A year ago on this day, the first video QuQu and I made together was released to the world. In celebration of this event, I have written a fictionalized retelling of how QuQu and I met and started working together. I hope you enjoy it.
The snow was falling all around me when I saw him wandering around, off in the distance, and even in the dim light of a cloudy winter day, his bright cyan fur was easily visible against the snow. Then he suddenly collapsed where he stood, causing me to let out a yelp in surprise. I rushed over toward him as fast as my four legs could carry me.
When I arrived, I found him lying face first in the snow and mumbling under his breath, an empty bottle of spirits lying next to him. My eyes darted around his motionless form as I stared down at the furry creature and pondered over what to do. I had heard of QuQu’s various antics around the forest and met him a couple times in the past, but had never really talked with him much before.
While searching the ground nearby, I noticed a series of paw prints behind him, so I dug him up from under the snow and carried him on my back, following the trail he left. In his drunken state, QuQu started monologuing about some type magic spell of a forbidden nature. Though matters of the magical realm wasn’t something that I dabbled much in beyond that of a spectator, I still listened intently as he talked.
Some time later, we arrived at a large cabin hidden behind the trees, and I could see the light of a fireplace from one of its windows, as well as a trail of smoke rising from the chimney. The door was slightly ajar, so it wasn’t much trouble to shove it aside with my nose. When we were finally inside, I swatted my tail against it, slamming it shut. The sound startled QuQu, who fell off of me to the floor below, flailing his arms and legs all about. I put my head under his arm and pulled him up until he was sitting back against the wall.
Tired from the walk home, I laid my head down on his lap to rest for a moment, though I soon found QuQu’s hand on the back of my head. His fingers ran down my back in a recurring motion, a feeling that brought a smile to my face and made my tail wag. This went on for some time before QuQu stopped and let his hand rest on my back.
“My legs are starting to feel like they’re full of butterflies,” QuQu said. “Do you think you could get up so I could walk around a little? I’ll be happy to pet you more some time later.”
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry, QuQu.” Then I stood back up and took a couple steps away. He shambled back on his feet, swaying back and forth, then stared at me with a raised eyebrow.
“Hey, how do you know my name?” QuQu asked. “Have we met before? You seem kinda familiar, but I can’t pin the face.”
“Uh, well, I was present when you were questioned about the attempted arson on the city gates, though I didn’t say much at the time. I must say, the way you tricked the real criminals into burning themselves with that black powder was brilliant. You’re quite the trickster!”
“Aww, thanks~” QuQu glanced away from me to the floor below, snickering to hide his drunken embarrassment. “Say, I never got your name back then.”
“They call me Raindrops, for I am named after one of the feathered equines of lesser status. Though when I went in for my tag and collar, they managed to misspell my name…” I let out a sigh at the unfortunate memory.
QuQu bent down to my dog collar and lifted the tag up to get a closer look. “Rayndrops?” Then he started snickering once again.
I turned away from him, frowning, and in doing so, I pulled the dog tag out of his grasp. Then I heard a loud thud behind me and glanced back to see QuQu on the floor once more. I bent down to pull him up to his feet, then helped him onto a nearby couch so he wouldn’t fall down again, and once he was settled, I lay down next to him on the sofa.
“T-Thanks~” QuQu said.
“It was no trouble at all,” I said.
Neither of us talked much for awhile, until I suddenly felt QuQu rest his head on my back, which caused me to let out a yelp in surprise. He didn’t seem to take much notice, however, as he continued lying on the couch with his head against me. Though I quickly gave up fighting back against him, as the position wasn’t too uncomfortable.
“Say, what was that you were mumbling about before when I found you out in the snow?” I asked.
“Huh?” QuQu glanced up at me, and I looked at him as best I could without getting up.
“You know, that type of magic you were ranting about on the trip home. Something about emulating forbidden magic crystals and flash cartridges? I didn’t really understand most of it though.”
“Oh, you mean crystal games? The magical pastime created by Vidya Jayne, named Vidya Games after him. Come along with me, and I’ll show you.”
QuQu got up from the couch and walked over toward a staircase some distance from us, with myself following close behind. He wobbled back and forth with each step up the stairs, and more than once I had to push against him to keep him from falling. When we arrived upstairs, QuQu stepped over to a desk on the far side of the room and lit a nearby lantern.
On the center of the desk stood a small box made of metal, on top of which sat a crystal of a slightly larger size. As QuQu wiggled his fingers, the crystal began to glow with a purple aura, and soon after the image of a bear could be seen roaming around inside. QuQu’s eyes lit up when he saw the animal, and his hands moved around even more wildly. As if in response, the bear dashed forward and swiped his claws at the many otherworldly creatures rushing toward him. With each scratch, the monsters crumbled into several pieces and soon disappeared into nothingness.
I simply gazed upon the sight in astonishment as the battle happened before me, wondering what sort of alternate world it took place in.
“What sort of magic is this?” I asked. “I’ve never seen anyone peek into another dimensional plane before. How did they figure out how to cross the quantum leap without tearing a hole in it?”
QuQu let out another giggle. “Oh, this isn’t a second dimension, Rayn. What you’re looking at is simply a simulation, not a representation of reality. It’s just a game: a Vidya game.”
I continued to watch QuQu fiddle with the magic crystal for some time, and soon enough, the bear defeated all the monsters in the area. Then the picture swept all around him to show that the entire plane had been cleared of opposition. A moment later, the crystal went dark as the image of the bear faded. My heart sank as I stared at the now dark magical device that sat before me, wondering if it would ever light up again. Watching QuQu play with the machine was one of the greatest magic shows that I had ever witnessed.
“That was simply amazing, QuQu,” I said. “Can you play any other games with this magic crystal?”
QuQu held his chin in thought for a moment. “Well, I have one game about a raccoon who sneaks around stealing treasure. Then there’s Sled Saga D, a dog sled racing game. Oh, and I do have one more about a group of monkeys collecting bananas in the jungle.”
“Don’t you have more than just those? I mean, wouldn’t you soon grow tired with such a small library, at least if they’re all as short as the one with the bear.”
“Well, there are more games than just those four, but they’re getting increasingly harder to find these days. The prices for most of the older games that are any good have skyrocketed. There’s no way I could afford anything worth playing on my salary.”
“Wait, what’s this about older games? Why can’t you just buy the new games coming out? Or did the wizards stop making new ones?”
QuQu shook his head. “It’s not that; most of the new games released these days aren’t particularly great. There’s just something lacking with the new ones… I don’t think I’ve found one worth playing that wasn’t at least ten years old by now.”
“Why would that be? Did something happen ten years ago to change things?”
“Oh, that was when Critter Battles came out and caused the vidya game hobby to explode in popularity. Before, only a small, dedicated group of enthusiasts cared about Vidya games, but after Critter Battles was released, everything changed. The wizards suddenly found themselves able to earn vast amounts of money by selling their creations.
“But the thing is, this newfound popularity brought with it plenty of baggage that it didn’t have previously. Soon after Critter Battles exploded, a group of dark warriors took a strong interest in Vidya games and, over time, they began to corrupt it with their negative influence. Now every time a new game comes out, it always kowtows to any of their arbitrary demands, and this always has a way of hurting the quality of the games themselves.”
