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    • By Sake in The Bee and Barb
         0
      Lydia and the Dragonborn had gone down to the dining room early the next morning to prepare for the day ahead of them, the Dragonborn still rubbing his eyes; clearly he hadn’t slept very well, but he had a job to do – one more important than saving the world, of course, because he couldn’t be expected to do that if a barmaid were to murder him for letting her business fall apart in her absence. So he just trudged along to take up a position behind the bar and prepare for what was definitely not going to be an enjoyable day. Lydia followed along quietly, looking just as tired as her husband of just twelve hours.

      Though one of them was obviously more awake than the other. Where Bjorn seemed to ignore everything around him except the bare minimum to walk properly, Lydia had noticed that the two weren’t alone. Nobody was supposed to be in the inn so early, and yet there was a figure seated at a table near the bar, hunched over what looked like a teapot with a cup in hand. Lydia halted for a moment and just stared at the figure, surprised more than anything else, though she quickly recognized the figure as the little Khajiit lady who’d been living in the inn and working for Keerava. What was her name again? Azhani? That seemed right.

      Lydia remained stationary as Azhani seemed to notice someone was looking at her; the Khajiit raised her head to look vaguely at the spectator and give something of a wave with the hand her cup was in. Her mouth was slightly open, and Lydia could tell by her movements that she was breathing heavier than normal. Azhani’s tail twitched with what Lydia recognized as annoyance – assuming Khajiit worked the same way as cats, at least, which could very well just be racist – though she didn’t seem to be mad at anything in particular, just sitting there occasionally halting her breathing long enough to drink some of her tea.

      “Uh, hi,” was what Lydia came up with after a couple of minutes wherein the only sounds were the Khajiit’s breathing and the Dragonborn rearranging bottles in the kitchen. ”You alright?” She stepped a little closer to Azhani’s table, being sure to keep a safe distance in case the answer was a rather violent “no”.

      The actual response was a shrug, a particularly-deep breath, and a quiet “Could be worse.” Then Azhani’s nose twitched and she sat up a little straighter, looking off in the direction of the kitchen and the promise of imminent breakfast. “All that food isn’t just for him, is it?”

      Lydia gave a quick snort of laughter as she pulled up a chair at the opposite end of Azhani’s table. “You sure you’re fine?” She folded both arms in front of herself. “You don’t look very… uh… Oh, gods.” Lydia brought her hands to her face with a sigh. “Don’t tell me you’re…”

       “Yeah.” Azhani shrugged again and spoke slowly. “Pretty bad season this time, but… at least it isn’t every month.”

      “Sounds fun,” Lydia said with just a grain of sarcasm. “So you’re out of commission, and I guess I could do your job for you. How long do you figure this is going to last? A week? Couple weeks?”

      Azhani swirled her teacup around as if it were a wine glass. “Eh, worst part is over in two… three days maybe. After that, two weeks? But that part… will be fine.” Redirecting her gaze to the table, she added, quieter, “Would be over sooner if, eh… If I had help, yes?”

      Lydia raised an eyebrow. “Can’t do that yourself?”

      “With what? All I have is hands.” The Khajiit raised her free hand and flexed her claws. “And I don’t know about you but… I have been with enough Khajiit to know I’d rather just… deal with it than stick sharp things in there.”

      “P-point taken.” Lydia’s response was followed by a nervous laugh as that mental image made her press her legs together. “But, uh… w-what was that about Khajiit? I mean, I’ve read the uncensored version of that one book about Barenziah, but I never thought they really had… uh, those.”

      “Oh yeah, they have them, they’re only sharp going out, and you never get used to it. Glad I do not have to deal… with the Ba… ah?” Azhani jumped a bit in her seat as she looked up and a little to her left, guided by the smell of nearby food. “How… uh… how long have you been there?”

      “Well, let’s just say I, uh… Didn’t think I’d never need to hear how Khajiit penises work… Even so, I think everyone can appreciate some breakfast.” The Dragonborn set down a tray of various meats and toast, along with a bottle of mead and a few mugs. He gave Lydia a little kiss on the cheek as he pulled up his own seat near her, leaving the ravenous carnivore at the other end of the table to her own devices. “Long day ahead of you, eh?”

      “Oh, please, like taking care of a bar for a few days is going to be any worse than walking halfway across the province. Country. Whatever the fuck this place is now.” Lydia made herself a little sandwich while she spoke. “I’ve killed dragons with you, this is nothing.”

      Bjorn yawned, then carefully grabbed whatever food he could without getting his arm clawed off, settling on a piece of toast. “Oh, you’ll wish we had a dragon to kill once you’ve had a couple hours of this. It’s either going to bore you into Oblivion or you’ll work your ass off for twelve hours only to find out that apparently that’s all for a half-Septim profit at the end of the day.” He looked over at Azhani, who stared back at him, her head tilted as she tried to breathe around a piece of bacon hanging from her mouth. “Though profit margins would probably look a lot better if one of us wasn’t getting everything she wants here for free.”

      Azhani swallowed her bacon, and her tail’s thrashing grew faster as her ears flattened against her head. She spoke between deep breaths. “At least… when I take something… there’s still… something left.”

      “Hah, true, and we both know what’d happen if you decided to take too much, right?” Bjorn continued quickly, ignoring Azhani digging her claws into the table. “Speaking of which, all that tea can’t be good for you, can it?”

      The little Khajiit looked surprised to hear the genuine concern in the Dragonborn’s voice. “Perhaps not… But it helps me when I’m… like this. Keeps me, ah… calm, and awake. Doesn’t help the pain, and I’m still… hot, but… it is the reason I am… still wearing pants and not currently, ah, jumping at the, eh… nearest male.” When Azhani noticed the strange looks she was getting from across the table, she added, “Um, not that… that means, uh… anyone in… in particular…” Then she turned her attention back to the plate in front of her, trying not to look at anything else.

      “Uh, alright, sure, if you say so. Just… don’t make it my problem.” Turning back to Lydia, the Dragonborn said, “As for you, you may be confident now, but we’ll see what sort of trouble you end up in later, won’t we?”

      “Wow, never would have guessed that that’s what this is about.” Lydia rolled her eyes and folded her arms with a smirk on her face. “You ought to know me better than to underestimate me like that. But don’t worry, I’ll be sure to put on a bit of a show for you if you really want one.”

      “Well, I’ll never turn down some good theater… but I have a feeling it’ll be more than just theatrics by the end of the day.”

      “We’ll see.” Lydia stood up and finished off what was left of her mead. “Should probably get started then, hm?”

      As the two Nords left the table, Azhani stood up as well. “I suppose I should just… head back to bed then, yes? Not a very good idea, I think, to… sit around in a bar right now. So, um… don’t, uh, don’t tell anyone I’m here if… if anyone comes looking, hm?”

      “Sure.” Bjorn nodded on his way over to the bar. “You want food or something brought up to you or…?”

      “No, I’ll be fine.” She gave a weak wave, then stopped on her way to the stairs and turned back around. “Or, no, uh… just bring up some tea every few hours, yes? But… leave it at the door, though.”

      “You got it.”

      To nobody’s surprise, the inn was fairly quiet for the first few hours after sunrise – the occasional regular had come in for breakfast, but that was about it. Lydia had gone up in the late morning to deliver Azhani’s tea, just to have something to do, and at her husband’s request had dropped off some of his old spellbooks as well. The Khajiit didn’t seem too enthusiastic about that during their brief conversation through the door, but expressed her sincere gratitude for the additional gift nonetheless.

      When Lydia returned downstairs, she again found something to do just to keep herself busy – she’d grabbed a broom and was wandering around aimlessly, pushing around some dirt from overnight while the Dragonborn wiped down the bar and the kitchen counters.

      “So,” Lydia called out after a few minutes of near silence. “This is it, huh?”

      “What, already sick of it?”

      “Not as such, but I can definitely see what you were talking about earlier.” She shrugged and moved over to lean on the bar. “And I would definitely prefer to be back in action, you know?”

      Bjorn sighed but didn’t stop working. “Yeah, me too. You’ve seen for yourself I’m just about well enough for it by now, so in a week or two when the Argonians get back, we’ve got our armor, and I’ve got that package from Whiterun, we’ll be on our way. Don’t you worry about that.”

      “Oh, hey, I’ve actually been meaning to ask you about that package. It’s not the real thing, is it?”

      There was a brief pause while Bjorn stopped what he was doing and turned to look at Lydia with an intense gaze. “Absolutely authentic. Obviously, I took a pretty serious beating last time I fought Alduin. So I started thinking, if I’m going to do it again, I need every advantage I can get. Then it occurred to me… he’s not a dragon, he’s a god. And against a god, what advantage could be greater than one of Kagrenac’s Tools?”

      Lydia had taken a seat while the Dragonborn was talking. “Well, with scars like that I sure hope your plan works out. But-“ She leaned forward in her seat. “We’re going to Whiterun anyways, why not just stop and pick it up while we’re there?”

      “Experimentation, dear.” Bjorn walked out of the kitchen and laid a hand on the bar. “We both know the potential of that thing, and I’ve seen a bit of what it can do. But it’s weaker than the legends say it should be; it’s lost a lot of the magic it used to have. I want to know… is what’s left of it going to do anything to a dragon?” He sighed and shook his head. “I barely hurt Alduin at all last time, so it had better fucking be enough, but it was never meant to be used alone. Without Sunder and Wraithguard, I don’t know if it’ll live up to its reputation. Shit, you’re not even supposed to be able to touch the fucking thing without Wraithguard in the first place.” He rubbed his forehead with one hand. “I’d kill for something like Dawnbreaker, or Chrysamere, or Volendrung, anything. At least those I know work perfectly fine on their own.”

      “So basically you’re going to find yourself a dragon and poke it with a really, really, really old magical crystal-knife, and hope it does something?” Sure, there was a more professional way to phrase the question, but someone had to do something to lighten the mood.

      The little joke had worked, apparently, because the Dragonborn chuckled a bit before responding. “Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Still going on ahead even if it’s just as good as a regular dagger, of course, but I’d like to try it, at least.”

      “Well,” Lydia said, standing up again. “Never thought I’d say this, but let’s hope we get attacked by a dragon, then.”

      “Hah, yeah. Let’s pray for it.” Bjorn stepped back towards the kitchen, but stopped halfway there. “Hey, you want anything to drink? I could put on some coffee or more tea or something.”

      Lydia put a hand on her hip and raised an eyebrow, a little smirk on her face. “Well, you sure would like that, wouldn’t you?”

      “Hey, I’m only suggesting it ‘cause it’ll help you stay awake.”

      “Oh, yeah, of course. I’m sure there aren’t any side effects that you’d be interested in.” The sarcasm in her voice was excruciatingly obvious. “But, actually, yeah, I could do with some coffee. And since you wanted a show anyway…”

      Come lunchtime, the inn had become as busy as could be expected, and as usual populated almost exclusively by the handful of loyal customers that kept the place afloat. The coffee had started to catch up with Lydia, resulting in a tolerable feeling of fullness as she worked on finishing a generous helping of beer the Dragonborn had given her to go along with a meal. It was more than she’d normally drink at once, and she knew damn well why he’d seen fit to give her that much. Even so, she was content to finish it and was in no rush to do so – and Bjorn certainly wouldn’t be keen on moving things along too quickly either if it was a show he was after. Even now, he was looking over at her every so often while he told some other patrons his war stories, though at the moment she was refusing to give him what he wanted.

      Instead, she was just sitting there, spun around in her seat so that she was leaning back against the bar while she listened to the Dragonborn’s stories and waited for something to do. The current tale was something about the College of Winterhold and something related to Magnus. Lydia hadn’t been there for it so she found it interesting, if a bit predictable considering what she’d seen of her husband.

      Her beer had run out by the time the dragon priest had entered Bjorn’s story, which meant that was a good enough time to get back to work. So she stood up, slid her mug across the counter to Bjorn so he could deal with it, and stretched. She couldn’t help but notice that he was watching, especially when she froze for a moment during her stretch as she disturbed something she shouldn’t have – but to his visible dismay she regained full control in an instant.

      He was keeping an eye on her as she walked around to his side of the bar, speaking quietly to him as she passed: “Putting on some more tea.” Then, sure enough, she went straight for the kitchen and the set of tea-making equipment that had been set aside that morning – normally an extra cheaper set, but considering Azhani’s request, they’d decided it would be better to have the second one available at all times.

      The Dragonborn did have to turn his attention back to the patrons to whom he was describing in excruciating detail the appearance of the Staff of Magnus once Lydia had passed him, so unfortunately could not see that she was standing a little stiffer than usual while she worked. And for her part, she was already starting to question why she’d figured a large beer was good idea when she still had hours to go. Filling the kettle and having to watch as it boiled wasn’t doing her much good, either. But still she remained strong, showing no signs of her state other than the subtle change in her posture of which only Bjorn would have been able to correctly identify the cause.

      Lydia was able to relax somewhat once everything had been properly prepared and loaded onto a tray, so she now stood more naturally, the only hint of her state being the slightest of distensions in her abdomen, concealed by her apron such that even Bjorn didn’t notice it when she walked by. Or, if he did, he made no indication of it – he just looked her in the eyes for a moment and subtly laid a hand on her rear, letting her walk off afterwards with no comment.

      Not like he needed to say anything anyways, considering her current problem was that she needed to climb stairs, a feat which he surely would have been more than content to watch in silence. Despite her outward confidence, Lydia did feel the need to stop just before the stairs and take a deep breath, shortly thereafter moving as quickly as the ever-growing weight between her legs would allow. Each step momentarily added more pressure, not enough to be critical, but enough to be quite uncomfortable and a rather ominous reminder that she’d have to make that trip several more times before the day was out.

      This time, she reached the top of the stairs without spilling a drop of either of the liquids she was carrying, though that certainly wouldn’t be true the next time. Best not to dwell on that for now though – Lydia moved directly for Azhani’s room once she’d finished her climb, just to be done with this errand as fast as possible.

