Alchemy

by Pascal Q. Porcupine

Darkness.

A sound, an acrid scent, a glow.

Torchlight glances upon jaggedly smooth rock.

It flickers, in an ancient dance, random but steady.

The dance remains fixed, while a smaller one enters the cave, carried by a silhouette, a hunched-over robe-clad figure. It stalks forward, in a rhythmic, processional waddle.

It continues forward, its own small dance casting a meager amount of light onto the floor ahead of it.

Darkness.

A rustle, a bone-jarring creak, a glow of amber floods the cave. The red-clad druidic figure continues its hunched-over waddle, golden tassles swaying back and forth in a dance of their own, indifferent to the cord they are attached to. The figure pays no mind, but continues to plod forward.

"Greetings, sister," a voice flows into the room, mellow yet harsh, supple yet firm; the owner of the voice appears.

The figure simply bows, snuffs the candle, stashes it in the folds of her robe.

"And what brings you here this evening," the voice says, no inquisition in its tone.

The robed figure clears her throat.

The owner of the voice, a well-proportioned gray-furred flying squirrel donning a white tunic, kneels before the robed figure. It smiles.

"Remove your robe, sister."

Compliance, with a nod. Delicate multi-colored paws reach for the tassled ends of the golden cord, and with a gentle tug the knot is undone. The paws reach up to the hood, pull it back.

Rodent teeth on a rodent muzzle, fur and skin multi-colored in accordance to the paws. Onyx-black orbs of eyes, outlandishly-striated quills.

The court alchemist proceeds to allow her robe to slither down her back, piling onto the floor in a crimson heap.

The squirrel shakes hir head, idly rubs hir left amber horn, chuckling in mirth. "This is so like you."

The alchemist nods. "This Universe had the good grace to grant me with the ability, and who am I to waste ability?"

The squirrel begins to walk around the alchemist, gazing at her from every angle through her golden-amber orbs of eyes. "Stand up straight, sister, so I can see what a job you've done on yourself."

The alchemist complies, and straightens her back; a crack, two, three, and she clenches her eyes, embracing the warm rush of pleasure rushing up her spine. Her eight fingers straighten, clench, and straighten again.

She stands at her five feet, not including the quills which grace her back, and smiles to her brother-sister.

"Why the change in height?" sie asks, gently scritching the muzzle of hir sister.

"I felt it appropriate for the part. It's no fun being a mysterious, hunched-over robed figure when you're tall enough to stand out," she explains, smiling.

"Okay then, sis. Have it your way." Sie giggles, and picks up hir sister's robe, and walks over to a couch. Hir sister follows.

The squirrel lies down on hir side on the crimson-cushioned couch, leaving enough room for hir vividly-colored sister to lie down beside hir.

"So tell me, anything interesting going on in the court?"

The porcupine sighs, her long, zebra-striped quills exaggerating the effect. "Not really. Lord Copernicus has somehow decided that I need to double-up my efforts on my lead-into-gold research, and I seem to be spending a lot of time helping that wizard figure out his spells... I'm an alchemistn, not a cleric!"

The squirrel chuckles. "And you found time to rework your coloring with all this?"

The porcupine smiles, noding. "Speaking of... we really could use a good artist like you in the court."

The squirrel sighs. "They don't appreciate me there..."

"Hey now, they would if they knew what you could do! I don't think most of them there even know you existn, Mil."

"Maybe it's better that way..."

The porcupine shakes her head. "C'mon, Mil, it'll be fun."

"Mmm."

The porcupine gently kisses the squirrels nose. "Oh hey, I have a present for you..."

The squirrel perks up. The porcupine gracefully hops off the sofa, and rummages around in the pockets of her robe. She eventually pulls out a golden ring with a sapphire set into it.

"Put this on. And sit up."

The squirrel complies, slips it onto a finger on hir left paw.

"It's a morph ring. I've only cast into it a few forms, ones which I knew you'd like, but you can add more if you like. Just close your eyes and focus your mind on the ring, and you'll 'see' several choices... Just choose one."

The squirrel closes hir eyes, and smiles; a few seconds later sie glows a warm amber, hir features shift slightly, and the glow fades away. When it is over, hir fur is black with a white stripe running from the tip of the nose down hir back to the tip of hir tail. Sie opens hir eyes.

The porcupine gets on all fours and scampers to a corner of the room, past a myriad golden and amber puzzles of all shapes and sizes, and rummages around in a pile of golden interlocking-globe puzzles. She picks up a mirror, and gently carries it back to the squirrel-come-skunk. The skunk gently takes it, looks at it, admires it.

"Thank you, sister."

"Why don't you try some of the other forms? There's even one in there for you-know-who," she says, with a suggestive wink.

Sie shakes hir head. "No, I believe I'll just go back to how I was." Sie closes hir eyes, and once again glows, and hir features reform to how they were. Sie opens her eyes.

She stares at hir, a worried look on her face.

"Damnit... I thought I fixed that..."

Sie looks at hir sister expectantly. "What's wrong?"

"You... you never stopped glowing."

The squirrel looks at hirself in the mirror, and realizes that hir sister is right -- sie was still glowing, still amber all over!

"I thought I fixed that damn bug..." She growls at herself, and sighs. "You can't open your eyes before it's done. Otherwise you get stuck as, well, amber. Until you morph again, anyway."

The amber squirrel stands up, and pets hir sister on the head. "This isn't so bad... I rather like this feature."

The porcupine chuckles, and smiles. "Thanks, Mil. And well... Lord Copernicus wants me to turn lead into gold. I guess squirrel into amber is a step in the right direction, huh?"

The living-amber squirrel chuckles, and draws hir sister up in a warm embrace. "That it is."

They snuggle a while.

She stares deep into hir amber orbs of eyes, and sighs. "I'm sorry. I need to go now... I told the wizard I'd help him set up his Van deGraph generator. I keep tellingn him he should be using free-space generators, since they're muchn more efficient and don't break so easy, but non, he's got to go with the standard. Sez he can't figure out the free-space kind. Wizards, go figure."

The squirrel nods, and scritches hir sister on the muzzle. "You go now."

The porcupine nods in return. "See you soon?"

The squirrel gives her one last kiss on the forehead. "Yeah."

The porcupine gathers up the crimson robe, clutching it tight to her maroon, purple, and dark-magenta-splotched body, and slowly plods towards the cavern from which she came. She enters, turns around, and gives one last wave to her brother-sister, and walks through, closing the door behind her.

Darkness.

"Alchemy", copyright Pascal Q. Porcupine