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A Trickster's Tail - Part 3

Copyright (c) 1996 Phaedrus; All rights reserved

I'm not sure I should take responsibility for what's in this. I had something pretty darn different in mind; but once I got a few paragraphs in, the darn thing just started writing itself, and all I could do was get out of the way. :-)

I already know how the rest of the day is going to turn out, and it shouldn't take anywhere near as long to write; I'll post it tonight if I can.

The sun slowly rose in the east. Keith sat under the tree, staring groggily out at the park. He had never really been into parks, but he had to admit that this one was pretty; simple, but pretty. And relaxing. It might look better in pink.

He blinked. Where the hell did that come from?

He was still Keith--mentally, anyway. There was no question. Physically, nothing had changed. But he felt...different. Now that he concentrated a bit, he could feel a warmth in him. Was this what magic felt like? How to find out? Well, if Kickaha was a nature mage, then nature magic ought to be easiest, right?

He looked down, picked out a small patch of grass on the ground. He tried to picture it a bit larger, a bit more fully grown. He stared at it. Nothing happened.

He heard footsteps. Looking up, he was relieved and horrified all at once; the bum from last night was back. On two legs. And, judging from his walk, apparently sober--or as close as he was ever going to get. But what did he remember? He looked around the park, and Keith shivered as the bum looked right at him--then past him as if he wasn't there. Shrugging, the bum turned and walked away. {Why didn't he see me?}, thought Keith, then remembered that the cloak was still wrapped around him--and how people didn't seem to spot Kickaha when he was like that. So there was something magic about it.

The thought of magic reminded Keith what he was up to; he thought a bit more about the party last night. He focused on the grass again. Carefully, he waved an arm, then pointed a claw at the grass. As he completed the motion, he could feel a bit of warmth shoot down his arm and through his outstretched finger.

The patch of grass seemed to shudder. Then, slowly, it started to grow. Ten seconds later, it finally stopped, after reaching about double its previous height. Keith could only stare at it.

{So it does work,} he thought numbly. {Well, if that works, can I change myself back?}

Closing his eyes, he tried to picture himself as he was now. Then he pictured himself changing into his real self; 6'3" (a bit shorter than he was now, he thought), white and furless, brown hair, blue eyes, good complexion. He chanted a few nonsense syllables, waved his arms, and pointed them at his chest.

He opened his eyes.

Nothing happened.

{Shit. Maybe I don't have the power, or maybe there's just rules to this that I don't know about. Well, there's only one way to find out, and I guess it's now or never...}

Carefully, he tried to mentally picture Kickaha, somewhere in his mind, with himself in there separately, still in control. When he thought he had that, he cautiously pictured a link in between them. He closed his eyes, gulped once, pointed a claw at his head, and flicked it.

{{And the crowd goes wild,}} came a clear voice from inside his head.

{Kickaha, I presume?}, he tentatively thought back, trying to settle his nerves.

{{You were expecting maybe Uri Geller?}} The "voice" was mocking, but in a friendly sort of way, like a coworker trading Monday-morning barbs on the way in the office. Back when Keith had an office.

{I've got some questions for you.}

{{So I gathered. Mind if I sneak one in first?}}

{Go ahead.}

{{What's the big deal here? I mean, sure, I goofed, but it's happened before. I thought we had an understanding about that. Everybody's fine by now. Why the righteous indignation all of a sudden?}}

{Huh? How can we have an understanding when you didn't even exist before last night?}

{{You're sitting there in a coyote's body watching grass grow, and you think I didn't exist until last night? Boy, I must be one helluva fast learner...}}

{Look, it doesn't make any sense to me either. All I know is, one minute I'm at a costume party having a good time in my coyote outfit, and the next minute all hell breaks loose.}

{{That's the best kind of party, isn't it? But that's not the way it happened. We were at the party having a good time with the mundanes, I... goof, and the next thing you know everybody turns into their costume. Good thing we didn't go as a goat or something. So all we wound up short of is a few key pieces of equipment, and apparently your brain as well. And speaking of key pieces of equipment, mind if I fix things up a bit?}}

{No changing the subject. Does that story make sense to you?}

{{As much sense as anything ever makes.}}

{Look, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but that's not the way it happened. I came to the party in a coyote costume. You're a... character I invented. The next thing I know, everybody's changed, and you're there, just the way the story said.}

{{Oh, of course. That makes so much more sense. Something just arbitrarily transformed a whole party and brought your charming little story to life. However could I have missed that?}}

{But what about the costume we--I was wearing. You remember that, right?}

{{Well, duh.}}

{So what does a wizard need with a costume?}

{{If I didn't think you were crazy I'd be insulted. You can't go to a costume party without a costume. It's cheating.}}

Keith tried to bury his head in his hands, and nearly succeeded in poking his right eye out with a claw. {If you're the one responsible for all these changes, and your magic wears off in a few hours, then how come I'm still a coyote?}

{{Aha! If I just showed up last night, then how do you know when my magic wears off?}}

