It’s a snow day and Tony is off from school, so has a little fun with Kickaha in the snow as they catch up.
The good news was that school was cancelled. The bad news was that it was really, really, really cold outside. In previous years, this hadn’t been the biggest of issues. Tony would simply bundle up tight in his warmest sweater, a knit hat and scarf and then head out to build a snowman and have snowball fights. But, there was an issue that was new this year… And that was the fact that since school was cancelled it meant he had time to attend his other lessons. But… Clothing became an issue with his other lessons.
“Pfffft.” In the forest, not far from his burrow, Kickaha held his paws over his muzzle as he tried not to laugh when he saw Tony. The kid had so much winterwear on him that he looked like a giant round ball. The foxyote wondered if he tipped Tony over if he would roll around or not, and if he’d be capable of getting back up on his own. Now that he would do that to his student, or anyone. Well not anyone who didn’t deserve it. But it didn’t stop his mind from thinking about it. “What are you wearing?” Kickaha managed to hold back a half-choked laugh.
“Winter clothes.” Tony crossed his arms and looked indignant. “I mean… It’s cold and it’s still snowing.” He studied Kickaha for a moment. Unlike him, the foxyote was barely dressed at all. All he wore was his usual green cloak, nothing more. “How do you keep warm in the winter?”
“Well, the cloak helps a lot.” Kickaha shrugged. “But the big factor is I’ve simply grown my winter coat in. It makes a huge difference. Though, it’s always awkward in spring once the shedding starts. Thankfully I have two vacuum cleaners to help keep the burrow clean once that starts up.”
“Why do you have two vacuum cleaners?” Tony lost his strand of thought for a moment. “You live in a burrow. The floor is literally made out of dirt.”
“I am aware.” Kickaha hissed. “And if it’s all the same to you I’d rather not talk about it.”
“See, now I know there’s a story to it and that just makes me more curious.” Tony insisted.
“The short of it is that I may have accidentally unleashed a truly terrifying power upon this world.” Kickaha crossed his arms and turned to face away from Tony. “You don’t need to know anything more than that.”
“Huh…” Tony tried to imagine what Kickaha would describe as terrifying. Considering some of the stories he had been told, and some of the experience he had, it was really hard to come up with anything. Whatever had happened, Tony decided he was probably happier not knowing. “Anyway, humans don’t grow winter coats. I tried turning into a fox in my bedroom earlier, thinking some fur would help but I was still freezing!”
“Makes sense.” Kickaha nodded. “I mean, if you’re freshly transformed into an animal you haven’t exactly had time to start growing and shedding fur to fit the season. If you stayed in an animal form full time it might be different.”
“I tried that.” Tony gave a weary sigh. “But mom and dad said no animals at the dinner table so I have to go back to human most of the time at home.”
“Wait.” The fact that Tony was now transforming in front of his parents was news to Kickaha. He thought the kid was still trying to keep things a secret. “So, they know you’re a magic user now? How did they take it?”
“Yeah, they haven’t really acknowledged any of it as real.” Tony sounded annoyed. “Even when I change forms right in front of them. I thought about turning them into animals with me but… Considering how far in denial they are now I worry about how that might affect them mentally. Last thing I want is to give them a heart attack or something because they suddenly have paws and don’t know what to do with them.”
“You’re a good kid, Tony.” Kickaha nodded approvingly. “I mean I probably would have just gone with changing them but, still, you’re alright.” The foxyote paused and looked Tony up and down. “But last I knew, you were doing everything in your power to keep your parents from finding out about your extracurricular activities. You said you were sure that if they knew about it they’d put a stop to it. What’s different now?”
“Well… The thing about that is… School got really weird a few months back.” Tony explained. “I mean aside from the fact that my teacher from last year is still a mouse. But, we had actual dragons picking us up to take to school instead of buses.” He shot Kickaha a knowing look. “I feel like this was your handiwork somehow.”
“I was School Board President for a bit.” Kickaha admitted with a note of pride in his voice. “I made some changes to school programs and the curriculum that I thought might help enrich the lives of students.”
“I knew it!” Tony grinned wickedly. “Wait a second… You were School Board President? I don’t mean to sound insulting but… Isn’t that like… An incredibly bad idea?”
“You know, I had the same reaction.” Kickaha mused. “But it turned out it would have been pretty much impossible to be worse at the job than any of my predecessors.”
“I… See…” Tony was only old enough to have a vague notion of how politics worked. He had what they taught in his third-grade social studies. It covered the three branches of government, checks and balances, and skipped over basically everything else. Especially the parts about corruption, people abusing their office, and the levels of misinformation that kept people supporting the public officials who were metaphorically, and sometimes literally robbing their constituents. Tony was likely to become jaded eventually. Kickaha saw no need to rush it.. Honestly, the foxyote considered himself lucky that he was just Tony’s magic teacher rather than his civics. Or math.
