© 2011 Marvin E. Fuller
"Any luck?" asked Father Evan. Dilly turned her long rabbit ears eagerly towards Baksrit as the ermine wizardess stood before them, a paw rubbing her white-furred muzzle thoughtfully.
"Hm? Oh, yes and no, I think," Baksrit blinked out of her reverie. Wrapped up in what she had seen in Changy's dream, the ermine barely remembered getting up from the stool after breaking her mental contact with the ensorcelled rabbit. "No, I still haven't gotten what I need yet, and yes, I think Changy will be more cooperative when she wakes up."
"You managed to 'convince' her?" Father Evan asked, an uncertain look crossing his furry face. The wildcat's striped tail gave a concerned shiver.
"No, she asked, and I offered," Baksrit corrected him. She motioned for them to move so she could pass through the doorway. "The rest is up to her, but I'll wager she's going to want to see me later. You know, dreams really are strange things."
Father Evan and Dilly shared a confused look, but Baksrit didn't give them a chance to press the matter. The apprentice wizardess headed outdoors to help her head clear from her foray into Changy's sleeping mind. On a whim, she looked up into the sky and found the moon hanging in the twilight sky, two days past first quarter and perfectly matching the gently glowing shape somehow lighting up Changy's pregnant belly. After a moment's thought, Baksrit figured she had five days left to solve this mystery. Would she be able to find out the cause of Changy's insanity that evening? Might she finally know who had placed that odd spell on the rabbit and why Changy believed herself to be the Moon Rabbit Chang'e?
"Hello, there!" a voice broke into her thoughts. Startled, Baksrit looked frantically around until she saw the gray fox standing over on the road passing in front of the cottage Dilly and her family lived in.
"Hello," Baksrit automatically replied, her mind too distracted to give him a better response.
"Hiya!" said the fox now that he saw he had her attention. "Sorry t' bother ya, but my pals an' me have been lookin' fer a friend of ours all day. We think she mighta headed this way."
"I don't know," Baksrit tried to pull her thoughts back from their meandering. A suspicion wormed itself into her mind, but she paid it little heed. "I don't live here either. I'm staying with some friends for the night before I head back home."
"Aw, you sure?" the fox pressed. "She'd look a bit odd, methinks. Ain't all right in th' head. Oh, yeah. She's a rabbit who goes by Jasmine."
"What? Are you sure?" the name jolted Baksrit.
"'Course, we sometimes call our Jasmine Jazz or Jazzy," added the fox with a shrug. "She wanted t' be a bit different, y'know?"
"Oh! I thought you were talking about my mother," Baksrit relaxed as she realized her mother probably wouldn't be the only person named Jasmine. Then the fox's words penetrated her brain, and the suspicion trade its insistent poking for a swift slap to the side of the head. The disembodied otter head in Changy's dream had called her by those two nicknames. Was it a coincidence that someone would come wandering by seeking someone with the same name a figment of a dream gave Changy? Baksrit didn't believe in coincidences and was instantly on her guard.
A quiet click from someone fiddling with beads drew her attention. She turned her head in time to see Father Evan put his rosary away in a pocket. Something about the click and Father Evan's manner made her think he mistrusted the stranger fox too.
"Hello, my child," Father Evan gave a big feline grin as he walked past Baksrit. The fox cocked his head, a mixture of wariness and curiosity crossing his gray face.
"Hi, there, er, Father?" the fox sounded unsure of what exactly to address the wildcat.
"I am Father Evan, the humble guide the AllCreator has sent Holly Acres," the wildcat's posture, the forward tilt of his ears, and the jaunty curl of his striped tail told Baksrit Father Evan was giving the fox his best friendly priestly impression. "Pray tell, what brings you to our town?"
If Father Evan bothered him any, the fox didn't show it as he repeated what he had asked Baksrit. Father Evan gave him his full attention, listening without saying a word. Once the fox finished, Father Evan asked him several questions which the fox managed to answer without giving away too much useful information.
"So if ya've seen her, her fambly is really, really worried, y'know?" the fox looked hopeful.
