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    (Story 2 Page 1) In a room





    The sign reads



    "Welcome all new travellers.

    To continue you must go through a series of doors.

    After going through you will pick a costume. You will then become a half- human and half that creature.

    After a week(100 mins a hour,20 hrs a day,10 days a week) has passed you may morph and get another costume. To start of with you will only be able to become 40% human to 60% human.

    If you put on a costume you will then become that creature, be teleported to it's home town and have to wait a week before being able to morph.

    After 50 costumes you may change into one of your other costumes and become 30% to 70% human. When changing costumes you must wait at least an hour before you can change costumes again.

    100 different species/gender costumes allows you to gender-morph and become 20% to 80% human

    200 different species costumes allows you to combine costumes and become 10% to 90% human

    400 different species costumes allows you to return to your world with no more morphing

    And 800 different species costumes makes a polymorph and allows you to morph outside of this world.

    Also if you have a costume like a centaur then the human part will always be human and is counted towards the human percentage.

    Any gender/species transformation magic of yours can only change your gender(if you have at least 100 costumes) and the animal part to a different animal.

    When you change into a different costume (that you already have) you may teleport to that species home town but you will have the week penalty where you have no costume changes.

    If you die while wearing a costume you will be reborn at the local inn (or appropriate location ). If you have more then 100 costumes you will lose the costume you had when you died and go to an appropriate place for your next costume.

    If you fail to make it out in 100 years(100 weeks in a year) one of your possible forms will be chosen and you will be permanently stuck in that form(apart from magic) until you die. Also there will be no possibility of going back to your world.

    Also, one final note: should you take a female form and become pregnant, you won't be able to change your gender until the child is born, though the other aspects of your form may change (the child will change to match.) That is all, and good luck!


    You realise that you have to do what the sign said to do and go through the doors and grab a costume.



    Alternatively you could use the key system to determine the room


    Please type in a number 1 - 18

    Number 1:
    Number 2:
    Number 3:



    Written by Catprog on 11-02-2004

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    (Story 2 Page 5) Normal Land





    You go through the door.

    All of a sudden it slams shut and with no handle on this side it appears that you are stuck.

    There are two more doors however and both of them have a sign on them saying



    Costume room for
    Element: Land
    Type: Normal
    Gender: ????



    So which door do you want

    Written by Catprog on 26-02-2004

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    (Story 2 Page 21) Female Normal Land

    You go through the door.

    All of a sudden it slams shut and with no handle on this side it appears that you are stuck.

    There are five costumes in this room, all of them female, all of them are normal land creatures.

    Written by Catprog on 26-02-2004


    (Story 2 Page 50) Vixen

    You find a Vixen costume. You then read the instructions on the costume for how to put it on and you strip so it will fit properly. You start by slowly sinking your legs into the costumes having to make a slight effort to begin with to fill the slender egs.

    Finally you get it put on up to your waist and slip your arms down into it as well. You pull the zipper up on the front and sigh a little the costumes chest feeling a little tight.

    Finally you bring the hood up over your face and start to adjust it so you can see out the eye holes.



    As you adjust the mask you start to feel a tingling sensation washing all down the front and back of your body.

    You stare in surprise as the chest seems to swell and gain weight, though the tight feeling vanishes as the breasts grow to a large size. You reach a hand to touch the now heavy orbs and can't help but gasp as you feel the pressure of your fingers on the sensitive flesh of your breast.

    The tingle washes over your groin now and a pleasure shoots up through your spin causing you tail to swish about with life.


    You realise you are no longer wearing a costume, you are a Vixen.



    As you adjust the mask you start to feel a tingling sensation washing all down the front and back of your body.

    You suddenly feel a enjoyable sensation as an air current picks up and even now you are wearing a costume you can feel it. Then you realise you're no longer wearing a costume, you are a Vixen.

    Written by An Anonymous Author on 05-08-2005 and edited by catprog

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    (Story 2 Page 99) And Then...

    As you stand there and stare in confused awe at your new body, the world seems to blur around you, leaving you in a muddle of gray blurs. Waves of energy twist themselves around your body and fade away into strips of cloth.


    When they have finished, you find you are now clothed in a simple cloth shirt and knee-length skirt. The shirt is white and the skirt is black, and the fabric is somewhat coarse compared to what you are used to. You haven't been clothed with underwear of any kind.

    Reaching a tentative, curious hand up to your new breasts, you find that they support themselves just fine without the aid of a brassiere thanks to a layer of muscle just under the skin, and you guess that you aren't wearing any undershorts because they would be a pain to get over your tail. Still, it's disconcerting to have your privates left uncovered except for a skirt (notoriously vulnerable to light breezes) and to have only one layer between the rest of the world and the new features of your chest that you hope people won't pay attention to.

    While you are contemplating this, the grayness starts to come back into focus, resolving into a picturesque hilltop overlooking a small village that might have come from the late 1920s back on your Earth. You realize with a start that part of the costume deal involved spending a week in your new form, in its native environment. Whether you like it or not, you're going to get a crash course in living as an anthropomorphic vixen. You wonder whether you'll be given a place to stay during your week. Living as a vixen is bad enough; you'd hate to have to be homeless while you're doing so.

    Written by nothingsp on 25-07-2006 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 100) Your New Home

    In a bit of a daze, you walk down the hill towards the village. Trying to look nonchalant, you stick your hands into a couple of pockets that you find in your skirt. In one of them, you find a crumpled bit of paper. You pull it out and uncrumple it. A street address is written on it.

    Walking down into the village, you succeed in finding the address on the paper. It's a small white house, mostly nondescript. Walking up to the door, you knock. Nobody answers. The thought occurs to you that perhaps this is your house, but the door seems to be locked.

    You check under the doormat, but no key is to be found. You're just about to give up and break a window when you feel something in...much as you hate to think about it, in your cleavage. Looking down at your chest, you find that you're wearing a small chain necklace with a key on it. You reach around the back of your head to unclasp it.

    The key fits the lock, and you go in, shutting the door behind you. From the small coatroom, you make your way through the hall and into the kitchen. On the table is a note. Picking it up, you read.

    Dear Player-At-My-Little-Game:
    I, the person writing this note, am the creator of the costume house. As you may have guessed, I'm a reasonably powerful wizard. But this is all quite beside the point. You've taken your first new form, and I sincerely hope you're enjoying it. (If you aren't, I suggest you try to, as it will make your time in this form much easier, psychologically speaking. And should you find you like it enough, you could even forfeit the game and stay in your present form in this world forever.) You now must spend a Multiverse Standard Week (as noted earlier on, this is something closer to two Earth weeks) in your present form before moving on. To make this easier, lodgings suitable to your form have been and will continue to be provided. (Of course, "suitable lodgings" depends on both the anthropomorphism of your current form and the type of shelter standard in your new homeworld.

    If you're in a non-anthropomorphic form, you'll be provided with a simple den matching the dwellings made by others of your new species. But if you're anthropomorphic, you'll have a homeworld-average house provided.)

    You'll also be provided with a means of sustenance (reasonable hunting/foraging skills if non-anthropomorphic or placed in a primitive culture, a job if anthropomorphic.) What you do from there is up to you, but remember that you must make it out in 100 years (10,000 MSW weeks) if you wish to return to your own Earth.

    When you finish reading the note, you sigh and look around. This will be your home for a couple Earth weeks. You have no idea what you're going to do.

    Written by nothingsp on 25-07-2006 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 125) Travesty!

    You pace back and forth a bit, looking analytically at the plush couches,heavy curtains and flimsy wood table of your new domicile. You run a paw over your vulpine face idly.

    A wizard, then. A wizard that takes the time to communicate, no less. And *reasonably* powerful? If he's imbued 800 (or more!) costumes with transformative abilities with links to 800 (or more!) alternate dimensions, then... you'd hate to see a "powerful" wizard.

    He's got you trapped here, trapped in this "game." But... as far as you can tell, it's not a game like the "games" that the guy on Saw liked to play. You haven't been hurt, and beyond the awkwardness of owning bosoms and a womb, you haven't really been inconvenienced. As far as you can tell, if you keep a steady head and play nicely by the rules, you'll be let go unharmed.

    But, then... how to play right now? For a while, you play Sims, going to your closet and replacing your skirt and v-neck with tasteful long pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt. You look at yourself in the closet mirror.

