The middle aged anthro tigress paced back and forth in front of her students, a small textbook held idly in her hands as she went about making eye contact with each student in turn. A few were asleep or nearly so, but the majority of those that had signed up for the 9am class were trying their best to pay attention.
“So the question we are left to ask ourselves is whether the complete absence of human contact has been a positive for Haven, or a negative?” she asked, suddenly focusing her predatory gaze on a lightly built lion sitting in the second row. “Jeremy, what do you think?”
The lion started slightly, his mind having momentarily wandered off from the lecture, but he quickly composed himself and cleared his throat. “Well, I think I have to agree with the reading. Haven was created as a refuge for our ancestors. Continued contact with the human-dominated Federation would have only resulted in conflict.”
“I don’t agree,” a young vixen sitting behind Jeremy quickly spoke up, sending a brief chill down the Lion’s spine. “Quality of life on Haven has seen demonstrable decline since the portals went dead. Forget about space travel, we can barely produce enough food to keep everyone fed and there’s more than enough conflict to make up for whatever the humans would have added. All that ‘For Anthros, By Anthros’ crap is just put there by the elites to try and cover up the fact that we’ve failed.”
“Relax Molly,” the professor lightly chided. “This is a history class, not a political rally.”
“She has a good point professor,” a beefy Fenris spoke up from the back of the classroom. “You can’t argue with the fact that the humans got results. Their guidance could have helped us avoid a lot of problems.”
“You mean guidance on how to be proper slavemasters?” Molly fired back, the fur on her tail poofing out.
“It would have certainly cleared up many questions regarding the roles which our creators had intended for us,” the lupine snarled, casting a quick glance back at the token cervine who was trying to be invisible in the back of the classroom.
“That you think such ‘intent’ actually matters is the root of the problem, Richard,” replied Molly, twisting around in her seat to stare at the Fenris full on.
“And I think we’ve gone a bit over our time,” said the professor, her body language exhibiting a sense of relief as she closed her book went to pick up her things from the desk. “For next week read chapters six through nine in the text and watch William Blacktail’s video on the human civil rights movement.”
Jeremy began to thrust his books and papers back into his backpack as he watched Molly silently seething out of the corner of his eye. Despite being of a different species he had always been attracted to the young red Fox, going as far to sign up for the history elective at her suggestion.
“Fucking racist asshole twisting my words,” Molly grumbled to herself, not making that much of an effort to keep her words from all the sensitive ears still remaining in the classroom. “‘I agree with Molly. We would have had a better world because the humans knew how to keep their slaves under control.’ Yeah, I’m sure you would feel the exact same way if the fenris were the ones working the fields.”
“What?!” she snapped, looking up at Jeremy, expecting to see someone else.
“M-My next class isn’t for an hour. I w-was wondering if you wanted to go grab a cup of tea or something. “
Molly blinked and then shook her head to help clear the anger, managing a soft smile in the process. “Sure, that sounds wonderful. Hold on a second, I want to ask Charlotte.”
“Hey Charlotte,” Molly yelled across the nearly empty classroom to the doe just as she reached the door. “Did you want to go to the student center with Jeremy and myself?
Charlotte looked around uncomfortably as if her cloaking shield had suddenly failed, but soon noticed Molly’s genuine expression and then responded with a slight nod.
“Great, we’ll meet you outside.”
“Oh, her name is Charlotte. I didn’t know that,” said Jeremy, fidgeting with his hands as he found himself trying to come up with an excuse to bail out.
“Yeah, it’s amazing what you can learn by asking,” replied Molly, walking out into the hallway where the timid doe was waiting for them. “Charlotte, this is Jeremy. We’ve been in a couple of classes together.”
“Nice to meet you,” Charlotte answered, her tail tucked tightly down against her skirt
“Likewise,” said Jeremy, trying to think of something to talk about as they walked. “So what do you think of the class so far?”
“It’s interesting. Although I am not sure it is going to change many minds.”
“The important thing is that you are there so that fenris has to look you in the eye when he talks about the natural order,” Molly injected.
Jeremy allowed himself to fall a few steps behind, nervously looking around to keep tabs on how many students were noticing his association with a herbivore. Lightly built for a lion, Jeremy had always suffered at the hands of his more athletic brethren and had learned to guard himself against being singled out. As he craned his head and neck about to see who might be looking, he briefly envied the all around vision of the so called “worker” morphs, before admitting to himself that despite his shortcomings, his situation was vastly superior to Charlotte’s.
“So what sort of tea do you like?” Jeremy blurted out, interrupting Molly’s extended rant on intolerance.
“Anything caffeinated if I can get it, although you felines and canines managed to get it banned most places since it disagrees with you,” Charlotte replied, readjusting her light blue top as her book bag pulled its askew.
“Well you heard about that kid who...”
“Yes, we all saw the panic on the news media, Jeremy and I’m sure the laws had absolutely nothing to do with marginalizing the Herbs,” said Molly as they walked up to the student center.
Jeremy’s soft yellow fur began to itch under his football jersey the way it always did when he got nervous. Figuring that facetime with Molly was still worth the stigma of being seen with a herbivore, he followed them into the café and purchased a wormroot and hibiscus tea while the two women discussed the intricacies of that day’s lecture. It took nearly fifteen minutes before Molly caught the young lion staring out of the window.
“You ok there Jer? You look distracted.”
“I don’t have any more classes today so I was thinking of going for a walk in the gamelands south of campus. The trees are starting to flower and I figured I could take some pictures. You two could come with me if you like,” Jeremy stated, sounding hopeful.
Even with the upturned corners of her mouth creating a ‘permanent’ smile, Charlotte’s expression visibly brightened, but after looking the small lion up and down, her ears flattened and she shook her head. “Maybe another time. I’d want to bring some more friends.”
Jeremy turned to Molly, but she let out a sigh of resignation as she went along with the doe’s decision. “I’m sure you understand. Actually, if you want to get to know Charlotte better we can go over to her side of town. The Herbs are a lot more tolerant than the Carnes.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Jeremy nodded, feeling stupid for having brought up the gamelands in the first place. “Well if you don’t mind I need to get going. It was a pleasure talking with you both.”
“Send either one of us a message if you want to get in our study group,” Molly offered as Jeremy got up to leave.
