Tony’s plans have gone way off script, and now a magical mishap puts more than just his plans in danger. The finale to Operation Field Trip.
Operation Field Trip
Tony groaned as he came too after the flash of magic. Last thing he remembered was losing control of a spell… He must have blacked out after the thing went wild. That wasn’t a good sign. Still, if the worst that had happened was that he was knocked unconscious, then he had gotten off easy. Well, he supposed he should get to seeing how big of a mess he was in. But first… He had to figure out where he was. As well as what he was.
He was somewhere completely dark, with something soft and light piled on top of him. Not only did it block out the sun, but seemed to stretch in every direction. Ah, he had experienced this before. Tony reached out what may have been a hand, or may have been a paw and pushed at the ceiling and walls around him. It was fabric. That was why it was so familiar. He was currently inside one of his own articles of clothing. It was a situation he had found himself in a number of times during magic practice with Kickaha, or on occasions when he had neglected to disrobe before transforming. Well… This might actually be a good sign. He was aiming for small rabbits. He just had to get out from his shirt or pants or whatever he was stuck in and find out what happened to the rest of the class.
Tony squirmed in different directions beneath his own clothes looking for an exit. It didn’t take long, as he found himself coming out a very short leg of fabric. As he emerged back into the forest and light returned to the world, he glanced back to see what he had been stuck under. It was a giant pair of dark green colored boxers. Of course it would have been his underwear. Ugggh. At least he had worn clean underwear today. That was important. You never knew when you’d find yourself shrunken into your own clothing, and it was a much worse experience if things were dirty.
Now that Tony was getting his bearings, a very important fact occurred to him. Able to be lost completely within his own boxers, grass blades that now went over his head, trees that looked like skyscrapers? He was way too small to be a rabbit. He looked down at his hands, noticing a distinct lack of fur on them. Instead, the brown fur started at his wrists. That wasn’t right. Tony quickly looked over his shoulders to confirm his suspicions. Coming from his backside he could see a long pink tail barren of fur.
He was a mouse.
Okay, this wasn’t what he wanted, but he could work with it. If he had gotten the entire class, that would at least mean he had succeeded in shrinking them out of their clothing to avoid destroying said attire. He would have preferred rabbits, as they weren’t quite this small, but this would still get the point across. After all, his end goal was just to make them aware of the magical nature of the world and share it with them.
Without having it traced back to him, of course.
Sure, the world would be a bit bigger now, maybe a bit more dangerous… But he still had one spell left in reserve, and as long as he kept everyone together he’d be fine. It was time to get moving.
“Squeak.” Tony spoke to himself, trying to psyche himself up. Except… Wait… That wasn’t right. “Squeak squeak?” Could… Could he not talk? “Squeaaak squeak squeak squeak!” It would seem that he could not.
That was a setback. He’d have to figure out how to communicate nonverbally. He’d figure it out as he went. He quickly stood up on his hind legs, prepared to march towards where the class should be, and promptly fell back down onto all fours.
He was a quadruped.
“SQUEEAAAAAAAAAAAAK!” Tony shouted in frustration. He could work with being a mouse. He could work with being unable to talk. But all of this? It ruined the entire point of the plan. How was Tony supposed to prove to his former teacher that talking animals that walk on two legs, served tea and sat houses exist if all of them were stuck as animals that could neither talk or walk upright!? It was impossible! Wait? Was it?
If the human spell was broken on Grizz, he’d go back to his normal bear form, and that could be used to prove the point. Plus, as an added bonus Tony was pretty sure that any predators lurking about would be hesitant to hunt a class of mice under a giant grizzly’s protection. Alright, he had a plan it was time to get moving and-
-And that wasn’t Tony who squeaked just now. He glanced around the area, but was unable to see much thanks to the grass towering above his head. Well, this wasn’t his first time being a mouse, though it was a form he didn’t take very often. For some reason, Kickaha seemed to loathe the form, and so lessons on mousehood had been somewhat lacking. Still, Tony had enough experience to know what to do. He quickly searched around in the grass till he found where the rest of his clothing was… And more importantly his backpack. Scaling up the side of his bag he was able to get a vantage above the grass so he could see the area around him. Not far away he could see several piles of clothing. That would be where the class and his teacher were. Good, it was only a few feet away, a short enough distance even at this size now that he knew which direction to go.
As he glanced around to ensure there wasn’t anything else around he needed to worry about, his gaze fell onto a second empty set of clothes on the ground. They were very close to his, in fact inches apart. If Tony had turned left instead of right when running across his shirt he would have seen them earlier. Those clothes… They were what that girl was wearing! The one who caught him casting the spell! That other squeak he had heard likely came from her. She was going to be a problem. She knew Tony had done this, and as soon as they changed back to normal she could easily tell everyone. It’d make things a lot easier for Tony if he just left her there and ran off to rejoin the rest of the class.
But he was also pretty sure that would a jerk move. And, he was pretty sure Kickaha would have more than a few words with him if he did. Plus, even if the previous two didn’t apply, he was absolutely sure his own conscience wasn’t going to let him leave a scared little girl stuck in the form of a mouse in the middle of the woods by herself. Well… Maybe he could bribe her to stay quiet… Or maybe no one would believe her if she did blab. Those were things for Future Tony to figure out. Right now, he had work to do.
Tony quickly scrambled down from the backpack and into the safety off the grass. First rule of being this small… avoid open spaces. One of the biggest threats wasn’t the predators that lived in the forest, but the ones that soared above it. A fox or a bobcat, Tony could survive that. He might have to blow his last spell but he could handle the situation. A falcon? It’d be over before he ever knew what had happened.
The first piece of the girl’s clothing Tony reached was her sweater. He began to sniff around seeing if he could pick up her scent. Of course her entire sweater smelled like her, but learning her scent would help him track her if she wasn’t still here. Tony climbed around the sweater for a few seconds, pressing his paws down lightly against random wrinkles to see if there was anything solid beneath it. It became obvious she wasn’t here quickly, so he moved on, getting to her jeans next. Again… No mouse there. Maybe her shoes… But Tony found the idea of climbing into a shoe mildly discomforting. He decided to check if there was a scent trail going away from the clothing first.