    Suddenly, you're excited. This is great! Essentially, you've been camouflaged, given the ability to observe this culture of anthropomorphic foxes, which you hadn't usually thought of as a culture but still! Maybe you can adopt a fake name and masquerade! Or maybe even tell everybody the truth--"Hello all, I'm an Earthling male" (right?) "and I was placed into a huge labyrinth full of transforming costumes and this is the first one I picked!

    Tee hee!" That should be entertaining.

    You want to see outside again, get out of the house. Your paw closes around the door handle and when it opens, there's a male fox all up in your grill, with his paw held up in a knocking position.

    "Whoa! Hey there! Sorry about that! Are you..." the fox consults a piece of paper, "Is your name <WHOA it's a feminine version of YOUR name!>?"

    "Ah... yeah. It is," you reply.

    The fox leans forward and licks your cheek. You gather this is their way of shaking hands. It was good you gathered that because otherwise that would have been very awkward.

    "I'm Bragho!" Bragho says. "I'm here to show you around the Northern workplace!"

    "Bray-go..." you repeat. "Wait... work?!"

    Hey, this is a friggin' quest, for crying out loud! You didn't come here to wash no dishes! Yet the note on your table said it was your way to sustenance and survival... considering the full extent of your transformation, you have a sudden paranoid foreboding about the kinds of "work" that will be offered...

    "Oh, are you feeling all right?" Bragho asks, ears pricked.

    <Play by the rules just hear him out play nice play nice...>

    "Oh, ah... no, I'm fine," you reply. You look around reflexively for a bag to gather. Having none, you turn back to the black-vested vulpine.

    "Ah... let's go," you say.

    Off you both merrily traipse, through the 1920's esque-village full of happy foxes, fat baby sand glossy furred kits.

    "So, ah... what do people... er... *we* do at the 'Northern workplace?'" you ask Bragho with not a little anxiety.

    "Ah... we get a bad rap sometimes because everyone always breaks a pant, but really it's the best way to get Kitsoons" (currency?) "in the valley," Bragho replies. "When we get there, I'll show you all the nuances of -------------"

    Written by Mr.Peaches on 14-11-2006 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 221) Name That Toon

    "Say what?"

    "Cartoon production," Bragho repeats. "You know, making movies."

    "Oh." You feel a bit disappointed.

    "Hey, it's good work. Pays pretty good too."

    "Oh, it's not that. Just seems a waste to..." You realize what a good idea it will be to find out what he knows before you say too much. "What do you know about... The Game?"

    "The Game? Been playing for about a year now. That's why I'm assigned welcome wagon duty. This (he points to his chest) is number sixty-eight."

    "Sixty-eight! Do you even remember who you used to be?"

    "Sure, I dream every night. But what was that about a waste?"

    "I mean, getting into a costume and changing like this... just to sit and draw pictures?"

    "Oh no, it's it that kind of cartoons. It's more like in that movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? You're going to be an actress."

    Wishing he could have said actor instead, you ask the most important question to you right then.

    "What... kind of actress?"

    "That depends on the director's needs and what you'll accept," Bragho replies as you stop in front of a big building. He looks up at a red lamp with a sign saying Do not enter while lamp is lit and finds that it isn't. "Nobody's forcing you into anything. But if you wish, you should have no problems getting some... well paid roles. At least you have the figure for it."

    Okay. You did not need to hear that. You are about to say something when Bragho continues: "As a newbie you'll be starting as an extra though. Standing in crowds, crossing the street in the background, boobs five and six..."

    "What?!"

    "Just kidding. Let's go in and..."

    He is interrupted by a loud crash from inside and a shrill voice yelling: "Where has that furshlugginer vixen gone off to now? We have a scene to shoot, for crying out loud!"

    Bragho looks at you and grins. "As I said, you'll be an extra - unless you happen to be at just the right time and place to replace someone. Let's go in and see what this is all about, shall we?"

    Written by Won-Tolla on 21-06-2007 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 397) Quiet On the Set!

    You nod to Bragho, and open the door to the hangar-like building the yell came from.

    When you heard "actress" and saw a red light, and Bragho teased you about special roles, you felt ice all down your spine. Which was especially weird with your new tail. But these are cartoons he's talking about. And to act in a cartoon the way he described it -- does that make you a living cartoon character? Anything's possible. But your paws don't have the fuzzy glow you'd expect from one, as you step into the set.

    And suddenly you're in a Western town where Napoleon is whapping someone with a director's megaphone. Well, not a French dictator, but a fox with way too many buttons on his fancy vest and with plenty of decibels for his size. The poor stagehand he's berating says, "Boss, wait! She's here!"

    The director whirls and peers up at you. "Lenara? It's about time you... No, wait. Who are you?"

    You start to give your actual name, but play along and use the version Bragho had listed. Before you can explain about the costume, the director says, "Close enough!" He snaps fingers at his assistants, adding, "Script, costume -- attack!"

    Five bewildering minutes later, you're wearing some kind of motion-capture suit and another fox is coaching you on how to drawl a line about paintin' a wagon a'fore the cattle get here. Then you get dragged out to the fake street where a bunch of foxes are rehearsing an argument. But they're almost all in Western costumes. No, not 19th-century American stuff, since the fashions are different, but it's rugged and familiar just the same. "Hey," you say, thinking of your own outfit. "Am I in the wrong show?"

    "Places!" the director bellows, and everyone scatters. A fox-man in a techno-suit like yours grins at you and takes your hand. He says, "Ma'am, you're over there." He's got this knowing grin like he's been in a hundred movies -- or he knows all about this costume game you've gotten into. And somehow you just know he's playing a cowboy, even without the getup.

    So you run through a scene from a story you don't know. The foxes hear you talk about the wagon, and then they argue, and then the other suited fox breaks it up. Then suddenly you hear, "Cut!" and it's all over in one take. You were just getting into the role, wondering whether somebody was going to get shot or what.

    "Not bad, ma'am," says the other suited fox to you. The "ma'am"s still distract you, but he makes them sound good.

    "I thought this was going to be a cartoon," you say.

    "Sure is! Whoever wants to play a lead role can watch it from your view or mine, or put somebody else's picture there while they watch it from the couch."

    "Oh. That's not the kind of cartoon I'm used to."

    He looks you over, making you conscious of the tight motion-capture suit and the way your tail curls inside it. "You're a costumer?"

    You end up looking nervously aside, scratching your ear. "Ah... yeah."

    "'s all right, ma'am." He turns to the director and calls out, "Hey, are we set for lunch yet?"

    The director's been badgering everyone in sight about lighting and noise, but he stops and droops ears when the other actor talks to him. "Sorry, Wylan. Our caterer is having trouble."

    The actor --- Wylan -- gives that same cowboy smile to him. "No loss. Say, Bragho and my new co-star have some things to discuss with me. So we're gonna grab a bite off-set, okay?"

    "Yes, of course," the director says. "We'll get on with some establishing shots while you're away."

    Wylan waves Bragho over to him and tells him the same. They get you to walk a bit away from the set, and then the two of them fall silent and look at you.

    It's your first day among the foxes, and they feel like people to you already. There's a new world for you to explore, and it seems pretty nice so far -- especially if the house you've got is "homeworld average" like the costume-maker said. You could do a lot worse than this world. And it's not like you have to do this acting job forever. You can quit, or in a couple of Earth weeks leave the whole world and go back to trying on costumes.

    Something's kind of bothering you though. Where'd this Lenara actress go, and how'd you get to be her stand-in so easily? Why's this place so Earth-like? And why is Wylan so intent on a private conversation?

    Wylan waves a paw in front of your eyes. "You there?"

    "Yes, sorry!"

    He and Bragho walk with you to a restaurant outside the studio. The decor isn't any style you recognize, but there're benches and cushions around a big central firepit. Lots of roast meat spins on spits, and suddenly you realize just how sensitive your nose is to the sizzling roasts and faint charcoal smoke. You're about to start drooling by the time you get a bench and waiters come out with portable tables.

    "So," says Wylan, with a strange expression. He glances at Bragho, who's staring at the food and sniffing. "There's something you'd best be telling our new guest."

    "Yeah," he says, turning you to explain something about...

    Written by Snow on 02-05-2010 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 398) Substitute Vixen

    The fox-people sit with you to explain. Bragho says, "You've taken Lenara's place. You found a costume of our species, right? Well, the costume-maker set his game up to give you a place in the world you went to. And he did that by zapping one of the people from our world, into the costume-verse."

    You boggle. "Does that mean someone's wearing *my* skin?"

