The Transformation Story Archive With Fur and Claws...

A Dangerous Game

by Picklejuice

Charlie`s eyes bugged out as the staps of his moutain climbing harness suddenly went taut. By automatic reaction, he dug his metal cleat boots into the blue glacial ice and leaned forward to keep his companion from falling into whatever abyss that had suddenly loomed for her. For a precious second, the force of the strap and the strength of Charlie`s muscles were in balance. Then, he started going backward. His mind screamed, NO! He fell backward –––

Landing on more ice, his face pointed up and looking at Mandy, who had a mischievous grin on her face. In a moment, he realized that she`d tricked him, and his face broke into bemusement as he laughed long and hard with his wife.

Mandy helped him up, grinning. Charlie just shook his head and the two of them continued up the dangerous river of ice toward the mountain. Just on the other side of ot was a valley that was much warmer, where forests thrived and there was some wildlife. But their real goal was the mountain, and the answer to a mystery over 30 years old.

They made camp in a stable area. In the tent, they ate a quick meal and got ready for bed. As they were making the dash from bulky arctic clothing to their thermal sleeping bags, Mandy said, "I wish we could share one of these." Charlie snickered and kissed her.

Night crept over the world, the disappearing sun casting a blazing light show that the two didn`t watch because they`d seen it seven times before in warmer conditions. They were also much closer than ever and could think of little else but their goal.

Then the world was transformed from one alien landscape into another. From bright blue torn and sheared terrain to a star lit ghostly land of sharp shadows and sparkling snow. Hours after the couple had gone to sleep, somethin happened. From the shadow of a large slab of ice emerged a heavily furred figure with Eskimo sunglasses. The man`s boots hit the snow, a very solid crunch with every step toward the camp. His frame was large and his movements determined. Then he stopped, his feet planted wide, about 50 feet from the camp. His breath came in clouds erased quickly by the hurried wind.

The moment came.

The man rose his arms at the same time as a circle of land with the tent at the center fell into the glacier one foot with a RRUNCH! Startled noises arose from the tent as the man bound across the land toward the depressed circle of ice. By the time he was on the circle of ice, Charlie was poking his head out of the tent. Charlie saw the strange man land on the circle. It was as if the man`s weight was all the ice needed to jar loose, making them all fall into the glacier. Charlie pulled his head back in in fear and the man uttered his first sounds: laughter.

 

Redressed in clothing supplied by their captors, Charlie and Mandy were brought to a typical room in the strange estate they found themselves in. It was a place deep beneath the mountain, yet supplied with plenty of light and electricity. The walls were baroquely carved with intricate and twisting reds and golds. The mahogany furnishings were extravagant, the temperature wonderfully warm. The room was a sort of bedroom with a study table, wardrobe, dressing table, and a canopy bed with their equipment on it.

Charlie locked his eyes onto this and rushed over to the two packs. He proceeded to search meticulously through them. Mandy looked around the room nervously and picked at her fingernails.

Now that they were out of their many layers of winter clothing, you could actually see them. Mandy had short tan hair, a heart–shaped face, and a strong body. Her eyes were often looking around, playful and interested in her surroundings. The dress supplied to her was a thin red onepiece that accentuated her beautiful figure. She had walked over and looked into the mirror of the dressing table when Charlie said, "Damn. They took the map and diary."

Charlie was only 18 years old, had a powerful body, and wore his black hair in a pony tail. He was in slacks, shirt, and tie. They both wore sandals.

Mandy shrugged, "Well, they were his in the first place." She came up to him and put a hand on his worried back. "And we`re here, right? We made it."

Frowning, Charlie bobbed his head. He looked up at her with a proud smile working into his lips. She giggled, he laughed, and they hugged tightly with joy. Charlie agreed, "We made it. We made it."

 

The vast chamber doors wooshed open for the couple and an extravagant dinner table big enough for horses to eat at lay before them. Candelabras, fine china, laced tablecloth, carved chairs, and a vaulted ceiling framed the feast on the table. Well, it was a feast in comparison to what they`d been eating on the way up here. Roast turkey, boiled tiny potatoes, large loaves of steaming bread, all on elaborate serving trays. Two places were set for them, and at the end of the table sat a man in a chair that was almost a king`s throne.

He was striking – black hair framing a blazing white poofy stripe down the center of his head. An older man, with wrinkled skin. His eyes were rudely piercing things that stared at you too long. He had a relatively simple black jacket, white shirt, cream vest, and three gold rings. A plate was set out for him, and next to him was another place. Smaller but no less extravagant. A carved high stool supported a large pillow on which sat …

A skunk. Its eyes were as piercing as its master`s, glaring at the two with contempt. Mandy and Charlie got a full five seconds to take in the intricate scene before the man with the white stripe said in a distinct and rich voice, "Please! … Sit down. Eat your fill."

Their stomachs overruled the questions they had, and so they sat while servants lilted around them, pouring glasses and pushing up their chairs for them. The meat, the bread, the pasta, the soup, everything was wonderful.

Finally Charlie screwed up enough courage to ask a question, but for some reason he didn`t first ask what his most burning desires were. No "Who are you?", no "Are you the famed lost magician of the Piccadelli Circus?", no "Could you teach us magic pretty please?". In stead, he said, "I see you still have that skunk for a pet."

It seemed an insult, what Charlie had said. Both master and pet glared at him for a second. The pet continued to glare as the mysterious man softened his expression and said, "He`s not just a pet. Kanaar is incredibly precious to me. I really couldn`t live without him." Sorrow infected the man`s eyes and the skunk`s expression. "And with his failing health, I…"

He pursed his lips, cutting off the sentence. He returned to eating, and alternately feeding the skunk.

Charlie then said, "You are the Fabulous Molloch."

A smile pulled up one side of the old man`s face. "Yes, I am. And, before you ask it, yes, I posses the last magics left in the world."

That got the two`s attention. They stared at him, waiting for him to continue.

Molloch smiled, happy for an audience. "It intimately has to do with animals. Or specifically, one animal." His eyes were suddenly tender as he looked down and petted the skunk. "Your familiar. Kanaar is a channel for my magic, and more." Molloch turned his head back to the two and folded his hands in earnest. "You have to know your animal to work magic."

"Would you teach us magic?" Charlie said, forgetting his meal and leaning forward.

Mandy looked at from one to the other in anxiety. Molloch was expressionless. He dabbed his mouth, and then Kanaar`s, and then snapped his fingers. A servant came and lifted the pillow and Kanaar up as Molloch stood.

"I don`t think so."

Charlie was in acute despair and Mandy was working her mouth, trying to say something. Molloch left with Kanaar out a back door. "I will see you off in the morning. Please, return to your rooms."

