“So I'm going to drink this,” he swirled a vial of fluorescent liquid in his hand, “and it's going to shrink me to the size of a bug.”
“And then you're going to eat me.”
“You know, if you wanted to get rid of me you could still send me back to the orphanage. I can pass for sixteen when I shave,” he replied plainly, but his face betrayed some amusement at Valeria's latest request.
“Garren, you know it's not like that. This is serious – it's an experiment,” she responded sternly, “And besides, when have I ever put you in actual danger?”
“Well, there was that time with the owlbear–”
“Don't be silly, I had that totally under control.” With a dismissive wave she quashed that line of conversation. “Now are you ready to do this or not?”
Garren pursed his lips to respond, then sighed. She was right: he was pretty well taken care of for a sorceress' apprentice and adopted son. It was certainly better than the orphanage – or a prison cell, for that matter. Sometimes, though, he felt that “son” or even “apprentice” were too familiar, and “test subject” was a more appropriate title.
Valeria took Garren's mute response as an agreement, and swept a long strand of auburn hair behind her ear as she gave him his next order. “Go undress while I pack up your gear. Then I'll explain what you'll be doing in my stomach.”
With a nod, Garren turned and headed for his room. As he passed down the hallway from Valeria's study he started to unbutton his clothes, but his mind was elsewhere. “Eaten alive – just when I thought I'd done it all,” he muttered drily, “I thought magic was for making sure you didn't get eaten.”
He lay his folded clothes, a woolen tunic and trousers, on the bed, and looked at his reflection in the mirror. The reflection looked back; blue eyes framed by unkempt brown hair and short stubble on a youthful face. His body was slim and wiry, grown to its full extent but not yet filled out. An odd thought occurred to him as he studied himself. I don't look appetizing, do I? He dismissed the idea. After all, Valeria would be the judge of that.
As if on cue, a feminine voice intruded on his self-inspection. “Garren, I'm waiting.”
“Just a moment Val,” he replied down the hall.
Turning away from the mirror, Garren appraised his room as he gathered himself to return to the study. Originally the guest room of the house, it was now furnished with his bed, a dresser, a fireplace, and a desk for him to study at. Plain, but cozy, like all the rooms in Valeria's chalet home, nestled in the mountains on the outskirts of the capitol. No amount of standing in here is going to make me feel less nervous, he concluded. Taking a deep breath, he shook a anxious shiver out of his body and crept back toward the study.
As Valeria watched Garren leave the study she sighed, a deep sigh of apprehension and worry. She set to packing Garren's tiny backpack – nothing more than a miniature burlap sack with leather straps attached – and quickly lost herself in thought.
Valeria had always worried about her experiments, but lately she noticed that she also worried about Garren. His off-hand comment about the orphanage had struck a chord with her because when she first adopted him, that's all he was. A test subject and a servant. Disposable. It took time for their peculiar relationship to form, time that she regretted. I shouldn't force him to do this, she thought, but it's important work. By gathering stomach and intestinal samples Valeria hoped to prove that the tiny disease-causing animalcules in human waste were also present in the human digestive tract, and not caused by bad humors in the air or some other nonsense. Those fools at the Royal Academy cost lives with their ignorance, she thought. The mere idea angered her, and she dropped the train of thought before she had time to brood.
As she tied up the straps on the backpack Valeria noticed that Garren still hadn't returned and called out to him down the hall. His reply came swiftly, but still she waited, taking the extra time to review her notes on the experiment.
Garren reentered the study sheepishly, hands covering his crotch. It was times like these he was reminded that Valeria, while technically his adopted mother, was still an incredibly voluptuous and beautiful woman who barely looked ten years older than him. The fact she was actually forty-seven was a well guarded secret, betrayed to an insightful observer only by the weight she had gained recently.
“No need to cover up around me, dear. It's nothing I haven't seen before.” Valeria remarked as she peered at him out of the corner of her eye, her attention focused on a huge notebook cradled in her arms. Garren squashed his pride and stood with his arms at his side, as relaxed as he could. The cold air nipped at his skin as he stood waiting for Valeria to address him again; his momentary burst of confidence evaporated.
Finally finished scribbling notes in the margins of her research journal, Valeria slapped the tome shut and turned to Garren. He was now staring at the floor, arms crossed over his chest, shivering slightly. “Garren, honey. Look at me,” she said, moving to tilt his head up.
At her touch he snapped up to attention, startled. “Yes, Mistress Val-”
“I won't make you do this if it really scares you.” Valeria spoke softly, a look of concern on her face.
Garren shook his head and laughed nervously. “I'm not scared, just a bit nervous is all. You've never done an experiment that relied so much on me before. I don't want to mess it up.” It wasn't a lie, but a partial truth. A nervous excitement that defied reason surged through him, and not without a hint of fear.
“Are you sure?” she continued.
“I'm sure.” he said firmly.
His words seemed to reassure Valeria, and she returned to her stern, business-like demeanor.
“Listen carefully, then. Inside the backpack I will give you is a number of enchanted jars for preserving specimens. Take a sample of the bile and the mucous on the linings of the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. Any time you enter a new chamber of my digestive tract, really. There are also two primitive sensory stones. If you see anything interesting, take a good look at it and bind the memory to a stone while it's still fresh.”
Valeria paused a moment, brow furrowed in thought, “Also,” she continued, “It will be tight and dark in there, but you don't have to worry about breathing, or seeing, or acid; the potion will take care of all that. If you happen to lose the bag, make sure it's closed. Any questions?”
Garren gave that a moment to sink in, before responding with the question that most concerned him. “How long will I be inside you?”
“I don't know exactly, but it will be the better part of a day before I see you on the other end.”
