A Sterling City Adventure.
(Female inflation, anthro animals, some horror)
It had been the strangest hostage crisis that Officer Hazel Donovan had ever seen. Her experiences with that particular kind of incident were mercifully few and far between, but from what the young canine officer knew, these things usually involved some form of back and forth between the captors and the authorities.
There had been a panicked call made to the police at around 2:00 in the morning from the Sterling National Museum, reporting something about a break-in and some very real danger. Police had surrounded the building packed with rare antiquities, only to receive another, equally panicked call from the alleged criminals themselves, warning police not to enter the building. Barricades had been set up and further lines of communication had been attempted, all for naught. Nobody inside had bothered to make demands or follow up. Until orders came in, the police stationed outside could do very little aside from stand vigil and shiver in the early morning cold. Already a small crowd had gathered out of curiosity, and with sunrise only an hour or so away, the bulk of downtown would soon be gathering to investigate yet another caper in a city where the spectacular was commonplace. The retriever’s tail swept against the back of her thighs as she idly wondered if she would see any of Sterling City’s super-populace would be swooping down to intervene. Maybe there would be a streak of green to signal the arrival of Rush, the high speed billboard. Or perhaps SuperPAC would even thunder down from the sky, if someone had coughed up the cash to summon him. Maybe it would be that vigilante archer that had been sighted down east…
Or maybe those colourful attention seekers would actually stay clear and let the police do their jobs for once. Was one day without their destructive interference too much to ask?
“How many?” A voice somewhere below Donovan's left inquired.
“Seven.” the cop responded without thinking. “Three potential perps, four security guards. Orders are to wait for the brass. If this gets any worse we may have to set up snipers.”
“I am afraid they don't have that time.” the girl remarked.
“Orders are-” Donovan abruptly cut herself off. She glanced downwards at the person she was addressing. A short Fennec in a tawny long coat was standing next to her, eyeballing the situation like a strategist planning her next move.
“I uh...” The cop struggled to course correct. “Ma'am. Please, get behind the barricades. Your assistance is not needed.”
The diminutive fox merely looked back at her innocently, ears twitching.
“Ma'am.” The light-furred retriever reiterated. “Remove yourself from the situation. For your own safety.”
Again, the fox simply stared up at her, remaining where she stood.
“I will move you if I have to, ma’am. The officer threatened. Despite her ultimatum, she didn't feel particularly violent towards this civilian, even as she continued to regard her like an interesting beetle.
“Alright, look...” Donovan attempted to bring her hand down on the interlopers shoulder, only to be struck off balance as her entire paw passed straight through the image of the fox. The facsimile flickered briefly, then dissolved into glimmering motes of light.
“Son of a...” the officer gawked as the last traces of the illusion winked out of existence. She was at least grateful that the chattering crowd around her seemed more interested in any activity from the building, and hadn’t noticed just how long she had been yelling at a hologram. Behind her someone pointed and yelped something about the entrance. Donovan whirled back towards the museum and could have sworn she'd seen the sand-coloured tip of a bushy tail disappear between the museum's hefty double doors.
Dammit. Who was this? How could she just create an image of herself out of nothing? That little fox could very well be behind all of this, and now she was slinking into an active crime scene like she owned the place…..
And now Officer Donovan had probable cause to investigate. She grabbed the officer closest to her, some guy with a megaphone from an unfamiliar precinct.
“I'm following in after her. Maintain perimeter until they arrive!”
“I’m sorry?” the megaphone man inquired. “Where’s your backup?”
“Maintain perimeter!” Donovan repeated. “I’ve got to grab that girl before she starts something, or gets someone killed.” She more muttered the last one to herself as her fingers slipped the safety latch off of her sidearm.
“One day,” She scowled, scampering up the steps. “Can't I have one normal day in this crazy town?”
The vanguard cop shouldered her way inside, doing a quick interior sweep of the museum’s hall before entering, seeking cover by a nearby pillar. The place was empty and dark, a huge echoing stone room meant to put the awe of discovery and history into the mind of visitors, but now only serving to make the uneasy cop feel isolated and minuscule. Her footsteps were amplified by the hard stone surfaces as she crossed the wide inner sanctum, passing by an inert fountain and the towering skeleton of a wooly mammoth on display. The boney figure stood at least 9 feet tall in the pose of a primitive hunter gatherer, a massive improvised spear clutched in it’s bony fist.
Donovan wheeled around as the sounds of a second set of footsteps drifted through the space. She scampered after it, pursuing the errant sound down a side corridor and past a multitude of framed paintings, classical figures and religious illuminations glaring down at her. There was the sound of a shutting door and Hazel ran after it, pushing through an employee entrance and finding herself in a long, narrow service corridor. The officer fumbled for her flashlight in the lightless space, only to see a source of illumination ahead of her. A dozen meters away, a brightly shining orb of some kind bobbed and wove through the air like a wisp, drawing her onwards. Faced with pursuing an unknown entity into the darkness without backup, the cop grabbed at the radio clipped to her shoulder and whispered into it.
“Officer Hazel Donovan. 10-78. I repeat, need assistance pursuing unknown hostile.” fuzzy static and whispers were her only response. She repeated the call, thumping on her radio slightly. The fur on the back of her neck began to stand on end as an unfamiliar shiver wafted up her spine. What was going on here?