When it closed, Mandy and Charlie looked at each other. Misery loves company and they were grateful for each other`s presence.

 

A match flared in the darkness, filling the room with enough light to see for eyes depraved of darkness for over 4 hours. The match entered a lamp and touched the wick there, and as a hand twisted the knob, the light grew brighter, filling up the cracks and crevices of the room. Charlie, his arm over Mandy, stirred and pointed his slitted eyes at the light. "Who?"

The figure holding the lamp stepped forward dramatically, putting a hand to her lip as she said "shhh." Mandy silently opened her eyes, looked blankly at Charlie`s side, then directed her head and gaze to the figure in the darkness.

"Please, you must leave this place." It was a stunningly beautiful woman, dressed in revealing, gauzy nothings.

Charlie said, "I thought it was suspicious when our stuff wasn`t here when we got back."

"Come quickly." The woman urged, her face animated in urgency. The two swiftly got out of bed and dressed. They all exited the room by a secret passage. It was chilly in the rough hewn tunnel, and all three were chattering by the time they reached the end. It clearly opened up into a cave to the outside world.

Charlie whipped his head to the woman. "Where`s our stuff?"

Apology drew her face into sorrow. "I am sorry, but I could not get your things. They are in the vault, being guarded. I have no way of getting in."

Mandy looked in simple shock toward freedom and certain death. Charlie demanded, "But we`ll die out there! This clothing is nothing!"

The woman placed a hand out as if to shield herself from Charlie`s harsh words. "Please, please. I do have something for you. Molloch, my husband, bound spirits to these to protect one from whatever harm that comes. They will make you warm. Here." She placed a sort of badge in Charlie`s hand. "And here." And in Mandy`s hand she also put badge.

"It is your one chance, now go! Molloch will come for you, he will try to kill you. But he will first play with you. He has precious little entertainment here save for cable, so make the game interesting or you will certainly die. I hope these magic charms will have enough power to give you an edge over him. Perhaps you will survive. Farewell!" With that the woman left with her lantern. Charlie and Mandy looked at each other in shock.

Charlie clutched his silver badge to his chest in intensity, and Mandy did the same but instead in fear. Their bodies twisted against the cold, they looked to the outside. Mandy carefully brought out her badge with one tight arm while her other arm clutched at her body for warmth.

"This is crazy!" Charlie said, gesturing outside. "We won`t last an hour out there! We`ve got nothing but these stupid badges!"

"Charlie… Charlie… " Mandy was saying. Charlie didn`t listen.

"I mean, what are they how do they work? Make jets of flame?" He looked at the badge and shakily tranced his fingers of the engravings. "Conjure up a couple heavy winter coats for us?"

"Yes, Charlie, they ––– oh, my god." Her voice choked off in disbelief.

Charlie turned around, concerned and confused. His mouth dropped.

Mandy was covered from head to toe in white fur. She was standing a little more relaxed, no longer shivering. She had dropped the badge and it glinted with the last vestiges of a wispy blue magelight. Her mouth opened as she looked at him. As she spoke, she touched herself in different places. Her arms, her legs, her breasts, her face. All furred now. Even under her clothing. "I –– I just wanted to be warm and I looked at the little medal and ––– and ––– Oh, my god! What`s happened to me, Charlie?!"

Down the passage floated sounds of metal on stone and soldier–like grunts of obedience. The husband and furred wife looked down the passage.

Charlie gritted his teeth in frustration. "You`ve grown a fur coat. Now you`re warmer, right?" He looked in his own medal and Mandy saw the transformation on another – the metal of the badge glowed with bright blue wispy light, and … well, fur grew swiftly from his body, covering him completely. Mandy opened her mouth in shock. Charlie looked at his white underbelly, and dead wood brown forearms. "We don`t have time. Let`s go!"

He snatched her badge, grabbed her arm, and ran off into the night. He hid the shudder at the feeling of her fur on his palm. She followed blindly, stumbling to keep up, in a daze of disbelief. She was having trouble puttign stock in gerneral reality and specifically her fur.

 

It was hard to tell how long they ran. They were on the other side of the mountain. The evergreens were evidence enough. Adding to it was the oddly abundant wildlife. Wolves howled in the distance. White rabbits ducked into snow–holes. A snow owl did a flyby on them, screeching. Moose snorted and skipped away from them as they ran by.

None of this calmed our two fugitives. Quite the opposite, as you can imagine. After the owl Mandy was beginning to babble incoherently and with great anxiety. When she started screaming, Charlie stopped and threw her into the snow and pine needles. "Get a grip!" He shouted at her stunned white furred body, now curled up in the snow and sobbing. "They`re after us, that`s real. Buckle up!" She didn`t move, so he bent down, picked her up, and began stomping off into the woods, desperate for speed under her weight.

Fortunately, it didn`t take long for him to reach the cliff base. He lurched to a stop, looking both ways for some way over it. Nothing. He looked for handholds. None. He surged to the right. He heard dogs barking as he pushed through grasping evergreen branches. Mandy`s sobs and the impossibility of the situation was bringing tears to his own eyes. They spilled over and matted the fur on his face, where it began to freeze.

And there it was. A tall pine growing right next up against the cliff face. He stopped and breathed hard, trying to recover. There was one problem with the tree – no branches. He lurched over to the tree, carefully put down the now quiet Mandy and tried climbing it with his blunt fingers. No dice. He looked at his fingers. Over pursed lips, Charlie looked at the shuddering Mandy. He then looked away.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the badge. He stared into it and the blue smoke sparkled around it. Claws, retractable ones, morphed from his fingers and toes.

Mandy took that moment to sit up and say, "I`m okay." She shakily got to her knees and gulped, and smiled up at Charlie`s back. She said, "I mean, it`s not like we`re turning into animals or anything, right?"

Charlie closed his hands and craned his neck over his shoulder. He looked at her with a very neutral expression. "Get on my back. I`m going to climb up that tree and over the cliff. The dogs are after us."

She seemed to notice for the first time the barking that was now even closer than ever. As realization overtook her face, she said, "Charlie!"

"I know, I know. Get on my back, and now, or we`re dogmeat!"

It took a second for her to wrap her arms around his neck. It took a moment for him to start up the tree. It took another second for the dogs to break from the bushes. A half second passed before they hit the tree. It was as close as it could get. The top dog`s fangs closed in the fur, and the lips of the dog closed on the ankle of Mandy`s right leg, leaving a malevolent kiss of dog drool. Mandy shrieked in fright and said nonsense vowels of anxiety for a few seconds, tapering off.