“Science is messy sometimes, sweetie,” she replied in a patronizing tone, and walked over to the lab table where the potion sat. She snatched it up in a soft, manicured hand, and examined it herself. “You know, this took three months to design, and the ingredients were not cheap.” she remarked.
“Since when is money an issue for Valeria the Unwed?” He replied sarcastically, invoking the unofficial title that she loathed.
“About to be eaten and still willing to make a jab like that.” she retorted, “Are you sure you're adopted?”
Garren had to smile at that. Valeria's playfulness spoke of her confidence in him and eased his nerves. “Adopted or not I'd like some warning before I end up in the gutter. Did the academy stop paying our bills, is that what this is about?”
“The opposite, in fact. They wouldn't fund this experiment, said it had no foundation in any known science. I had to buy everything myself.”
“I have no doubt you'll make them eat those words,” Garren said as he crossed the room to accept the potion from her. When he drew close she pulled him into a forceful hug, wrapping one arm around his back and one behind his head. It was times like this he was reminded of how tall Valeria really was. She squished his face tight against her bosom, totally oblivious to his embarrassed discomfort in her motherly innocence.
At last she released him and recomposed herself, smoothing out her robe and flicking back her bangs. Focused once again on the experiment, Valeria handed Garren the potion.
“After you drink it, go stand in the center of the room,” Valeria instructed, “I don't want to lose sight of you when you're tiny.”
Garren acknowledged her with a nod and then pulled the stopper out of the vial and set it on the table. He took a deep breath to gather himself and then quaffed the potion as quick as he could. It burned his throat. Its flavor – cheap distilled liquor – was familiar. It was how all potions tasted, like their alcoholic base ingredient. He coughed a few times, clearing the strong flavor off his palette, and a shiver ran through him.
“At least I haven't given you a taste for liquor yet.” Valeria deadpanned.
“Nope.” Garren responded, still coughing. He moved out into center of the room, and knelt down, waiting for the potion's effects to hit full force.
It didn't take long. Garren felt nauseous, as if the universe had begun a crooked orbit around him. He shut his eyes tight as he felt a drop of cold sweat run down his neck. Numbness and pain washed over his skin in alternating waves. Then all at once his stomach jumped into his chest and his knees slid along the polished floor and he opened his eyes to see the room warp in his vision. He gasped from shock, but just as quickly it stopped. A final rush of disorientation hit him and he collapsed onto all fours, face-to-face with the minute grain of the wood.
As the nausea faded, he heard and felt something moving towards him. He knew what it was, but could not yet bring himself to look. A rush of air blew over him as Valeria knelt down close by, covering him in her shadow.
“Do you feel alright? That looked uncomfortable.” she spoke softly, but Garren found her voice booming, even if not uncomfortably loud. It was all-encompassing, like the voice of a divine power.
“I'm... I'm fine now.” he replied weakly, and brought his head up to stare forward. The bottom of Valeria's tight robe had pooled on the ground. The dark green fabric rose like a wall into the heavens. Slowly, steadily, Garren got to his feet and looked up, up, up to meet Valeria's gaze. She was immense, far larger than he imagined – or could have imagined – she would be. The sight left him frozen in awe; this being he had stood next to minutes before now dominated his entire field of view, like a living mountain. Her hand, a great pale beast more than twice his size, extended toward him slowly. It came to rest a few feet away, palm up.
“Climb on, your bag is up on the table.” Valeria said with measured softness.
Garren hopped up onto the surface of Valeria's hand, and came to sit in the center. When she saw he was seated, she cupped her palm around him and brought him slowly upwards. The acceleration was noticeable, but not as strong as Garren expected. Valeria lifted her hand up to her face as she walked, cupping her other hand beside it protectively.
Unable to see over the wall of Valeria's fingers, Garren found himself looking up at her face. She was looking away, but her face held that characteristic smirk that Garren had learned she wore when she found something cute. She glanced down at him, making eye contact before Garren could look away.
“You were adorable before, but this is too much.” Valeria whispered to Garren, her turquoise eyes twinkling with mischief. “I could just eat you up.”
Garren rolled his eyes and replied, “Don't start, you'll make me more nauseous than the potion did.”
Valeria chuckled, ruffling Garren's hair ever-so-gently with the tip of her finger. “Whatever you say, sweetie.”
With her free hand Valeria picked up the bag of holding from the table. Garren straightened out his hair, rising to stand unsteadily in her other hand. He wasn't quite used to standing on another person's skin yet. Seeming to sense his plight, Valeria cocked up her thumb for him to steady himself with. Her hand came back into view, this time with the tiny backpack hanging beneath it, suspended by a few straps wrapped around her pinky finger. Garren took it from her hand and began to don it, fixing it securely around his shoulders and waist. The straps were soft leather, but still rubbed at his bare skin. He realized they probably wouldn't chafe when he was covered in saliva and stomach juice, and didn't know whether to be pleased or disgusted.
“You don't look like much of a spelunker.” Valeria teased.
“And you're far too pretty to be a cave.” Garren responded.
“Aww, thanks honey.” she replied sarcastically, smiling openly. “Now close your eyes. It will make this easier.”
Garren did as he was told, waiting on edge for the abrupt fall as she dropped him into her mouth. Instead he was met with wet, pillowy softness across his entire face and torso. It felt divine, and he leaned into the warmth as a gentle suction pulled on him. The sweet aroma of Valeria's breath was overpowering, washing over Garren.
“Mwah.” Valeria pulled away from the kiss, a sly grin on her face. Garren still had his eyes closed in a serene expression. When he opened his eyes and looked up at Valeria he realized what exactly had happened, and blushed a deep crimson. “Did you enjoy that?” Valeria asked.
“I... well...” Garren fumbled.