I stared down at the floorboards for a time, my mind beginning to ponder over what could be done about the situation. Then, after awhile, my eyes widened with a realization. “Hey, wait a minute. Why do the wizards bow to the whims of this small group of warriors? Aren’t plenty of Vidya game hobbyists upset about this?”
“Sure, they’re upset about the situation, but the problem is that they don’t actually do anything about it! Plenty of them will complain about the problem ‘til they’re blue in the face, but when it comes to actually fixing things, they have no plan of action. The issues have long since been identified; we just have yet to find a solution to fix them.”
“Wait, you said that nobody does anything, but then how are the wizards still able to make a profit from selling Vidya games? I thought you said everything released these days was of low quality. Shouldn’t they be out in the streets, starving by now?”
“Okay, I guess I misspoke before. No one is actually doing anything to combat the dark warriors, though everyone still continues to purchase new games as they come out. This is all despite lack of quality as of late, something which certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed.”
“But shouldn’t the solution be obvious? Just stop buying those games so long as their creators continue submitting to the treacherous will of the dark warriors. Then they’ll have to choose between a small minority of loudmouthed jerks or their actual fans.”
QuQu threw up his hands with a groan. “You say that like I haven’t been doing that for years now. Why, I haven’t bought a new Vidya game since the total disappointment that was Dino Druids 3D! What more do you want from me?”
“Sure, you haven’t continued to support these wizards after their creations have been corrupted by the darkness, but everyone else has. All we have to do is get them to stop buying this garbage, and soon the wizards will return to making games that are actually worth playing, rather than the gray goo which they shove out at the moment.”
“I’ve tried talking to them, Rayn, but they refuse to listen to me. They’re all still loyal to the wizards that create these games, even though many of them all too often treat their fans like dirt. They still cling to this idea that the wizards really do care about them, and are just scared of the dark warriors, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Hell, the wizards could easily smite the dark warriors, though they would never risk losing the possible sales from their deaths.”
“Well, there must be something that can be done to stop the dark warriors, and to return Vidya games to their former greatness?”
QuQu let out a sigh. “I dunno, Rayn. I’ve yet to figure out a solution to this problem. But hey, if you ever think up something, let me know, will you?” Then he returned to fiddling with the magic crystal sitting on his desk.
“Sure thing, QuQu…” I said. Then I pondered over the dilemma as I watched the dog sled races. All the while, the thought that I wouldn’t be able to see him play them much longer persisted at the back of my mind.
QuQu graciously allowed me to have dinner with him as my mind searched for a solution to the problem laid before me. Though I, a feral wolf, was forced to eat from a bowl on the floor. QuQu sat on the floor next to me, holding his bowl of stew in his hand as he ate. Though my mind was still consumed with finding a solution to the problem we faced, so neither of us said much as we ate. I was so caught up in my thoughts that before I knew it, the sun had already set.
So I stood back up on my feet and started trotting toward the door. “Well, QuQu, my time here was enjoyable, but I fear that I may have overstayed my welcome a bit. I must go back into the wilderness from whence I came. Though worry not, as I promise to return once I figure out how to solve the problem which you have laid before me.”
“Wait, Raindrops!” QuQu bolted up from the floor and dashed in front of me. “You don’t have to go now. Why don’t you sleep here with me overnight?”
“I don’t think I should stay here much longer, QuQu. I don’t wish to impose the burden of my presence here onto you. Out there in the world, I can go hunting for food, whereas here I would be reliant on handouts from you.”
“Oh, but I have enough money to spare, so it wouldn’t be any trouble at all. Really! Don’t go.”
“I’d still feel like something of a leech, just lazing about here without really doing much of anything. I prefer to travel the land, to see as much of the world as I can. You can understand that, right?”
“But you’re not simply lazing about,” QuQu said. “You’d be helping me figure out how we can save Vidya games from the dark warriors. Besides, I can give you plenty of idle tasks to occupy yourself in the meantime.”
My gaze turned toward the floor below in thought. It wasn’t an issue of my personal safety, as QuQu’s thin body frame lead me to believe that I could easily defend myself if he suddenly became hostile. But something about the situation, about the house and about QuQu, made me feel a sense of unease, like there was something important that I was as currently unaware of. “I don’t know, QuQu…”
Hearing the words, QuQu put his hand under my muzzle and lifted it back up to see him. “Please, just for one night at least, Rayn. If you’re still not comfortable, you can always leave in the morning. I’ll prepare a nice breakfast for you to take along too.”
“Well, when you put it that way…” A faint smile started to creep onto my face as QuQu led me back through the house.
The next couple hours I spent wrapped in thought as to why QuQu’s presence made me feel so strange. There was something about him that was different from any other living being that I had ever met before. I had known many others who wielded magical powers, but whenever QuQu used his, I could feel my fur stand on end. There was something he was hiding from me, that much was perfectly clear, but I just couldn’t place my paw on what it was. I suppose it was understandable, since we had just met several hours before. Though the knowledge of that didn’t help to ease my suspicions of him.
Before I could reach a conclusion, the sound of QuQu yawning met my ears, then his footsteps as he went to another room. I stood from where I was lying on the floor and chased after him. There was a fairly large bed at the center of the wall toward the back of the room, easily big enough for two to share without being cramped. QuQu stood by the bedside table and, holding up a candle, he twiddled his glowing fingers upward, causing the candle to ignite as he set it back down.
Then QuQu covered his face with one hand, his digits spread outward across it. He swept them downward over his body, and in an instant a set of sky blue cotton pajamas appeared on him. The sudden shock from the bright light frightened me so much that I bolted under the bed at a lightning pace with a yelp. While the outside floor was rather clean, several furballs, along with various other pieces of debris, lived under the mattress.
After a few moments, the dust and loose hair began to irritate my nose, so I poked my head out from under the bed. In the next room over, I could see QuQu brushing his teeth as if everything was completely normal. I slunk across the room, over to the door, and looked up at QuQu as he prepared for bed. His long bushy tail poured down out from under his pajama top, then sprung up behind his back as it always did, with a sharp point at the end.
“QuQu, what happened to you just now?” I asked. “Your clothes are completely different from what you were wearing before. How did you do that?”
“Oh!” Turning to face me, QuQu let out a chuckle. “I guess I forgot to tell you before, Rayn. I have the powers of a shapeshifter. Why, all who come from the pooka race do!” Then, with his other hand, he gestured around his head, and a nightcap appeared over it.
So that explains what was bothering me so much about him, I thought. If QuQu had the ability to change his appearance at will, then that was probably causing the unease I felt while around him. It was more than likely that the outfit he was wearing before was created with his pooka magic as well, and magic that was kept hidden always bothered me.
As I contemplated the possibilities of QuQu’s shapeshifting powers, the pooka in question finished preparing for sleep and strode past me to bed. As he slipped under the bedsheets, I turned around several times before lying down to sleep, myself. The floorboards under me were cold and hard, but I had slept on less comfortable surfaces before.
“Oh, I just realized, you don’t have a bed to sleep in, do you Rayn?”