Claw sank into pine. It was a curious sensation for Charlie as the extensions from his fingers and toes penetrated the tough bark. Oddly satisfying, as if pulling one up to a high place was in and of itself a very satisfying goal. He attributed it to escaping the dogs. Charlie pulled Mandy on top of the cliff and helped her until she was stable. As his hand touched her gown, she felt odd tugs there. She looked, saw tiny claw holes. She looked at Charlie. She saw the claws. Charlie saw her see. The expression on her face was of fear. Her mouth worked and her eyes were wide.

"How did we get up here?" He asked, his jaw jutting out, intense, mad, and questioning. He slammed a fist into the snow and snapped at her, "Hah? How did we get up here?" He shook his head at the snow, got to his feet, and offered a hand to help her up.

She looked at the cliff with worry and then at Charlie`s hand. Wincing, she put her hand in his. No claws poked through her fur, however. They were retracted.

Feline. She could even see it in his face, the patterns. A bobcat or lynx. And suddenly she was right up next to him and he was apologetic. He moved his head in preparation to speak, to apologize, to say he was sorry. Smiling to herself, Mandy turned from him and ran ahead into the woods.

When Charlie felt her leave his grasp, he looked with surprise at her running furred body and bounced into a run.

-=-

To their surprise, they found a cabin. They hugged each other in enthusiasm but Charlie quickly realized that it could be a trap. They approached it carefully and examined it thoroughly.

It was a sturdy structure, made of thick logs. It had a porch, and small windows. They crept inside. Bare floors greeted them. Electric outlets in the wall gave them hope, and not a single electric gizmo in the house dashed that hope. No lightbulbs in the sockets, nothing. Plus no food, no running water, no heat. But there was a fireplace, and there was much rejoicing when Mandy found a zippo lighter wedged between some floorboards. It was out of fuel, but they could use it for sparks on kindling.

In hours, they had a fire going in the fireplace. With all the windows and doors closed, the house began to warm up.

Night fell, and they just held each other in front of the fire. They began to droop into sleep when Charlie sat up with an intense look of realization in his furred face. He pulled out his badge and looked into it.

Mandy grabbed his arm in fright. "Honey, what are you doing?!"

He shrugged her off, and continued to concentrate. While Mandy looked at him in horror and worry, he closed his fist around the badge and closed his eyes. "Damn."

"What? What were you doing?"

He bowed his head, reluctant to respond. He gulped and whispered, "I was trying to return to normal."

A crawling fear began choking Mandy. She tried to speak, "Kak. You mean–––?"

Charlie just nodded, his eyes closed tight.

His wife stopped still, and then bowed her head. "I didn`t even think of trying to change back. I thought this was permenant. It feels permenant." She hugged Charlie with strength and understanding.

Her husband relaxed a little and looked up at her. She nodded and hugged some more, directing her gaze into the fireplace. "You know Charlie? On that cliff, I kind of decided that fur isn`t so bad."

Charlie turned a little toward her and said, "What about fur and claws?"

She squeezed him and said, "Well at least they`re retactable."

He sighed with weariness and relief. They fell asleep togeather on the hard wooden floor.

 

Pmp. Pmp – p – pmp. She stirred in her sleep, comfortable in the delusion of dream. The knocks came again, irregular and insistent. Waves of waking went through her, and the waves ended when her head reached a foot above its last position, her head pointing toward the door.

The first thing she noticed whats that she had white fur on her nose. Looking furthur, she saw that she had fur on her face, all over her body, and so did Charlie. Mandy whipped her head toward the thing sleeping with her and blinked at the brown and black spotted headfur that disappeared into his white dress shirt.

The earth then began to rumble as if a large train were passing by. The knocks on the door became much more frequent, although still erratic. Pum. Pu–pum. Pum. … P–p–p–POW–pum. Charlie moved and looked at her with still human eyes. She was looking at the window, listening to the knocks. It seemed as if the knocks weren`t at the door, but on one side of the house, as if something were hitting that wall with force.

Charlie`s face suddenly looked as if someone had stepped on his foot. "Avalanche!"

The two leapt to their feet and ran toward the door of the cabin. As they were scrambling, the noise became louder and louder, as if God`s bucket tractor was dumping a load of gravel into a sea of pillows. Mandy got to the door first, whipped it open, and took a step out onto the porch. It was then that she realized it was far too late. A cloud of snow was rushing like an aeroplane toward the cabin from her left. She screamed and pulled them both back in.

A bomb of snow went off on the side of the cabin, blasting open the tiny glass windows on that side and cracking the weaker sections of the wall. One section gave way and flooded that part of the house, coving the fireplace and extinghishing the fire. The floor leapt with the blow, as if it were a cat just poked from behind with a stick.

And then they were in darkness and, after a minute, complete silence.

"Charlie?" Came the delicate voice in the dark emptiness of the buried cabin.

"I`m here, Mandy." They found each other and hugged. They stayed there, just holding each other and breathing, shivering, trembling in fear. Mandy started to realize that the fur was feeling very good. Very good on her and very good on her man. Fear moved them to hold each other and not let go, each calming the other`s body. Mandy`s mouth quivered in the darkness. They both could die the next day. The warm house was now covered in snow, a weight that seemed all the closer in the darkness. Suffocated under a mountain of snow, never again to love each other…

Charlie kissed her. She desperately kissed him back. They both started their kissing on the shoulders, and they worked their way to the other`s mouth, eventually sucking face while caressing the other`s head with their hands. They got out of their respective clothing, and didn`t feel the least bit colder in each other`s arms.

 

Claws dug into icy snow. He cursed not for the first time that day and pulled back, sucking on his tired fingers to ease the pain and cold. Also not for the first time that day, he was feeling like crying. He didn`t know what he was going to tell Mandy. There was no way he was going to claw through this snow with his bare paws. He tried his badge even, but it did nothing. It didn`t even glow a little. With his light–depraved eyes, he was pretty certain he`d see something.

They`d lost the zippo lighter. It was buried with the fireplace and that half of the house. The both of them hadn`t eaten since the feast at Molloch`s. Although it felt like it was years away, that meal had been a scant two nights ago. And the hunger, starved, was now eating them.

Jittery, he made his way back in the darkness to the door, which was a pathetic 5 feet away. A warm hand touched his and he shouted in fear.

"It`s me, it`s me." Cooed Mandy.

He gasped, "Oh, Mandy. You scared me."

Her voice was concerned and soft. "How far are you?"

"Ah well…" He touched her arm in the darkness and patted her reassuringly. "Pretty far! I ––– Mandy, Mandy!" She was pushing past him and he weakly tried to stop her.

The white furred woman crawled through the narrow tunnel and felt the wall at the far end. Their hearts beat and their temperatures rose as the truth of the sitation lumbered into view, big and horrible and suffocating.