Foxyotes weren’t very good at math. Math was entirely too precise and slow for foxyotes. “Fail fast and break things.” Kickaha had heard a couple of humans say that. It seemed like good advice.
“Anyway, most of the ‘weird’ stuff is gone now.” Tony gave a weary sigh. “Though some of our bus drivers are still dragons, refusing to change back. But, while it was all going on, it felt like the time to bring it up. I mean, magic was happening right in front of them every day. The entire town could see it. What better time would there be to broach the subject?”
“And they didn’t believe a word you said.” Kickaha knew how this story ended.
“I know! It’s ridiculous! I mean! I was a talking lion and everything when I explained it all to them! You would think that would give my story a little bit of credence.” Tony stomped his foot in the snow annoyed. “They told me I had an active imagination and to wash up and get ready for dinner. As if everything was normal! But then if I try to come to dinner in an animal form or something they say the whole no animals at the table thing. It’s like they’re acknowledging it and not acknowledging it at the same time!”
“Yeah, humans are pretty good at that.” Kickaha nodded sagely.
“I feel I should take offense to that.” Tony crossed his arms. “But I’m not really sure if I count as human anymore. I mean… I sleep curled up as a cat because it’s more comfortable, and then come out here in various animal forms for training. By this point I’m probably some form of animal longer than I am a human.”
“You’re a Tony. Your identity can be tied to your species but doesn’t have to be. Just as long as you have your sense of self.” Kickaha explained.
“I guess…” Tony sounded a bit unsure. “It’s just… It’s not even my parents. Remember how I got drafted into the drama program after I turned in my report last year?”
“Yes, I was actually a little wounded by that.” Kickaha put a paw over his heart. “I go through so much trouble to make life a little weirder for everyone and they accuse me of being a fictional creation.”
“If you felt that way, why did you insist I join the drama club if I wanted to keep taking magic lessons?”
“Because you’re a kid. And you should expand your horizons.” Kickaha gave Tony a pat on the shoulder. He had to stand on the tips of his toes to do so. “I’m happy to teach you the Art, but you should still spend time being with other kids your age, learning new experiences. The wider your range of experiences and knowledge, the better your understanding of the world will be… Or more accurately, the better you’ll understand that the world can’t be understood and thus leave your mind open to seemingly impossible things.”
“Right…” Tony was used to Kickaha saying things like this. At this point he accepted it was best just to go along with it than try to ask for an explanation or make his own comments. “Anyway… I don’t actually know anything about fiction writing, despite what the teachers may think, so I got involved in costume design instead. Last month we put on a production of the Jungle Book on stage.”
“I see where this is going.” Kickaha couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction that his pupil was taking the initiative, going out into the world and making things more interesting. “Why bother with all that tedious sewing and measurement and whatnot when you can just make the kids fit the part?”
“Pretty much.” Tony replied. “They took to it pretty well. Some of them needed practice walking on four legs. Though I had to get evasive about how I made the transformations happen. I just told them I knew a guy, and that if too many questions were asked he might cut me off and then they’d have to go back to wearing costumes instead.”
“I mean, that’s technically true, but I’m rather happy with the direction you’ve taken your studies in.” Kickaha crossed his arms and looked up at Tony. “I wouldn’t cut you off for that.”
“Oh, I know. But they didn’t know that.” Tony grinned. “That got them to stop bothering me with too many questions. Which was good because maintaining an entire cast worth of transformations turned out to be a much bigger strain than I thought. I was sure I was going to lose control and someone would pop back to human in the middle of opening night… And then they’d be rather sore about suddenly being seen naked in front of the entire school. Thankfully, I was able to keep it all under control.”
“I mean, if the entire cast was taking animal forms during practice and the show, I would think they would get over the whole naked thing.” Kickaha suggested. “I mean you did.”
“Eh, maybe. But I’m running around in the woods with magical animals where being pantsless is completely normal.”
“Preferred,” Kickaha interrupted smugly.
“Anyway.” Tony rolled his eyes and continued. “Most of them spend their time entirely around people who are clothed. We mostly used the changing rooms to let people get undressed, into animal form and redressed. Though, handling the girls was a bit hard. Obviously, I wasn’t gonna be allowed in their changing room so I pretty much had to put the spell on them before they went in, set a delay, and tell them how much time they had to avoid destroying their current outfit.”
“But in the end it sounds like everything came out well.” Kickaha grinned. “Ah, you should have gotten me a ticket. I would have loved to see it.”
“Yeah for some reason, there’s a sign on the front of the school saying not to let any foxyotes in green cloaks onto the premises. There’s a picture of you and everything.” Tony shot Kickaha an accusing glare. “You really did something to ruffle someone at the school up.”
