Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The "Best" RPG Ever-10

Ray looked up at the description once more. "Illusionist: Those who have pierced the veil, and are able to both see beyond it, and manipulate it to fool the senses of others. A support class, illusionists have little in the way of raw fighting prowess, but possess a natural instinct in social situations that more battle-oriented classes often lack."

And below was a cloud of smoke. That was what it looked like, at least. "Guess I'll just..pull this smoke out then," he said.
"Get on with it," said Lyle, crossing her arms and quickly uncrossing them, frowning at the breasts her arms had just come into contact with a small bit of red on her cheeks.

"Anything for you, bud." He reach his hand into the smoke, and couldn't quite find anything to hold onto. Looking back up at the message box, he found that its text had changed to indicate that he should "look into the smoke" to confirm the selection. So he bent over and awkwardly stuck his head into the smoke.
He pulled back out again, immediately regretting having done that. "Ow!" His eyes were stinging and tearing up. He rubbed his eyes a few times, and they cleared up..but there was still smoke around them. In fact, there was smoke obscuring his vision entirely. "What the.."
"You okay in there, Ray?"
"Yeah, I just can't..see...whoa.."

What Ray saw was not quite comprehensible. It was as if the smoke presented an image of everything at once to his eyes, and somehow everything seemed to make sense. He could very briefly see that the smoke wasn't even there at all, and neither was he; there were just numbers, which pulled together into words and more numbers, and images and feelings and scents and sounds..and as quickly as the strange experience began, it was gone.

"Where'd it go?" he said, looking around, confused.
In fact, the smoke seemed to be gone. "The smoke? Went straight into your eyes. Didn't that..hurt?"
"Mostly no..only at first, actually. And then I saw..oh man, I have no idea how to describe it. But I..hm?"

Ray had to pause when he looked at Lyle. He could see some text over next to her head..but he knew somehow it wasn't exactly there. The first row said "Lyle – F Human", the second said "Elemental Archer", and the rest looked like a bunch of stats. While he was looking at that, he noticed that Lyle's head seemed to be moving up ever so slightly, even though Lyle wasn't actually moving.

"Hmm.." He ignored Lyle's question briefly, instead holding up his hand in front of his face to try and look at his own 'text'. He wasn't sure why he thought it would show up if he did that, but it did. The first couple of lines said "Ray – M Human" and "Classless", but a bit behind that, seemingly moving up toward the closer text's place, there was another pair of lines, saying "Ray – F Vulpin" and "Illusionist". "I don't think you'll be the only one turned into a girl," he said finally.

"Are you sure? You don't look..wait, no, you were taller than me.."
"Mm-hm." Ray nodded, and he could feel his hair swishing slightly as he did, beginning to grow longer. Then he could feel a slight pulling sensation from his ears, like they were being stretched out by some invisible force. At the same time, his skin started tingling, and he could feel a gentle tugging between his legs. "Here it comes.." he muttered, bracing himself. Lyle had made this look painful.
But it didn't hurt, actually. The tingling was a little uncomfortable, but it subsided after a few seconds, leaving his skin feeling strangely smooth. He could feel air brushing against little hairs on his ears, and they were clearly longer than before, taller especially; his hair was already down to his shoulders, and now he could see by his bangs that it had turned a bright, reddish shade of brown. He could feel his clothes moving around, and looked down to see his shirt and pants both turn to white cloth, the pants spreading out into sort of a straight skirt, but then splitting into four pieces, the front, back and two sides, with the tears between the pieces reaching up nearly to his hips. The sides stayed long, while the front and back rapidly shrank up his legs to the thighs; little bits of red string tied the top parts of each section together.
He felt a gentle pushing on his arms, legs, and stomach, and an outward pull from his hips. His shirt became tighter on his waist, some kind of tall blue belt forming there with a rope pulling it close. As his shoulders pulled in, the collar fell off of his neck and shoulders, the sleeves becoming much wider and roomier near the wrist, but tighter on the biceps.

"Mm.." Ray closed his eyes, listening to a higher voice than his own coming from his throat. His hair brushed against the back of his thighs, and the gentle tugging between his legs subsided into a strange, very brief numbness. The feeling that came back after that informed Ray that he definitely wasn't male anymore. "Ah!" Her eyes opened at a sudden jolt from her chest, and looked down to find two quickly-growing bumps under the top that used to be a shirt. The shirt and pants had turned into a single garment by now, with a purple trim along the very wide, deep neckline and down the middle of the chest. As they continued to grow, Ray felt something like an appendage unrolling itself from behind her back as a long, thick-furred tail made its way out and began swishing around of its own accord.
As her chest continued to push out, Ray found her hands holding some short, thin objects—folding fans, she figured out by a look—and felt a small necklace falling across her neck, followed by a mild pull from either side of her head as some hair ornaments formed and brought sections of her hair into a pair of very long ponytails. Finally, her chest stopped growing at a very generous size, and she sighed slightly, idly opening up one of the fans with a hand.

"Phew...that didn't feel too bad," she said, "weird, but not bad."
"Haha, wow, did you ever get the short end of the stick," said Lyle.
"What d'you mean?"
"What..your clothes, that ridiculous hair, not to mention the uh," she pointed at her own breasts for a second. "I mean, I thought having a skirt was bad, but at least I'm wearing a shirt still."
Ray looked down, walking in a small circle to get a better look at what Lyle was talking about. "I think it looks nice. The tail's different, though.."

"How are you not concerned about having huge boobs."
"Weell..if I have to be a woman, I might as well be well-endowed, right? Maybe I can use it to our advantage, huh?"
"If you say so. I think the game screwed with your head."
"That's possible. I think I can see your stats. Mine too."

"I guess that's useful." Lyle walked into the circle that had replaced the class-picking pedestal.
Ray started to do the same with her own circle, but hesitated a moment. "Oh, wait! Maybe we should have character names! You know, for better roleplaying."
"Mmmgh, okay. I'll be Lynn, then."
"Great! Call me Rayna. I guess Ray for short if you forget."
"Whatever. Just get on the circle thing already."
"Oh, Lynn. I'm already there." The archer did a brief double-take as another copy of the fox-woman was suddenly standing on the circle, and then the one she had just been talking to disappeared.

Zack woke up in the inn room the party had rented the night before, lying on top of the bed, still in the torn-up underclothes he'd fought the wolf in. He sat up and looked around; it was late afternoon by the light through the windows, and Nora was lying upside down in her own bed. The others weren't there.

He moved his feet to one side of the bed, then stopped, finding a large lump of white fur in the way. After taking a few seconds to register the situation, Zack swung his legs around to the other side of the bed and stood up, and then went on to the door. The wolf stood up and followed him. He looked at it for a couple of seconds before shrugging and heading out and down the stairs anyway, the animal in tow.

Mika was sitting at one of the tables, which were mostly empty, and waved at him. "Mornin'! You're awake sooner than I thought."
"Well, I feel fine," said Zack. "Not sore or anything. Weird."
"Blame the RPG mechanics. Hey, doggie!" the witch reached out a hand to try and scratch the wolf's ears, but he drew back and growled at her. "Aww.."
"Do you not remember the part where it tried to kill us?" said Zack.
"I remember. All the more reason to try and make friends now, right? Powerful allies and all."
"..Did you leave my armor and weapons out in the middle of the road?"

"No, of course not!" Zack waited a few seconds without saying anything. "Well, I mean, at first we did, because everyone forgot and we were way too tired to pick up all that heavy stuff, but then a couple of people from the town guard brought it to the inn an hour ago and put it up in the room. You didn't see them?"
"I guess I wasn't looking. Was everything there, at least?"
"I think so? It was all kind of bundled up, but the gloves and leggings were on top and I saw two swords sticking out."
"Good enough." Zack paused after a second, realizing his hand had been playing with his hair just then, and slowly lowered it back to the table.

"Oh man, isn't having long hair weird?" said Mika. "I mean, it's all swishing around and brushing your stomach or leg or something. But I don't even notice it when I'm fighting stuff."
"Yeah," said Zack. "It's like whoever designed this..game..was willing to bend the rules of physics to make ridiculous hair practical for battle."
"I dunno, I mean, if there was a female knight who always kept her hair like that, don't you think she'd learn to maneuver around it?"
"Maybe, but it'd be a stupid handicap to work with while learning to handle deadly swords. Especially since you can literally just cut it off and not have to deal with it."
"But what if it was someone who was just that dedicated to having nice, luxurious, long hair?"
"Mh." Zack shrugged.

He felt a little hungry, so he waved at one of the waiters around and ordered some food. Mika did the same when the waiter offered.
"So, uh..you feel great, then? Not sore or tired or anything?" said Mika.
"Yeah. More RPG mechanics at work, I guess."
"Maybe you're just physically that good. Anyway, um..so you would be able to fight at full strength, like, tonight at midnight if you needed to?"
"I guess so. I mean, I just slept. Why, you have all the ingredients for the dem—uh,the, thing already?" Mika had put a hand to her lips rather quickly when he almost said 'demon'.
"Heehee, I thought you'd never ask. I'm sure we're more than strong enough by now to beat whatever will show up the first time, and Katherine said she'd be up for it. I dunno about Nora though, she's been conked out longer than you have."
"I suspect if we told her we wanted to do that tonight, she'd agree. Where'd that cat-girl go, anyway?"
"I dunno. She said she'd come here to lie down and rest when I went to go buy things, but when I got here she wasn't. Innkeeper said she left a little before I came in."

