How the Zebra Stole Christmas

  The rain came down hard that Christmas Eve, rattling against the roof of The Katters’ and Zebra’s Inconspicuous Meat Pie Shop and Tonsorial Parlour. Inside, Katters and Zebra were curled up at opposite ends of the couch in the living room, sharing an obscenely large, blue comforter. Both had festive and obscenely alcoholic drinks, though they were not themselves in very festive moods.
  “There’s something—” Zebra’s cheap Santa hat slipped down over his eyes and he pushed it back to its proper place. “There’s something off about this time of year.”
  “Yeah,” Katters said, breathing peppermint. “I know what you mean.”
  “I used to love Christmas. But now it all feels so forced.”
  Katters nodded. “It’s, we’re, it’s because we’re adults, now. All the magic is gone.”
  “Is that it?”
  “Gone forever.”
  “No,” Zebra said. “I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think Christmas magic is rel— releg— I don’t think it’s just for kids. Adults can get into the Christmas spirit, too.”
  “But they do it for the kids, get me? You get into the Christmas spirit because you’re spreading joy for small people. We don’t have any small people to foist Santa-related lies onto, ergo we have no Christmas spirit.”
  Zebra took a thoughtful drink, a minty chill spreading into his sinuses and an alcoholic burn spreading through his chest. “No,” he said again. “I still don’t think that’s it.”
  “Well, what is it, then, Mr. Smart Guy?”
  “No.” Zebra sat up, energised by an epiphany. “You know what it is?”
  “What?”
  “We’re on the naughty list. We’ve been seasonally ostracised by Santa Claus. There’s nothing to look forward to come Christmas morning — that is to say, no presents.”
  “I thought presents were antithesis to the true meaning of Christmas. Rudolph said so.”
  “Rudolph can go fuck himself. Presents are an enormous part of Christmas and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is a fool. But more importantly, Katters, this is a problem we have with a very simple solution.”
  “Does it involve moving?” Katters sunk deeper into her comforter cocoon. “Because I’d rather not.”
  “If we’re missing out on Christmas spirit because we’re on some kind of blacklist, then all we have to do is take some Christmas spirit for ourselves. Be proactive. Take initiative.”
  “You don’t mean—”
  “I do!” Zebra said, scrambling to his feet. “Tonight, we steal Christmas!”
Continue reading