    "Maybe -- a costume of whatever you used to be. Close enough that they might pass for you at first glance. We're not sure whether the wizard takes people only through this species-shuffle, or what." He lets this news sink in while he attacks a plate full of cornbread and sizzling meat. "When I showed up here with costume number sixty-eight, a year ago, I took the place of a stagehand at the studio. And the stagehand suddenly vanished. Now, Lenara's gone and someone almost like her has shown up."

    Your food arrives and you tell yourself things are too serious, that you're not hungry -- but lunch smells and tastes amazing. Maybe it's your new nose helping. "So I'm Lenara?"

    Wylan cuts in. "No, ma'am. I don't know who you are, but you're not her. A fine vix she is, wherever she's gone to."

    "She'll be fine," Bragho says. "Off on her own adventure, right?"

    Wylan just nods, picking at his cornbread. "Thought we should tell you how things stand."

    "And how's that?" you say.

    Bragho says, "You're a substitute. You're stuck here for a few weeks before you go back to trying on bodies. In the meantime, it looks like you have a house standing where Lenara's was yesterday, and we need someone with her figure on the set. There's a movie to finish."

    "Show must go on," mutters Wylan.

    "I don't know about all this," you say, looking back and forth between them. And your lunch. "I didn't ask to get into this world, or to kick Lenara out of it. I'm not even female." A waiter happens by while you blurt that out, and ends up giving you a long appraising look. You try to ignore it.

    Bragho snorts and hides a grin. But Wylan says, "We didn't ask to have our star actress, our *friend*, suddenly hauled tail-first out of the universe and sent on a lifelong walkabout for some wizard's fun." The cold stare he gives you is one you hope never to see again, especially if he's armed.

    Bragho intervenes, waving a greasy black paw between you. "It's not her fault."

    Wylan says, "It's not. I just want her to know where things stand, see?"

    The actor's ears droop and his tail curls between his legs. So do yours, another feeling you're not used to. You find yourself starting to reach out a hand toward his shoulder, but you pull it back. What're you doing, touching people like that? "I'm sorry," you say.

    "There's a movie to finish," Wylan says. "Shouldn't take more than a couple weeks. It'd be good of you to stick around for that, before you run off to be somebody else."

    The three of you eat together and get back to the studio to work. Wylan perks up the moment he's back on set. You're not sure, but Bragho and the other stagehands assault you with new lines to learn. From what you gather, the movie's about a gang stealing cattle-like animals from Wylan's ranch and him going out to kick some tail with a crossbow.

    Oh, and he's your husband. Not real-life, someone hastens to tell you, so that your heart can start beating again. It's just that viewers love seeing you -- uh, Lenara -- and Wylan together. You've got "chemistry". It doesn't feel that way to you, though. Wylan looks sad and angry beyond what having his cattle stolen would justify. But you get through a few scenes where he's telling you everything will be okay.

    You leave the studio at sunset, go to your new house, and lean back against the door once you're inside. On closer inspection the place looks blank. No art on the walls, no family photos or junk lying around on the furniture, nothing in the kitchen, a few never-worn outfits in the closet. There's an envelope of what you assume is money on the kitchen counter. Everything's set up for you to do as you please, replacing Lenara or not.

    For a little while you sit blankly on the couch, with endless possibilities in this world and no idea what to do with them. And then there's a knock on the door. "Who is it?" you say.

    Written by Snow on 16-05-2010 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 399) Night Out

    "Bragho," you hear. You open the door and see him in his black vest and shorts. "I was thinking, you might want company."

    "How do you mean that?"

    He waves a paw. "No, not a date. You don't know this world though."

    You've spent almost the whole day with him, stuck in a movie studio and pretending to be someone you're not while everyone else resents you for being there. "Then I'd better start figuring it out for myself!" you say. You're still not used to your higher voice and the weird echoes of it through your muzzle. The local language comes naturally to you, probably the wizard's doing.

    "All right," he says. "But be careful, okay?"

    You wait in your house till he goes away. A few minutes later you've got your hair fixed up and are out the door.

    Seems like you can see pretty well in the dim light. There's a whole town you've barely seen. The narrow streets are paved, the buildings made of wooden boards but with an unfamiliar sort of curved shiplike look. A few foxes stroll along or ride bicycles. Electric streetlights stand in a few spots where there're shops still open. You find something that could be a convenience store and peek in.

    Three foxes are playing a board game. One notices you and smiles. "Hi, miss! Haven't seen you here before. Interested in a game of skulk?"

    "Sure," you say, looking around at the shelves of merchandise. Games and books and magazines, mostly. "Mind if I look around first?"

    "We'll be a few minutes finishing this round anyway."

    You paw through some of the reading material. You're totally ignorant of the news, here, so every article is a puzzle. "Gorzam Trade Treaty a Success." "CP Solar Advances." "Carmelita Leads Coopers to 5-3 Win." Nothing totally alien at first glance but for the photos of dignified foxes giving speeches.

    "Ready!" say the game-playing foxes, distracting you from another headline. You head back to their table and get into a game they teach you. It's something about hunting and trapping a monster. After a few rounds of that you're looking to do something else, though.

    "Say, has anyone got a map?" Maybe you can do some traveling over the next few nights, and see a little more of the world.

    Someone fishes out a map and you spread it on a table. A roads stretches out from the valley to a city and from there to a shoreline. It's too small-scale though for you to know whether this is Earth geography with different names, or a totally different place. That's something to ask Bragho. You sigh; there's work tomorrow and there's only so far you can go. You thank the foxes for the game and head on out.

    You wander through the streets. It's quiet enough that you wonder why, and realize what's missing -- cars. There're a few bicycles and a motorized scooter or two, but that's it. Maybe they don't have gasoline engines? There's a fortune to be made if you can "invent" them here.

    You find a glittering electric storefront and deduce that it's a movie theater. And coffee shop. The scent is wonderful. Inside, it's cozier than the megaplex theaters you're used to, maybe because it's a small town. The ticket booth guy smiles at you, saying, "Hey, Lenara! You look a little different tonight. New hair?"

    You're not sure how to answer that. The director mistook you for her at first glance. You're not eager to explain that you're actually a visitor from another world who's accidentally booted Lenara into a convoluted magical trap. So you just dodge the question. "Hi. What's playing tonight?" But at some point you're going to have to explain, right?

    "Well," he says, "the toon equipment's got a flea in the software, so we have to wait for an authorized technician. The regular theaters are up though -- 'Legend of the Chalice: Guardians of Glory' isn't as awful as it sounds."

    You say, "Toons? Right, you mean the bodysuits. Want me to take a look at the equipment?"

    "No way, ma'am. I don't want to get you arrested. You get your usual ticket discount though."

    You fish money out of your pockets. "Sure. The fantasy one, please."

    Yes, it is that bad. Awful script-writing seems to carry over between worlds. There are these big-eared ape monsters, see, and they go around ripping the pelts off foxes, and then this one fox gets turned into a were-ape and his girlfriend hates him but then he brings peace to the land. It's not clear where the chalice comes in, but there'll be a sequel.

    You stretch your cramped tail and leave the theater, feeling vaguely superior. It's pretty dark now, so you'd better get some sleep. What a long, strange day!

    It occurs to you that you're lost, when you turn down a dim empty street and hear footsteps behind you.

    Written by Snow on 23-05-2010 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 426) Casting At the Darkness

    RATING TO GREAT

    to permanently increase your rating change it here.

    Change Temporarily

    Written by Snow on 30-05-2010 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 432) Outsiders

    The next morning, the alarm clock startles you awake. There's a bad moment when you flash back to being attacked in the alley and somehow creating a burst of magic fire. Your fur's standing on end... which is your first reminder of where and what you are. Roughly another two weeks of being a fox, and female, left before you can escape. Sort of.

    You open the generic curtains to a sunny, peaceful morning. The valley town feels different today. You sense that there's more going on than your tourist visit. Whether that's a good thing, you aren't sure. You don't want to wear your burned clothes to work, and your leg-fur is still noticeably singed, so you end up in the long skirt you had earlier. At least it has pockets.

    At the studio, there's still a movie to shoot. You're not on for a few hours, so Bragho and one of the extras (in bandit getup) take you aside for an acting lesson in a vacant studio.

    They're walking along with you when the lights suddenly shut off, leaving you in the big empty room in darkness. With your foxy eyes you catch sight of them as Bragho points and shouts, "Look out!"