      Knocking on the door, she said simply, “Tea’s here,” and was met with what sounded like a surprised response.

      “Wha- oh. Lydia? D-don’t, uh, don’t leave yet…” This was followed by the barely-audible sound of light feet on wood, and after a moment the door opened just wide enough that Azhani could see what was on the other side, and Lydia could only see a pair of eyes. “I need a favor. You can, uh… come in for… for a minute, if you want, or…”

      Lydia shrugged after a moment of thought. “Sure, why not?” Then the door swung open enough to walk through, and was closed again once Lydia had entered. She left the new tray of tea on the bedside table, and picked up the old one, turning around with it in hand. “So, what is it y- oh… uh, okay then.” Azhani was standing by the door wearing only her fur, with her twitching tail maneuvered to cover her most-sensitive parts, though she made no effort to cover the signs on her chest of her involuntary arousal. Her hair was loose and disheveled and the room itself was no better off, with the bed looking like it’d been ripped to shreds and clothes strewn about at random. Lydia carried on as if this were normal. “Uh, yeah, what do you need?”

      “Well, two things,” Azhani started, crouching down near the bed to drag a metal pot from beneath it and put a cover over it. She stood up with it in hand and extended her arms towards Lydia as if offering for her to take it. “Uh, I need this cleaned. Would, uh… prefer it back sooner than… than later, yes?”

      Lydia gave a quiet nod, holding out the tray so Azhani could leave her pot on it. Her bladder protested at the thought of what was in the pot, but remained firmly under control.

      “And I’d like these washed… if you don’t mind,” the Khajiit said as she picked a set of ragged clothes out of the debris around the room. “Not… terribly important, but… I usually wash them every day… when I’m like this, so that, uh… so they smell… normal.” Then they were handed over to Lydia, who just let them be draped over one of her arms, save for a more delicate article that went into the pocket on Lydia’s apron.

      “They don’t smell that bad,” she said. “Could just air them out and they’d be fine.”

      “No, trust me.” Azhani’s deep breathing seemed to quicken a bit and she was using both hands to emphatically gesture in Lydia’s direction. “If you were a Khajiit, you’d know. Eh… th-they need to be washed. Every day, until… uh, until this is over.”

      “Oh, yeah, right. Sure, I can do that.” Lydia subtly pressed her legs together as she stood. “I guess that’s why you’re holed up in here, isn’t it?”

      “Yes. I would like to be… able to go out for some air, but…” There was the sound of tea being poured in the background while Azhani spoke, causing Lydia to stand a little stiffer. “I would also like… to not have everyone… think I’m a slut. So I stay here.”

      “Fair enough. Is that it?”

      Azhani, who had moved to sit on the bed with her tail draped over her legs, just nodded and took a sip of her tea, then watched and Lydia left the room without another word and fumbled with the tray to close the door behind herself.

       The trek down the hall and back downstairs was far more tolerable this time than going up, but Lydia couldn’t help worrying about the prospect of having to repeat that journey even once. For now, it was just a matter of walking like a normal person long enough to ditch the now-spent tea set and get outside to deal with everything else Azhani wanted. She turned some heads during her walk, but most of them seemed to be more interested in the clattering of everything on the tray than Lydia herself; they’d look in her direction momentarily then get right back to what they were doing.

      Except the Dragonborn, of course, who had his eyes glued to her from the moment she entered his sight, no doubt trying to find in her something of special interest. He didn’t otherwise acknowledge her until she tried to get behind the counter, only to be met with a hand blocking her way.

      “How’re you holding up so far?” Bjorn spoke in a whisper, barely audible over the sounds of patrons enjoying their lunch break.

      “Don’t worry, you’ll get your show, but it’s not going to be that easy,” was the equally-silent response. “And hands off while I’m working, huh?” The rebuke was loud enough that those seated at the bar could have heard it if they cared, and it prompted the Dragonborn to withdraw a hand that had found its way to Lydia’s thigh.

      With no further obstruction, Lydia headed into the kitchen, setting down her tray and grabbing a brush and something that she was pretty sure was at least somewhat related to soap. Then she shuffled everything around to carry it more comfortably and picked up the pot whose contents she didn’t want to think about right now. Especially not with a constant pressure reminding her that her day wasn’t even half over yet. He’d be getting a show, alright.

      For now, though, Lydia went outside, forcing herself to walk straight and keep upright, headed for the nearest canal. But that was the easy part. Now she had to negotiate herself into sitting down in such a way that she could still do what she needed and not add any undue pressure. She worked slowly, eventually ending up on her knees with one foot strategically positioned to provide assistance if necessary.

      Lydia took a deep breath and looked around to make sure she didn’t have too much of an audience, then quickly got to work. First she took Azhani’s panties out and quickly looked them over – there was a still-damp patch caused by what was certainly not urine, but no other damage – then carefully leaned forwards to get them into the water and use her soap-like substance on them. She worked quickly but efficiently, retrieving them after a short while in a state that was probably the cleanest they had been in a decade. Then they were wrung out and set aside and Lydia took a moment to breathe deeply, glad that her body was no longer compressing itself where it shouldn’t have been and preparing herself to do it again.

      But then it was right back to business, giving the ragged shirt and pants the same treatment – though what they really needed was a needle and thread – before all the clothes ended up in a neat pile just slightly off to Lydia’s side. Then her gaze turned to the little iron pot. Then back to the canal, then the pot again, and back and forth like that for a while before settling on the canal again. Lydia dipped a hand in to confirm that the current would be satisfactory, then resigned herself to the necessity of the task at hand.

      She refused to look at and tried not to listen to what she was doing as the picked up the pot, put the lid aside, and dumped the contents into the canal – everyone threw their trash into these things anyways – and waited for a couple of minutes once it was emptied. She’d ground herself into the foot she was sitting on in the meantime.

      Another sigh was followed by Lydia reluctantly picking up the pot, brush, and probably-soap, giving the inside of the pot a decent lining of fatty cleaning-substance, then submerging the pot and vigorously assaulting it with the brush.

      She’d noticed about halfway through that a spot of unwanted warmth had appeared, coincidentally right around the part of her that her foot was pressing into, but forced herself to ignore it for the time being. Just clean the damn thing.

       Once she had finished, Lydia hastily organized everything she’d brought and stood up quickly – perhaps a little too much so, as she felt a little more warmth where she really didn’t want it, but still she pressed on, forcing herself to continue looking normal for just a bit longer.

      She hurried back into the bar, glancing at Bjorn just long enough to notice the dumb little smirk on his face, still keeping things together, if just barely so. This time she didn’t stop to consider the stairs, heading directly to the top at the expense of what little dry space was left in her underwear. Lydia moved quickly to Azhani’s room, gave a simple knock, and when the door opened she simply thrust everything in her hands over to the still-bare Khajiit and left before either could say anything.

      The trip back downstairs had surely left a mark on Lydia’s pants, though she didn’t dare check and didn’t much care anyways since the apron she’d been wearing would cover it for now. And against all logic and reason, she headed for the bar, leaning against it near an empty seat with her legs firmly crossed.

      Sure enough, the Dragonborn came over, taking a moment to silently observe her with his arms crossed and that grin still plastered on his face. Eventually, he spoke: “Well, now we’re at the fun part,” he said. “Isn’t that great?”

      “Perfect,” was the growled response that only elicited a laugh from across the bar.

      “Hey, if I wanted to hear a Khajiit get mad at me, I’d go talk to Azhani.” He chuckled again and Lydia’s face turned red. “Anyways,” Bjorn continued, “how about some of this, huh? Gotta stay hydrated.” He’d procured a bottle of beer from under the counter and was giving it a little shake.

      Lydia narrowed her eyes at him, knowing perfectly well what he was really trying to get at. But she hardly had a choice, since she actually was rather thirsty and couldn’t exactly ignore that. So one hand disappeared beneath her apron and the other was held up above the bar with her thumb and forefinger positioned to indicate she wouldn’t be drinking much.

      So Bjorn pulled out two mugs, filled one a quarter of the way, and poured the rest of the beer into the other one. Lydia grabbed the less-filled one and Bjorn raised the other in a sort of toast before immediately downing half of it.

      “I’m liking the show so far,” he said. “Not much longer until it gets really good, huh?”

      “For you, perhaps.” Lydia drank slowly, taking unusually-small sips. The hand under her apron strengthened its grip.

      “Well, you’re playing along just fine. You’ve had lots of opportunities to sort yourself out so far, and you ignored ‘em. Very nice.”

      “How do you know that? Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I’m just pretending.”

      “You’re sweating.”

      “I’ve been running up and down stairs all day.”

      “You’ve won plenty of fights without breaking a sweat, what’s a few stairs?”

      “Well, then it’s warm in here and these aren’t thin clothes.”

      “It’s about the same temperature in here it was this morning, and you were fine then.”

      “Alright. What if it’s a bad time for me and I’m just acting to get you off my back?”

      “Unless something changed in the last few hours, you’re doing just fine. And, uh, you’d have to be about two weeks early for that to be true anyways.”

      Lydia stared at the Dragonborn with a concerned look. “Okay, I’m a bit worried that you already know that, to be completely honest.”

      “I’ll pretend I don’t, then.” The response was followed by him finishing the rest of his beer. “But I definitely know how to tell when someone’s acting, and you’re not.”

      “Can you really be sure I haven’t just learned what you’re looking for?” She bent ever so slightly at the knees.

      “Yes, because there’s quite a bit you’d never be able to do intentionally. Not convincingly, anyways.” Bjorn put a hand to his chin for a moment, then brought it away to point at various parts of Lydia. “That look in your eyes, the way you’re breathing, what that arm’s doing, that thing your feet are doing. And you can’t fake a bulge like that. In fact,” he said, his eyes scanning her whole body, “you’re hiding it well, but you’re already wet.”

      Lydia looked at him with an eyebrow raised while her legs tied themselves together even tighter. “Is that so,” she said, leaning forward and directing her gaze a bit downwards. “Or is that just what he wants you to think?”

      “Oh come now,” the Dragonborn responded, adjusting his position. “You know it’s true, what do you really have to gain from pretending otherwise?”

      “Fine, fine, you’re right.” Lydia wiggled around a bit. “But it’s not over yet.”

      “Of course it isn’t. But tell you what, I’ll be merciful. I’ll deal with Azhani, and you can take care of whoever’s got a table. That sound good to you?”

      The response was a quiet groan. “You don’t think I actually believe that’d be easier, do you? But fine, sure, whatever. Enjoy the view.” Then she wrenched her hand out from between her legs and walked off awkwardly towards the dining room proper.

      Lydia managed to survive an hour of clearing tables and taking orders without any major complications – aside from most definitely not having proper posture and moving far more slowly and carefully than could be considered normal. Bjorn had decided to deal with the cooking himself, so Lydia spent a good deal of time leaning forward against the bar with her legs crossed, relaying crudely-scrawled orders and giving a clear view down her shirt. Then it was just a matter of tossing stuff onto a tray and brining it where it was meant to go – being careful, of course, to not drop or spill anything.

      The ever-present, ever-growing pressure wasn’t helping. Lydia had to either subject herself to bending forward somewhat or doing a bit of an awkward curtsy to be able to put the trays down, which almost certainly would have announced to everyone that something was wrong. So she took the momentary increase in pressure, still trying to look normal.

      Fortunately, the lunch rush – or whatever could be called a rush by the Bee and Barb’s standards – was starting to die down, but it was alone in this. Lydia’s legs were sealed together whenever she was standing still, one of them constantly shaking or a foot incessantly tapping while she devoted all her energy to not using her hands while people were still around.

      By some miracle, that wet patch of hers had been cold for quite some time, despite her body’s best attempts to change that. She could only hope that it was just Bjorn and nobody else that knew about her internal war, though she’d been attracting strange looks for a while now. These customers had to know something was wrong, even if they’d not said anything.

      And if she thought people were looking at her before, they’d certainly be staring now. There she was, with a tray in her hands, shuffling across the floor to bring it to whoever’d asked for it, when she stopped suddenly and bent slightly at the knees. The warmth had returned in force, and this time Lydia could feel it trailing down the inside of one leg. So, having failed to come up with any better ideas in the quarter of a second it took for that event to register in her mind, she dropped into a sort of kneeling position, the dishes she was carrying clattering as she did so.

      Lydia set the tray down on the floor in front of her, quickly deciding to push some silverware off of it as well, then – hopefully subtly – shoved one hand beneath her apron and into her pants, squeezing herself hard enough to stop the stream. After a moment, she lightened her grip, only to be met with a quick burst of warmth, though nothing more. So she withdrew her hand and wiped it off on her apron, using the other to collect what she’d dropped in an effort to look like that had been what happened there.

      It seemed to work well enough, as when everything was organized again and she stood back up, most people who she was certain had turned to look at her were either no longer doing so, or were some of the handful of people looking at her with concern. These people turned away once Lydia made eye contact with them, though, and she moved as quickly as she could to deliver the damn food.

      The tray was practically dropped on the table, and Lydia hurriedly wiped down all the silverware with a clean cloth she’d pulled out of one of her pockets to reassure the customers that it was fine to use – which they were apparently satisfied with, so she immediately went back to the bar. She laid two hands on it and simply stood there doing a little march until Bjorn came over to her.

      “Just about done, huh?” His question was met with no verbal response, only a glare that would have looked more threatening if Lydia weren’t clearly on the verge of tears. “I mean, look at you, you can hardly walk anymore. There’s no way you’re getting upstairs or anything at this point, so I’d be more than happy to help you here.”

      “Not… yet…” Lydia spoke through her teeth.

      “Suit yourself. I’m not about to pretend I don’t like this, but just don’t push yourself too hard, okay? Neither of us are going to like it if you get hurt."

      “I know what I’m doing.” With that, Lydia forced herself to stand as upright as possible and walk back to the dining room to clean up. Her legs got themselves twisted in some convoluted knot and she’d bounce every time she stood still to get something off a table, but still she kept fighting until one table had a mass of dishes piled on top of it. The warmth had expanded in the time it took to do that, but only slightly. Lydia was still in control, for now.