The Psion held a knife close to each hand, and the freshly-bought one in the middle and up slightly, a third point of the triangle. She faced the human-shaped bunch of straw, prepared, and then started swinging, hacking, slashing, and stabbing at it as quickly as possible. It didn't take very long to lose control of the extra knife and drop it, and she stopped, panting slightly, shortly after that.

Someone picked up the knife and offered it, hilt-out, to her. It was the guard captain. "You know, hacking at things with a weapon like that isn't going to get you anywhere. Even if you have a lot of force behind it, it's just too small to make a big cut," she said.
Katherine took the knife telekinetically, moving the three to one side of her and keeping them bundled like one object to save concentration. "So what, just stab things all the time?"
"Not all the time. I mean, if a little cut is enough to do some harm, go for it. But you have the advantage of being able to pick things up from a distance..so I would suggest throwing them. Especially if you're planning on making a collection of it."

The captain stepped back, and Katherine tried throwing one of the knives at the dummy. It landed square in the "head", and the human woman pulled it out again. "Your aim is good, but if you want to make longer distances or a better impact..." she said, walking several steps away from the dummy before suddenly turning around and tossing the knife. It buried itself down to the hilt in the middle of hte "chest". "...Let gravity do the hard work."

With that, the captain of the guard walked away.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The "Best" RPG Ever-9

Lyle sat up, opened his eyes, looked around groggily for a second, and lay back down. Then he bolted straight back up again, the impact of his surroundings finally hitting. He was in a white..room? It's hard to call something a room when it doesn't seem to have any entrances or exits. Just a strange enclosed space where all the walls, the floor, and the ceiling all look the same. Anyway, whatever kind of location it was, the only thing of note were the two circular pedestals with..hologram things floating around above them, the..was that a text box?..and..Ray.

Ray was here too. He was still lying down, unmoving. "Ray! Hey!" Lyle hopped up onto his feet and went over to Ray, kneeling over and shaking him. "Wake up."
"Mmghschrhmb'll hssn't rng 'et.." muttered his friend, turning over onto his side.
"Ray. Wake up, it's me Lyle, you have to see this, man!"
"Wzz..wha?" Ray spun himself around awkwardly until he was sitting up, leaning on his hands, looking wide-eyed around the not-room. "Lyle? What the heck—where are we?"
"I don't know. Last thing I remember we were sitting in front of the computer—"
"—waiting for that weird game we got to load, yeah, me too," said Ray, nodding. "So how'd we get here?"
"I don't know, abduction by..video game? Magic or something?"
"Magic isn't real, Lyle,"
"I know, but how else do you explain this?" he said, gesturing around.

"Uh..gonna need a while on that." Ray stood up and looked at the message box, reading it. "Huh..you know, the game was supposed to be an RPG, right? Maybe this is it."
"How exactly can this be a game? Ray, we are standing in some kind of white capsule. How is this place even lit up?"
"No, no, bear with me..maybe this is like, some kind of super-advanced VR tech or something?"
"What, activated by a CD on your computer? Ray, your computer has trouble playing Doom."
"That was just an overloaded mod, man. Anyway, it's the best I've got. I don't think they're gonna let us out of here unless we do what the text box says, anyway."

Lyle shook his head and walked up to one of the pedastals. "So what, I'm supposed to drag this hologram somehow?" he said, trying to grab hold of it and nearly losing his balance when his hand unexpectedly found something to hold on to. When he got the thing he was holding to go in a direction, the message box split into two smaller ones, one above the pedastal Lyle was messing with, and another above the other one. Lyle's box was a brief description of the knight class, along with a note it was already taken.

"So you think..you think we're somehow still sitting in our room in front of the computer, with the recorder running, and, but we're like zoned out and controlling virtual bodies on the screen?" said Lyle.
"I dunno," shrugged Ray, "good a guess as any."
Lyle scrolled through the next couple of classes, ranting as he read. "Why do they leave the class in the selection list if someone already took it? Why can't two people have the same class, anyway? And..who else is in this game?"
"Are you asking me questions? Because those sound like questions I can't answer," said Ray.
"I'm just talking, Ray. According to your theory, we should still be commenting on all this, right? Show's still going?"
"I dunno, man, that's just your version of the story. And even if you're right, Something this intensive, even my glorious computer would probably have to close some programs to run it smooth. I bet if the recorder is still running, it'll be choppy and out-of-sync as heck. No good for the show. What're you gonna pick, anyway?"

"Uhhh...oh, hey! An archer class. I know how to shoot bows. Think it'll give me a skill bonus or something?"
He read the description to himself while his friend talked: "Archer: Ranged fighters, specially suited to dealing large amounts of damage from afar. Archers lack in melee capabilities, but have the speed required to stay out of such situations in most cases. Usually one who chooses to become an archer has no particular magical affinity or talent; being so mundane is both a blessing and a curse."
"That doesn't sound like a fair game, Lyle. I mean, what if you were playing a fighting game and actually knew karate, and it detected that and gave you free bonus health and powerups? That'd suck for everyone else, wouldn't it?"
"It'd make gamers exercise more, that's for sure. I'm goin' for it anyway." Lyle pulled on the hologram of a longbow, and soon found himself holding what appeared to be a rather real wooden longbow in his hands. His message box changed to something rather unusual, which he looked up to read.

It said, "Preexisting skills detected. Please select a Prestige Class."

Lyle fist-pumped with his free hand, "Hah! I was right. Let's see what they got." The prestige classes had no description other than their names: Elemental Archer, Psionic Archer, or Grand Archer. "Hmm..I get it," said Ray, "I bet the grand archer keeps the whole 'mundane' theme going, but you get way better at shooting bows. And then, the other two give you, like, supernatural arrows or shooting powers or whatever."
"Well, duh," said Lyle. "What d'you think I should pick? What are you gonna pick?"
"I dunno, Illusionist sounds pretty cool," said Ray.
"Sounds to me like a class that can't fight," answered Lyle.
"Well, maybe not do a lot of damage. But I can make a lot of distractions to keep enemies off your back so you can focus on shooting 'em. I'm thinkin' of you, man."

"Well..I think if I'm gonna do one of these, just getting better at shooting bows is kinda boring. I mean, this is clearly a game full of magic, right? It'd suck to play it all the way through and not get to use any magic, huh?"
"Up to you, man."
"I'm goin' for Elemental," said Lyle, pulling out the small storm of various pulsing colors representing that particular class. Once he was holding the strange mass in his hand, small bits of each color represented snaked out from it and seemed to curl their way around his arm, and then beyond that to be around his whole body.

"Whoa!" Lyle panicked and flailed around for a second or two, but whatever the stuff was, it moved with him, and wasn't quite solid. Besides, after a few seconds it constricted and apparently absorbed itself into his skin. "What the..that was a weird effect," he said, shaking his head.
"Hey, it changed your eyes," said Ray, pointing as if Lyle could see his own eyes.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I mean I'm pretty sure they weren't purple before, is all."
"Oh. Maybe purple is magic? I—whoa.."
"I don't know, I just felt something weird. Like a..tingly feeling. It's kind of..not itchy, but..aagh, there it is again."

Ray looked carefully, and noticed that Lyle's skin was clearly turning paler, and his facial hair looked much thinner. He didn't have time to communicate that before Lyle suddenly dropped the bow and folded his arms, shuddering.
"Aah! What the..heck.." he said, as his body suddenly started shifting. He became thinner everywhere, all at once, and his shoulders fell a bit, pulling in his frame. His shirt turned all white with a ring of black at the end of each sleeve, and his jeans turned into white cloth and started pulling up from his ankles. "My..body's..squeezing.." he said as he continued to shrink. He became no shorter, but before long his arms and legs looked much smaller, and his face seemed a bit rounder in shape, and very smooth, the last of his facial hair having left it.
Lyle shuddered again, his arms clutching each other tightly, as the shrinking faded off. His hair grew out, gaining long bangs and framing his face but stopping just below chin-height; it turned bright blue in color, and two hair ornaments in the shape of five-petaled flowers appeared on one side, just above the ears. Meanwhile, the hems of his pants found their way all the way up to his thights, before the pants themselves spread out into a single skirt with a couple of vertical blue stripes. His shirt pulled slightly tighter against his slim body, showing a bit of an inward curve to the sides of his stomach. Its collar grew out and folded down, a blue ribbon with a bow in front forming around the neck.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" Lyle yelled, his arms separating off to his side as if they had been forced there by something. As he yelled, his voice audibly rose in pitch more than an octave, sounding by the end like a girl's voice, and Lyle's chest grew out, pushing two large, round bumps out into the shirt. Finally, as her tense posture relaxed slightly, a quiver full of arrows appeared on her back, the strap wrapping its way over her shoulder, down between the new bumps of her chest, and down the other side, and a glove appeared on her right hand.
Lyle looked down at herself in shock. "W-what the..did I..? I'm..!" She moved her legs closer together, blushing slightly, and paused a second or two.
Ray started, "Um, are you--?"
"Why did I just turn into a girl?!" she yelled.
"Well, uh, maybe Archer is a girl-only class or something?"
"But I picked Archer already, and nothing happened!"
"Maybe just Elemental Archer? I don't know. Just how..?"
"I feel very much like I'm not a guy anymore, thanks," interrupted Lyle.

"You definitely look the part. Actually, you're pretty cute."
"Not helping."
"Well, look, it's just part of the game. If they had real virtual reality and you picked a female player to play this would be a pretty cool feature, right?"
"Yeah, if I actually wanted to play a girl in that. Here I had no warning or..or anything! And the way it did that was really weird. Why make me actually feel like my real body is being turned into a girl, instead of just..doing it instantly?"
"Maybe it can't do that, since your real body was already in the game? I dunno."
"Ughhh, whatever. Let's just get on with this. Sooner we get out of this game the better."