    You turn and see... nothing. The extra laughs. Bragho pats you on the back, saying, "Well, you can do a startle pose right. Hey, out there, get the lights!"

    The lights come back on. "That's one lesson," says Bragho. "You've got to feel the role."

    You feel your heart pounding, anyway. "Don't do that!" you snap. "You're lucky I didn't..."

    "Didn't what?"

    "Nothing, nothing." You glance at the extra. "Say, Bragho, who exactly knows about my situation?"

    The extra says, "Him, me, most of the studio. Doesn't look like the newspaper picked up on it, which is probably good."

    Bragho adds, "When I showed up, nobody much cared about the guy I replaced. I don't know who might be interested in investigating, though, if you made it widely known you're from another world. We can pass you off as Lenara and say you got a makeover. Anyway, we need to work on your emoting for the next few scenes."

    You hold up a hand. "There's something I want to know first. Who are the 'Fens'?"

    "Why do you care?" says Bragho. The extra shifts, tail flicking nervously.

    "I've heard muttering about them."

    Bragho says, "They're... in charge. The country got taken over about twenty years back, so we're part of their empire. Let's see. Do you know what a... math machine is? Runs on electricity?"

    "You mean a computer?" You cover your muzzle for a moment, realizing the word you said is an unfamiliar rasping thing in the natives' language. You seem to know words you've never heard in this world. "The toon equipment uses them, right?"

    "Yeah. You wouldn't believe what a 'toon' is in some of these worlds. Anyway, only the Fens are allowed to own computers, or even fix the things without a permit. Same with paper-copying machines and some other things."

    "Why?"

    The extra mutters, "To keep control." Bragho nods.

    This situation doesn't sound like something you want to get involved in, not after the incident last night and what the police told you about your power. "Maybe we should get back to the acting."

    They have you strutting around the empty set and saying ridiculous things, pretending to argue and carouse with Bragho and the extra. It helps take your mind off the trouble and make you feel like you might even have some acting talent. Also you realize you totally messed up that line yesterday.

    Bragho's decently satisfied with you -- "for a first lesson" -- by the time you break for a quick lunch. You get back to the main set a little later, feeling relaxed.

    The costume squad mobs you and gets you into the electronic bodysuit. The little director finds out you haven't been given the script for this scene yet and starts cursing people out. "I have a gratuitous bar brawl ahead, and my female lead doesn't know what movie she's in!"

    While he's doing that, you read a copy, and blink. "'They kiss passionately'?"

    "That they do," says Wylan, suited up already. "Don't worry about it, ma'am. It doesn't mean anything. Just a story."

    In a way that makes you feel worse. Wylan sees you drooping and says, "You get used to it."

    "Acting?"

    Wylan hunches his shoulders and looks off into the fake, painted sunset. "I can pretend to be something I'm not. It's why people think I'm some kind of hero, when I'm just a pretender."

    You realize something. "You and the real Lenara..."

    "No," he says. "She was a swell lady, and I think she'll find a new place somehow. But the one I really cared for got taken from me, and I did nothing." Wylan gestures to the crossbows over in the prop chest. "Do you know how hard it is to pretend I'm brave enough to rush out and avenge someone, when I couldn't do it in real life?"

    "Avenge?"

    "My wife was in the war. When the Fens took over, they made an example of her." His ears and tail are held carefully still, but you can smell something clammy and frightening in his scent. "But that doesn't concern you. You're a tourist, if an unwilling one. Now show me how you pretend to be in love."

    Wylan has straightened up and smoothed his exposed fur already. You glance at the script and see he's just gotten back from clobbering the bad guys and finding some lost treasure, which he left behind for your sake. So... get in character... do you really have to do this? There is the possibility of hiding under your bed for the next week or two.

    No! You're going to do this right! Or at least get this movie done with, so you aren't making things in this world any worse for Lenara's absence. You bristle a bit inside your suit, step closer, and blush as he wraps an arm around you. You look up into his sad eyes, try not to bonk muzzles, and imagine him riding out to save you from a horde of muggers. He'd be good at it if he tried, with those muscles... You feel warm breath on your neck as the two of you touch, nose to nose.

    Softly, the director says, "And, cut."

    Written by Snow on 06-06-2010 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 433) Your Biggest Fan

    You have time off in the afternoon. There's a library in town, you hear, so you walk in search of that. You're glad for the broad daylight as you pass the town's alleyways.

    The library is styled like some kind of ancient fortress, even though it's only two stories tall. When you step in there's a lot of greenery, lit by sunbeams from the ceiling. They're growing vegetables in here.

    A librarian named Jahnbuck greets you and shows you the history section. You're quickly confused, even after you remember that the pages go right-to-left. So why are you here again? Well, you'd heard about this country having been conquered, and there's the too-personal subject of how magic works in this place.

    You bask in a pool of light, browsing a stack of dusty books that makes your nose twitch. It looks like these Fen people are from an empire of deserts and jungles, and have some religious "Teachings" too weird to explain. Apparently they're very convincing at swordpoint though. The empire isn't obviously killing people these days, at least not locally, but it's not particularly nice either.

    A pair of ears twitches over the book in your hands. "Senorita?" says their owner.

    You look up and find a long-eared, sand-colored fox. He's the first you've seen in town, actually; everyone local seems to be the red or grey-and-red kind. His clothes are odd too, with many buttons and pockets on his vest. He says, "The illustrious Lenara Vale, I presume?"

    You freeze. First of all, if your sense of the local language is right, he's one of the "Fens" people here resent. Second, are you Lenara for purposes of talking with a strange outsider? "Um, hi?" you squeak.

    "Bueno, senorita!" he says. (No, he's not really speaking Spanish. That's just the easiest thing to compare it to.) "I am Eloy Alejandro, visiting town as an admirer of your studio. A 'fan', yes?"

    "You came here for a movie tour?" you say.

    "Unofficially. But I am here as a repairman. I mend things that are broken. Computers, mainly. A surprise very pleasant to meet you here. It speaks well of your intellect."

    You smile a bit. "Just studying history before getting back to work."

    "I'm not interrupting you, I hope?" His ears droop in obvious pleading for attention.

    Oh, what are you doing letting a man flatter you like this? A possibly-evil foreigner too? For the moment you say, "I have a few minutes."

    "Well. I want to say, I've noticed the theme of your work, and think it brave of your studio. Do you know Zellon Fabrosi? His 'Chalice' movie is brilliant in its own way. But the interactivity of your cartoon productions is something else again. You get to feel the anger, the resistance in the way Wylan moves. Or yourself."

    Lenara's been in other movies with Wylan, and they're these "cartoon" productions where someone can hop into first-person mode using the motion-capture machines. That means this Eloy guy has probably watched the things, and romanced you from Wylan's perspective. Or him from yours. Either way it's kind of disturbing. And he actually liked that Chalice thing? No taste!

    Wait a minute. Evil big-eared things were the villains, and the paranoia plot was about someone getting forcibly turned into one? That's... more political than you'd imagined junky fantasy to be. "Thanks, I think. I'm not trying to interfere with the Fens, though."

    "Of course not," he says with a wink and a tailwag. "But it's nice to see some among your people having an influence cultural on the empire. Many young Fens watch films, and over time, who knows where that leads?"

    Time. "Oh! I need to get back to the studio," you say. It's strange to think about your having an influence on the world situation here, just by performing.

    Eloy bows to you. "Glad to meet you, in any case. I hope to take a studio tour later, if they'll allow it...?"

    "I'll try to get you a pass." His eyes light up at the offer. Fanboy fox!

    As you get up, the foreigner moves to fetch the books you've pulled out. "I will return these for you, senorita." He glances at the titles. "Oh, planning a magical tale next?" One of the books is a guide to magic.

    "Maybe," you say with a nervous smile that you hope gives away nothing.

    "Excellente! I shall look forward to it. Good day!"

    You get out of the library, feeling flustered several ways at once by the foreign man with his odd compliments and questions. You hurry back to the studio. For the moment your next actions are obvious -- get back to work for the rest of the day's scenes -- but then what? And how are you feeling about this whole situation?

    Written by Snow on 13-06-2010 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 434) What's My Motivation?

    The rest of the work day is easy for you. The director bellows at you to stand right here and say your lines with "more zest" or "more pathos". Come on, you're talking about cattle! You catch some of the stagehands smirking about it, and share in making fun of him when he's not looking.

    You're comfortable here in a way. You've got a job, a house, and friends. People admire "your" work and think you're having a good effect on the country. On the other hand... or paw, you think...