There was, and it didn’t take long to find. It started near her jeans and went off in the opposite direction from where the class had been. That wasn’t good. When the transformation had occurred she must have freaked out and just took off running through the grass. Her panic was understandable, but rather inconvenient.
“Squeak!” The foreign squeak sounded in Tony’s ears again. It was coming from the same direction the scent trail went. Well, at least he knew she was alive.
Tony quickly sprinted through the grass, moving as fast as he could as he followed the girl’s scent. Eventually, he found it went right through a thorny thicket and into an area overrun with enormous weeds. She had gone to better cover, it showed good instincts.
Tony crawled through the thicket, careful to avoid the thorns as he tried to think on how to get the girl back with the rest of the class. If she recognized him she might not trust him given he was responsible for this. And of course he couldn’t talk. He thought about the various pieces of advice Kickaha had given him on what to do when magical pranks went wrong. Really, there were only two.
- Get creative. An outside-the-box solution will often work better than the practical one when it comes to magic.
- Run away as fast as your legs can carry you. If you have no legs, improvise.
Well, number two was off the table, so it looked like it was time to try creative solutions. However, as Tony emerged from the other side of the thicket, all thoughts were chased from his head by the sight before him. He had found the girl.
She wasn’t panicking at all! Didn’t even look remotely scared! Instead, Tony found the female mouse enjoying herself. She was climbing up dandelions and whipping them with her tail to get the seeds flying. Then she would leap from the top of the weed, grasping for the seeds with her mouth. She would land on her back, stand up and shake herself off, and then spit out any seeds she had caught and run up another dandelion.
WAS SHE CRAZY!? Jumping up into the open like that! She might as well put up a FREE BUFFET sign for every predator within a ten-mile radius! Tony ran after her, squeaking furiously to get her attention.
After landing on her back again, the girl looked over at Tony, clearly confused as to why he was so upset. She rolled over and sat up on her hind paws, tilted her head and gave a short “Squeak?”
“Squeak! Squeak squeak squeak!” There was no way for anyone to tell what Tony was actually saying, but if someone could translate it would have likely been something like: ‘Keep your head below the grass! Are you trying to get eaten?’
“Squeak! Squeak squeak.” The girl, unable to understand Tony was having a different conversation. What she meant was ‘This is amazing! Look how big everything is!’
“Squeeeak! Squeak squeeeak!” Tony tried to explain that ‘We need to get back with the rest of the class. There’s safety in numbers.’
“Squeak squeak… Squeak squeak! Squeak?” The girl tried to respond ‘It was a bit shocking at first… But then I learned how fun exploring as a mouse was. Are you the one who did this?’
“Squeak! Squeak squeak!” Tony, exasperated, wanted to tell her ‘I can fix this when everyone is together! But I’ve only got one shot, so I need everyone in one place!”
“Squeak!” And to this, the girl nodded, and turned around intending to resume her game.
“Squeeeeak!” Tony bit down on her tail before she could get away, and tried dragging her in the direction of the classroom.
“Squeak?” The girl sounded annoyed, and couldn’t figure out what he was trying to do. The whole unable-to-use-words thing was making this really hard.
Wait… He could use words, he just couldn’t vocalize them. Tony could slap himself for missing the obvious solution. He quickly used his paw to start writing letters in the dirt. He spelled out his name ‘Tony’, and drew an arrow pointing at him. The girl watched him curiously for a moment, and then became more attentive once she realized what he was doing. After he finished his own name, she looked at it, then started to copy it, writing her own name in the dirt. ‘Sophia.’
Now Tony could try to explain the urgency of the situation. However, writing in the dirt like this took time, and he was concerned about the other students. He’d just have to be as quick as possible, it would mean having atrocious grammar… But hey this wasn’t a language arts field trip anyway.
‘Stay in grass. Predators.’
Sophia’s eyes widened at that. She clearly hadn’t considered how vulnerable she was being this small. Now she was watching Tony with a sense of urgency as he continued to write.
‘Need stick together. Class.’ And then Tony drew an arrow after the word class in the direction they needed to go.
Sophia studied the message, tilted her head for a moment, and gave a weary sigh. Then, she took a few steps back in the direction of the thicket. Alright, it looked like she was going to cooperate. Honestly, it had gone a lot better than Tony would have expected. At least she wasn’t scared. Still, to run off like that because she was having fun! Well-
Well, that made her not that different from Tony. He hadn’t exactly been displeased the first time Kickaha turned him into a fox. Surprised, sure. But it had been one of the most enjoyable experiences of his life. However, he had been able to talk and had thumbs during that experience! He also hadn’t been reduced to snack size! It was completely different!
Tony and Sophia worked their way back through the thicket, and back to where their clothes lay discarded. Sophia paused as she stared at her own sweater, marveling at the fact what looked like a meadow of cotton had once fit her. Tony nipped her ear to get her attention and gestured his head in the direction the classroom was. She snapped back to attention, nodded to him and the two continued. It only took about a minute to reach the mass of scattered clothes where the rest of the class had been transformed.
At this point, Tony had decided it was best to abandon the operation. He’d use his last spell to change everyone back to normal. Considering how wrong things had already gone, he judged it too risky to try to cast the spell again to make them into rabbits. Plus, he wasn’t 100% sure how long the mouse spell would last… And if he did the rabbit spell on top of it, when that one wore off would they turn back into mice, or back into humans? There were too many unknowns. Best to just use his last spell to break the enchantment and change everyone back to their proper forms. And now that he had gotten Sophia and everyone was here he could do just that! He just had to make sure he hit this entire clearing with his spell so that he got everyone. Should be easy, aside from the abandoned clothing there wasn’t anything here to obscure his view and-
Wait, there was nothing here. Where were the kids? Where was Mrs. Rattlebag? Where was Grizz? Everyone was missing. Every last student had run off somewhere. What was wrong with them!? Didn’t they know to stick together during a crisis like this! Tony slapped a paw to his face. He supposed he couldn’t be upset considering the situation. He couldn’t expect anyone to be in the right frame of mind and think clearly right after their transformation. After all, he had expected and accounted for panic in his initial plan. But of course, calming everyone down required him to have actually been conscious after the spell went off.