"You do know once we get out of here all the NPCs and even any other players are gonna see you as a girl, right?"
"Just pick your class, Ray."
"Okay, okay."

Mika came along with her broom, and she and Nora helped Katherine pick Zack up and position him where he wouldn't fall off. The wolf looked up and growled.
Still listening for his communication, Katherine heard, Where are you taking her?
"Somewhere safer," she answered, looking at the wolf in hopes of not confusing the others.
I am here. Nowhere is safer.
"You wanna carry her on your back?"
He snorted. I am no burden-bearer.
"You'd do it if Zack told you to, though, wouldn't you?"
What the alpha commands is done. You are not the alpha.
"Well, you can come with us if you want, but I've known her for longer than you have, and I know she wouldn't like it if we left her out here in the middle of the road."

Mika got on the broom behind Zack, hugging him awkwardly from behind. "I can keep her steady, but I can't see where I'm going," she said.
"Just follow me," said Nora, starting to walk. Katherine followed the pair on the levitating broom, and after they got a few yards off she could hear the wolf standing up and treading along behind them.

"So why were you blocking the road anyway?" she said, looking back at the wolf.
I am strong, to others worthy alpha. I have no direction. Desired a worthy alpha with direction.
"And you think she has direction?"It matters not. She is worthy alpha.
"What made you challenge her in the first place instead of running off like before?"
Others were not even worthy to challenge. Form is man, but scent is wolf. Worthy to challenge, and proved worthy alpha.

When they made it to town, the guards looked at the group, then at Zack, and then around the broom at Mika. "What did you do to her?" asked one of them.
"Besides carry her here, nothing," answered Nora, frowning. "She tired herself out fighting that one," she added, pointing to the wolf in the back.
He gasped. "Ye gods, that's the.."
"Yes it is," said Katherine, giving a grin just shy of being a smirk. "He considers Zack his 'alpha' now, won't be making any more trouble for you guys."
"Oh, that's great news!" said the other guard. "We should tell the Captain immediately!"
"You mind helping us with Lady Zack first?" said Mika. "I don't want to bump into people all the way to the inn."
"Uh, sure," said the guard who spoke first. The two guards picked up Zack, and Nora led them to the inn, the wolf following a bit more closely now that there were so many people around. Nora was a bit surprised at how few of them reacted to the giant wolf in tow..then again, she thought, a few of them looked like they were part wolf or cat or bird or other things, too..

Katherine and Mika went to report that the job was done and claim the rewards. "'Lady Zack'?" said Katherine.
"Well, it makes sense, right? That's what you call a female knight, just like you call a male knight 'Sir Whoever'."
"Shouldn't it be 'Ma'am Whoever?"
"It'd be Madam. They didn't have that slang in the Middle Ages."
"They also didn't have female knights."
"There were a few..maybe..and even if not, it makes sense for any fiction with female knights to call them Lady. Whole lot more than Sir, for sure."
"You know she's gonna kill you if she finds you called her 'Lady', right?"
"Risk worth taking," said Mika with a grin.

Once the reward was safely in the party's inventory, Katherine started toward the inn, Mika following. "Well, I'm gonna lie down for a while. I'm beat."
"I'll be with you in a little while..I think I can probably afford what I need to s..uh..do that thing, you know, that I need to do," said Mika, deciding against using the phrase 'summon a demon' in the middle of town.
"Sure. Maybe we can do that tonight, you think? Since after that fight, all anyone's gonna do this afternoon is lie down and rest anyway."
"Sounds good. I mean, if Zack's okay with it."
"Why do you care so much if she's okay with it?"
"Well, you know, she's pretty much been doing all the heavy lifting so far. Wouldn't be surprised if it happens again~."
The cat-girl shrugged. "See you later."

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Strange Book

I originally meant to use this image for a sequel or prequel to "Intelligence", what with the glasses and all, but it didn't come out that way, and I'm okay with that.

Also, I'd like to call attention to the fact that I've started adding new pictures to the caption challenge blog, which is here. If anyone's still interested in doing those, that is.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The "Best" RPG Ever-8

Breakfast the next morning was provided with the night's stay. After they had ordered their food, Zack looked across the table at Katherine, almost glaring. "What exactly happened last night?" he said, directly.
"Oh, well..I found out that being a Psion makes sleeping very different," she answered. "Basically, I have much more control over the parts of my mind that other people usually aren't aware of, so I have a lot of control over my dreams. And with the mental communication skill, I can actually look in on, and even enter, the dreams of anyone sleeping nearby. But I don't have any real control once I'm there, except over myself and whether I stay or leave. I could sort of tell you were having a bad dream, and I wanted to help, but I didn't really have enough influence to do anything. Really, sorry about that."

Zack glared for another few seconds, and then sighed and uncrossed his arms. "..It's all right," he said, "just please don't do it again without warning me before I go to sleep."
"So, did you go in my dreams after that?" asked the witch. "I think I remember something about a black cat with your voice...and a bunch of dark, gothic structures..um.."
"Yeah, I did for a while. It was always so dark in there, and it visually looked like what I'd expect from a nightmare, but I could tell it wasn't one because you were pretty happy and calm the whole time."
"Sooo, was it not a normal dream?"
She shrugged. "I dunno. I've been in exactly two dreams that weren't mine, and I never really researched this kind of stuff before. But it was fun, at least."
"Good enough for me!"

"Uh, what're we gonna do today?" asked Nora.
"Well, I need to buy some things," said Zack. "And then I guess we'll go on another job."
Mika looked over at him. "What kind of things?"
"Nothing expensive. I just want something to wear that isn't armor. This is surprisingly comfortable for what it is, but I can't sleep in it, and it'd be nice to have something lighter to wear."
"Well, while you're doing that maybe you can sell that quiver we found," said Katherine. "And the rest of us can find a job to do."
"Yeah, that'll save some time," he said.

"You seem awfully trusting of our judgement on that," said the Psion.
He shrugged. "Considering I approved of the last one, and it still turned out to be ridiculously hard, I don't think you can do that much worse. Just make sure to get whatever information you can from the town guard first. If they think it's way too much for us, then reconsider it."
"Makes sense," said Katherine.

"Um..dire wolves?" said Nora. "I've always kinda..wondered what 'dire' means."
Mika had the paper, and the others were looking over her shoulder. "It's basically just a really nasty wolf," said Katherine, "bad enough to count as a monster instead of an animal. Zack and I ran into one right when we started. They're not too hard to kill."
"Hm, yeah, just one maybe, but are you sure about a whole pack of them?" asked Mika.
"Well, this bill comes from the guard, and it's out on the main board. So they must not think it's too big a deal, either. C'mon, let's ask them."

She went over to a nearby guardsman, the witch and weaver in tow, and said, "Hey, what do you know about this wolf pack business?"
The guardsman held out his hand and Mika gave him the bill. After a quick glance he said, "Oh, that. There's this pack of dire wolves blocking the south road. It's a real pain, 'cause every time a bunch of fighters go out to kill the pack, the dern alpha keeps getting away and then goes and finds a new pack somewhere. But the road's usually clear for a month or two after, anyway. The alpha does attack, but not as much as it could. Doesn't want to take a risk at gettin' seriously hurt, I'd wager. So...just about anyone can clear them off if you're careful."
"Huh. Any idea why that alpha keeps blocking that particular road?" said Mika.
He shrugged. "Nope. It's real strange, too, they don't attack people who go far enough 'round, even if it should by all rights take 'em through the pack's natural territory."

"So we're fighting a pack of dire wolves," said Zack, looking over the job paper.
Mika answered, "Yep!" The four players were standing on the south edge of town.
"You do know that based on this they outnumber us two to one, so at least one is gonna pounce at each of us, right?"
"We'll manage," said Katherine, starting to walk down the south road.. "Anyway, didn't you say you wouldn't object?" The others followed.
"I'm not objecting, I'm just making sure everyone understands. You okay with this, Nora?"
The elf-girl nodded. "Yeah. I figured out how to pull up some of the earth fairly fast, so I should be able to knock away anything that gets too close."
"By the way, did you actually spend any of your skill points?" asked Katherine. "Having some new skills might actually come in handy."
"Um..I don't really have any," said Nora.
"You get them from killing stuff. But I meant Mika and Zack."

"I have a few more passive abilities that make me better at fighting, and a weak heal spell," said Zack. "And I can switch between that defensive form and this one whenever I want now."
Mika nodded. "I learned to throw more dangerous pumpkins. Also, a demon summoning spell, but that takes some preparation. Until I absorb another demon that's about all I can learn to do."
"So wait, you can summon demons?" said Katherine.
The witch raised her hands, palm-up. "Yeah, but I can't control them. I think the idea is that I can make a demon appear, kill it and take its essence, so I can get more powerful even if whatever quests I take on don't have me fighting any demons. The catch is that for every essence I've absorbed, the demon summoned is lots more powerful. Which means I..or you guys..have to be good enough to beat something more powerful. But then, of course, I get that much more power from absorbing it, too. I think we could already handle what would come out now, though."
Nora said, "So..shouldn't we do that as soon as possible so you'll be as powerful as you can be?"
Mika shrugged. "I have to get some components and things, probably by buying them, and a clear space, preferably away from town so the townsfolk don't have to see it and get even more suspicious of me. Also it has to be after dark. I was gonna mention it at some point, but I figured there wouldn't be a point to talking about it yet."