    In an idle moment you stare at the black-furred, clawed hands this world gave you, and can't help glancing at your chest. The body's not what you're used to, and it means a different life than you ever expected. Is that so bad? Maybe your attitudes have shifted a bit. Depending on your feelings before you got zapped into the costume place, you might be disturbed to notice that guys like Wylan are actually... attractive, and that it's because of a random costume you put on. Who has the right to mess with your head like this? Then again, would it be any better if you'd hated every second as a half-animal woman and ended up killing yourself? Or if you'd gotten stuck with some kind of fish-monster costume, or replaced the Pretty Pink Princess of Pig World? In this form, you've got a choice about what to be and how to act. And there's always the chance of going back for a different costume, a different body and world.

    But you can probably never go home again. You want to meet this wizard behind the game, and find out why he did it.

    The filming for this movie is almost over. Turns out you're actually pretty good at this acting stuff. You definitely could use more lessons though.

    That's your excuse for taking a walk with Bragho in the studio grounds that evening. Besides the two main studio halls, there're some shacks, a cafeteria, and so on. Some of the studio's land is left in natural forest, which makes the whole scent of the studio more peaceful. You're still not used to your sense of smell. It's not as powerful as you might have expected, but then you've kept your color vision. If the fox-folk were colorblind by human standards, would their screens use only red and blue?

    "What're you thinking about?" asks Bragho.

    You say, "This costume thing. How long have you been in this world, anyway?"

    "A few years. I got tired of the game, and this place is all right."

    You look around at the sunset over the valley. "Could've been worse. What were you to start with?"

    He scratches his ear with a timid expression. "Let's just say I had cute little facial tentacles. Had my own spaceship back then, too... But those days're over." Together you walk into a prop warehouse, where in the dim light you spot dozens of ordinary movie costumes. "Since then I've been plenty of things. One time, I was a monster guarding this tower that got invaded by adventurers during a rainstorm. Then I was some kind of leather-winged guard working for a pink-skinned race with no claws or anything."

    "Humans?" you say. "That's what I am! Was."

    "Yeah, that was the species name. Same world then? Elemental magic, black hole looming in the sky?"

    "No." Your ears droop. "So even if I find a human costume, I still might not get home."

    "Not sure that's how it works. The costume was for the winged race, remember. Maybe the world counted as their homeworld. There's always a chance you can get back to your original world by finding the right outfit."

    "So why haven't you --"

    "I said because I'm sick of it!" snaps Bragho. He grabs a sequined cape from a rack. "Listen. You'll never see your world again. Not realistically. Either be Lenara, or run off and live under that other name, or resign yourself to dozens, maybe hundreds, of other worlds. Some of which are terrifying." He looks about to tear the cape in half as he holds it over his face. "You can't see what's on the other side. It's practically random. Is it worth giving up what you have here to get whatever might be behind the next door? Would you pick up a script and commit yourself to that role without reading it?"

    "But you do get to read it when you jump in, and go back to the costume place if you hate it."

    "Small consolation," says Bragho, and he puts the cape back. "From what you've told me, this is a good gig for you. Famous, gorgeous, and -- ah, never mind."

    You blush, thinking again about the "deal" you've gotten here. For Bragho, maybe this species is monstrous.

    He says, "Anyway, if you do go world-hopping, there are bonuses. I have a shapeshifting ability now, since this is my sixty-eighth outfit. But I'm done currying favor with the master wizard to get magic powers. If I ran that costume-world, it'd be different!"

    You nod. "This is a lot to think about. Thanks, Bragho. I'm glad to have somebody that knows what I'm going through."

    "Yeah," he says, looking off to one side. "If you need help with fox stuff, or girl stuff, or the local culture, ask. I've been through it."

    "What about this empire -- the Fens?"

    He shrugs. "Doesn't affect us much. Now the world with the black hole, that had some evil empires. This one's just mildly oppressive."

    You tell him about Eloy. Bragho says, "Sounds like a fop. Fens usually are. Just don't tell him about the costumes, or you might get drafted as a supposed magic-user."

    You laugh nervously. "All right."

    "How's your house, by the way? Looked pretty bare from what I saw."

    "I've hardly noticed, but yeah. Didn't come with Lenara's things."

    "That's typical. Want to do some shopping? Holy day's tomorrow if you don't know; can't act then. We could go into the city." He pauses from his nonchalant inspection of more costume racks. "Although, it's kind of pointless to buy anything if you're leaving by month's end."

    You frown; he's right. "I do have free starting money though."

    "Yeah. You could treat it as just a game if you want. And you've got wages coming."

    It could be fun to see more of the world -- that city you saw on the map earlier. Tonight you should probably stay off the streets, after what happened the other night. What do you want to do on your day off tomorrow?

    Written by Snow on 20-06-2010 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 436) Costuming

    It turns out there's a bus running from here to Peacholt, the first real city you've seen in this world. As you ride out of the valley you spot billboards for restaurants, fur shampoo, new homes. "Not many cars," you say.

    Bragho watches the other buses, a few things recognizable as cars, and various motorcycles and odd tricycle craft. "Our kind needs permission for motors, especially the heavy kind. You might be able to get a a scooter, or a motorcycle if you play up the famous actress role."

    "What're all these restrictions about, anyway? Racism by the Fens?"

    "Partly. There's only so much gas available too. There was one world --" He stops, noticing the other passengers.

    "There are solutions," you say. "Though my people hadn't found a very good one yet, last I saw."

    He leans back, smiling. "Ah, it's nice to find someone with a well-traveled background like mine."

    Peacholt City dwarfs the town you arrived in. There's only one tower you could call a skyscraper, but plenty of white limestone buildings lining a harbor. Iron-grey warships lurk there, carefully avoided by the sailboats and some fishing craft heading out. All in all it's a pleasant-looking place. As the bus parks, you catch salty air with a hint of smoke.

    "Got your money? There's the biggest bazaar in the city." Bragho points to a huge blue canopy that flutters in the wind. Beneath it, hundreds of people mill around shaded stalls of merchandise. Eagerly you follow Bragho in to see the place. It's wild -- part food market, part clothing store, part entertainment center with eerie woodwind bands and drummers. You didn't know there were this many variations on fox-musk, perfume and the scents of cloth. Bragho grins at how your nose is sniffing everywhere.

    You notice there's a mix here, Fens and red foxes and even a slit-eyed white breed. Nice to see them getting along with... your kind.

    Bragho leads you past vegetables and fine leather jackets to a booth of ribbons and dresses. The sight makes you blush. "You're not serious."

    "Why not?" he says.

    The high-tech bodysuit from work was one thing, and the skirt you've got on now brushes comfortably against your legs and tail, but you're not really eager to walk around in some frilly silk thing. "I guess I'm a tomboy," you say, sliding a paw through racks of outfits. Dress, low-cut blouse, dress, blah. Bikini (whoa, you could fit that?), dress, griffin costume...

    You freeze. This does not belong here. The material of the soft white feathers is unlike anything else in the bazaar. You unconsciously run clawtips against the fur of your own arm, which used to be part of a very similar costume. "Bragho, look!"

    He opens his muzzle to speak, stops, and shakes his head. His ears droop as he whispers, "Buy it. Explanation later."

    You find the shopkeeper, a Fen woman with elaborate earrings and with a blue ribbon winding all around her. You remember haggling is expected in these shops. "I found something unworthy of your store, senora," you say. "This silly thing."

    She looks surprised herself to see it. "Oh? It's quite unusual, isn't it? You have a keen nose for the unique. For you, how about a special price..."

    #

    Ooh, that was fun! You're grinning as you clutch a shopping bag to your chest. The shopkeeper threw in a blue bikini and a ribbon-scarf like hers, and you even have money left over. As you strut away you find Bragho biting his lip, no easy feat with a muzzle. "What, what?"

    "She totally played you."

    "Did not! I got her to throw in --"

    "More than you planned to buy, yeah. But hey, great bargaining there, vix." He pats your ears, grinning.

    "Hmmph." It was still fun. "So what about the costume? It's one of those, isn't it?"

    He points to an open-air cafe on the bazaar's edge. Warm breeze flutters through your tail as you walk out to a terrace, admiring the shimmering harbor below. The two of you relax at a table under snapping flags.

    Bragho's buried his muzzle in a menu. "Come on, tell me," you say. "How'd I just happen to find another one?"

    He leans his head on the menu, giving you a strange look of curiosity. "Can I see it to make sure?"