I glanced up from where I lay to see QuQu peering over the edge of the bed, his ears drooping over his face slightly.
“Do you want to join me up here on my bed then?” he asked.
I considered the offer for a moment, then leaped up onto the bed next to QuQu, and he laughed as he crawled back under the covers. Once he was settled, I played with the foot of QuQu’s bed until it was more comfortable, before lying down in a curled up ball beside his feet. As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear QuQu’s light breathing out of the corner of my ear.
The next day, QuQu and I continued our discussion of how to save Vidya games from the dark warriors who sought to destroy them. He explained to me that the corruption began with a little game called Winter Quest 2, which contained a wolf-like creature much like myself, save for one small difference. The creature had, in place of four paws, certain appendages that served a purpose that one hesitated to talk about in polite company. While it was possible to fight them in the game, they didn’t do anything more than defend themselves, and sometimes attack when someone came too close to them.
However, there was one characters in the game, one of the cave miners, who told a story of how the “Prick Wolves,” as they were called, would force themselves upon him at night time. This enraged a certain knight in dark armor so fiercely that he gathered an army of warriors and rushed to do battle with the game’s creator. The wizard who made the game, being a whimpering coward when faced with a small army, one that he probably could’ve defeated with a few mid-level spells, immediately surrendered to the warriors and removed the prick wolves and the miner from the game. This being a game played with multiple participants, all copies of it were changed, even for those who had already bought it.
The majority of the game’s fans were, of course, furious at the wizard’s decision to remove the prick wolves, as many of them had taken a particular liking to the fictional species. Though none of them actually did anything beyond complain about it until they tired themselves out from ranting. Though it wouldn’t have been that hard to convince the wizard to change it back. If even a percent of the game’s actual fans had taken up arms, they could’ve easily been able to overpower the group of dark warriors and persuade the wizard to add the prick wolves back in. To this day, no one has ever taken up arms against the dark warriors, and the only deaths among them were from accidents or natural causes. Plenty will talk endlessly about how horrible and awful life is with the dark warriors sticking their nose in everyone else’s business, though barely anyone has the will to take action against them.
As QuQu informed me of the current situation, I briefly considered the prospect of taking on the dark warriors myself, with QuQu’s assistance. Though I soon realized that their numbers were far too large for the two of us to take on by ourselves. While I had more than enough fighting experience from hunting, and QuQu seemed the competent mage, the dark warriors were far too great for us to handle. We would need many more allies if we wanted to stand a fighting chance against them—not a massive army, but a sizable team of skilled fighters would likely be enough to defeat them.
Eventually, QuQu and I finished eating our breakfast, and as my generous host went to clean up after us, I slipped outside to continue thinking about what to do. The morning sun peeked just over the snow-covered treetops, shining brightly into my face. I could see a few squirrels off in the distance and thought how lucky they were that I had just eaten. Then I shook my head; I needed to concentrate on the task before me, not worry about where my next meal was coming from.
At the very least, I had identified an immediate solution to the problem: find an army that could defeat the dark warriors and go to battle with them. Sure, plenty would refuse my call to arms, remarking that fighting against warriors was just as bad as being one. But it was clear to me that war was brewing across the land. If QuQu’s instincts were right, the dark warriors were going to be using their influence on much more than just ruining the fun of others. Soon, we wouldn’t have any choice but to fight them or lose everything.
But the question was, how to convince fans of Vidya, which QuQu called “gamers,” that this was a battle worth fighting? Most of them were of the peasant class, farmers and bakers and plumbers—not those who are typically accustomed to armed combat, though they might be strong enough to try. But how does one convince a simple farmer that fighting in a war was worth his time and energy? If QuQu was a king, it would be easy, as he could just call a royal draft. Though there was no chance of the current king making such a decree, as apparently he was quite sympathetic to many among the dark warriors.
There must be some other way, I thought to myself. At the very least, we could get the word out that war was coming, that we needed to prepare. Though it wasn’t like we could get the newspapers to spread the word, considering that they were all still far too enamored with the wizards to ever say anything negative about them or their games. There must be some alternative to the printed news.
As the thought crossed my mind, I happened to glance in the direction of one of the windows of the house, where I saw QuQu before his magic crystal. Except instead of fiddling with it like he had the day before, he was simply sitting in front of it and watching as the picture showed a feline talking. Curious, I rushed inside, making my way through the rooms, until I came to his.
“What game are you playing now, QuQu?” I asked as I approached him. “I don’t see you moving your fingers.”
QuQu looked back at me. “Oh! This isn’t a game, Rayn. I’m just watching satire video about demanding the inclusion of kittens in the next dog sledding game. While it’s quite amusing, I am a little worried that the wizards at Elemental Arts might be foolish enough to mistake her for one of the real dark warriors. Though I’ve become somewhat apathetic to that series, since their last good release was over a decade ago.”
“A video? You mean like a motion picture?” I asked. “But why would they be recording films lampooning the dark warriors? Wouldn’t they be worried about angering them to violence?”
QuQu chuckled. “It’s not that kind of video. This isn’t some big production meant to tell a grand story; it’s just a picture someone made in their own home, so they don’t have to worry about the dark warriors ever finding where they live. I made plenty of them with a friend of mine some years back, though it’s been ages since I last saw him.”
“What if I you were to start making videos again? If they were to spread all throughout the land, then we might be able to gather a large enough army to fight against the dark warriors. This could be the solution to our little dilemma.”
“Golly, I’d love to start making videos again; it’s just… I can’t really make one all by myself. That’s why I stopped after my previous partner went his own way.”
“Well, what if I helped you with the video production then?”
“No, I don’t really think that that would work… Unless…”
As QuQu stared down at me in silence, I grew increasing uneasy. Before I could make a move, however, QuQu crouched down beside me and took my paw in his hand. The moment we touched, the two of us let out a howl, and the room around us disappeared in a flash, replaced with a world of many shades of blue. My eyes were dazzled by the colors at first, until I soon realized that the fur covering our bodies had turned to silver.
I felt my legs extend until I stood fully erect and my arms hang down at my sides. Every bone in my body, save that of my skull, shifted around under my skin until I became like that of the humanoids. My muscles stretched to conform to the new shape of my body, and my limbs transformed from a wolf’s paws into hands and feet. I noticed that my head came up to QuQu’s shoulders, whereas before I had barely reached his waist when standing upright.
When my transformation was complete, the room exploded in a blaze of brightness, before returning to its previous state. Floating particles from the blast remained in the air all around us as they drifted to the floor. Then QuQu howled once again, and when his cry was over, mine began.
When I grew silent again, I gazed down at the new form which QuQu’s magical pooka shapeshifting powers had granted me. I had spent all my life as that of a four footed wolf, but I found it surprisingly easy adapting to only standing on two legs. It only took a couple tries before I was able to walk around the room just as well as anyone. When I looked back at QuQu, grinning broadly in thanks for his gift, I could see that a sly smile had grown on his face.
“Are you sure all I have to do is hold this thing steady, QuQu?” I asked.