“I'll take that as a yes.”
Valeria reached down to the table and brought up a glass of water. She took a small sip to wet her throat, then spoke again. “My potion didn't shrink you quite as much as I wanted, and that will make this harder.” She swirled the glass of water, then continued. “I'm going to swallow you feet-first with my head tilted up and a gulp of water. Try not to struggle too much, okay? I don't want to choke on you.”
Garren's face had returned to its natural pale hue, and he focused intently on her instructions. “Sounds like a plan to me,” he replied.
“Then let's begin.” said Valeria. She lifted Garren up to her mouth, opening it wide. Thick strands of saliva snapped away as the maw widened to fill his view; a living, breathing tunnel to uncharted depths. Garren began to wonder if his assessment that Valeria was too pretty to be a cave was premature. Her tongue snaked out to greet him, the pink muscle's movement unnaturally smooth. The hand he rested on moved closer and tilted until his feet lay on the tip of her tongue. He could feel the warmth radiating through the bumpy skin, yet the saliva that lapped up his ankles was cool. Garren found he was paralyzed, not in fear but in awe, as he gazed into the darkness that would be his destination.
Valeria continued to tilt her hand up and Garren began to slide onto her tongue, slowly at first, then faster. Suddenly he fell all at once into her mouth. He fidgeted with muted anxiety and excitement, fighting the urge to flail as he fell into darkness. He expected to be pulled down her throat, but she caught him roughly between her tongue and palette. It was a reflex; he was too big to swallow easily. Her tongue forced him forward in her mouth, coating him head to toe in her sticky saliva. It matted down his hair and got in his nose and mouth. The dark, confined environment triggered instinctual fears, and if he'd needed to fight past the saliva to get a breath of air he might have broken. Instead he screwed his eyes and mouth shut, trusting what Valeria told him about needing to breathe.
As the mouth around Garren continued to move and flex, a ray of light shone in from above him. Valeria's lips pursed to drink from the glass of water. Several gulps of water washed over Garren, granting him temporary reprieve from the saliva bath. Between Garren's body and the water, Valeria's mouth was now quite full, and she began to swallow, each convulsion of the mouth bringing Garren closer to her esophagus, until finally he felt the throat muscles grab him around the ankles. Primal terror screamed in his mind – pulled down, gripped by an unseen force! It was horrible, but he couldn't fight back. The heat and pressure and sticky saliva had overwhelmed his senses. He barely had time to react before his entire body was squeezed into the slimy, claustrophobic tube allowing muscular contractions to ferry him down into Valeria's stomach far below.
Valeria cringed, rubbing her neck slowly. I just barely got him down at that size, she thought, I really expected the potion would make him smaller. At least there weren't any other unexpected results. The basic formula used for the shrinking potion was a recent discovery, lifted from clay slabs during the excavation of ancient Azaran ruins. While it was simple to reduce and enlarge inanimate objects with magic, applying the same effects to living creatures was believed to be impossible. The new formula seemed to hold the key, and although it had never been tested Valeria was confident she predict its effects precisely. Alchemy was a science, after all.
Valeria gazed down at her tummy, its pudgy outline clearly visible through her robe. “When did I get so fat?” She mused. She had a pretty good idea when, and why, but it was still a problem she never imagined herself dealing with. “It's those cravings,” she said with a sigh.
All human magi formed peculiar habits as they aged, the result of exposure to far more magical energy than humans were really meant to handle. These behaviors ranged from inconsequential obsessions like coin-collecting, or the stubborn refusal to ever throw out a letter, to more damaging behaviors, like paranoia and split personalities. A few months ago Valeria discovered hers: episodic bouts of extreme and irrational hunger. Her solution to this was to stuff her face with food whenever she got hunger pangs, and it had worked, though not without the obvious consequences. The habit was unladylike, and awkward at times, but she decided it was better than the nail-chewing insanity she'd seen in other unfortunate magi.
Valeria's thoughts were interrupted by a movement in her belly. It was a faint tickling sensation, and it felt almost pleasurable to her. Now that her attention was focused on her tummy, she also felt the slight pressure of gases. The pressure rose into her chest, becoming an airy, feminine belch. Surprised and a bit embarrassed, Valeria covered her mouth with her hand, and giggled, “Excuse me.” I guess eating tiny boys makes me gassy, she thought with a wry grin. The burp had brought back some of Garren's salty taste to her mouth, and she savored it guiltily.
The flutters of movement in her stomach continued unabated, and Valeria began to caress her tummy softly with one hand, idly wondering if Garren could feel the motion from within. Her other hand alighted on the amulet around her neck, its touch causing the inset gem to glow dimly. By the gem's sky blue color she knew that Garren was safe inside her, protected from the harsh realities of digestion with alchemical magic. I wasn't always this protective of him, Valeria thought, but he grew on me.
Originally her amulet was attuned to her own aura, a deep, powerful violet color. Like most magi, she used it to focus her spells and manipulate her aura. After the owlbear incident, however, she found her priorities had changed. Only when faced with the possibility of losing Garren did Valeria realize how much she cared for him. So she attuned the amulet to his aura instead, in order to keep a tab on his health anywhere in the plane. She never told him this, of course. When he wondered about her seemingly uncanny knowledge of his actions or troubles she was happy to chalk it up to a mother's intuition.
Within her, Garren had come to a rest; she no longer felt the tickling disturbances inside her belly. Valeria decided this was a good time to get comfortable herself. She took a seat in the high-backed chair by the window, and pulled out Alchemy of the Ancients, 3rd Edition, a mighty leather-bound tome. Not an exciting read, but she found the religious practice of alchemy in ancient Azar to be fascinating nonetheless. It was almost a complete reversal of the modern outlook: that alchemy could be understood through the formulation of fundamental, logical rules. Even as the book lay open in her lap, she could not read; her mind had drifted back to Garren, the tiny passenger in her stomach.