Swap, pt. 2

  K. Whimsy’s Books and Et Cetera — Sor’s bookshop — was five stories tall, and topped by a tree growing from the fifth floor balcony. The store looked out of place on the quiet street, surrounded by buildings much shorter than it.
  Zebra leaned Sor’s body against the wall as she searched for a key.
  “Sor,” he said, bored.
  She hushed him. “Keep your commentary to yourself until we get into the lab,” she said. “The last thing I need is one of my employees finding out about this.”
  “Right,” he said, and straightened. “Well, while you’re rummaging through my pockets, I’ll just unlock the door, shall I?”
  Sor froze. “Oh,” she said. “Right. These are your pants.”
  “I would hope so, anyway.” He pulled a keyring from Sor’s jacket: a heavy, crowded thing which looked more at home in a fictional dungeon than the inventory of a bookmonger. He handed it over to her, and she unlocked the door.
  The lights were on, but as far as either of them could tell, the shop was empty. Sor hurried them across the floor, directing them to a nook in one corner of the shop. There, hidden from the rest of the shop by two bookcases full of ornithological guides, was an unremarkable wooden door.
  Sor still had the keyring clutched in Zebra’s lily-like hand. She’d started sorting through it when the shop’s door swung back open, setting off an electronic chime. Sor and Zebra stared at each other, and listened. Something heavy was being dragged across the shop floor.
  “Expecting someone?” Zebra asked, quiet.
  Sor shook her head.
  He leaned out of the nook, looking for the intruder, but she pulled him back in by the arm. “No!” she hissed. “Don’t!”
  “Sor?” a voice, unfamiliar to Zebra, called out, and Sor swore under her breath.
  “It’s Hyde,” she whispered. “You’ve got to get rid of him.”
  “Me?” Zebra squawked, but she shoved him out of the nook without answering. He wound up standing awkwardly out in the open, face to face with the man he had to assume was Hyde.
  Zebra dropped into character quickly, leaning back into an approximation of Sor’s usual relaxed but straight-backed posture. “Good morning!” he said, his voice high and cheerful.
  Hyde didn’t respond at first, looking down a long, thin nose at him. “Good morning,” he replied with an accent Zebra couldn’t place. “Did I hear someone else over there?”
  “Nobody here but us chickens,” Zebra said.
  Hyde had a rumpled look to him, his dress shirt mostly untucked and one sleeve rolled to his elbow. He was standing in front of a large sleeping bag, the bag’s straps in one white-knuckled hand. The bag was full of something that created an irregular, bulbous shape and made the whole thing look very heavy.
  “What’s with the bag?” Zebra asked.
  Hyde’s demeanour went from cool to cold, and he tilted his head to maximise the glare he now directed at Zebra. “I wouldn’t pry,” he said. He paused, his expression turning thoughtful as his gaze darted up and down Zebra’s stolen body. “Not unless you want me to do some prying of my own,” he said, finally. “Whoever you are.”
  “Not Superman, that’s for sure,” Zebra said, and adjusted Sor’s glasses. He returned Hyde’s once-over, taking in Hyde’s polished boots and pressed slacks. Zebra lowered his voice to a mock whisper, “You won’t be spreading any rumours, will you?”
  Hyde raised an eyebrow, something that might have been a smile playing around his lips. He gave the sleeping bag some slack and took a step toward Zebra. “You have all the discretion,” he said, “that is mine to give.”
  “That could come in very handy.”
  They stood like that for a moment before Zebra remembered his lamentable situation.
  “It has been an intriguing pleasure,” he said, taking a step back. “And perhaps one that can be repeated.”
  “You know where to find me.”
  “Or where to start looking, at least.”
  Hyde did smile at that. He reigned the bag’s strap back in, taking it in two hands, and Zebra watched as he dragged it to a different shop corner. He disappeared behind a bookshelf, and Zebra retreated back to the nook in which Sor was hiding.
  “Hyde?” he asked her, somewhat incredulous.
  “In a manner of speaking,” she said, not looking at him. She went back to sorting through the keys on her keyring.
  “Is there a Jekyll?”
  “In a manner of speaking,” she repeated. She’d found the key she needed, and proceeded to unlock the unremarkable door.
  “He didn’t seem fooled by the whole body-swap thing.” Zebra followed her through the door, and down the short flight of stairs behind it.
  “Maybe you’re not as great an actor as you think.”
  “Hey.”
  “But no,” she admitted. “He wouldn’t. It’s a long story.”
  Zebra considered dropping the subject, but that was clearly what she wanted. “Oh?” he said, as they approached another door. It was dark in the stairwell, but he thought he saw something about leopards printed on the door before Sor ushered them through. “I’ve got time,” he finished.
  “You really don’t. Deadline, remember?”
  “Right.” He frowned. “I did almost forget.”
  Sor turned on the lights. “Well, we can either gossip about my employees, or we can work on fixing this clusterfuck of a situation. It’s up to you.”
  They were in some kind of alchemy lab, all stone walls and appropriately dim and flickery lighting. The wall sconces did not have real candles in them — Sor lit them with a lightswitch, after all — but they were a reasonable imitation.
