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User:Virmir/A Moderately Comfortable Hole in the Ground

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"A Moderately Comfortable Hole in the Ground"

Author: Virmir

I remember how excited I was for the coming of spring those last few weeks. Its arrival would mark the beginning of my third year upon this world and my passage from childhood to adulthood. New opportunities would open up for me, as well new weights and responsibilities. I was ready for it all.

However as the day drew nearer and nearer, my mother grew increasingly anxious and distraught, and I could not understand why. There were dark rumors about the spring festival that I simply did not understand. Conditions existed for a kit to be accepted as an adult member of society that made little sense to me, although I should have figured it out sooner...

Red Foxes were the smartest, strongest, and most civilized inhabitants of the Forest. My childhood education was constantly supplemented with fantastic stories of crimson coated heroes. Stories about our creation in great Inari's image. About our banding together many, many years ago to create the City, a triumph against the surrounding hostile forest, and a testament to our greatness. And stories of battles, both large and small, against the vile Grays and the conniving Swifts.

Our greatest pride was our coats. Our queen vixen had the most beautiful fur with perfect coloration, a true testament to her vulpineness and her right to rule. Nobles were similarly stunning creatures, with black around their paws like gloves and lush crimson tails, save for the bight white tips. Of course the majority, the commoners, were not quite so perfect. Some could hide their blemishes under their tunics, while others were forced to wear their patches of gray or black about their faces or muzzles. Others simply had a discolored tail. Still, all were Red Foxes and glad of it.

I only became aware of the hierarchy as the festival approached.

I was different. My entire body was a mix of red and gray, one color more concentrated in some areas than others. My tail was mostly gray, though I did sport the most important white tip. Other kits used to make fun of me, saying I always looked dirty. I lacked black gloves. My main difference with the rest of society, however, was my ears. Rather than stand erect like cupped triangles, they drooped downward. When I was little, my mother tried to prop them up with sticks everyday for a time, but that did no good. I remember I thought her silly for it and took them off when she wasn't looking.

A very special guest visited me and my mother on the final night of my childhood. It was the greatest honor a commoner could ever hope to imagine. Alas, it was to be the last honor I would ever receive. The queen herself came to our dwelling, flanked by her entourage of crimson guards. With a calm sadness in her eyes she declared that I was not of pure enough blood to remain in society, and I was to be cast out into the forest the following morning before the ceremonies began. My mother wailed loudly.

So at sunrise I was given a long knife and sent into the wilderness, never to see the City again. Other than my mother, my only goodbye was to Catin, a vixen my age. I thought her more beautiful than the queen, despite the black on her face. We were to rise to adulthood together and be given our responsibilities at the ceremony later that day. But alas, it was never meant to be. She was devastated, but she at least composed herself enough to give me a kiss on the side of my muzzle.

I left quietly, my only possessions the clothes on my hide, a knife, and a kiss. The guards saluted me as they opened the gates. I had a single day to get as far away from the City as possible, then those same men would kill me like any other non-Red.

I was told to rely on my "instincts", a set of deep down primal urges that guided our ancestors long ago before the City existed. It was not easy. Many potential meals slipped through my claws. My hunting and trapping attempts were in vain and my only sources of nourishment were occasional patches of berries. By the third day I was weak and tired. And very alone.

It was the morning of that day that I decided I could not go on. I arose from a bramble of bushes, cold and wet from the morning dew. Whatever skills required to survive in the wild that my ancestors possessed I clearly lacked. I was going to die unless I returned to the City. But that was not an option. I would rather die of starvation than be killed by former friends.

I remembered hearing stories of one who lived outside of the City and forest, atop the mountain. A great sorceress with strange powers. Perhaps she could help? If only my fur were red and my ears straight, then I would be able to live with the others. Surely a sorceress could perform such magic. It was a long shot, but at least it was hope. Hope that I desperately needed. It was enough to get me to my feet and start me trudging towards those looming cliffs.