“Sure,” QuQu said. “Just keep your hands held firm against it, and your warmth will keep it running. I know you haven’t had much time to use them, but this should be good practice for more complicated tasks. And besides, the magic I used on you should have granted you the motor skills necessary for something like this.”
“All right, if you say so…” I held up the magic crystal to face QuQu, careful to keep it steady in my grasp. Then the aura surrounding it grew, and I gave a nod to begin.
“In a world where money talks, silence is horrifying,” QuQu began.
A few hours later, QuQu and I finished the video and sent it off throughout the magical airways for others to stumble upon. By that point, I was beginning to grow hungry again, as it was nearing lunchtime, so QuQu offered to take me into town for a meal. I was hesitant at first to accept his offer, since I figured it wouldn’t take long to hunt some prey myself, but he eventually talked me into going with him.
The walk into town was fairly brisk, as the snow below us wasn’t too deep; the pine trees loomed high overhead, dripping melted snow around us. QuQu ran through the slush at a quickened pace, and it took everything I had just to keep up. Only having two legs to run on instead of four didn’t help, but I didn’t want to reject the magical gift my new friend had given me.
There was a gap in the forest where no trees or bushes stood, with a trail of packed snow between them. QuQu walked down the path, leading on for some distance, and soon I could see a town at the end. Neither of us said a word during our trip, as QuQu concentrated on leading me to our destination. Still, it wasn’t long before we exited the forest and arrived in town.
The village itself was alive with activity, with several walking around on various errands and tasks, some chatting idly with neighbors. Many turned to look as QuQu and I passed them, some greeting him with a wave before returning to their prior activities. I spotted a woman hanging freshly cleaned laundry out to dry in the sun, though a large blanket hid us from her. Then QuQu grabbed the sleeve of my jacket and pulled my attention away as he pointed to a building up ahead.
Above the door, hung a sign with the picture of a tortilla chip and a shot glass with lime and mint sticking out of the liquid. QuQu took my hand and pulled me through the door, away from distractions outside. Inside, the sounds of discussion were much louder and had a stronger intensity than those talking outdoors. We walked over to one of the few empty tables and sat down; moments later, someone arrived to take our orders.
Then, after we gave him our order, he left for a short time and was back with two plates covered with debris. I eyed the plate in front of me, my eyebrow raised, and was about to complain, but stopped when the waiter pulled out a hand. A warm aura surrounded the furry fingers, and he began to twiddle them in the air. When he was finished, the light slowly melted away, and the trash morphed into a large salad for QuQu, and a steak for me. The waiter then left us to our meals with a bow.
I was about to lean down and take a bite out of my lunch, before I noticed a set of eating utensils lying next to the plate. My hand grasped both of them and raised them to my face for examination. As I was staring down at them, I could see QuQu looking at me and trying to hold back his laughter, and rather poorly at that.
“Here, Rayn, let me help you with that.” QuQu stood from his stool and walked behind me. He reached around me, took the pronged utensil, and placed it in my left hand. As he held the back of my hands in his, QuQu’s chest pressed against my head, and the feeling of closeness made my tail brush up against his body. QuQu then helped me to cut the steak up into several pieces. I found that after QuQu had shown me the proper usage of the utensil he called a fork, I was able to utilize it by myself without difficulty. Once he saw that I had gotten the hang of it, QuQu returned to his seat and began munching on his salad.
The two of us continued eating our lunches, I myself rather enjoying the flavorful steak in front of me. QuQu soon asked if I wanted to continue making videos with him, which I agreed. I wasn’t sure about what topics they should be about, though Qu assured me that he had a couple ideas, like this one about a wizard who, despite creating Vidya games himself, thought that most of those who played them were insane.
I was about to question why one would bother catering to those he detested, when I heard the door slam open; a ferret humanoid stood in the entrance when I turned to face the noise. He stomped over toward our table with long strides, the ball of fluff hanging from his winter cap bouncing. His eyebrows were curled into a frown as he looked toward QuQu, who stared back at him with his own eyebrow raised.
“QuQu,” he said, his arms beginning to shake as he clenched his fists.
“Yes?” Qu asked in reply.
“How could you say that about the wizards who create such wonderful games for us to play?! They’ve never done anything bad to us; they’re just afraid of the dark warriors. Why would you call for war against them?”
“But, Nuzzy, what else should we call our current situation with the dark warriors? They declared war the moment they first went after the Wizard Marcus. How else are we to deal with them other than striking back?”
“Do we really have to fight the wizards though? They’re the ones who actually make these games, so we wouldn’t have them at all if it weren’t for them. Besides, they’re just scared of the warriors, and they’d totally be on our side, were it not for them.”
“Now whatever gave you that idea? The wizards picked the side of the dark warriors when they started kowtowing to their ridiculous demands. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just as much against us as the dark warriors are, if not moreso.”
“QuQu, how can you say that?! The wizards are our friends; they’ve brought so much joy into our lives with the games they create. How could you bring yourself to go to war with them?”
“Easy! This is a war; we are fighting a war against the dark warriors, and the only way we’re going to beat them is by going on the offense. Even continuing to support them with our money is a bad idea, so long as they keep bowing to the whims of our enemies.”
“But they don’t really have any choice in the matter, QuQu. They either change their games to appease the dark warriors, or get attacked by them. It’s not a great situation, but it’s the best we’ve got right now. That’s why we need to spread the word about the dark warriors, so everyone knows how bad they are.”
“You mean like an awareness campaign? Wait, aren’t the dark warriors always going on about how that’s all they’re doing? They’re just raising awareness for their chosen cause.”
“Well, sure, that may be the case, but they also drink water and breath the same air we do. The difference is that they threaten others, while we do not. That’s why your plan of going after the wizards is such an awful one, QuQu. We can’t stoop to their level or we’ll be just as bad as them, so we need to continue supporting the wizards until the dark warriors finally leave them alone for good!”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Aren’t these all-powerful wizards we’re talking about? Why don’t they just throw some fireballs at the warriors or conjure some horrible aberration to scare them off? Even a lone wizard should be able to overpower an army of warriors without too much difficulty.”
Nuzzy turned to me, his eyes wide. “Well, yeah. Of course they could beat them, and I’m sure one day they’re going to. Once they recognize that we support them one hundred percent, they’ll probably band together and cast one huge spell that will take care of all the dark warriors for good.”
“Okay, let’s say that the wizards are secretly on our side, so why haven’t they already done this? What’s stopping them from destroying the dark warriors this very moment? I have yet to see any sign that the wizards are at all on our side, though plenty of evidence to the contrary can easily be seen…”
“What are you talking about? I, along with many others, have received numerous messages from wizards who support us in our fight against the dark warriors. I can assure you that they’re truly on our side.”
“Okay, so maybe QuQu and I were wrong then. Who were these wizards of which you speak? What are their names, and what games did they make? Maybe we can talk with them and convince them that now is the time to fight back against the dark wizards.”
“Well, I don’t actually know their names; the letters and videos they sent didn’t mention anything like that. They were focused more on how much they appreciated what we were doing.”
“What are you doing though?” I asked.
“I already told you guys. I’m spreading the word about how awful and horrible the dark warriors really are. That’s why I started writing for the local newspaper. I’m sure once our paper reaches a large enough audience, the wizards will finally recognize us and stop supporting the dark warriors.”