{It was in the story.}

{{Oh. Of course. The stooooory. How conveeeeenient. Well, of course it doesn't wear off. How many times do I need to explain it to you?}}

{Once would be nice.}

{{No respect. Typical. Okay, I'll explain it; maybe it'll jar some sense back into that muddled head of yours. Magic is chaos. When you cast a spell on something, you're concentrating chaos in one place. It doesn't like that. Eventually it sulks and goes away. But it doesn't go away from someone with the Gift; if it did, they couldn't work magic in the first place. Are you remembering any of this now?}}

Keith wanted to groan. This was getting too weird; and the more they "talked," the weirder it got. {Remember when I told you it was fine to sneak in a question before mine?}

{{Of course.}}

{I take it back.}

{{Testy, aren't we?}}

{You have no idea. Anyway-}




A car was driving by outside the park. It was being driven by a goblin. A very authentic goblin.

{{He was at the party, right?}} Kickaha actually sounded almost distraught.

{I wouldn't be surprised.}

{{But my stuff would have worn off by now; I wasn't trying that hard. That means... that I didn't do it.}}

{That's what I've been trying to tell you.}

{{And you really were just there in a coyote costume.}}


{{Do you realize what this means? This means... that none of this is my fault!}} Kickaha's tone abruptly went back to its normal cheer. {{Well. I'm glad that's settled. Now, what was the question?}}

Keith was nearly in shock. {That's all this means to you?}

{{Oh, of course not. I'm sorry. It means we haven't been properly introduced. Kickaha at your service. A Master of the Art of no small repute, now sadly cast adrift through the multiverse without so much as a body to my name. And you are?}}

{Thoroughly confused.}

{{Nice to meet you, Mr. Confused, even under such awkward circumstances. But I thought your name was Keith something-or-other?}}

Keith found himself chuckling despite himself. {I guess this is why I'm a contractor and not a manager. I've never been good at running interviews. Yes, it's Keith. Keith Dorner. Master of Science, of reasonable repute, I guess. Money in the bank, condo on Mercer Island. Now a coyote sitting in a park hearing voices in my head and hoping a certain bum doesn't decide to come back and kick my ass.}

This drew a mental belly-laugh, a disturbing thing to have in your head when you're not used to it. {{So at least the big things I'm remembering are right; it's just the details that got fucked somewhere. And there is a sense of humor in there. There's hope yet. Don't worry, though. Sure, he remembers everything that happened last night, very clearly. And the night before that, he remembers the magic beavers that came out to play with him. A fascinating mind, really.}}

{How do you know?}

{{Because I'm a Master of the Art. Shall we go through the introductions again?}}

{Once was fine, thanks. Can I ask the questions now?}

{{Gee, you've got a one-track mind.}

{Obviously not, or we wouldn't be having this conversation.}

{{And a man who knows a straight line when he hears it! Oh, it would warm my heart to hear that if I only had one. What's the question?}}

{What do you want?}

{{I want to fix up this body. This is humiliating.}}

{I won't argue. But I was thinking more in the long term. What do you want?}

{{Well, I want to help all life forms throughout the cosmos achieve a higher state of consciousness and a universal brotherhood. But that's not gonna happen, so I'll settle for having a good time before I die. How about you?}}

Keith was a bit stunned, both at the answer and the question. {Well, I like what I'm doing, even if I don't always like the projects. I guess I just want to get enough money in the bank that I can afford to do it just for fun and not for work. And I like helping people out; I'd like to be able to do that more.}

{{Maybe my memories are whacked here again, but don't you already have more money than one human being should be allowed to have?}}

{Well, I've got about five million, but just about all of it is on paper. I could live on it, sure, as long as the market doesn't crash, but it's not enough to do anything really important with...}

Keith got the distinct impression of Kickaha shaking his head. {{Still a ways to go here, I see. Look. Let's cut right to the chase. You're worried about loosing the horrible force that is me on the world, right?}}

{Well, yeah.}

{{And you know that all I'd have to do is be careful with my magic, and there wouldn't be a thing you could do about it.}}

{And all I'd have to do is stay in a city somewhere, and there wouldn't be a thing you could do about it.}

{{More or less. Any wagers on which of us would be more miserable?}}

Keith tried to picture himself, stuck in this body, scared to go near a park. Then he tried to picture someone like Kickaha, carefully measuring every bit of magic he used. {I think I'd be more miserable. But I don't think you could do it at all.}

{{I'd resent that if it weren't true. Now, can I have the body for a second? I need to show you something.}}


{{Something that will answer your questions.}}


{{That would be telling.}}

Keith sighed. {Go ahead.}

{{I thought you'd never ask.}}

Keith suddenly felt dizzy for a moment. When his mind cleared, he found himself still looking out through his eyes and ears, but he knew that he was no longer in control.

Kickaha got up, stretched. This was going to be fun. He closed his eyes, stretched out his arms, and started the Song, reaching out to the trees, to the grass, to the world. There were a few seconds of hesitation, of questioning, as there always was when the Song was first sung. Then he felt the contact, the rush of acceptance. He could feel the wind rippling through the grass, the sun's early rays reaching the trees. He could feel the power flow, slowly at first, then in a rush. In a few more seconds, he could feel himself complete, the delicious warmth of his whole body flushed with power. He Sang his thanks, and the world returned his Song. Then he opened his eyes.