They continued walking for a while, until eventually the shapes of a bunch of wolves showed up on the road ahead. "That's our mark," said Katherine.
Zack deadpanned, "Thank you for stating the obvious."
"Well..I thought maybe one of you guys didn't see it." They kept walking, and stopped five or six yards away from the wolves.
"Wow..those guys look pretty terrifying," said Nora. "It's..kinda creepy. They're just standing there, watching us."
"Their goal is apparently to block the road," said Katherine. "They'd leave us alone if we gave them a wide berth, or turned back."

"And..that'll be the alpha," said Zack, pointing to a particularly large wolf pacing around the back of the group, with entirely white fur and scars all over its body. He drew his weapons. "Ready?"
"Yeah," said Katherine, putting a hand to her head.
Mika got her broom-staff out of inventory, and held it like a bat. "Yep!"
"Um..yeah." Nora 'took hold' of some of the soil nearby, pulling it taut—not quite moving it around, but getting it ready to be moved.

"Okay, let's go." Zack silently charged at the wolves, and they reacted by charging straight at the group. He focused on the first one to get nearby, blocking its attempt to bite him with the smaller sword, picking up its head while it was still holding onto the sword with its jaws, and sliced at its neck with the large blade. The wolf's jaw went slack and it slumped over immediately. He had to move aside as another wolf jumped at him, and swung the thin blade at another that tried to get too close.

Mika started throwing pumpkins right away—the dangerous kind. They exploded on impact into shards that were somehow sharper and more solid than usual, and those shards buried themselves into the crowd of charging wolves, slowing quite a few of them down. Katherine stunned the first wolf to get too close, followed by a swift telekinetic stab to the gut. She pulled that knife out while striking another out into the mouth of the next approaching animal, stabbing up to catch the more vital part of its head from the inside. Both fell over, and the two kept the flow of attacks going, Katherine generally drawing enemies away from the witch and weaver. When there came to be too many for Katherine to keep away, Nora lifted the earth. It was like an unusually thick, solid rug was being pulled up from under several of the wolves, and its momentum sent them flying back, a few landing on their heads and not getting back up.

Zack kept going, assessing the situation as he went. It looked like about half of the wolves were surrounding him, trying (successfully, in fact) to get the occasional bite or swipe of claws at him, while the other half were split between charging the other three and..going around them? That wasn't a good sign. The alpha was still hanging back.

"Look behind you!" yelled Zack, and Nora did just that. She saw a wolf jumping at her, and ducked to one side, pushing the air as hard as she could to the other. The wolf experienced a sudden, extremely strong gust of wind, and went tumbling to the ground, landing wrong due to the unexpected change of direction. Nora picked up the tallest hunk of earth she could manage and threw it at the crowd of wolves behind the one that had tackled her. Katherine took advantage of the stunned wolf and stabbed it before provoking the rest of the front wolves and running off to one side, trying to lead them closer to the wolves that had gone around the three girls.

Zack was now rid of most of the wolves that had come after him, though with several scratches and bites in his armor and skin to show for it. None of them looked or felt serious, even though they were definitely past whatever threshold the defer injury provided. He ran back toward the others, casting a healing spell on himself along the way, and then turned around and slashed at the closest of the wolves following him.

Katherine managed to get back to the group about when Zack did, and by now there were only a few of the wolves remaining. Then the alpha made its move, charging straight at the party of four and pouncing toward Zack with a speed that seemed impossible for its size. Zack's reflexes were still good enough to stab the thin sword up at the wolf, but it seemed to glance off the creature's belly fur and barely change its course at all. Zack went down under the animal's weight, dropping the heavier sword in the process.

Nora continued using the earth and wind to redirect the wolves, keeping them as close together and far away as possible so Mika could keep bombing them, and trying to allow only one or two near at a time so Katherine could deal with them. They all saw the alpha tackle Zack, but the other wolves were moving too quickly; helping him would mean being open to one of their attacks. At any rate, he seemed to be doing reasonably well. He pushed the alpha's neck back with his right hand so its bite couldn't quite reach him, and met its claw-swipes with his own left-hand slashes. They rolled around on the ground for a little bit before the wolf finally jumped back, Zack stood up, and then paused, both panting and waiting for the other to move.

After a few more seconds, the alpha suddenly howled. It didn't seem to be an ordinary howl: It hurt the players' ears and gave them all a slight headache, Zack and Katherine worse than the other two. The other wolves, for some reason, responded to this howl by ceasing their attack and running around the group to behind the alpha.

Zack gritted his teeth and bent over, picking up his main sword, readying to attack with it but not making his move just yet. The three girls turned toward the group of wolves and got ready to start fighting again, too, all of them panting and clearly tired from the fight so far.

The alpha didn't attack. It gave a growl that bled into a bark, and shook its head. Katherine lowered her weapons. "...Hm?"
"What is it?" asked Zack.
"Well..you know I can partially read minds now, right? I think he just said something. I could hear it...but couldn't quite.."
The wolf barked again, three times in succession. "..Oh! I think I understood that time. He says..he wants your pack."

"What?" said Zack.
The catgirl shrugged. "Apparently he thinks we're your pack, and wants to challenge your leadership. Is that it?"
The wolf appeared to nod, and growled again, and continued vocalizing as Katherine translated.
"Hm...he wants..a one-on-one fight. No..pointy things or third skins. If he loses, you can..command him."
Zack lowered his weapons. "Give me a minute." The wolf appeared to nod again.

He turned around to face the others. "Do you think this is a good idea? I'm pretty sure he wants me to fight without any weapons or armor."
"Well," said Nora, "I'm sure the guard would be very happy if the wolves stopped blocking this road for good."
"Come on, wouldn't having a giant wolf at your command be awesome?" said Mika.
"Well, sure, but.."
"What, you don't think you can take him?" said Katherine. "I bet you can take him."
"If I lose, you'll have to answer to a wolf for..probably the rest of this game. However long that is. You think it's worth the risk?"
"Aww, come on, you wouldn't let that happen," said the catgirl.
"Yeah," said the witch. "I haven't known you all that long, Zack, but I think the Knight class was perfect for you. You jumped right in front of a giant goblin to protect me. If you could take that guy, I'm sure you can take some mangy old wolf, right?"
"..All right then. Just remember I didn't decide to do this without asking you first," said Zack.

He turned around. "Okay, I'll accept your challenge. Give me a minute to get rid of the armor, and we can start." Then he turned around and walked a few yards away from the wolves, the other three following. He sheathed his swords and removed the knight's armor, skirt and leggings first folowed by the top, shoulderpad, and cloak. Each piece fell to the ground with a surprising amount of weight. When he was done, he was left wearing a pair of bike shorts and a tank top.
"So that's the clothes you bought then," said Katherine, grinning.
"Shut up. It's all that would fit under the armor."
"I wasn't saying anything bad about it. Looks good on you. Really brings out—"
"Katherine. I am seriously reconsidering risking what might be my actual life on this. Shut. Up."
"Okay, okay. Sheesh."

With that, the knight walked back over to where the alpha was waiting, sitting on his haunches on the ground. The other wolves had backed way off, same as Zack's "pack". He crossed his arms, looking into the animal's eyes. "Well..you ready?" he said. The wolf barked. "Let's get this over with then."

The creature stood up, its body tensing, and growled. Zack could feel himself tensing up instinctively in response. He could hear something coming from the back of his own throat, a low, gravelly sound..a growl? It was almost involuntary, a reflex or instinct of some kind he hadn't been aware of before. They looked at each other, waiting for the first move for several seconds. Finally, the alpha pounced at Zack.

He moved aside, kicking the animal in the leg. It landed, whirled around, and was on him almost before he had his foot back on the ground. He managed to stay on his feet, his tail moving to keep him balanced against the heavy weight smashing against his chest, and shoved it back with both of his arms. The wolf landed on its back on the ground, and Zack took this opportunity to pounce himself, landing on top of it.

He started punching and shoving at the creature as hard and fast as he could. It moved its muzzle to bite him and he moved his head away, and they kept going like this for several tense seconds before the wolf forced itself onto one side, taking Zack around with it. He grabbed its neck with his hands as it started clawing at his right side, and after a few seconds he was forced to let go and kick it in the stomach, rolling away and quickly standing back up. The wolf was up as soon as he was, and then they were looking at each other again.

This time Zack made the first move, feinting half of a kick toward the wolf's head before running around and kicking it in the side. The wolf turned its head around and bit his ankle on its way back to the ground, which caused him to stagger back briefly. It took advantage of that to pounce on top of him, and Zack had to struggle away from the creature's jaws again, trying to push it off. Suddenly he found himself moving his head around the wolf's muzzle and biting one of its ears. He hadn't been expecting to do that, and when the wolf rolled back off of him, yelping in pain, he sat up, spitting bits of fur and blood out. None of it tasted good.

The wolf recovered and jumped at him again before he could stand up, and Zack responded by making a swift kick angled up-left to its stomach, which made it land to one side of him. He stood up, whirled around, and jumped onto the wolf's back, his hands grabbing the fur of its front shoulders and his nails digging into the flesh underneath. The wolf stood up and started running, and Zack held on, lying forward on the wolf's back, digging his feet into its haunches and pushing and pulling at it, trying to make it stop. Eventually the wolf lost its balance and tumbled to one side, sending Zack off in that side. He stood up as quickly as he could, and the wolf stood up a bit more slowly.

He took advantage of the extra time, landing a kick under the wolf's muzzle, stunning the creature long enough to get closer, pick it up by its front shoulders, and throw it to one side, against a nearby tree. He walked up to it slowly, feeling physically exhausted now but getting ready to pick it up again anyway, but then he paused, hearing the wolf whine a few times as it slowly got up.

