover around her. I would return with open arms. After all, did she not get a benefit from my company? My good humour, and my fine tastes? Perhaps I could introduce her to a more suitable paramour once she became tired of that rotund lover of hers...

I was lulled out of my revery by another pat on my shoulder; Khalid had stood up, his fez perched improbably upon his head once more, and he smiled down at me. “What…?” I asked, over the city noises.

“I must go home to my family now, my friend. Tomorrow is your boat, yes?” (I nodded.) “Then I will say goodbye to you as well. I wish you a pleasant journey,” he said, and said a holy word, not often repeated outside the city. “Wherever you will go."

“I’d be delighted to keep in contact with you,” I said, half-surprised at myself. I had not intended at any point beforehand to maintain communications with Khalid, affable oaf as he was, being not the sort of person with whom I usually fraternised. Perhaps my geniality towards the witch had permeated into all humankind. “Can you give me a phone number, or an address?"

“Oh, you know where I live,” he said, looking down at me through those black, opaque circles. For once, in all the time I knew him, there was no smile on his face.

“What do you mean by - ”

This, my final question, was interrupted by one of the more chilling moments of my entire life. The third repetition of that rattling sound was now accompanied by a visual stimulus: a small wooden button, spinning across the table; and by the sensation of flesh, and skin, compressed against a surface.

My gaze drew downward as quick as a bird, felled by a stone, may descend from a high branch, and gazed with wonder at what I found there.

My waistcoat had burst. The rattling had been the buttons, slipping away; and my geniality and relaxation had surely accompanied with their disappearance. Where I sat, in my lap was pooled a ball of warm softness, protruding over my waistband and under my shirt. I prodded it with a finger, which sank down to the second joint. It was no trick of the light. It was real.

Twisting in my seat, I felt at my face, finding a new, stretched layer of skin hanging from my cheeks; saw my fingers inflated ever-so-slightly, my chest filling out my shirt more than it ever had. I attempted to sit up, found myself wedged between table and chair; wheezed and pushed the former away. It did not become immediately obvious to me that my leg was no longer broken, nor that my crutches had vanished in the city air.

I belched in fear, looking at the crumbs and greasestains strewn around my sleeves, and realised I had not seen Khalid eat a single bit since he had begun to tell his story, never pausing in the telling of it to chew as he usually would. Had he hypnotised me, drugged me somehow? He owed me an explanation!

I looked and found Khalid had gone, inexplicably, in the handful of seconds since we had finished our conversation. Where? How? Turning around, I looked for him in the window of the crowded cafe. Nothing; in fact, no-one. The waiters had long cleared the tables and headed home, as was their habit. Yet the sound…the sound of voices discussing, gossiping, chortling. It did not dissipate. It was constant.

It could not be coming from the streets, cleared by the curfew, nor from the houses above, locked and darkened, all save one…all save one.

There were no servants waiting on the steps; but the door hung open, inviting me into a dark and featureless space. I hesitated, feeling the new gut pooling in my fingers, the rest of me pinching and poking at the clothes which could no longer contain me. Hearing a shirt button clatter into the darkness of the doorway, I looked deep within and let my eyes adjust; and saw a little sign hanging from the doorway. It said, very simply, in an ancient script:

WELCOME

The doors remained open, and I was alone.

“Am I next?” I asked, into that darkness, into those streets. “Is this my - *blurrf* - my punishment?” I cried aloud. “Did the witch tell you to do this?"

But in Merablis, that ancient and unexplainable city where moonlight never shines, I heard only a murmur.
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Old 01-29-2016, 02:27 PM   #13
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Great update! You have crafted a very intriguing tale.
Thank you so much, ALS, for all your encouragement! It's been heartening to read as I finished up with this one. Hope you and all my other readers are satisfied with the ending...
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Old 01-30-2016, 01:04 AM   #14
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Thank you so much, ALS, for all your encouragement! It's been heartening to read as I finished up with this one. Hope you and all my other readers are satisfied with the ending...
You are most welcome! I found the ending to be very satisfying, and I am sure that your other readers also enjoyed the ending.
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Old 04-18-2016, 01:50 PM   #15
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Greetings and salutations, all!

Shamelessly resurrecting my own story, and for a good reason - a few months back, I found out that my first and favourite FA artist, the astounding Jay Tee of Dice Game fame, was up to his old tricks again - and taking commissions! - so I leapt at the chance to have him provide some illustrations appropriate to the above story.

He of course proved equal to the task, and after considerable back-and-forths between ourselves, he created a couple of fine portraits of our quote-unquote "heroes", before they attempted to rob the gentlewoman Ursula, and...some time after.

BEHOLD, the WONDER:





Hope you love them as much as I do! And go and check out more of Jay's newest works in his gallery, he remains an absolute marvel of an artist...
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Old 11-08-2016, 08:51 PM   #16
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Goreki has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!Goreki has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!Goreki has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!Goreki has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!Goreki has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!Goreki has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!Goreki has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!Goreki has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!Goreki has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!Goreki has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!Goreki has a ton of rep. Literally. As in over 2000!
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I love this story, thank you so much!
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Old 11-08-2016, 08:51 PM   #17
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I love this story, thank you so much!
Some strange little part of my heart found that so soothing.
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