“Thanks, I will.”
Jeremy flipped up the hood of his school windbreaker as he hurried along the hedgerow that grew in front of the Kilo-Victor-November fraternity that sat in line with the other morph specific carnivore housing that ran along the south side of campus. Lacking most of the athleticism common to other members of his morph, the young lion would have gone out of his way to avoid running the gauntlet, had he not been forced to cross the street due to a new drainage pipe being laid.
“What the fuck is this,” echoed the ominous growl of a Fenris as it emerged from the opening in the shrubbery causing Jeremy to instantly freeze in terror. “There...and there...and there.”
“I believe those would be beer cans Alpha,” another Fenris spoke, clearly not paying any notice to Jeremy, yet moving forward to block his line of travel.
“I know what they are Jordan, I meant what are they doing in front of our house. Don’t we pay someone to pick up the trash around here?”
“Yes Alpha,” answered the second Fenris, turning back towards the house. “Hops! Get your tail out here!”
A few seconds later an older looking rabbit with natural-grown grey fur appeared, its eyes fixed at the ground in front of its feet. “Yes sir? What can I do you for sir?”
“Hops...what is all this shit in front house?”
“T-trash?” the beta Fenris mocked. “Are you blind already old man? Of course its trash. I want this fucking curb spotless by the time we get back. Do you understand me?”
“Y-yes sir,” the Rabbit nodded, not bothering to look up.
The Alpha looked down at his watch and tapped the other Fenris on the shoulder. “Come on, we’re going to be late.”
Egged on by his leader Jordan turned and ploughed right into Jeremy, knocking him to the ground. Overcome with annoyance and anger, the anthro wolf bared his teeth and snapped at the smaller feline. “Watch where you’re going dweeb!”
Jeremy remained silent where he lay on the grass, correctly assuming that the two wolves would ignore him and go on their way. Carefully collecting his bag he noticed the rabbit was keeping track of him out of the corner of his eye.
“What are you looking at Hop?!” Jeremy snapped.
The rabbit didn’t answer him as it continued to pick up trash in the gutter.
“Yeah...” said Jeremy, pulling out a stick of gum from his pocket and casually throwing the wrapper on the ground. “...that’s what I thought.”
Stepping off the paved road and onto the well manicured dirt trail, Jeremy’s head was on a swivel as he looked out for any sign of aggressive males that could interrupt his hike. Like most of its peer institutions, Jeremy’s university was surrounded by large tracts of gameland that had been created to support animal species transplanted from Earth. In the early days of the colony these had helped to support the students and faculty in the face of unreliable commercial food supplies, but since that time they had become more symbolic of the carnivore culture that permeated Haven.
Allowing himself to relax as the sound of birdsong reached his ears, Jeremy continued deeper into the forest, well past the area where he was likely to run into students who were looking to get drunk or have a good time. Ever since he had arrived on campus the young lion had found the gamelands to be a welcome reprieve from the more hostile atmosphere on the University campus.
Grumbling to himself about Charlotte, Jeremy kicked a stone into the underbrush as he dwelled on the missed opportunity. The path began to slope downwards as tall evergreens created a cathedral-like effect over the moss and ferns that covered the ground below. Jeremy had discovered the waterfall by accident freshman year and knew the route by heart. After about 20 minutes of hiking into the woods Jeremy knew he was close when the sound of rushing water was filled his ears. The steepness of the terrain and lack of wireless networking generally discouraged most of the student body from frequenting the falls, although trash and beer cans abounded if one bothered to look.
The falls were about 30 feet tall and half as wide sending water collected in the hills crashing down towards the large river the University had been founded on. Taking a seat on a conveniently placed rock, Jeremy felt his problems wash away as the sound flowed around him. A recent storm had scoured away much of the wood and leaf debris, leaving the view from the base of the falls pure and uncluttered.
Lying back, the young lion allowed his mind to wander until a large bird flying overhead pulled him back into the moment. Intent on a picture, Jeremy slowly pulled out his phone and approached the water, his eyes scanning the trees as he tried to find where the bird had perched. Catching a glimpse of it behind some branches, Jeremy gingerly dipped his feet into the chilly water, his sandal-like shoes protecting his foot from the slippery rocks. Cautiously he made his way forward, not wanting to scare the bird with sudden movements as he lined up a shot with his device. Pressing on the screen, the image zoomed in and the bird came into focus. Just as he hit the icon to capture the photo, something rolled under Jeremy’s left foot-paw, causing the young lion to tumble into the water with a startled scream.
“FUCK!” Jeremy cursed, holding one hand high in the air to keep his phone dry while the rushing water quickly soaked the remainder of his fur. “Ancestors forsake me.”
Choking down a complex mix of anger, self-pity and creek water, Jeremy quickly tossed his phone into a clump of nearby ferns then set about the task of righting himself on the bed of submerged rocks. As he shifted his hands behind him to force his torso into the air, Jeremy suddenly froze as he felt something that felt distinctly unnatural. Briefly worried that he had wrapped his hand around the sharp edges of a glass bottle, Jeremy’s heart slowed down as the smooth contours of a sphere presented itself against his digits. The cold water momentarily forgotten, Jeremy sat back down in the water and brought forth a crystal orb about the size of a tennis ball. It had a slightly bluish cast, and while covered by a film of algae and muck it had the unmistakable appearance of something formed by the hand of an intelligent being.
“I guess every cloud has a silver lining,” Jeremy mused as he proceeded to wash the crystal orb in the flowing water. “I wonder if there are any more.”
Before he could satisfactorily answer his own question, the lion’s eyes were drawn to the center of the sphere where he observed an unmistakable flicker of blue light. Turning the orb slowly in his hands, Jeremy satisfied himself that the cold fire was not some trick of the sun before clutching it protectively against his chest and crawling over to the riverbank. While Haven had been isolated for centuries, records still existed that documented the wonders of the old times and finding such artifacts had always maintained a place in the popular consciousness as a means to get rich or otherwise better ones place in life. Shivering as he sat down amongst the ferns, the pros and cons of selling versus keeping the flickering orb danced through Jeremy’s head.
“It’s probably just some new-age room decoration,” the lion scoffed, pressing the sphere to his nose as he searched for whatever technological trick was generating the light, “Pretty though.”