    You take out the griffin outfit. The thing feels soft and excellently made -- presumably by magic -- but looks out of place on the wooden table. Bragho sits up to feel the golden fur and peers into the expressionless beaked face. It occurs to you that the outfit has the first zipper you've seen in this world. Everything else has buttons.

    Bragho's hand meets yours as you explore the wondrous thing you bought. "This is the real thing. If the rules of the game haven't changed since I last played, there'll be two other choices conveniently stashed somewhere near where you arrived."

    "Why? I thought I could just wait for a 'standard week', which is two real weeks or so, and go back to the magic wardrobe place."

    "That's not how it works. You have to find your next costume to reach another world."

    "But I had that note in my pocket when I arrived, and you said --"

    "Yup. I don't think either I or our wizard 'friend' explained everything clearly. Sorry. So you have this costume now if you want it. But you shouldn't use it."

    "Then why'd you tell me to buy it?"

    "I wanted you to have the choice." He grips your hand and speaks quietly. "It's a rare thing to meet someone who knows about the game, who's seen another world. It's selfish of me to want to keep you here. So you should have the choice to go. I just don't want you to."

    Your heart's beating fast and you're not sure what to say. Bragho looks off to one side. "Sorry. I hardly know you, and I'm more comfortable wearing a different skin than you are. But over time, I think you could -- you could really like it here. I wanted to show you around a little today. We could take a boat out and see whales. You have whales where you're from? Big squeaky mammals? This one time I turned into..." He's babbling nervously now.

    You break free and stand, wobbling as you go to the balcony's railing. When you first arrived, you'd had the idea of being caught up in adventure, only to be told you have a house and a job. But then, you've got a new life in a different world, and even magic powers of some kind. Doesn't that count? The armed grey ships in the harbor sit there, hinting at the culture clash happening around you. You could probably make a difference in this world.

    You turn from the harbor, one hand on the warm railing and the other steadying your hair in the wind. The sun shines on your fur. You could take the costume back and go to the world of griffins right now, if you wanted. But there's sure to be more to find in this world. And at least one person who'd like to share it with you.

    Written by Snow on 27-06-2010 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 437) Roads Open

    For a long while you stare out at the ocean, Bragho behind you not even daring to breathe. The sun gleams on the rough gray stone worn by a million padded footpaws. The choice before you wrenches you to the bone, but at the same time, you feel for the rugged fox-man as well, who's worked so hard to make you welcome and take you out for a nice day. You'd feel like a right ass to ruin it right here, even if he didn't make you... feel wanted.

    "I'd... like to see the whales," you finally say.

    Your nose picks up the change in Bragho's mood almost immediately, and you turn around to find him smiling a rare open smile, ears perked. "Hey! That's... that's great! The rental shop is right down there, near the pier. I'll go get tickets for a boat."

    "Bragho..." You say.

    "Best put your ribbons and stuff back into the bag with this thing-" he stuffs the costume into the shopping bag. "-So it doesn't get wet. They've been known to splash. Did you get a hat? I didn't see you get a hat. I'll get you a hat."

    "Bragho, I..."

    "All right. Stay here for just a moment. Order... two Spiced Teas. They're a must-try. I'll be right back!" In a rush, he exits the cafe, leaving the shopping bag sitting in the sun in his seat. A tuft of griffon-costume fur pokes out unceremoniously.

    "... I didn't decide if I was going to stay or not yet..." you finally finish.

    ***

    "You can sail, too?" You inquire of the fox-man, stepping onto the burnished deck of a small sailboat. The water below you is blue and clear, the air smelling of salt and oiled rope. Other ships leisurely pull into and out of the docks, some sailboats like yours, with other fox couples. WAIT! Hold on! You two aren't a couple! Right? Right?!

    "Sure can," Bragho replies, interrupting your continuing identity crisis. "This one time I ended up as this buffalo thing- that's an animal like our Northridge cattle- who also happened to be a pirate. It was not fun explaining to the other crewmembers why I suddenly forgot everything about sailing a ship."

    You giggle as you pull out of port. The sail goes wonderfully... far too wonderfully. The weather's perfect, Bragho's stories are interesting and often hilarious. You see a bunch of whales, and some come up close and spray you and Bragho, causing you both to yell in surprise and then laugh as you drip-dry in the sun.

    From there things accelerate; a portable cafe lunch on the pier, sightseeing from the top of the skyscraper (you feel like you're floating in a cloud), and a late afternoon play (a fairly amusing comedy about fox-fairies in some wood playing tricks on fleeing lovers. Feels familiar at parts.) You spend the whole play in Bragho's arms, feeling safe and secure for the first time since you woke up in that wretched hall of costumes.

    It's only after the play when you catch Bragho eying a poster for a nice restaurant downtown that you finally realize things are beginning to spiral out of your control (and that's bad... isn't it?). You excuse yourself for a moment to freshen up, and soon are leaning over a sink, ears flat, breathing steadily, still feeling loopy from his scent and presence.

    "This is getting out of hand... right? I don't know..." you say to yourself. You look in the mirror, seeing a pretty fox girl, then you the fox, then a fox girl, then you the fox. "What am I? What did the wizard do to me?!" You shake your head violently, your hair whipping about. "No, what did I do to myself... and what am I doing to him..."

    You make an excuse to go home. You make it convincing; after all, you are the rising starlet Lenara, you tell yourself bitterly. The bus ride is a long soft eclair of wonderful contentment iced with guilt. It's clear from the way Bragho carries himself that a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders. You think you've given him a false impression, that he thinks you meant more in agreeing to go with him than you intended. But... you just can't tell him otherwise now. Not now. There's no reason to ruin this moment.

    Right?

    ***

    The hilltop hasn't changed much. A few flowers have sprouted, but the emerald grass, the trees made alive by the orange sherbet sunset, and the quiet village below, they're all the same.

    You shudder, remembering those first moments. Yet, it felt right to start here, somehow.
    "I don't even know why I'm here anymore. Do I want to find them? Should I? God damn it! GOD DAMN IT!" you sob, collapsing onto a large stump. You seem to be alone, back where it all began. You try to think of how to search, and where to search.
    Or if you're even going to search at all.

    Written by Mr.Peaches on 29-06-2010 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 439) Something To Hold Onto

    What do you want?

    The voice sounds like your own... no, like your old human male self's. You look up from burying your muzzle in your hands, but it's just you on the hill. Your tail's soaking up water from the grass and flowers. "I shouldn't have a tail!" you say. This new voice of yours is ragged and you can't quit crying like a sissy self-indulgent emo teenager. You don't have a right to be whining. Not with a wonderful life laid out for you like this!

    Keep telling yourself that, you hear. It's not like you can ever go back.

    Your ears flick to catch a rustle in the grass. If it's Bragho he'll cuddle you in his arms and everything will feel okay... Damn it, no!

    Old You asks, Is it the thought of being female? Walking to the altar in a white dress or whatever they do here; becoming a mother? Or is it the fact that you'll never be human again, stuck with a big pointy muzzle and fur all over? Or the fact that you could've made a difference back home? You're stuck barring what, eight hundred rounds of the costume game.

    "I'm scared," you whimper. "Scared that --"

    The grass rustles again, distracting you. Then you catch his scent. Wylan smells like well-worn leather and trail dust down to his skin or beyond. "Evenin'," he says with a tip of his hat. He moves stiffly up the hill to reach you. "Feeling all right?"

    "I'm not some damsel in distress!" you say.

    "Didn't say you were. I see somebody that needs help, I get my conscience poked with pitchforks till I do something. Doesn't have to be damsels. Or foxes."

    Right; he knows your story. When you look up pleadingly into his eyes, they flash like an animal's in the moonlight. Not human. But the feeling behind them is the same. You ease yourself into sitting on the grass, patting a spot beside you. "Just don't touch me."

    Wylan lowers himself to sit beside you. He tilts his hat back and looks at the stars fading in. "Nice night. You have stars like this back home?"

    "Y-yeah," you say. The sun's vanishing in a blaze of purple and gold, wind's teasing through your fur, and there's a scent of flowers and old leather. "I ought to be happy."

    He glances over as you sniffle, then looks back at the sky. "Used to camp out during the war. I wasn't a fighter like my wife, just a maintenance guy. But we were outside together." His scent takes on that clammy tone you sensed from him before. There's hurt buried there.

    You start to lean over to hug him, but stop yourself with a shudder. "Nobody knows what I've been through to get here. Nobody except Bragho, and he... he..."