"I am sorry, child, but I have not seen nor heard of a 'Jazz' or 'Jazzy'," Father Evan shook his head. "Where may I say her family is located if someone does find her?"
"Oh, well, if that's th' way it goes, I'mma guessin' that's th' way it goes," shrugged the fox. "They're up to th' north, over Hillcrest-ways, I think."
The two exchanged farewells and weaseled around actually promising to update each other if news about Jazzy came by. The fox headed on down the road, presumably to find someone else to ask. Father Evan returned to Baksrit, digging out his rosary and giving it a couple of nervous clicks before forcing himself to stop and put it back.
"What do you think?" asked Baksrit. The priest gave her a look, as if surprised she'd ask his opinion, then took a moment to compose his thoughts.
"Something about him seems off," Father Evan finally said. "He was very circumspect, as if he had something to hide. Were this any other time, I doubt I would notice, but with Changy here, he makes my whiskers twitch. Have you heard of someone called 'Jazzy'?"
"Yes," Baksrit answered. "It was in the–"
"Don't tell me yet," Father Evan held up a paw. "Else I'd be obligated to pass it along if I meet that fox again. He's sure to figure out the truth before too long, and I want deniability should he return."
"Yes, that makes sense," Baksrit had to agree with Father Evan's reasoning. "What makes you so sure he'll learn about Changy?"
"Gossip travels fast, especially in a small town like this one," Father Evan replied. "A crazy rabbit doe as bare as the day she was born would be noticed almost immediately. Half the town must have known of Changy by the time Marty asked for my help the evening she arrived, and everyone else must have learned about her by the next morning. Someone will say something, and the fox will put two and two together. It's pretty much inevitable."
"Hunh. I'd best get a move on, then," Baksrit realized Father Evans spoke the truth. It matched what she observed about Hedgewood, although she often didn't pay much attention to the doings of the other folk in her home village.
"If someone is looking for her, the sooner you can get to her, the better," the wildcat warned. "Ah, I'd best go. Vespers will be here soon."
Father Evan made his excuses and left for his church, leaving Baksrit to go back into to cottage where she found Dilly busily preparing supper. Checking on Changy and seeing the rabbit still slept, Baksrit retreated to her borrowed bed to stay out of Dilly's way until mealtime. Baksrit opened up her book and tried to plow through a discourse on gemstones and their uses in spellcasting, but reading proved to be tough going. When she found herself rereading the same few sentences several times with no memory of what they said, she closed the book with a grunt of annoyance and set it aside. Flopping back on the bed, she wished Changy would hurry up and awaken already.
Changy didn't oblige until after dinner began. Dilly's husband, Marty, and her youngest son, Donny, had come home with three other rabbits in tow, Marty and Dilly's only daughter as well as another of their sons and his wife. During introductions, Marty informed Baksrit that their aid was invaluable. Since Changy couldn't keep to a regular schedule thanks to needing to eat so much throughout the day just to feed the rapidly developing baby without wasting away herself, Marty's family pooled their resources in order to keep Changy going.
The neighbors also proved to be a big help when they brought over some sprouts after dinner. Baksrit listened to Dilly graciously thanking the badgers with half an ear when Donny came up to her, unsure if he wanted to get her attention despite knowing he needed to.
"Miss Albes?" the adolescent rabbit hesitantly asked.
"Yes, Donny?" she turned her attention to him. She tried to remember if he had seen Changy or not yet that evening.
"It's Changy," Donny waggled a paw towards the doorway to the ensorcelled rabbit's bedroom, unknowingly answering her unspoken question. "I think she wants to talk to you."
"All right, lead on," Baksrit ruthlessly suppressed the urge to shout "About time!" as she followed Donny into the bedroom.
They found Changy sitting in her bed, wrapped up in her blanket as if cold. The rabbit stared pensively at a spot near the foot of the bed until Donny paused at the side of the bed. She looked up at him, then over at Baksrit waiting by the foot of the bed.
"Thee are th' one called Baksrit, right?" Changy drawled.
"I am," confirmed Baksrit with a curtsy. She tried not to let her growing impatience show. Had the offer Baksrit made in Changy's dreams worked? She half expected the rabbits to hear her heart hammering in her ribcage, especially with those long ears of theirs.