Seconds passed after Mandy stopped searching. The light was blindingly bright, a flash that illuminated the tunnel. Charlie gasped and turned his head toward her in concern. The light continued to glow long enough for Mandy to see her hands change shape as they held the small badge. They grew long non–retractable claws, tools much more suitable for digging. Her arms rippled too, muscles bunching in ways that nothing to do with waving goodbye or lifting a cheeseburger.

And then the darkness returned. A few seconds passed for Charlie. In those seconds, Mandy placed her paws on the side of the wall, feeling the texture of the ice for a moment and conjuring the idea of tunneling with those fresh new limbs.

Finally, the ice began to fly.

 

Charlie`s face was screwed up in the utmost turn of hatred and loathing. His throat hurt, his lungs were taxed, and he was on the verge of tears. On top of everything, he had the hiccups. It happened every time he ate snow.

The two of them were cold despite their fur, stalking across a frozen lake. They were hungry from three days without food. In a short amount of time, it would be too late. The human body could live for 7 days without water and, depending, weeks without food. But long before that, one gets weak, sick, decrepet…

Wolf food.

Mandy was keeping her furless paws under her arms. Not rabbit, she was sure. A rodent with pink skin. The two of them still had their dress clothing that Molloch had given them.

They stopped in the middle of the flat plain of nothing but snow. They rested there standing. Charlie rubbed his arms, getting the blood moving below the skin. He stomped around in a circle, miserable and hiccuping. Mandy shifted her weight from one leg to the other. She took some time to examine a hand.

Charlie glared at her as if she`d been doing that all day. He shook his head when she looked at him. He stomped around a little more, and then his eyes dragged back to look at Mandy`s. Her eyes were framed in the white fur. Against the snowy landscape, her eyes seemed to float in air. While he was simply looking into those dark pools, they turned toward him. A tired smile stretched out of the nearly invisible line that was her mouth. At that point, decision sat on Charlie`s face. He watched her for a second.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the badge. She put her hand on his and opened her mouth to speak. He held up a finger to her and looked away from her. He hiccuped. He too her hand way and said simply, "We need to eat."

Finally Mandy couldn`t take it. "But you don`t know what it`ll do, Charlie. You could wind up completely a cat, or… "

Charlie shook his head. "You can take care of me when we get home." He looked from her to the badge, and evoked its power.

His lynx furred arms bulged with muscles. His ears stretched and his head changed shape. Mandy could only look at his eyes. Right in front of her, she saw the white recede and the pinpoint pupil stretch into a thin verticle slit. The blue drained away and rich chocolate filled its place. The fur on his cheeks grew into two fans of ruff. His animal ears stopped growing, and then twitched forward then back as if to test the new muscles. Whiskers sprang from his lips, catching the wind. As Charlie gasped in surprise, Mandy saw needlelike fangs and she gasped also, clasping her naked paws to her face.

Finally, a tail pushed from his spine and into the black slacks. Charlie winced in pain, and arched around. As the blue glow was fading from the badge, he adjusted his pants up over his short tail. He then looked at Mandy.

She moaned once in fear. His face was wholly animal. A lynx with feral brown eyes and patterned fur, ruffed on the sides. Animal nose that sniffed the air. The mouth opened, revealing fangs. "Mandy, Mandy, it`s still me. Woah, I can still speak."

A moment of absorbing information took place, and then they fell into each other`s arms, hugging with conflicting emotions.

"Mandy, the scents. I can smell you, you`re a rat, but you`re you, too. I can smell the other animals, and I know I can get the drop on one now, and bring it back. It may be raw meat, but I think we can stomach it. We have to." He pulled back and looked into her still human eyes with love. "I`ll be back. Meet me in that grove over there. I`ll find you."

And with that, he began jogging toward the woods. Mandy found herself more concerned for his safety than for his humanity.

 

They were found. An areoplane was flying by, and so they came out from the trees and waved to it, hoping against hope for rescue. When it landed in the nearest lake, the door opened, and people got out. Charlie sniffed, and grabbed Mandy. "It`s Molloch`s goons. His scent is on them. We`ve got to get away!"

So they ran. They heard snowmobiles in the distance and the twosome hoped to elude them. But those motorcycles of the snow and their messengers of doom appeared from the forest and closed in on them. Mandy went down first, and then so did Charlie. His last sight was of the dart sticking out of Mandy`s white rat fur.

-=-

Mandy woke next to Charlie and sighed with relief. She took in her  surroundings and discovered that it was night. An encampment was about 40 feet away. For whatever reason, they were all still out in the wilderness. She rose to leave, but found that her feet were handcuffed at the ankles. The handcuff`s chain was extra long. It wrapped around a stout little pine tree and was cuffed to itself. A hangman`s noose around the trunk of the tree. Charlie was similarly cuffed.

She worked with the cuff on her foot, but couldn`t get it off even when she nearly cut her skin. She sighed in defeat, and then looked once more at her claws. If it had been knotted rope, she would have been able to work a claw into a knot.

Animal stories had been merging in her dreams. The lion gave the thorn in its paw to the rats in the Pit and the Pendulum that gnawed away the ropes…

Gnawed away the ropes. Mandy`s eyes flew from looking at nothing to looking at the tree. The rest of her head followed slowly. As another thought occurred to her, she reached into her pocket and found the badge gone. She shook her head with a "that wouldn`t have worked anyway" attitude, then blinked. Mandy had frequently gazed at the badge, memorizing its surface, the intricate meaningless details. What if evoking the badge had something to do with seeing it, and that`s why it didn`t work for Charlie back in the cabin. He couldn`t see it in his mind.

But Mandy could. She could easily see it right now. Out of gnawing curiosity (forgive the pun), she tried to evoke the image of the badge in her mind.

For a moment of effort, nothing happened. And then, her nose changed to a pink rat`s nose. Whiskers threaded out of the fur on her face. She felt her teeth grow in places, shrink in others. A terrible feeling of what have I done shone through in her face as it was enveloped in the features of rat. Her ears stretched and grew to round shapes. A sudden pressure in her dress, as if a finger were poking out, suddenly ripped it apart in the back. She twisted her body around to look. There was a long prickly rat`s tail growing out of her furry butt. It was swishing in fear, reflecting her emotions.

It was a few seconds later that she realized she`d stopped changing. She took stock of her new form. Rat gnawing teeth grew from her new muzzle. She guessed that her eyes were now an albino pink. The whisker sensations, the new scents from her nose, the feel of a heck of a lot more face than she used to have. She was thrilled and frightened.

Mandy found it was easier to shake off the feelings of horror this time. The feelings of losing one`s humanity in the features of an animal were less frightening and more inviting. She began chewing at the tree with her new teeth.