I glanced over to where QuQu was sitting, only to find him looking at me as well, and with the way his eyes touched me, I guessed that he was thinking the same thing I was. It had become plainly obvious to me, even in the short time I talked to Nuzzy that he had no interest in actually defeating the dark warriors, and I suspected that no one else working for that news rag did either.
So where did their interests lie if not with actually fighting those who opposed us? I wondered.
That evening, as QuQu and I sat next to each other against a tree in the local park outside town, Nuzzy approached us again. At first I grew rather cross with him, though QuQu held me back from biting his head off. Instead, he allowed him to speak freely and listened intently as to what he had to say.
“I arranged for you to meet with one of the wizards,” Nuzzy said. “Now you can see that I was right, that they really are on our side. Come on, let’s get going!”
Nuzzy took QuQu by the arm and tried to pull him away, but QuQu held firm and didn’t move. I swatted against Nuzzy’s hand, and he quickly let go of QuQu and took a few steps back. When he looked up at me, a deep frown was etched on his face.
“What was that for?!” Nuzzy asked. “I came here to offer you a bridge to the wizards, so we can finally begin to fix Vidya games, and you slap me away like this?”
“Oh, grow up, Nuzzy,” I said. “It was just a light—”
Then QuQu stepped in front of me, standing between us. “Say, Nuzzy, if you knew who this wizard was all along, why didn’t you tell anyone? Why did you wait until now to meet with them?”
“The wizard asked me never to tell anyone who he really was; that’s why I couldn’t give you his name before,” Nuzzy said. “It took a lot of talking, but I convinced him to meet you. Now you’ll finally realize that he really is on our side in this fight against the dark warriors.”
“I suppose I can understand him wanting to keep his identity a secret, since he might fall victim to a surprise attack from the dark warriors, if they were ever to discover he was against them. Such an attack would be much harder to defend against than one coming from head on. Though why did he agree to meet with us?”
“Oh, after watching you video, he wants to assure you that he isn’t your enemy. If everyone did as you told, he would quickly run out of money and find himself working as a street performer again. He wants to do whatever it takes prevent that from happening.”
“Hmm, I don’t know… I still don’t understand why he doesn’t just fight the dark warriors himself. If he really is on our side as you say, then he could just shoot anyone who tries attacking him. He wouldn’t even have to go anywhere; all he’d have to do is stop kowtowing to the demands of the dark warriors and simply wait for them to try another crusade.”
“QuQu, I assure you that he does have… plans to deal with the dark warriors, but, uh, now isn’t the right time. I, uh, can’t really talk about it here. Umm, someone else could be hiding somewhere and listening.”
QuQu shrugged. “I suppose that is entirely possible, and it would seem rather odd for one of the great wizards were to pay little ‘ol me a visit. Okay, Nuzzy, I shall pay your wizard friend a visit; just lead the way, and we will follow.”
“Wait a minute!” I grabbed QuQu’s hand. “What if this is a trap? I barely know who this Nuzzy creature is, and neither of us have ever met this wizard he’s been talking with. Why, we don’t even know his name!”
“Oh, I can tell you his name,” Nuzzy said. “It’s Woody.”
“Woody?!” QuQu turned to him, his eyes wide. “You mean The Wizard of the West? That Woody? Oh, he made some of the best games; I used to play them for hours as a child. It would be an honor to meet with Woody.”
“QuQu, are you sure about this?” I asked.
“Oh, don’t worry about it, Rayn. Woody’s a good guy. If he really is on our side, then I’m sure this war against the dark warriors will be over soon. I mean, he is the grandfather of the War game, after all.”
Nuzzy didn’t say much as we walked along, so QuQu told me all about the games Woody had made over the years. I listened intently as he talked, my interest in meeting Woody growing with each game he told me of. If QuQu wasn’t exaggerating his accomplishments, then I thought that I would come to have a profound respect for him.
I was almost starting to wonder if our idea of refusing to buy any more of his games was such a good one after all. Though if Woody was so skilled at creating Vidya games, then why didn’t QuQu play them anymore? Sure, he had lost his old copies, but wouldn’t Woody have new games to replace them with?
Large dark clouds floated above the side of a cliff wall some yards away, with lightning bolts roaring every few seconds overhead. Nuzzy led us to a pile of rocks near the face of the cliff, then a door opened up in the wall, much to my surprise. He looked back at us, waiting for us to follow. I gazed up at where the sun had been setting just a moment ago, before the clouds had hidden it from view, with only a dim light left to brighten the sights. Then I shared a look with QuQu, who bit his lip as he stared back at me.
Before I could ask him what he thought of the situation, we heard a frog croaking.
“Woody!” QuQu held his hands together and ran over to the bullfrog humanoid. The wizard wore long purple robes that trailed along the snow as he walked, and he had a thin, white beard that bounced wildly as he spoke. I approached them slowly, stopping behind QuQu.
“Are you the one they call QuQu?” Woody asked.
QuQu nodded furiously at him.
“Excellent. Come, let us talk inside. We have much to discuss this day.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful; there’s so much I wish to say to you, Woody. Ever since I was young, I always dreamed of meeting you. Why, your games are the reason I started practicing magic in the first place.”
Woody looked down at QuQu’s face for a bit, his eyes moist, before turning to walk back inside. QuQu and Nuzzy followed Woody close behind, and I chased behind them soon after. The walls of the tunnel we entered were lined with brightly lit torches, contrasting sharply with the darkness outside. Woody led us down the pathway for some time, the cave seeming to stretch endlessly into the cliff. QuQu rambled on for the entire trip, gushing on and on with praise for Woody, though his monologue wasn’t nearly as interesting as those of his I had heard before.
We eventually arrived at a larger room in the cave, and Woody finally cut off QuQu’s speech. “I believe we should be safe here, though just in case—Nuzzy, please search the place for any potential spies.”
Once Nuzzy was out of sight, Woody walked over to a chair near the wall of the cave and sat down, with QuQu and I following him. He sat there for a moment, staring at the metal log stove that was burning a few paces away, then looked up at us. We quickly went over to two chairs around the table before him and sat down.
“So I’ve been informed that you take issue with the games I’ve been releasing as of late,” Woody said.
“Yes,” QuQu said. “You’ve changed certain aspects of your games to yield to demands from the dark warriors, and we’ve come to ask you to stop. Like I said earlier, I’ve always loved playing your games, and I’ve been assured that you’re really against the dark warriors. So I just wanted to ask, why do you agree to their demands when you could easily defeat them with a few simple magic spells?”
“Oh, but why would I ever attack the dark warriors? They enjoy playing my games as much as you do. If I were to destroy them, then they wouldn’t buy my games anymore, now would they?”
QuQu held his chin for a moment as he looked down at the table in front of us, then his eyes widened. “Wait, how can you say that about the dark warriors? I highly doubt that they find much enjoyment out of your games, and I’m certain that they don’t like them as much as we do. If they do like them so much, they why are they always complaining about them?”