    Wylan looks up sharply. "Did he do anything improper?"

    "No! That's just it. He was wonderful, and I felt like I wanted to stay. But what am I doing? I've been rewritten so that I like all the wrong things, I have a tail, I don't know anybody here, my old family and friends are gone. I'm not Lenara, and I'm being pushed into being her!"

    Wylan grunts. "I think I get it. You're worried that the wizard fella stole your soul."

    "What?"

    He takes off his hat and waves it over the sunset valley. All this could be yours... He says, "This here's my world. Never known another. I've got its dirt in my fur and some family in the soil. And when I get a script I'm always basically the same guy, typecast as a cowboy. The time I played an ancient warlord instead, it was just awful. If you handed me a script like that and said I'm stuck in that role, I'd feel like quitting."

    "A script," you murmur. Here, the wizard and Bragho basically told you: you're a different person now and here are your house and your job and your new name and forget your past. "And if I quit, I still can't really go home. I can't ever be the same person I was. At best I'd get back eight hundred identities later, probably insane."

    Wylan nods. "I know you're not our Lenara, and Bragho takes a shine to you because you've gone through the costume thing like him. The thing is, have you kept what's most important?"

    "What's that?"

    "You tell me."

    You take stock of this strange body you're in. You used to be a decent-looking guy, but you weren't vain enough to think your furless face was the most important thing about you. You're uneasy about some other parts, but even those changes aren't the end of the world. You shut eyes and think back to your Earth, your childhood, your friends. You clench fists at your sides, knowing you won't see that world again. That's been taken from you. What's left are the memories, and some part of you that wants to keep them.

    So there is something left of your old self. "I'm still the same person, at least a little. Even if the rest of me got stolen, eaten, rewritten, I still remember where I'm from, and I still think the same way."

    Wylan's tail flicks across the grass, wagging a bit. "That'll change a bit, though. Life tends to do that."

    You force a smile. It's getting dark and the stars are all blurs as you keep blinking back tears. "I got shoved into this role, but I can play it how I want, right? As long as I keep that memory with me, and some of how I think, I can let myself change and still be the same. Even if I end up using another costume. Oh, I'm not making any sense, am I?"

    Wylan says, "It sounds good to me. Actually, there's something I've forgotten." He hauls himself to his feet and offers a hand. "I don't think we've rightly been introduced. I'm Wylan, and I'd like to be your friend."

    You look at his fuzzy hand and tell yourself you don't need the help... but your macho pride isn't important, right? You reach out and let him pull you up, feeling light. It's then that you notice the night breeze, making all the plants around you whisper. Every strand of fur tickles you, making your outline blurry and constantly changing. But you feel your own breathing and your heartbeat just the same, inside.

    "Hello," you say, shaking his warm hand and pulling him into a hug that feels right no matter what you are. "For now, at least, call me Lenara."

    Written by Snow on 06-07-2010 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 440) You Wanted Adventure...

    The next day at the studio, there's little for you to do. It's clear things are winding down for this movie, especially your part in it. Hanging around the set with Wylan and the little director makes you feel like an extra, in spite of Wylan's smiles. Bragho shows up late and bashfully avoids looking at you, for which you're grateful. You're not sure what to say to him.

    There is one little scene you're needed for, in the afternoon. One thing you've been proud of is doing your acting job well, and trying to live up to Lenara's reputation. The others have been patient with you and given you training. Still, you're new to the actress role and you got the job by sheer luck rather than earning it. It's humbling to know that. Time to work.

    You head out to lunch by yourself. At the restaurant you pore over the script, and not till the food's gone do you realize you're not fretting about home for once. You grin at this moment of professionalism, then wipe the barbecue sauce off your muzzle.

    Then you're strutting through warm sunlight down the streets. The town's quiet as usual compared to a city full of cars or even the seaside city. Maybe you could ride back there next holy-day and try that restaurant Bragho suggested...

    You pause. Okay. This body, this costume, didn't steal your soul, but that doesn't mean you have to go all vixy in your first week. Get ahold of yourself, g -- um, fox-person! You really owe Wylan one, considering how tough it must be to deal with a depressed fox.

    Warily you peek into the same alley where you were attacked. You should've known better. It's a nice town overall, and you're getting used to the odd logic of the buildings. What's so weird about selling board games and snack food in the same shop, or cartoons that're really virtual-reality sort of things? The computer laws are obnoxious, but there's always a chance for reform, and the library's pretty good. What's with the fortress-garden design of that anyway? There must be some neat history behind it.

    Your ears flick, making you reach up to touch them. There's cheering ahead from the park. You can't stay long -- gotta get back to work -- but maybe you'll get to see what sports look like around here. Come to think of it, you could probably make a fortune "inventing" baseball.

    Some foxes are gathered on the grass. Mostly ruffled young men kicking around a ball or something, with bystanders cheering or... wait. That's not a ball.

    They're beating the tar out of a man. He's got short sandy fur and big ears, and when he spots you he calls out "Senorita!"

    "Eloy?" you shout, running toward the gang. It's the Fen guy from the library. "Stop it! Stop hitting him!"

    Some of the people gathered here aren't in on it. They're trying to tell the gang to stop, too, or just standing around, for whatever innocence that buys them. As you get close and a couple of the punks turn to you, you feel small and weak. You'd forgotten you don't have the same build as before.

    One of the goons glares down at you. "Back off, lady!" The others are kicking Eloy and he's covering his face.

    The goon shoves you back when you try to stop them. You can't get past these guys. "Help me break this up!" you call out to the onlookers.

    The goon says, "Dirty Fen-lover. His kind's behind everything!" Oh god, you can see blood matting Eloy's fur. People are wavering, hesitant to pick a fight with these thugs in the name of a foreigner. And you can't get through, can't help him. They might kill him, and all you can do is walk away...

    No. There's one thing you could try, if you can remember how you did it before. If you're willing to put yourself in a lot of firey-hot trouble.

    Written by Snow on 17-07-2010 and edited by catprog


    (Story 2 Page 441) Seeking Refuge

    You try to remember the fear from that other night in a dark alley. It flares up more easily than you'd have liked. As you reach out and watch, theres a glow of red-gold fire spinning into existence around your fingers. People start to turn and gasp, but you hardly notice, focusing on pulling more fire from wherever it comes from. Your finger-pads feel seared without actually hurting. Quickly you tighten your grip on the flame and point at the goons. "Let him go, NOW!" A jet of orange fire lashes out and you bend it, somehow, trying not to kill anyone.

    The foxes all stare at you, thugs and bystanders alike. And then everybody runs away, scattering in all directions. Except for one kid whose huge eyes are locked on the swirling fireball you're trying to put out. "Whoa..." And except for Eloy.

    The fire sputters and goes out as you waggle your hand, leaving your fingers tingling. Hurrying over to Eloy, you kneel on the wet grass and try to pry his arms off his face. "Eloy, it's me... Lenara. Talk to me."

    He moans. His eyes are bloodshot and his yellow-grey fur's streaked with grass, mud, and blood like some maniac's attacked him with a box of crayons. "Senorita Vale, I did not know you were an action hero."

    With a weak smile you look over his wounds and brush fingers over filthy headfur. Looks like the sleeve of your blouse is ruined too. You manage to tear off the damaged cloth and wrap that around a deep gash on his arm. Eloy hisses.

    That kid's still standing there watching. "What are you doing?" you say. "Get the police or an ambulance or whatever they have here!"

    "I'm here," says another man running onto the scene. He's got a crossbow-pistol thing and a radio on his uniform.

    "Officer Ren!" you say. "A mob attacked this man."

    Ren says, "I saw some of them fleeing. And they were saying, 'magic'." He crouches by Eloy, his face a professional grimace as he looks the wounds over. "Hang in there, mister." He gets on the radio and calls for medics.

    Eloy says, "That was a display impressive, senorita." You hold his hand to comfort him. "Now you must run."

    Ren says, "I warned you about that talent of yours, ma'am. I can't advise you to flee from the mage corps officials who'll be along to investigate within a few days, but if you have the means to take an unannounced vacation, this might be a good time."

    Your heart's already pounding from the magic. "To not get drafted?" you say. Ren nods. "How aggressive are they?"

    Eloy coughs. "You could maybe delay a few weeks, if you knew some Fen influential. I know such a man, but he is rather bruised right now."

    "Just a few minutes for the medics," Ren assures him.