Suddenly there was a flash and Jeremy found himself temporarily blinded as the orb grew hot and a strange pressure blew against his face. Instinctually dropping the sphere and leaping backwards, his wet fur doing its best to puff out, the young lion tried to clear his vision as if he had been hit at close range with a camera flash. Using a tree to pull himself up onto his feet, Jeremy felt strange, like his clothes were suddenly a few sizes too tight. The sound of Velcro ripping free soon confirmed this fact as a strange expanding toenail seemed intent on consuming the entirety of his right foot. Working as quickly as he could Jeremy ripped the digigrade sandal free and began to prudently unbind the other foot just seconds before it too started to change.
“H-hooves? N-no!! That can’t be!” Jeremy exclaimed as the large mass of yellow keratin began to cleave itself into two distinct toes. “Arrrruuuggh!”
A combined sensation of flu ache and insect stings rapidly spread across Jeremy’s body as wholesale changes to his body structure took hold. His pale yellow fur began to lose its pigment until it reached the color of new fallen snow. All over his bones were cracking as his small body grew in height, raising up the young lions point of view first one foot and then another. A larger body needed larger muscles and these too ripped out across Jeremy’s scrawny feline form, substituting sleek agility with raw power -- a barrel-like torso and strong powerful limbs that split the seams on his windbreaker. A feeling of tightness about Jeremy’s waist quickly let loose as the button on his short gave way followed by additional sounds of ripping fabric.
“What’s happening to me!” boomed a voice now unfamiliar to its owner, deeper and more commanding in a way that was more befitting of the lions new stature.
Jeremy watched in horror as his feline muzzle began to reshape, the sharp teeth in his mouth flattening out into a shape better suited to chewing plants as the sides of his maw melted together to form an opening better suited to grazing. Reaching up in disbelief, Jeremy almost fell over as his eyes shifted slightly to the sides of his head providing him the ability to see far off to each side. Feeling drained from the expenditure of energy and despondent from the nature of the changes, Jeremy was largely unaware of the remainder of the process, only bothering to notice that whatever the extent of the transformation it had appeared to have left his tail untouched apart from the color. Staggering back to the water’s edge Jeremy sank to his knees as he looked at his reflection. Staring back at him was some sort of strange equine hybrid with a single spiral horn jutting out of its forehead.
“What have I become?”
”A fine looking stallion if you don’t mind me saying so.”
Jeremy’s head darted around, fear in his eyes. “Who...who said that?!”
“I did,” replied the disembodied voice prompting another increase in Jeremy’s heart rate. “I guess I should probably introduce myself. I am Skyline, Lord of the White valley, or at least I’m what’s left of him. I seriously doubt the real Lord Skyline would speak to you this informally.”
“What the fuck...get out of my head, GET OUT OF MY HEAD” Jeremy whinnied, pounding his fists against his skull.
“STOP IT! You’ll only hurt yourself.”
“WHAT DID YOU DO TO ME!”
“I didn’t do anything to you. The residual energy in the neurosphere transformed your body into one resembling Lord Skyline.”
“Who the hell is Lord Skyline? What the hell is Lord Skyline,” Jeremy yelled, taking another look at his reflection in the water as he worked to wiggle out of the jacket that was now severely restricting his movements.
“He was a Unicorn that died here before Haven was founded.”
“What the hell is a unicorn?!”
“It’s from the Latin ‘Uni’ meaning ‘one and ‘corn’ meaning ‘horn. It is a supernatural equine common through the multiverse.”
“Then what the hell are you!” Jeremy cried, anguish and frustration burning in his eyes.
“I...I don’t know. I remember everything about Lord Skyline, yet I know that I am not him. Whatever existed of him in the sphere brought me to life when that energy flowed into you. I’m probably just some aspect of your personality that has disassociated as a mechanism to cope with the transformation.”
“You’ve got to change me back! I...I can’t be like this! I...I look like a fucking Herb!!”
“Herb, an ethnic slur denoting the Herbivorous anthromorphs on this world. Looks like I know a fair bit about you too,” the voice chuckled.
“CHANGE ME BACK!”
“I’m not a genie. If you want to change back then you change yourself back.”
“Sometime tells me that you need to push the energy back into the orb.”
“Ok...?!” squealed Jeremy, expecting a more complete explanation.
“I’m not an instruction manual either. If’ that’s what came into my mind then the process is probably self evident.”
Jeremy looked down at the orb that was still in his hands and thought back to what he had done to trigger the initial change. Once again he gripped it tightly and pressed it to his nose, straining to stare into it with his repositioned equine eyes. At first nothing happened, but then the orb began to get warm under his fingertips. Just as his hopes of reversing the change began to rise, a wave of dizziness overtook the former lion, his vision going white as his legs gave out and sent him tumbling onto the soft ground.
“Well I guess that didn’t work,” the voice remarked as Jeremy once again became aware of his surroundings.
“Well something happened. I could feel it right before I passed out.”
“I think you are simply out of energy. Why don’t you try eating something?”
Jeremy blinked for a moment before jamming a hand into his now inconveniently small pants pockets to pull forth an energy bar. Ripping off the packaging as fast as he could, the sweet smell of apple flavoring wafted into his large equine nostrils and made his mouth water.
“If you’re looking to recover some sort of magical ability I’m not sure that will do it,” the voice pointed out. “That brown mass is just processed chemicals. It will sustain your body, but I don’t think it will do very well at recharging your spirit”
Jeremy wasn’t listening as he jammed the sticky lump into his muzzle, breaking off a chunk with his front teeth before shifting the mass back to be ground down by those in the rear. “Oooo, that tastes so good.”
“It’s not going to help, but hey, I enjoy existing so knock yourself out.”
“Well what else do you want me to do? That’s the only food I have!”
“There’s food all around you.”
“Only the fraternities can hunt in the gamelands and I don’t get along with them so well.”
“Unicorns don’t hunt.”
Jeremy felt his attention forcibly directed to a large patch of green bottomland sitting a short distance away across the water.
“W-what?! No...oh no. I’m not a Herb. I’m not grazing.”
“Fine, stay a Unicorn. I’m sure whatever zoo you end up in will treat you well with plenty of juicy steaks for dinner.”