Tony began to sniff around the clearing so he could identify the scents of everyone who had been here. The bad news was that there were multiple trails going off in different directions. The good news was that though there were three trails total, all of them were filled with mixed scents. No one was alone.
There were eighteen second-grade students total on this trip. Minus Sophia meant seventeen students missing, plus Grizz and Mrs. Rattlebag. Nineteen people total to find. The problem was Tony couldn’t differentiate most of the scents from each other. Too many piles of clothing stacked close to each other, too many people moving in groups. He couldn’t tell which scent was his teacher’s, and which was the other students. He could identify one scent at least, due to already being familiar with it. Grizz. The bear had gone off towards the north, and there was one other scent with it. So there were two in that direction. Tony would pursue that trail last. Grizz had been both a mouse and this small before… In fact he had been a lot smaller. He knew how to take care of himself, and whoever was with him was likely safe. That left the other two trails.
One trail only had about five different scents going away from it. That one went west from the clearing. The other had so many overlapping scents it made it impossible for Tony to get a definite count. However, as there was no fourth trail leading off Tony figured it was safe to assume all twelve of the remaining students had gone east. Alright, he had picked up the trails and had a plan now. He’d go for the smallest group without Grizz first, as he figured they were the most vulnerable. Then the big group, and finally Grizz. It was time to get moving.
Sophia didn’t need an explanation of what was going on. She could see for herself that all the students were gone. And it didn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to realize what Tony was doing as he sniffed around everyone’s clothing. As a result, when he nodded to her and jerked his head in a direction away from the forest, it took no prodding for her to come along. She still didn’t seem to realize how bad the situation was, as there was an actual skip to her step as she walked along with Tony. She was experimenting with how her body could move, delighting at how dexterous she was like this. It really did remind Tony of his first visit to the woods. It was a shame he couldn’t find a tennis ball; he’d love to see how she reacted. Then again, the Spherical Mouse Simulator probably wasn’t as effective with rodent instincts.
It didn’t take long to follow the first trail. The scent led all the way to a large pine tree, and then ended. Well, ‘ended’ may not be right — it was overpowered by the scent of pine. However, as there wasn’t a trail going away from the tree, and no one hiding around the roots, Tony was fairly certain the students were up in the tree. They must have decided that they’d be safer up off the ground. It wasn’t a terrible idea as long as they stayed hidden among the leaves. As Tony looked up and didn’t see them, it was likely they were doing just that.
“Squeak!” Tony gestured his head upwards as he placed his forepaws on the tree trunk. Using his tiny claws he started his ascent. Sophia took slightly longer to get started. She stared upward at the tree and looked slightly nervous at how tall it appeared. She slowly placed her forepaws on the trunk and felt around till she hooked her claws on bark.Graduallly, she climbed a few steps upward, then paused and looked down at her hind legs. She climbed a few more steps, this time a little quicker, then looked down at her legs again. Her posture changed, showing more confidence, as she then began to climb faster and faster, until she was running straight up the tree. She could climb almost as fast as Tony. She was a natural at this.
This amused Tony as he thought back to how he had found her playing in the weeds. A bit more sense about the woods worked and she’d probably make it pretty good as a mouse. It made him wonder how she’d take to other forms. Was she just naturally good as a mouse, small animals in general, or would she adapt to all forms that quickly? It was likely closer to the first one. After all, Tony had a knack for vulpine and canine transformations himself, and Kickaha had taught him many people can adapt to some forms faster than others.
Tony reached the lowest branch and climbed atop it. He glanced around, but saw no other mice hiding among the leaves here. Looks like he had to go up further. He glanced skyward, looking at how many branches there were. It’d take some time for him to search all of them. But of course he wasn’t alone.
“Squeak squeak!” Tony sat up on his hind paws while he tried to get Sophia’s attention. He gestured at himself with his forepaws, and pointed upward at the branches on the right side of the tree. Then he gestured at her and indicted the left side. She understood immediately, nodded and shot further up the trunk without hesitation.
She was actually going to be a pretty big help here. Tony realized he might be lucky to have run into her when he did. Wait! No he wasn’t! It was her fault he had lost control of the spell! If she hadn’t surprised him they’d all be humanoid bunnies right now, sipping tea and enjoying some delicious hazelnuts with the local squirrels.
Except, Tony knew that wasn’t true. He had lost his focus. A more talented caster would have kept it under control. He also hadn’t checked his surroundings before he started. The blame for this was all on him… But it’s never easy to address your own mistakes.
Tony scrambled from branch to branch looking for the missing mice. It was taking a while; they must have gone really high up. He was starting to approach the very top of the tree when he suddenly heard Sophia.
“SQUEEEAK!” Sophia was being as loud as she could, but there was no fear or urgency in the noise. She was just trying to get his attention. Had she found them? Tony ran across the branch he was on, leaped to another and worked his way around the tree to her side. Sure enough, there she was, with five shy looking mice right behind her.
“Squeak!” Tony felt immediate relief upon seeing all five of the scents he had identified still alive and well. The other mice were currently perched out on the edge of the branch at a spot the leaves were especially thick. They eyed Sophia and Tony uncertainly, clearly nervous. Tony sat up on his hind legs and beckoned to them with his paws. They didn’t move. He’d need to find some way to talk to them… But it wasn’t like digging in the dirt up here was an option. He placed a paw on the bottom of his muzzle as he tried to think. There had to be something he could use. There wasn’t much up here though except for twigs and leaves. Well, he had to work with what he had.
Getting an idea, Tony fell back down onto all fours, stretched out and bit onto a leaf pulling it off. Then he sat it down on the tree trunk, before grabbing another and setting it at a ninety degree angle to the first’s tip. Pine needles were short and stiff. This meant it was easy to set them out in straight lines, and he could use those lines to make words. Three more needles and he had an S. Well, it looked more like a 5 on a calculator, but when he spelt out the rest of the word they’d get it.
Sophia picked up on what Tony was doing, though she didn’t know what he was spelling. But she still found a way to help. She started to gather the pine needles for Tony, biting two or three off a leaf at a time, and would pile them up next to Tony. This let him work much faster, as now all he had to do was spell out the words. In the end, it was a little stiff, but the message he spelled out was clear.