The light began to move further away. One hand still on her weapon and against her better judgement, the officer pursued, plunging into the darkness. Alone. As she drew closer to the mysterious light, the cop called out.
“Hey!” Her voice echoed off the secluded corridor, and the light paused, as if watching her.
“Listen to me! Whoever the hell you are, you can’t be here! Now come where I can see you, or I’ll arrest you for criminal trespassing!”
The orb of light continued to hang there ahead of her, motionless. Donovan crept closer, desperate to peer past the bright glare and find the source of the light. Within a minute, she had closed the distance. Only to find that there was no source.
A circle of sheer illumination simply hung in the air, roughly the size of a baseball. The hesitant officer shielded her eyes against the shine and circled the hanging sphere. There was no wire, no stand. Just cold, white light hovering in the air, bathing the immediate area.
Who in the hell was she chasing?
Against her better nature, the cop reached out to touch it, to try and understand. The ball flickered briefly in her fingers, then extinguished like a match.
The police officer swore, rendered blind by the sudden loss of lighting while her eyes adjusted to the dark. Was she pursuing a ghost? She groped for her flashlight, using it to reorient herself. That was twice that little fox had kept her occupied with some illusion, and snuck away while Officer Donovan had been distracted by a light show. It wasn’t going to happen a third time.
Tracing the corridor with the beam of her flashlight, the retriever cop’s eyes flickered from one door to the next. Her nose twitched, trying to remember anything notable about the small fox’s scent that could help to track her. If she couldn’t trust her eyes around this mysterious trickster, then she’d trust her other senses, ears and nose still instinctively sharp and only slightly dampened by countless generations of modernity. She sniffed at the air again, then went to one knee, listening intently….
There. Two doors up, there was the telltale crunch of broken glass being stepped through. Not taking any chances, Officer Donovan drew her weapon and kept it low, slowly easing her way through the maintenance door.
The normally pristine edifice of the National Museum has been rendered a shambles in the space before her. Banners and posters lay in shreds, minor exhibits had been blasted apart and thrown around the room, and the floor had been littered in broken glass. Crouching near the centre of the tableau was the fox, holding a long staff in one hand and using the end to sift through the wreckage.
“That’s it, hands up!” Donovan barked, though she kept her firearm low. “I’ve had enough of this runaround. Drop the stick and on your knees!”
The smaller woman did not move.
“You’re terribly persistent, officer…” she offered, her back still turned. “And before you wonder, yes, this is the real me...I can’t make my projections talk...well, not yet.”
“Alright…” the stalwart cop strode forward through the broken glass, pulling a pair of handcuffs from her belt. She was more than done with this troublesome character. The fennec rose, leaving her staff on the ground in compliance, but holding a fragment of waxy green stone in her other hand. She turned. The fennec was pretty enough, with short, messy golden hair and a series of odd triangular markings around her fur that didn’t look like natural pigmentation. Her large ears were festooned with a series of baubles that dangled from her lobes like windchimes. A pair of cool, dark eyes met Hazel’s own and she suddenly felt….warm. Unthreatened. She broke eye contact and glared at the stone, embarrassed to feel her tail wagging behind her.
“Put that down.”
“Do you know what happened here, officer?”
Donovan glowered at the audacity of this minuscule woman. But again, she felt more compelled to engage her than arrest her. She seemed harmless enough.
The police officer looked at the rock, and at the devastation around her.
“Some sort of….explosion? The thieves were trying to breach the chamber with a charge…and it looks like they overdid it.”
“Where are the scorch marks?” The smaller fox asked, gesturing to the walls and the centre point of the explosion. “If this was some sort of detonation, would there be traces?”
The retriever wrinkled her nose. Most bombs had a distinct smell to them that lingered for days after they had been set off. There was no presence of it here. In fact, the entire space smelled..musty. Like mildew and damp and...age. There was some kind of electricity in the air too, like the ionization before and after a storm…
“Honestly,” the police officer intoned, “It looks as though a hurricane passed through here.”
The tawny fox smiled. “Exactly.”
Donovan kicked at the rubble around her feet, her eyes scanning the room. A large, scattered piece of fabric caught her eye, and she drew her baton as she approached what she had initially thought to be a fallen banner.
“What the hell…” the officer cringed as she poked at the large piece of torn fabric. It was in a sorry state and almost unrecognizable, but inspection revealed it to clearly be a giant pair of boxer shorts, stretched beyond belief.
The officer glanced around the room, trying to piece together the events of the bizarre crime scene. Thrown over an intact display case was what looked like a grey hoodie, similarly distended and stretched past the point of its structural integrity. High up on the second floor balcony, she could see what looked like the remains of an overstretched T-shirt draped over the awning. Nearby, the fox kicked at a discarded woollen cap. “Someone certainly outgrew their clothes in a hurry.”
Donovan whirled around. “Okay, you clearly know more than you’re letting on, and I’m done entertaining this speculation. The facts are, you muscled your way onto a crime scene, and now-”
She was cut off by a loud banging sound somewhere down one of the long corridors that led out of the room. There was a dull roar, and a sudden gust of air hit her, imbued with the same musty, old smell. It was only growing as the wind picked up, scattering fragments of glass and plucking at whatever banners were still mounted against the walls.
“Run,” the small fox offered, backing away from the source of the disturbance.
“What?” Donovan turned to confront her. “I’m not gonna-”
“Run!” The fox yelled, turning and scrambling in the opposite direction. A half-composed protest died in the officer’s throat and after another moment, the retriever followed her, fleeing the unseen threat.