  A wood workbench was attached to the length of the far wall, and it was covered in arcane and obscure tools and ingredients. Zebra felt a little lost, looking at them.
  “Let’s get this over with,” he said, looking down at himself. Being in the wrong body — it was like wearing all of your clothes backwards. There was discomfort there, but from time to time he found himself able to forget about it. “I’m uncomfortable with how comfortable I’m getting.”
  Sor cleared some space on the workbench, shoving unnecessary tools into the corners. “How are you at dancing?” she asked, suddenly.
  “What?” He stopped pulling at his shirt-collar. “Dancing?”
  “Yeah, you’re going to need to dance a little to reverse this.”
  “Why? You didn’t need to dance to make it happen — unless that graceless flailing you did is the new two-step.”
  She turned, leaning against the workbench. He had been in his pyjamas when she woke him, and she’d only thrown a peacoat on before leaving. His hair was a mess. He looked tired.
  He wondered if that was because he’d barely slept, or because she was tired, too.
  “Yeah,” she said. “That’s also kind of a long story.”
  “Again, I’ve got time.”
  “And again, we really don’t.”
  He sighed. “This sounds relevant, though. I admit, I don’t know a whole lot about magic — though, I dare say I’m decent at a waltz or two.”
  Sor crossed her arms. “Alright,” she said. “You want a quick one-oh-one? I guess giving you a base to work off of wouldn’t hurt.”
  Zebra sat down, cross-legged, on the floor with his back against the entrance. The floor was made of stone, and was both lumpy and cold, and did not make a good seat. “Teach away,” he said, trying to sit still.
  Sor pinched the bridge of her nose. “Right. Okay, well. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess you know very little about magic use.”
  “That may be overestimating things.”
  “Great. So we’ll start with the basics — right now, you have a thing living inside you. That’s a magic, and you can’t cast spells or anything without it.”
  “That’s very weird.”
  She shrugged. “You’re born with it. So, frankly, I think it’s kind of weird that you don’t have one.”
  Zebra closed his eyes and concentrated on his — Sor’s — chest, where he’d last felt the thing moving around. It had calmed down since the switch, but still moved occasionally, crawling down his spine or up his throat. He could feel it now as a weight below his heart. Sleeping, perhaps.
  “How does it fit in there?” he wondered.
  “It’s not a physical thing. It’s sort of existing on top of your organs, like a transparency film. Anyway, so it’s an alive thing, and it has preferences and tastes. It likes some things and doesn’t like others.”
  “Okay,” he said.
  “If you do the thing it likes,” she continued, “the magic will react and release a kind of energy through you and into the world. That energy starts on that same sort of over-layer to our reality, but it’s powerful enough to punch through and change things here.”
  “And that’s a magic spell?”
  Sor pointed a finger-gun at him. “Bingo.”
  “And I’m guessing your magic likes dancing.”
  Another finger-gun. “Another bingo.”
  “What happens if you do something the magic doesn’t like?”
  “Let’s not worry about that right now.”
  He considered. “It sounds dangerous,” he said. “The energy punching through your body. Does it hurt, or anything?”
  “It is dangerous,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt, but that kind of power, shooting through your system with enough force to change reality — it can mess things up. Sometimes for good.”
  “Mess things up how?”
  “Let’s not worry about that, either,” she said, pushing herself off the workbench and crossing to the middle of the room. “Come on. We’ve got work to do.”
  “Is this going to give me a third arm, or something?”
  “You’re in my body, it’s not going to do anything to you. I think.”
  Zebra stood up and winced when his lower back creaked. “I guess,” he said, “I’ll risk a third arm if it gets me back in my own body.”
  “That’s the spirit! Now, we’re going to start with something small and simple, to get you used to this whole magic thing, before we try anything ambitious like a whole-body-transplant.” She took Zebra’s hands and guided him to the centre of the room. There were metal circles embedded in the floor, one of them smaller and in the middle of the other. She let go of him and exited the circles, returning to the workbench.
  “Dance magic is flashy and energetic,” she continued. “It doesn’t like affecting permanent change, which is what we’re going for, so we’re going to have to coax my magic into working with us on that one.”
  “How?”
  “We’ll do a dance it really, really likes, more or less. We’ll also have trouble getting concrete, exact results, so we’ll need to be very careful with the casting. We don’t want to, I don’t know, just kind of launch ourselves out of our bodies and become ghosts.”
  “This is sounding like less and less of a good idea.”
  Sor grinned. “I never said it was a good idea,” she said, bringing a spiral-bound notebook over from the workbench. “Magic is almost always a very bad idea. But do you have any better ones?”
  “I could murder you and hope that undoes every magic you’ve ever done.”