Tony patted his paw atop the letter he had spelt out, then walked towards the trunk and nodded his head towards it. The other mice stared at the word for a moment. However, once they realized Tony was specifically here to help they got moving. For them, they felt safer just knowing that there was someone who seemed to know what to do. They did pause at the trunk, unsure of how to climb down. Seeing them frozen, Tony climbed back up, and then started to climb down again, but this time with slow exaggerated movements. He showed them how to go down, by going backwards, tail facing the ground. He would hook his hind claws onto a piece of bark, then lower his forepaws and catch another piece with those claws. He then looked up to see if they had got it.
One of the mice made a move. He was shaking as he hooked his foreclaws onto the trunk. But as he slowly started to go down, he realized he wasn’t falling to his doom and moved a bit more calmly and steadily. He wasn’t going fast, but he was making his way down. The others followed shortly after that. Sophia came down last. This surprised Tony, as he expected her to race down. Instead, he saw her constantly jumping down to a lower branch. She’d observe the other five mice for a few seconds, then quickly make her way down to a lower branch. What was she doing?
Tony didn’t have time to figure it out, as he heard frantic squeaking from one of the students. They were pulling on their paw which refused to come off the tree. Their claws were stuck! All they’d have to do is raise their paw slightly and then pull, but they were panicking and not thinking, just tugging on their paw as hard as possible. Tony started his way back up to help, but the mouse pulled too hard. They ripped bark out from the tree freeing their claws, but the momentum carried them further back, costing them their grip as they started to fall towards Earth with a terrified squeak.
And then promptly froze floating in place.
It took even Tony a moment to realize what happened. Sophia was currently perched on a branch nearby the mouse with their tail firmly held in her mouth. She had caught them before they could fall. Relief and realization swept over Tony. That was why she was going down so slow. She was keeping pace with the other mice in case any of them fell. If she hadn’t been here… Tony tried not to think about it. Sophia pulled the terrified mouse up onto the branch, gave them a pat on the head and helped them get back onto the tree trunk. Meanwhile, Tony climbed upward so he could join Sonia in keeping pace with the less experienced mice in case any fell again. Working together, they were able to get all five of them back to the ground without any further incidents.
“Squeak squeak!” Tony called out to get everyone’s attention as he started back to the clearing where everyone had been transformed. Once they were all there it was easier to communicate since he could write in the dirt again. He gathered everyone near the center and began to write.
‘Stay here. Hide in grass. Be back soon.’
It was clear they didn’t like being left alone. But they obeyed, each of them crouching down in a patch of grass, keeping their body as low to the ground as possible.
Five down. Fourteen to go. Once they were all back Tony would be able to cast his spell. So… Next up, was the big group.
Tony set out again, Sophia at his side. Rescuing the first group hadn’t taken long so the trail was still pretty fresh. Even if they were still moving it shouldn’t take them long to catch up if they hustled. Tony just really hoped they stuck together and didn’t split up further down the line.
It took longer to reach the end of this scent trail, but when Tony did he saw the group immediately. They too had chosen to hide in a tree, this time a massive oak. However, instead of climbing it, they were hidden beneath the tree’s roots, tightly packed in as far as possible. Every single one of them was trembling. Apparently, this group was taking the change exceptionally badly. Tony really did feel terrible about it… But he would have to beat himself up over it later. Right now he needed to guide them back. Once he could verify all twelve were there he’d lead them back.
To reach the tree, Tony was going to have to pass through an open space barren of grass. He approached the edge of the grass and slowly stuck his head out and sniffed around. Not sensing any danger he walked out-
And suddenly felt a sharp pain in his tail as he was pulled back into the grass. It was Sophia! She was dragging him by the tail.
“Squeak!?” Tony gave Sophia an annoyed look, but then froze when he noticed her whiskers quivering. She let go of Tony and slowly approached the edge of the grass. She crouched down and stared into the distance past the tree. Tony wasn’t sure what she was doing, but he figured maybe she had seen something. He came up and crouched next to, scanning the spot she was staring at trying to find what it was. There didn’t seem to be anything at all out there. But, Sophia kept perfectly still, except for her still quivering whiskers and continued to stare. Tony strained his eyes trying to see if he had missed anything.
And then his heart skipped a beat.
It was almost as if it was invisible. In fact, had it not been for the sunlight that made it through the tree canopy it practically would have been. But, when the light caught its eyes at the right angle there was a small glint, and that flash of light revealed the creature to Tony. Now that he knew what it was, he could slowly trace its shape.
It was a fox.
The fox was a good reminder that mice weren’t the only things that could hide themselves among the grass. The massive predator was crouched perfectly still, its eyes focused on the oak tree. It blended right in with the vegetation and was now patiently waiting for its prey to make a move. Tony turned his attention back to the students. He suddenly understood why they looked so terrified. They themselves were glancing around the area, and constantly trying to push themselves further back beneath the roots. Most likely, they had encountered the fox and managed to find some safety squirming far enough beneath the tree that neither paw nor maw could reach them. Judging by how frantically they were looking around, they hadn’t found where the fox was hiding. Tony could only imagine it. Suddenly, an enormous predator the size of a house shows up before them without warning, nearly devours them, and then disappears without a trace. Now, there was no way to tell if it was really gone or simply waiting in ambush and-
Tony had a sickening thought. He couldn’t make out how many mice were hiding amongst the trees. What if the fox had gotten a few already? He felt his stomach turn at the possibility he might now be responsible for the loss of life. No, he couldn’t jump to conclusions. Right now he needed to focus on a solution. He looked to Sophia to see if she had come up with any plans. She was still sitting there, still as possible. To think, she had managed to sense the fox’s presence even before him. She really was a natural at mice.
But how to deal with the fox? A simple shrinking spell, and it’d be just as small as them and easy to chase off. But it was his last one and he still wasn’t sure if the mouse spell was going to wear off. He needed it to make everyone human. Could he maybe do that here? Bring the other mice here and change them all back without them having to get past the fox? But that would imply leaving the students here, and no doubt one would eventually be brave enough to try to come out.
He had to deal with this now. A straight up physical confrontation was out of the question. There was no way he could take the fox. He was going to have to outwit it, draw it away from the students. And unfortunately, he only knew of one thing that would get the fox’s attention away. Another easy meal.
“Squeak.” Tony vocalized as quietly as he could and backed up further into the grass. He then began to write his plan out in the dirt.