She was back to running, plumbing through galleries and wings as relics of bygone ages blurred past her, finally rounding a hard corner and following the tip of her short friend’s bushy tail through another service door. Emerging into a spacious side office, the retriever took the chance to catch her breath.
“What….what the heck were we running from?” She panted, her flat tongue already threatening to flop out of her mouth in a manner that the police officer always thought to be grossly unprofessional.
The fennec was sitting on a desk, leaning on her staff and giggling nervously.
“Heh...I ah, I have a few theories….have a look at this.”
She tossed the fragment of green stone that she had been carrying over to Donovan. Catching it, she turned it over in her hands, inspecting the whirling markings on one side while the other girl dug a brochure out of one of her many coat pockets. The cop’s eyes drifted up from the stone in her hand to the woman who had caused her so much trouble. The more she looked at her, the stranger her appearance really was. Every part of her seemed to be covered in a bizarre inscription or accent, from the whirling patterns on her coat, to the tattoos along her jaw and the odd symbols that festooned the golden jewellery she was bedecked in. A bright red sash wrapped around her broad hips was held in place with a golden brooch depicting some sort of abstract sunburst, and the staff she was leaning on….her staff was an entire story in and of itself.
It was taller than the person holding it, made of smooth, polished wood and capped with a slightly dangerous looking ornament made of machined brass. Something about it looked incomplete, as though the ornament was wrapped around some absent central component. A pair of orange baubles dangled from the other end, which rattled slightly whenever they moved.
The fox held up the leaflet she had dug out. “Here, this is what the totem looked like intact. As soon as I saw its picture, I could tell that it would be trouble.” Donovan took it, comparing the fragment in her hand to the picture in the dim light. It was a sizable obelisk of some kind, made of the same waxy green rock and coated in similar whirling inscriptions. Something about it unsettled the pragmatic police officer. She noticed the inlaid golden inscriptions around the base, and what looked like a large, precious stone embedded in the centre.
“So...this is what they were trying to steal. But how did you get involved? Who ARE you?”
A clank, and another wheezing gust of wind from the hallway they had just evacuated broke their train of thought.
“We shouldn’t stay here.” stated, moving towards the other doorway. The doorknob failed to yield to her attempts at turning it. She cursed under her breath, an unfamiliar fear of the unknown starting to curl up in her gut. Whatever that….thing was that they had run from, she had little desire to know more about it than she had to.
“Hold on…” The fox pushed past her, “I have a trick I learned in Mombasa that may work.”
She pulled a small grease pencil out of one of her many pockets and a coffee cup from a chair, using it to trace a circle around the lock.
“What are you doing....” Donovan grimaced. “Taking a....rubbing or something?”
The fox had grabbed a piece of chalk out of another pocket and was using it as a straight edged ruler to mark eight equidistant points around her circle. She then proceeded to write a different symbol on each one.
“Watch this....” she smiled , raising a small crystal up to the aperture. She twisted it just so, almost surgically as the cop leaned in for a closer look...
And was nearly blinded by a startling flash of light. Donovan backpedalled from the sudden eruption, blinking spots out of her eyes as the smaller woman blew on the still smouldering lock. She smiled and gave the door a quick nudge, causing it to silently swing open.
“A bit unsubtle, but it gets the job done.”
Donovan tried to unravel what she had just witnessed. The mysterious pyrotechnics, the long coat and the odd markings, the weird vibe and the staff...she grimaced, making an educated guess.
“Good lord...you’re a wizard, aren’t you?”
“I'm not a wizard,” The fox corrected with a hint of dismissal in her voice. “I didn't have to spend a fortune at some academy to learn magicks from some dusty old men. Most of what I know I taught myself, or picked up from friends and fellow students.”
The officer was about to growl something about terminology, but the diminutive magic-maker turned back to the cop with an apologetic look.
“If you want to call me something, I think 'Mage' is appropriate..” She returned to standing and gazed back down. “Or you can simply call me by my name, Akila.”
“Akila,” The cop nodded. “Okay, Akila the Mage, what the heck are you doing in my city?”
“You’re a cheerful one, Officer Donovan.”
“How did you-?”
“You’re wearing a nametag.”
Donovan glanced at the placard carrying her initial and surname underneath her badge and rolled her eyes. This magic-maker was getting inside of her head.
“What does the ‘H’ stand for, Hillary? Hayley?”
“Ah, you do look like a Hazel.”
“And you look like trouble.” the weary cop offered. “Why did you get involved in all of this?”
“This is more than just a break-in” Akila explained. “Those thieves awoke something when they tried to strip that totem of its precious materials. Look at the rock again.”
Donovan glanced down again, turning the shard in her hands. The side bereft of carvings looked smooth, and slightly concave, as if…
“It was hollow…” the retriever said aloud. “The statue was hollow. Does that mean that there was something inside?”
“That is my theory.”
The mage’s dialect was difficult to place. She clearly wasn’t a native English speaker, though she took to it well. Her mention of Mombasa made Donovan think of Swahili, though sometimes her vowels sounded like they were from deep in India, and on occasion, she had a refined British air to her voice. The worn boots and heavy pants she wore looked like they belonged to a pragmatic traveller.
“Have you seen this sort of thing before?” Donovan asked. “I get the feeling that you’re a bit of a nomad.”