Katherine ran up. "He's giving up," she said. "You did it, Zack! Also, holy crow, remind me not to make you angry."
"Yeah, sure," he said, panting. "So..you'll stop blocking the road then?" he said, pointing at the wolf. The wolf lay down and gave a weak bark.
"He says you're the alpha now. He'll do whatever you tell him to do."
"Huh. You're not gonna challenge me again as soon as you get better, are you?"
The wolf barked again. "He says..not for a while."
"That..that's good." Zack nodded, and then collapsed onto the ground, passing out.

Took me a long while to get around to writing those two fight scenes at the end. I knew basically what would happen, but had a major writing block for a while on coming up with the specifics of that particular part.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

3 Cats

This is more or less a heavily extended caption. I've always liked the idea of a slow change, and this was an effort to write a story about something like that. I've been alternating between working on and ignoring this story for quite a while now. I don't think I'm entirely happy with it, but I think I've done all I can with it, and it's time to put it there and move on.

3 Cats

Summer had just begun, and Russell was on his way to buy some more games on his birthday money when he ran into another guy. Admittedly, he was paying more attention to his handheld than the sidewalk in front of him, but he still felt like it wasn't his fault he ran into the guy, and he had decided on that before he even recovered from the loss of balance. “Hey, what are you doing?” he said, glaring at the other guy. Glaring up, specifically. Russell was a bit short for his age, and this guy..well, his height was average, but his stomach wasn't.
“Oh, sorry,” said the guy. “I thought I saw somethin' in these bushes here.” It was someone from Russell's school..he'd had a couple of classes with him, but he didn't exactly keep tabs on his classmates, so he didn't know the guy's name for sure.
“Something..like what?” Russell was calmed somewhat that the other guy had accepted the blame. He was curious enough to even put up his game for a moment.
“I dunno, some motion?” The other guy bent over and pushed some of the bushes aside. “Whoa,” he said.
“What? Wha'd you find?” said Russell, bending over to get a better look.

It's a cat!” the bigger guy scooped something up in his arms and stood up, and indeed it was a small housecat. Its fur was a pattern of white, black, and red colors, and it lay in his arms looking up, apparently terrified. “Huh..never seen one with fur like this before.”
“Me either. You sure you should hold it like that? It might have rabies or something.”
“Well, ya asked what it is. You wanna hold it?” Russell backed away from the guy offering him a cat.
“No thanks. And, you could've just told—whoa!” The cat suddenly stood up and jumped at Russell, landing neatly on his shoulder. He didn't take the impact of the jump so well, and stumbled back a few steps before finally getting stable again. “What the heck?!” he said, looking over at the cat. It just purred and rubbed its fur against his cheek, before dropping down to the ground again and walking back over to the big guy.
“I guess it likes ya,” said the other guy, bending over. The cat was rubbing against his ankle, so he pet it a couple of times. “D'ya like me too, fella?”
“That is not a normal way to display affection,” said Russell.

Zander was out for his morning jog when he saw a couple of guys from his school on the sidewalk out ahead of him. He slowed down, eventually coming to a stop a couple of feet away and taking out his headphones. While he was catching his breath, he got a better look: They were playing with a cat. “Hey, is that a stray cat? You know that might have rabies or something,” he said.
“That's what I said,” answered the short one, halfway turning around. “Oh, hey! You're..”
“Zander, yeah. Nice to meet you.”
“Right. My name's Russell.”
“Kale,” said the overweight one, still bent over petting the cat and using his free hand to wave. “Anyway, don't rabies make animals crazy? This one's perfec'ly affectionate. See?” He offered his arms, and the cat climbed up one of them to his shoulder, holding its balance there while he stood back up. “You wanna pet it, man?”

“..Sure, I guess. I can just be careful,” said Zander, walking around Russell to get to the cat and holding out a hand. The cat sniffed at his hand and then rubbed its face against it. Then he pet its head a couple of times, and drew his hand back. “What're you gonna do with it, then? It is a stray, isn't it?”
“I dunno, maybe,” said Kale. “It mighta just lost its collar.” The cat hopped off of his shoulder and walked over to Zander, rubbing against his ankle and purring. “We ain't allowed pets at my house. Maybe I'll just visit every once in a while.”
“Are you planning to feed it?” asked Russell.
“Uh, maybe. I mean, it's pretty healthy, so it's gettin' food from somewhere already, right?”
“It'd be pretty mean to come visit and not bring something to eat,” said Zander, grinning.
“I guess so. Ain't got anything now, though...huh?”
“What is it?” said Russell.
“Where'd the cat go?”
The three guys looked around, and there was no cat anywhere in view. “That's weird, it was rubbing my leg a minute ago,” said Zander.
“Maybe it just hid somewhere. Or ran off when it heard we didn't have any food,” said Russell. “Oh well. Anyway, I've got somewhere to go. See ya.” He started off on his way again.
“Um, see ya later!” said Kale. “He ain't too friendly, is he?”
Zander shrugged. “I have a jog to get back to. Good luck finding your cat.”
“Well, he ain't strictly mine..ah, whatever.”
With that, Zander put his phones back in and started jogging away. Kale spent a good half hour trying to find the cat, and wound up with no signs of it. He gave up after that and went back home.

A few days later, Zander woke up to find his bangs getting in the way of his eyes. He got up and took a look in the mirror to find that his hair's length had indeed snuck up on him, reaching about halfway to his shoulders on the sides and back. After getting a shower and breakfast, he went out to get a haircut. He was walking down the sidewalk and came across Kale. His hair had been about average length the other day, but it was visibly down to his shoulders today.

“Hey. Kale, isn't it?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah! Zander. Nice to see ya again.”
“Did you ever find that cat?”
“Nah. Looked all over, too.”
Kale seemed to be walking in the same direction as Zander once they both started moving again. “So..you getting a haircut?”
“Yeah. I dunno what's up with it, it just started growin' up a storm lately.”

They walked for a minute or so in silence, before something occurred to Zander. “Hey, uh..have you been exercising lately or something?”
“Uhm..not more than usual, no. Why?”
“Well, you look more fit than the other day, is all. Thinner, I mean.”
“Wow, really? That's great. I always wanted to, ya know, look better. Maybe my metabolism's started catchin' up or somethin'.”
Just outside of the barber shop, the pair found Russell sitting on a bench playing a game. His hair was normal, except..Kale could've sworn it was darker before. He thought about it, and figured maybe the lighting was different and didn't catch the reddish highlights before. He paused outside, while Zander went on in. “Hey.”
“What?” Russell looked up to see the overweight guy who'd been with the cat before standing in front of him. “Oh. What do you want? And what happened to your hair? You get extensions or something?”
“No..it just kinda grew out this way. I dunno. Um..I was just wonderin' what game you were playin'?”
Russell sighed. “Well, you can look if you want.”

Kale managed to go around to where he wouldn't block the light, and looked at the handheld screen, watching quietly for a short moment. Then he said, “by the way, did you dye your hair or somethin'?”
“No. That'd be a pretty huge waste of money. I did just get a haircut, though. I was overdue for it. Almost as much as you are.”
“Heh, yeah. It's just I thought your hair looked like it was a different color than it was before, is all. Must've just been the light.”
“Yeah. Sure.” Kale straightened back up and walked into the barber shop.

Russell stood up just as Zander was walking out of the barbership, his hair now cleanly trimmed back to its usual length. Zander paused, looking at Russell for a few seconds. “..What?”
“Uh, nevermind, it's nothing. I just thought you were shorter, is all. Maybe you got taller.”
“Oh. Maybe I did.” Then they walked away, going their separate ways.

Now that he'd had attention called to it, Kale paid attention to his waistline. The day after he got a haircut it was definitely, noticeably thinner than before; his shirt even looked loose. The hem hung down an inch or so, too. The odd thing was that the leggings of his jeans were trailing a little bit, so he had to roll them up to walk without tripping. He couldn't help but notice that his hair hadn't slowed down its growing since getting it cut; it was already halfway to his shoulders again.

Two days after getting his hair cut, Zander found himself trying to reach the top shelf on a bookshelf, and paused. He stood back, looking at the shelf. He was certain that shelf had been easier to reach before, and the shelf two below it had been about head height..right? He walked up to the shelf and put a hand up to the top of his head, running it over to the shelf, and found his hand almost at three shelves down from the top. His hair was getting out of hand again, too, already down to where it had been when he woke up two days earlier.

Russell looked at his hair when he got home from the barber shop, and again the next day, and the day after that. It was growing long, already near his shoulders on the second day, and each time he looked at it the color was a little bit brighter. By the morning of the third day, his hair was decidedly a dark red instead of brown. He took a shower, and couldn't help but notice just how little hair his arms, legs, and chest had. He knew he'd been hairier before..right? And when he put on his clothes, his shirt was very loose around his stomach, and his pants were slightly tight at the hips, but loose below there.

Somehow, the three of them all found themselves drawn back to the bush by the sidewalk where they had found the cat nearly a week ago. They all paused to look at each other. Russell noticed that both of the other guys were now the same height, even though Zander had definitely been taller than Kale before, and both of them were definitely shorter than they had originally been compared to him. Kale noticed that Russell's hair was down to his shoulders, just like his own, but Zander's hair was still slightly short of his shoulders. Zander noticed that everyone's clothes looked slightly baggy around the stomach, legs, and arms. And they all just stood there, looking at each other, for a couple of minutes, before finally Russell said something.