      Perhaps in retrospect it hadn’t been such a great idea to make one stack of everything she had to carry back to the kitchen. She didn’t intend to use her hands anyways, but once she picked that up to bring it back, she wouldn’t even have the option. The occasional leaks had stopped though, so if she was fast enough…

      Lydia took a deep breath and grabbed the dish-tower, stumbling a bit as it tried to demolish itself, but soon enough that too was under control. So she turned around and, with her legs as close together as physically possible, she slowly worked her way back to the kitchen. The handful of people that were still around were definitely giving her weird looks, but Lydia didn’t much care. She was already trying to focus on walking and not becoming even more wet, so her attention was divided enough.

      She managed to get behind the bar without much of an issue, and though the Dragonborn gave her a concerned look he quickly turned back to the group sitting across from him without saying anything. But with her next step, Lydia froze. A massive jet of warmth had added itself to the wetness down her legs, and she could swear she heard some hit the floor. She knew the rest of the flood wasn’t far behind, and rushed to the nearest kitchen counter.

      The dishes were slammed onto the countertop and Lydia moved just as quickly to the Dragonborn, grabbing him by the shoulder and turning him around to face her with far more force than either of them expected.

      “Do something,” she hissed. Bjorn just nodded in response, subtly indicating with one hand for her to get down. So she sat on the floor, back against the bar, hoping nobody would notice or pay her much mind. And while she waited for something to happen, she wiggled her way out of her pants, pulling them down just far enough that her apron would cover what was exposed, and then shoved both hands between her legs.

      Bjorn, meanwhile, was in the middle of distracting everyone. “Hey, who wants a free round of beer, huh?” He held his arms out at his sides and yelled loud enough for the whole place to hear. And, of course, everyone came running over to him.

      The Dragonborn cautiously looked over at Lydia, who was glaring up at him with a look that demanded to know what he thought he was doing. But then she broke eye contact suddenly when she felt her hands get wet.

      When a decent crowd gathered at the bar, Bjorn turned around, heading quickly to the kitchen to collect an armful of mugs, including a few particularly-tall ones. He seemed to trip on his way back, causing one of the taller mugs to fall to the floor while he juggled and ultimately lost a second normal one. The shorter mug had coincidentally been tossed to land near where Lydia was sitting, and with the Dragonborn’s next step the taller one was kicked over in that direction as well. Lydia grabbed the tall one with one hand, adjusting herself so it was underneath her, though her other hand hadn’t been removed just yet.

      Bjorn had haphazardly dropped the rest of the mugs on the counter, letting everyone there grab one for themselves while he pulled a few bottles out from below. They were each opened in quick succession and he wasted no time in giving everyone a generous helping.

      Lydia, of course, both understood this to be her opportunity and was out of time anyways. One last jet of her waters had been released into her hand, and continued to trickle through her fingers. As soon as the hand was removed, she gave in entirely, biting down on a dry part of her free arm so as to not make more noise than she already was.

      So for a little while Lydia took long, slow breaths with her eyes closed, only opening them in a panic once she realized she could feel liquid running down the sides of her mug. Trying to force herself to stop, she only found that she couldn’t, so picked up the other mug she had with her free hand, quickly swapping the two – though this of course didn’t last very long either, and once it overflowed too Lydia resigned herself to moving into a bit of a low squat. There would be a pretty sizable puddle on the floor either way, and this way no further dishes would be ruined.

      The only problem was that her auditory cover had gone by the time the first mug filled, as the Dragonborn had run out of drinks to fill. Lydia could vaguely hear him hastily composing some story or another, likely in an attempt to talk over her stream and still-expanding lake on the floor once he’d noticed that he could hear it. She looked up at him in time to see him shoot her another glance and sneak his hand under the counter, procuring a rag and tossing it in her general direction.

      She looked at it for a moment, then picked it up and set it on her lap to keep it from getting wet earlier than intended. By then, her stream had slowed considerably and she failed to suppress a sigh as it turned to a trickle and eventually stopped. Another few deep breaths to collect herself, and she looked up at Bjorn again – the crowd seemed to be under control, so she let herself rise just enough to properly move over and remove the pants she’d destroyed, still trying to remain below the bar so as to not be seen.

      Lydia had to admit, it was a fairly impressive puddle. Some of it was being lost between the poorly-constructed floorboards, but even so it was expansive enough that the Dragonborn had moved over a little from his original position to keep his shoes clean. She looked at the rag in her hand and decided it was definitely not going to be enough, so she shoved it through the string of her apron, letting it hang from the back and hopefully hide the fact that she was half-naked.

      Then she stood up entirely and grabbed a bottle of cheap something-or-other from under the bar, casually dropping it to the ground and watching it break. And when everyone looked over at her, she simply started to back into the kitchen, saying, “I’ll take care of that.”

      She came back with a mop and a broom, first sweeping all the glass shards into a neat pile, then getting to work on the puddle that was clearly too big to have been made by only what was in that bottle – though nobody had questioned her on it. The Dragonborn had walked off just before she started cleaning, then came back a few minutes later and quietly laid a clean pair of pants on a counter in the kitchen.

      He then moved much less discreetly over to Lydia, wrapping his arms tightly around her from behind and leaning in to whisper to her: “Still plenty of time left ‘til nightfall, you know.”