“I’ve been around, but I’m still learning,” Akila explained. She was inspecting the walls of the corridor now, looking for some unseen trace or clue. “But my best guess is that was...hmm”
She turned to face Donovan, looking slightly apologetic. “I could actually tell you, but fair warning, it is going to get a little...weird.”
“I’m exploring a museum, being chased by a monster, after I tried to arrest a wizard.” The cop flatly started. “Weird has been on the table for over an hour.” This was turning into one hell of a day.
“All right,” the mage intoned. “It’s from an ancient age, and I think it’s something called an Ouroborous Trap”
“And….” Donovan tried to keep up, “they set it off?”
“It’s not a trap for people, it’s meant for spirits.”
“What, like a dream catcher? Or was this used by ancient ghostbusters?”
Akila wryly grinned. “There are a lot of ways to gain magical power. Some are content to learn, study and develop their gradual connections to the energies of the universe. Others seek artifacts imbued with greater strength than they would possess on their own...and some are naturally imbued with vast wells of might within them. Though that kind are few, and often quite dangerous.”
“Yeah…” Donovan said warily. Her talk of dangerous, natural magic power had caused the young police officer to think about the eerie gang reports and criminal activities that had a habit of filtering in from the east side.
“So...this thing was one of those artifacts?”
“Probably….” Akila continued, pulling a butter knife out of a coat pocket as she inspected a long scratch mark left in the stone of the wall. “An Ourobouros Trap is meant to summon and contain an entity from another plane, usually some sort of elemental. It becomes imprisoned, and attempts to find a way out, travelling in a closed loop within the device and generating magical power. Like a battery.”
“And wizards...use it as a source of power?” The police officer tried to make sense of what she was hearing. “Sounds kind of cruel.”
“I happen to think so,” Akila responded.
Hazel made a stab at reality. “Alright...say I believe you. I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff working the Sterling City beat, but magic? All this stuff about other planes and elementals….maybe you’re just some illusionist with a few parlour tricks and you’ve just been bullshitting me from the second I tried to arrest you”
Akila turned back and smiled. “You’d be right on the first point” she paused at an intersection, glancing down one passage, then the other as she scratched at her head with the end of her staff. For once, the diligent magic-maker seemed stuck.
Officer Donovan’s tail had been low between her legs ever since they had left the main display room. She looked back at the trail they had walked.
“What...what have we been following?”
“Whatever has been unleashed. I’ve no desire to meet this thing until I know more about it, and that means following its trail.”Akila responded, rifling through her pockets.
“If I can figure out what happened, I might know more about it and be able to contain it. I just don’t know which way it went.”
“You’re trying to reconstruct the crime scene.” the cop mused. She was looking at a small black hole in the wall a few feet away. She approached it, sniffing slightly.
“Somebody brought a gun….” she muttered under her breath.
“I said there’s a bullet hole here” Officer Donovan announced. “And the one who fired it…” she traced sightlines from the firing position “They knocked over that vase…” She pointed at a shattered assortment of clay sherds. “We’re trying to follow this creature, but it was chasing the perps, right? If we pick up their trail, then we pick up the monster’s”
Akila smiled. “Lead the way officer”
The unlikely duo marched forward through the darkened catacomb of a building, occasionally pausing and listening for suspicious noises, all the time lit by the police officer’s flashlight.
“So...what is it that you do? Magically, I mean?”
Donovan had been watching the small fox dangle a metal charm of some sort at waist height, chanting quietly under her breath.
“Oh, a little of everything” the mage offered, breaking off her litany “Though I specialize in light. Illusions, plasma, positive energy, that sort of thing. The technical word is Coronamancer.” Her accent curled around the unfamiliar word.
“So you’re a light beer mage?” the cop remarked snidely.
“Everyone thinks they’re the first one to think of that…” Akila rolled her eyes. “It means I mostly study light magic. It’s done wonders for my aura.”
Donovan considered the gravity of what Akila had revealed, when a thought came to her.
“Wait a minute, did you cast a spell on me?” She stopped. “When I had a gun pointed at you, suddenly we’re all buddy-buddy and I’m helping you out? Did you hypnotise me?”
Akila raised her hands in supplication. “Not intentionally. It’s my aura. I naturally create positive energy, which makes people...relaxed. Less suspicious and more inclined to see me as friendly or harmless.”
“You still got inside of my head” the retriever growled.
“I didn’t make you change your mind or anything, it’s just a soothing presence. Think of it like a mental massage.” Akila explained, then stopped. “I think….we’ve caught up with our perpetrators”
Their search had led to a smaller wing in a long armour gallery. Inert metal husks towered over the two on either side, their weapons at the ready. One final scene of devastation awaited them, with more broken glass, discarded clothing and antiquated weapons scattered around the area.
Donovan leaned down to examine a discarded halberd, the suit of armour meant to wield it lying in a toppled heap several feet away.
“They tried to defend themselves, making a stand right here….”
Akila was poking at a fallen longsword.
“Don’t...don’t touch anything” the police officer warned. “I don’t care if these people summoned the devil, this is still a crime scene”
“Not the devil…” The mage responded as she unearthed a clear, precious stone from folds of an overstretched shirt. “An elemental”
She held up the gem, which sparkled even in the dim light. “This is what started the trouble. They tried to pry this and the other precious metals off of the trap. That interrupted the binding rituals and freed the spirit within. This stone-“ She turned it over in her hands “is used primarily for Air Elementals”
Donovan nodded, processing all of this information. She leaned in and spoke.