Jeremy stood there, breathing deeply, paralyzed by indecision. He knew what he had to do to change back, but having to kneel down and eat grass was humiliating even by the standards he had been forced to endure growing up. Not bothering to reply to the voice in his head, Jeremy dropped his head and waded into the creek, taking extra care to avoid injuring himself on the slick rocks. As he stepped out of the cool water and onto the opposite bank, he felt his mouth beginning to water again as his wide angle vision was filled with nothing but green.
“Lord Skyline always felt grazing to be highly cathartic,” the voice offered as Jeremy got down onto his knees.
Unable to resist the strange urges, Jeremy thrust his long face into the grass and began to suck up the grass like a vacuum cleaner. With each bite his front teeth would shear off the juicy green blades of grass where his tongue would then send them back to be ground up by his rear teeth. The sweet flavors generated by the process were nearly intoxicating as the former lion filled his belly on plants.
“Just count yourself lucky that you aren’t a ruminant,” said the voice. “Chewing cud doesn’t sound very pleasant and having four stomachs is bound to make you feel gassy.”
“Ha ha...” Jeremy thought dryly, assuming that the voice could hear his thoughts given that his mouth was full of grass. “So if you’re not this Lord Skyline, what should I call you?”
“How about just Sky? Nice, short, to the point.”
“Fair enough,” Jeremy replied mentally. “and when I change back you said that you’ll just go away?”
“All signs point to yes, but do not fear for me. I am simply the sum total of Lord Skyline’s knowledge and memories animated by your own subconscious. You’re basically just talking to yourself.”
“That’s not necessarily better,” thought Jeremy as he felt the first signs of being full.
“Don’t eat too much. Getting colic is no fun.”
“This is so humiliating, eating off the ground like a fucking animal.”
“Yet the carnivores consider ripping a living creature apart with their hands and teeth to be a ‘noble pursuit’.”
“Alright, I feel full,” Jeremy mentally proclaimed, also feeling increasingly fed up with the whole situation. “Can I change back now?”
“Just because you’re a magical creature doesn’t mean you have a magical digestive tract. You’ll need to hang out for a bit.”
Jeremy finished chewing the last mouthful of grass and rolled over onto his back. The day was still overcast and with his new body’s urge to graze fading, the transformed lion could only think about the possibility of being trapped in the body of a freak herbivore for the rest of his life. Tears soaked into the soft white fur under his eyes as Jeremy held them shut to avoid being reminded of his new form of vision. At some point he drifted off to sleep.
Jeremy woke with a start as an intense wave of panic shot through his mind as he was unsure where he was. His new body with the unfamiliar vision did not make the situation better and the temporary unicorn had crashed halfway across the creek when he finally managed to regain his composure.
“Woah, are you ok?”
“I’m a fucking horse! Do I look ok?”
“From my perspective, yes, of course you look ok, but I suspect you’ll want to jam me back into the orb as soon as possible.”
Jeremy felt a bit guilty for in effect wanting to be rid of the voice in his head, but remembering that Sky had told him previously, he carefully brought the crystal sphere up in his nose and focused on it as he tried to mentally push whatever he had become back into its bottle.
“Thank you for your help Sky. M-maybe we’ll meet again sometime. I’m sorry I couldn’t be the right one for you.”
“I suspect we will indeed meet again, but until then goodbye.”
As before the orb quickly heated up, but instead of feeling drained to the point of losing consciousness Jeremy instead became aware his body starting to change shape as the otherworldly fire returned to the orb. The world blurred for a moment as his eyes shifted back towards the center of his face, his mouth opening wider as it filled with sharp teeth. Color returned to his fur as the sharp golden horn retreated into his forehead, the equine muscle tone fading back into a lithe feline build. In a few minutes the reverse change was complete and Jeremy was left standing by the side of the water in barely functional pants and only his own voice to talk to. For a brief moment Jeremy cocked his arm back to throw the softly glowing orb back into the water from there it had come, but he stopped himself and pushed it down into one of his pockets.
“Well, that was certainly interesting. I’m sure Molly would probably appreciate being a Una-corn or whatever the hell that thing was a bit better than I,” Jeremy muttered to himself with more than a little false confidence.
After collecting his phone from the ferns, Jeremy strapped his sandals back on his feet and tied the remains of his windbreaker around his waist to hide his rather distressed shorts. With everything accounted for, the lion began his trip back up the steep trail that would return him to the road. Increasing his pace as the path leveled out, Jeremy was pleased to discover that back and forth transformation had somehow dried his fur. Then, just as he passed through a pair of trees at the edge of a bowl shaped depression he heard a number of quick movements followed by the unmistakable smell of morphs. A slight gasp soon followed and without stopping first to think Jeremy peeked his head around another tree trunk to find the same pair of K-V-N wolves he had bumped into earlier. The Beta named Jordan appeared slightly fearful, while the Alpha looked Jeremy square in the eye, issuing an unspoken challenge. For an instant Jeremy figured he had caught the pair poaching or stashing beer for a party, but a slight whimper soon directed his gaze downward.
Lying on the ground below the hulking Fenris was a white and black rabbit morph dressed in the simple working attire of a maid or laundress. She was shaking, her eyes wide in fear as she looked up at Jeremy, pleading silently for help. As his eyes followed the scene he could see that the Alpha fenris had his pants down around his ankles, a fraternity themed jacket shielding his gentleman’s area from view.
“Beat it squirt. This is none of your concern,” the Fenris hissed, turning his back on Jeremy while Jordan eyed him warily.
Jeremy instinctively stepped back, his head dropping into a submissive posture, but in doing so he once again caught the gaze of the helpless rabbit. Fighting back tears Jeremy turned and ran away as fast as he could towards the parking lot, dismayed by the behavior of his own kind, but also ashamed of his own inability to act. As the edge of the gamelands came into view Jeremy pushed his hand back into his pocket, his fingers running over his phone as he thought about calling the police. The idea was quickly cast aside as well heeled lion considered the comparative social standing of those involved. Then Jeremy’s fingers touched upon something else. Stumbling to a halt and gasping for air, Jeremy’s hands formed into fists as an uncharacteristic growl grew in the back of his throat. Tossing his jacket behind a bush and digging the orb out of his pocket, Jeremy realized there was something he could do.