    You wait, looking back and forth between the policeman and your battered Fen admirer. Eloy holds your hand tightly until the medics get to him with a stretcher and unfamiliar medical gear. Ren says, "Stop by the station and we'll protect you from the mage draft as well as we can. Or skip town. Either way, good luck. You're a hero to us."

    A hero? You step back, one hand over your muzzle. You didn't do anything special besides use the powers handed to you. And now you might end up as the Fens' wizard-slave for doing it. You run off, crying and hoping no one sees you.

    Bragho spots you as you enter the movie studio. "What happened? Are you hurt?"

    "No, no, it's --" You pour out an explanation.

    Bragho's eyes widen. "Oh, hell, you have magic besides the costume thing? You're in danger." His ears flick back and he turns to spot Wylan and the other actors. They're running up to see you, the panting vixen with torn, charred clothes.

    Wylan says, "Lenara, what's wrong now?"

    Bragho tells him, "Never you mind!" He frowns and shakes his head. "Sorry. She's just been spotted using... magic." There's a collective gasp. Under his breath he mutters, "Easily impressed low-mana world."

    You face the people you've been working with. "Thanks, everyone. You've been good to me. I just don't know what to do now."

    Wylan says, "I take it you don't want to go work for the Fen government?"

    You shake your head no. "As interesting as it'd be, not if they say I have no choice."

    Wylan nods. "Then it's time to lay low, see if we can make this thing blow over. And nobody here's gonna say anything, right?" He gives a frightening stare to each and every one of his co-workers, whose tails tuck between their legs.

    Except Bragho, whose fists tremble at his sides. "There's another option. It means she hides for another week plus, which I think we can manage, and then... a way out opens from then on."

    "What?" you ask.

    "Costumes," Bragho says, ears laid flat on his head. "I have three I never used, and there's the one you bought." Some of the other actors look confused; do they not know what he's talking about?

    You realize the full meaning of his idea. "You mean, wait for the game's minimum time and escape with another outfit? Just to avoid this draft? Bragho, couldn't we, I don't know, fight this in court? It's a stupid reason to decide to leave."

    "The Fens are in charge, Len," says Wylan.

    "Well, someone should stand up to them!"

    Wylan droops guiltily, then forces himself to stand up straighter. "If that's what you want to do, I'm with you."

    You turn to Bragho. "And what about you? You're saying I should throw away this world, now?"

    The fox-man is shaking. "No! I mean, you wanted to be a world-hopping adventurer, right? I want you to be safe and happy, even if..."

    Your tail flicks against your legs for several seconds, like a metronome. Then Bragho darts forward and wraps arms around you, planting a long kiss right on your muzzle. He's warm and strong and the moment makes you happy and terrified.

    Bragho lets you go and steps back, swiping the back of his hand over his eyes. "Go. See a hundred other worlds and do good in them."

    You stand there flustered, battered, with danger and friends ahead in this world and many unknown wonders awaiting in the costume-verse.

    It's up to you, then. What's the true ending to this story of yours?

    Written by Snow on 17-07-2010 and edited by catprog


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    (Story 2 Page 443) Higher Up and Farther In

    ~ Years Later ~

    "That's how it was," you say. "I told him he was a good man, and I'd never forget him."

    Around you beaks clack and feathers rustle. You've told the raven tribe about your first other-world experience, as part of a very unusual initiation. See, it happened only after you fought the Red-Beaked Tyrant and freed the land...

    "Wait, wait." Warrior Leif reaches a wing out to you, finger-talons spread at the end. You and the other raven-folk perch in a vast cliffside cave. Firelight dances, and the gruesome carrion of today's battle is only half cleaned away from the once-sacred stone buildings. Leif says, "So you were one of these 'human' creatures, became a talking fox, and only then became one of the People?"

    You stand and stretch your wings, then will yourself to shift. Feathers ripple and fade as you assume one of the battle-forms from this morning: part human, part wolf. Through your fanged muzzle you say, "No. This world is number two hundred and six for me." There's a gasp at that, and you show off your vixen form too before returning to raven. With this many costumes behind you, you've built up some impressive powers.

    Leif's mate Kvelda toasts more fish over the fire. She says, "We knew you were special even before you offered to fight the Tyrant for us." That bird's now being picked over by hungry cliff-racers on the jagged rocks below.

    You bow your beak. "I wanted to do good deeds in a hundred other worlds, like my friend said. It's a good deal for me. I'm not getting any older, and by now I've got..." Two hundred-odd worlds, over one long-week in each... "Well, years of experience. Now that things have settled down, I can teach you about iron-working and many other things."

    "Before you go?" asks Kvelda.

    Leif's head-crest sticks up uneasily. He's likely to be the next chieftain, unless you claim the title. You give a screeching laugh. "Don't worry, Leif. I'll move on, as beautiful as your world is. I do need help in finding at least one costume, though. The Tyrant tore apart the first one when he captured me."

    "You have the gratitude of all our people! We'll scour the area at first light."

    A fledgeling at the edge of the fire's light chirps nervously. Nobody respected the kid till today. In the end he not only figured out how to disable the Tyrant's secret lightning idol, but made sure the Tyrant didn't just fall off the cliff and out of sight. (You hate it when that happens to villains.) Now he says, "What if we find more than one?"

    "Well, there should be two left," you say. "And I want first choice. If you find both, I'll tell you what to expect, though it won't be a costume I've personally seen --"

    A squawk from Leif interrupts you. "What? You would let the boy fly off to another world?"

    "If he wants to," you say with shrugged wings. "It won't be the first time I've ended up having spares that people wanted. There was this world of eight-bit... never mind; you wouldn't know what that means."

    "But he's a weakling!"

    You fix Leif with a piercing stare. "The Red-Beaked Tyrant thought he was the strongest bird in the world. It turns out there's always someone stronger, somewhere. You should remember that." You're not entirely sure he'll turn out to be much better as a ruler. But you've tried to spread certain other ideas in the places you've visited, like "kill all dictators". You came to that stance after world sixty-six, which you'd rather not remember tonight. You shake your head and smooth your head-feathers. "Anyway, he's earned the right to go where he pleases. And he'll get stronger if he does... and maybe even come back someday."

    Kvelda passes grilled fish around. You tear into one of them. You've collected some interesting recipes, but simple ones are some of the best. Kvelda says, "We've heard that before."

    "Oh?"

    "There's something you should see, higher up and farther in." She points away from the fire into the dark cliff-city.

    You crane your neck to peer into the shadows. Suddenly you're not so hungry. "Let's go see it then."

    You and Kvelda and the boy take wing, carefully flapping up along the descrated roofless houses in the darkness. In a little while you reach a high tier of buildings past where you broke out of the Tyrant's prison. Kvelda lights a torch and shows you a space that's been walled up completely. "I think it's here. Very old. Can you get in?"

    "Of course." You shift to a massive form like a centaur elephant and punch the stone wall. You peer in though the hole left by your massive fist, and spot something. Quickly you clear away more stone blocks, shielding the ravens from debris.

    There's a statue here made of tarnished silver. Its wings are spread wide in a welcoming gesture, looking over the cliff city. Before the pedestal was bricked over to hide it, the statue would've been lit from those torch-holders beside it and cast silver firelight on the whole area. And there's writing on the pillar. It translates as:

    "Here, Bragho the Wanderer led his people to victory over evil. May you do likewise in all the worlds that exist."

    You lose control over your mighty battle form, and shift to the sleek vixen body you had a long time ago. Leaning against a broken wall, you manage to laugh and cry at the same time.

    Kvelda and the fledgeling exchange a glance as though you're crazy. They back away and give you a few minutes to gather your thoughts.

    Then the boy taps your fox-tail with a wingtip. You look down at him, smiling weakly. He says, "You were playing a game. That's what this whole costume thing was about, right? So... did you win?"

    You blink, surprised to be reminded of the rules you once fished out of a pocket. The costume game itself is just a means to an end, to you. But you got through it with your mind and spirit intact, and brought some of your favorite things from Earth along. This world's more peaceful and free thanks to you, too, though how that happened is another story. Through your adventures you've worked to sow the best seeds of hundreds of worlds. You've seen things others could hardly believe, from burning starships to countries built on crystal dragons. In hindsight, you've probably earned a few statues yourself by now. And in this place, as in others, you've inspired someone else to go and do likewise. Even for you there's much, much more to see.

    "Yes," you tell him, and hug him close. "This is what winning feels like."

    Written by Snow on 18-07-2010 and edited by catprog



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