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|This story is a work in progress.|
|Preceded by:||Window of Opportunity|
|Succeeded by:||None yet|
|Author's Notes: New additions will start with the first sentence of green text. I am entertaining suggestions for a title for this series. Keep in mind that significant revisions are possible, and sometimes necessary. The entire text is therefore in flux.|
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|Work on this story is on hiatus.|
"Look, I need to make at least thirty more medallions by the end of the month. I don't have time to teach anybody, Jenny. I just... I can't." Brian wasn't angry, exactly. Frustrated yes, since I had pressed on this issue relentlessly for the past hour. The bare fact was that somehow he was the most experienced magic-user among us "animals". I'd stirred him up so much he was pacing around his mini-tardis tree's living space.
"If you show us how you do it we can take the pressure off," Donna said. She had only swallowed half the Crystal Light in her glass. "I know I've always been curious how it works. I mean, why do we stay female even at One? It'd be possible to be an almost-human male on one end of the scale and a female deer on the other, wouldn't it?"
"It's a second order effect," the raccoon-mage explained. "Out of my control. I honestly expected the same thing you said when I first started passing them out to new recruits, when I didn't have any other options. It flips your original gender to match the creature you bond to. I don't know how to reverse it." He shrugged helplessly. "Sorry, girls."
"Doesn't matter," I replied with a dismissive wave. The cool air inside the raccoon's home played around my bare skin and nipples. He was really quite a handsome fellow, and those raccoon ears of his were kind of cute. I had to admit that those were some very feminine thoughts, and attributed them to the estrogen. Humans have instincts, too. And the three of us had remained quite nude. "We're adapting well to the gender-flipping, Brian. Honestly, we are. Let me explain myself one more time.
"We're losing through attrition alone. Either because we have former humans going to Eleven, or even predation. Most of us are deer, which are human food, or something small enough for the coyotes and cougars to get. The predators we do have get knocked off by humans protecting livestock. Right?" I said.
Brian nodded, then took another sip of his drink. "The animals have gotten harder to catch, too. They have to be bound into the medallion."
"Why so many deer?" Donna asked, folding her arms under her bosom. "You'd think that cougars and coyotes would be a better choice for the Resistance. Hunting instincts and all that."
"Practical reasons," he replied. "Whitetails are very, very numerous. They're easy to trap alive. They're also very close to human-size. Believe it or not, conservation of mass is still important in magic. There are drawbacks, of course. Every animal has its strong and weak points. I've tried making more raccoons, but it's just too hard to trap my own 'people'. And I've avoided anything small enough to get eaten as a snack by our own members. At least most of the time."
He gave me a measuring look. "What else did you have in mind, Jen?"
"We're going to have to go over Barry's head," I said.
"That's not going to go over well in some quarters. He has his sycophants and yes-men, even among the mages. But most of us know just how ineffective he is."
"Okay," said Donna. "Does this mean you agree, Brian?"
At long last, he was finally convinced. "I don't like cutting back on my medallion production so much, but you're right. We need to stop the attrition among those present right now," he said. "I'll teach the mages that are willing. Then... what was next?"
"I'll need whatever you created to turn us morphic when we came in here in the home base tree's entrance. Everyone gets 'morphed. Everyone. We need to stop living like animals and remember what our purpose is. Outside home base, we can stay furred up and on four legs. It's necessary for the subterfuge. Inside is human civilization. Period."
Lucy chose that moment to appear in the tree's entrance spot, flat on her back like Donna and I. My cervine companion had gone outside and sent out a telepathic call for her. "Yow," the golden vixen yipped. "Now that's a trip! I hope I'm not too late, all. Had to see a man about a mouse." She bounced to her feet, and noting that everyone else was a One, pulled herself as human as she could get. Her bushy tail swished behind her, then wrapped it around her front shyly. "I feel like a furry centerfold. Can someone fill me in?"
Brian chuckled. "The gang's all here. I feel like the odd man out. Hmm..."
"Didn't mean to put you in a tough spot," I said.
"It's okay. I like being surrounded by beautiful women," the raccoon-man said dryly. "And there's a way around this little problem, if you don't mind me performing an experiment on myself."