The female rabbit whimpered as the alpha wolf pawed at her breasts and licked her neck and face. The beta stood watch, still nervous about the young lion despite the assurances of his superior that the scrawny student would not be a problem.
“Stop your whining or I’ll make it hurt more,” the alpa admonished, grabbing the terrified lapine by neck and squeezing until she began to choke.
“D-Dereck. I-I think someone’s….”
“Someone’s already here,” boomed the horned equine, as he stepped fully into view, arms crossed in a posture of extreme disapproval. “I’m going to give you two one chance to walk away.”
“What the fuck are you!” snarled the Alpha, stumbling back off the rabbit as he fumbled with his pants.
“I’m a figment of your imagination asshole. Get out of here or there will be...trouble.”
His pants secured, the alpha reached down and pulled out a long curved knife and brandished it in front of him. “You’re dead Herb. I’m going to cut your head off and feed you to my pack. Then I’m going to cut up your little rabbit friend here just because you seem to care about her.”
“Um Sky...I just remembered that I don’t know how how to fight,” the somewhat panicked Jeremy thought down to his internal co-pilot, realizing that he may have bitten off more than he could chew.
“Yes you do,” came the simple reply. “Trust in yourself and trust in Lord Skyline.”
The fenris moved quickly to the attack, slashing the knife in front of him. Instead of moving away, Jeremy moved in, blocking the wolf’s right forearm arm with his left before reaching in with his right to take hold of his opponents wrist, twisting it painfully in front of his body and squeezing until he felt the bones break. Howling in pain, the alpha tried to attack the unicorn with his good hand, but Jeremy adapted and soon had the wolf forced up against the tree with both his wrists restrained.
“You won’t get away with this Herb! You can’t hide. We’ll hunt you down. You and all your friends!!”
“What are you going to tell them? A Unicorn beat you up? Like I said, I don’t really exist.”
Jeremy slammed his head forward, impacting the Fenris’ face with the thickest part of his skull just below the horn. Then he did it again...and again...and again. With each impact more of the alpha’s face was transformed into a bloody mess in addition to the back of his head slamming against the tree in equal force. Detecting the sound of movement with his large equine ears, Jeremy turned to watch the beta making a break for the road along the trail. The fenris was fast, too fast for even a unicorn to catch over the distance involved. However Jeremy knew he didn’t have to run after the other rapist to catch him. Focusing on a point just in front of the fleeing fenris, the unicorn cocked his fist and then brought it forward at the same instant he winked out of sight, teleporting himself across the space between him and his prey. The move was timed perfectly for the beta to catch the full force of Jeremy’s punch directly on his muzzle, generating a sound similar to that of a ripe melon being split open. The beta fell to the ground, a pool of blood expanding on the dirt.
“On the other hand it doesn’t look like you’ll be telling anybody much of anything...at least not for a while”
Looking up Jeremy saw the young Rabbit running towards him on the trail. Catching her in his arms he felt a strange warmth flow out of himself and into her body causing her breathing and pulse to drop back to normal.
“”You’re safe now. I’m here for you.”
“T-thank you. T-they were g-going to…”
“I know, I know. We should get away from here. Is there some place I can take you?” Jeremy asked.
“I-I have f-family not far from here,” she gasped, running her hands along his platinum mane. “W-what are you?”
“I’m someone who can help. It’s best you don’t tell anybody about me,” Jeremy said knowing full well it would be an instruction she would be unable to follow. “You don’t want to bring any unwanted attention to yourself. I’ll take care of these two so that nobody feels any need to come after you in the future.”
“You’re not going to…”
“No, but you need to get out of here nonetheless. Go...run.”
The rabbit nodded again and, clutching her dress around her body, bounded off down the path towards the road leaving Jeremy alone to rifle through the pockets of the badly injured beta who was softly moaning while curled up in the fetal position. Locating the fenris’ phone, Jeremy quickly dialed the emergency services, feeling safe in the fact that nobody would be able to recognize his new voice.
“Hello, police? Yes, I’d like to report an attempted rape. Yes...south gamelands, right near the Highland Road entrance. I don’t know who the victim is, but what looked like a white tiger appeared to break it up. Yeah....I don’t know where he went, but there are two fenris here and they look pretty hurt. Yeah...yeah...no...I have to go.”
Jeremy turned off the phone, carefully wiped it clean then dropped a few feet off the trail. Hearing the first hint of sirens off in the distance, Jeremy’s new found bravado began to crack slightly as he couldn’t risk getting caught anywhere near the area. Moving up the trail to grab his clothes, he found the now dark and lifeless orb exactly where he had left it. However, this time as he held it in his hand he froze up, unsure of what to do.
“I don’t want to go back, Sky. I don’t want to go back to being the weakling who who just keeps walking,” Jeremy admitted, gripping the orb tightly, “but I can’t stay like this.”
“It’s dark out. Use natural cover to get closer to town and by then maybe something will come to us.”
Jeremy nodded to himself and, belongings firmly in hand, he began to run through the forest, occasionally darting across roads or fields, painfully aware that his bright white color would stand out even on the darkest of nights. The closer he got to campus, the more vehicles he could see on the road, the more people he could see walking on the paths, the more open spaces he had to cross. Jeremy felt like he was being hunted, felt like prey and to his surprise, the feeling was familiar. The only difference was that he had nowhere to hide.
The last straw came as Jeremy was walking cautiously up a driveway when suddenly a pair of headlamps swung around off the road and right in his direction. Instinctively diving into a hedge Jeremy pressed his eyes shut, his heart racing as the sound of the tires got closer and rolled past. Any moment he expected the sound of a door opening followed by paws on the ground. A minute passed and then another before Jeremy finally had the courage to reopen his eyes. For a second he felt dizzy as if his vision had suddenly gone blurry. Reaching up to rub his eyes the erstwhile lion gasped. Instead of white furred hands with thick black nails he saw his own familiar feline fingers and claws. Yelping in sheer joy Jeremy set about inspecting himself all over, making sure that every last trace of his alternate identity had vanished.
“Looks like your wish came true.”
“Sky?! H-how? I changed back! How can I still hear you?”
“Check the sphere.”
Slowly Jeremy withdrew the precious stone and gasped as he beheld its continued darkness.