What is going on?” he said; when he put emphasis on the first and last words his voice cracked slightly. “Something's happening to all three of us. What is it? And..Why?”
“I dunno,” said Kale. “I mean..seems like we're all gettin' shorter, 'cept for you..and our hair's growin' out.”
“Your voice sounds..different,” said Zander. “I think..mine does too, doesn't it?”
“What do you mean?” asked Kale.
“Well, you had kind of a deep voice before, right? The pitch of your voice has gone up. Are you just talking different on purpose?”
“No..not on purpose. So..”

“We're not just getting shorter with longer hair,” said Russell, interrupting whatever Kale's next thought was. “Look at how your shirt is on your stomach.” Both of them looked. “And..look at this.” He held out an arm to both of them.
“That's an arm,” said Zander.
“No, I mean look at it. There's practically no hair. I don't shave my arms. Do you?”
Zander looked down at his arm, and noticed for the first time that it was just as devoid of hair as Russell's. Kale was doing much the same thing when he looked over at him.
“So..what d'you think all this means?” said Kale.
“Well..oh. Oh, no,” said Russell.
“What?” Zander asked.
“I..okay, look. What has long hair, high-pitched voices, small stomachs and is short?”
“Um..well, it's kinda a broad gen'ralization, but uh..girls?” said Kale.
“Yes! Exactly. We..we must be, somehow, turning into..m-members of the opposite sex,” said Russell.

“Well, that's kind of an extreme conclusion,” said Zander. “I mean, maybe we're just..turning more feminine?”
“Yeah, and if we are, the logical end is that we actually do turn into girls,” said Russell. “But..
“I..I dunno,” said Kale. “We didn't even really meet 'till the other day. Ain't much in common between us.”
“The only thing I can think of is that cat,” said Zander. “But that wouldn't make any sense. There's no such thing as a cat that has that kind of effect on people. Besides, why would it take so long to happen?”
“All good points,” said Russell, “but..d..do you have any better ideas? I mean, not that it would even help to know for sure.”

“Maybe we can look for somethin' on this? Do some research?” said Kale.
“Yeah..I don't think the internet's gonna have much about this,” said Zander. “It's pretty bizarre.”
“It wouldn't hurt to try, though,” said Russell. “I mean..either way, we're gonna keep changing..so we might as well try and figure out why.”
“Okay then. So..we'll meet back..here, a couple of days from now?” said Zander.
“Sure. And if we find anything in the meantime, we can text.” Russell got out his phone, and everyone exchanged numbers. Then they left.

That afternoon, Zander started checking himself every couple of hours. He began by looking in a mirror. The second time he looked, his hair had grown to just where it was brushing against his shoulders on the side and back, and after that it seemed to stop altogether..or at least go back to normal speed. Now that he was really looking, he could see that his face looked a bit smaller and rounder..softer, in a way. After that, he would check his height against a point of reference—usually the top of the mirror. Again, he could tell it was just a little bit higher each time. And he tried to speak, as deeply as he could, just a short “Hm.” He always felt like he should be able to get a lower pitch, but each time he found his voice cracking a little bit more, and he could never quite speak as low as he had the time before.
When he got home, Kale took off his shirt and pants, leaving on his underwear, and really looked at himself for the first time in a while. His stomach had a slight bit of pudge to it, but it was definitely way smaller than before. And..it seemed like the sides were sloped inward. His hips were slightly wider, making his underwear stretch on the sides. And his body was missing a lot of hair, just like Russell had said. His hair was tickling his shoulders, and as he got a closer look at it, he couldn't help but think it had been a little..darker before. It was as if the color had faded slightly, like old clothing.

Russell tried to ignore what was happening to him, instead lying on the couch and playing a game. But he had to keep brushing his hair out of his eyes, and when he shifted position his shirt would always drape a little bit more loosely across his stomach, and his pants slowly got less comfortable as the afternoon went on. He'd said that it wouldn't hurt to try research..but he just couldn't bring himself to go to a computer and start typing. He really, deeply wanted to just not think about it, as if that would make it go away.

The three young men went to bed, none having found any clues to their common predicament, each dreading what the next morning would bring.

Russell woke up the next morning to the sound of his phone ringing. He sat up and turned to the side of the bed to answer it, and found bright red hair falling all the way down to sheets and covers. He picked it up, and heard what sounded like a younger boy's voice from the speaker. “Hey Russell, it's me, Zander.”
“Hey,” he answered, and heard a voice naturally coming out that didn't sound much deeper than the one on the other end of the line. “Did you find anything?”
“Um..n-no.” Russell was just now looking down at his body to see just how drastically its shape had been altered. He thought he had been scrawny before, but now his stomach and arms were positively tiny. His hips and upper legs looked strangely wide, and pushing his legs together still left quite a bit of room between their tops, the still-intact bulge in his underwear notwithstanding.

“So why are you calling?” said the recently redheaded boy, looking forward.
“Well..I was just thinking this morning..maybe..maybe this won't be so bad?”
“Won't be so bad?”
“Like, you know..it could be interesting. A new experience and all. Seeing the world from a different perspective.”
“Are you kidding? Being a girl sucks. You have to deal with periods, and having weights dangling from your chest all the time, and..and..” Russell could feel some heat in his cheeks just thinking about it. But he was more angry than embarrassed. “Are you..are you giving up?”
“No, no..it's not like that. It's just..I mean, it seems pretty hopeless. Unless Kale found something, and I don't think he did, we might be stuck as girls. And..if we are..it'd be good to have a positive attitude about it. I mean..would you rather be stuck as a girl and angry about it all your life, or..?”

“I'd rather not be stuck as a girl!” said Russell, barely keeping himself from actually shouting. “I have hair down to my freaking hips. I can't deal with this.”
“Okay, man, sorry. I didn't mean to make you upset.”
“I mean, you're so sour about everything. I don't think I've ever seen you smile.”
“Well I haven't exactly had a lot to smile about lately, have I?”
“I meant before last week. Like, I'd see you in the halls and wonder what happened to make you so angry.”
Russell sighed, trying to calm down. “Look. I'm not angry, I just don't like dealing with people. It's always way too complicated.”
“Well, you can't help but run into some people, though. Would it hurt to have a more positive attitude about it?”
“I don't know. Maybe. Probably, actually. Yeah. You act nice around people and they all think you're a sucker.”

“Has that actually happened to you, Russell?”
“I..I don't want to talk about it. Especially not now! Look, if you don't find anything, just..don't call me, okay? I'll meet with you guys in a couple of days or whatever.”
“Okay then. I'm sorry...I really was just trying to help.”
He sighed again. “..I know.” And then hung up, and started getting ready for a shower, dreading what he might see this time.

Zander was thinking of calling Russell back when he got another call, from Kale. So he answered it. “Yeah?”
“Um..h-heyyy, Zander.” Kale's voice still sounded like a guy's, but maybe a high tenor kind of tone.
“What's up?”
“Um, I was just wonderin', did your hair ever stop growin'?”
“Uh-huh. It actually stopped right at shoulder length. The bangs are kinda in my way a little bit, but it's tolerable.”
“Well, uh, mine got down to the tops of my legs last night. I dunno how to deal with this.”
“I'd suggest cutting it, but..it'll probably just grow back again, based on what's happened so far.”
“Yeah. And it's also changin' colors. Kinda..looks bright gray now.”
“That is pretty odd. Mine's still all the same color.”
“Uh, I think Russell's hair is turnin' red. You might be the exception. But, um..”

“What is it?”
“Well, that's not exactly what I was callin' about. Um..how should I put this..is your, uh, are your ears lookin' kinda..pointy?”
Zander reached a hand up into his hair to find one of his own ears almost unconsciously. “Pointy? How do you mean?”
“Well, uh, my ears are lookin' kinda bigger than normal, and they're pointy at the end. And..kinda..fuzzy.” By now Zander had found his right ear, and as he ran his hand over it he found that it was being scratched by little short hairs all over it. And the ear itself was indeed bigger.
“Oh..yeah..I hadn't noticed, but mine's kinda weird that way too.”
“Do you know any girls with pointy fuzzy ears?”
“Um, no. This doesn't really make any sense based on what's happened to us so far.”
“Maybe we should call Russell about it..?”
“No, we probably shouldn't. He told me not to bother him unless we'd found something on how to turn back or stop changing.” And he wouldn't appreciate finding out something else weird is going on, I bet, thought Zander.
“Well okay, if ya say so.”

Russell's chest felt strangely sensitive, and it looked slightly..puffy. He glared at it in the mirror after his shower, thinking something along the lines of What do you think you're doing? I'm still a guy! You're not allowed to show up until I'm not a guy anymore! After a little while, he had to stop and shake his head, trying to clear it and forget about this development, too, but this had the unfortunate effect of making his hair swish around all over the place.
“I've got to get this under control,” he said, tugging at one of the strands. “It'll just grow back if I cut it..hm..” He had an idea, and within a few minutes he was dressed and off to the barber's again.

Zander resumed his usual occasional checkup from the day before. He noticed on the second look that he wasn't getting shorter anymore, which was somewhat of a relief, as he was having some trouble adjusting to all of the height he'd already lost. The way his legs and hips looked was very girly, and he couldn't help but notice that there was getting to be less and less down there. He could feel the hair brushing across the fuzz on his ears more as time went by, and he occasionally felt them wiggling around a little, almost involuntarily. Around noon he noticed two odd little protrusions poking out from his hair on the top part of the sides of his head, and had to brush back his hair to see that they were actually his ears, their fuzz having grown into thick, short, black hair all over them. His voice didn't stop going up either; by lunchtime his pitch had risen almost past alto range.