‘Going to lure it away. Be ready. Get them out.’
Sophia looked to him with concern in her eyes, but also determination. She moved back towards the edge of the grass, ready to spring into action the second she needed to.
Tony swallowed nervously. One mistake and well… Disappointing his mentor would be the least of his concerns. He took a deep breath and slowly repeated a mantra in his head.
‘You can always outwit what you cannot fight.’
The fox was a normal fox, not a civilized one like the foxes back in the woods near his home. It would act purely on instinct, no thinking. Tony had to rely on that. He continued to repeat his mantra in his head as he began to circle his way around the tree. He wanted to be as far away from Sophia as possible when he revealed himself. If the fox was able to see her, or the other mice coming out of the roots, no doubt it’d go for the bigger meal.
After a few minutes, Tony had circled around as far as he could without leaving the safety of the grass. He stuck his head out from the grass just a little. He couldn’t see Sophia or the other mice from here. This would work. It was time. Tony felt himself shaking. He was actually scared. He continued to repeat his mantra. He couldn’t let fear overtake him. The only way out of this was a clear mind.
Rather than go out into the clearing, Tony kept in the grass so he’d have a bigger head start on the fox. He climbed to the top of a sturdy-looking flower. Once the top half of his body was out in the open he began to make as much noise as possible.
“SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAK!” Tony squealed. The fox reacted. It didn’t emerge from hiding, but he saw its head move. It had heard him… And… Those glinting orange eyes were now staring at him. He had the fox’s attention. It was studying him. No doubt the fox was confused as to why a random mouse would reveal itself. Too bad it wasn’t capable of complex thought, or it might have understood what a diversion was. “SQUEAAK! SQUEEEAK! SQUEEEAK!” Tony continued to screech. The fox continued to watch, and then it made its choice.
Tony barely registered the fox had moved before it had already closed half the distance. At first it was perfectly still, and then it was running full speed, charging right at him. Tony leaped from the flower and took off running through the grass. The fox had already identified him, and no doubt could hear his movements. Just in case, he continued to squeak, wanting to make sure the fox followed him and didn’t turn around.
He could hear its paws slamming against the Earth as it was getting closer. Okay, it was time for that part where he outfoxes the fox. He… Probably really should have figured out how he was going to do that part before getting its attention.
As Tony ran, he chose a path that led through a thicker underbrush. It wouldn’t stop the fox, but it might at least slow it down. Of course, that only bought him a little more time. It wasn’t like a bush was going to take the thing out for him.
Or… Could it? Tony remembered the thorny thicket he had crawled through to find Sophia. Could he lead the fox all the way back there? No, he’d be caught before then… And it would take him far too close to where the other students were hiding. But there was no way it was the only source of thorns in the forest. Tony kept his eyes alert as he ran, taking in every bush, fern, any plant that might be helpful. Finally, he saw one. A thorn-covered bush about three feet tall. It was a good thing too, his legs were getting tired.
And the fox was right behind him. He didn’t have to track it by the sound of its paws, he could now see it, the grass parting before it like the Red Sea as it closed the distance. Okay, time for that clever part. Tony dove into the bush, and as he did bit down on a branch pulling it inwards into the bush. After landing nestled among the leaves, he began to count in his head.
He let go of the branch. Right at the same time, an enormous set of teeth attached to an even more enormous fox burst through the leaves attempting to devour him in one bite. Instead, the fox got a branch full of thorns snapped right into its face for its troubles. It let out a pained yelp and jumped backwards. Then it let loose a low growl that sent chills down Tony’s spine. He had hurt it, but he had also made it angry. Realizing it wasn’t going away, Tony quickly began to gnaw at one of the stems of the bush, trying to remove it. He could hear the animal prowling around outside, choosing what angle to attack from. He had to act fast. He chewed… And finally it broke off. He now had a small spiky branch he could hold in his mouth. It was the size of a sword in comparison to him, which made it a real shame he didn’t have opposable thumbs right now. He felt his heart beating a mile a minute as he held it and stood still. His ears were perked up, listening for the sounds of the fox trying to figure out when it would strike. Everything became quiet. It was disturbing how silent something that big could be when it wanted to. Every second felt like an eternity as Tony waited for the predator to strike.
Tony’s only hint of danger was the rustling of leaves as the fox pushed his head through the bush again. It came from directly behind the mouse. Tony rolled over onto his back, barely dodging the fox’s teeth and yanked his thorny branch with him, striking the fox in the lower jaw. It let out another yelp, but didn’t retreat. Instead it snarled and tried to push its way further into the bush. Tony began to retreat to the other side, trying to avoid the fox’s reach. Anytime it came close he shook his head to swing the branch at him, scratching the fox again and again. Each tiny wound just seemed to make the vulpine more determined. Tony began to worry it was going to just rip the entire bush up if it continued to force its way in. He was fighting a losing battle. It was clear no matter how many times he hurt it that it wasn’t going away. He could only scratch the beast, not actually cut it deep enough to do any real harm. At least, not striking its muzzle.
There was one thing he might be able to do.
The fox snarled, and the roots of the bush began to pull out of the ground. It really was going to pull the thing out. Instead of backing further away, Tony went up. Climbing the branches of the bush he scaled above the fox’s head. It wasn’t able to snap at him immediately, having stuck its neck under all the branches to reach Tony. It gave him a few precious seconds to act. And so he did the one thing he was certain the fox hadn’t expected.
He leaped onto it.
Tony landed on top of the fox’s muzzle, and for a brief moment it completely froze, as if in total disbelief of what happened. Then it pulled its head from the bush, stood up to its full height, and began to try to shake Tony loose. Tony held on as tight as he could, crawling further forward at the same time. Once close to the fox’s skull, he held his thorny branch in his mouth, and swung it straight into the fox’s right eye.
The fox let out a yelp of pain louder than any of the previous others. It recoiled, reeling away, and tossing Tony from its muzzle in the process. Tony landed out in the open, and had lost his branch in the process. He was defenseless. But, the fox was whining, and keeping its injured eye closed. It didn’t come at him again, but instead turned and retreated back into the woods.