“I don’t believe you actually changed back. As a prey species Unicorns appear to have a capacity to disguise themselves. In this case you changed into the best disguise you could think of, your old body.”
“So I’m still a Una…”
“Unicorn, that is correct.”
“But I’m me,” said Jeremy, looking at his slender arms and legs.
“That is also correct. Well, insofar as you are shaped like your old self.”
“So... I can just go home now. Just like nothing ever happened.”
“Well I recommend a new pair of pants, perhaps one with a bit more stretch to them.”
“I think we need to define the parameters of our relationship Sky,” Jeremy growled as he went about putting his tattered clothing. “I’m not a hero. I’m not a cop. Hell, I’m not even an activist. I’m not going to let you keep bugging me to get involved with things. Remember, after a few salads I can stuff you right back in that orb.”
“I’m not telling you anything you aren’t already thinking Jeremy,” said Sky.
Jeremy opened his mouth to make his point in another way, but quickly closed it as he remembered there was no real way to win an argument with one’s self.
Startled, the small anthro lion looked around wide eyed, nearly dropping his notebook in the process, only relaxing when he saw Molly walking towards him with Charlotte in tow.
“Woah, are you ok there? You looked about ready to jump out of your skin,” Molly observed as she walked over and put an arm on Jeremy’s shoulder.
“I just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night,” he mumbled, his typical desire for solitude feeling stronger than usual.
“Well Charlotte felt bad about not being able to go with you for that walk in the gamelands and she wanted to make good on her offer and invite you down into the East End for dinner with some of her friends.”
“Oh...really?” replied Jeremy,looking around to see if anyone was nearby. “Well, I guess I could come. Not like I really had anything else to do.”
“Wonderful!” Charlotte beamed, clapping her hands together. “We were just about to head down there right now.”
“Um, will they be serving something I can eat?” Jeremy asked, instantly regretting that he had.
“Come on Jeremy,” Molly growled, flattening her ears. “Haven’t you listened to anything I’ve been saying? There’s significant overlap between the diets of all the morphs on Haven. Most of the differences we see in practice are cultural.”
“Do you need to go back to your dorm room?” Charlotte asked Jeremy, looking at his notebook.
“Nah, I can put it in my bag. Might as well go right there.”
The two girls continued their discussion as Jeremy walked a few steps behind, even more paranoid than usual that someone would choose to single him out.
“Oh! You were down where that rape happened!” Molly suddenly exclaimed as she spun around to face Jeremy.
“W-what?” he stammered, the look of panic returning to his eyes.
“Rumor has it that a pair of fenris tried to rape a rabbit cleaning lady down in the south gamelands. None of the officials are saying anything about it, but did you see anything when you were down there?”
Jeremy swallowed hard, and shrunk back from Molly’s questions. “I...I didn’t really see anything. There might have been some fenris around, but I try to avoid people when I’m walking in the gamelands.”
“Well the cops showed up and had to take the two rapists to the hospital. I heard some large tiger caught them in the act and beat them within an inch of their lives, but like I said nobody is confirming anything,” Molly continued.
“We’re hoping that some people in the herbivore community might know more about what happened,” Charlotte added. “This is the sort of event that can galvanize our community and encourage them to stand up for their rights.”
“N-no, of course. I wish I could be more helpful,” Jeremy answered.
“You know you can probably trust them Jeremy.”
“Shut up, Sky. What did I tell you about getting me involved with things?”
“As soon as I heard about it I felt like I idiot for not going down there with you. We don’t win any battle by avoiding…”
“Molly, please,” said Charlotte. “If we had been there we might not be walking here right now.”
The fox sighed, but realized she should probably let the conversation topic drop. As the trio came down from the hill where the University was built, single family homes turned into higher density apartment blocks with few signs of luxury like personal vehicles. Young children played ball games in the street or unplanted dirt lots, while their older siblings clumped together at odd street corners.
“So what is this place we’re going to?” Jeremy asked.
“Communal dinner,” replied Charlotte, as they turned down a side street. “It’s popular among herbivore morphs partly because it saves on costs, but I also guess we just feel more comfortable eating in large groups. Most of the housing blocks are built with facilities to support the practice.”
“How do you handle who gets what food?” said Jeremy, looking puzzled.
“With the type of food they eat, the Herbivores always seem to have enough to go around,” Molly responded, “so don’t worry about it. Anyone who comes to eat here is welcome, even lions.”
Walking through an archway into a central courtyard, Jeremy saw a small low building set in the middle of the space. Due to the warmer weather, the exterior walls had been folded up to expose the long rows of bench seating to the cool spring air. As they got closer all manner of rich aromas began to tickle the lion’s nose, reminding him of the more exotic spices applied to the various meats served in the campus dining hall.
“Ooo, smells nice,” Jeremy remarked.
“The stereotype that Herbivores are content to eat landscape clippings is because they were often forced to do so in order to supplement what they could buy with their meager wages,” Molly pointed out. “Given good jobs they will prefer good food like any other morph.”
“Just grab a plate and dig in,” Charlotte announced, walking right up to the end of the serving line.
Following the doe, Jeremy felt his mouth start to water as he laid eyes upon the large selection of salad greens. Hoping that nobody would say anything he took a small amount before moving on to add a variety of fresh vegetables. By the time he reached the hot entrees there was little room left on his place and he had to pile it up under the suspicious eye of the bovine server who assumed the small lion’s eyes were bigger than his stomach. Neither Molly or Charlotte commented as they found a partly filled table to sit down at.
Jeremy only hesitated for a second, his body acting as if on automatic pilot as it spooned up a healthy amount of lentils and rice and pushed it into his mouth. Finding a way to chew the vegetarian meal with his sharp feline teeth presented a bit of a challenge, but since the food filled his cravings as a secret herbivore he found himself savoring every bite.
“So were you just joking when you asked if there was anything you could eat here?” Molly remarked causing Jeremy to look up from his food and stare back at her.
“That’s your third plate of salad,” she continued. “I love you enthusiasm, but at some point you’re liable to make yourself sick.”
Jeremy blushed deeply under his light colored fur.
“Um, roughage is an important part of a feline diet,” Jeremy stated. “The greens they serve at the dining center is crap compared to what is here. Figured I might as well do some spring cleaning.”