When she was halfway through, Charlie woke up. Mandy stopped, pulled back, held her paws to her chest, and looked at him. She waited for him to see her, see what she`d done.

Surprise, simple untainted surprise was evident in Charlie`s lynx face when his eyes hit hers. She rose a finger to her lips and went "Shh," pointing with her other paw at the partially gnawed through tree. Charlie smiled with worried gratefulness and Mandy continued her work.

Charlie held the tree as she worked through the last fibers holding top to bottom. He carefully lay the tree to the ground, gathered up his handcuff, and started sneaking toward camp.

Mandy immediately held his shoulder, shaking her head in fright. Charlie whispered, "I have a plan. Look over there." She followed his finger and saw it too. A tranquilizer gun and box of darts were just lying out in the open. "I`ll be as quiet as a mouse, Mandy."

She wapped him with a paw and he crept into the clearing. Slowly, silently, he stepped through the sleeping men. Over cases of beer, around passed out guards, and finally to the gun and box.

He silently loaded the gun with darts. Then, he carefully took a bunch of darts and proceeded to the first victim. A man with a big beard and cap lay in a sleeping bag in the snow. Charlie took a dart from his hand and poked it in the man`s neck.

"Uh!" The man said, and reached a hand to his neck. His eyes opened, his mouth opened, he said, "Hhhhh… " and was asleep. Charlie was thrilled with his success.

On to each victim he put them asleep in a similar manner, the gun always ready for any accients. As soon as they were all asleep, he ushered Mandy out of the woods. "I got `em all. Now, let`s get these cuffs off, get to that plane and get the hell out of here!"

 

"Get out of here. You`re kidding!"

"No, I`m not, Mandy. They didn`t have enough fuel to get back to Molloch`s mountain, and they certainly don`t have enough to get us to civilization."

Mandy looked out of the window at the vast Alaskan landscape that spread out below her. Far below her. She looked back to him. "Are we going to crash?"

"Not if I can help it. I played quite a few old prop–engine sims as a kid. I know how to fly this thing." But first he had to find a place to land. Someplace long and smooth. They were getting further out of the mountains now, but not much further. The land was still rough, the land still covered in snow and pine.

"By the way, Mandy. How did you change without your badge?"

Her paw unconsciously went to her whiskered rat face. She said looked down, then up at him and said, "You don`t need to have it to use it. You just have to see it. In your mind."

Charlie gestured with a free hand. "So… you just memorized what it looked like, and …"

Mandy nodded. "Yup."

At that point, the little plane neared a lake. Charlie took it.

Mandy was clutching her seat all the way in, despite her husband`s soothing words. As the wheels on the outside of the floaters touched down, there was a rough jarring. Charlie cursed as he realized a simple fact.

You don`t land a plane on hard packed snow.

The plane lost speed quickly as its nose dived into the ground. Mandy screamed and the plane flipped over, crashing into the ice of the lake, cracking it open in a long furrow as the the plane rolled.

And then it surged to a stop somehow on top of the ice, skidding along. Mandy was unconscious and Charlie wished he was. He mumbled, "Always buckle your safety belt."

He unstrapped himself, then Mandy. He reached behind the seat and took out the pack of supplies they`d stolen from the men. Pack on his shoulder and Mandy once more in his arms, Charlie set out across the lake. The map showed the way back to the human ecosystem.

 

Running again. This time, the men appeared out of some sort of black, magical disc. Men with guns. Charlie and Mandy somehow avoided the first shots, and initially lost them in the pines.

Running. Sandals hit snow. Muscles worked hard under fur. Cold air rushed in and out of lungs. Running.

Suddenly, it was just Mandy who was running. She realized this and stopped, looking behind her. Charlie was there, flinging away his tie, then unbuttoning his shirt. "Charlie, what are you doing!"

He didn`t say anything. His face was curled in rage, his lynx muzzle pulled away from his fangs. He kicked off sandals as he took off the white shirt. Mandy came up to him. "Come on, Charlie, they`re right behind us. They have guns. You can`t win."

Charlie whipped his head and looked at Mandy. "Oh, yes I can." He unbuttoned his pants then and pulled them off.

Mandy sputtered, gesturing at his clothes and trying to ask a question.

"I didn`t tell you?" He said as he slipped off his briefs. "I hunt naked."

And then he was up a tree. "Go on, take my clothes! I`ll catch up after I get rid of them!"

Mandy took a moment to try to make a logical conclusion come out of the situation. She couldn`t so she just grabbed the clothing and sandals and took off.

Not 60 feet away was a rope and wood bridge that spanned a river canyon. In the distance she distinctly heard rapids, but she couldn`t tell if it was upstream or downstream. She headed for the rope bridge, another 40 feet along the canyon. Once across, she entered the trees and got to a good hiding spot to watch the bridge. If someone was going to win, whoever it was was going to come across that bridge.

Minutes stretched on, and she heard shots and sounds of fighting from in the woods. Screams of pain that hurt her ears and heart came from the woods. Sounds that made her worry about how Charlie must feel about himself for killing another human. Another human. She agonized over the idea of humanity and their current bodies. How could they let this happen to themselves?

Then Charlie come out of the woods, rifle in hand. She stood and began running for him through the woods. And, in going through the woods, she missed seeing the guy with the black eye come out of the woods and up to the rope bridge.

When she did see the man, Charlie was still wholly unaware, being upwind from the guy. Mandy stopped and gasped, pointing behind Charlie.

As he turned, the man fast–drew his hunting knife and cut with all his might on a support for the rope bridge. Under the pressure of age and Charlie`s weight, the rope support spun loose. Charlie had brought his gun up by this point but his shot went wild. He tried to catch the bridge but missed. Mandy screamed. It was a full four seconds before Charlie hit the water.

Mandy couldn`t see him when his body impacted the river like a b–b shot into sand. Seconds later, she still couldn`t see him. She grew more and more anxious as he was still out of her sight. Then he burst through the water, whipping his head around and flailing his arms. Mandy`s heart leapt for joy. He was alive! He had a chance! He was keeping above water when he rounded a bend. Mandy immediately rushed along the cliff`s edge.

She soon found that the rapids were indeed downstream. Worry lanced across her face. She monkeyed her way along the cliff edge`s brush and scraggly trees, grasping trees for support and leaning out looking into the river from time to time.

And then she saw him. Charlie was… he was a lynx. He was the size and shape of a lynx. He must have evoked his badge again! Mandy gasped in despair. Her husband now walked on all fours!

