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Virmir grinned to himself as he finished the final touches on his latest comic. Setting the stylus down, he leaned back and stretched, an audible crack filling the otherwise silent room as kinks were worked out of his muscles. It had been a long project, the penultimate moment of battle between the Crimson Flags and the Black Tails, but it was well worth it. Getting up to get a glass of water, Virmir returned to the desk and looked over the image, checking to see if he missed anything. He sipped his water as his eyes swept over the brave fighters; the gray foxes of the Crimson Flag that were beginning their final charge and the fennecs of the Black Tail that stood before their assault. It had been a bit of a challenge to show how the Tails were defending themselves while still making them seem confident, but Virmir felt that he had managed to convey the feeling pretty well. The same went for the Flags; it was actually harder to draw their burnt fur than it was to give that determined-yet-injured glint in their eyes.
Unable to find a flaw in the latest page, Virmir grinned again as he uploaded it to his website. Glancing to the clock in the bottom right of his tablet’s screen, he was surprised to find it was just two minutes before his midnight deadline! He chuckled to himself and took another sip of water. It looked like he had finished in the nick of time—he’d never missed an update and he was glad to know that he wasn’t about to start anytime soon. Apart from his own pride to worry about, Virmir’s comic had seen its popularity skyrocket in the recent months. If he didn’t keep the updates regular, there were going to be some very unhappy fans to deal with. Virmir yawned and turned off his computer, eager to get some rest. Before he went to bed though, he made a note reminding him to check on the server in the morning, if the traffic continued to increase then it would need some upgrading. Heh, being an internet celebrity was hard work. Not that it bothered him much.
Truth be told, though, Virmir wasn’t making the comic for the fame. Heck, he didn’t even intend to make much money off of it, but once his work started getting more popular the cash just flowed in. Virmir wasn’t rich by any measure of the word, but revenues from his comic and relevant merchandise gave enough to pay the bills and get food, which was really all he needed. He didn’t leave the apartment except to do errands, and he didn’t own a car. In fact the only possession he had that was of any real value was his tablet computer where he made all his art. In a way, the artist was a lot like the cartoons he loved to draw: aloof and carefree, living in a different world from the one outside his window.
That was probably what had helped the comic become so popular, really, Virmir thought to himself as he lay in bed. Virmir’s fans always commented on how the characters seemed so real in their expressions and how vivid the world was. In truth, both things were simple by-products of his imagination. For as long as he could remember, Virmir had been a major daydreamer. He’d get his work done and bills paid, and then he’d be off imagining fantastic worlds where ships flew through the air and mages unearthed magical secrets. It didn’t take long for these ideas to find their way to be realized, and soon he was doodling away, creating a portfolio of the cartoon foxes that populated this world of adventure.
He was asked about that a lot in the beginning, come to think of it. Virmir had gotten quite few people inquiring about why he always drew foxes. A few people even commented on how his use of species was some political point, going into long analysis of historic connotations and cultural associations. The truth was a lot less interesting than that, though. Virmir drew his cartoons as anthropomorphic foxes because he wanted to—it was as simple as that. It was more fun and more interesting to have his characters as a menagerie of fluffy anthros than as a bunch of humans, and there wasn’t much else to it. Honestly, Virmir never saw what was so special about being human anyway. All it meant was that he belonged to the species Homo sapiens sapiens after all.
Personally, Virmir always felt he had more in common with the foxes he drew than the humans he lived beside. He was drawn more to the grays and the way they could look down on the world, being one of the few candid species that could climb trees. Gray foxes were lovers of routine, able to subsist and survive by taking only what they needed with small, manageable game, and this was an outlook Virmir enjoyed far more than the constant rush to success human society presented. He saw it as more fun to be a fox, more interesting to be a cartoon in a world of adventure, and these feelings were what made his comic so good. He could draw such real expressions because he imagined himself as his characters, and the world of his comic was so detailed because it was the same world he daydreamed about any chance he got. It was these dreams of fun and adventure that Virmir gave to his comic. They energized the panels as he drew them, giving them a style and soul that his readers could never describe but knew they loved. Virmir gave his feelings into the comic, and eventually it began to give back.