    • By Captain L in Uri Nova
         1
      "'Eggman's Incredible Interstellar Amusement Park'?" Blaze the Cat read over the sign a few times, gazing upon the visage of the bald doctor with the giant mustache. And more importantly, how this Eggman was the one much less familiar to the feline princess. "So, I've returned to Sonic's world. I don't understand how dimensional travel is this fickle." Despite their different planes of existence, Blaze had been crossing paths with the Blue Blur quite frequently as of late.
      Now, how do I get back? The previous times dimension-hopping was involved, it was because of the two sets of Emeralds reacting to each other, thanks to a plot between this Eggman and her Eggman Nega, and stopping them set everything right. But now... "There's no way Eggman Nega is involved with a dumb scheme like this. Which means..."
      "Who do they think they're kidding?! The future is nothing like this!" And it appeared she was not alone, with someone looking over the large map sign not far from her position, someone she had never seen before, a hedgehog with pointed quills and white fur. An almost Sonic? Is he another alternate universe counterpart, like me? "Hey, there," she greeted, walking towards this stranger.
      The mystery hedgehog jumped up in surprise upon hearing her voice, turning around quickly and extending his outstretched palm. And suddenly, as if in response, Blaze couldn't move. She was held in place, lifted into the air, unable to fight back, only able to watch as this hedgehog realized who he had grabbed. "Oh, sorry about that," he sheepishly apologized, relaxing his hand and allowing Blaze to drop. "Thought you were one of Eggman's goons."
      "No, I'm not," Blaze corrected. "I'm-"
      "Blaze the Cat. I'm aware."
      Now it was time for Blaze to be on the defensive. "Why do you know me," she warily questioned, lifting a hand, ready to ignite.
      "My name is Silver, I'm from the future. There are records of your accomplishments in my time."
      "Wait...from the future?!" It wasn't so much that she didn't believe the concept of time-travel, with all the other powers the Emeralds possessed, but the reasoning behind it. "So what are you doing here? I'm sure Eggman's up to something, but does it really have ramifications like that?"
      "No, that's not quite it," Silver laughed. "According to history, Sonic takes this place down before it even opens, so I wanted to see what it was like. It could have been a really fun amusement park."
      "Oh, so Sonic is here?"
      "Yeah, he and Tails are taking care of things. Said they didn't even need my help, so..."
      "So you've been experiencing the attractions." A pretty lighthearted stance to take in unfamiliar territory run by a known villain, but if there's nothing else to do... "Has anything been good?"
      "Well, the World of Tomorrow is a joke. The future is a lot less bleak than that! Haven't had the chance to look at anything else, but I was heading in the direction of the Asteroid Coaster next." Silver extended his hand in an invitation. "Do you want to come with me? I'm still pretty new to the whole hero thing, and I'd like to learn a thing or two from you."
      Asteroid Coaster? Like, a roller coaster? Oh, anything but heights... Blaze's mind began racing with some sort of excuse to turn the offer down, some way that wouldn't expose her acrophobia.
      Her savior turned out to be Eggman's voice blaring across the crackly PA system. "In the unlikely event of an emergency, please find the nearest escape pod. For anyone not named Eggman, your escape pod can be found back on the planet, still being assembled in the factory."
      Blaze felt a weight lift off her shoulders. "Perhaps it would be better to avoid any of the real 'attractions'. For our own well-being."
      "Yeah, I can see that. I'm sure one of the other parks is...safe," Silver shrugged, which did nothing to ease Blaze. All the hedgehog could offer was running between Blaze and a nearby food stall. "Maybe we should get a snack first?"
      The princess looked the vendor over, very cautiously. I don't know if I trust the food here enough to put it into my body. Yet, even as she wanted to refuse, there was some part of her that disagreed. Namely, her dry mouth. Still, it's been some time since I've had a drink. Just that can't hurt, right? "I'll just take a beverage."
      Silver nodded and strutted up to the counter, laying his elbow on the barrier, catching the attention of the robotic attendant. "Hello, I'll have a...er, a..." His voice faded off as he began looking at the odd items on the hanging menu. "Some Egg Candy, thanks."
      Blaze joined Silver at the bar, instead preferring to make her decision before opening her mouth. "A small Chaos Cola for me."
      "Of course." The robot turned its back, pulling a small box from a larger package on the floor, and putting a paper cup under the spout, where it was quickly filled, stuck a cap and plastic straw on, and both items were handed over to the patrons. "Special offer for customers on the NEGATIVE FIRST day of opening! First purchase is free!"
      Silver and Blaze reached out and took their respective items, slowly and warily. "T-thanks? No catch," Silver questioned, receiving no response.
      Not that this wasn't also on her mind, but Blaze had something else she was wondering about. "This is really a small cup?" Indeed, her drink was on the large side, big enough that she could have fit her arm inside, almost up to the elbow. Once again, now that their transaction was complete, the service robot didn't even register their existence anymore. "Fine. Can I at least get a napkin?" No response.
      "I've got it." A napkin from the back of the stall began floating through the air, passing the unresponsive robot by without an objection, landing in Silver's outstretched hand, offering the paper to Blaze. "Here you go."
      Blaze took the napkin and wrapped it around her cup, putting her lips to the straw and taking a short sip. "So, what is it with that power of yours? Where did that come from?"
      As the conversation began, the two started walking down a path opposite their starting positions. "My psychokinesis? I don't know, I was just born with it. Same with your fire powers, I suspect."
      "You really do know everything about me, don't you?"
      "Everything about your adventures in this world and with Sonic, at least. How you were brought here by your Emeralds and your Eggman, how Sonic ended up in your world for a second adventure, nothing major."
      Good, sounds like he doesn't know about the more...embarrassing portions of those journeys. Cream and Tails don't say anything. "Then I say it's only fair that you tell me a little about yourself. Why do you know Sonic?"
      "He helped me on a mission to stop one of Eggman's distant descendants, with a camera that could trap anyone in its pictures. Ever since then, I've been keeping a close eye on his timeline."
      "A...camera? And time travel? Are things always so weird when I'm not around?"
      "There's a lot of strangeness, no doubt, even if I don't know it. This might sound odd, but I've got this nagging feeling we've met before, and I can't possibly place why."
      Now that he mentioned it, Blaze also noticed a niggling inkling when she looked at Silver's face. "I...I think I know what you mean. Like, we've had this whole odyssey together, yet not. And it's really bothering me."
      "Well, maybe it'll come back to us if we hang out for the day. I'm sure there'll be something fun." Silver looked downwards and shifted his feet. "I mean, if you want to."
      Well, I imagine I still have duties in my home dimension, but...it's not like I have any idea how to get back. Could be worth taking a day off. "Maybe I can be of assistance if I better know what Eggman's up to this time. Let's see what's this amusement park has."
      A smile broke across Silver's face. "Yeah, that sounds good! Let's go!" He began running off, at a speed slow enough for Blaze to effortlessly keep up, even while drinking more of her soda.
      ---------------
      Ohhh...I don't want to imagine how much worse this would be if I had ordered a bigger drink. Blaze had finished her beverage quickly, and as the two explored the park, discovering each attraction more dangerous than the last, the soda had its time to work its way through her system. And now, the consumed Chaos Cola was wreaking havoc on her insides like an enraged water god. Why is it, every single time I team up with anybody, I always need to use the bathroom?
      When the urge first appeared, Blaze had no reason to worry. She wasn't in the middle of the desert or the sea this time. She was in an amusement park, there would be public restrooms and the problem would be solved without incident. However, as time continued to pass, and Blaze kept her eyes peeled, she kept coming up empty-handed. Not a single bathroom in sight. I know Dr. Eggman is evil, but he can't be that cruel, can he?
      By now, her bladder had progressed to a very uncomfortable state. As the two wandered through the Tropical Resort, Aquarium Park (where the vast amounts of water tortured Blaze with the reminder of how she had relieved herself in the ocean last time), the entrance to the closed-off Planet Wisp, Sweet Mountain (which was a short visit after Silver complained of a sugar-induced stomachache after eating the full box of Egg Candy), it was a lot of walking and no peeing. Her steps had become more rigid, her legs would press together whenever they would stop, and an upper fang poked her bottom lip.
      And Silver was still none the wiser, not even the slightest clue that something was ailing Blaze. He had lost his energy and was moving lethargically, not unlike Blaze, meaning he had a perfectly non-humiliating explanation for the cat's attitude. He wanted to be considerate, as he stopped by a metal bench. "Do you want to take a break," he offered, practically panting.
      Blaze could not deny that walking all across an orbiting satellite, all while keeping a steady grip on her bladder, had taken its toll on her energy and spirit, even her trained legs were sore after walking in an awkward posture. The chance to sit down would be welcome, but she couldn't. I haven't seen a ladies' room yet, if there is one, it's in the last park. In Starlight Carnival. I don't have the time to stop now. "I can handle a bit of legwork, Silver" she claimed, slowly pressing her thighs together to relieve a minuscule amount of pressure.
      Silver's face fell and his arms drooped. "Oh, I figured you'd want to rest, with those heels and all."
      That's...a very good point, actually. "I think you're the first to be concerned about that. I appreciate it," she smiled a little, as much as she could given her current discomfort. "But these are my shoes, I'm plenty able to run in these. They're really no concern."
      "Really? Wow, that's pretty cool. Or, maybe in your case, pretty hot?" Silver chuckled at his little joke, and only several seconds later did he realize what he had actually said. "Wait, I didn't mean it like that! I wouldn't say that! Not that it's a wrong thing to say, it's not inaccurate, it's just-"
      "Silver, stop talking."
      "Right. Sorry."
      "Well, we're so close to seeing the entire park, I just want to get it done as soon as possible." And find a bathroom as soon as possible! "Maybe that's how I'll find the way back to my dimension." Or find a toilet!
      "Oh yeah, you just ended up here, didn't you? I used the Chaos Emeralds, so I wonder if Chaos Control can hop dimensions too."
      That's an interesting thought, but now is not really the time to slowly deliberate. "Let's just see what Starlight Carnival has to offer. I have to admit, however, I'm not expecting much, going by Eggman's track record."
      A fleet of airships began lifting off from inside the park, and Silver got an idea. He bent forward in a ready stance, one foot placed further back as his brow furrowed with determination. "Race you to the shipyard!"
      Race? With Silver? I know I'm kind of handicapped at the moment, but...this won't even be a competition. She was ready to decline, but Silver looked so eager, she couldn't bring herself to step on his pride. "Alright, you're on." She started with a fiery boost, rocketing into Starlight Carnival, her last hope for a porcelain miracle.
      ---------------
      Agh...Silver's too slow... Blaze was hardly able to run at her full speed, not without springing a little leak, yet she had still left Silver in the dust, and was waiting by the shipyard, as she had been doing for the last twenty minutes. She was alone, not even a robot in sight, giving the princess the freedom to shift her weight from foot to foot in a little dance, to press her hands against the front of her pants with noticeable force.
      And, in her dash, she had kept an eye out for a bathroom, more than ready to veer off the course and make a pit stop should one cross her path. Of course, nothing caught her attention. "How does this whole giant amusement park not have a single bathroom? I really need to go here!" She began bouncing on her heels, careful to not slip in the bobbing.
      At that moment, as if specifically to taunt her, Eggman's voice blared over the speakers. "Attention, the anti-gravity toilets on this level are out of order. We are sorry for this inconvenience and hope you can hold it for another 20,000 light years."
      Blaze blinked in shock multiple times in rapid succession, stunned into silence. A solid few seconds passed before she could respond. "So not only can I not find a single one of these supposed restrooms, but now, even if I did, I can't get in?!" The implication was enough to send her desperation shooting upwards like a rocket, and she needed to slam her knees together, grip her crotch tightly, and make a few cute squeals to avoid leaking. Her chest heaved and tail swung as she worked up the fortitude to beat out her bladder's waves, shutting her eyes to focus on the imperative task at hand.
      And she succeeded. "Eep!" Mostly. She was a desperate princess, her bladder could no longer be satiated by simple holds and dances. No, she needed to leak, and she did just that. A spurt of hot urine squirted out, rapidly soaking into her panties in a tiny splotch, followed by another, and yet another. Her squirming and shaking sped up as she clutched herself tighter, squeezing the dampness further across her underwear, sticking them to her private parts as she pleaded to hold on. Only now, now that she had been pushed to the verge of an accident, did she get her wish. Only now that she was bursting and in ten times more pain after the tease of relief.
      Now...now what?! Time was running out for poor Blaze, and she had no bathrooms to fall back on. "So...guess it's going to be somewhere weird...again," she sighed. Still, she began scanning the environment for anything that could be a decent toilet replacement, which was a criteria starting to include everything at this point. Plastic palm trees, the walls of the terrain, the idea of simply going off the side into space, each one was a possibility, and she slightly hated it. "Why does this keep happening to me? Ugh, at least I'm alone this time..."
      "Hugh...hah...Blaze, you're...you're too fast..." Stumbling and choking, Silver finally crossed the finish line, only looking like he passed out five times on the way over. "This place is...really big..." He took a few deep breaths, hands on his knees to support him, before he could finally muster the energy to stand up and look at his feline companion. "Um, Blaze...what's wrong?"
      Blaze tried to stand up straight and look dignified, she really did, but she was just too far gone. If she let go of her crotch now, urine would flood out of her in a heartbeat, she had no choice but to continue her dance, no matter how much Silver was looking. If anything, she picked up the pace, running on the spot and crossing her legs like a pretzel probably sold somewhere in the amusement park. She didn't even know what she could possibly say at this point, to save her dignity. "D-don't look..."
      In her defense, the sight stunned Silver speechless too. "O-oh, that's...that's a p-problem...a-and I'm sure that soda isn't helping..."
      "I fear I already know the answer, but you haven't seen any bathrooms today, have you?"
      "Um..." The hedgehog took a few seconds to think, all the while Blaze was suffering under the duress of her own body, silently begging him to hurry up. "None that I've seen. At least, none close enough for you to make it to. I mean, unless you're really hiding some inner strength. Not that I need to know, just-"
      "Silver!"
      "Right, sorry. So, what's your plan now?"
      "It's kind of difficult to have a plan when there simply isn't a path out. I mean, aside from simply doing it anywhere. And I really might soon..."
      Silver reeled back in wide-eyed shock. "Wait, really?! But...you're a girl! There has to be something better!"
      "If you define wetting my pants as 'better', because I don't really see any other options." By this point, Blaze had grown tired of others assuming she couldn't pee outside just because of her gender.
      "Yeah, but...in view of all those cameras? Are you sure that's a good idea?"
      "Yes I'm...cameras?" She hadn't noticed any cameras prior to now, but now that she was on the lookout for them, they started appearing everywhere. On every lamppost, on the corner of every building, even a few flying badniks high in the sky, security cameras pointed and recording in every direction. No matter where she did her business, Eggman could see. "You're kidding me! Everything has to go wrong at on-ah!"
      "W-what is it?!"
      "Leaked! Leaking! Leaking a lot!" A tear began to form on the corner of Blaze's eye, and she almost fell over as she contorted her legs into a weird position to hold as best as she could. No one could fault her flexibility.
      Silver felt his heart drop, watching this capable woman wrestle with herself, clearly at her absolute limit, while he was helpless to do anything for her. She was going to pee herself in front of him, and the most he could do was avert his eyes. "This is always how it is! I want to protect what I care about, but in the end, I'm useless! It's always Sonic who saves the day, while I can't do anything but sit on the sidelines!" In anguish, he gazed into his open palm.
      That's where he saw the glowing cyan ring on his glove, the conduit for his psychokinetic power. "My power..." That was the epiphany he needed, as he extended his arm towards one of the cameras, pouring his power out and closing his hand. Without any visible connection, the camera crushed into itself, sparking and sizzling as it fell from its mount, and a proud smile spread across his muzzle. "Blaze! I've got it!"
      "G-got what?" She couldn't even gather the energy to look at Silver, instead choosing to focus everything she had on her bladder, a necessity now.
      "I can take out the cameras wherever you pick, and you'll have privacy!"
      Blaze couldn't show any proper reaction to the plan, instead gritting her fangs even harder, but that didn't mean she was angry. Just impatience to overshadow all impatience. "Then get going! Fast! Just pick somewhere!"
      "R-right!" He began bolting his head around, looking for the place closest to Blaze where she could hide herself and the unclean actions she was about to perform. Too bad that Blaze had become unable to move in a very open space, she wasn't especially close to any sort of private barrier. The closest she had was an unmanned souvenir stand a real distance away. "Guess that'll have to do..." All of a sudden, he became a sharpshooter, disabling every single camera in that spot in the shadows, plus a few extra because he didn't know what exactly each one could see. It actually went by pretty quickly, but when every second counted, it couldn't be fast enough, it must have seemed like twelve eternities to Blaze by the time Eggman's eyes had been eliminated. And with no other badniks in sight... "Blaze! It's done! You can-"