The ground fell out from under her. Charlie`s clothes went flying into the river as she screamed. The brush she`d been hanging onto quickly broke apart in her grasp. As it did so, her body fit itself to the side of the cliff, her toeclaws searching for support. All was crumbling beneath her. All too quickly, her feet met air. Her arms scraped across rock. Her claws scratched into stone. She thought of the badge.

And then everything began to grow. The rock grew under her paws. The tiny crack next to her left paw grew in size, soon large enough for her to lodge a claw in. Her dress billowed out like a soap bubble. Her weight was suddenly next to nothing and the one claw in the crevice was more than enough to support her weight.

She screamed as soon as she realized what happened. "Nooo!"

"Mandy!" It was Charlie`s voice, but changed a little. The rapids weren`t as loud here so she could hear him. "Mandy, where are you? I can still speak, I`m still me!"

In a surprisingly low and menacing voice, Mandy grated out, "Charlie this has gone too far." She pulled herself up the cliff face bit by bit.

Charlie`s voice had an awed shade of pity. "Mandy…"

She climbed sideways a couple feet to a ledge and turned around to face Charlie while she shouted. "Look at me! Look at me!! I`m a rat!"

"Well look at me, I`m a Lynx!" Charlie did a spin on the rocks. He had climbed out of the river on the opposite side of her. "I had to do this before the branch I was clinging to broke!"

Fear was making her cry and mudding her words. "I`m not sure I even tried this time, Charlie! God, is it done, Charlie? How much farther can we change? All that`s left is…" She paused, and came back with more force. "All that`s left is our minds. Don`t think of the badge again, Charlie. We`re right on the edge. The edge, Charlie."

"I`ll keep it in mind." He barked up to her, "Get over here." Mandy frowned and climbed up the rest of the way, and then back through the forest to the rope bridge.

Mandy gasped in fright when she saw the goon that had nearly killed Charlie. He had a rifle now and the flesh around his eyes were creased under immense focus of power to his eyes. Mandy simply kept still against a stretch of snow and the guy walked right by her. After she felt she could breathe again, she continued on to the bridge. She climbed up to the remaining support and walk/waddled right over the rope, almost a bridge itself for her now.

Charlie was there on the other side, waiting for her. She leapt onto his back and crawled up behind the scruff of his neck, grasping with her clawed paws. Charlie winced here and there a little, but when he stopped, he turned his head a little back toward her. "Comfortable?"

"Yes." She clipped.

Charlie stood on all fours and jogged into the forest.

 

It had been weeks since they`d seen a trace of Molloch or his goons. They were getting closer and closer to civilization, according to the map.

Charlie wore the backpack, and inside it rested Mandy, who was more vulnerable to the direct cold now that she was so small. They`d finished the human rations six days ago and Charlie was back to hunting. Mandy drew the line at rodents, preferring rabbits or even other predators. Charlie told her to mind her own buisness about the predators and they laughed.

At night they talked. They discussed how they would approach the rest of the world. How they`d find a way back into humanity. With voice and mind, they could still convince people of their humanity. All they needed to do was get a good plan.

They were discussing what they`d do when confronted by the media and asked to do movies when Mandy and Charlie both jumped.

"What was that?" Said Charlie.

"You felt it too?"

The feeling grew stronger, more focused, as if an antimatter sun`s rays were slowly being focused on them by a really large magnifying glass. When dread filled them completely, a voice entered their minds. The voice of Molloch. "Aha, there you are!"

A black disk grew out of thin air and out stepped the white striped magician, holding Kanaar on a pillow. He bowed before the two magically paralyzed animals and smiled. "You lose."

-=-

The trip through the disk was like actually traveling back over all the landscape they`d covered. The forest shot by with unimaginable velocity. They were going through rock, through trees, through air, and back again faster than they could watch. And then someone hit the breaks. They slowed down and the husband and wife ––– the lynx and rat ––– watched Molloch`s Mountain blow up from a ridge on the horizon to a sheer cliff, looming up into the sky. As the mountain neared, they slowed enough to take in the detail of the cliff face before they moved through it.

All the while, blue magelight crackled and flared from a specific gem on the gaudy necklace of Kanaar. From there the magic fueled the whole effect. While Charlie`s eyes were riveted on the scenery with an acute tint of despair, Mandy`s were locked on the arcs of magic that sprang from the gem.

And then they emerged from another black disk and back into the real world. Or at least, back into Molloch`s world.

 

They hooked Charlie up to a machine. Strapped down, metal cap on head, electrodes pointed to his body. Mandy was hysterical yet paralyzed by Molloch`s spell.

They were going to die here. All their sacrifices, all the things they went through to get out of Molloch`s hands and here they were right back in them. She stewed on this a long time.

And then things started to clear away and she was thinking a little better. A question bubbled up. What was Charlie doing hooked up to a machine? Torture?

The door to the room opened. Mandy`s insides jumped. In came Molloch`s wife! She looked in concern around the room. She came over to Charlie and cupped his ruffed face in her hands. "Charlie, Charlie, listen to me. I don`t have much time. He`s going to use this machine on you to complete the transformation. It will take away your speech against your will. If you are to live, you must use the charm while the machine is warming up. You have plenty of time, because it takes over 6 hours to warm up. Once the machine breaks down, it will at the same time release you from your paralysis.

"You can then escape with me. I know some magic, I have a little mouse familiar, and I changed the charms I stole from Molloch to let you see magic more clearly. You`ve seen how he needs Kanaar`s collar to work magic. That`s my work. Do you like? That`s right, you can`t respond.

She went over to the wall and demonstrated pushing a rock away. "Here. Once you`ve broken the spell, escape through this secret passage. I have to go now. Good luck."

She then came over to Mandy. "I know rodents very well. I think I can free your movements." She put a hand over Mandy and the rat saw magelight shimmer from a pocket in the woman`s gown, where a mouse`s head poked out and blinked at her. And then Mandy was free.

And then the door swung open. The scantily clad woman gasped in fright as Molloch strode into the room. "Nice play, my dear. Too bad it didn`t work." His hand shot out at Mandy as she stirred for the first time in over half an hour. The rat found herself floating in midair. Molloch`s other hand shot at his wife, and she crumpled to the floor. "Men! Take her to my special chambers."

Only Mandy, from her floating position, could see the mouse in the woman`s pocket leave and scuttle off into the wall. Then two men picked up the lifeless woman and carried her out of the room.

Molloch smiled with fake sweetness and walked over to Mandy. He grabbed her by the tail and let the levitation spell drop. Mandy unconsciously began running in the air. She thought better of it and tried doing a stomach– crunch. She didn`t get up to the hand and fell back in defeat.

"Hmm… I wonder how much she told you." Molloch went over to the machine and spoke with conviction. "No matter. It`ll make no difference because both of you are under my complete control." He began fiddling with the controls with his free hand, and then suddenly paused. A smile crept over his face and he turned back the knobs he`d turned. He went in front of the machine and cupped Charlie`s feline head in a hand. "I`ve got a better idea.