{What... was... that?}

{{That's what magic feels like. My kind of magic, anyway. Not bad, huh?}}

Keith tried to shake his head; it took him a couple of seconds to remember that he couldn't. {Wow,} he managed silently. A pause. {So you're charged up all the way?}

{{You could put it that way, yes.}}

{Then why am I still here?}

{{Because that spell you did is still there; we just swapped ends. I like it; I should have thought of it before--but then again, I guess I didn't get a chance to think of it before. So, are you ready to see something?}}

{That wasn't it?}

{{That wasn't the half of it.}}

{Go for it.}

{{Don't mind if I do.}}

Kickaha gathered his power, pictured the Change. The gestures helped, but they weren't necessary, not when you were doing something easy. And this was easy. He felt his fur ripple and condense into black feathers, felt his muzzle shift into a beak, felt his cloak vanish to wherever the heck it went when he did this. The world seemed to expand as he shrank; the ground rushed up at his eyes. With the change complete, he hopped off the ground, beat his wings, and rose into the sky.

{{This is a raven. I've always liked them.}}

Keith was at a loss for words; he could only watch as the cars and buildings of the town passed beneath them, feel the wind rush past. He had never liked flying; he knew people who loved it, but to him it was just two or three hours locked up in a little seat in a little box. But this...

Kickaha calmly pictured the link, made a little adjustment.

{{Your turn.}}

Keith felt a brief stab of pure terror as he went into a dive. Then he flapped his wings, tentatively at first, then with confidence as he felt them catch the air; he rose back into the sky. He folded his wings for a moment, dove again, then pulled up into a majestic climb. He leveled off, tried a few turns, did a barrel roll; giddy, he tried for a loop, lost his speed halfway through the climb, stalled, dove again, then pulled out, swooping just over a roof. God, it was glorious. He climbed again, until the city was spread out under him; he could see every detail. He could see...

...a parking lot.

The parking lot of Belchard CyberSystems, Inc.

And in that parking lot, a red BMW 328is coupe, parked in the "Reserved" space.

The property of one Joseph Belchard, Jr.

One of the hazards of contract work is not getting paid. Sometimes it's because there's a genuine problem; sometimes the client goes bankrupt on you. Sometimes the client just figures that, if the contract is small enough, it will cost you more to fight it in court than it would to eat the loss; so they manufacture a problem. And they're right; it does cost more to fight it than to eat it. But you have to fight it anyway. Because if you eat it, and word gets out, someone else will try it. And then someone else.

That's why Keith kept George Gallardo, Esq., on retainer. And Dorner v. Belchard, Jr., d.b.a. Belchard Cybersystems, Inc., was on track, and scheduled for trial on September 12, 1997.

Keith thought of something. It was absolutely nonproductive. It was juvenile. It was infantile. It would accomplish nothing.

And it had to be done.

{{Oh, good. Let me help.}}

Suddenly, Keith was no longer in control.

Kickaha wheeled merrily away. He swooped down low, over the city. And he Called.

From below, a pigeon flew up towards them. Then another. Then a bluebird. They climbed, following the raven.

Kickaha swooped to and fro, over the buildings, the streets, the trees. Again and again, he Called. And from everywhere, birds came, flying up to meet the flock.

Kickaha surveyed the situation. At least fifty; close to a hundred. The lot was only a couple of blocks away.

{{This should do.}}

Keith found himself in control again. He knew his mission. He flew straight for the target, his army in ragged formation behind him.

At the proper moment, he folded his wings, and dove. He lined up his shot carefully, making a few minor adjustments. Behind him, he could hear the whoosh of wings. The car rushed up at him; he aimed for the center of the hood. At the last moment, he stretched his wings and arced, releasing his missile as he rose back into the sky.

From the ground, the sound was like a wave coming in from the sky; the impossible cloud of birds shooting down, reaching the target, then suddenly exploding, birds banking away in every possible direction. And the steady splutsplutsplut of each shot hitting home.

Kickaha took control again, sent his thanks to the birds as they dispersed. Reaching the park took only a minute or so; it was occupied, so he flew on, towards a forest a few miles away. Swooping in for a landing, he Changed just as he reached the ground; he landed on clawed feet, back in the coyote form, cloak rippling behind him.

{{So, what do you think?}}

Keith was too lost in his thoughts to answer for a few seconds. {Amazing,} he managed finally. {I can see how you manage to make your way out of trouble.}

{{It helps, yes,}} Kickaha agreed, smiling. {{But that's not what you were thinking while you were doing it, was it?}}

{No,} Keith thought, seeing where this was going, knowing that he was beaten, and not caring in the slightest.

{{And what were you thinking?}}

Keith tried to shake his head, found that he could. {God, that was fun.}

{{So, do you still think we're so different, you and I?}}

{I think we can work something out.}

{{I thought we might.}}

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