      As Silver turned to face Blaze with the good news, he was met with an unusual, shocking, and maybe slightly intriguing sight: the princess of the Sol Dimension on her knees, in much the same contorted holding position as previously, but with the key difference of the area of her white pants around her gloves quickly turning a yellow shade, streaking down her thighs, forming a puddle beneath her rear as her tail splashed it around. It was too late, she had been pushed past her breaking point. Blaze the Cat was peeing herself.
      "No, it's not over yet! I can still help! I can still be the hero today!" Using both hands, Silver gripped that nearby gift stand they had been eyeing, tensing his fingers as he took hold of the heavy booth, moving it inches at a time as it scraped across the ground. "Ghgh! W-what's in this thing?!" However, even with this psychokinesis being tested, he didn't falter. "You'll end up behind the cover of this thing, one way or the other, Blaze!" That determination gave him the strength to lift it upwards, and without friction, placing it in front of the cat was easy, and it dropped with a loud thud. His face turning red from exertion and...other feelings, Silver swung to face the opposite direction and covered his ears. "Do it, Blaze!"
      Blaze had retreated into her own closed-off world as soon as her need to pee had grown to be too much to bear, but no matter how deep in concentration she was, there was no way she could miss the crash of a wooden stall less than a foot next to her. "W-what is t-that?" She had also been unable to hear Silver amidst the agony, but regardless, this object appearing next to her, to cover her, was nothing short of a miracle, and she wasn't going to question it.
      With a renewed fire in her eyes, and plenty of warmth in her tights, Blaze jumped to her feet in a squat, clawing at the tall hem of her white bodysuit, yanking the thin fabric down her chest and past her crotch in a mad frenzy. "Ew, the wetness..." Sliding the damp legs down her own, tainting her fur with the moistness as the garment continued to stick at every point it could until they came to a bunched up rest at her knees, was hardly a pleasant sensation. Not to mention the trickles she couldn't hold in continuing to soak her black underwear as they shot out right onto the floor.
      "N-now...my p-panties..." Just one more piece of clothing between her privates and the open air, and she could let her bladder flow with reckless abandon. "J-just...p-pull them...do-dowAH!" One thin undergarment was clearly not enough to convince her body not to pee yet, her pants were off and that was enough. If the princess thought she was leaking a full stream now, she was sorely mistaken, for the gush that followed when her bladder gave up the hold outshone it by several degrees of magnitude. If her panties weren't already drenched before, they were soaked with urine front to back in only a second now.
      And that was just the beginning. Before she could even blink, the decent puddle already beneath her began growing rapidly, rippling outwards with strong waves, with a thick layer of foamy bubbles floating on the surface. The impact of her torrential downpour was enough to force the puddle at the collision point apart, meaning the sound of liquid hitting the metal ground never stopped, was never replaced with pure water noises. Just the deafening crash of a waterfall, with her genitals as the source. A thin haze of steam, befitting a princess of fire, rose off the golden pond, drawing out another layer of sweat beyond the one caused by straining.
      That wasn't even bringing the smell into it. Whether it was an ingredient in the Chaos Cola she had filled up on, or maybe just the time in her bladder giving it an aroma, whatever the case, her urine had a stifling stench, one almost too much for her sensitive kitty nose to cope with. She would have clenched her nostrils shut to avoid the odor, if her hands weren't placed firmly on her bent knees, anything to keep her on her feet as her muscles went limp in the overwhelming relief.
      And what a relief it was. "HaaaAaaHhahahAHhaha," she moaned, her voice cracking and changing scale multiple times in the same breath. It wasn't exactly a "pleasant" release, her bladder was stretched and exhausted, and it returning to its normal size was pretty uncomfortable. Not to mention the whole "soaking her panties as they clung to her lower body, sticking to and tracing the contours of her girlhood and butt" thing. Yet, even with all that, Blaze forced a smile out, letting the tension wash out with the flood. She was in such good spirits, in fact, she didn't even notice the hanging sides of her jacket sitting in the puddle, collecting urine.
      Silver wasn't having quite the same good time. Though he had covered his ears, the seal wasn't tight enough to truly cut off the cacophony of crashes and splashes emanating from behind that stand. Part of it was simple second-hand embarrassment, hearing someone in the midst of exposing themselves, performing an act Silver would almost rather die than go through with. But also, even more prominently, was this new feeling, this tightness in his chest, this heat building on his cheeks. He was...intrigued? Like, he couldn't stop thinking about what was really going down behind that trinket stall. "I really shouldn't be thinking these sorts of things about her...I'm going to hell for this."
      And on the other side, Blaze couldn't really care. She was swimming in a pool of bliss as deep as vast as her pee puddle, in a rare moment, she had let her guard down. All that mattered now was draining herself of her warm fluids, a task whose conclusion was fast approaching. It took some time as she continued to spray, but eventually, the fire hose down below calmed down. Now it just looked like she was taking a normal pee on the floor, if one were to ignore the gargantuan volume already present. "Phew," she sighed as what was once a slamming stream diminished into a tiny trickle.
      Then, after a full minute, Blaze the Cat had no more urine to give. Of course, there was no shortage of drips falling off her underwear, what with the vast, rapidly cooling saturation in the panties, but there wasn't much she could do about that. "I'm not about to leave my wet panties lying around in another dimension." Even if it was her decision, she still winced at the thought of sitting in the soaked undergarments for the rest of the day.
      Too bad she didn't have the same luxury of being able to make a decision whether to keep her tights or not, because boy, were they in rough shape. The white color made the dark stain impossible to miss, and the thin material became almost completely transparent under the wetness, leaving a high percentage of the crotch area visible, even while fully dressed. "Guess Silver's gonna know my underwear preference..." But she didn't have a choice, so up they went, yanking the hem to their snug spot up at her breasts, tripling her discomfort in one simple pull.
      I really don't want to keep looking at my handiwork. Redressed and presentable to the best of her ability, Blaze ran away from the collection of her shame, back out in the open. And to her relief, things were much as she left them, empty and devoid of fun. And there was Silver, fidgeting nervously, stiffly looking the other way. He's freaking out about this. Good, then he probably didn't sneak a peek. "Silver, you don't need to be so tense anymore. I'm finished," she declared, hovering her hands over her crotch and blocking the view.
      Silver jumped like a frightened cat when he heard Blaze speak, scrambling to turn around. "B-Blaze, y-you're b-back!" As he tried to talk, his eyes kept darting around, notably shifting downwards several times. "Oh no...was I t-too slow? You didn't make it..."
      Blaze crossed her arms to hide her stain as best as she could, still leaving a good percentage visible. "Y-yes I did! I mean, a bit faster on your part would have been welcome, but I still made it! You know, mostly..."
      "You really call that mostly? I mean, aside from your pants, there's also your coat, and your tail, and-"
      "Silver. Be quiet." Ugh, I didn't even realize my tail got wet.
      "Oh, sorry. Still, I didn't do my part in helping you, I couldn't be the hero you needed." The hedgehog's head fell in shame.
      Confused, Blaze's eyebrow cocked. "Hero? Silver, I just needed to use the bathroom, I didn't need some grand hero. I mean, I'm grateful for the assistance, but it doesn't really matter, don't beat yourself up for not being perfect about it."
      "It does! Every time I get involved in a fight for what I hold close, it's always someone else who takes the spotlight! Even when I had this chance to do something good, I still fell short! What am I supposed to do if my future is threatened, and I can't save it?"
      Great, I'm the one who wet herself, and now I'm the one giving the motivational speech. Hope he can even take me seriously like this. "You're naive, Silver. It doesn't matter who deals the finishing blow, so long as you never give up fighting. You don't need to do it yourself, you can rely on others and use their strength as your own. That's a lesson I've already needed to learn."
      Silver took a second to think it over, and once it had settled in, he started to laugh. "Let me guess, your first time meeting Sonic wasn't an amicable encounter."
      "Wow, that's an amazing guess. Very impressive, Sil...you just read about it in a history book, didn't you?"
      "Eheheheheh...maybe I already knew." The hedgehog of the future crossed his arms and nodded, mulling over the advice. "I'll get stronger. That way, Sonic will know that the future is in capable hands. That's why I want to learn from you, I already know what you can offer."
      "Well, it's nice to hear someone with so much faith in me, but..." Blaze began scratching her cheek, quickly flushing pink. "If you're going to use me as your benchmark, could you please pretend today never happened?"
      "Of course. I wouldn't hold this against you, I know this is a one-time mistake. History records never say anything about this blunder repeating itself, after all."
      And I've never been happier for history records to be incomplete! "Thank you. Now, if we're done making you feel better..." With speeds expected from the princess that could keep up with Sonic, Blaze crossed her legs and did everything possible to cover her crotch. "This is really uncomfortable. Could you please help me one more time?"
      "Oh! Of course, but...I don't really carry around spare pants. Maybe the gift shop has some...that...fit you? ...yeah, it sounded stupid to me too. Could you use your fire to dry yourself off?"
      "If I wanted to burn off my clothes, sure, and I think I'm exposed enough already."
      "Aquarium Park? So you can wash off?"
      "I'd...really rather not go into water. Maybe if I could find some other way to dry off, I could live with these for the rest of the day."
      Once again, Eggman's voice over the PA system turned out to be just the answer she needed, right when she needed it. "There’s no line at Bake Me Crazy, the ride that simulates what it’s like to be baked like a cake. The ride itself lasts an amazing 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Not recommended for our guests who are sensitive to temperatures exceeding 350 degrees."
      Blaze and Silver looked back at each other, and Blaze smirked. "I think I can take that heat. Sweet Mountain? Race you there!" Without even waiting for any response, Blaze took off, leaving a trail of fire behind her.
      And that freaked Silver out. "W-wait, Blaze! Oh man, I'll never catch up at this rate." Still, he started running, only able to watch as the princess disappeared over the horizon. "Can my first lesson be how to run that fast?!"
    • By MoistMark in The Trials and Tribulations of an Omo Noob
         0
      I woke this morning feeling hassled, and thought I’d try to relax the omo way, while making a video for your delectation. Decided to sacrifice my boxers in the name of art.
      As it’s the first video I have posted (though not the first omo video I have made), I would appreciate your comments. I wore the thin cotton boxers back to front so the fly wouldn’t spoil your view, and managed to keep my bits hidden so this is family friendly, cough. But NSFW unless you work for a very relaxed establishment. Cropped and cut for small file size. What do you think?
      139_cut.mp4
    • By MoistMark in The Trials and Tribulations of an Omo Noob
         0
      When I get going with this blog I will post the story of how I got into omo, just a month ago. In the meantime, to whet your appetites, here is a little foreword.
      Some people have asked, ‘what was your first wetting experience?’, and often people mention a childhood experience and say it was what got them into omorashi in the first place.
      I am not making any such claim here: it is just the first wetting fantasy I had, or at least that I can remember.
      I was a young teenager and puberty was only just starting. In was pretty naïve and didn’t clock that the unusual feelings I was starting to have were anything to do with sex. All I knew was, certain ideas seemed very pleasant and exciting to me. Maybe it was when pee and sex got tangled up together for me.
      Some while before I had visited a Dr Who exhibition, where I learned about how the programme was made and how they did their special effects. Remember that this was in the days before CGI and all that. One thing they made quite a lot of use of was a device for spraying latex. The liquid latex could be sprayed on things, for example to make cobwebs on some sort of a frame, and it immediately dried and became permanent.
      I imagined that it could be used to create clothing. You could spray on latex to make a skin-tight outfit, leave gaps here and there to show a bit of skin and for the sake of the design, and so on. It would be stretchy (being rubber) so doesn’t affect movement. This was very arousing because it would effectively show you a girl’s exact body shape as if she were naked, but without actually being indecent. Also, there is no way to take this ‘clothing’ off except by cutting it, so it has to be designed to allow you to go to the toilet without removing it. There would therefore be openings in the relevant places – effectively open crotch but with a small flap in front to hide the anatomy but without preventing the flow of pee.
      I would imagine all sorts of situations with a sci-fi theme in which attractive young women would be going about their work and if they needed to go would just do it there and then. No need to make any special arrangements: the ‘clothing’ doesn’t get in the way and doesn’t matter if it gets a bit damp. I really loved the thought of girls just peeing right in front of me without any embarrassment, and their doing it all casual without thinking about it or stopping what they were doing. The thought made me all hot.
      Rubber isn’t a thing for me, but I still like many of the ideas here, especially the idea of just peeing as you walk around without a care in the world.
    • By Sake in Rising Star
         4
      “You really don’t have to do this, you know. No shame in giving it a bit of time, coming back later. The offer is always open.”
                      “No, I’m thinking I do. Remember, you lot are the ones that offered me the position in the first place.”
                      “Well, yes, we did, but I’m not sure the others fully understood what they were doing. Sure, you’re good, all of us agree on that, but you’re only twenty-one. You haven’t even finished your term at the Academy yet. Do you really know what you’re getting yourself into here?”
                      “Oh, your lack of faith hurts, Councillor.” Cel put a hand to her chest and made an exaggerated pouty face. “No, but really, I know full well what’s going to happen here. You lot are going to kick my ass with these trials, and at the end of it all I’ll be right up at the top of that tower of yours with all the rest of you. There’s nothing you nine can do to stop me.” She paused briefly, then spoke quickly, bowing her head. “Er, all due respect, Councillor.”
                      “Honestly, Cel, your confidence is disturbing.” The Councillor crossed his arms and turned around. “But I suppose that’s what the others liked about you. Just send us a signal when you’re ready for the trials to start.” Then he left, leaving the balcony above Cel empty, with her alone in the arena. As alone as she could be anyways – somewhere even farther above, the Council of Nine was watching her, to keep an eye on her performance. Were they anything less than professionals, she would have been concerned that they were watching her dress. It would be quite the show, for Cel was no longer wearing her usual conservative robes that flowed elegantly down her body and hung just loosely enough to conceal her figure in the process. Rather, her clothing now consisted of a sleeveless tunic and a shorter, more practical skirt (both still in the traditional yellow), completed with the sort of boots a farmer would wear in the winter and simple hand wraps that were only now being tied up. Suffice it to say she was showing quite a generous amount of her fair brass skin, which her peers at the Academy would no doubt have enjoyed despite her remarkably average appearance.
                      In any event, there was no chance of spectators seeing the curves Cel so rarely displayed. The Council trials were conducted in a private arena, overseen exclusively by the Nine themselves, and the Nine had no reason to take interest in someone wearing sparring gear they’d seen a million times before. And as if a million times weren’t enough… With all her clothing in order and dark hair arranged just so – it was short enough to keep loose, but it couldn’t just be left to its own devices – she stepped out into the arena proper, draining the contents of the waterskin she’d brought with her on the way out. She didn’t know what exactly the trials would entail, or how long they would last. Best to start well-hydrated and not worry about it later.
                      Standing in the center of the arena, Cel raised a hand and produced a golden flame, which she flickered a few times before dropping entirely. Up above, she could see a figure walk up to a window in the cavern wall, and a magically-amplified voice rang out.
                      “Ready? Fine. You stand before the Council of the Nine Masters of Medru Dalach, to prove to us your worth to serve at our side.” This Councillor was known to Cel as Varassus, and he sounded incredibly bored as he droned on with his announcement. “Each of us has prepared for you a test designed to push your knowledge and skills to their absolute limits. You must successfully complete each of the nine trials, then you will be tested in a tenth challenge arranged by the entire Council. As any one of us does not know what the content of the other eight trials will be, you are on your own. We are not allowed to provide guidance or aid, though we will intervene to the best of our abilities if it is absolutely necessary. If you leave this cavern, your trials are forfeit, but there are otherwise no rules or limitations. You must complete the tasks set before you by whatever means possible.” Councillor Varassus cleared his throat, now speaking with more energy. “And, official speech aside, on a more personal note, Cel, remember that you are here because we believed in your skills. You are young, yes, but don’t worry. We won’t let that cloud our judgment. You will be subjected to the same rigorous tests as anyone else and held to the same exalted standards. There is only one advantage you get here today, and that is that if you pass these trials now, your position among us is secured – you will be immediately granted the next seat to open, as we have already discussed. But remember that if you fail and come back to try again, we cannot extend this same offer.”