He had a strange dream that night. Virmir dreamt that he was standing in a large sea of blackness with a giant version of his comic towering over him. As he gazed upwards he saw each panel stacked on top of one another, rising beyond his sight. All of a sudden a panel began to fall. Then another. And another. As each piece of the comic hit the ground it burst into existence, filling the black with clear skies, verdant fields, and running streams. More panels fell, bursting into the cities and towns of his fantasy kingdom. Smaller parts of the comic showered over the newly formed houses, and soon there was an entire population of cartoon foxes watering flowers, pushing carts, and hocking produce at their stalls. It was just as Virmir had imagined it, every detail down to the last blade of grass. He had dreamt of his comic world before, obviously, but never in such realistic form. Too distracted by the fascination of his work coming to life, it wasn’t until the shadow beneath him started to grow that Virmir looked up to find the final panel of the comic falling right on top of him.
Virmir woke with a start. He breathed heavily as he looked up to see only the ceiling. No comic, no brilliant skies, just plain plaster and a few stains from water damage. He rolled over and glanced at the clock—it was only six in the morning. Funny, it seemed like it should have been later, Virmir thought idly. Any other day he’d be royally tired and fall back to sleep, but for some reason he felt wide awake. Oh well, no reason not to get up then. Maybe he’d get an early start on the next comic, or hang out in his chatroom with some of the other early-risers. Virmir stretched and rubbed his eyes, then froze as something furry brushed against his face. He reached over to his nightstand and turned on a lamp, praying that he hadn’t just rubbed a mouse on his eye. The good news was that it was not a mouse. The bad (?) news is that the furry object was apparently his left hand. Actually, it was pretty much his entire left arm too. Starting just before the elbow was a patch of bright gray fur that covered his arm until it turned white at his hand. Virmir’s mind—which had stalled upon seeing the fur—slowly began to work again, but all he could think about was how very familiar his hand looked.
Getting out of bed, he went to his desk in the living room and opened one of its drawers. Taking out the sheaf of papers that composed his drawing references, Virmir looked through them (more slowly than he would have liked, since he wasn’t fully sure it was safe to touch anything with his left hand) until he found what he was looking for. It was the sheet filled with hand and paw designs that he used when first designing his characters. Scanning the page, he mildly noted how ridiculous some of his early drafts had looked before his eyes stopped on the sketch he was looking for. Circled in red with an arrow pointed to it, the final hand design Virmir had settled on was a dead match for the limb he had woken up with. Everything from where the fur colours changed to the slight rectangular shape of the three fingers and thumb was exactly as he had drawn it.
There was a chance he was dreaming, Virmir thought, which was probably why he decided to have breakfast before doing anything else. Opening the pantry with his furred arm and finding that contact between real objects and his cartoon appendage didn’t make the world explode, he decided on some cereal to eat. After getting some milk and sitting down at the table, Virmir idly considered his hand between bites of puffed wheat. It didn’t seem harmful; in fact it didn’t seem anything out of the ordinary. His left arm was covered in fur that looked like it had leapt from a roll of celluloid, and his hand had only four fingers, but for the life of him Virmir couldn’t find anything actually wrong with how the whole arrangement felt. Acting on the idea that the phenomena might not be localized on him, he returned to the living room and powered up his tablet to check the news websites. There was no mention of furry limbs, cartoons, or comics in the headlines—just the standard political fare and something about one of the site’s reporters getting married. So that meant this was either being covered-up very well or Virmir was the only person being affected. He looked down at his hand and wiggled his fingers—cool.
Having one less finger on his hand didn’t interfere much with the rest of his daily routine. Virmir checked his forums and art sites, returned his emails, and returned a few calls he had received from a clothing supplier who wanted to put his characters on a T-shirt. So, all in all, spontaneously gaining a cartoon arm was actually a fairly boring event—though there was something surprisingly fun about talking on the phone to someone who had no clue they were speaking to someone with a cartoon limb. It wasn’t until he began work on the next page of his comic that this began to change. Virmir took up his stylus and started sketching out the fight scene between the Flags and the Tails. His progress was good, but he had to stop periodically due to a tickle that kept striking and fading from his left hand. Even though he didn’t use it to write, the sensation from his furry hand was strong enough to make him halt everything and itch furiously until it went away. After several hours of alternation between drawing and itching, Virmir had finally managed to finish the page. As he uploaded it to his website, the tickle struck again—this time on his left shoulder and foot. Grumbling, Virmir scratched at the affected areas and starting thinking of ways to go buy some lotion without showing his hand, but stopped when the tickle was suddenly smothered by the feeling of fur.
