Kevin snarled to himself… He seemed to have four paws! That wasn’t what the “anthropomorphic” label usually meant on a universe! That was talking-animal territory! Botheration! They were on the semi-realistic FRINGES of the Anthropomorphic Realms! And all his Thralls were being either Rats or Mice, which meant that those were probably the major character types in the source material! Blast! It this meant that he had to evade dog catchers and wildlife experts, it was going to be a genuine pain!
(Kevin, growling) “I’m stuck in a MOUSE BURROW? Which way to the exit?! This will be PRETTY DAMNED CRAMPED WHEN THE SHRINKING SPELLS WEAR OFF!”
(Bloo) “Awww, he doesn’t like it here!”
(Marty) “Bah, pipe down, Kevin! Where’s the exit. kid?”
(Bloo) “Through that doorway and up the elevator to the surface! The farmer’s cat likes to prowl around outside but you’ve got a big doggy with you so that shouldn’t matter!”
(Marty) “Oh good. I’d hate to break a wing.”
Marty tipped the kid with… MORE COFFEE!
Bloo was quite pleased with that.
Kevin was busy squeezing his way down through the doorway.
The elevator looked to be a modified lamp fixture hanging from some sort of cable.
One of the Thralls had seen that before, and said that they’d gotten into something called “NIMH”. Wasn’t that in the Linear Realms? The National Institute of Mental Health?
There was another mouse next to the elevator.
(Mouse) “Looking to head to the surface or the city?”
Kevin considered what would happen if he reverted to full size in a mouse city.
(Kevin) “Surface… I’m a wolf, not Godzilla!”
Marty thought that the city might have been fun, but didn’t care much where they went as long as there was room to fly.
(Mouse) “Surface it is then. Please enter the elevator and we shall head there momentarily.” (He gestured politely for them to board the elevator).
It creaked and swayed most alarmingly under Kevin’s weight. Once everyone was inside the lamp, the door closed with a hiss and the chamber outside the lamp began to fill with water. As the water reached the ceiling, a portal opened, allowing the lamp to ascend.
(Kevin) “So, where are we anyway?”
The lamp rose through the dark water, the only illumination the lamp itself. Soon it breached the surface of the water, and they could see immense subterranean city of mice and rats all around them. While the area below had looked to be largely stolen human technology, on this level they could see evidence of rat and mouse manufacturing. Lights, metals, and plastics designed and built for small creatures were all in evidence.
(Mouse) “Oh this place? This is our first city, which we abandoned a long time ago to avoid the humans. But now we’ve returned and been making it our home again. It is much easier to hide ourselves from the humans now that we’ve learned how to build things independently from them. The Wookies have also been helpful there too. We don’t name our cities in the human fashion though. We just call it the City of the Rats and Mice of NIMH.”
(Marty) “I’m glad you could strike a deal with them… What’s been going on recently?”
(Mouse) “Currently, we’ve been running up against the limits of what our hydroelectric power station can provide, so there has been an effort to try to import the fusion technology of the Star Wars universe and modify it to suit our needs. The theory is that if the humans can make it work here, then we might be able to as well. The scientists and engineers are debating size limitations though. We’ve also been busily setting up colonies further and further afield to spread our culture and technology. The mice and rats not descended from the experiments sometimes join us and sometimes don’t. We haven’t really faced any real threats to our existence since the humans gave up looking for us. The only other thing that’s really been going on has been a small faction which has been pushing the idea of trying to help the local humans with what we’ve learned from the Manifold. It certainly seems like they haven’t progressed as far as the ones on the other side of the gateway. Some of the technology could really help the humans with their problems.”
(Marty) “What kind of problems?”
Kevin sighed to himself. This was going to be a busy world… He didn’t think that any real sapient mice had ever been engineered – they’d have had to come up with some sort of miniaturized neurology to make the brain work in Core – but some mice-souls might wander over if they were used to associating with humans and there were always humans who might take up such an incarnation, if only as an experiment.
(Mouse) “Human pollution has caused considerable headaches for them. Biggest problem I am told is the CO2 levels in the atmosphere are out of control. That and fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce as time goes on. So far the humans have stayed ahead of the resource curve, but no one knows how much longer that will hold.”
(Marty) “Well, good luck with that.” (Privately, to Kevin) “Hey Kevin, want to lend them a hand?”
(Kevin, also privately) “Well, we can see what the surface is like; we’ve got a fairly long trip through it anyway I think.”
Eventually the city faded from view below them as they entered another tunnel leading upwards. Soon enough, they found themselves in the midst of a rose-bush as the elevator came to a stop and the mouse opened the door.
(Mouse) “Here we are, the surface. Take care not to antagonize the cat and be safe on your journey to wherever it is you are going.”
(Kevin) “Thank you. And I hope things work out for you.”
Hm. The elevator guy and Bloo both seemed to be ensouled, and he’d sensed rather a lot of them as he rose through the city. Unless mouse-souls WERE wandering in, the original source material had to have been both popular and exciting in its own fashion.
(Marty) “Yeah, Thanks!”
(Kevin) “Well, let’s get out of the rose-bush and back to a reasonable size!”
Four legs and paws. It didn’t look like many of the larger creatures had many anthropomorphic traits here.
(Marty) “Oh geez, I’m a parrot. That cat’s going to spot me fast if I’m not careful.”
(Kevin) “I think it will be upset to find a wolf coming out of the rose-bush anyway.”