  “I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. If you kill me — or, sadly, if I kill you — we’re stuck like this forever.”
  He huffed. “Well, let’s get on with it, then. What do you want me to do?”
  “Nothing, yet.” Sor stood just outside the circles, leafing through the notebook. “Just stand there and look pretty.”
  “With your face? I’ll try.”
  She produced a stick of lime green chalk and crouched over the space between the circles. She started marking the stones there with round and swirly symbols Zebra didn’t recognise. “You’re just going to make fire,” she said as she moved around the room. “It should be a cakewalk.”
  “What am I setting on fire?”
  “You’re not setting anything on fire, you’re making fire. Ideally it won’t be burning anything, so it’ll go out quickly.”
  “What are you writing?”
  “Training wheels.” She stopped and leaned back to look up at him. “Normally we wouldn’t need these for so simple a spell as this, but since you’re just starting — each of these symbols kind of reinforces what we’re hoping for the magic to do.”
  Zebra frowned. She’d made her way to the other side of the circle, now, and had filled half of it with symbols each a foot apart.
  “That’s a lot of symbols,” he said. “For a simple spell.”
  “Most of these are instructions for what we don’t want the magic to do.” She shrugged. “There are lots of ways for even the simplest magic to go wrong.” She pointed at a series of symbols on the floor. “This one says we want an ordinary fire. This one specifies that we want a small fire. This one will tell the magic that we want to keep the fire inside the ring, where there’s not really anything for it to damage.”
  “Except me.”
  “You’ll be fine.”
  She finished her trek around the room and put the chalk away. She flipped the notebook to a different page and scanned it, chewing on her lower lip.
  Zebra sighed.
  “Okay,” she said. “Take the jacket off, and think about fire.”
  He removed Sor’s jacket, dropping it outside the outer circle. He was left in a tie-dyed tank-top that was not climate-appropriate, given how chilly it was in the stone-walled lab. He was grateful for the instruction to think about fire.
  “What, exactly, should I be thinking about?” he asked, closing his eyes.
  “Absolutely no pink elephants.” There was a ruffle of pages as Sor flipped through her notebook. “Just think of fire, it doesn’t matter the context.”
  He thought about burning Sor’s bookshop to the ground. It would be easy, given all the paper, and maybe he could even lock her inside, first. He thought about standing too close to the flames as they destroyed Sor’s livelihood, the heat threatening to broil his usual, ordinary skin. He thought about the shop toppling as the supports gave way, falling into an explosion of sparks and ash. He thought about the smoke choking him and everyone else on the block, about the fire’s roar masking any cries or screams, about the flames dancing with the joy of boundless, destructive consumption.
  “Good,” she said, startling him out of his reverie. “Now bring that fire to the magic.”
  “What?”
  “Bring the thought of fire to the magic that is inside you.”
  “And how am I supposed to do that?”
  “Just do it or we’ll be here all night.”
  “We’ve already been here all night,” he muttered, but he found the magic still sleeping in his chest and he thought fire at the thing. It stirred, so he figured he must be doing something right.
  Music. Faint, but getting louder. A guitar — two guitars. And a flute.
  “Dance!” Sor snapped.
  Zebra jerked into motion, his eyes still closed. The music had a definite Latin influence, and he fell into a simple tango, the magic almost guiding his steps. It was as though the magic were his dance partner, though it was invisible, intangible, and — he sensed — had far too many legs to be a good dancer.
  It was a good dancer nonetheless. He and the magic fell into a rhythm of give and take as they walked each other around the inner ring.
  A pressure was building in his core, hot and weighty. It grew upwards as he danced, like a tree taken root in his guts, branching out into his lungs.
  He stumbled, and opened his eyes. The metal rings in the floor were glowing, red-hot, then orange, then white, the air above them wavering from the heat.
  Sor clapped. “Focus!”
  Zebra brought his attention back to the magic, and the pressure that had started to dwindle re-grew. It was a rod, now, of heat and power, sitting right in the middle of him. It seemed to grow past him, taking up more of his insides than actually existed, and then it vanished.
  His skull exploded — metaphorically. He was blinded by pain: a sharp, electric pain that filled the inside of his head, replacing everything else in there with panic. He collapsed, and by the time he hit the ground, the pain was gone.
  “Zebra!” Sor, distant, shouting but quiet.
  The music had stopped — or, at least, Zebra couldn’t hear it anymore. There was a scrabbling at the inside of his chest, and he knew that must be Sor’s magic, and that it was panicking, too. But he could barely feel it. He could barely feel anything.
  Sor was next to him, suddenly, and he tried to sit up. She let him.
  “Can you hear me?” she asked, and he nodded.
  “So,” she said, “we may need to revise our previous deadline to ‘lunch.’”