"This thing takes too long, and there`s nothing on cable for a couple hours, so why don`t we do this in stead, hmm?" He held up Mandy, pulled out a knife, and said, "Either use the little charm that bitch gave you, or watch your wife…" Molloch carefully brought the knife right next to Mandy`s small body. "… Die."

Charlie`s eyes locked on Molloch`s in stark disbelief and fear. He looked with despair to Mandy, and then back to Molloch.

Mandy curled up on herself, grabbed the base of her tail, and hauled herself up to Molloch`s hand. By the time he looked at her, she had sunk her powerful teeth into the soft spot between his thumb and finger.

Screams of pain filled the chamber as Molloch tried to pry her teeth loose. He lost his grip on her tail, and she let go. Mandy hit the ground running and was behind a table by the time Molloch recovered. "Damn that bitch! I`ll kill her and her mouse!" His black and white striped head whipped back toward Charlie. "But as for you…"

He returned to the controls and started the sequence again. When he was done, small magical sparks began surging into Charlie every couple seconds.

Molloch left the chamber with a snarl on his lips. So what if Mandy escaped? What can one rat do?

 

The air around Mandy was stifling. She paused at another vent in the metal ventilation shaft and gasped through the slats.

She was beginning to see the game. And even with what Molloch said, it wasn`t over yet. Mandy was convinced that it was just beginning. The judge of the game wasn`t Molloch. It was fate. The goal of the game wasn`t to entertain Molloch. It was a fight to the finish. A fight for both their lives and their minds.

She was also beginning to see the rules. Magic flowed from nature. Something deep inside her was telling her that. An animal can channel that magic through beads or charms that it is in contact with. The magician visualizes the symbol on the charm, and that evokes the magic. The reason Mandy and Charlie could use the badges to work magic was because they were, by using magic, turning into animals. The skunk`s collar had gems in it, yes, but because of the mage sight given to them by Molloch`s lover, she could see the symbol inside the gem. And if she could get that collar away from the skunk, she could use the gem in stead of the skunk.

Or at least, that was the idea.

Her gasps of breath were mingled with pain of failure. She`d been looking for Molloch`s chamber for hours, days, she didn`t know how long. It felt like months to her. By now Charlie might be a Lynx. He might have his mind erased. He might not remember her any more.

Refreshed physically if not emotionally, Mandy rose to continue down the shaft when she heard Molloch stomping through the hallway. He looked horrible! He wore a dirty old shirt and pants, flip–flopping shoes, his hair was a greasy mess, and he looked like he was about 110 years old, not 60 like Mandy and Charlie had thought.

He passed beneath the vent, and then Mandy heard him stop a guard. His voice was different, too. Older, raspier. "Have you found that mouse? Dammit, without the collar I can`t work magic. I don`t work magic, you don`t get paid! Now find it!" Molloch then fell into a fit of coughing.

Mandy had seen where the mouse went when it crawled out of the woman`s pocket. She crept away from the vent, and then took off back down the shaft like a shot.

 

Charlie had lost all sense of time. In trying to keep track, he`d lost himself by being overrun by the numbers he was trying to count. Events lost connection to any sort of sequence. He was beginning to panic, wondering if the time had passed, wondering if it was done and this was the hell of being mindwiped and still conscious: living out the last few moments of his rational thought until he died.

And then a little mouse crawled up on the table in front of him dragging a gaudy collar. He recognized the collar from the one around Kanaar`s neck.

The mouse squeaked and shoved the collar in front. It continued to squeak and gesture at the gemstones. Was this Mandy? Did she evoke the badge and turn into a mouse somehow?

It stopped squeaking and sat next to the collar, looking at him intently. Waiting. So, he wondered what the heck he was supposed to do. He remembered that Molloch`s wife mentioned having a mouse familiar. Could this ––– ?

But what does it mean? Why did the mouse steal the collar? Well, mice like shiny things, but why bring it to him and squeak to him about it?

Charlie couldn`t figure it out.

The mouse squeaked louder, gesturing to the collar and drawing symbols in the air. Bells rang in his head, and he furrowed his brows, trying to think of it.

A minute later, a white rat that Charlie recognized by scent as Mandy appeared near the mouse. The mouse looked at Mandy, who said, "Yes, Charlie, I got it, I got it! This collar is the source of all of Molloch`s powers. If I could use it ––– "

The mouse ran over to her and nodded. "I can use it?" Mandy said.

It seemed to think about that. It shook its head and nodded its head, then held up a paw and stood on its hind legs to begin pantomiming.

It pointed to Mandy and made a gesture for something small. It poitned to the collar and made a gesture for something large. It did the same thing with itself and the collar, but the sizes this time were the same.

"You can use the collar?" Mandy asked.

The mouse shook its head.

"My power`s not the same size as the collar, but yours is." The mouse made a gesture for "kinda." "My power`s not compatible with the collar?" An excited and expectant nod. "Why not?"

Joy spread over the mouse`s face. It got up and pointed to itself and squeaked. It then pointed to Mandy and mouthed nonsense words. As it was doing that, it held up a paw and moved it as if it were a talking sock puppet.

"You mean…" The mouse looked expectantly at her. "The last bit to transform. My voice." The mouse nodded very enthusiastically. "That`s why Molloch needs to take speech from Charlie, because that`s the last bit of humanity he has left." More nods. "You must be completely an animal to access the powers of the collar?" Sober nods. Mandy demanded, "Why don`t you use it?"

The mouse kaked a few times and brought up a pearl. The mouse concentrated and a swirl of magelight snaked around it, a symbol apparent within. It gulped the pearl again.

"You`re bound to that specific pearl?"

Nods.

Mandy looked at Charlie. He blinked at her. She sighed and looked at the mouse. "I`ll be able to use the collar once I lose my voice."

Nods. Waiting.

Mandy walked over to the collar and looked into the symbols.The mouse came up next to her and waited. Mandy bowed her head.

"RRRooorw!" Charlie cried just as a blue flash came from him. The machine surged bright white lightning that was tinged the lightest shade of blue and exploded. Mandy and the mouse turned to watch the machine fall over. When it hit the ground, the straps that were mechanically holding Charlie down loosened and he broke free. He trotted up to the table where the mouse and rat were. The rodents on the table backed up for fear of their life.

"Rrrr. Rrrr." The lynx rrowl`d to Mandy.

His wife said in awe, "You used the badge."

Charlie nodded.

"Why, Charlie, why?"

He jumped up on the table, kicked the collar away, and yowled.