“Why, they’re merely criticizing my games; that’s all. They say such things because they love them so much. And besides, how else am I to improve my skill at game creation? I can’t keep making the same games over and over for the rest of my days. I need to make them the best that they can be.”
“Okay, so they’re just criticizing the games that you and many other wizards make, but their criticism is… awful. They never mention anything that actually matters, like how the games play, or how good they look, or even how fun they are. They only complain about fur color of the characters or whether they have herbivore teeth. They go on and on about a lack of ‘feral representation’ when feral animals aren’t even able to play their games. I just don’t understand why the wizards would even take time out of their day to listen to their cries.”
Woody shook his head. “I have to listen to their suggestions and carefully consider each of their points. How else will I learn to better my craft? Sure, feral representation isn’t important to you, but the warriors care deeply about it. And they’re rather good at… voicing their enthusiasm, especially when it comes to games that support their causes.”
“But none of that has anything to do with how good the game is. Why do you continue to prioritize nonsense like that, while ignoring concerns of quality from everyone else? Why do the wizards only listen to complains from the dark warriors?”
“Whatever made you think that was the case? We absolutely listen to all of our fans and weigh each of their comments, before deciding if to implement them in our games. There’s no special treatment given to anyone here.”
“Which is why you felt adding a feral animal race to Species War VI was more important than fixing the game’s balancing issues?”
“Well, of course we did. The balancing issues you speak of are way overplayed by the game’s critics. And as for the addition of a feral canine race, well, we wanted as many as possible to be able to enjoy our games as possible. So feral representation is one of the highest priorities with my games now.”
“I don’t know that I really see the point of all that nonsense,” I remarked. “Back when I was still a feral, before my friend QuQu transformed me, I never really paid any attention to what the character in the game looked like. Besides, if the game in question isn’t any good, then I’d be more disappointed by that then by the choice of character.”
Woody looked me up and down. “But your body is that of a humanoid now. Why would you allow someone to steal your heritage? Traitor!”
I glanced at QuQu, only to find him sharing in my bemusement as he looked back at me. I suspected that he had lost much of the respect he previously had for Woody. QuQu stood up from his seat and walked closer toward Woody, I myself following close behind him.
“Thank you for your time with us, Woody, but I think we will be going now.” Then QuQu turned and started walking toward the tunnel we entered through. “Come, Raindrops! We’re leaving this place.”
“You’re not going anywhere!”
QuQu halted in his tracks and looked around for the where the speaker was located in the cave. Then I saw Nuzzy stepping toward us and I pointed at him for QuQu to see. QuQu’s teeth clenched together, and he put on a frown.
“Get out of the way, Nuzzy,” QuQu said. “We’re not staying here a moment longer! I am taking my friend, Raindrops, home with me, and when we get there, we will begin writing up our battle plans for the upcoming fight.” QuQu slammed his fist on the table.
“He said you’re not leaving here.”
We looked back to see Woody standing from the table, a scowl had working its way onto his face. He picked up a nearby staff and slammed it down against the rock flooring with a thundering clash. Soon, his frog face and hands began to dissolve, with great blobs of flesh falling to the ground with a splash before fading. Behind the illusion was nothing but skeletal bone, with tiny balls of light glowing from where his eyes were a moment ago.
“Elemental Arts!” QuQu screamed.
The skeleton that stood before us only laughed as the room was filled with ferrets who rushed at us. QuQu and I fought with everything we had in us, but soon we were overwhelmed by their attacks. As they carried us away from the place, QuQu kept screaming something about Elemental Arts, but the skeleton formerly known as Woody only laughed at his cries.
I lay on the bottom of a metal cage hanging some distance above the cave floor, careful not to move; with every step I took, the construct began to swing on its chain. After they dragged me away from QuQu, his transformation spell on me had lost all power. I found my body once again that of a feral wolf, back to being just another animal roaming the wilderness, but my time with high society wasn’t what I missed so much.
No, what I longed for was the pooka who had granted me that status, the one who in such a short time, I had grown to care for deeply. Of course, they would not allow us to share the same cage together; that would actually give me some company in this miserable hole. Though it would also help me to formulate an escape plan with my cellmate, and the wizard couldn’t have that…
I crawled across the cell floor toward the edge of the prison and looked downward. The bottom of the cave was several yards below me, well more than twice the combined height of QuQu and I standing upright. The thought of hurting myself as I crashed down there made my stomach ache, but my desire to see QuQu again was stronger.
I forced my head between the bars of the cage, the cold bronze digging through my fur, chilling my flesh. No matter how hard I pressed against them, however, I was unable to leave the prison which held me so tight. My hind legs scraped across the metal floor as I shoved harder and harder, and a low growl escaped my throat. Soon, I found the cage start to swing about, propelled from my movement inside. The sudden shift caused me to let out a yelp and collapse on the floor.
I slunk back away from the cell bars, the thought of slipping through them suddenly making my stomach upset once again. As the cage continued swinging above the ground, I held firm in the middle of the floor and waited for the ride to end. It was just as well that I stopped anyway; even with my original body, which was much smaller than the one QuQu had granted me, I was still too big to fit through the bars. The cage began to slow with each pass across the floor, though my unease didn’t end until it came to a complete stop. I didn’t move around much for some time afterwards, as I still worried about causing my prison to react once again against my attempts at escape.
Looking out at the dark cave walls surrounding me, I started to wonder if it was really worth getting into all this trouble just to make that video with QuQu. It was more than obvious that this wizard didn’t want us saying such things about him, and I imagined that there were many others like him who felt similarly. Would I have been better off making videos about how horrible and awful the dark warriors were, never offering any real solutions while going on and on about how much I hated them. Nevermind that I had barely ever interacted with them before—mostly just saw them off in the distance while hunting. I could easily have just hung out around town and listened to what everyone else was saying, then make videos with QuQu that just parroted the same arguments and talking points. We could probably have gained a good bit of notoriety doing that, much like many others had done in the past.
But that wouldn’t really accomplish anything, I thought.
I knew by this point that the wizards, at least some of them, did not have the best interests of the general public at heart. If they were willing to hold QuQu and I captive beyond our will, then what else were they willing to do to accomplish their end goals? A chill ran up my spin as I considered all the ways the wizards could make life for humanoid and animal kind a living hell—all the ways which I could stop them if only I could make them realize. Thanks to the many street performers and magical craftsmen in the world, the general population had a rather positive view of the wizards, and it would be quite difficult to get them to consider the possibility that not all of them were entirely kind-hearted.
Convincing them of this would be a herculean effort, though it was certainly worth trying. Maybe if QuQu and I were able to gain a large enough audience, and our fans were to spread our messages throughout the land, then maybe it wouldn’t be too late to save everything. But first I had to find a way out of this cage and help him escape…
With a renewed sense of purpose, I slowly inched toward the edge of the cage once again. The swinging of the cage had spun it around to face a nearby wall of the cave, and I noticed that it sloped in a curve as if the room was shaped like a sphere. My eyes widened in realization, and my lips formed into a grin.
I leapt up from where I lay in the cage and darted back and forth across the floor, and the prison began to sway again, though this time in a single, controlled direction. I found myself sliding across the metal as the cage propelled itself on its own momentum. It was all I could do to hold on for dear life to the bars, though I was able to keep the cage swinging by rising and lowering my body at critical points.