Swap, pt 1

  Sor broke into the pie-shop in the middle of the night.
  She had to use up a vial to do it — one of the cork-stoppered containers filled with someone else’s magic she kept on her person at all times — but there was no avoiding it. The only other option was to wait until the pie-shop was open, and she had a very good reason for not doing that, which she had known earlier (just after performing two medium-sized spells and a small one) but which escaped her memory now.
  She paused just inside the door. Shit, she thought. Was this a bad idea? It was probably a bad idea.
  Someone else’s magic wrapped itself around her fingers, urging her to use the rest of it. The notion that she should maybe leave while she still had all of her limbs was pushed from her mind, and she crouched by the inner front door. The door that led from the shop to Katters’ and Zebra’s home.
  The magic bound and unbound her fingers as it slithered between them, almost playful. It felt like silk — airy and smooth, but its edges caught on her rough hands.
  After listening at the door for what was likely not long enough and hearing nothing important, she touched a finger to the doorknob and mouthed a word of intent. The magic lunged off her hand and into the lock.
  When she tried the door, it opened easily and quietly. The magic would probably hang around for a couple days before dispersing — adopted magic was odd that way. But it wouldn’t cause any trouble, and it was unlikely that either of the homeowners would notice.
  The house was dark, which simultaneously made her more nervous and put her at ease. Katters and Zebra were asleep, then, on the other side of the house, and Sor was free to root through their belongings without them demanding answers to questions like, “What are you doing here at three o’clock in the morning?” and “What are you doing with our things?” and “What is that possibly-radioactive, definitely-dangerous rod you’ve put in Zebra’s bag?”
  On the other hand, it was going to be hard to find Zebra’s bag if she couldn’t see.
  She was crouched so low she was almost on all fours, her beclawed fingers just touching the wooden floorboards in front of her, feeling for any obstacles in her path.
  Sor had human eyes, which was not unusual. She was technically still human, no matter how ket-like she looked, with her long, green ears and the lighter green, scale-like patterns that decorated her skin. She had considered modifying her eyes when she’d first done the ket-ification magic, but she had been afraid of screwing up and doing irreparable damage to herself. Eyes are a complicated organ, and at the time she’d still been relying on her innate dance-magic, which was not very good for small, detailed work.
  So, her eyes were still those of a diurnal species, and she was blind in the dark, windowless house.
  She crept around the living room, keeping close to the wall and trying to summon up a memory of the house interior. The living room, she knew, was just as sparsely decorated as the rest of the house; the only furniture worth noting being a small couch by the single step which marked the boundary into the dining room, and a large chair by the far wall that didn’t quite match the couch. Neither of them would be in her way until she reached the corner and moved on.
  If she were a small, angry man, Sor thought, who was constantly in her way and ruining her plans, who was honestly much too pretentious for his own good, who was always doing ridiculous things like wearing suits, and drinking wine, and talking at length about the so-called “golden age of cinema” as though anyone around him actually cared — if she were an insufferable dickweed, where would she keep her bag?
  Lost in thought, she failed to remember the bookcase in the corner, right next to the chair. She also failed to notice it before walking right into it, and it toppled over, crashing on top of her and spilling books all over the floor. The resulting sound could modestly be described as a ‘racket,’ and if Katters and Zebra hadn’t heard it, they certainly would hear Spike barking an alarm from the kitchen.
  The bedroom door opened, and the kitchen light came on, and Sor spotted the bag, left carelessly on the floor and now covered in a small pile of medical textbooks. She slipped her contraband into it and stepped away — noticing too late that she had left it on top of the pile of books, and hoping that Zebra wouldn’t.
  “Sor?” Katters asked while Zebra put Spike at ease. She crossed the house to the living room, stopping next to the pleather couch.
  “Good morning!” Sor said.
  “What are you doing here at three o’clock in the morning?” Katters asked.
  “Nothing,” Sor said.
  Spike soothed, Zebra followed his roommate to the living room, glaring at the new mess in the corner. “What are you doing with our things?” he demanded, snatching his bag up off the floor.
  “Nothing,” Sor said.
  He pulled out a small, thick stick and brandished it at her.
  “What is that possibly-radioactive, definitely-dangerous rod you’ve put in Zebra’s bag?” Katters asked.
  Sor grinned a wide grin. “It’s nothing!” she said. “Just a, uh, a present. For Zebra. Because I like him so much.”
  Katters shrugged. “I guess that explains that. Let’s go back to sleep, Zeebs.”
  “Are you high?” he asked.
  “No, but I am tired.”
  “What are you really doing here?” he turned to Sor. “What have you done this time?”
  Sor’s grin fixed itself in place. “I told you! It’s a present. Happy, uh, birthday, whenever that is.”
  “Dude, leave it,” Katters said. “She has a crush on you or something, let’s go.”
  Sor and Zebra looked horrified, first at Katters and then each other.
  “I do not!” Sor protested. “It’s strictly a friendly present, there are no romantic overtones involved.”
  “God, I would hope not,” Zebra said, regarding the rod with distaste. It was dark green, made of polished wood, and glowing faintly. “That’s the last thing I need, some crazy, semi-homicidal mutant trying to seduce me. With,” he turned back to Sor. “No, really, what is this?
  “Whatever it is, you probably shouldn’t be touching it,” Katters said.
  “It is perfectly safe to touch,” Sor said, dodging the real question.
  Katters reached for the rod and Sor slapped her hand away. “Except you. You’re not allowed to touch it.”
  Zebra dropped the rod. It did not bounce, thudding against the floor as though it weighed much more than it actually did. Sor jumped back like she thought it was going to explode, and Katters and Zebra took her lead, diving for cover.
  When nothing happened, Zebra gave Sor a most unimpressed look from behind the couch. “Perfectly safe,” he said without inflection, and climbed back into the living room.
  “Hmm,” Sor said. “I’m gonna leave.”