“What did I say about touching things?”
Akila dropped the stone back into the pile of clothes. “So...this air spirit is unleashed, probably for the first time on our plane. It panics, it’s far from home and it needs to get back...it sees other organisms...threats! It defends itself!”
The cop blinked “How? With what?”
The small fennec was talking faster now. “With the only thing it has! The air. Look!” She held up an oversized pair of panties.
“It’s how all this clothing got so ridiculous. They were filled up with air! So big they could barely move...so big that their clothing burst off of them...so big that they must have just looked like huge balloons...and then...and then….”
Akila looked overhead, and around her.
“Are they...dead?” Donovan winced. She scanned the room for some grisly remains of burst flesh or splattered gore. There were plenty of sharp objects in this room. Her search came up short, however. The bodies were simply gone.
“No...I don’t think so.” Akila said slowly as they left the wing and rejoined with the main corridor. “I’m missing something….”
“You’re saying that they were inflated with pressurized air?” The Sterling City Police Officer inquired.
“I know it sounds a little absurd, but yes” Akila responded.
Donovan nodded. “Yeah, no, that happens around here”
“People turn into balloons?”
“Yeah. With startling regularity”
Another gust of stale air hit the duo, followed by a loud crash as yet another exhibit was knocked over, this one seemingly right around the corner.
The small Fennec’s eyes widened.
“Against the wall!” She hissed, throwing out an arm that struck Donovan in her midsection. The two women flattened themselves against the nearby surface as another gust echoed around the dark, stone halls of the museum. The retriever’s ears perked up as a deep, low and ragged breathing reached her ears.
“It’s fast” whispered the mage “too fast to outrun in the open….hold your breath! It tracks you with the air, with your breath! Officer, promise to hold your breath until I say!”
The cop opened her mouth to protest, but Akila reached upwards to clamp her snout shut. The mage took a deep breath, and the cop complied. She waited, counting the seconds in silence, as the clattering grew louder and a hunched, loping shape was cast across the ground.
Hazel though she was prepared for what would come shambling around the corner. It paused, scraping at the ground and shuddering unnaturally.
The thing was...a rosy fleshtone, and slick with fluid, as though it has been recently ejected from the womb. It staggered forward on oddly assembled, spindly arms that seemed to have at least three elbows each. It's face was nonexistent. Where any normal creature might have a head, the thing seemed to have a featureless bare skull, devoid of accentuation expect for the long, bony proboscis that extended almost a meter ahead of it and occasionally tapped against the floor.
Donovan slowly brought a shaking hand to her mouth, forcing herself to avoid gasping as the wretched thing came to a stop again, mere feet away from her. Flaps of skin stretched across it’s emaciated back shuddered, and inflated like exterior lungs. The creature resembled an organic , animate accordion as it wheezed out several long, wet breaths that seemed to suck most of the air out of the room, expelling the dank, foul air that preceded it with enough force to scatter small fragments of rubble and pluck at the cop’s jacket. It twitched and doubled over, as if respiration took considerable effort. Akila was motionless, her eyes fixed on the creature as it's head snapped upwards, the pointed mosquito-tip of its nose slashing through the air like a sword as it erratically jerked it's head in search of something unseen . The police officer was able to see whirling, cursive lines etched into the thing's flesh across it's head and back. They looked like they had been created with a knife, and had just stopped bleeding.
Donovan's heart hammered as her lungs began to burn. She cast a pleading eye to the diminutive mage.
Akila was staring at something down along the hallway, through a door that they had left ajar. She raised her hand very slowly and made a simple gesture, mouth moving silently. There was a distant whip-crack in the direction that she was pointing, which echoed along the corridor.
The thing shuddered again, and made a sudden skittering leap across the room. It was halfway across the room in the blink of an eye and out of sight a second later.
The mage grabbed Donovan’s arm and mouthed the word “run”.
She did so.
Her lungs burning, the retriever took Akila's sharp inhalation as a sign that it was safe to breathe again. She gasped for air, still trying to keep her voice down as she refilled her parched lungs. Words finally came to her, and all she could think to say was...
“THAT was an Air Elemental?”
Akila had slowed to a stop after they rounded the third corner, resting against a pillar. “What were you expecting?”
Donovanl grunted. “I dunno. Something.....airy? Maybe a cloud or a....tornado with arms?”
“How to explain planar transference…..an elemental is any organism from a basic plane of existence. Nothing exists in the Plane of Air but air, wind and other gases and vapours. Nothing like this creature exists in our world, so it CAN’T exist in the form it takes in its plane... And so it had to become something that could. It was torn from its home plane into ours and became something that....makes sense, according to the laws of our plane” She paused to grab a fallen pencil, scraping a small amount of yellowish slime off of the floor. “It is not a physical entity, and yet, was forced to take physical form when it came here. What we see is a twisted reflection of it's true self, a creature made of air trying to find it's shape in a world where life is made of meat and fluid”
“God...” Hazel considered. “You make it sound like it's in pain...”
“And that makes it all the more dangerous….” Akila nodded, then paused. She pulled a familiar metal charm from her pocket and knelt down, spinning it in slow circles over the fragment of slime she had collected. “This is strange. There were signs of planar disturbance near the shattered trap, but I thought that was left over from the incident...and then I got the same reading from that hallway full of armour..” The fennec swiveled to look up at her police escort. “The whole building is flooded with ambient planar energy. Can’t you taste it in the air? It’s like lightning. It’s probably why my smartphone barely works.”