Closer and closer the cage came to the wall with each swing, drawing me nearer toward escape. The wind from the momentum whipped at my fur, my tail brushing in the breeze. My teeth clenched together harder with every shift of the cage, bracing for impact. Then the side of cage finally collided with the wall, and a loud bang sounded through my ears as the floor shook.
The metal bars bent at an angle when the bottom of the cell smashed against the wall, then the pendulum began its trip back to the other side of the room. The hole between the metal bars went underneath me, and I slipped along the floor and fell through it. A jolt of pain shot through me when I collided with the rock wall, and several lesser shocks struck me as I tumbled down the slope.
Soon I slowed to a stop at the end of the slope and lay there for some time, groaning as I waited for the pain to dull. When the thought of QuQu returned to my mind, I found the strength to stand up again on my four legs. Several bumps and bruises covered my body, though I didn’t feel anything broken, so I slowly made my way out of the room in search of my friend.
The underground cavern was like a maze of winding pathways, and the farther I walked, the closer the walls seemed to be closing in on me. I wasn’t sure if the tunnels were actually getting smaller or if it was simply my imagination, though the ceiling brushing against my back while I crawled across the ground soon answered that question. Eventually, I saw a light up ahead from torches burning brightly, and I scurried along the floor towards it.
I managed to squeeze my body through the exit, and the force caused me to tumble out onto the rocky ground outside it. When I looked up, I saw a cage similar to the one which held me earlier, though trailing down from inside was a long, cyan tail with a pointy shard at the end.
QuQu! I thought.
I pulled myself up from the ground and ran over toward the cage, the various bruises on my body aching from the exertion. When I came near the cage, I leaped at it, soaring above the ground; my forepaws brushed against the edge of the cage, then I fell back down. I barely managed to land upright from the jump, so I shook my head to regain my senses. A moment later, I looked up to see the cage swinging back and forth from the nudge, the chains creaking from the movement.
Though as I stared up at the metal prison, I noticed that it didn’t seem to slow in its movement, and then I saw QuQu’s tail swinging around as well, though not in unison with the cage. Soon it went up into the cell, and a few seconds later, QuQu’s head poked through the bars to look at me. As I stared back at him, my tail began to wag back and forth, my tongue hanging out as I breathed.
“Hey, Rayn!” QuQu’s lips curled into a smile. “How’d you escape from your cage and find me here? I tried slipping through the bars, but my hands are a bit tied up at the moment.” Then he held out a metal box, and I realized that they were his handcuffs. A thin chain ran along down from the wrists back into the prison.
“I, uh… had a bit of an accident which helped me to slip between the bars,” I said. “Though I had a few rough bumps on the way down, I’m right enough to help you escape.”
“That might be easier said than done, Rayn. Even if I could break free of these chains, it’s still a long drop down to the floor. Do you really think you could catch me?”
I shook my head. “No, probably not, but I do have other ideas.” Then I jumped up in the air, though the lack of momentum kept me from going any higher than a couple feet before falling back down. I landed right on my feet, then bolted around the room, running as fast as my legs could carry me. When I ran back toward the cage, I pushed off the ground once again, flying straight towards QuQu. My paws were inches away from him, though since his hands were locked in the metal box, he was unable to grab me, and I slipped away from him.
I misstepped when I met with the ground again, and the rest of me collapsed on the rock floor. I lay there for a moment until I heard QuQu cry out to me, then I picked myself up from the floor and shook myself off. With a groan, I started running around the room once again.
“Rayn, I’ll be fine here for now; just find a way out yourself!” QuQu said. “You can always come back later for me.”
Despite his protests, I didn’t change direction or halt my pace. I rushed about the room at top speed, slowly expanding my circle around the cage. With each pass, I went farther up the slope along the wall, until I managed to run along the wall itself. I raced a couple laps around the room to ensure I had enough speed, then I pushed off against the wall, soaring right toward QuQu’s cage.
Midair, I passed between the bars—for they were farther apart then the ones in my cage, likely because QuQu was chained up—and rammed straight into QuQu’s petite form. The two of us slid along the metal floor, with QuQu slipping out of the cage, and myself slowing to a stop at the edge of the prison. QuQu dangled a few feet below the cell, held only by a thin metal chain attached to his handcuffs. A bit of nervous laughter escaped his lips.
My teeth bit into the chain and pulled it back up with all my might, the metal tasting bitter in my mouth. My forepaws slid across the floor until they pressed against the metal bars, bracing myself as I pulled on the chain. I felt bits and pieces of the metal break off in my mouth, spreading the foul taste throughout. My neck began to ache from the exertion, and the injuries I sustained previously flared up again, but I continued to raise the chain higher. Soon, I heard a clank below me, and I looked down to see QuQu with his handcuffs planted on the edge of the floor, a pained look on his face as he struggled to stay up.
With a boost of strength, I managed to drag the cord far enough for QuQu to climb up back into the prison. Then I lay back on the floor and panted heavily as I waited for my energy to return. QuQu crawled up beside me and lay there for a time.
“Any ideas on how to get out of here?” I asked.
“With the power that wizard commands, the only way we’re going to get out of here is to defeat him,” QuQu said. “Once we’ve licked him good, he likely won’t send his minions to attack us after we sneak out of here. I know a spell that I can use against him, but I need both hands free to cast it, and well…”
“The metal used in the making of your chain seems rather brittle—almost as if the wizard wanted it to break so you’d hurt yourself trying to escape. Maybe I can break through those hand cuffs of yours enough so you can cast spells again.”
QuQu shook his head. “No, it seems to be made of a much stronger substance than that of the chain. I’ve already tried breaking it a few times already.”
I frowned at QuQu’s cuffs, noticing several scratches on the box, though none of them even dented the metal. “Well, at the very least, I can bite through this chain. Then we can slip out of here and maybe find the key, or the exit, at the very least.”
I gnawed at the metal for some time, slowly chipping away at the chain until I managed to break through it. The bitterness of the metal overwhelmed my tastes, and I spat out my excess saliva several times until I managed to get rid of its remains. Once I was ready to go, I looked up at QuQu, who in turn gazed down at me with a smile on his face.
I motioned with my neck for him to get on, and QuQu responded by climbing onto my back, the remainder of the chain curled around his arm. I slowly walked toward the back end of the cage, then bolted forward through the bars. I managed to stick a good landing on the floor, though my legs ached from the increased weight I was carrying. Then I heard a loud bang from behind. My head shot back to see the cage flying away from the wall, a large dent in the metal much like the one I escaped from.
My mouth hung agape as the sounds of loud cackling echoed about, then feet stomping as if from a giant. I saw the evil wizard step into the room, holding his staff high in the air, and a strange aura surrounded its scepter. The sight of the bright light from the staff spooked me so much that I bolted from the room.
With QuQu riding on my back, I ran through a door on the opposite side of the room from the wizard and didn’t stop.