                      Then the world went dark and the Councillor continued to speak. “Anyways, your first trial is something I’m sure you’ll find relevant to your studies.” When Cel’s vision returned, Councillor Varassus had retreated from the window, and in the arena a forge had appeared alongside a table, on which lay an assortment of metal bars. Cel recognized silver and gold, and a few others known for their ability to take magic like a sponge.
                      The Councillor was right: Cel’s studies had primarily focused on enchantment, and now she was being asked to create one of the enchanted metals. The only problem was that the two most well-known metals were beyond her abilities – literally impossible for her, as they demanded a type of magic she couldn’t use. But of course Varassus wouldn’t expect her to make either of those, knowing that. That would be too easy, anyways, just a case of melting the silver down, imbuing the molten metal with energy, then turning it back into a bar.
                      No, it had to be something involving more than one metal. That would make it the hardest to not only enchant, but also to reform to a usable state. But that had its own problem too. Cel had heard of an enchanted metal that made use of everything she’d been given here, but it still needed magic she didn’t have access to. It would theoretically require at least one other person, though realistically she’d need the help of two of the Councillors, which was obviously out of the question.
                      That just left one alternative: a complex enchantment that normally needed four people, but Cel’s magic allowed her to do alone. It wouldn’t need all the metals she’d been given, though perhaps that was the trap – assume they want all the metals used then ask for help because the task is impossible alone, then instantly fail for not seeing the alternatives. They’d have to try harder than that if they wanted Cel to fall for their tricks. Indeed, she simply grabbed up the metals she’d need and headed to the forge, where she worked at melting down each piece individually. Drop one bar in, and feed the forge fire and air from her own hands. When it became malleable enough, she’d imbue it with energy and move on to the next piece, until she had four so enchanted.
                      And then there was the hard part. All four pieces had to be melted down again, and re-enchanted at the same time. Done incorrectly, the resulting mess would just be a worthless blob of mildly-magical metal. But with skilled hands, such as, say, those of someone who’d spent the last six years studying every form of enchantment known to man – including several supposedly invented by the dragons of ancient myth – it wouldn’t be difficult so much as it would be annoying. Little details needed to be just right, like when the forge should be fed or fanned, and when each energy should be added.
                      But, of course, in time Cel pulled out a bar of metal that almost looked silver, except for its golden shine. She waved it over her head and felt its weight leave her as her vision faded again and the next Councillor spoke.
                      “Hm, how about something a little more energetic? Mine is a combat trial. The test begins when you have armed yourself.”
                      When Cel could see again, the arena had been cleared out entirely, devoid of everything but its own walls and floor.
                      “Clever bastard you are, Renagor,” Cel muttered. There were no weapons available, even in the preparation area which was still open. “I have to arm myself but you don’t give me weapons? And if I ask for one I fail. I see how it is.” She laughed quietly as she continued talking to herself. “Good thing I know what the real test is here, hm? How’s this for armed?”
                      With that, she raised her right hand over her head and drew it back, a line of dust following the path and taking the shape of Cel’s favored cross-spear. Then she slammed the spear on the ground in front of her and crossed both arms over her body as black iron enveloped her. And when she brought her arms back to her sides, the Second Councillor’s voice sounded again.
                      “Ready? Ah, good. This is a little trick I picked up from my nephew, believe it or not. I’ve found it to be very convenient. You should find it quite the opposite.”
                      There was a pause after he finished speaking, during which he was presumably waving his hands around or some such thing, then three dark figures seemed to crawl out of the shadows. All three took the shape of Councillor Renagor, and all three carried traditional elven weapons. One had a glaive, another had a staff, and the last brandished a warhammer and cowered behind a tower shield.
                      The one with the glaive moved first, surging across the arena with such speed that it simply turned into a cloud of dark smoke. Not even a second later, the mage shadow lifted its staff, and by the time it struck the ground the first shadow had materialized again. Its strike prompted a hasty defense from Cel, who managed to get the shadow’s glaive caught between one of the lugs on her spear and its head, but she was hit from the side by a ball of dark energy before she could take advantage of this.
                      She recovered quickly enough to block another attack from the first shadow, this time grabbing its weapon in her left hand and kicking the shadow away. The glaive disintegrated on its own accord and Cel wove around a few more attacks from the mage shadow, then grabbed the cross of her spear with her free hand and drove it into the shadow she’d disarmed. The shadow at first crumbled into the attack like any normal person would upon being violently impaled, but after a brief moment exploded into dark smoke which went to rejoin the shadows cast by the arena walls.
                      The remaining two shadow figures didn’t seem the least bit unnerved – unsurprising, considering they were merely magical constructs – and they both went straight to work as if nothing had happened. The one with the hammer had moved in front of the mage to provide cover, and the mage had its free hand in the air.
                      Cel started to move in a wide circle around the two shadows, and when the mage finally threw the energy it was collecting, she jumped out of the way with more than enough time to watch the blast crash into the arena wall and dissolve with no effect. Then she just went back to what she was doing, weaving around the barrage that the mage was now unleashing, until the one with the shield was just at the edge of her spear’s range.
                      The mage refused to yield, so Cel kept herself low as she stepped forward and hooked the edge of the other shadow’s shield with the cross of her spear. The shadow saw this as an error, so simply took advantage of this to shove Cel’s spear aside while the mage prepared another assault. Unfortunate for the shadows, then, that that was exactly what she wanted, using the momentum she’d been given to swing her weapon around past the shieldbearer, slicing into the mage with the spear’s head. The mage burst like the previous shadow, and now the shieldbearer was left alone.
                      Alone, but not without options, of course. The last shadow brought up its shield again and charged straight for Cel, ramming into her before she could bring her spear back around to defend. The shadow immediately followed up by striking her with its hammer before she could regain balance.
                      Of course, her armor was well-made and properly-fitted, so the blow didn’t hurt, exactly. But then all the plating and padding didn’t quite cancel out the force of the hammer either. That wouldn’t be much of a problem on its own – Cel could deal with a little blunt shock – but things had aligned in just such a way that getting hit in that particular location brought her attention to a more personal issue, if only for a moment. Good for her that it was an issue she could ignore, at least for now, because she couldn’t spare the moment to give it any more thought than simply acknowledging that this was the result of keeping herself hydrated.
                      The shadow’s intervention only served to prove that there was no time to think – it had thrown another strike at Cel, though this one she was able to stop with her left arm. The shock of the impact was enough to indicate that maybe doing that again would be a very stupid idea, and that she was extremely fortunate to be wearing armor at that particular moment.
                      Even so, Cel was able to immediately turn around and grab at the shadow’s hammer, though before she could take it for herself she was struck in the chest with the shield and forced to release the weapon. This time she recovered quickly enough to back off out of the shadow’s range before it could do anything else, and retaliated with a few two-handed jabs, though each collided harmlessly with the massive shield. The shadow responded with a wide swing of its hammer, and Cel grabbed its arm to stop the attack. The shadow, in turn, moved to bash her with the shield, only to have it collide rather harmlessly with her spear. Cel kept hold of the shadow’s weapon arm and moved her spear such that the cross was hooked around the edge of the shield. Now in control, Cel threw the shadow’s arms open and quickly drove her spear into where its heart would be. The shadow staggered backwards for a moment, then started a swing aimed directly at Cel’s head – though just as the hammer would have struck the side of her helm, the shadow dissolved like the others.
                      Taking a deep breath, Cel dropped her spear, and it faded away before it could hit the ground. Then she took a little step forward, stretching her arms out from her sides while the armor dissipated as well. A moment later, Councillor Renagor’s voice rang out again.
                      “Hm. Very physical. Interesting. Obviously I’ve heard of your order from Sentagon, how your people avoid using magic unless it’s absolutely necessary.” He paused for a second. “Admirable, I must say. You’re taught to respect the magic – to fear it, to fear your own power. If only everyone could have such discipline. Ah, but now… Attraeon?”
                      Renagor’s voice faded out as he spoke his last sentence, and shortly after he finished speaking, there was a different voice. “Yes, yes, right.” This Councillor coughed before moving on. “Ah, well. Excellent progress so far, but you’re coming for my seat, and I’m sure you know how hard it is to impress me.” Cel’s vision faded again and the Councillor kept talking. “But this… This is special. I don’t just want to be impressed. No, what you have to do…. Suffice it to say that even I haven’t ever actually done this. Nobody has. Not in centuries.” The darkness passed, and the Councillor finished as Cel gazed upon a massive obelisk in the center of the arena. “Enjoy being the first.”
                      The obelisk was a simple stone pillar, inhumanly smooth and apparently made out of the same material as the arena itself. This sort of monument was fairly common – there was a much larger version of the same thing up on the surface, out in one of the central plazas of Medru Dalach’s campus, and there were a great deal of them scattered around the countryside and at the edges of cities in most places. Cel knew exactly what this was, so as she looked at the pillar and considered the challenge, all she could do was stare and silently mouth the words “what the fuck”.
                      And there was good reason for that – structures like this obelisk were so widespread because of their magical properties. These things acted as conduits for teleportation, enabling travel over long distances to those that had the skills. And in the Fifteen, at least, the obelisks – lodestones, the locals called them – had stood for nearly a thousand years, spaced a few miles apart to cover almost the entire continent. None of them had ever been disabled, and because they covered all the important areas save for more recent constructions like Oraculum, nobody ever bothered to build more.
                      The Councillor definitely wasn’t exaggerating – this was extremely special, and enchanting a lodestone would be beyond impressive. It’d be legendary. But of course, there was a reason for that as well. Because it had been centuries since the last time one had been enchanted, nobody knew how to do it, strictly speaking. No doubt Councillor Attraeon knew it, in theory, but especially with something like this, theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge were two entirely different things. Even Cel theoretically knew how to enchant a lodestone, as a consequence of studying enchanting at the world’s most prestigious magical academy. But the problem was: how could that knowledge be applied? Just one way to find out.
                      Cel approached the inert shrine and gently laid a hand on it – it certainly felt devoid of all power, so this would need to be done from nothing. She circled around the obelisk a few times, leaving her hand to brush against it. When she finally stopped, she put her free hand onto the lodestone as well, and leaned forwards into it. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and just as her head was about to touch the pillar, her body turned to smoke and reformed on the other side of the obelisk. She took a few steps to regain proper balance, then turned around to look at the stone again. It didn’t seem to have changed at all, so she shrugged, took a step forward, and teleported back to the other side, the smoke weaving around the pillar. Of course, still nothing had happened.
                      “Hmph.” Cel fell into a sitting position and folded her arms, the motion leaving what was under her skirt visible for just a moment before everything settled into place again. There she sat for some time, her head tilted slightly and the fingers of one hand drumming on the opposite arm. Perhaps she was there for only a few minutes, perhaps for a few hours. It was nearly impossible to tell for sure, but eventually she did stand up again, and approached the lodestone again with a sigh.
                      This time, she held both hands out at her sides, and when she brought them forward to touch the pillar they had a yellow glow about them. Another deep breath and Cel leaned in as if she were trying to push the lodestone away, moving her hands in small circles over the stone.
                      She stood like this for some time, and was about to give up and try something else when the pillar started to glow with the same aura that she was projecting herself. Seeing this, Cel pushed off against the lodestone and jumped back, and with her hands still in front of her she unleashed a stream of yellow energy at the stone; the energy initially struck with no effect, parting to move around the pillar, but when it did that it simply got absorbed on the other side. A few seconds of that, and the assault was cut off, Cel running forward again to strike the pillar with one hand. The resulting glow was even brighter than before, and when her hand was removed, the light of ancient magical symbols shone briefly on the stone before fading away. Then she teleported to the top of the pillar, balancing on its tip for a moment, then jumping off and striking it again while she dissolved to teleport back to the ground.
                      When her body reformed, she took a deep breath again, crossed her arms over her chest and bent forward slightly. With one quick motion, she straightened out and her arms flew open, releasing a blast of the same golden energy in all directions, which the lodestone absorbed before any of the energy could hit the other walls of the arena.
                      Then, it was a simple matter of just approaching the stone and touching it. If all went well, all Cel would need to do was focus.
                      Indeed, upon touching the stone, Cel’s vision blurred and her ears were filled with the sound of rushing air, and when she could see again, the Nine had her backs to her. From this position, she could just barely see the top of the lodestone below. It didn’t take long for the Councillors to realize what had happened, and they all turned to face her – their reactions varied from shock (be that because she had actually succeeded, or because she teleported into the observation room to prove it) to utter indifference. Cel responded with a simple, smug bow before disappearing into the arena again.
                      “Um, well, I’m not sure that was necessary, but…” Even Attraeon’s sigh was amplified. “Yeah, fine, good work. Now, even if you fail, you can say you’re the only person alive who’s ever done that.”
                      The next voice had an accent Cel had only ever heard at the Academy – thick and tinted with the age of both the Councillor and his native tongue. “Now let us see,” he said. “Here is something else special for you. Very important to my people, these are, but to you, perhaps it is just a slab of rock.” The world went dark again, of course. “Even so, to be a Councillor you must know magic from all parts of the world. I am sure you know much that comes from the Origin of Man, so let us see just how far this knowledge goes.”
                      When Cel could see again, the obelisk had been replaced with almost exactly what the Councillor said it would be: a slab of rock, essentially a large stone table. It brought back memories of the altar in the temple back home. But obviously the challenge wouldn’t be so easy – surely Councillor Nemthuur would have known about this, especially with one Star Priest on the Council already. No, this particular altar had a different purpose.
                      Whatever it was, Cel was getting those all-too-familiar signals from her body that it’d be best if she figured it out quickly. Sure, she could leave now – no penalty for leaving the arena to deal with things like that so long as she stayed underground – but for now, she could wait just fine. As far as she was concerned, she’d have to anyways. Something so mundane wasn’t about to interfere with the most important tests of her life. Though, she would have to drink something pretty soon, and with no way to tell how long the remaining tests would take, that could very well cause problems.
                      Problems to deal with when they arise. For now, the problem was figuring out what the Councillor’s altar was for. If it was like the others Cel had seen, it likely had some sort of teleportation functionality, or perhaps it was an amplifier that needed the correct ritual to activate.
                      Too bad for her that Councillor Nemthuur was very much aware that ritual magic like this was her weakness – especially with something so foreign. Sure, if he’d just given her this slab and told her to enchant it to do whatever it was supposed to do, she could do that well enough, but just reaching out for it demonstrated it was overflowing with magical energy. Getting an existing enchantment to actually do something, especially without knowing what it did in the first place? That was a challenge.
                      A challenge, but not an insurmountable one. Cel walked up to the altar and laid a hand on it, closing her eyes to try and figure out what all that energy was trying to do. Something about it felt wrong, so Cel frowned and put her other hand on the altar as well. A few minutes of concentration revealed that the energy felt as though it were coming from somewhere else – where exactly, who could say, but that meant one thing: the altar summoned something.