I flicked my ears back. "Don't put yourself through any trouble on our account."
He chuckled, rummaging around in a pile of medallions, some of which had odd symbols on them that roughly resembled the ones on the animal medallions, but more abstract. "Oh, this is something I've been thinking of doing for a while now. Think of it as penance for not having the correct medallions for you--um," he stammered, remembering that I had actually chosen this despite a stag medallion being available, perhaps. "Uh, you and the other gender-flipped," he replied. "Ah, here it is!"
The wooden medallion was about an inch across, and had a simple symbol on it: the plus-handled "handmirror" of female.
"You don't have to do this on our account!" Donna said, brown eyes wide.
He shrugged. "It's not permanent. I've experimented on some rats already, and they change back in a few hours. Don't sweat it, ladies." He put the medallion on.
There was a moment of uncertainty... and for an instant, there were two people occupying the same space. Then the two points connected, and Brian's body flowed into a female shape. The temporary female just stood there for a minute or so before Lucy went to keep her from toppling over.
"Neat!" the golden vixen said, tongue lolling. It looked odd on her mostly-human face with no muzzle. "What does that mean for us?"
Brian blushed. She did have a pretty face, I had to admit. "Um... nothing so far, sorry to say. Like I said, I don't understand how those second-order effects work. I'm not even sure why this works on me! This is the first kind of medallion I've created that doesn't require any sort of external soul-binding. I think that's why the effect is temporary. You're going to have to give me a few more months, girls."
It was an unequivocal demonstration of his acumen and innovation in magic. It was clear to me now that we needed to know everything he--or she--did. "Brianna" sheepishly took her seat opposite the rest of us, blushing furiously, arms folded over her chest. "So, um, let's girl talk. Where do we go from here?"
Donna chewed on her lower lip, then sighed heavily. "I guess this makes us a conspiracy."
That word grated on me like fingernails across a chalk board. Like a cell phone going off in a movie theater. "No. No conspiracy," I said firmly, tapping the tabletop with my fingertips. "Let's approach Barry with our grievances first. If he does nothing, then we'll persuade the others and get things moving ourselves. We're going to be as open about this as possible."
"Then you'd better start with me," Lucy said, tapping her paw-foot. "What's going on?"
The four of us talked all night, making plans, and Brian was on the fourth female medallion by the time she finally ran out and became male again. "I'd call that an experimental success," he said. "An enlightening experience to say the least."
Lucy poked the raccoon-man on his chest with a claw-tip. "What? Hoping it'll stick, 'Brianna'?"
"Hmm. I'll have to pick a different female name. But penance, ladies, penance. I'm not kidding when I say I feel guilty for unmanning you." He swallowed and looked at me. "In fact, Jenny, that stag medallion I brought with me the day I sprang you from prehistoric prison turned out to be a dud. It was doe or nothing, I'm afraid."
Sighing at the winds of fate, I looked at my breasts and gave them a squeeze. I looked between them, down to my crotch. My form had been slipping a bit over the last few hours. I was cervine enough to have the nubs of four teats down on my lower belly. In fact, I started slipping more and more away from my humanoid form, now that I finally realized that I'd been that way for far longer than I could have expected. My breasts quickly melted away, teats and udder replacing them as I slipped back to four hooves. I clacked a forehoof on the floor of Brian's home. So much for that, anyway. We should probably head back to the base Tree, anyway. We have things to do.
"Incompetent leaders to unseat, aliens to evict," Donna added. She walked over next to me and put her arm around my shoulders, then gave me an affectionate petting behind my ears. "I'll go spread the word, Jen. Let's call a meeting and make our pitch."
"I'll get the 'Shapelock' idea of yours set up in the Tree entrance in the meantime," Brian added. "Just be careful about approaching Barry. He's got a damned short fuse sometimes. Good luck, Jenny."
Sometimes it's easier to beg pardon than ask permission, as the saying goes. In Barry's case, I doubted any action without his approval would cause an altercation of some kind. I had to wonder just how he ended up an African mammal when everyone else were North American species, but the answer to that question would have to remain low on the priority list.
Candice was as human as I had left her. She'd even improvised an outfit from the pile of dirty laundry. Unfortunately I was still too tired to go human again.