Once Tony realized it was really gone, he rolled onto his back and rested for a moment. His heart felt like it would jump out of his tiny chest. He had almost died at least eight times in the last two minutes. And… He honestly felt bad for the fox. It wasn’t smart enough to know the difference between magical intelligent mice and normal food. It just needed something to eat. At least Tony was confident he hadn’t done any permanent damage. The injury would prove to be more painful than damaging.
After having a moment to recover, Tony headed back to the clearing where everyone’s clothes were. As soon as he arrived, he was tackled by a nearly hysterical Sophia. She wouldn’t stop squeaking, and he was pretty sure she was both being thankful he was alive and calling him a big idiot. Tony laughed a little and looked through the clearing. Seventeen mice came out of the grass to see him, all juveniles. Seventeen plus Sophia made eighteen. Tony had assembled all the students. That meant the mouse who had gone off with Grizz was Mrs. Rattlebag. Just two more to find and he could resolve all of this. At least he was confident these two would be safe. After all, Grizz was there, and though the bear would swear otherwise even if under oath, he actually was very protective of anyone under his care. The teacher was fine.
Tony wanted to just take a long nap, but he started along the north scent trail. It was a little fainter, but still easy to follow. All he had to do was find-
“SQUEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK!” A loud and gruff squeak echoed throughout the entire forest. A moment later, a large mouse the size of a squirrel came flying into the clearing, swinging from a vine. He had a paw wrapped around a smaller adult looking mouse, and was wearing a feather as a charm on his tail. The bear of a mouse landed in the clearing, and Tony could swear the mouse in his arms swooned.
“Squeak.” Tony slapped his face with a paw. Well, he found Grizz and Mrs. Rattlebag. But what kind of trouble had they been getting into while all the students were stranded? And where the heck did Grizz get an eagle feather? He didn’t actually take it from a bird did he? Tony didn’t even want to think about that right now. Everyone was here, it was time to end this little misadventure.
Most of the student mice were focused on Grizz’s enormous form as he appeared. This made it easy for Tony to escape notice as he backed away from them. He began to cast his spell, intending to change everyone back to their proper forms, even Grizz. He felt the energy for the spell gather and-
“CAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!” The scream was the only reason Tony survived. He dove to the side purely by instinct, and so the bird that had swooped down only managed to grab his tail instead of piercing his chest with its talons. Suddenly, the ground was flying away from Tony. He understood what was going on, and he still had the spell energy prepared. He released it, sending the spell back down into the clearing. He could see the students starting to change back into their human forms as the clearing left his sight. Well, at least they were out of danger.
But as the ground got further and further away, things were looking pretty bad for Tony. Saving the students had cost him his final spell, he was tapped out. Even though he had survived the initial attack, the eagle no doubt intended him to be lunch. Even if he freed himself, he’d plummet back to the ground… And while thanks to his small size he’d be likely to survive, he wouldn’t do so unscathed and would be easy pickings for any other animals around. On top of it all, his leg was screaming with pain and felt like it weighed a ton, so he doubted if he did land safely he could run far and-
Wait, if the bird had got him by the tail… Then what was wrong with his leg?
Craning his neck, Tony was barely able to see his right hind leg. The reason for the pain was obvious. There was another mouse hanging from his leg, biting down hard in an attempt to avoid being tossed off. Sophia! She was supposed to have become human again with the others! Instead she had tried to save him from the bird? That idiot! Now they were both doomed.
What rotten timing with the bird — just thirty more seconds and everything would have ended differently. Tony looked up at the bird and his eyes paused as he saw its tail feathers, or specifically, that a large one was clearly missing. Well, he knew where Grizz had gotten the feather from.
Dang it Grizz! Had he led it back to the clearing?
Tony’s mind was racing. What could he do? He wasn’t strong enough to fight the bird, there was nothing he could use up in the sky to outwit it, and without Kickaha’s magical power he was barely strong enough to grow a tail. He looked back at Sophia, seeing her shaking with her eyes closed, but refusing to let go of Tony in some vain hope she could save him. He couldn’t let his mistake get her killed. He felt several emotions welling up inside him. Fear for his life. Anger for Sophia’s. Remorse for causing this mess. And some small satisfaction that he had at least saved the rest of the class.
But there was another emotion that was stronger than the others, and it was growing by the second.
Pure raw determination.
He wasn’t about to let it end here. Not after working so hard to reunite everyone. Not after having outfought a fox fifty times his size. Not if it meant Sophia was going to die with him.
He closed his eyes and tried to focus. He knew how to summon the power. He had done it three times already today. He just had to do it again. Maybe he didn’t have Kickaha’s power, but he knew how it felt now. He reached out… And he felt the raw potential of the universe. The understanding that things were meant to change, that it was necessary to avoid stagnation. He drew that desire into himself, and willed it to become stronger.
And then there was a bright flash of light that lit up the entire sky.
The explosion of energy was enough to temporarily blind the eagle and force it to release Tony from his grasp, and so both he and Sophia began to plummet. Sophia had lost her own grip during the blast and was now in free fall. But it was okay.
Tony spread his new wings, felt the rush of air beneath them, and then pulled upward, breaking from the fall into flight. He hadn’t realized what he had done until a moment after it happened. But, he wasn’t a mouse anymore. No, now he was a powerful being, covered with brownish red scales. He had wicked horns and a tail with a sharp plate on the tip of it, four powerful legs tipped with vicious claws. And most importantly, a pair of wings coming from his back. He was a dragon.
He had actually done it! His first full transformation on his own! And not only that, he had managed a mythical creature! That was an accomplishment in its own! Though…. It seemed that he wasn’t much bigger than mouse sized, making him a very tiny dragon. It was his first complete spell on his own… he couldn’t expect perfection.
Tony didn’t let the awe of the situation distract him. He broke into a dive, quickly catching up with Sophia before she could fall far. He turned around upside down so as to catch her with his softer underbelly, and spread his wings again, catching the wind. He felt the impact as Sophia collided with him, but he stayed in the air. He quickly grabbed onto her with all four sets of paws, then turned back over so he could fly right side up.
“CAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!” The eagle should have flown off by now. Most animals — even the most vicious of predators — weren’t going to put up a fight for very long if the prey turned out to be capable of putting up a good fight. The second Tony had inflicted a serious injury on the fox it had fled. However, this eagle was having a particularly bad day. Having lost a meal already, and been assaulted by a giant mouse, it was not ready to give up its next meal easily, even if that next meal no longer looked very mouse-like. It dove for Tony again, but now Tony was just as agile in the air.