Donovan blinked “You have a smartphone?”
The officer rolled her eyes, then considered her own malfunctioning radio. If the atmosphere was contaminated with energy like Akila was implying, it would explain how she couldn’t get a call out.
The mage held up the pencil covered in yellow goop “This is the weird part. At first I thought that all that radiation was coming from the elemental, but this is a sample of its residue and it is inert. That energy is coming from some kind of reaction or spell.” Akila began to tap the encrusted pencil against the wall in ponderance “...I think...it is almost as if someone has been trying to open up planar gateways…”
Donovan thumbed at her hat. “Well, if that thing is hurting as much as you say it is, maybe it’s trying to get home.”
“Home…” Akila seemed to strike something. She smiled and leapt upwards
“Home! That’s it! It’s trying to get home!”
Donovan watched the small fennec begin to pace again, words pouring out of her.
“This elemental, it’s found a way to open portals back the the Plane of Air….and it needs a person as a conduit! It’s not filling them up as an attack...it’s using them!”
“As what...batteries?” The officer inquired, trying to wrap her head around this concept.
“As conduits!” Akila explained. “This thing has been running as a generator for a thousand years, it’s brimming with vital energy! But it needs a source of that same vitality from this plane to channel a portal to it’s home. It finds a host, a living person that can complete the circuit. It ….air rushes through and they blow up….and then…” A look of dawning realization hit her face. “Then the portal expands and consumes them.”
“Does this….kill them?” Hazel asked, horrified.
“Not...exactly,” the mage continued “I don’t know how long they’ve been on the Plane but...it does strange things to people who don’t have any kind of protection. Meat and bone don’t exist there anymore than sentient air exists here.”
“So just like the elemental became a solid creature here….They would turn into actual balloons…nothing but air inside.” Donovan tried keep up.
“Until they just sort of….disperse. Alive, but beyond our help. Just a wisp of cloud in the sky.” Akila winced “But now that we know, maybe I can help this creature before it-”
Her reveries were interrupted by another crash from back the way they came. Officer Donovan found herself instinctively reaching out and pulling the small mage behind her. She tensed up as the familiar ragged, gale-like breathing began to echo off the walls around them.
“It doesn’t know we went this way...stop talking and stay behind me…” the retriever whispered. “Just...stay...quiet.”
It was at that moment that the officer’s walkie-talkie crackled to life.
“-onovan come in. *****-einforcements arrived, re******-ast position, repeat-”
The cop’s hand darted upwards to switch her communicator off, just as a blast of air struck the duo from down the way they came.
Akila dove for a nearby service door, with Donovan right behind her.
“How do we kill this thing?” Donovan yelped, slamming the door shut behind them and locking it. This was an enclosed janitor’s office, with nothing but cleaning supplies and a single exit, which was no longer an option.
“It’s brimming with planar energy!” The mage replied, scanning the contents of the utility room for anything useful. “It’s how it can open up so many portals to it’s home. Even if we could find a way to damage it, killing it would be like setting off a bomb!”
“Trap it then!” The retriever offered, grabbing at a chair to barricade the door, and a broom to use as a weapon.
“We’d need a sealing ritual...or something airtight and a way to trick it inside…” Akila responded, eyes ping ponging back and forth as an idea churned in her head. “It took a team of shamans a week of ceremony to bind an elemental like this back in ancient times...time….time...I just need time-”
There was a rumble like a hurricane, and the door buckled inwards as though it had been struck by a massive, invisible fist.
Donovan flattened herself against the wall and instinctively held her breath, as the elemental crept into the room, shuddering and wheezing. The etched lines on its skin were glowing and steaming, either from the expulsion of energy, or purely because it was pissed off. Akila was crouched by a corner filled with brooms and other tools, her staff lying on the ground between her and the creature. One of her hands was on a mop.
No one moved.
The elemental contorted and writhed as the respiratory vents along it’s back gaped, and another blast of gale force winds whipped through the room. Debris from its initial entry spun away from the sudden cyclone, a fragment of Donovan’s chair striking Akila in the gut and forcing the breath from her body. Her eyes went wide as the the needle-face of the elemental slashed through the air until it was pointed at her like a nocked arrow.
The creature shuddered briefly, and leapt forward.
*BAM* *BAM* *BAM*
Bullets met the creature in midair as it pounced. It’s momentum interrupted, it collapsed sideways in a heap of bony limbs as the howl of wind filled the small room. Akila threw her hands over her large ears and recoiled from the gunshots as the cop aimed briefly and fired again at the recovering elemental. It twitched and spasmed at each shot, and the plaster behind it shattered as the bullets embedded themselves in the wall, but there was no lasting mark on the elemental. It was if the officer’s shots were just passing right through it. She was firing on a phantom.
“Damn” Donovan gaped, realizing she had lost track of her ammunition. Eyes still trained on the stunned monster, one hand fumbled for the additional magazine on her belt. The elemental’s torso flexed and ballooned outwards, and suddenly, Officer Donovan couldn’t breath. The thing had managed to rob the entire room of air in under a second. It twitched, gave out a squeal like friction on taut rubber, and exhaled.