  She turned, but before she could get to the door, Zebra grabbed the collar of her jacket and yanked her back. She slipped on the rod, feet flying out in front of her, and she fell backwards into him. They both collapsed to the floor.
  Katters laughed.
  The rod whined, making a noise which rose in both pitch and volume before escaping the trio’s range of hearing, then dissolved abruptly into a sound like discharging electricity. The rod stopped glowing, and dimmed to a brown-black colour.
  “No, no, no, no, no,” Zebra said, though there was something off about his voice. Like he was speaking from his throat instead of his chest.
  Sor shoved him away, disentangling herself from his limbs. “Get off,” she growled.
  “Oh god,” he said. They both stood, and he continued, delicate fingers pulling at his long hair. “I touched it, oh god. This could not have gone worse.”
  “Wait,” Sor said. She stared at him, confusion marring her features. Her ears twitched erratically, in a way that implied they did not know in what position to stop. “What’s,” she said. “How?”
  Katters covered her mouth, hiding an excited grin. “Oh my god,” she said. “Someone tell me I’m right — tell me what I think happened actually happened.”
  “We switched bodies,” Zebra — or, rather, Sor in Zebra’s body — whined. “This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
  “Which part wasn’t supposed to happen,” Zebra said, “switching bodies, or you switching bodies with me?”
  “Yeah, that second one, that one’s the problem.”
  Zebra shoved Sor into a wall. The impact left her dazed, and he advanced on her before stopping suddenly.
  He looked horrified, a hand clutched to his chest. “What the fuck is that?” he demanded, voice quiet.
  “What?” she asked.
  He jerked back, like someone invisible was tugging at his shoulders. He swatted at his chest. “There’s something—! Inside me—! You—! Something!”
  “Oh, that. It’s just my magic, don’t worry about it.”
  He was not pacified. He took another step back, his face pulled into a grimace and his eyes wide.
  Sor’s magic was a long, slender thing with far too many legs, and its movements always sort of tickled.
  “It’s climbing my ribs!” he howled. “What the fuck!”
  “Well, of course it is, you’re freaking it out.”
  “There shouldn’t be anything in there to freak out! What the fuck is wrong with you?!”
  Katters collapsed onto the couch in hysterics.
  Zebra kept hitting himself in the chest, taking halting, jerky steps backward like he thought he’d be able to walk away from his own — or, Sor’s own — insides. Sor approached him and he started swatting at her, too. She took his forearms and held them, looking up into her own eyes.
  “Stop,” she said. “Listen. I need you to — holy shit, you’re short.”
  He stopped struggling and glared at her. “I am a perfectly respectable height,” he said.
  “Hardly.”
  He took a breath, but still looked like he wanted to rip off all of his skin. No doubt the magic was still agitated, and Sor wondered if it had noticed she wasn’t in there with it anymore. Maybe it was looking for her. Were magics sentient enough for that?
  Zebra pulled his arms out of her grip. “Whatever it is you’re trying to do here,” he said — his voice was still shaky, but his composure was quickly returning to him in the form of indignant contempt. “Teach me a lesson? Whatever, I’ve learned it. Can you do whatever it is you need to do to undo this?”
  “No.”
  “Oh, come on. Surely you want this to be over with just as much as I do.”
  “You have no idea,” Sor looked down at herself and wrinkled Zebra’s nose. “But no, that’s the thing. See, you have my Magic. You need to undo it.”
  “What.”
  Katters howled with laughter.
  “Okay,” he said, ignoring her. “So, what, I say some magic words — ‘What was done, now undo’ and all that — and everything’s fine? We’re done with this nonsense before breakfast?”
  “Ah, well.” Sor kicked Katters’ shin. Katters did not stop laughing, but reigned her outbursts in to a quieter chuckle and drew her legs up onto the couch with the rest of her. Sor continued, “It’s actually more complicated than that, magic is.”
  “I was afraid of that,” he said.
  “Which isn’t to say this can’t all be over before breakfast!” she said, her forced cheer sitting uncomfortably on Zebra’s face. “I mean, it’s complicated, but if we,” she paused. “If we work together,” she let the sentence trail off.
  “Y’all fucked,” Katters said.
  “First things first,” Sor continued, glaring at her. That expression did not feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable. “We’ll have to go to my place — all my supplies and things are there and there’ll need to be some set-up done.”
  “Fine,” Zebra said. “Whatever.”
  “And I don’t know if you have a preference, but I’d rather Katters stay here.”
  “Aw, what?” Katters whined.
  He sighed and waved a hand in her direction. “Katters, go to bed.”
  “Excuse me,” she said, standing. “I’ll have you know, I am not a dog. I don’t take orders from you. From either of you.”
  “Yes,” he said, almost like reciting a line, “comparing you to dogs would be an insult to them. Just go back to bed.”
  “And what if I don’t?”
  “Hon,” Sor started, but stopped when Katters flinched.
  “God,” she said, “don’t do that.”
  “What, talk?”
  “Don’t—” Katters gestured vaguely. “Use endearments right now. Not with his voice.”
  “Oh,” Sor said. “Sorry.”
  “I’ll go,” Katters said. She pointed at Zebra. “But not because you told me to. Only because if I kick your ass now, it’ll hurt Sor later.”
  “And who’s the one with the crush, again?” he asked.
  “I swear to god, Zebra, there is a limit and you are pushing it.”
  “Oh, and what are you going to do about it? Apparently, you can’t hurt me under these conditions.”
  Katters tackled him into the fallen bookcase, biting Sor’s arm hard enough to draw blood.
  “Jesus!” he swatted at her face, trying to push her off, but she had her teeth in deep and no intention of letting go.
  “Oh my god!” Sor grabbed Katters’ ear and yanked — Katters yelped and relinquished the arm. “Will you two knock it off? Can we be civil long enough to fix this? You can kill each other later!”
  “Sorry,” Katters mumbled. She wiped Sor’s blood off her mouth with the back of her hand.
  Zebra stood, looking affronted and dusting Sor’s body off. “You’re right,” he said calmly. Blood ran down Sor’s forearm, gathering at the pinkie finger before dripping onto Katters’ textbooks. “We have a deadline, we should get going.”
  “A deadline?” Sor asked.
  “Yes, before breakfast. If we don’t meet this deadline,” he said, “I’m going to do unspeakable things to your body.”
  Sor laughed. “Don’t even try to threaten me, Zeebs. I have unfettered access to your pretty little face.”
  Zebra paused. “Touché.”