(Marty) “Can I ride on your back?”
(Kevin) “Why not? The Thralls will pretty much have to anyway.”
As they left the thorn-bush, they found themselves on a farm, next to a house and near a barn. The fields were a little ways off, and a forest with a road running along side it was off in the other direction. Typical enough… It looked like 21st or 22nd century. The mice did mention the humans having fusion technology. There was no sign of the cat, although it could just be being sneaky. On the other hand, house cats were not known for stalking wolves.
Marty considered taunting the kitty, although he wasn’t sure how smart it would be. Meanwhile, Kevin was hoping that their upcoming trip was going to be through the woods; otherwise he could foresee an awkward time with animal control coming up.
The records were surprisingly sparse on detail, but did indicate that it was through the woods. The next step in the directions was to journey through the woods to find the “Black Tree”. From there, they would head north until they reached the river valley. At the river valley, they’d head upstream until they reached the Foul Lake, and the gateway should be near the lake shore.
Well, that might indicate a really serious pollution problem – as well as genuinely near-total unawareness of the Mouse and Rat civilization. The directions weren’t very precise, but they WERE in an animal world.
They probably would have to deal with human civilization somewhere along the line. That was the obvious next step in all the local plots. Probably near the Foul Lake.
Off to the woods It was.
A stooping hawk tried to grab Marty off of Kevin’s back – but missed badly. Even – or perhaps especially – in parrot-form, Marty was a difficult target. It came back for another pass though…
(Marty) “Buzz off, pal!”
It was only a few hundred feet to the forest – but Kevin wasn’t running from a bloody BIRD. As the hawk struck again he snatched it out of the air with telekinesis.
(Extremely Startled Hawk) “Aghhh! Let me go! How do you do that?”
(Kevin) “Oh stop fussing. You haven’t been eaten yet!”
(Hawk) “Fine, what do you want from me then?”
(Marty) “Were you trying to make me your lunch?”
(Hawk) “Well, yeah. What exactly were you expecting with that color?”
(Kevin) “I want a bit of your viewpoint. You should know the lay of the land about here pretty well.”
(Hawk) “I might, what do you wish to know then? If I tell you, will you let me go?”
(Marty) “Yeah, sure. I just wanted to make sure nobody had sent you.”
(Hawk) “What sent to make you a meal? Only the rats and humans really do anything like that. Most everyone else gets food for themselves. Oh and the mice too, bad thing to forget them.”
(Marty) “Okay, good to know.”
Kevin asked about the general layout of the land, and tried to pick up as many details as possible from its mind. It wasn’t exactly the kind of map a human would have provided, but it wasn’t at all bad. .. The biggest landmark in its mind was an area to the North that the humans seemed to love to visit. It didn’t like it there because of the smell of rotting eggs and all the bad water. Human activity had been increasing there lately, with more and more of them wearing those strange skins appearing everyday. Most of the rest of the landmarks were a few human cities/towns nearby and locations of good food to catch.
Kevin threw an incandescent glow around himself and Marty, let his eyes flame, and let the sulfurous smoke curl up as the wind howled violently and he relaxed his mental grip…
(Kevin) “YOU MAY GO”.
Marty imitated the screams of the damned; what was the fun of being a parrot if you didn’t do imitations?
The hawk left for the forest in a BIG hurry. It would probably think twice about parrots from now on – not that it saw very many around here.
The forest was a dark and forbidding place. They got the distinct impression of many eyes watching them from every nook and cranny. Spider webs abounded, and Kevin could smell the territorial marking of many creatures in the area. Nothing seemed willing to confront them yet though… Of course, there weren’t all that many wolves left in the wild around this area (he couldn’t scent a single one) – but in this world, being watched in the wilds was pretty much inevitable.
Eventually though, they did find themselves in an open field again – with what looked to be a dead tree in the center of it. The tree was blackened as if it had been burned, although that didn’t really seem to be what had happened. It certainly looked like their landmark.
Kevin looked around for wolf hunters with machine guns in black helicopters (or for more likely perils) before heading out.
A black helicopter flotilla did wander by heading North, and one did pause for a moment upon spotting them – but after what looks to be a human took pictures for a moment, it proceeded to head Northward again.
Kevin reminded himself not to speculate like that, given his mana reserves calling up things like that was entirely too easy.
Heading northward again, he could detect the faint scent of sulfur and other odd smells in the air – and found the river valley mentioned in the directions after several more miles of travel. There was a human town on the shores of the river, but it was currently filled with green and brown vehicles and a makeshift helipad had been erected on it’s outskirts.
A major military presence? Why? The vehicles were horribly antiquated from Kevin’s perspective, and fairly standard to slightly futuristic by Marty’s. Were they have a war? Perhaps some sort of relief operations? They were having resource problems. It was kind of hard to tell at this range.
About then, there was a substantial earthquake. Kevin managed to stay standing – for once, four legs was an advantage – but the thralls all ended up grabbing at his hair trying to hold on and Marty inadvertently dug his talons into Kevin’s hide.
(Kevin) “Oh, NOW what?.. Marty, that pinches!”
(Marty) “Sorry! Let me get my talons out…”
The human activity in the town seemed largely unaffected. occasionally another jeep would arrive or leave, as did helicopters – but there didn’t seem to any signs of fighting.
Kevin tried sampling scents – but Marty noted that birds and other wildlife had begun to flee the area heading South.