A wall of wind struck the retriever like a freight train. She was lifted off of her feet like a paper doll and slammed against the wall hard enough to drive the remaining breath from her body. Gasping, Hazel fumbled for her gun as darkness ate at the edges of her vision. She could see the prone form of Akila on the other side of the room, entangled in the frame of a toppled metal shelving unit. She had no idea if the fennec was alive or dead.
The elemental seemed to regard her for an instant, cocking its head as if searching for some unseen quality, before darting straight at her.
Donovan was trying to sit up as she felt a thin, alien element slide into her midsection, right above her belly button. She flailed in panic, but already could feel a cold roiling sensation manifesting within her belly. There was an intense presence in her stomach that whirled and coalesced, before blossoming outwards like a great gust from a bellows.
The retriever gaped, trying to burp or do anything to vent the bizarre growing presence inside of her, but could only weakly paw at the semi-corporeal proboscis as it effortlessly, painlessly, slid further into her. Her stomach suddenly began to swell outwards, as if to meet it. She tried to drive her hands against the creature, but she felt so weak, sluggish. The air within her continued to build and more of her body began to give way as her belly became a round orb of a thing in front of her, untucking her shirt with its size and exposing her white-grey furred stomach. She placed a hand against it to assure that it was real and was rewarded with a shiver of sensation. She gagged at a sudden headrush as the air travelled upwards and her humble breasts responded, tingling with activity and blowing up like a pair of party balloons. Buttons began to burst from her shirt one by one, yielding to the pressurized body beneath. In an effort to equalize the pressure, her butt also began to accept the overload of air inside of her, swelling and pressing into the wall behind her. Donovan reeled at the sensation of overtaxed fabric being pulled across her fur, feeling overoxygenated and very lightheaded.
“Ah-Akila!” She mumbled “Ah-muh-mage!”
There was the sound of shifting debris somewhere in another corner of the room, but the blimping police officer’s attentions were dragged down again as the horrid creature reached out and planted its three-fingered hands on her exposed stomach, which was now approaching the size of an exercise ball. She felt the subtle vibrations of contact hum through the hollow space inside of her and gritted her fangs against the unnatural stimuli. She wanted to swat at the intrusive creature, to drive her fists into it, but her arms felt weightless and hard to bend. If Akila has been right, this...thing was opening a portal to its home dimension right inside of her gut, using her vitality as the foundation for a doorway through reality. What a goddamned day. She had finally met the magical underground that she had done such a good job of avoiding, only now to be consumed by it.
A ripping noise and the sensation of exposure across her behind made Donovan realize that her pants had failed to contain her growing form. Her belt, similarly overtaxed, finally failed to maintain its own hold and the clasp failed, springing away with the waistband of her trousers. Her radio, cuffs, utility knife and ordinance all clattered to the floor, followed shortly by a significant portion of her tearing pants, leaving her in a pair of panties that were all but smothered by the swollen thighs and belly that pressed in on all sides.
The officer felt her face go hot and she tried once more to strike the creature that was robbing her of her mobility and dignity. She swung a thick, sluggish arm at it, but only bounced off of her own massive belly, causing another tremor within her. She couldn’t even see the thing, as looking down provided her only with a view of her own voluminous fluffy cleavage, each growing mound almost the same size that her belly had been before. Another ping sounded off as one of the overtaxed buttons on her shirt yielded to the stress and broke off, exposing more of the belly and bust that had come to define her frame.
Hazel dragged her eyes away from her compromised physique to try and find something, ANYTHING that could help her. The room at this point was full of nothing but scattered debris and a few errant janitor supplies. The retriever’s cheeks began to puff up like baseballs as she saw the fragmented half of a broomstick lying a foot away from her. She flailed at it, eyeing the sharp, splintered end in desperation as her arms began to resemble traffic cones in shape and girth. If she couldn’t use the sharp edge as a weapon, maybe she could...puncture herself. Try to release some of the air that was puffing her bigger and bigger. She could only pray that she wouldn’t meet the fate most balloons did when they met a sharp object.
Her legs all but useless, Donovan lurched sideways, falling in slow motion as her buoyant body collided with the ground. Whatever was filling her up must have been a mishmash of different gasses, as she could feel herself becoming lighter and lighter. Donovan’s round side collided with the ground and made a noise like a bouncy castle a she rebounded slightly. The stress finally caused the front clasp of her bra to snap along with another button, leaving only the two remaining fasteners of her shirt to contain the ridiculously over inflated breasts that were pressing up against her muzzle and filling her peripheral vision with twin horizons of white fur. The cop turned her head as much as possible against the all encompassing pillow of her own flesh and made a flapping grab for the fragment of wood, coming inches short. Her jacket, stretched between her distant, swollen arms, was binding her limbs back like a pair of handcuffs. Growling, the nearly immobile cop wrenched against the fabric binding and felt it rip against her ballooning back, falling in two long ragged halves, held in place by what remained of the sleeves around her wrists. She kicked her feet, the only part of her stubby legs capable of movement, in an attempt to push herself forward, and came up short again, succeeding only in bouncing slightly in place. She made one final grunt of effort and felt herself rebound off of the ground again….but not drift back down. Donovan flailed what little was left of her arms and legs as she rose upwards. This was it...she had become lighter than air.
Hell of a damn day… Utterly at the mercy of a wretched monster and the elements it manipulated, bloated up into a useless parody of herself, and destined to spend an eternity drifting around an alien dimension as nothing but a gust of vapour held together by a ghost of consciousness.