Changy opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed it. She rubbed the knuckles of a paw across her muzzle as she tried to come to a decision. Baksrit kept her mouth shut with difficulty. It was vital Changy made up her mind on her own.
"Ah ... have trouble rememberin'," Changy's admission seemed difficult for her to make. "Ah need ... Ah need help. Ah can't remember. Ah don't know who th' kit's father is. Ah reckon Ah don't want th' baby. Ah don't know why, though. Ah just don't know."
To his credit, Donny sat down beside Changy and put a comforting, if awkward, arm around Changy's shoulders. The female rabbit leaned against him, misery wilting her whiskers.
"Ah wanna remember. Can thee – can you help me remember?" a plaintive note entered Changy's voice.
"Yes," Baksrit gently answered. She described in general terms what she had in mind. "May I have your permission to try?"
"Ah don't–" Changy shot a glance at Donny who tried to look supportive. "Yeah. Yeah, please try."
"All right," Baksrit gave a slight bow of her head. "I need a moment to prepare, and then we can begin."
"'Kay," Changy nodded. Baksrit gave another curtsy and left the bedroom so she could get Dilly's attention.
"She's ready," Baksrit told the rabbit matron. "It'll be like the first time. We need to left alone, but I don't mind if someone watches me."
"I reckon I can keep this bunch o' nosy long-ears at bay, dearie," Dilly confidently assured her.
"Excellent. In fact," Baksrit paused as a thought struck her. "I think it would be a good idea if someone did keep an eye on us. I doubt there'll be a problem, but it doesn't hurt to have someone who can break us apart if need be, just in case."
Dilly nodded her understanding and returned to bossing her relations around. Baksrit stepped back into the bedroom and stopped at the foot of Changy's bed.
"All right, get yourself comfortable," Baksrit told Changy. "Please give us room, Donny."
As Changy lay back down and Donny vacated the room, Baksrit closed her eyes and rubbed her paws together. Pressing the tips of her forefingers and middle fingers against the front of her muzzle, she could feel their claws against her lips. She focused on the beat of her heart, the pulsing of her blood through her veins. She pictured her thoughts as a river rushing through her mind's eye. Occasionally, a thought popped free as if a salmon leaping out of the river, but she watched the river, her heart, her blood. The salmon-thoughts settled down, the river slowing to a placid stream.
When most people thought of mind magic spells, they tended to think of the simpler ones which nudge a person's emotions in certain ways, read someone's thoughts, or temporarily take control of another's body. In general practice, these spells were often less reliable than most realized. In order to maximize their success, a spellcaster needed to either have a direct link of some sort to a person or, most preferably, look a person in the windows of the soul, the eyes. Even then, a suitably strong-willed and aware target could successfully resist a spell. For more involved spells such as getting into dreams or rifling through someone's memories, a mage needed to touch the target on the head or set up a strong synecdoche link using something like the target's hair. Both held their own perils. As it took time and effort to establish a mental link, if the target wasn't feeling cooperative, the mage would be in physical danger if the target couldn't be restrained. The synecdoche link would be far safer physically, but could more easily be interfered with to the point of possibly hurting the mage if someone severed it. However, with Changy's cooperation, Baksrit could now proceed safely and easily.
As she prepared herself, it seemed as if her mind opened up and deepened into a more meditative state. This deep state of mind was essential for intensive mind magic spells, and while spells could force her mind into such a state, the light meditation Baksrit was doing would be far more effective. She had practiced well enough that it didn't take long for her to reach this state, but she needed to get to Changy quickly. An active and awake person had a hard time maintaining such a state of mind.
Opening her eyes, Baksrit moved towards Changy, her paws stretched out towards Changy's head. She noted the apprehension on Changy's furry face but didn't let it bother her. The ends of her fingers slid over the brown fur of Changy's temples. Changy shivered, but Baksrit ignored it.
"Vestri mens ut meus mens. Vestri sententia ut meus sententia. Your mind to my mind. Your thoughts to my thoughts," Baksrit carefully said, her words archaic and filled with a long tradition of use. She could have used any combination of words or none at all, but speaking words with meaning to her helped define and release the spell that would link their minds.