                      Specifically, whatever was on the other end of the connection. A reverse teleportation enchantment, essentially. No doubt this was a simplification of what Nemthuur would have used in his homeland, but what chance had anyone from any other part of the world to figure out the real ritual?
                      Of course, being easier than it could have been wasn’t saying much – sure, the altar could summon something, and it was already linked to whatever that thing was, but summoning was a fairly peculiar skill, rare if not nonexistent everywhere except in Nemthuur’s homeland of Vinumur. It wasn’t even taught at Medru Dalach, for all their notoriety, because it was so utterly useless outside of obscure religious rituals practiced only by the oldest civilizations. Well, it was useful for that and Council trials, because it wouldn’t be a proper test to become a master among masters if it didn’t test one’s skills at things one would never need to know again.
                      Cel stayed in that position, hands on the altar and eyes closed, while she considered how to do what needed to be done. Theoretically, she could just pull the energy through and hope that whatever was on the other end of the connection would come along with it – but that was just as likely to destroy the altar, the connected thing, or both.
                      But wait – if it were already connected, perhaps the teleportation idea wasn’t all that far off. Teleporting was already essentially just taking something – one’s own body in practice – and putting it somewhere else. That concept could easily be applied in the opposite direction, as long as there was a way to tap into the energy of whatever needed to be moved.
                      Conveniently…
                      Cel waved one hand over the altar in a large circle, holding the other steady just above it for a moment, until there was a burst of flame that forced her to pull her arms back. The flame rose from the altar, assuming the form of, according to the legends, a dragon. It continued to rise for a brief moment, then disappeared in a bright flash and a shower of embers.
                      “I did not expect that to be so easy for you.” The Councillor’s voice confirmed that was supposed to happen. “Interesting. If you maintain this, we will speak again for your final trial.”
                      His voice faded, followed shortly by Cel’s vision. It returned as usual, and the edges of the arena had become a pool of water. There was quiet for a moment, then a woman’s voice, ancient and monotone, was heard above. “Do something useful with this.”
                      Useful? Well, it was useful now – for Cel at least, whose first choice was to kneel in front of the water and get herself a few handfuls to drink. She was already being made well aware that she’d regret that soon, but such things were far better problems to deal with than dehydration.
                      Anyways, what could Councillor Theryl have wanted? Surely a ninety-year-old legendary alchemist would know better than to give an enchantment trial to a skilled enchanter with no concept of humility. But then, unless Cel were to somehow magically pull together a brewery, there was very little useful to be done with water otherwise.
                      Plus, Theryl was definitely the sort to lay traps for overthinkers, especially when she decided to teach classes personally. “Oh, this is too obvious, it must be something else,” her students would think. “There must be something else she wants us to do.” Then they’d fail because she actually just wanted them to brew tea.
                      Usually they didn’t fall for that more than once. It was her special way of inducting the first-years into a system they’d likely never seen before. But Cel was in her sixth year. Seeing one of Theryl’s traps at that point was, to say the least, odd, especially when she was testing to find someone that she’d be working with.
                      Ah, but she wasn’t looking for skills, was she? No, this was a logic test. To see if Cel could be tripped up not by Theryl’s traps, but by the context of the trials. Everyone knew what to expect from the Councillor in a classroom setting, but surely those expectations wouldn’t apply to a test to join the Council. And that was the trap.
                      In any case, the water had already been enchanted while Cel was considering these things – she’d been absentmindedly waving her hands around, as something as trivial as making healing water had become second-nature to her – so by the time she’d finished her thoughts she couldn’t see anything anymore. Theryl hadn’t said anything, unsurprisingly, and presumably she was nodding in approval up in the Council’s little spectating room. The next Councillor was entirely silent, too, leaving Cel staring at a segmented pillar when her vision returned.
                      It had old runes carved into it, the sort that Cel couldn’t read but everyone with magic knew vaguely what they meant. One of them was glowing, the one for fire.
                      Cel cocked her head and muttered “Fire?” Then she shrugged and made a quick swiping motion in front of her with one hand. She’d launched a small golden fireball at the pillar, and when it struck the rune that segment rotated away and a different one lit up. Air.
                      ‘Is that all this is?’ Cel audibly groaned and finished her thought. ‘Great, this isn’t going to end well at all…’ With a sigh, she gave a quick punch with her right hand, and across the room the pillar changed again. Water. Slightly more complicated, but all it took was a bit of a circular motion to pull some of the moisture from the air and send it at the pillar. Then it was earth.
                      Cel stomped with her right foot to bring up a rock to throw. Except that never happened. The ground stayed firmly in the ground, so she tried again, and still nothing. She reached out to pull at one of the walls, then the ceiling, and even the other walls, and nothing happened.
                      “Yeah, of course.” Cel sighed, rubbing her forehead for a moment, then putting both arms out in front of her and focusing. Her hands started to shake after a little while, and then a bit later pebbles started to form from apparently nothing, eventually coalescing into a rock just large enough to throw.
                      So, of course, that rock was immediately hurled at the pillar, which was apparently satisfied and turned to show the fire symbol again. Cel raised an eyebrow and threw another fireball at it, but this time that did nothing. She tried again, and again, no response. Cel leaned back slightly and put out her hands in a motion that on its own said “what is this nonsense?”
                      Further consideration, though, caused her to direct one of those hands to her face as she realized that this solution was obvious. She widened her stance, took a deep breath, and started to move both arms in wide circular motions. The first hand started near the ground to make a spark, and the second caught the lightning in front of her and dragged it out even more, eventually leading back to trade the energy between both hands a few times. Then one foot suddenly shot out and her stance had changed entirely – where her body had been facing the pillar before, now she was turned to face the wall with the Councillors’ viewing window, both arms stretched out in opposite directions. The same instant, there was a deafening crash and the lightning Cel had been working on was gone without a trace, save for Cel’s hair now being significantly less orderly.
                      Cel relaxed and went back to her normal stance, but the pillar changed again. It was still the symbol for fire, but now it was glowing white, not red.
                      “Is that-“ Cel whispered, eyes wide, watching the pillar to make sure it was correct about what it wanted. “They don’t really- Naaah, fuck.” It was. They did.
                      Cel took a moment to calm herself down – deep breaths, closed eyes, she’d even sat down again – and went back to talking to herself. “Alright, well, that’s… How am I going to do that? They’re not going to take anything less than perfect, for sure… But can I even do perfect?” She brought her elbows to rest on her legs and let her hands support her head. “Well, not like there’s all that much of a choice. If they really want to see it… I’m going to give them perfect.”
                      She stood up, breathed deep again, and held her hands out to her sides. Golden flames appeared in each, and she brought her hands to her front and tried to press them together. The flames resisted, of course – part of why getting this perfect was so difficult; it was hard to even do it at all to begin with – but Cel wasn’t about to give up. She simply tried harder, the effort and heat causing her to break a sweat for the first time in her trials. The flames started to swirl around each other as she focused on nothing but the task at hand.
                      But then she suddenly jumped back a bit and dropped the fire as she felt warmth somewhere that the flames couldn’t have affected. Cel’s body tensed and she pressed her legs together for a moment, not daring to check to confirm what she already knew had happened. She looked over her shoulder at the entrance to the arena. It was still open, she could leave now and come right back without penalty. She could, or she could finish what she’d started.
                      Well, that was hardly much of a choice, was it?
                      Without any further hesitation, Cel had her fire in hand again, right back to what she’d been doing – though this time with a slightly tighter stance and a divided focus – to make it seem like she’d made some mistake the last time. Perhaps they’d think she’d burned herself a little, or something.
                      She’d duck out in between tests once this was done. Leaving in the middle of one was just unprofessional. This would just… take a while, is all. Certainly not long enough to be a problem if Cel paid attention.
                      At any rate, she’d already committed to the test, and now that she’d doubled down on it, things were going well, if slowly. It did take a few minutes for the flames to join into one, and from there it was a (theoretically) simple matter of compressing that even further. More effort, more focus. And a little bit of focus on making sure that cold spot didn’t get warm again.
                      The flame eventually became a white ball resembling a small sun. But it still wasn’t good enough. More effort, more focus. The ball was still hot, still glowing. That wouldn’t do. That wasn’t perfect. Cel threw her arms out to her sides, ripping the ball in half, then forced them back together just as quickly – keeping her head turned so that the resulting blast of heat only warmed up her ear a little bit. Then she pressed her hands even closer together, gradually closing in around the ball until her hands met. When they opened again, she was carrying that ball of energy in her left hand, feeling around it with her right and being very careful to not actually touch it. The absolute lack of any heat – or light, for that matter – coming off of it made it far more dangerous than any regular fire, but also confirmed one very important thing.
                      It was perfect.
                      And so it was thrown, and when it hit the pillar, the runes stopped glowing and the pillar retreated into the ground. Cel’s vision faded with but a single word from the Councillor: “Impressive.”
                      The next one was more talkative. “I must say, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone get this far so quickly and so easily,” he said. “And, of course, we’re not supposed to give you any help, but I’m sure the other eight will agree with me when I tell you…” Cel’s vision returned during the Councillor’s pause, and in the middle of the arena there was now a collection of tables covered in alchemical instruments, plants, and bottles of various liquids. The setup was completed by a lectern off to the side, the book on it already open to a particular page. “If I didn’t give you the directions, you wouldn’t stand a chance at finishing this trial. So I’m not looking for you to know anything. No, this is actually fairly straightforward, and I’m sure this trial is going to… Well, it may just beat the arrogance out of you. I’m actually hoping otherwise; this place just wouldn’t be the same without someone like you around.” He paused for just a moment. “Eh, anyways, just do what the book says.”
                      Cel had already made her way over to the book while the Councillor was speaking and had already scanned the page by the time he’d stopped. It actually was fairly straightforward. One very simple task: make the potion described in the book. No tricks, no distractions. Just a potion.
                      Or, more specifically, create the single most powerful and complicated potion ever to have been made by human hands. Trivial, really.
                      After all, everything Cel needed was out on the tables, and the book told her exactly what to do. That of course didn’t change the fact that Cel’s heart had nearly stopped when she first read the list of ingredients. This particular potion left absolutely no room for error, and there were only enough materials for a single attempt. If even one thing was ever so slightly off, the entire thing would be ruined and the trial failed. In retrospect, perhaps the cold fire didn’t need to be perfect, but this absolutely did – the end result literally could not possibly exist in any state other than perfection.
                      But this was fine. Cel just had to pay attention to what she was doing, be careful, and it’d turn out alright. She didn’t even need to enchant the water herself, all she had to do was work the instruments and mix the ingredients.
                      There would be no way to stop once she’d started, though. Even looking away for longer than it would take to blink would mean potentially missing a vital timing. Logically, this would be the perfect time to do whatever needed doing – especially pressing concerns that had brought themselves up in the prior test. But, come to think of it, Cel wasn’t really feeling it all that badly anymore. Perhaps it was just the strain from trying to work the cold fire that had set things off. There’d be nothing like that here, just staring at tubes and putting leaves into things. And if it wasn’t all that critical, it could wait until later…
                      Cel glanced at the exit – still open – for only a moment as she picked up the book and moved it to the workbench, setting it down directly in front of where she’d be standing for the duration. Pouring out the contents of a bottle into one of the strange vessels and lightning a fire below it marked the point of no return, and from there she set about doing whatever else the book instructed her to do. Crush this plant, put this thing over there, pour this onto that, light this on fire, turn this valve…
                      If not for the fact that everything had to be timed and portioned exactly correctly, this would actually be fairly monotonous. It did boil down to just following directions, after all. But that was part of the difficulty of doing this alone rather than with the traditional team of maybe a half-dozen alchemists. Everything was important, every sound, every detail. All the bubbling from the various reactions would be background noise anywhere else, but here, the sound from each individual vessel meant something. Dismissing those sounds as the typical droning of an alchemist’s workstation would mean disaster.
                      Ah, but, perhaps something else should have been held with the same regard…
                      Of course, that would be a far less significant disaster, but with everything going on now Cel was starting to regret having ignored her needs for so long. Now she couldn’t leave and was stuck watching things boil and drip. Her situation could have been better, to put it mildly.
                      Though, honestly, it could have been worse too. At the moment she was standing fairly normally, just with her legs pressed together and occasionally a slight shuffle. If she could risk dividing her attention, she’d probably have forced herself to stand still and proper, but it was better to let her body take control of holding on while her mind concentrated on what would hopefully become the panacea she was supposed to be making.
                      Things were looking good on that front, at least. Everything had gone well so far, and right now it was just a series of slight adjustments to things that had already been set up earlier. That certainly didn’t mean she could pay any less attention to it, though: a “slight” adjustment could mean something so minute that whatever needed to be adjusted would be changed too much by touching it a little too intensely. But it was still a nice bit of a break until things needed to start being brought away from the heat, at which point it was business as usual again.
                      Near to usual, anyways, as the strain on Cel’s body had only been increasing the entire time, and with both hands needed to work the alchemical instruments…
                      Well, better to not think about that – especially since she literally couldn’t afford to think about anything else anyways. Still, it had gotten to the point where even if she could dedicate any willpower to it, she wouldn’t be able to stop the constant motion of her legs. And because she had to focus on the trial, she couldn’t actively suppress the pressure down there either – just let herself feel the dull ache for a while, minimized only by the fact that it wasn’t the most important thing at the moment.
                      As time went on, though, things were only moving in one direction, and with her mind focused on the potion, Cel’s body was left to its own devices. Only her inseparable legs and subconscious willpower were keeping things (mostly) dry below, but everything has a breaking point… Cel was finding it increasingly difficult to stand still as the trial dragged on, forcing her upper body to remain mostly steady by pure necessity while her legs shook and tried to dance.
                      Cel was aware of the warmth when it appeared, but she could do nothing about it and was forced to feel the wetness expand before it stopped on its own. She was running out of time, but fortunately so was the potion. It would be close, and she was already wet, but there was a chance. There were only a few steps left in the preparation, and the only evidence of anything having gone wrong was under her skirt, which nobody with a brain would risk provoking her ire to check. Cel’s legs crossed tighter as the warm spot was freshened up and she forced herself to finish the potion as quickly as the procedure would allow. That was all she had to do. All the hard parts were over already. Just finish the damn potion.
                      It probably would have been easier if “finish the potion” meant anything other than “pour these liquids together in specific amounts that need to be measured out exactly.” Suffice it to say that pouring things into other things was not exactly what Cel wanted to be doing if she couldn’t pour things from her own body into… well, anything would do, really, so long as it wasn’t her own clothes. Not that her body was giving her much choice in that matter – her bladder was burning and its patience wearing thin, leaving her wet spot with no time to cool off and a puddle at her feet that could hopefully be passed off as excess fluid from the instruments. Not much longer, though…