Tony spun around, dodging the eagle’s dive as he opened his mouth and shot forth a tiny fireball, igniting one of the eagle’s tail feathers. The eagle flapped frantically, as it lost a second feather and let out another screech. It rose to the sky, and flew directly behind Tony. It was about to swallow him whole right out of the air.
Tony turned upside down again so he could look back at the bird, inhaled again, and this time shot a fireball straight into the eagle’s open beak. The eagle made a coughing noise, spiraled out of control, and barely managed to recover before crashing to Earth. It let out another screech, but made no further attempts to catch Tony. Instead, it flew away, having accepted for the moment that mice were just far more trouble than they were worth.
With the eagle taken care of, Tony slowly descended back to the ground. About an inch off the ground, he released Sophia from his claws before landing on the ground himself. Things were finally over. Of course, Sophia was still a mouse, and Tony was currently a very tiny dragon. But… He had managed a spell on his own already. He knew he could do it now. Once more, he reached out to gather the energy. He held up a paw and warm green light began to emit from it. Both Tony and Sophia began to grow in size as Tony’s scales and Sophia’s fur melted into their skin. Their tails shrunk away, their ears returned to normal, and their human hair grew back to its previous length and style. After a few seconds, they were both completely human again.
“I… I did it…” Tony stared at his own palm in amazement. “I managed to use magic on my own… Twice!”
“That was amazing!” Sophia shouted. “First we were mice, and the forest was gigantic! Then you outwitted a fox! And then turned into a dragon and beat an eagle in a dogfight! Are you able to do stuff like that all the time?”
“No.” Tony answered what he thought was honest, but then corrected himself. “Or… I guess yes now. Erm… Maybe.” He rubbed the back of his head. “The truth is, I’m kind of in need of a lot of practice.”
“Uh huh.” Sophia fixed him with a stare. “But the mouse spell seemed to work pretty well.”
“Well… The thing is…” Tony felt himself blush. “That was sort of meant to be a bunny spell.” This got a fit of laughter from Sophia. However, it stopped as she looked down at Tony and realized both of them were naked. She quickly turned away from him to avert her eyes and blushed. It took Tony a moment to remember human modesty. Considering he spent most of his weekends pantsless and furry, nudity wasn’t really a thing he registered anymore. But, he was aware most humans did, so quickly averted his own eyes to be respectful as he spoke again. “Umm… Our clothes should be…. In that direction.”
“R-right. Let’s go get those.” Sophia stuttered while looking away. “But… Um…. If you can do rabbits…. And dragons too… Does that mean you can do any animal?”
“In theory.” Tony nodded. “But like I said. In need of practice. Things aren’t perfect yet.”
“Need a study partner?” Sophia’s voice had a hopeful tone.
“I’m sorry, what?” It gave Tony pause, that was not a question he had been expecting.
“You said you need to practice, right?” Sophia had a smug tone to her voice. “Well, how are you going to practice magic on other people without a partner?”
“You -WANT- me to turn you into other animals?” Tony asked in disbelief.
“You -WANT- to turn yourself into other animals?” Sophia retorted with a huff.
“Fair… Enough…” Tony grimaced. “Alright… you can help out… But, you can’t tell anyone… Ever. My teacher was very specific, that I can’t be caught.”
“Who’s your teacher?” She risked a glance at him.
“I um… Am honestly not sure if I should say or not.” He tried to consider it. He didn’t think Kickaha would care, but he wasn’t sure he should reveal the foxyote’s existence without asking him. “I’ll ask him if I can tell you more.”
“Neat…” She said and looked away again. It was about this time they arrived back at where their clothes were, and both quickly got dressed, thankful to end the awkwardness.
“I’ll ask him when I see him tonight.” Tony informed her. “And I’ll ask him if there’s a way to involve you in lessons.”
“I’m holding you to that.” She smiled, as they quickly moved past a line of trees to rejoin the rest of the class… But the sight was not quite what they expected.
The other students were all back to normal, and all of them were already dressed again. They were chattering excitedly about their adventure today. Now that it was over, it had become an amazing experience instead of terrifying. Grizz was also back to his normal form, and strangely enough none of the students seemed terrified of him. Instead Grizz was sitting in the center of the clearing with several students climbing on him. He seemed to be enjoying himself. However… One person was not back to normal.
In Grizz’s open paw, there was a small adult female mouse. She was snuggled up into his paw and looked quite content.
“Uh… Why is Mrs. Rattlebag still a mouse?” Sophia asked.
“I don’t know…” Tony stared wide-eyed. “I used a universal reversal spell, everyone should be back to normal.”
“So does that mean the ranger was a bear the entire time?” She tilted her head, then froze as she realized a certain fact. “Wait! Is that why his name is Grizz?”
“Pretty much.” Tony admitted. “Uhhhh, Grizz!” He waved at the grizzly. “What exactly happened?”
“Something amazing and terrifying!” Grizz beamed happily, then immediately his face returned to a scowl. “I mean… It was the usual kind of trouble you get with magic. No sooner had everyone turned into mice than a bird flew out of the sky and snatched up your teacher. It scared most of the students and they ran off… And well, I went after the bird.”
“You hunted down an eagle, while being a mouse?” Tony stared at him in disbelief.
“What?” Grizz shrugged. “She’s a nice lady. I’m just glad her injuries weren’t that severe. I was able to treat the wounds pretty easily with some of the fruits and plants I could find in the area.”
“Wait…” Tony stared at Grizz. “You know how to treat injuries? Using random things found in the woods?”
“I mean why wouldn’t I?” Grizz was genuinely confused. “I live in the woods.”
“Fair enough.” Tony threw up his hands. “And her.”
“Well um…” Grizz looked pretty sheepish. “She doesn’t really want to go back to her place tonight, being this small… So I told her she could stay at mine and I’d watch over her.”
“My old teacher and Grizz…” Tony stared in disbelief. “Nope. Not processing this, today has been too much already. Do not care, do not want. Let’s just go back and get on the bus.”