The physical world faded to dimness as her attention switched from her physical senses to mental ones. A third eye seemed to open within her head and then...
...She stood in a small cottage, intent on sweeping the floor. Her girls would no doubt dirty it up once they returned home from picking wildflowers, but such was life.
Or customers could beat them to it. She sighed as she heard a knocking on the sill of the front door. She turned around...
...And wandered past farmland. She felt naked, hungry, and heavy. Why was the moon on her belly? Was she Chang'e?
She spied a handsome young rabbit joking with his friends as he headed home from working the fields. She liked him immediately and thought he'd make a fine husband for the Moon Rabbit.
Return to the cottage. What did you see?
She sighed as she heard a knocking from the front door, ajar to let the early summer breezes in. She turned around...
What did you see?
She balked and tried to skip ahead to the farmland, but a part of her that wasn't a part of her stopped her. Fear rose as she refused to see who it was.
Don't be afraid. I am here. You will not be hurt. What did you see?
She plucked up her courage, turned, and saw... the otter leering at her. She could have laughed. How could she have forgotten Hewick?
"Hey, Jazzy," the otter swaggered in and placed a whiskery smooch on her muzzle. "How's things goin' with the girls?"
"I reckon they're pretty good," she giggled and kissed him back. "What brings yah by this balmy morn'? Some o' th' usual?"
"Love to, Jazzy-girl, but my stipend ain't due for a coupla days," sighed Hewick regretfully. "I wouldn'ta dropped by, 'cept there's this bloke who's been askin' about ya. Says he's willin' t' pay well if you'll do him a favor. In gold, even."
"Oh?" her ears pricked up. Extra money was always useful, and if someone was going to pay in gold... Well, she wasn't going to look a gift skoit in the mouth.
"Weird bloke, though," the otter shot a glance back at the door, but nobody was visible. "Some sort o' foreigner, all wrapped up in clothes. Sounds terrible, too, like he's got a cough."
"Bloody hell, Ah hope he ain't got nothin' communicabubble," her ears flattened in disgust. "Ah got mah limits, yah know."
"I know, an' I don't trust him neither," Hewick twisted his muzzle with revulsion. She thought it cute how the little nick on the end of his nose turned to the side. "Still, that's a lot o' gold he's offerin'."
The gold tempted her mightily. It could help pay for a lot of things. Better food. New dresses for the girls. Pax knew she didn't want them following in her footsteps.
"Ah reckon Ah can give him a chance," she made her decision. "If Ah don' like him, well, Ah can always refuse, right?"
"Maybe," Hewick looked doubtful. "I'm not so sure he'd like that."
"That gold sounds mighty fine, though," she added. "Think o' what Ah can get th' girls with that."
"Yeah, I know," the otter nodded soberly. He thumped his rudder tail against the floor as he made his own choice. "KP be damned. I'm not leavin' you alone with him."
And that was that. She felt relief flood through her.
What happened next?
She felt confused. There was nothing more.
Continue. What happened next?
She couldn't remember anything more, but the part of her that wasn't a part of her wouldn't have that.
Continue. What happened next?
There was more she realized, but she shied away from it. The memory hurt her too much.
Do not be afraid. I am here. What happened next?
It was later in the day, maybe half an hour or so. The girls weren't back yet. She sat on a stool in her cottage watching as Hewick ushered in the stranger. The only part of the stranger she could see was his eyes sandwiched between the silken scarf and the turban that wound around his head. A cloak covered the rest of his thin body. She saw the distrust on the otter's face and grew more wary herself. Maybe this hadn't been a good idea after all.
"Yes! You're perfect," the stranger exclaimed before she could say a word. "Luck indeed smiles upon me."
"Hold on, now," she forced herself not to recoil from him as he took a step towards her. She needn't have worried. Hewitt stopped the stranger with a strong paw on the shoulder.
"Paws off, otter," the stranger wheezed. "Or I'll remove them for you."