“Don’t get me started on that dining center,” Charlotte added.
“I want to thank you both for bringing me down here. The food is quite excellent,” said Jeremy.
“Well don’t thank me that much. You see I’m holding an anti-racism rally on campus this Friday and I wanted to get as many herbivores to participate as I could. Having you come along shows that there’s actually some broader support on campus to end discrimination,” said Molly. “In case you didn’t hear while you were stuffing you face, the young rabbit who was almost raped wants to come forward, but she doesn’t trust the police. This can be our chance to engage the silent majority who support social justice.”
Jeremy blinked, unsure of what to say at first.
“I...I don’t know Molly, this could get her into a lot of trouble. You too. Just because you’re a fox doesn’t mean you’re immune from threats.” Jeremy lowered his head slightly. “I have some experience with that.”
“Don’t you see? That’s the whole point! By stepping forward we’ll inspire others to step forward too. Sometime I think that 90% of the people living on this planet are in a state of fear,” Molly emphasized. “So can I count on you to attend?”
Jeremy nodded. “Of course. I won’t stand in silence again.”
“Again?” Charlotte remarked, tilting an ear.
“I mean all the times in the past where I didn’t get involved,” Jeremy mumbled.
“Can I interest you in a beverage?” a large draft breed equine morph asked as he placed a glass mug full of a dark brown ale in front of the lightly built lion.
Jeremy blinked and looked up at Charlotte.
“We don’t just eat our plants and grains Jeremy,” she giggled, “drink up!”
Jeremy was a bit tipsy as he stumbled back up the hill towards campus. Invoking a paper that was due that week, he had been able to exclude himself while Molly and Charlotte stayed behind to drum up more support for their rally. Passing one of the many vacant lots he had passed on the way down, Jeremy’s fine pseudo feline senses detected some odd movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning to face whatever it was, the feline shaped equine was able to pick out a number of herbivore children looking at him from behind a bush with more than a little trepidation.
“Oh, hey kids. Urrr not scared of me are you?”
The children didn’t say anything, nor did they come out into view.
“Ahhh, I don’t blame ya. I...I’d be scared too if a lion surprised me in...in the dark.”
Turning to leave Jeremy suddenly got a crazy idea, a large feline grin spreading across his muzzle. Because he was not in a position to follow what most would consider the established rules of shapeshifting, Jeremy concentrated on just a part of his body and was soon rewarded as a soft glow lit up the corner of the lot, his head and face reshaping into their new “natural” appearance. Tossing his neck as the horn finished growing from his forehead, Jeremy put his hands on his hips and smiled at the children.
“How about now?”
Mesmerized, a mixed group of cervines, bovines and equines approached the Unicorn, reaching up to touch the dimly glowing horn.
“Don’t worry, things will be changing around here. You have my word.”
“We’re not going to accept it when the police look the other way! We’re not going to accept it when fraternity brothers intimidate people on campus! Together we are strong! Together our voices will be heard!”
Molly stood at the top of the marble steps in front of the tall columns of the campus library, lit by the floodlights normally there to highlight the building. To her side stood Charlotte, the rabbit Jeremy recognized from the gamelands and a few of the other organizers. In front of her was assembled a crowd of about 100 or so herbivores and their meat eating supporters. Standing off to one side of the crowd, Jeremy, clad only in a pair of stretchy athletic shorts, leaned up against a tree watching the protest intently. Still obviously wary of his surroundings, as much as he wanted to support Molly, his latent timidity combined with Sky’s advice not to get caught up in a crowd prompted him to chose his position much more strategically.
The rally had been going on for about 20 minutes, the crowd slowly gaining in size as additional students and townies were drawn in by the spectacle. Still somewhat detached from the action on the steps, Jeremy was in a perfect position to notice the large hulking shadows that were standing just past the edge of the darkness. A strong urge to leave welled up in the small lion, but this time it wasn’t borne of a desire for safety, but a need to prepare. Casually turning his back on the speakers, Jeremy walked past the assembling fenris and continued on until he was sure he was out of sight.
“There’s going to be a lot more of them this time Sky.”
“You’ll have backup if you just set the example.”
“They aren’t going to stand back and just let me beat them up you know.”
Without warning Jeremy’s sense of reality shimmered and changed from a darkened campus quadrangle to a smoke filled battlefield. He tried to look around, but he found himself unable to move like he was strapped into some sort of fully immersive amusement ride. A thunderous roar shook his body from head to hoof. His point of view looked up to see a massive red scaled beast the size of a house with claws and wings and a sinuous tail descending from the heavens. Jeremy wanted to do nothing but run away, but Lord Skyline didn’t even flinch. Holding up his flaming sword aggressively, the Unicorn directed his voice towards the monster.
“Begone, dragon! These lands are under my protection and you will not befoul them with your presence anymore!”
The beast cackled a scornful laugh before rearing back to breathe a jet of flame at the bothersome equine. However by the time the dragon let loose his attack Lord Skyline was already moving at great speed. Jeremy was awed by the speed and agility of the magical herbivore as it bounded across the terrain before launching himself right towards the dragon’s head, slashing down with his great sword with a strength Jeremy could scarcely even believe was possible.
Then as suddenly as it had began the experience ended and Jeremy was right back where he had been standing in the darkness, his heart racing, his nostrils flaring with every breath.
“Lord Skyline took on threats much more dangerous than a bunch of two-bit thugs. You have his body, you have his knowledge. All you need to replace is his spirit.”
Jeremy looked down at himself, his body tall, muscled and covered in pure white fur. The hard hooves that had replaced his paws still felt strange, but from the mental cut scene he had renewed confidence in his agility. Looking ahead through the darkness the fenris and other large carnivores no longer appeared as intimidating brutes. Quickly evaluating their body language Jeremy instinctively knew that the gathered goons were getting ready to act and it was time for him to step back into the light.
“So with your help we will force the University to change its policy regarding…”
“Alright, I think that’s quite enough,” announced a black robed canid as he marched onto the impromptu stage, grabbing the microphone out of Molly’s hand. “You’ve said your piece and now its time for you to clean up your trash and go home.”