The wizard chased us all throughout the cave, and though I was much faster than him, he began teleporting around to try and catch me. Several times, he would suddenly appear right in front of me, only for me to let out a yelp and run around back the other way. Though QuQu’s thin frame made him rather light to carry around, my legs were still beginning to grow tired from the exertion, and the wizard didn’t seem to be running out of energy despite the many spells he had cast.
In many of the areas we passed through, the rock walls and floor were covered in scorch marks from fire spells. I heard the magical energy gathering around the wizard’s staff behind me, then another fire bolt shot along the side of me, singing the fur on my hind leg. The pain caused me to trip on a few stray rocks, sending QuQu and I tumbling across the floor. The lower half of my face and the front of my body skidded across the ground, then QuQu landed on top of my back, causing me to let out a groan. He quickly rolled off of me when he heard the sound of my cry and helped me back on my paws. I spotted a set of keys dangling from the wizard’s belt when he stepped toward us, then I glanced back at QuQu’s handcuffs, a sly grin showing on my face.
“Hop on,” I said.
QuQu crawled on top of me once again, and I bolted off about the room, dodging every which way to avoid the wizard’s spells. I ran circles around him across the ground; the wizard quickly stopped trying to follow my speed and instead simply attacked every time I ran in front of him. Finally, after positioning myself directly behind him, I made a ninety degree turn and jumped straight at the wizard.
My teeth tore through the wizard’s robes, and when they came into contact with the large key ring that hung about his belt, I snapped them shut. The belt ripped off the wizard’s bony body as I pulled the keys away, though before I could escape I felt a strong yank that spun me around to face him. The wizard held the other end of the broken belt in both of his skeletal hands tightly. I twisted and turned the strap, spinning the wizard in circles, though his grip never wavered.
He began to inch his way up the belt towards me, and as I looked at the piece of old leather, I noticed another fracture about halfway between us on the left side. I dashed toward the right, putting harder stress on the tear. The wizard ceased his ascent for me and dedicated his attention to keeping hold of his article of clothing. The farther I ran about the wizard, the more his belt tore, until it finally split in two.
The sudden lack of tension sent all of us spiraling away toward opposite sides of the room. This time, I found myself lying on top of QuQu when we stopped, my face brushing against his. Though this was no time for friendly affections, so I quickly located where his hands were. I glanced back to see the wizard still fumbling to regain his footing, then I went to work testing each of the keys I held in my mouth. QuQu was groaning from the impact, though I ignored his cries; it wouldn’t be long before the wizard came at us again.
It was fairly difficult to shift the keys along the ring in my mouth after trying each one, and the taste was worse than even the metal chain I bit into before. With only a few more to go, I glanced back at the wizard once again and saw that he was back on his feet and stepping toward us. A red glow was beginning to form around his staff he held.
My eyes widened; I went back to fiddling with the keychain, though in my nervousness, I quickly dropped it from my mouth. QuQu let out a cry when he saw the keys crash onto the ground, and I stooped down to pick them up again. While my head was lowered, I looked straight at the keyhole in his handcuffs, and I saw that it was rather small. Then I spotted the smallest key, the one toward the end of the ring, and I realized that they were the same size.
I scooped the keychain up in my mouth once again, and positioning the small key at the front, I jammed it toward the hole in the handcuffs, where it entered the keyhole smoothly. Behind me, I heard the sounds of the wizard’s spell as he began his attack, so I quickly twisted my head around, turning the key and unlocking the handcuffs. The metal box opened, revealing QuQu’s furry hands, then fell to the rocky floor with a loud thud.
Just as the wizard released his fire spell, QuQu’s hands shot up, his fingers dancing around in the air, drawing shapes my mind couldn’t comprehend. I felt a strong heat on my back as the ball of fire shot toward us, though before it could strike, a shower of frost materialized from QuQu’s hands. The snow and ice shards flew over me, flying straight in the wizard’s face. He took a few steps back, and QuQu stood, his fingers aimed straight at the wizard.
Soon, the wizard let out a cry, and I heard the sound of hundreds of feet pouring into the room. I was about to jump back on my paws to fight them, though when they saw the spectacle in front of us, they quickly halted their approach and simply stood to watch. He looked around through the snow at all his animal henchmen, his skeletal jaw dropped in astonishment. I saw QuQu grit his teeth as he continued casting the magical storm, his eyes growing weary as time went on.
I brushed up against him, bracing him against the possibility of a fall. Soon, QuQu found it within him to shoot a large burst of ice shards at the wizard, causing him to fall back into what had become a large snowbank. Then QuQu conjured up a large block of ice which fell on top of the pile of snow, keeping the wizard from digging his way out of it. The two of us stepped towards him, QuQu leaning against me to keep upright.
“Let all who gaze upon this sight remember that this is the fate which will befall any who attack us,” QuQu said.
Then we turned and walked out of the room, the wizard’s animal henchmen stepping back to avoid our path. Once we had passed them, I heard behind us the sound of their scurrying feet as they rushed to dig their master out of the snow. QuQu planted his hands on his knees when we were out of the room, away from sight of our enemies. He was breathing heavy from the exertion, and his legs were shaking to simply continue standing upright.
I motioned my head towards him. “Climb on, Qu. I’ll carry you away from this rotten place.”
“T-Thanks, Rayn…” QuQu lay down on my back as I had instructed, and I went out through the tunnels until I had managed to find the outside world, then I continued onward back to QuQu’s home.
QuQu dug his fingers into my fur coat as we arrived back at his house, and that pain, along with my various other injuries, was beginning to take its toll, though I managed to keep it from overwhelming me. When I approached the front door, QuQu had regained enough of his strength that he was able to turn the knob, allowing me to nudge the door open. I made my way through the house until I reached the living room, where I gently turned QuQu over to the couch. Then I sat in front of him, looking up with hope for his well being.
“How you holding up, Qu?” I asked.
“I think I’ll be fine, Rayn,” QuQu said. “I just need a bit of rest and maybe some food to eat. I lost a lot of energy from that spell, and well… I haven’t really eaten much since breakfast.”
“I’m, uh, not sure if I can get you something in my current state. I can’t exactly open an ice box or work the stove with my paws or teeth. And I’m guessing that you wouldn’t really want any raw squirrel meat.”
“Oh, right. Gimme a sec…” QuQu took one of my paws in his hand, and before I could protest, the room disappeared, and he transformed me back into my humanoid form. I was about to scold him for it, when I saw that the spell had caused him to fall asleep from exhaustion.
So, I shook my head and went into the kitchen to find something for QuQu to eat. I returned moments later with a couple bowls of stew, one held in each hand. As I entered the room, Qu looked up at me and suddenly let out a yelp.
“Oh! I forgot to give you some clothes to wear, Rayn! Don’t worry, It’ll just take me a moment. I’m sure I have enough left in me for such a simple spell.”
I managed to set the bowls down on the coffee table and place a hand on QuQu before he could rise from the couch. Though it wasn’t hard, as he was still quite weak from the battle before. He flailed his arms about frantically for a moment, before calming down and allowing me to talk.
“It’s all right, Qu. You don’t need to worry about me; just concentrate on resting up. Besides, it’s not like there’s anyone around besides the two of us.”
QuQu let out a tired laugh. “Well, if you say so, Rayn.”
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