His faint presence inside her made her feel warm and calm. Valeria did not expect swallowing him to feel this way, but the undeniable intimacy of the act quickly broke down her scientific detachment towards it. She decided to put down the book, instead closing her eyes and enjoying the bliss. She breathed a great sigh, the stress of all her work up to this point rushing away with the exhalation. No sooner did it end, though, than a ravenous hunger pained her stomach, followed by a deep, ominous gurgle. “I hope Garren doesn't mind company,” she said with a huff as she reluctantly rose from her chair.
Valeria entered the well-appointed kitchen just as another hunger pang gripped her aching stomach. I don't have time to cook, I need food now, she thought, and turned back to the study to find a scroll of Magnificent Feast. After a few minutes of searching the bookshelves, she found the last copy she had sandwiched between some other books. She yanked it out, and unfurled it with two hands, preparing the words in her mind as she made her way to the dining room.
The solid wooden table that sat in the middle of the formal dining room was rarely used – Valeria and Garren preferred to eat in the kitchen when they were alone – but Valeria was thankful for it during times like this. She had cleared the table runner and candlesticks, setting them aside on the ground, and now stood at the head of the table, reading the scroll. “...conjuro phagum arst abundem,” she completed the lilting incantation, waving her hand in the precise manner of conjuration. Immediately she felt the flow of magic take effect. A lavish feast, enough to feed twenty people, materialized on the table, complete with cutlery and drink. Before she was racked with another maddening hunger pang, Valeria pulled up a chair at the head of the table and tore into the food with abandon.
In the warm depths of Valeria's tummy Garren sat still and silent, listening to the organic cacophony around him. He could hear her heartbeat, its slow rhythm gently pulsing somewhere above him, and the muted gurgles of her digestive system below him. Periodically her stomach contracted, churning and squeezing him in its fleshy embrace. This is incredible, he thought, his fear totally erased by amazement at the living landscape he now inhabited. He had taken the backpack off and cradled it in his lap as he sat, gazing up at the stomach walls. The samples for this part of the experiment were already collected and stored safely, so he had nothing to do but wait. While the stomach was totally dark, the potion granted Garren modest darkvision, and he watched the stomach walls pulse and glisten in what seemed to him to be dusky low-light.
Garren was fairly certain Valeria's stomach wasn't trying to digest him yet, as the stomach acid was only pooled in the lowest part of her belly, and everywhere else was relatively dry, covered only by a thin layer of mucous. The air was humid but not particularly foul-smelling. Whether or not it was really breathable Garren didn't know. His lungs pumped, inhaling and exhaling as always, but even with no air around he always got a full breath of air. It felt strange at first, but Garren quickly became used to the sensation.
When Valeria walked Garren could feel the soft sway of her body, and he found it comforting. Garren had never doubted her ability to protect him physically – she was a powerful mage, after all – but being in here took that idea of protection to another level. She seemed so immense and powerful compared to him now, what could ever harm her? Or harm him, now that her entire being was between him and the outside world?
That train of thought ended unceremoniously when the esophageal sphincter above him opened, depositing large wad of chewed food directly onto Garren's head. It impacted him with a wet smack and broke apart, smearing his body with viscous gunk. “Ugh, gross.” Garren muttered, wiping some the mess off his face as he scooted over to where the stomach acid had pooled. You sure picked a great time to have a snack, Val, he thought as he carefully used the acid to rinse off the rest of the food, splashing it on his arms and chest vainly.
Still covered in filth, Garren decided this was as clean as he was going to get, and turned to crawl back to the stomach's high ground, only to find a huge mass of food blocking his path. The multicolored blob had even begun to slide down to where he was sitting. “Guess I wasn't very filling,” he deadpanned. Left with no choice, Garren stood up on the ridged, undulating floor of the stomach and waded carefully into the muck. Pushing aside the more solid chunks of food with his arms, he took an uncertain step, and then another before losing his footing as the stomach convulsed. He tumbled over backwards, landing with full force in the middle of the mess. Laying in defeat, Garren looked up at the sphincter just in time to see it divulge another wad of food right onto him.
The food kept coming as Garren lost track of time, aware only of the stomach's strange movements and sounds. Soon he was buried completely. Even with no need to breathe, being entombed in food and digestive bile was hot and uncomfortable. Time to move, he thought, and gathered his strength to fight back to the surface. After a second or two of twisting and pushing at the quagmire around him, he surfaced, sputtering and gasping. Valeria's belly was very full now; only a small pocket of air remained at the top. Floating chest-deep in food, Garren found his head was very close to the top of the stomach. He reached his arm up and rubbed the smooth stomach lining with his hand. She's still eating, he noticed as the food continued to pile up around him, I wonder if this is part of the experiment she didn't tell me about.
A few more minutes passed as Valeria continued to eat. Now the only open space was a small volume around Garren's head. He floated up to his neck in a murky, amorphous mass of food that churned with the stomach's digestive motions. It seemed that Valeria's binge was coming to an end. Garren closed his eyes in relief. Finally, he thought, This was getting a bit silly. His relief was short lived, however. The stomach gave one last immense contraction around him, forcing out all the remaining air and pressing Garren's tiny body tight against the stomach lining. He struggled meekly against the pressure, pushing against ridged skin stretched taut around a massive meal, but try as he might he could not get comfortable. The tight space forced him into panic, and his struggling intensified, but even as he writhed in claustrophobic terror the chest-gripping pain of asphyxiation never came.