The man, who was also wearing a rather frumpy hood to conceal his identity, was joined by a trio of undisguised fenris fraternity brothers, blunt objects in hand, who quickly advanced on Charlotte and the rabbit as they rose from their seats.
“Sit down Herb,” the nearest Fenris growled, pushing the doe back into her seat with a lewd look. “You’re coming with us tonight.”
“It’s bad enough that we’ve been forced to enroll morphs from unfit races, but we will not tolerate any further promotion of ideas that go against the natural order,” the man announced to Molly before turning towards the crowd and speaking into the microphone. “This event is over. Anyone from town is trespassing. Any students might as well go home now as you will not be invited back next semester.”
“Under exactly whose authority,” called out a deep voice from the side of the crowd.”
“By the authority of nature,” the man replied with a sneer, searching amongst the crowd for whomever had dared to challenge him.
From out of the glare of the spotlights stepped a large muscled stallion with a razor sharp spike growing out of his forehead. The backlighting created an otherworldly glow around his body as he approached the steps.
“Who the fuck are you?” the man stammered in disbelief.
“The name’s Skyline, Lord Skyline.”
With that Jeremy winked out, instantaneously reappearing directly in front of the cloaked man and driving his knee up into the man’s gut, breaking several ribs in the process. Jeremy yanked the man up to face the crowd, ignoring his painful gasps for air, and ripped his hood off.
“If you are so convinced of nature’s plan, why don’t you show everybody who you are,” Jeremy growled, yanking back on the man’s wolfen mane so that everyone could recognize the face of the Dean of Students.
“Take a bow, asshole,” Jeremy continued, throwing the dean down the marble steps.
By this point the stunned fenris who was in the process of restraining Charlotte, turned to advance on Jeremy, but was brought down by a lightning quick hoof to the muzzle. The other fenris came at the strange equine with an ax handle, but as he swing the Unicorn vanished again, appearing right behind him to drive a hoof into the back of his knee and twist the club free from his grasp. A quick blow to the head was enough to send the fenris down for good.
Shaking off their shock at what was transpiring in front of them, all the nearby apex predators began to converge on the steps, a variety of weapons in hand, but lacking coordination Jeremy was able to meet them one at a time, parrying their blows and following up with precise strikes breaking arm and leg alike. Abandoning their job of containing the crowd, the remaining fraternity carnivores rushed in and began to circle around Jeremy, putting their well honed hunting skills to productive use.
“Oh great. You get yourself surrounded and then you ask me for options. I really appreciate that.”
“Something says I shouldn’t teleport,” Jeremy thought, slowly circling and swinging his ax handle to keep the predators at bay.
“Yeah, you can only do that so many times, and running away won’t be the greatest way to help the cause,” Sky observed. “Then on the other hand, your cause might not need that much help after all.”
Suddenly one of the fenris was pulled down from behind as one of the draft equines wrapped him up in a headlock. Soon other herbivores and students of all diets were on the scene, swarming over the aggressive carnivores, delivering kicks, punched and headbutts. The intentional absence of campus safety officers quickly backfired on the conspirators, who were soon left bloody and incapacitated.
“Stop! That’s enough!” Jeremy thundered, noticing that many of the Herbivores had picked up the discarded weapons. “Killing them won’t solve anything. Our numbers are strong enough to change things in our favor without resorting to killing.”
“Listen to him,” Molly cried out, running down the steps to stand beside the unicorn. “Starting some kind of war won’t help Haven. Our ancestors came here to make a better world, not recreate the same conditions they were trying to flee.”
“Let this be the first step towards making Haven the place it should have always been,” Jeremy projected as he dropped the ax handle and started to ascend the steps. “I may be the only one of my kind here, but each and everyone of you had the same free spirit that flows through my veins. Your struggle will not be easy. It may take many years until all morphs are truly equal, but rest assured that whenever you need me, I will be there.”
Letting his words echo across the quad, Jeremy felt someone tugging at his hand. Turning he saw Molly looking up at him, tears in her eyes. “Please don’t go...C-Charlotte and myself can’t do what you do to inspire these people.”
Smiling down at the passionate vixen, Jeremy touched his horn to her forehead. “If you ever need to reach me, just talk to your lion friend. He knows where to find me.”
Molly looked up, dumbfounded as she tried to grasp what the unicorn was implying.
“See you around,” he said plainly before vanishing from view.
“So this is where you found it?” Charlotte asked as Molly and Jeremy waded into the water.
“Yeah, it was literally underfoot,” said Jeremy, briefly looking down at his feline paw. “Makes you think that some things happen for a reason.”
“Tell me about it. The Government is shitting itself now that they are facing the existence of a herbivore magic user,” said Molly. “The more pragmatic members of the cabinet are already moving to address the movement’s demands.”
“Only that small percentage who benefit most from the system have been the most insistent about maintaining it. Lord Skyline changed the equation in favor of the moderates,” Jeremy remarked as he moved towards the base of the falls, the water level quickly rising up to his waist.
“Are you sure its here?” asked Charlotte.
“Yeah, I can feel it,” said Jeremy as he dove beneath the surface leaving Molly and Charlotte behind.
“I still can’t believe...it’s him,” Charlotte whispered from the shore. “I mean look at him...he’s so…”
“Herbivores weren’t the only targets of the predatory culture. Jeremy is the hero we need. A foot in each world and humble enough to use his power wisely,” Molly observed. “Perhaps one day he could help reunite us with the humans as well.”
“Is he ok? He’s been down awhile.”
“Of course he’s ok,” said Molly with a smile. “Cats love water.”
“I got it!” exclaimed Jeremy as he shot up out of the water. “Oooph, it’s fucking heavy, but I got it!”
“Bring it over so we can get it into the bag,” Charlotte urged, looking around in case they had been followed.
“How much did you find?” Molly asked, moving through the water to assist her friend.
“Just this, I figure the body must be somewhere up in the hills,” said Jeremy holding up a gleaming metal Neocorn skull in one hand, the horn and skullplate clenched in the other. “The fall must have broke the head open and the strong spring current carried away the less dense orb.”
“It’s beautiful,” remarked Molly as she took the heavy skull from jeremy, looking into its still intact eyes. “I can’t believe that people were able to make things like this.”
“People can achieve almost anything with they work together,” said Jeremy, “and with any luck we will again.”