Eventually the forest began to break up. The trees became sparser and the ground dustier as I moved forward, the floor of soft grasses and leaves giving way to more painful jutting rocks. I suddenly became aware of the scent of another and slowed my pace. This was a mistake as it tipped the other off that I knew something was amiss. The attacker burst forth from a bush to my left, tackling me right to the ground. She held a bone knife to my neck and began to press, but I threw her off quickly enough. Scrambling to my feet, I drew my own blade.

She was a Swift, her ears laid back and lips snarling, black tipped tail swaying back and forth. The Swifts were bandits that usually worked in pairs, male and female partners, and preyed on Reds who ventured too far by themselves. She was shorter than me by a good foot and even more malnourished, wearing a dirty brown cloak.

The gray and tawny furred vixen lunged at me, covering over five feet in a single bound. I deflected her blade with my own, nicking a chip of the bone off. My knife was bronze, from the City, and superior in every way. With another slash I knocked the weapon free of her hand. This did not deter her in the slightest, and she rabidly came after me with her claws. I could have plunged my knife into her stomach at that point but for some reason did not. Instead I closed my fist and punched her in the side of the muzzle. She fell down hard.

As she lied on the ground whimpering, I ran over to her discarded weapon and picked it up, fully expecting to have to fight her partner next.

No one came.

Exhausted, after a few minutes I strode over to a rock some distance away and sat down, running my claw tips over the bone weapon. True, it was primitive. But it was beyond my ability of craftsmanship. By now the bandit was beginning to recover. She struggled to her knees, cradling her snout in both hands. She turned around and watched me sit there with her lost weapon. It was probably her only possession.

We stared at each other for a few minutes before I finally spoke.

"Well, go on. Run away now."

"Why... didn't you kill me...?"

The question startled me. I really didn't know. It just didn't seem right.

"I didn't need to."

"But... you're a Red, aren't you?"

She was staring at the white tip of my tail. I pulled it back behind the rock.

"I don't know..."

Her ears pulled up in recognition. "They cast you out..."

She was leery of me at first, but any hint of hostility vanished after I told her I was no longer a Red. We exchanged stories. Her name was Lia. I thought her to be some sort of outcast as well, but her position was quite normal for a Swift. They were loners, much like our ancestors used to be. They did whatever they could do to survive. And they had a deep jealousy of the Reds and their City.

I still would not return her knife, lest she attack me again. But she followed me on my journey and we worked together to trap and hunt, splitting our findings between us. Two bites of raw jackrabbit seemed a gourmet meal compared to my diet of berries. For that I was most grateful and finally returned her weapon on our third day together.

By then we were nearing the foot hills and the food was becoming scarce. I told her that she could go on her way and resume her life in the flatlands, but she refused to leave and became inquisitive as to why I was so set on scaling the mountain. I finally told her of the sorceress and my hopes of changing my fur color so that I might re-enter the City. At first she was taken aghast, as if I were betraying her, but then she seemed intrigued.

"Do you think... she could change my fur as well?" Lia asked as I pulled her up the edge of a particularly large boulder. I was surprised at this, given her hatred of the Reds. But it was an awful life out in the wilderness. My tales of the City had enticed her, I thought. I was too naive to think that she simply wanted to be with me.

I looked her over and smiled. "I don't see why not." She became excited and embraced me tightly. I patted her on the back. She was a small thing, but with the right fur color no one would ever question her species. We set off again together with light hearts and a renewed determination.

Climbing was difficult, and we both found ourselves slipping on the smooth rocks. But in the middle of the second day in the mountains I spotted a strange structure. It looked like a tower from the City built into the side of the cliff. Yet it was very strange. Instead of wood it was made of gray stones. Upon closer inspection we found that the stones were all of similar size and shape, as if they had been cut that way. We stood in awe of the tower, for whoever built it truly must have been a powerful master of magic to cut so many stones.

Lia was scared and held onto me tightly.

"Come now, we'll go together." I said as I wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

We approached the massive wooden door and I knocked. The door frame rose several feet above my head. Could the sorceress be a giant?