Russell walked out of the barbershop and back toward home, his hair now bundled together into two big, long locks in the back. It was still annoying, but not as bad, at least. The ribbons holding it were a little strange-looking, he thought. He tried to ignore the way his hips moved as he walked, and concentrate on other things. About halfway home, however, he noticed an odd feeling coming from somewhere past his lower back..yet above his hips. Like..something thin moving around, brushing against his pants and shirt. He paused, made sure nobody was looking, and turned around, rolling up the back of his shirt some to try and see what it was. What he saw made him run the rest of the way home.

Kale sighed at the mirror image of his shirtless self. He'd wanted to be thinner for a while now, but just couldn't put up the effort..and now that his stomach was perfectly flat, it was really hard to enjoy it. His hair had turned purely white, but now it was getting a little bit of reddish color to it. His hips and legs looked all wrong, he was short, and his ears were huge triangles covered in white fur with black near the tips. Actually, the fur was changing color, too. “Well..I guess you gotta be careful what you wish for,” he muttered, in a girly voice. His ears stood up, and he jumped slightly, at the sound of his phone ringing in his bedroom. He quickly put on his baggy shirt, which now draped all the way down to his thighs, and ran out to pick it up.

“This is all your fault!” It sounded like an upset woman on the phone. Lower in pitch than Kale's voice was now, but definitely female.
“Um..is this Russell?”
“Yes! This is Russell with a freaking tail growing out of my back!”
“Oh. U-um..that sounds pretty weird.”
“No, you think?! Why am I getting a tail? This has nothing to do with turning into a girl!”
“I dunno, but, uh..well, I have big fuzzy ears, so you're not alone in that either.”
“Great. So now we're not just turning into girls, but freaks, too.”
“Aw, come on..it's not..well, it ain't that much worse, right?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well..you make it sound like bein' a girl is just like bein' a freak to you anyhow, so..”
“It's definitely worse.”
“Um..well, maybe this is the last surprise at least? That'd be..sorta good, right?”
“I..I just..what even is this? Why is this happening to me?”
“Why's it happenin' to any of us? If I could answer that, I'd love to tell ya.”
Russell sighed. “I know. I just..rrrrRRRgh! You know—Zander called me this morning, and he said—he said 'oh, well, maybe being a girl isn't all that bad. Maybe it could be fun'. Can you believe it?”

“Well, he's just tryin' to stay positive. He's a stay-positive kinda guy.”
“He's gonna be a stay-positive kind of girl soon.”
“Well, yeah. That's kinda old news by now though, right?”
“I can't..I just can't deal with this. Maybe..I could go to sleep, and forget about this for a while.”
“You know you'd wake up more different than ya remember. You're not curious how it's all gonna happen?”
“No. I don't want to think about it. I just..I..look, I'm not happy I'm turning into a girl. At all. But it's so drawn out—I just want it to be over, and then I can start to deal with it.”
“Well, uh..if ya put off dealin' with it until it's all over, that's gonna be an awful lot of dealin' with.”
“I..I guess you're right.”

Zander couldn't sleep. His last checkup before bed confirmed that his ears had grown into big, black triangles, but with white tufts of fur on the inside, and they were moving around nonstop and picking up way more sound than he remembered being able to hear before...and that he wasn't going to be the same downstairs for much longer. He lay in bed for an hour or so, and as he did he could actually feel something moving around, shifting in his lower stomach. It didn't hurt, but it was sort of uncomfortable. He began to go numb between his legs, and then he couldn't resist getting up, sitting on the side of the bed and looking. After a little while, the discomfort in his lower stomach subsided, and he was completely changed down below, definitely a young woman.
“Well..” she said, “I guess..I guess I'm gonna have to sit down in the bathroom from now on. Haha..” It was hard to make any better than a weak joke in light of the strangeness before her. She lay back down in bed and tried to sleep, but couldn't get comfortable. Her chest was more sensitive all of a sudden, and itched a little bit, but more than that, sleeping on her back, side, or front just felt uncomfortable. After a while she instinctively curled up into a ball under the covers, and then, despite the slight discomfort of her chest, drifted off at last.

Kale found himself growing a tail just slightly after sunset. He could feel something like a very flexible appendage coming from his back, and when he checked he saw a little mass of white fur with a black tip..just like the fur on his ears had originally been. It was definitely fur, he'd decided, and his hair and the non-black parts of his ears were definitely pink now. Within the space of just a few hours, that tail kept on growing out until it was almost as long as one of his arms, but much thinner. As it got longer, he could see thin black stripes breaking up the white of the rest of the fur. It stopped right around bedtime, and as he got into bed he found that he felt incredibly exhausted for some reason. He slowly curled up into a ball as he fell asleep, and thought he could hear at the last moment a soft purr coming from inside his own throat.

Russell's chest continued to feel weird all evening, and he could feel his shirt hanging off of the pair of bumps on it no matter which way he positioned himself, sitting, standing, or lying down. It was always there, and it kept getting a little bit bigger at a time. And that tail, too! It kept getting longer, making it hard to sit like he was used to sitting (as if the widened hips didn't make that hard enough already). It was all covered in red fur, the same color as his hair, but with a tiny bit of white at the rounded tip.
He went to bed dreading waking up the next morning, but then found going to sleep no easy feat. He couldn't lie on his back without getting in the way of the tail, he couldn't lie on his front or sides without the weights on his chest feeling all wrong. As he tossed and turned, his tired mind raced around in angry loops, never really letting any thought go. The harder he tried not to think, the more thoughts would come. Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, he felt too physically exhausted to continue, and found his head up against his knees, which were themselves up at his chest. He felt his hair brushing across his ears strangely, but couldn't quite process it before falling asleep.

It was morning the next day when the three of them met at what was becoming their usual spot. Zander had woken up to find her chest fully developed into breasts, small but seemingly fitting for her small build, and as she looked at the other two she noticed that Kale still seemed to be flat, but Russell's chest looked to be about the same size as her own. Then she noticed something else. “Whoa..you grew tails?” Her voice was high and almost squeaky, sounding like a somehow more mature version of a cheerful child.
“Yeah,” said Russell, awkwardly crossing his arms under his chest, “and if there's any justice in this world you'll get them too.” His ears were lying flat backwards against his head.
“Um..did you, uh..are you girls now?” said Kale.
“No,” said Russell, “my chest just decided to start early. Ugh.”
“Well, I am..” said Zander, her face turning slightly red. “It uh, it happened last night.”

“What is it like?” said Kale. “I mean, uh..what's it feel like when it's..when you're..does it hurt?”
“No, it didn't hurt,” said Zander. “I just felt kinda weird at the pit of my stomach for a while, and then I went numb down there, and..next thing I knew I wasn't a guy anymore.”
“Oh..uh, um..” This time Kale's face reddened a bit.
“What is it?”
“I m-might be..it might be happening to me, now. I started feelin' weird when I was walking over...” He pulled the tops of his legs together, which didn't clarify much since there was now a gap between his thighs either way.
“..Did you notice your eyes turned pink?” said Zander.
“Um..nope. They were brown, l-last time I checked..”
“And..” She turned toward Russell. “..yours were definitely a darker color before.”
“They're bright green now. Are mine the same color?”
“I don't know. Whatever, there's something more important to talk about than our freaking eye colors.”
“I think they've always been blue,” said Kale. “Wh-what's so important?” The discomfort in his lower stomach was getting stronger, and there was starting to be a feeling like a limb going to sleep.
“What are we gonna do about this? When it's all over. How are we gonna..do..anything? None of my clothes fit me anymore, except in a stupid comical kid-wearing-dad's-clothes kind of way. I mean, this is supposed to be a t-shirt and it goes past my elbows!”
Zander put a finger to her lower lip. “Well, I guess we'll just have to buy some new clothes. Underwear for sure, and jeans and shirts that fit. Maybe..we could try on some skirts or something?”
“No way,” said Russell.
“Oh come on, it might be fun. Aren't you curious what wearing one feels like?”
“M-maybe a little. But..not enough to actually put one on.”
“N-not as a guy, maybe,” said Kale, “but if you're a girl, what's the..the..” he trailed off.

“Oh, great,” said Russell. All of a sudden, the numbness between Kale's legs had been replaced by a very different feeling. “You just crossed over, didn't you?”
“Um..” She drew her legs together again. “Y-yes. This feels really weeiird..”
“Yeah, it kinda does,” said Zander. “I guess we'll get used to it eventually. What's so bad, Russell?”
“I..now I have to deal with turning into a girl by myself, after everyone else already has,” he said.
“Well..you don't have to go through it by yourself. I mean..I can be there, for moral support..if you want.”
“M-me too,” added Kale.
“What're you gonna do, sit around at my house waiting for it to happen?”
“Yeah, sure. I mean, it'll probably be today, right? You play games all the time, at least one of them is multiplayer, right?”
“Y-yeah..” Russell's ears moved slightly away from their post up against the top of his head.
“Well, we can play it together for a while, and maybe you won't even notice.”
“I.really doubt that. Based on how she's acting,” said Russell, pointing a thumb at Kale.
“It's just weird..I'll g-get better.”

So the three of them walked to Russell's house, and wound up all sitting on the front edge of the couch. When Zander sat down, she turned around and looked at her back.
“What?” said Russell.
“I just felt something brushing against my..shirt?” she said, watching as a short stub of black fur pushed the back of her shirt aside a little bit.
“Yess! Welcome to the inconvenient appendage club,” said Russell.
“I dunno, it probably isn't that bad. I mean, tails help with balance, right?”
“Well, sitting and lying down is w-weird,” said Kale. “Umm, my chest feels funny..”
“Kinda sensitive and itchy?” said Zander.
“Puffy?” said Russell.
“Y-yeah, kinda..”
“You're getting boobs,” said both of them together.

