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 decorate 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 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 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 fix 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 fix 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 trailed 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 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.”

 

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