Hazel felt the last of her jacket fall away and her shoes inched off by her billowing furry flesh as her hands and feet were pulled into tightly puckered indentations in her otherwise taut, spherical body. There was another ping as the penultimate button of her shirt gave way, leaving only a single brave fastener to restrain the officer’s eclipsing breasts, which jutted out from her huge orb of a body. Her jacket joined her brassiere, pants and shoes on the floor, along with the overstretched, discarded clothing of all the others who had gone the way she was about to. Just another ill fated balloon in Sterling City….another statistic….
At least she’d saved that little fennec, Donovan idly thought as her body rose higher, the unseen elemental still clinging to her massive belly below. If that so-called mage was half as smart as she’d claimed to be, then she’d probably be out the door and gone by now. At least she’d managed to save one more person…
Hazel looked up from her own swollen blimp of a body as her butt bounced against the ceiling. And saw Akila standing not five feet away from her, holding a bottle of cleaning solution in one hand and a long black tube in the other. They made eye contact and the short mage winked at the blimp of a cop before pulling back her arm and whipping the hefty bottle directly at the monster.
“Mmmmm!” Donovan cried, her snout muffled between her own boobs and the softball-sized cheeks pressed against what were once her shoulders. “MmmMmRph!”
There was the sound of impact below her and a familiar shuddering squeal. Akila whistled as though she were calling a pet, a high, piercing note that filled the space. The bizarre presence in her midsection was suddenly gone, and with it, the swirling maelstrom of air that had been filling her up. She almost sighed with relief before she remembered her situation. Looking back at Akila bug-eyed, Donovan barely caught the blur of the elemental as it launched itself at the mage like a javelin. Akila grinned and the thrust the tube she was holding outwards to meet it, holstering the needle faced thing with a clatter of bone on plastic like a sword in its sheath.
Then she flicked a switch behind her, and the roar of the industrial vacuum filled the small room.
Donovan could only watch as the scrabbling thing was drawn further and further into the head of the shopvac. The connecting hose rattled as something entered it and the container began to shake. The air elementals body shimmered and compressed, following the stream of air and being sucked further in. After a moment of resistance, the thing seemed to actually be wriggling further into the tube of its own accord, and in another moment, there was a slight, hollow *SHOOMP* as it was entirely sucked inside.
Akila turned off the shop-vac and smiled up at Donovan’s round form.
“They didn’t have these back in ancient times”
The chamber of the vacuum began to buck and rattle with its sudden prisoner.
“Oh, hold on” Akila offered, and pulled a roll of duct tape out of a nearby toolbox. The orb of a cop could only float there, occasionally bouncing off of the ceiling as Akila laboured to seal the vents and any discernible hole in the main canister, before swiftly disconnecting the hose and wrapping over the hole several times with the last of the roll of tape. Satisfied with her thorough trussing, the mage produced a magic marker and began to scribble some indiscernible series of markings along the silvery wrappings.
“Just a few warding charms, and a planar sanctuary inscription” Akila explained. “Should keep our friend safe and sound until I can get him back home”
She glanced up at Donovan, seemingly unperturbed by her bizarre deformity.
“Thank you for that, Officer. I had no idea what I was going to do before you intervened…
She drifted off as she took a good look at the huge, fuzzy white sphere of a woman that was bobbing above her. “....goodness, they certainly did a number on you.”
There was a look of wonder on her face, as an inquisitive smile began to form.
“I’ve never seen such a-well, an EXTREME physical reaction to magical energy. And your body….” Donovan grunted as Akila’s eyes flickered over her hemisphere of a belly and voluminous breasts “...What does it feel like?...to be that...BIG?”
I’d gladly trade places with you if you’re so curious, Hazel thought, but of course, said nothing.
“You claim it happens a lot around here...I may have more than reason to stick around.” She hefted the rattling vacuum canister under one arm. “I should get going. I’m sure that backup will pick you up soon…”
Donovan felt a chill run down her curvature at the thought of her colleagues finding her in such a compromised state.
Akila chuckled. “Oh come now, I owe you more than that! Let me get you back to my place and I’ll see what I can do for the both of you.”
She pulled a simple thin rope out of her pocket and threw it up in the air, before twisting her wrist in a simple gesture that caused the rope to respond in kind, bending in an unnatural trajectory and wrapping itself tightly around Donovan’s left hand like a snake. The blimped up cop could only grab hold.
“Any decent mage knows a good rope trick” Akila explained, tugging on her end of the cord and pulling her new cargo away from ceiling, carefully coaxing her through the destroyed, mercifully wide threshold of the supply room
Hazel sighed into her own taut cleavage, clad in nothing but a probably unsalvageable pair of panties and the top of her overstretched uniform, held in place by a single button. She bobbed down the long hallways of the museum, tugged along by Akila like an oversized souvenir in the hands of an excited schoolgirl.
“We SHOULD be able to get all that air out of you” Akila mused, left with no one to really talk to but herself. “I’m not sure if that portal to the Plane of Air inside of you is gone, or if it’s just inactive….hmm. Well, we will see when I get you back to my sanctum. You’ll like it there, it’s….roomy”
Officer Donovan felt her side brush past a banner and she wiggled her toes resignedly, with no other choice to trust this odd little interloper into her life.
One damn hell of a day….