Valeria wiped a few strands of stray spittle off her chin, the remnants of the immense belch she had just loosed. That felt good, she thought, and rubbed her pudgy, bloated gut. She had unfastened and opened her robe a while ago, and her belly now lay heavily in her lap.
As Valeria massaged the soft skin, she became aware of a new sensation: Garren's frantic struggles, amplified by how tightly he was pressed into the wall of her stomach. Poor thing, she thought with concern, my stomach's probably a pretty nasty place to be right now. If it was uncomfortable for her, she couldn't imagine what Garren was going through. She did her best to comfort him, taking her hand and gently massaging the part of her tummy where she felt him moving. She hoped the soothing motion would calm him down. Slowly his squirming subsided, allowing Valeria to relax and enjoy the sensation of fullness. For a few minutes she laid back in the chair and rubbed her aching belly, eyes closed in bliss.
Slowly recovering from her indulgence, Valeria sat up as straight as she could with her stuffed belly in the way. She surveyed her surroundings and groaned, “Ugh, I'm such a pig.” The table was full of left-over food in various stages of consumption, the floor was littered with crumbs, and her dress was smeared and stained. She knew she'd eaten far too much, but the abundance of the conjured feast made it hard to resist. Such gluttony was simply not possible when she had to prepare all the food herself.
A few minutes later Valeria entered her bedroom, gracefully shedding her robe as she moved over to the bed. After pulling back the covers she turned and plopped down heavily on the bed, causing it to creak under her weight. Valeria cringed in discomfort as her belly sloshed and gurgled from the excessive motion. For a moment she felt her throat and jaw tightened, and she almost vomited. With a few dry swallows she suppressed the bile, instead releasing a dainty burp. With her stomach finally settled, Valeria laid back and pulled the covers over herself, shimmying a bit to get comfortable. Lulled by fullness and the quiet noises of digestion, Valeria quickly fell asleep.
The ineffectiveness of Garren's flailing drove him to fight harder and harder for an escape that could not come. The constricting pressure of liquefied food pressing against every part of his body drove him mad – he could not escape its invasive touch. Just as his fear peaked he felt a new force press against him, this time from outside the stomach. The soft, rhythmic motion was unmistakable: a hand caressing him through the walls of his fleshy tomb. It did little to ease his physical discomfort, but the simple acknowledgement from Valeria soothed him immensely. Even as nothing more than food, I am still worthy of her attention, he thought. It comforted him, making his current existence in the hot, cramped depths of Valeria's bowels just bearable. He enjoyed the gentle rubbing sensation for a few moments before massaging the stomach wall back.
Still floating in the churning solution of food and bile, Garren felt a faint acceleration pull him through the muck as Valeria stood and began to walk. Moments later he felt a sharp drop, which shook up the stomach contents and released gas bubbles that floated up and around him. After a few seconds of expectant stillness, the stomach convulsed and quaked around him, then settled once again. Gravity reoriented around Garren once more, this time as Valeria laid down in bed. Guessing her intent, Garren decided he would try and get some rest himself. Slowly plying through the amorphous sludge around him, Garren came into a laying position of his own. Between the heat, the pressure, and the constant digestive roiling of the stomach, sleep did not come easily for Garren, but eventually exhaustion overtook him and he slipped into dreamless void.
Hours later, as the setting sun barely shown through the window, Valeria turned over in her sleep, moaning softly. Beneath closed eyelids her eyes flicked to-and-fro frantically, following the illusory images of her dream. A slight scowl creased her beautiful features as the dream became a nightmare.
Valeria ate lunch in her study, as she usually did on days when she didn't have any cravings. Idly spooning lumpy pudding into her mouth as she flipped through another large notebook, Valeria was hard at work designing her next experiment. A beam of the midday sun, angled low in the Autumn sky pierced in through the window, directly into her eyes. Valeria went to push up the blinds, but not before looking outside. It was a lovely day, probably one of the last few warm ones this year. Garren hadn't turned up yet this morning, and she wondered if maybe he had gone out to enjoy the weather.
As she sat back down, Valeria paused to listen. She thought she heard a voice, so faint as to be inaudible, but dismissed it. It was probably the chair protesting under her increased weight. The furniture will always be honest about your weight, even if nobody else is, she thought wryly. Taking a moment to find her spot in the book, she continued her work, and her meal. She wrapped her lips around another spoonful of pudding and almost didn't notice the flavor. It seemed saltier somehow. She ignored it and spread the pudding against her palette, prepared to swallow it when something caught in her teeth. She bit down out of reflex, crunching the morsel effortlessly. It burst in a wet spray, shooting the unmistakable ferrous taste of blood across her mouth.
Like an icy spike driven directly into her nervous system, the realization of what she'd just done stopped Valeria dead, dawning horror burning through her every nerve. Garren's absence, the voice, the blood. She could barely spit out the pudding in her mouth before she broke down into hysterical wailing, searching desperately for Garren's crushed remains in the mush smeared on her hands and chest.
Again Valeria turned in her sleep, tensing and relaxing as the nightmare passed. She now lay on her back with her limbs splayed out, her belly rising and falling with the gentle motion of her breathing. The noisy organ was still engorged, although it had softened a bit as food started to enter her intestines on its journey through her body.
Somewhere among that food floated Garren. The rough passage through the pyloric sphincter into Valeria's small intestine had awoken him, and he was now in the process of gathering the second set of samples. He rummaged through his backpack, careful not to lose anything to the current that pulled him and the rest of Valeria's meal along the intestine's length. He didn't have much room to move in the small diameter of the intestine – it was only twice as wide as his shoulders were – but he managed to pull out one of the sample jars and open it. A bubble of air emerged from the jar and raced away into the murky bile as he pulled off the lid and intestinal fluid flooded the jar.