"You don`t want me to use the collar. Then you use it!" Mandy said, excited yet on the verge of tears. The mouse shook its head in regret as Charlie nodded and turned around to try. While his back was turned, the mouse pointed at him and pantomimed a dunce hat above its head. Mandy did her best to look insulted.

Charlie couldn`t use the collar. He didn`t know how. After a few minutes of trying, he looked back at the two rodents in frustration. He hung his head.

Mandy walked up to him, sat on her haunches, and patted his comparatively large furry side in understanding. She went up to the collar herself and placed her paws on it. The mouse scampered up next to her.

Magelight flared around Mandy as she evoked the last magic within the badge. As the light faded, she opened her mouth and gave a squeak, and then a couple more, looking at Charlie. Charlie mrowl`d back.

The mouse tapped Mandy on the shoulder and pointed to a specific jewel on the collar. Mandy nodded, and looked into the jewel. The etching of a symbol was faintly visible at its back. She examined the symbol, memorized it, and closed her eyes to visualize it. Then, she evoked it.

Knowledge flooded her, filling her up making her understand, know, see!

And it wasn`t a pretty picture. Charlie cried in fright as the elegant fixtures disappeared, being replaced by cave walls and crude wiring and ductwork. Illusion fell all around the three critters. The broken machine was replaced by a simple table, some electronics, and a computer. They soon found themselves in a room of the same size, but a lot cruder looking.

Charlie finished looking around at the scenery, and looked back at Mandy and the mouse with a confused expression. He pulled his head back in bewilderment when he saw that the mouse, too, was gone. He mewed his question but Mandy shook her head as if he couldn`t understand. Yet.

She gestured to him to come closer and she put the collar around his neck. She climbed up his fur to his back and straddled him. She kicked her tiny heels into his back and said like a cowboy, "Skwee – eek!"

The lynx groaned, "Murooow," and leapt off the table. By tugs on his fur, Mandy directed him to the door, which now they could see had a simple handle doorknob. Charlie stretched his body up to it and used a paw to pull the handle down. The door opened and they entered the complex proper.

Masked smells came to them now – fungus and rot, dust and gasoline, sweat and … well, things that belonged in a toilet and not on the ground. It had all been illusion. The cleanliness, the spectacular vaulted ceilings, the invigorating spring like air, all faked by magic. Charlie found himself questioning other things, too. He`d inspected the bed they`d first slept on from top to bottom. Everything looked real and felt real. It had substance.

How much of their struggle in the wilderness was more smoke than substance? Was there a line they crossed when they went down that secret passage where they exited Molloch`s house of illusion?

He looked behind him on his back. Mandy saw the question in his eyes and just patted him reassuringly. He turned his head back forward, a sinking realization spreading through him like a very slow shudder.

Just like the real Molloch Mountain complex, there were many passages and twists and turns in the place. They kept walking until finally, in a nondescript miscellaneous rough hewn stone corridor they found Kanaar next to a skinny man, bound up nearly completely in dark oily rags. Between the rags, the flesh seemed dried up completely. Two glass eyes stared out of the skull sockets.

Mandy and her mount/husband pulled up next to the two. Charlie was startled when the mummy head moved. He was captivated when it spoke.

"Charlie, you still don`t completely understand, do you?" You guessed it. It was the voice of Molloch. Beneath that dapper flair and evil exterior was this undead monster. Charlie was horrified. "Expected, actually. I certainly had the both of you fooled right until the end." The eyes moved creepily up to the rat. "Did you know, Mandy?"

She took a second to respond, but then she slowly shook her head.

A tired chuckle came from the wrapped lips. "You probably suspected a little, I grant you both. And now, of course, you know it all Mandy. The collar showed you."

Charlie was still linving in a land of confusion. The mummy continued to speak. "First of all, I am not Molloch. Never was. What is speaking before you is a golem."

The thing continued speaking even though Charlie was doing a double–take. "The real magician is Kanaar."

Now Charlie directed his gaze where Mandy was looking all along. The skunk was looking back at them. And, like everything else in the complex, a heavy amount of illusion had covered the truth. Kanaar was now jittery, weak with age. Fur was stuck together in clumps. Fur was missing in patches. All the fur was dulled and slightly greasy. But the worst was the eyes. Uncertain, wavering, milky from disease, and staring with a balefulness and hatred. Charlie gasped.

"And he`s not in the best of health. He didn`t want to do this. He hates people and general, and he definitely hated you two in particular. But he made a promise. He made a promise and he`d be damned if he didn`t keep it!" The mummy took this opportunity to break apart. Luckily, the skull was still left. As if there were a connection, a rumble jiggled the ground, rolling through the mountain ominously.

Kanaar, weak, lay down and rested. His eyes drooped. "He promised his father that he`d pass on the last magic in the world and humans can`t use magic, Charlie. Never could. In the past, you can guess the true relationship between familiars and magicians. Oh, no. Not enough time…" The skull began to crumble and a fresh rumbling shuddered through the mountain. "Here it comes."

As the skull continued to deteriorate, Mandy kicked her heels urgently into Charlie and squeaked with fright. Charlie bolted down the passage. Behind them, the hallway bearing Kanaar and his golem collapsed, throwing dust and debris into the passage like a couple hundred gallons of kool aid in water.

Charlie dodged debris and crawled under fallen beams. The rumbling seemed to come in waves, quieting down and then shaking to life again. As Charlie was running full–bore down a passage, another surge shivered over the rock. And it`s very disconcerting watching rock shiver. Charlie tried to redouble his efforts but rocks kept thundering down in front of him, slowing him down to dodge. And then a rock caught him in the flank. A feline syllable of pain wrenched through the air. He saw a crevice and scrambled lithely into it. The crevice as a dead end. Debris continued to rain down. Charlie moved his body a little as the rocks stopped falling above them. His passage back was blocked too. They were trapped.

"RRRooorl" Charlie said forlornly. Mandy friendly patted his head. She fumbled with the collar, searching for a specific gem. The gem she saw flare as they were traveling via the black disk.

Magic blue light flashed brightly in snaking lines from Mandy to in front of them where the black disk grew. Charlie didn`t need prodding from his wife to crawl forward into the disk. As soon as he was through the disk, they shot off into the horizon.

-=-

Arthur`s Notes:

I like Mandy and Charlie. There might be some more stories to tell of their adventures left in these flying fingers. I also sincerely apolagize for any weirdness in this plot. You remember I threw out like 2 pages per post of my Wilder series? I threw out like 2 sentences per post of this series. But I like a couple scenes. Especially the one where Mandy changes from human size to rat size. I`m trying to draw that puppy in my spare time.

A Dangerous Game copyright 1998 by Picklejuice.

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