Operation Field Trip was over. It looked like it had been a huge failure, but at least everyone got out alright… Even if Mrs. Rattlebag was still a mouse.
“So what makes you think it was a failure?” Kickaha asked later when Tony met up with him in the evening. The two sat on a log in the forest, Kickaha in his natural form, and Tony as a young coyote. He didn’t feel like being a fox tonight.
“Because I messed up the spell.” Tony replied. “Never even got to carry out the proper plan. Instead of a magical adventure I placed everyone in danger. I got caught in the act using magic, and in the end the only thing I did of note was finally casting two spells on my own. And I know that’s a big deal, but wasn’t exactly the goal.”
“Wasn’t the goal to prove that our world exists to your teacher?” Kickaha grinned. “If she’s at Grizz’s place right now, I’m pretty sure that’s mission accomplished.”
“Maybe…” Tony smiled a bit. “But I still messed up.”
“You did.” Kickaha nodded. “But that doesn’t make it a complete failure. You can’t define success or failure solely on if things went as planned or not.”
“Yes… You can.” Tony gave Kickaha a deadpan stare. “That’s literally the meaning of those two words.”
“Maybe if you want to be boring and incapable of original thought.” Kickaha shrugged. “But what matters is what you gain and lose from the experience. You gained an understanding of the dangerous side of magic. You gained a sense of responsibility defending the class. You gained a valuable ally and friend who not only will keep your secret but wants to help you with it. You gained the ability to use magic on your own. For a failure, you gained a lot. As your teacher, I’m going to give your little project a B+. You were so close to the A, but you really need to learn the difference between rodents and leporids.” Kickaha flashed a wide grin as he reached over and ruffled Tony’s head fur. “You learned a lot and that’s what matters.”
“I… Guess.” Tony felt a weight lift off him. He had been terrified his lessons would end here based on his performance. “Uh but… Why is my teacher still a mouse?”
“That is a thinker.” Kickaha rubbed his chin. “A lot of magic is will and belief. It’s possible she’s happier as a mouse, and upon being transformed into one immediately identified with that form more than a human form. If she wanted to hang onto it hard enough, she could in theory resist attempts to break the enchantment, and even extend it’s length indefinitely.”
“She wants to stay a mouse?” Tony wasn’t convinced.
“At the very least it sounds like she has a thing for much larger men.” Kickaha snickered. “I’ll head over to Grizz’s place after you go home. She’ll probably stay a mouse, but I can get her the use of her voice and her thumbs again. I imagine she’ll still turn a few heads when she shows up at school.”
“I see.” Tony leaned back on the log. “Still… I can’t believe it, I managed two spells on my own today.”
“Five.” Kickaha corrected.
“No…. Two.” Tony shook his head. “The only other spells I used were the three you gave me.”
“Yeaaaaah.” Kickaha suddenly sounded nervous. “About that? Remember when I said it was stretching the limit of what even I can do? Well… Turns out, giving away limited uses of my magic is not something I can actually do.”
“I… Don’t understand.” Tony gave him a deadpan stare.
“It means that this entire time, it was all you.” Kickaha gave him another pat. “You cast the spells, all five of them, with no help from me.”
“But… That’s impossible!” Tony objected. “I can’t manage a proper spell on my own!”
“And yet you turned into a dragon.” Kickaha tutted.
“That was different!” Tony objected. “It was a desperate situation and I believed…”
“That you had to do it, that you could do it.” Kickaha grinned. “That’s the last thing you were missing to fully tap into the art. Belief. You understand the mechanics well enough, and on a logical level you understand that you can use spells. But emotionally you never truly believed you could do magic. It was your own mind holding you back, assuming you’re not good enough, that there’s some trick you haven’t learned yet. So… I told a little fib to get you past that block.”
“It… Really was all me?” Tony stared at his paws in disbelief.
“Yup. So I don’t want to hear anymore excuses about how you can’t do it yet in future lessons.” Kickaha stood up and stretched. “Anyway, I think we better get going. It’s close to your bedtime so your parents will be checking in on you soon.”
“Right…” Tony got up as well. “Oh! I forgot to ask. Can Sophia come along for future lessons?”
“I don’t see why not.” Kickaha shrugged. “If she’s interested in what you can do, I very much doubt she’s going to mind taking an animal form while exploring these woods.”
“Yeah.” Tony grinned as he thought to himself. He bet Sophia would make an absolutely brilliant squirrel. “I’ll give her the good news. Anyway… Um, thanks for helping me.”
“Hey, I’m only teaching you because you earned it.” Kickaha spoke with an air of authority.
“Still I appre-“ Tony suddenly paused. “Wait… earned… I was supposed to have earned a reward for getting an A on that project.”
“Yes, the three spells, or in this case the confidence-“ Kickaha started.
“Nuh-uh!” Tony shook his head. “You said it was all me today. You didn’t actually give me anything. So… When am I getting my reward?”
“Kids.” Kickaha threw his hands up. “You’re as willful as a certain someone else I know. OK, fine. Do you have anything in mind you want?”
“Well…” Tony grinned mischievously. “There’s a new dog park down the street from my neighborhood. They have one of those obstacle courses they make show dogs run.”
“Let me guess… you want to take me there and be your dog for a day so you can show off in front of everyone?” Kickaha stuck his tongue out.
“Actually I was hoping you could take me.” Tony’s grin grew in size. “That course looks fun, I wanna give it a shot.”
“I would think your new friend Sophia would be happy to help you with that.” Kickaha crossed his arms.
“Nah, I’m pretty sure that she’s going to want to run the course too. So we’re going to need somewhere there to be our ‘owner.”
“Fiiiiine.” Kickaha waved a paw. “I’m pretty sure my cloak is up to the task of blending in there. But, no more rewards after that until your next report card. If you stay on the honor roll we’ll talk about getting you something special. And I want you to accept that invitation to the drama club.”
“Oh come on really!?” Tony whined.
“Your parents are right, an extracurricular activity would be good for you.” Kickaha spoke knowingly. “And you’d be surprised how useful a few acting lessons will be in your future endeavors.”
“Ugggggggh.” Tony groaned. “Fine, fine, I’ll do it.”
“Good on you, sport.” Kickaha gave him one last pat. “Now let’s get you home.”