Now that he had half of his sample, Garren set out to collect something from the lining of the intestine. He ran his hand along the wall, feeling the fleshy protrusions of the intestinal wall. They yielded to the passage of his fingers, waving gently to the rhythm of invisible eddies. Like a living carpet, he thought in wonderment. His plan was to use the lid of the jar to scrape up some mucous, but after feeling the lining he realized it was clean. There was no mucous, only soft skin. Instead he capped up the jar, and stuffed it back into his pack. He ran his hand through the soft tendrils again, marveling at the exotic texture, before he remembered the other device Valeria had packed for him. He reached into his backpack once more, this time pulling out one of the sensory stones. The palm sized, enchanted crystals could hold a short memory, allowing others to relive it. They were not vital to the experiment, but like the good scientist she was, Valeria had sent along a couple just in case Garren made any interesting observations.
Taking the amber stone in his hand, Garren focused on it, feeling its magic. It began to glow dimly, indicating that it was ready to imprint a memory. As he felt over the stomach wall a third time Garren closed his eyes, allowing the fleshy grip of dozens of tiny fingers dominate his senses. Moving hand slowly, he tried to capture as clear an image of the sensation for the stone as he could. It took only a few moments to imprint the full memory, and Garren opened his eyes to see the amber light fading from the stone as it bound the memory within. Satisfied with his work, Garren stashed the stone and relaxed, allowing the current to carry him onward, deeper into Valeria.
In the darkness of the bedroom the faint chorus of digestive noises was joined by a soft, involuntary gasp. Valeria's dreams had descended into nightmares once more.
“I'm not sure about this Val...” Garren trailed off, looking up to her questioningly from his spot on the table. Even sitting, she towered over him. She snatched him off the table roughly, and he gasped as her powerful fingers squeezed the air from his lungs. Bringing Garren up to her face, Valeria spoke with disdain.
“Listen here, mister. As long as I have to wait on your pathetic little self for every single thing you need, you don't get a say in what experiments we do and do not do. Understood?”
“Understood.” Garren croaked out.
Ever since he'd shrunken, Garren had been getting on Valeria's nerves. He relied on her for everything. She never got a break from his shy, warbling voice constantly squeaking demands at her. Whatever appreciation she had for his company had evaporated the twentieth time she had to carry him the the bathroom, or wash him in the sink, or cut his food into tiny chunks. So she devised a new experiment. She wanted to see how much pressure Garren's tiny body could withstand, how durable he was. If he was going to make himself useful, of course, it would be important to know what tasks he could handle.
She released Garren from her grip and he collapsed into her hand, breathing heavily. It never ceased to amaze her the power she had over him. One hand was more than enough to snuff out his fragile life. Valeria smirked a little, pleased by this thought, and continued her orders. “Now that we're on the same page about this, let's begin. I'm going to sit on you to see how well you can withstand my body weight. Try to stay in one piece, and squirm so I know when it starts to hurt.”
“Y-yes mistress, I-I'll try my best.” was all Garren managed in response.
With that, she stood up and dumped Garren into the seat of her chair. He tumbled and landed prone before struggling to his knees. Looking up at Valeria's full height, Garren shivered. Her monolithic form dwarfed him, like a vast, uncaring goddess. Head angled downward, her eyes were hidden by the flowing locks of her hair. He was glad they were hidden. He wasn't sure he could bear her scrutinizing, scornful gaze any longer.
Garren had noticed a change in Valeria ever since he'd shrunk. He didn't try to be a burden, but there were a lot of things he just couldn't do at this size. Even mundane things terrified him now, and she resented him for it. For a condition she had caused. Verbal derision was one thing, though. This experiment was something else entirely. Valeria's casual attitude towards his impending degradation left him with a deep sense of foreboding, tied like a knot in his chest.
“Don't look so sad down there, hon. I'm a big softie,” Valeria said smarmily as she turned to display her ponderous backside to Garren, giving it a hearty smack. Her laugh – normally a beautiful, warm sound – sent a chill across Garren's skin. He shuddered, and his foreboding became fear, blossoming raw and primal in his mind. He knew he was utterly at her mercy, and it scared him now more than it ever had before.
As her laughter slowly devolved into giggling, Valeria turned around and lowered down into the chair slowly. She wanted to give Garren time to get comfortable underneath her. When her soft butt finally touched down she felt Garren's feeble body press against her bulk, completely engulfed by the wall of advancing flesh. Scooting back and forth in the chair to get comfortable, she rubbed him into the chair seat and relished his helpless struggles. Valeria was taken aback by just how good it felt to exercise her power like this, to dominate another so completely. She finally knew how Garren could best serve her, how he could make up for his existence as a tiny, dependent insect. He was no longer fit to be her son, or even her servant. He would be her toy.
Valeria thrashed and turned in her sleep, as if she could no longer be comfortable in her bed. Mumbling something unintelligible, she finally settled on her side. Her stomach groaned, upset by the flurry of movement. Deep within, Garren had just entered the large intestine, the site of the final part of the experiment.
Quickly he began the process of gathering samples, trying to ignore the rank smell that permeated the air. When he was submerged in the lower intestine his nose wasn't exposed to all the lovely smells of the digestive tract, but here Valeria's body was beginning to leach excess water away from the waste, leaving him high and dry.
After collecting some rancid mucous from the muscular intestinal wall, Garren stowed the sample jars and tied up his pack tightly. The pulsing of Valeria's body all around him seemed to be speeding up, and solid waste was still pouring from the sphincter he had entered from. Garren felt things were going to get worse before they got better.