                      Cel’s control was slipping for good by the time the final potion was getting bottled, and by the time it was finished she was producing a steady trickle, so as soon as she was done she dropped the potion onto the table and threw herself at one of the arena walls – the one with the Councillors above, so they couldn’t see her given the angle. The Councillor whose challenge she’d just finished said something she wasn’t listening to, and when her vision faded to confirm that her potion was correct, she gave up. Back against the wall, legs spread out slightly, Cel let go.
                      Her already-wet black panties were destroyed almost instantly, the flood creating a puddle that quickly reached to her boots. Before she could even see again, Cel closed her eyes, sighed, and lowered herself to the ground, hiking up her skirt to save it from the damage she was doing to everything else. Some part of her found some humor in this situation – this hadn’t been the first time something like this had happened, and of course she hadn’t learned from then. Though, at least now she wasn’t in public, and there wasn’t even anyone around to see her. Her torrent died down quickly, though despite both the volume she’d released and how long it’d taken, Cel knew she wasn’t quite done – she never was, when something like this happened; she’d always end up only letting out about half of whatever was in her if she was pushed to the end, just enough to feel better immediately, but also enough that she’d still need to deal with it properly soon anyways. As far as she was concerned, though, she was done. She wouldn’t be able to force anything else to happen just yet anyways, so she stood up, sliding off her ruined delicates as she did so. She wrung them out into the puddle she’d made as best she could then attempted to use them to dry off her legs (to minimal effect) before summoning up a magical fire to destroy them.
                      And then she looked up. The next trial had been prepared with a very simple setup. A small circular platform and a table nearby with various sacred oils and ritualistic instruments. And the next Councillor was standing in the arena, too, with his back to Cel, clearly very uncomfortable. Cel’s face immediately turned red and she looked around for some way to explain what had just happened. Technically it wasn’t against the rules to piss on the floor of the trial arena, but it was shameful, and went completely against the image Cel had tried to create for herself at Medru Dalach. She was already practically a kid to everyone else at the academy, and while everyone could overlook one public incident, another happening for the exact same reason would be devastating for her.
                      But there was nothing Cel could blame but her own pride, so she cautiously approached Councillor Sentagon without a word. He turned around to face her when she got close, and they both seemed to be actively avoiding eye contact. Sentagon spoke first.
                      “Um, well… you, uh… you do know that wasn’t the kind of limit we were testing for, right?” He gave a half-hearted chuckle. “But, ah, are you alright? Do you need to go wash up or something first?”
                      “N-no, sir, I’m fine.” Cel’s legs came together again, if only to hide the fact that she was now bare beneath her skirt.
                      “You sure?” Sentagon cleared his throat. “Alright, well, I’ll just, uh, not tell anyone about this, and we’ll both pretend it never happened, yeah?” When Cel nodded silently, he went on. “It’s no big deal, this stuff happens. You see it a lot in ninety years, trust me. Ah, but, anyways.” He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Back to business. I’m actually down here because it’s the only way to figure out if you’re doing this correctly. Could have sent anyone down here, really, could even have you work with one of Renagor’s shadows, but I honestly don’t trust the judgment of anyone but myself with this. And I’m sure you wouldn’t want to perform this particular ritual on anyone not of our faith anyways.”
                      “And this ritual is…?” Cel tugged at the front of her skirt. Suddenly it felt too small.
                      “You’re going to act like I’m being initiated as our High Priest. I expect you to perform this ritual exactly as if it were real, so do be careful with it.”
                      Cel leaned back a bit and raised an eyebrow. “Really? That’s…”
                      “Monumentally rare, yes. Even, eh, even our Hierophants, we actually need to know it, but we’re never expected to do it. You were never expected to learn it, you never would have had to do it, but I know you know it and can do it anyways. So, am I right?”
                      There was a fierce nod from Cel and she spoke with her usual conviction. “Damn right, sir.”
                      The Councillor chuckled. “That’s the spirit. Now…” He reached up to his shoulder and untied the blue sash that served as part of his uniform, tossing it aside and letting it dissolve. Then he worked his way out of the white button shirt beneath, letting that disappear to the same place as the sash. “Whenever you’re ready,” he said, turning to face the entrance to the arena and falling to one knee, his gaze immutably directed to the ground.
                      Cel walked over to the table nearby and set about looking through the bottles and tools upon it. “So, I don’t suppose you’re allowed to talk anymore, huh?”
                      “No.”
                      “Yeah, figures. Now, what was… Ah, yes…” She picked up a small vial of oil and a piece of yellow cloth from the table, ripping the cork from the vial with her teeth and soaking the fabric in its contents as thoroughly as possible. Then she brought the cloth to the Councillor and drew it down his back several times, hesitantly muttering in a long-forgotten language as she did so – she didn’t know what the words meant, hardly anyone did, but they were important. When she spoke the last word, accidentally making it sound like a question, the Councillor responded with conviction in the same language.
                      The cloth was left draped over Sentagon’s neck as Cel brought a bowl of water from the table. She lifted it above herself with another ancient word, waited for the Councillor’s response, then poured the contents over his head. She took a knife from the table and came around to Sentagon’s front – he was still staring at the ground as before, but now lifted up one arm. Cel drew blood from his hand, and Sentagon looked up slightly, with eyes shut – she took with two fingers the Councillor’s blood and pressed those fingers into his forehead, then did the same with her own blood. The cuts weren’t deep by any possible description, but she still pressed an open hand against each. Sentagon’s only response was a sharp breath as Cel’s hand grew hot enough to seal the wound, and she reacted vocally when she did the same to herself.
                      Then the cloth was brought over to cover Sentagon’s face, and he was pushed back so that his body was straight and his head was pointed towards the ceiling. Cel pressed a hand to his chest and there was a yellow glow for a moment, then the cloth was removed and more instruments brought out – this time a plain white cloth, a brush, and ink. The white cloth was used to remove the oil from Sentagon’s back, then, with the brush coated in ink, Cel drew sacred symbols onto the Councillor, slowly and carefully, while speaking another ancient prayer just as slowly. Sentagon responded firmly when she finished, then he stood and looked straight ahead.
                      A staff was brought out from the table, Cel bringing this to Sentagon’s front. They each held the staff with two hands, and Cel gave one last chant with her eyes closed. She let go of the staff when she’d finished, and the Councillor bowed his head, speaking a single ancient word.
                      Then he handed the staff back to Cel and stretched, a golden light removing the ink from his body and a swirl of dust returning his clothes to him.
                      “Alright, yes.” He reached up to his head and magically pulled the water from his hair, tossing it aside. “Fine, very good. I just need to check what the others saw you draw. It felt right, but I am clearly not in a position to render judgment on something I have not seen. You’ll hear the results soon.” Then he dissolved into a cloud of dust that shot up towards the observation room.
                      Cel took advantage of the downtime and used one of the spare cleaning cloths on her legs, which had only been made more wet by her earlier attempt at drying them off. There was a quiet gasp from her as the cloth found its way under her skirt, apparently also finding a sensitive spot – but there was no time to fool around with that, so she moved on and tossed the cloth to the side when she was done. The rest of her spare time was spent looking at the excess materials left for her, including a bottle of clean water that she downed – presumably it had been intended for refilling the bowl if something should have happened, but now it was a drink.
                      Her vision faded almost as soon as the bottle met with the table again, and the voice was that of Varassus this time, not Sentagon. “Well, that was… a rather unusual trial. I won’t pretend to know what Master Sentagon was thinking, but I trust him when he says he rendered you no aid, and I trust his judgment. Of course, all eight of us were watching and he requested our opinion to aid in his decision. Perhaps we are not the best at explaining what we saw, but Sentagon found our input adequate to render judgment on your trial.”
                      Cel’s vision returned, and her heart sank when she saw the arena was empty. Her mind was filled with thoughts of what she might have done wrong, and she hardly heard the Councillor’s announcement. She heard something, and froze. What was that he said? It didn’t sound like “failed”.
                      There was no time to consider this, though, and the next voice that rang out put her mind at ease. It was the last Councillor. “Well, I must say,” he started. “I am sorry to have ever doubted you, Cel. Honestly, I am… amazed at the challenges the others have given you today. And I’m equally amazed at how absolutely none of them seemed to be of any challenge at all. I’m also disappointed, because I know that there is nothing I can give you at this point that is going to stop you from joining us. I may have underestimated you, but now… Now the world is going to know who you are, and all you have to do is clear two more trials. There is no way that I can see that you would fail them, so consider this a break. Something simple that will allow you to rest in preparation for your last test.”
                      There was a blinding flash, and when it passed the arena was filled with what seemed to be walls made of light, waves of energy assembled into blocks that seemed to interact and intersect in impossible ways. There was only a little bit of clearly-visible ground in front of Cel, and all the rest of the arena was warped by the light-walls.
                      Clearly, it was a maze designed to get the occupant even more lost than a regular maze. And as just about anyone knew, a maze was trivial to someone who could teleport – therefore, teleporting would presumably be rewarded with a failure. How the Council would know, Cel wasn’t sure, as the light-walls formed a dome over the arena, blocking the Council’s view of the situation below. Still wouldn’t be a great idea for her to find out what would happen, not after getting this far and nearly humiliating herself once already.
                      So she just started walking. The opening to the maze was blocked off by a light-wall once she was inside, and Cel kept her eyes to the ground to avoid being distracted by the view through the walls. Or, she did, for a little while, until that turned out to be disorienting as well. She ended up getting horribly lost going around corners, so she decided to instead keep her left hand pressed against the wall, which was far more solid than it seemed. It was still hard to see any turns that weren’t immediate, but it would help with navigation somewhat. And for a while, Cel wandered around quietly through the maze with that as her tactic.
                      She wasn’t sure how far she’d gotten through the maze when she realized that things had caught up with her – the water from the previous trial, however necessary it was, had not reacted well with the fact that she was still half-full from her incident. Cel moved slowly and kept her legs close together. Hopefully the end was somewhat close. This time she’d surely get away for a break before the last trial began, just as soon as she could get out of the maze.
                      Whenever that would be.
                      Definitely seemed to be taking a while, and the walls of the maze meant it was impossible for Cel to tell if she’d already been to a particular part of it – no doubt she’d ended up walking back and forth through the same area for a while. And with things moving quite a bit faster than Cel would have preferred, she had to find a way out of the maze very soon. There was no way to tell time in the cave, of course, but however much time had passed between the end of the eighth trial and now, Cel had progressed to the point of having to stop every so often to press her legs together, occasionally letting a hand join in – nobody could see anyways.
                      Speaking of nobody to see…
                      No, she couldn’t do that. Well, she could, technically, but she wouldn’t allow herself to. It was bad enough that she’d let that happen just two trials ago, she was definitely not going to relieve herself somewhere inappropriate if she could help it.
                      That was starting to be quite a big “if”, though.
                      Before long, Cel had one hand that was quite content to remain wedged between her legs while she attempted to orient herself and escape the maze. She was reduced to a bit of an awkward shuffle, but she could last until the end.
                      Never mind that if she were to put a hand to her belly, it’d be ever so slightly inflated and harder than normal, or that the hand stuck between her legs was already getting wet. She’d be fine.
                      As long as she could find the exit soon. Had she already seen that corner? Was that even a corner? Everything looked the same, and the only indication that she’d already been to an area was that she was starting to leave a trail. But of course she could ignore that, it didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be a problem once she just got out of the damn maze.
                      Not much longer, she kept telling herself. Not much longer…
                      Too bad for Cel that her body was saying the same thing. She managed to pull her hand out from its position, only to double over in instant regret when her body realized there wasn’t anything left to physically block its relief – she did recover quickly enough, but not without getting a trail down her legs. She took a deep breath once she’d composed herself and looked down at her skirt. First off, it needed a good ironing, but more importantly there was a conspicuous dark patch on the front. Cel just groaned and tried to smooth her skirt out with her wet hand, creating a lighter streak.
                      After taking a moment to look around – for all the good that did – Cel stumbled forward, leaning on the wall to her left to maintain some sense of direction. Both hands were against the wall, one slightly ahead feeling for turns, the other serving to keep Cel some degree of upright. Each step added to the trail running down her legs and to the trail on the ground behind her, and before long she could have stood on dry ground and still have her feet in a puddle. Yet still she went on, until she rounded a corner, only to feel the walls turn her right back around again.
                      Rather than following the path out from the dead end, though, she stood there for a moment, legs trembling, and looked around in vain. “What…?” She started muttering, incoherent even to herself. “But, I don’t…”
                      She backed up against one of the walls surrounding her, closing her eyes and breathing heavily.
                      “Ah…”
                      There was no attempt to stop the wave of desperation that overtook her, and caused a large spurt to soak her legs and boots even further. Cel opened a single eye to look down and inspect the damage, and then her only reaction was to spread her legs and give up. She brought down a hand to move the front of her skirt out of the way just before the torrent started, then sighed as she soaked the arena floor for the second time in mere hours.
                      “Haah…” After a minute, Cel opened her eyes and looked around again. The puddle at her feet had already reached her boots and just seemed to be getting bigger, but considering they were wet on the inside too, there was little reason to adjust her stance. The walls were all as nonsensical as before, except… “Ah… W-wait… What’s…?” She stuck her head out as far as possible without moving from her spot, squinting and looking at the wall across the way. Something looked off about it, even moreso than all the other walls, but she wasn’t in much of a position to investigate. “Huh.” She leaned back and sighed again, keeping an eye on the suspicious wall while her stream gradually slowed down. Another minute and it had been reduced to occasional dripping, so Cel released her skirt and stepped out of her puddle, shaking her feet as she did so.
                      Her legs quickly grew cold and her feet were wet and uncomfortable as she headed toward the strange light, prompting her to pull at her lower half with magic in some attempt to clean herself – most of her urine came off and she tossed it aside, letting it strike a wall with an outlandish noise, though what was in her boots couldn’t be removed until she washed them later.
                      When she reached the wall, looking at it up close confirmed it was darker than its surroundings, and ever so slightly more transparent. Cel reached out to touch it and it rippled when her hand made contact, and when she pushed, the wall disappeared and she nearly fell over.
                      “What in th- Fucking kidding me?” When she regained her balance, she looked around mouthing “What” repeatedly and making exasperated hand motions. “Really that fucking close, right,” she muttered, “of course it would be. Fuck.”
                      Indeed, she needed only to take a few steps forward after breaking through the wall for a bright light to overwhelm her, taking the maze with it when it faded. Soon after, a cloud of dust formed into the Nine, with Varassus stepping forward once they were all present. Cel stepped back slightly, hoping he wouldn’t be able to smell what had happened.
                      If he could, he made no indication, instead giving a nod and a smile. “Excellent work, Cel. Yes, that all was… quite interesting, I must say.” Some of the other eight behind him either nodded along or gave Cel looks of encouragement. “Now, you’ve passed all nine of the individual trials. This tenth and final one is administered by all of the Nine Masters at once. We will do our best to stop you from joining us, but…” Varassus shrugged. “At this point I highly doubt there’s anything we can do to that end. Do you… need a moment to prepare?” He raised an eyebrow and looked Cel over, his gaze lingering a little on the dark spot on her skirt, which she quickly covered up with a hand.
                      Cel blushed and attempted to respond to the Councillor. “I, uh… I…” She took a deep breath and continued. “No, I’m ready.”
                      Councillor Varassus stretched out his arms to his sides. “Then let us begin.”