Swap, pt 2 — Preview

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  K. Whimsy’s Books and Et Cetera — Sor’s bookshop — was five stories tall, and topped by a tree growing from the fifth floor balcony. The store looked out of place on the quiet street, surrounded by buildings much shorter than it.
  Zebra leaned Sor’s body against the wall as she searched for a key.
  “Sor,” he said, bored.
  She hushed him. “Keep your commentary to yourself until we get into the lab,” she said. “The last thing I need is one of my employees finding out about this.”
  “Right,” he said, and straightened. “Well, while you’re rummaging through my pockets, I’ll just unlock the door, shall I?”
  Sor froze. “Oh,” she said. “Right. These are your pants.”
  “I would hope so, anyway.” He pulled a keyring from Sor’s jacket: a heavy, crowded thing which looked more at home in a fictional dungeon than the inventory of a bookmonger. He handed it over to her, and she unlocked the door.
  The lights were on, but as far as either of them could tell, the shop was empty. Sor hurried them across the floor, directing them to a nook in one corner of the shop. There, hidden from the rest of the shop by two bookcases full of ornithological guides, was an unremarkable wooden door.
  Sor still had the keyring clutched in Zebra’s lily-like hand. She’d started sorting through it when the shop’s door swung back open, setting off an electronic chime. Sor and Zebra stared at each other, and listened. Something heavy was being dragged across the shop floor.
  “Expecting someone?” Zebra asked, quiet.
  Sor shook her head.
  He leaned out of the nook, looking for the intruder, but she pulled him back in by the arm. “No!” she hissed. “Don’t!”
  “Sor?” a voice, unfamiliar to Zebra, called out, and Sor swore under her breath.
  “It’s Hyde,” she whispered. “You’ve got to get rid of him.”
  “Me?” Zebra squawked, but she shoved him out of the nook without answering. He wound up standing awkwardly out in the open, face to face with the man he had to assume was Hyde.
  Zebra dropped into character quickly, leaning back into an approximation of Sor’s usual relaxed but straight-backed posture. “Good morning!” he said, his voice high and cheerful.
  Hyde didn’t respond at first, looking down a long, thin nose at him. “Good morning,” he replied with an accent Zebra couldn’t place. “Did I hear someone else over there?”
  “Nobody here but us chickens,” Zebra said.
  Hyde had a rumpled look to him, his dress shirt mostly untucked and one sleeve rolled to his elbow. He was standing in front of a large sleeping bag, the bag’s straps in one white-knuckled hand. The bag was full of something that created an irregular, bulbous shape and made the whole thing look very heavy.
  “What’s with the bag?” Zebra asked.
  Hyde’s demeanour went from cool to cold, and he tilted his head to maximise the glare he now directed at Zebra. “I wouldn’t pry,” he said. He paused, his expression turning thoughtful as his gaze darted up and down Zebra’s stolen body. “Not unless you want me to do some prying of my own,” he said, finally. “Whoever you are.”
  “Not Superman, that’s for sure,” Zebra said, and adjusted Sor’s glasses. He returned Hyde’s once-over, taking in Hyde’s polished boots and pressed slacks. Zebra lowered his voice to a mock whisper, “You won’t be spreading any rumours, will you?”
  Hyde raised an eyebrow, something that might have been a smile playing around his lips. He gave the sleeping bag some slack and took a step toward Zebra. “You have all the discretion,” he said, “that is mine to give.”
  “That could come in very handy.”
  They stood like that for a moment before Zebra remembered his lamentable situation.
  “It has been an intriguing pleasure,” he said, taking a step back. “And perhaps one that can be repeated.”
  “You know where to find me.”
  “Or where to start looking, at least.”
  Hyde did smile at that. He reigned the bag’s strap back in, taking it in two hands, and Zebra watched as he dragged it to a different shop corner. He disappeared behind a bookshelf, and Zebra retreated back to the nook in which Sor was hiding.

Swap, p1 – Preview

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  Sor broke into the pie-shop in the middle of the night.
  She had to use up a vial to do it — one of the cork-stoppered containers filled with someone else’s magic she kept on her person at all times — but there was no avoiding it. The only other option was to wait until the pie-shop was open, and she had a very good reason for not doing that, which she had known earlier (just after performing two medium-sized spells and a small one) but which escaped her memory now.
  She paused just inside the door. Shit, she thought. Was this a bad idea? It was probably a bad idea.
  Someone else’s magic wrapped itself around her fingers, urging her to use the rest of it. The notion that she should maybe leave while she still had all of her limbs was pushed from her mind, and she crouched by the inner front door. The door that led from the shop to Katters’ and Zebra’s home.
  The magic bound and unbound her fingers as it slithered between them, almost playful. It felt like silk — airy and smooth, but its edges caught on her rough hands.
  After listening at the door for what was likely not long enough and hearing nothing important, she touched a finger to the doorknob and mouthed a word of intent. The magic lunged off her hand and into the lock.
  When she tried the door, it opened easily and quietly. The magic would probably hang around for a couple days before dispersing — adopted magic was odd that way. But it wouldn’t cause any trouble, and it was unlikely that either of the homeowners would notice.
  The house was dark, which simultaneously made her more nervous and put her at ease. Katters and Zebra were asleep, then, on the other side of the house, and Sor was free to root through their belongings without them demanding answers to questions like, “What are you doing here at three o’clock in the morning?” and “What are you doing with our things?” and “What is that possibly-radioactive, definitely-dangerous rod you’ve put in Zebra’s bag?”
  On the other hand, it was going to be hard to find Zebra’s bag if she couldn’t see.
  She was crouched so low she was almost on all fours, her beclawed fingers just touching the wooden floorboards in front of her, feeling for any obstacles in her path.
  Sor had human eyes, which was not unusual. She was technically still human, no matter how ket-like she looked, with her long, green ears and the lighter green, scale-like patterns that decorated her skin. She had considered modifying her eyes when she’d first done the ket-ification magic, but she had been afraid of screwing up and doing irreparable damage to herself. Eyes are a complicated organ, and at the time she’d still been relying on her innate dance-magic, which was not very good for small, detailed work.
  So, her eyes were still those of a diurnal species, and she was blind in the dark, windowless house…

Werewolves

Lycanthropy is a genetic disorder — werewolves are born, not made. Humans with the condition transform into wolf-like beasts when under extreme stress or when feeling overwhelming emotions. Their first change, usually occurring at some point during their teenage years, will invariably happen at night, during a full moon, but any subsequent changes can occur at any time. Transformation comes easier the closer it is to a full moon, and hardest during a new moon.