Before he knew it, Garren was entombed again, swallowed by the dark mass that was once Valeria's meal as her overworked intestines tried to cope with the absurd amount of food she had eaten. Thankful now more than ever that he no longer needed to breathe, Garren still found the building pressure to be overbearing, mind-numbing. The digested pre-fecal mass was firmer than the moist soup which immersed him in the stomach. It pressed in around him, dulling his senses and clouding his mind. Garren did not have time to panic as he faded into unconsciousness, trapped in the warm depths of Valeria's bowels.
As the sun rose, a single ray of light tracked its way along Valeria's bedsheets, coming to rest on her face only in the late hours of the morning. The small disturbance was what finally roused the sleeping woman. She woke slowly from her long slumber, stretching languidly before rolling over and nuzzling her pillow. Her blissful state was temporary, though. Soon the worries and responsibilities of her life would come flooding back unbidden, forcing her out of her bed and on with her day.
This morning something else nagged Valeria. Something about Garren, and food, and a dream. As the images rushed through her mind, panic leapt into her chest momentarily, before she separated dream from reality and reassured herself that tiny, fragile Garren had not been chewed between her teeth or crushed cruelly beneath her. With a sigh of relief, she muttered, “That's the last time I binge on conjured food.”
Night terrors were uncommon for Valeria, but she recognized that these two were born of her motherly affection for Garren. She was worried something might happen to him at his smaller size, and it spilled over into her dreams. Glad that he would soon be returning to his normal size, she banished the dreams to the periphery of her mind and turned her attention to something more urgent: the bathroom.
Cradled in Valeria's hand, Garren lay motionless except for the slow rise and fall of his chest. Valeria was a bit worried for him. Though he appeared unharmed, he had been unconscious since she found him and all through the process of cleaning him. He probably needed the rest after what he'd just been through. She couldn't hold him like this forever, though. She would need both hands to prepare the antidote for the shrinking potion, but she still wanted to keep Garren somewhere close. After a moment of consideration she slipped him under her dress, and nestled him in her cleavage. Safe and sound, she thought, And I'll know right away when he wakes up. Pleased with her handiwork, Valeria rose from her chair and set to work preparing the antidote.
Unlike the shrinking potion, the potion currently brewing in Valeria's state-of-the-art alchemical still was her own formula. Using her knowledge of modern alchemical theory and her analysis of the ancient formula she had devised a new potion that would counteract the shrinking effect and bring Garren back to his full size.
Neither potion had been tested before, but Valeria had complete confidence in her skill as an alchemist and in the theories she applied. She'd created similar antidotes even before she received training, and was now the leading alchemist in Thelasea. In fact, the possibility of failure hadn't even occurred to her – she was already planning the thesis she would submit to the Royal Academy, already imagining the sight of all those fools left speechless as her discoveries tore their dogma to shreds, already tasting the vindictive satisfaction of victory.
With thoughts of her impending conquest dancing in her head, Valeria mixed the last few ingredients and began the final distillation of the potion. As the minutes dragged by a cloudy blue mist gradually filled the still pot. Soon the freshly brewed potion filtered out of the condenser into an empty flask. Its unnatural color stood out from the backdrop of brown wood, gray metal, and white paper. The minuscule amount that had collected was more than enough for Garren to drink, but Valeria decided she would wait instead of waking him.
Her attention turned back to Garren's barely perceptible presence inside her bosom. As much as being able to literally engulf him in her protective affection appealed to her, she knew that he would be happier and safer at his full size, and that she would be happier and saner if she didn't have to look after a tiny person.
To pass the time Valeria busied herself cleaning up the lab equipment that was no longer in use. She was almost finished when she felt Garren stirring between her breasts and fished her hand in to retrieve him.
When Garren regained consciousness he was disoriented and confused. He felt warmth and softness all around him, but it wasn't the stifling humidity of Valeria's intestines. It was dry and clean. He also recognized the aroma of Valeria's perfume, which confused him further. Though he didn't try to think about it, there was some expectation he was going to come about in a chamber pot, or worse. This was nothing like that. He opened his eyes to see he was caught between two enormous orbs of pillowy flesh, with shadowy green-tinted light filtering in from behind him. I'm in Val's boobs, aren't I?, he thought. The realization dawned slowly in Garren's hazy awareness. The embarrassment came much quicker. Suddenly alert, Garren felt his face flush red and hot, and he struggled to keep from twitching or spasming and drawing attention to himself.
As Garren contemplated what his next move was, he became more aware of his surroundings. He could hear Valeria's heartbeat deep in her chest, and feel the slow rhythm of her breathing. She seemed to be standing, but occasionally she would bend forward, hurling him to-and-fro with frightening speed. Garren feared this might launch him free, but the smothering flesh held him fast.
Eventually Garren concluded that the only way he could end up in Valeria's cleavage was if she put him there. He decided that, embarrassed or not, he needed to make his wakefulness known, and began to fight his way up to the bright light shining in from above. Almost as soon as he started moving, Valeria's hand arrived to scoop him up and lift him out into the blinding light.
“I was wondering when you'd finally wake up,” she said teasingly, “How was the trip?”
Still squinting as his eyes adjusted, Garren could make out the features of Valeria's angelic face, and realized she was holding him at about eye-level. He couldn't really find words to describe what he'd experienced. Humbling, fascinating, terrifying, disgusting, none of them felt complete. So instead he responded with sarcasm: “Once I realized you weren't trying to kill me from eating all that food, it was alright. Though I could never get used to the smell.”
Valeria looked pained. “I might've gotten a little carried away with the food there. Sorry.” She paused, then asked worriedly “You're not hurt, are you? You seemed alright while I was washing you off, but-”
“I'm fine, Val,” Garren replied, raising his hands in a halting motion.
She seemed satisfied with his answer, and replied, “I'm just making sure you're safe, dear. I don't think it's possible to be too careful with a person who's the size of my pinky finger.”