Craning his neck, Virmir saw that the fur on his arm had spread past his shoulder and was spilling over onto his chest, where it turned white as it neared the centre of his torso. Pulling his left leg into his lap to get a look, Virmir was not very surprised to find that his foot was now covered in fur and had lengthened into proportions matching a digitigrades stance. Running a hand along the sole of his new paw, a ticklish wave made him twitch as his fingers brushed against leathery (and sensitive!) pads. Virmir slumped back in his seat, blinking as the facts fell into place before him. He was changing, transforming into a cartoon fox (well, he didn’t know he was becoming a fox, but it was a pretty safe bet) and the cause was apparently the completion of pages for his webcomic. If he kept drawing, then there was no reason to think they would stop. The inked fur would just spread and cover him completely until he was turned completely into his fox character. Virmir grinned—this was going to be so cool!
The clock ticked on as he drew. There was no consideration, no planning to his work, Virmir just let his ideas pour out. Every character he had even thought of, every place he had ever imagined, and every scene he had ever daydreamt was all brought forth from his stylus. Colours flowed across the tablet screen as each image was finished, and as the hours marched on the full extent of Virmir’s fantastic world was laid bare. Tired and drained from the unknown time spent, too filled with exhaustion to carry on, Virmir keeled over onto his desk, tail hanging wearily from his char as sleep overcame him.
Upon waking up, Virmir opened his eyes groggily before shutting them again, eager to get a few more z’s. Then he remembered that he had just spent the previous day drawing in order to turn into a cartoon fox. That snapped him to attention immediately. Sitting up and looking around, Virmir was immediately aware that his desk didn’t used to be chin-high. Then he remembered that his cartoons were rarely over four feet tall. He slid off his chair onto digitigrades paws and looked down at himself. Bright gray celluloid fur covered him completely, with white around his hands, middle of his chest, and paws. Virmir didn’t even need a mirror to know what his face looked like—he ran his hands over the foxy muzzle, black nose, and peaked ears twitching happily that he knew were a spitting image of his drawings. He reached behind himself and pulled around the tail he knew was there. Virmir giggled a bit as he stroked its thick fur, then grinned widely and hugged the fluffy tail. It had happened! He didn’t know how and he didn’t really care, but it had happened! Virmir was toonified and foxified, everything he had ever dreamt and imagined!
Giddy and excited, Virmir looked eagerly around his apartment, his mind racing to think of what he could do. Maybe he’d take some pictures and post them, or set up a webcam! Or order a pizza and see the delivery boy’s reaction! Oh and he just had to tell the folks on his chatroom—they were never going to believe this! A happy yip filled the room as Virmir grabbed his tablet and hopped onto the couch, tailwagging eagerly as he booted it up from sleep mode. What he saw when his desktop came on, however, drained the new fox’s enthusiasm.
It was his drawings. Everything he had made yesterday was still loaded. Vibrant scenes and colourful characters covered the screen. As Virmir looked over and closed each image, pangs began to form inside him. This was everything he had ever done and dreamt of, everything he had fantasized and wished could be real. It wasn’t just about him, it was about a world of possibility and fun—a world where the rules meant that every day could be an adventure! Virmir thought back to the dream that had started all of this. He remembered seeing the panels burst into life and form the world he loved. What was created in that dream felt as real to him then as his cartoon body did now. He wasn’t finished, Virmir realized, there was still one more thing to draw.
A very strange sight greeted webcomic fans when they opened Virmir’s website the next day. Instead of the aftermath of the most recent story arc, they were met with the picture of large, ornate door. There was no explanation from the artist, no rationale provided. Things became stranger over the following weeks. Though new comics were posted, they had nothing to do with the story that had been told so far. They were set in the same world, sure, but followed the adventures of a new character: a fox by the name of Kendo Virmir. Fans were stumped; some speculated that the artist was just blowing off steam with a few self-insertion stories, but as the months passed it became very apparent that it wasn’t just a passing fancy. The strips were uploaded more frequently—sometimes as many as five a day during the most thrilling adventures! People tried to contact the artist, whether to complain about his style or to offer him an award and praise, but no one was ever able to find him. Eventually, his phone was disconnected and his email shut down, but somehow the website stayed active. As time passed, everyone just assumed that the artist had moved to some isolated cottage to focus his time on drawing—how else could he create such fantastic stories so quickly?
As Virmir’s adventures became more well-known, people became inspired to draw their own works inside the wonderful world they read about. Characters were named, stories were told, and soon some very strange photos began circling the forums—images critics said had to be altered, they were too impossible otherwise.