As they played the game, Zander's tail slowly snaked its way out from her back, growing longer and longer until it was about the same length as the others' tails, its black fur slightly thicker. And Kale's voice slowly inched upward in pitch, her chest slowly pushing out into bumps, the bumps into breasts, which finally settled their size about when Zander's tail stopped growing at slightly smaller than the other girls, but definitely fitting for her slim, short frame. By then her voice had risen to the same high tone as Zander's, but it had slowly become breathier, her speech seeming shyer and quieter than the more excited black-haired girl.

It was then that Russell began to feel just slightly strange in his lower stomach. He looked over at the two catgirls sitting on either side of him on the couch. “Um..I'm curious..are you guys..when you turned into girls, are you attracted to girls still?”
“Um..no, I don't think so,” said Kale.
“Pretty sure I like guys now,” said Zander.
“Oh..g-great..w-well, I just want to say, while I'm still a guy, you're both adorable. I mean..I, you guys are great. And you look good. You're both so cute..um..I'd ask either of you out in a heartbeat.”
“Aw..” said Zander. “Russell, are you..are you changing?”
The feeling in his stomach got stronger. “Y-yeah. I..I still can't believe this. I don't..” He could feel tears coming out of his eyes all of a sudden, and he bent forward. “I don't want to be a girl..” he said, and then started sobbing uncontrollably.
“I..whoa..Russell, it..” Zander patted him on the back of the head a couple of times. “It'll be okay. It's just..a new perspective, is all. A new way to experience life.”
“I've always been so short, you know,” he said, sniffing. “I just..I always thought I'd grow up and be bigger, look like an actual man. But I know..once this is over..that'll never happen.”
Zander said, “Well, never's a pretty long time. I mean, if there's something that can make us go this way, there's something that can go the other way, too...”
“I k-know you mean well, but it's..not likely. I mean, nobody's ever heard of something like this happening. If it happens again, it won't be to us. No way.” He began to go numb. “We're gonna be stuck like this forever..” The sobbing eased off some. He felt drained, like there wasn't much left to let out.
“R-Russell..” He turned to see Kale's face, bent over to look him in the eyes. She looked so cute, he thought, but he didn't feel attracted to her. Not anymore. “You may not be able to be a real man..but at least you c-can be..a real woman, right?”
“I...I guess so,” said Russell, as he felt the numbness and discomfort fade off, completing his transformation into a teenage girl. With cat ears and a tail.

She sat up.
“Are you okay?” said Zander.
“I'm done. It's over,” she said. “I feel okay, I guess. Really weird, like you said...”

“..Hey,” she said, getting up. “I'm gonna wash my face. You guys want to go..get the clothes thing over with after that?”
“You really want to try on a bunch of outfits, don't you?” said Zander, grinning.
“Don't push it. I'd just rather do it now than put it off 'till later.” Her voice had kept a lower tone than the other girls', lending her voice a somewhat more serious tone.
“Heehee, okay. We'll 'get it over with' with you, then. Right, Kale?”

The three girls were walking toward the mall within a few minutes. “So..” said Zander. “We're gonna need some new names..don't you think?”
“Yeah, I guess,” said Russell with a resigned sigh.
“So..what's yours gonna be? I'm thinking mabe Zandra or Alex..you know, since my old name is kind of short for Alexander..”
Kale said, “Umm...maybe..Kiara?”
“Ohh, could I call you Ki for short?” said Zander.
“I-if you want, I guess..”
“My gosh, you're so adorable, Ki..”
“Uh..th-thanks. What about you..?”
“I have no idea..” said Russell.
“Well, what about Rayna? Or, um, Rae? Rina? Rosa?”
“..I don't know. I don't think I like any of those...”
“What about Rell?” said Kiara.
“That..isn't too bad. It's almost Russell..but doesn't sound as much like a guy's name. So which one are you going with..Zandra or Alex?”
“Hmm...Zandra. It's more unusual, don't you think?”

Rell nodded. “Yeah. So..what's the plan for once we get there?”
“Well, I think we should go from the inside out. I mean..start with underwear. 'Cause girl clothes aren't really made to be worn with no bras and boy boxers.”
“I was afraid you'd say something like that. What if people start staring at us because of our tails?”
“Oh..I hadn't thought of that. But hey, there's three of us. Maybe they'll think it's normal wherever we're from.”
“There isn't a country where having cat ears is normal,” said Rell.
Zandra shrugged. “Well, we gotta buy clothes one way or another. It's a progressive world; I'm sure they won't refuse us service at least.”

The three girls met outside of the store. Zandra said, “So, did it go okay?”
“Yeah. It was..weird..having someone measure my chest..having a chest to measure,” said Rell. “But I guess nothing really went wrong.”
“A-are you guys, um..wearing what you bought?” said Kiara.
“Sure, Ki. It actually feels better.”
“Yes,” said Rell. “It's nice having something to help with my chest, but I don't like how close the underpants are..I even bought some boxers, thinking they would be like guy boxers..they're not.”
“Y-yeah..it's so weird to think how I'm wearing something that would've been too tight down there this mornin'..but now it feels kinda comfy..”
“By the way..did anyone mention your tails?” said Rell. “Nobody said anything about me being part cat..no one's even given me a second look.”
“Yeah,” said Zandra, “it's like they can't even see them. Pretty convenient, I think. So anyway...now we just need to get clothes. Meet back here in an hour?”
“Sounds fine,” said Rell, “should be enough time.”
“Yeah,” said Kiara.

Zandra was surprised how excited she was at the idea of trying on a bunch of new clothes. Sure, it was strange and interesting, but she felt an unfamiliar kind of eagerness to see what this or that outfit would look like on her. It didn't take her very long to try on a skirt, and before long she had bought five or six of them, along with pants and various kinds of tops. Every time she tried on a new outfit, she would see her own reflection in the dressing-room mirror. The cute, slim, petite catgirl in a bra and panties seemed like a strange sight at first, like it wasn't quite her..but after the first few times she started to get used to it, and barely paused at all on seeing it.

Kiara felt so small around all of these other people. She hadn't really appreciated just how much height she'd lost in the past week before now; she was looking up at the store clerks and nearly everyone else, for that matter! She picked clothes out at random and tried them on until something she liked showed up in the mirror, and before long had a bunch of outfits already, just coming out of the first store. She chose to wear one of the new outfits out rather than the old, baggy boy-clothes: A pair of shorts, a pink stripey long-sleeved top, a sweater (well, she thought it was a sweater, but it wasn't very thick) so long it hid the shorts, some black-and-white stripey stockings, and a hat. It wasn't clear to her why she needed the hat indoors, but it didn't look right without the hat, she thought, and that was enough to justify wearing it.

Rell bought a t-shirt and a pair of jeans right away, and wore them out of the store, keeping her old clothes in a bag. The girl-clothes, despite being equivalent to what she would usually wear as..well, wouldn't be able to wear as a guy anymore, fit very differently. They were so snug, and the shirt seemed custom designed to remind her she had a slight figure now. But it wasn't uncomfortable at all—it felt okay, maybe even better than what she'd exchanged them for. She went and bought more of the same sort of things, but something caught her eye. A red skirt, a black pair of stockings..she shook her head. She didn't want to try that. But as she went back and forth from the changing room, making sure the new clothes she was getting fit, she kept seeing them, and a little voice in her head kept wondering how she would look in them, and maybe a top to go with it, and how the skirt matched her hair and fur pretty well...
After she had bought everything she thought she wanted, and was on her way out, she looked at them one more time and sighed at herself before picking them up. Her curiosity for how it would feel was too great, even if Zander was probably going to tease her about it.

Zandra looked at her phone and realized she was half an hour late. She ran toward where the three of them were supposed to meet, a short blue skirt swishing around her thighs the whole way, but when she got there, slightly out of breath, the others were not present. She wondered whether the others had left without her, but thought that unlikely, so she waited. It was a good ten minutes before Kiara showed up.

The dark-haired girl waved her over. “Wow, you look so cute, Ki~,” she said.
“Th-thanks..” The pink-haired girl's cheeks went slightly red, which only made Zandra grin a little wider. “You, uh, you look good too. Um..sorry I'm late.”
“Hey, I was late too! And Rell still hasn't shown up, either.”
“I thought she'd be done first,” said Ki, “what with not wantin' to try on anything different..”
Zandra nodded. “Me too...oh, look!” She raised her arm over her head and waved at Rell, who was walking up in a tan long-sleeved top, black stockings, and..a skirt!

As she came closer, the dark-haired girl said, “Hey Rell! You look really cute in that.”
“Whatever...look, I was just curious what it felt like is all.”
“And you weren't curious at all how you'd look?”
“M-maybe a little.”
“So, uh, we're all set to leave then?” asked Kiara.
Zandra nodded again. “Looks like it.”
Zandra started leading the way out, but stopped abruptly near the doors. “Hey, look! It's one of those photo booth things,” she said, going over to it.
“If you want to take a picture, I have a camera..” said Rell.
“Why don't we take a picture together?”
“Why do you want to?” countered the redhead.
“I dunno, kind of to commemorate. Like, a celebration. To new friends, new experinces..?”
“I don't really think this is something to celebrate,” said Rell, crossing her arms and frowning.
“Come on, pleeaase?”
Zandra pulled gently at the other girls' arms. Kiara let herself be led, while Rell got her arm loose. She only stopped for a moment, seeing Zandra's pleading face, before sighing. “Okay, okay..you're paying, though.” With that, she followed the others into the booth and they lined up together for a few pictures.

The three boys-turned-girls then walked out of the booth, out of the mall, and into something a little bit like a brand new life.