"Who who who raps at my door?" Came a screechy voice from the other side. Both of our ears laid back.

There was a rustling inside and the door creaked open. There stood the most hideous creature I've ever seen. She was cloaked in black with only her face exposed. And she had no fur! Her skin was a pale pink, speckled with the occasional bump and her muzzle was nonexistent, her mouth pressed flat into her face. Her nose did protrude somewhat though, and it hooked downward. Upon her head was a wide black hat with a sharp point at the top. She was a good few feet taller than me.

"Oooooh! Dearies! Come in! Come in!"

She pushed the door open wider as she smiled, revealing flat yellow teeth. Lia and I timidly entered, a multitude of foul stenches smacking us in the face. All around were strange smells, and stranger things. A cauldron sat in the middle of the stone room, boiling over with some noxious liquid. Strange containers surrounded us that somehow held their concoctions, despite being transparent.

"What brings ye children of the forest up here to see me, hmmm?"

She seemed friendly enough. I bowed lowly and Lia mocked my movement.

"Oh great sorceress," I began, "we've been cast out of our society because of the way we look."

I spread my arms and the sorceress leaned over us with wide eyes.

"Oooooh... I see! I see!"

Before I could say another word she placed a hand on my shoulder, running it through my fur, and then touched my nose with the long fingernail of the other.

"There is a spell on ye!"

"... There is?"

She looked at Lia and poked her nose as well. The vixen stumbled backwards.

"And ye too! 'Tis a hex. I can remove it, if ye want. But be warned. Once it is undone, it cannot be done again."

I knew it. Some sort of spell laid against my family had changed my fur and made me an outcast . And Lia apparently suffered from the same thing. I looked at her and smiled. She returned the gesture and nodded.

"Yes, please," I replied, "it would be wonderful if you could undo the spell."

The sorceress cackled in delight.

"Of course, of course! I will help ye. Wait here, little ones. I will have ye back to normal within an hour."

We took a seat in the corner of the workshop and quietly watched as the great sorceress made her preparations, mixing and stirring various powders and liquids. Before long she poured the result of her labor into a bowl and set it down on the floor for us.

"Here now, drink it up, dearies! Just a bit will do ye."

The liquid in the bowl was clear like water, yet it smelled odd. Like newt or something. Lia and I bent down on our knees over the bowl, smiling at each other one last time before we began lapping the liquid, our heads bumping as we dipped our muzzles in.

The water was refreshing, given that we hadn't had anything to drink that day. I immediately felt a warmth trickle down my throat and into my belly. I excitedly continued drinking, feeling the tingling sensation spread through my entire body. I quickly became dizzy and fell right over on my side, hearing Lia do the same. My clothing was suddenly a tangled mess, and I struggled to free myself, finding I was unable to stand up without falling over.

With a pang of horror I realized my hands were gone, replaced with paws much like my feet. When I finally was able to stand up, I was on four legs rather than two. Glancing over I saw that Lia had suffered the same quadrupedal fate, fear in her eyes as she looked down upon her paws.

"No! What happened to us?!" I tried to exclaim, but all that came out was a yowling bark.

"Ah, there ye go! I've removed the hex as promised!"

I clawed at her cloak. No! This isn't what we wanted!

Her eyes narrowed as she frowned down upon us.

"What else do ye want? Go on! Git! I've no food for ye! Git outta here!"

With that she grabbed a broom and began smacking us around. Lia and I fled out the door, tails tucked between our legs.

So now we live in a hole in the ground. It's a moderately comfortable hole, at least. It was strange at first, but we've gotten used to it. Or at least I have. It's difficult to communicate without speech, but our lives aren't that complex anyway. We're faster now, and hunting is easier. Shelter is easier to find because we are smaller. And warmth is not a problem when we huddle together. I wonder if we resemble our ancestors now?

I no longer miss the City. They were right. I truly didn't belong there. It seems an odd sort of curse. To make animals something they are not. Maybe the rest of them will find the sorceress some day.

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