When fully transformed, most werewolves resemble a very large but otherwise ordinary wolf. With practice, they can maintain a more anthropomorphised form midway between human and wolf, but holding at this point creates enormous strain, and so no one can maintain it for very long.

Also with practice, a werewolf can learn to resist the transformation entirely, and many werewolves live normal, human lives.

As wolves, werewolves do not possess the full mental capacity of a human, but are generally smarter than ordinary wolves.

In the city, most werewolves create small packs of three or four wolves. The members of these packs support each other and help each other learn how to control their “beast”, and how to control the transformations. Some packs are larger, and will seek out newly transformed werewolves during full moons to educate them on their condition. Elsewhere, it is more common for werewolves to stick to themselves.

Silver is dangerous to werewolves, but does not weaken or harm them — rather, silver will often force a werewolf to transform into their wolf form, and it will occasionally grant a werewolf greater strength than they would normally have.

 

(reference, from. Please forgive the stupid looking feet, they’re still under construction.)

A similar condition exists in kets, though they do not transform into wolves. Their animal form is more akin to a large monitor lizard, similar to an animal that exists on Khurris, to which kets are native. Ket culture has it that these “werewolves” are touched by the First Hunter, one of their nine or ten gods. Aside from the animal the transformed werewolf resembles, the condition is identical in both species.

 

Rumour has it that a third form of the condition exists in culacians, but this has never been verified.

Ninth Time’s the Charm, an excerpt

SCENE 5

(Kyle’s bedroom. We cannot yet see the dining table in the background, but it’s there. KYLE is sitting on the edge of his bed, in pajamas. A repeat of the previous, thoughtful moment, then Kyle stands.)

KYLE
Nah. It’ll work out.

(He climbs into bed, tries to sleep. After yet another moment, he sits up.)

KYLE

(Less sure.)

Everything’ll be fine. This is just, just pre-wedding jitters. Old news. We’ve done this before and it … It’s always worked out … fine.

(YOUNG KYLE lights a candle on the dining table, and then the stage lights illuminate the scene. YOUNG KYLE is preparing a romantic dinner, a little harried, but excited. Soon, ASTER enters the apartment, also excited.)

YOUNG KYLE
Hi, honey!

ASTER
Kyle! I’ve got-

(She notices the romantic set-up.)

Oh. Oh, yeah.

YOUNG KYLE
What is it?

ASTER
Hmm? Nothing! I just remembered something, is all. Look at this!

(She’s indicating the dinner et al. Young Kyle grins.)

YOUNG KYLE
Yeah. Happy Valentine’s Day! I thought a little dinner would be nice, and then I got a little carried away.

(A timer dings.)

YOUNG KYLE
The roast! I’ll get it. Tell me about your day? How was the spaceflight center?

ASTER
Oh, it was a day. What about yours? You didn’t spend all day on this, did you?

YOUNG KYLE
Nah, only most of it. You don’t want to hear about the office again, though, it’s all just the same old, same old. Meetings about meetings and reports about reports.

(Young Kyle is setting the food on the table, now, getting ready to eat. Aster has been hovering by the door the whole time.)

YOUNG KYLE
Seriously, is everything okay?

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Tabletop SnowRPG — Fuck Classes

Not classes for or on or about fucking. Just, you know, screw classes. Who needs ’em?

I’ve decided to get rid of the class system — mostly. You can still build your character toward a class archtype, of course, and I’ll be including some archtypes as examples in the character creation instructions. And, later in the game, I’m thinking you’ll be able to take up a “reputation” that’ll work sort of like prestige classes. As in, you’ll be able to take up a “class” or something like it once your stats are high enough to allow you to take that class.

But at the start of the game, you won’t be picking a class. You’ll just be sticking your stats where you want them to be to be able to play the character you want to play — want to be a fighter? Put your stats in toughness and raw strength. Gunslinger? Stats go into proficiency: firearms. Rogue? Dexterity. And so on.

Like I said, you can earn a reputation as a kick-ass gunslinger later on, which will put bonuses into appropriate stats, and people will start recognising you as the expert marksman that you are. But there’s no need to lock yourself into a class at the very start of the game.

So, character creation. Here’s the process, as it stands right now.

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Tabletop SnowRPG — Classes

The next step is working out character classes, and I’ll probably work within a system of subclasses for this, too. The player won’t have to pick a base class, of course, but all of the classes will be organised within a set of types.

So, you can play one of a set of classes within the class type magic-user, as an example.

Very likely the classes will actually be organised by their reliance on base stat — so there’ll be a set of classes in the brains category, a set of classes in the brawn category, and a set of classes in the charm category. And then the aforementioned magic classes.

In many RPG systems, the classes are treated as the character’s career, what the character does with their life. Their job is thief, or fighter, or barbarian, or cleric, and so on. Snowtown, however, is a modern, semi-realistic setting. It’s much more likely that your character will be a paper-pusher, or a plumber, or an office intern than a barbarian — or even a more exciting interpretation like a “gangster” or what-have-you. So the classes will be less a career choice, and more a representation of how your character handles problems.

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