"Not in mah home, yah ain't!" she snapped. "Ah don' care who smiles on you, strangah, but don' get in such a durn hurry. Yah ain't told me who yah are or what you're here for. Then Ah'll decide if we can do business or not."
"Fair enough," the stranger reached up with a gloved paw and removed the scarf, revealing the tired face of another rabbit, his fur yellowed with age or illness and his sunken cheeks forming hollows under his eyes. "I am Manzil al-Qamar. I have been searching for one such as you for months now. I feared my quest would be in vain, but luck is with me."
"Now, hold on there," she didn't like the look in his eyes. She wouldn't call it lust, but he wanted something from her, and she wasn't sure she wanted to give. "That don' tell me nothin'. What do yah want with me?"
"To be the mother of my child, of course," the stranger said. "It won't take long, and you will be well paid."
"Nothin' doin'!" she hopped indignantly to her feet. "Ah got two girls o' mah own t' take care of. Ah ain't lookin' t' have no more!"
"I haven't the time for this foolishness!" al-Qamar sighed in frustration. "Please excuse my forthrightness, but I must have you. If you won't take my offer–"
"Get outta mah home!" she shrieked. She put the table between her and al-Qamar.
"You heard Jazz," having ignored the strange rabbit's earlier warning to remove his paw, Hewick tugged on al-Qamar's shoulder. "You get go–urk!"
Al-Qamar's arms seemed to blur as he drew a strange, curved sword from a scabbard hanging from his belt and sliced it at Hewick's neck. Shock jolted through her, matching the expression on Hewick's muzzle as the otter's severed head fell to the floor, followed shortly by the rest of his body. She stared at the pool of blood spreading across her nice clean floor, too stupefied to run. Al-Qamar took a moment to clean off his strange curved sword before resheathing it.
"Tsk. I did warn the fool," remarked the strange rabbit. "A pity he didn't listen. He's made things so much more untidy. Now, to business."
He fixed her with a sharp look. A momentary pressure as of a stiff breeze blowing through her face pushed in behind her eyes. She couldn't move. She couldn't move! Panic!
Paralysis spell and not a very strong one. Could have beaten it if you hadn't been stunned by what he did.
Somehow, the dispassion that came with that thought gave her the courage to venture further into this memory without further prodding.
She watched as the strange rabbit nudged Hewick's head aside so he could close and bar the front door. Al-Qamar then looked her in the eye once more. She felt more pressure behind her eyes, and suddenly felt as if her body wasn't quite hers, as if someone had taken it away from her. What was going on? Stop it!
Marionette spell. Basic stuff really.
Make it stop!
Continue. The only way to stop it is straight on through.
I don't want to!
Don't be afraid. I am here. You are not alone.
With trepidation, she watched as al-Qamar examined her closely. She wanted to scream and punch him in the snout as he poked at her belly.
"Hm, take off your clothes," he said. She tried to resist, but her body ignored her, untying her bodice and dropping her dress to the floor. She felt angry and violated as the strange rabbit continued his scrutiny as if she were livestock at the market, getting checked over for the dinner table.
"Luck indeed smiles upon me," strangely, al-Qamar didn't seem pleased with this comment. "Should I rejoice or curse it? Into the bedroom, harlot."
Her body ignored her mind's protests as it obeyed him. She soon found herself in bed, staring up at the ceiling and wishing she could strike back at the strange rabbit. He had caught her too well. If he wouldn't curse his luck, she certain would hers.
Wearing only his turban, al-Qamar joined her, finally giving her a good look at him. Had circumstances been any different, she might have pitied him. She could see his rib cage underneath his yellow fur, his gaunt body looking as if he had been suffering from a terrible illness for some time.
"If it makes you feel any better, I would have preferred things to have played out differently," pain and sadness danced in al-Qamar's eyes. "I'm sorry about your friend, and I'm sorry I have to do this, but if I don't do this now, I may never succeed."
He then swore as his turban drooped forward into his eyes. He shoved it back up with a gnarled paw, but to no avail. With a hiss of anger, he tore the turban off his head and threw it aside, revealing a horn spiraling up from his forehead.
Deep inside her head, she had to laugh. Since when did rabbits come in a unicorn flavor?