Valeria leaned in to close off the condenser and retrieve the new potion. Holding it in her free hand she addressed Garren again. “I'm going to give you a dose of this and tuck you into bed. You should be back to normal in no time, alright?”
Garren nodded. Valeria set down the potion and set to finding a way to administer it.
“Hey Val, you retrieved my pack, too, right?”
She returned her gaze to Garren, “Hmm?”
“My pack, Val. Your data.”
“Oh, yes. I cleaned it, enlarged it back to normal size, and separated out the sample jars, but I haven't really examined them yet.” Valeria brought a finger up to her mouth before continuing, “It looks like you got all the data I needed, though.”
“So I did good?”
“Yes, dear. You did well. I'm very proud of you.”
Garren sighed, and finally allowed himself to relax, laying back into the wall of Valeria's fingers. He closed his eyes, but hesitated and opened one eye to look at Valeria, who now had a minuscule glass pipette clutched between her ring finger and pinky, and was in the process of finding a container Garren could reasonably drink from.
“You don't mind if I lay like this, do you?” he asked.
“Of course not, sweetie,” she replied without looking, “but don't get too comfortable.”
Cradled by Valeria's soft fingers, Garren let his mind drift. All was right in his world – he'd completed the experiment well, and Valeria was happy with him. He could look forward to visiting the capitol with her in a few weeks when she presented her thesis at the academy. It would be nice to see the city one last time before they had to hunker down for winter in the mountains. In the meantime he decided he would ask that sweet redheaded girl in town, the Baker's daughter, out for a date. While he'd balked at the idea before, he felt more confident now.
“Garren? Sit up, honey. I need you to drink this.”
Valeria's voice, and the gentle rub of a thumb across his chest brought Garren back to the present. He sat up and rested his arms on the intrusive digit, which held him snugly against Valeria's palm. She tilted her hand forward, bringing him face to face with a thimble the size of his torso. It brimmed with liquid, the imperceptible sway of Valeria's pinched grip causing ripples on the surface. Garren craned his neck forward, bringing his mouth up to the cold metal. As Valeria tilted the thimble, Caustic liquid spilled down his throat and around his mouth. When she finally brought the thimble away he was coughing and sputtering.
“Hey Val, you got a handkerchief?” Garren asked as he tried to wipe the spilled potion off his chest.
“Hold on,” she replied, and set the thimble down to search through a drawer. After a few seconds her hand returned, carrying a clean white cloth. It looked like a bedsheet at Garren's size. “Here,” she said as she handed it to him. Garren used the cloth to dry off, and then folded it and wrapped it around himself like a robe.
“Ah, very clever,” Valeria said sarcastically. She was trying to suppress a smile and it wasn't working. Garren realized he must look ridiculous wearing a handkerchief.
“Until you've been tiny and naked you have no right to judge me,” he replied indignantly.
Valeria sighed, “No, I suppose not.” She looked away and began walking to Garren's room. With a creak, the door swung open, and in a few steps Valeria crossed the room to Garren's bed. She set him down on the pillow and pulled the blanket up over his waist. The blanket felt coarse and heavy to Garren because he was so small, but he was too tired to care.
“Don't sleep for too long, now. You'll miss supper,” Valeria told Garren, before turning to lower the blinds. After that she left the room, shutting the door slowly behind her. Garren drifted off to sleep in minutes.
After leaving Garren's room, Valeria returned to her study. She took a moment to clean the last of the mess off the lab bench before sitting down at her desk. She pulled out a leaf of coarse paper, readied her quill pen and began work on the draft of her thesis. She wrote at a feverish pace, eager to put the ideas in her mind onto paper. Consumed by her work, the hours passed quickly for Valeria.
Soon the sun was setting, and Valeria took a break from her work to light a few candles in the study. She realized she had yet to see Garren, and decided to go check on him.
Garren sat up slowly, rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He felt clean and well rested, but something about his position made him feel uneasy. He was on his pillow, still tiny. Valeria had told him he would be back to normal when he woke up. Maybe the change was taking longer than she'd expected? He felt like he'd slept a long time, and the dim light shining in his window seemed to confirm that, unless– Garren shook his head, deciding not to worry about the matter further. Certainly Valeria had an explanation.
Pulling himself out from underneath the covers, Garren stood and surveyed his room. It was all familiar, but now, sitting tiny and alone, the shadowy monolithic forms of the furniture looked very intimidating. He slid down the side of the pillow and landed with a bounce on the bed. He knew it was probably smarter to stay put and wait for Valeria to come check on him, but he was restless. He had to do something to distract himself from the feeling of dread that closed in on him. Hopping to his feet on the springy surface of the bed, he started to jog down to the foot of the bed.
The bed was only about thigh-high to Garren at his normal size, but now it was dizzyingly high, many times his height. He sat at the edge, clinging to the soft slope of the mattress. From here he could see the door, which had previously been obscured by the nightstand. He'd never noticed it before, but there was a gap underneath the door that looked big enough to crawl under. The trouble would be getting down to the floor. The wool blanket on the bed was too thick for Garren to grasp in his hands, but there was a crevice between the mattress and the bedpost that he might be able to shimmy down. He started to scoot closer to the edge, preparing to brace himself against the bedpost when he heard a knock at the door.
“Garren? Can I come in?” Valeria's voice was sweet, easy.
Garren scurried up, away from the edge of the bed. He thought about raising his voice to reply, but figured that even shouting he wouldn't be audible through the door.
He heard Valeria sigh, then mutter, “Still asleep, of course.” She cracked the door open and leaned in to survey the room. Her amused expression was wiped away instantaneously when she saw Garren. The look of shock and horror that followed confirmed his fear. Valeria had been wrong, and he would pay the price for it.