“After everything I did for them?” Kickaha sounded wounded. “I can’t believe they’d have me banned. I mean, now it just means I’m going to show up at the school more often. But still.”
“Anyway, back to the play…” Tony continued his story. “In front of the entire school, parents, and teachers and other students. Magical talking animals. And after the curtain call was over and the play complete, not one single adult I spoke to believed it was real. I kept getting praised on how good my costumes were. On how I must have spent hours on makeup to make it look that realistic. Reality was staring them right in the face and they refused to see it.”
“Yes, I’m afraid adults are quite good at that.” Kickaha nodded sadly. “Which is why you need to stay in the drama club. And maybe consider another club at school as well.”
“What? Why?” Tony demanded.
“Remember what I said about expanding your horizons?” Kickaha asked. “You need to be involved in more than just one thing or you’re going to have a narrow worldview. Maybe even too narrow. You don’t want to grow up to be like so many of those adults who are so set in their ways they can’t see the thing right in front of them, do you? So, go out, get new experiences, see things from different points of view. And as you get older, remember that things are seldom what they first seem.”
“Yeah… Yeah… I guess that makes sense.” Tony muttered. He didn’t like having extra schoolwork, even if it was through a club. But the last thing he wanted to do was to grow up to be boring. “I guess I wouldn’t want to be as frustrating as my parents and teachers.” He gave a weary sigh. “If they weren’t being so obstinate, I could have a winter coat and not be so cold.”
“Well, then, that should be the first part of today’s lessons.” Kickaha had heard enough about Tony’s life for today. He liked to stay informed on what the kid was up to, to make sure he was going in the right direction. His protégé might complain sometimes, but it looked like he was turning out alright. Confident things were going fine in his normal life, Kickaha was now ready to begin the usual lessons. “We’ll need to turn you into something that has a bit more of a cold tolerance. With practice, you could probably manage a form that already has its winter coat grown. But given the current temperature and the snowfall, probably not the best time to experiment. So it’s best to stick to an animal that’s already adapted to the cold regardless of what time of year it is.”
“Oh!” Tony was a lot faster at picking up where Kickaha was going with his thoughts these days. “You mean like an animal that lives in the Arctic or some other cold climate.”
“Got it in one.” Kickaha grinned mischievously. “So, why not pick out the animal of our choice and go ahead and get changed.”
“Um about that…” Tony looked somewhat reluctant.
“What’s wrong?” Kickaha tilted his head. He thought the situation was resolved.
“Well it’s kind of cold out…” Tony replied. “So I don’t really want to strip naked in the snow so I can change forms. It’s not a modesty thing, I think I’m well past that at this point. It’s a I don’t want to freeze to death thing.”
“You could-“ Kickaha started.
“Casting the spell with my clothes on is out of the question.” Tony shook his head. “As bundled up as I am, I’m certain to destroy something if I start shapeshifting like this. And while they might not be ready to acknowledge I can turn into an animal yet, they are 100% ready to ground me for ruining a perfectly good set of clothes. I normally wear as little as I can get away with to lower the risk of ruining anything… But it’s really cold.”
“Alright, alright, this is an easy fix.” Kickaha waved a paw dismissively. “I’ve got a few logs on the fire in my burrow. It’s warm down there, you can use it to get changed.”
“Wait, your burrow has a fireplace?” Tony was confused. He was fairly certain he had never seen such a thing before.
“Well, it does at this time of the year.” Kickaha explained. “When things warm up in the spring, I put the fireplace back in the storage closet.”
“But… It’s a fireplace, it’s built into the house… Or in your case burrow…” Tony seemed confused. “How… Do you just have it some of the time? And… You put it in a closet?”
“See, this is why you need a broader view of the world.” Kickaha replied smugly. “If a little thing like a removable fireplace trips you up, what are you going to do when you run into something really weird?”
“What do you consider really weird?” Tony asked.
“Mostly the lack of weird things happening.” Kickaha shrugged. “Anyway, you know the way by now. Let’s get going.” He started down off into the forest.
“Right… I’m right behind you…” Tony, bundled up in as many layers as he was less walked, and more waddled after Kickaha, trying to follow him to the burrow.
“You know… With all that on your shape is kind of round.” Kickaha flashed a playful grin. “If you’d like I could tip you on your side and roll you there. It’d be much faster than you walking like that.”
“Yeah, let’s not do that.” Tony muttered as he tried to pick up speed.
“Some people just don’t know how to accept help.” Kickaha gave a wistful sigh.
Thankfully, Kickaha’s burrow wasn’t far from where they usually met up. It didn’t take long to get there. A large mound of dirt with a mailbox outside of it and a door propped over the hole. Kickaha opened the door and Tony attempted to step inside. The step down proved to throw him off balance and he fell onto his side and rolled into the living room of the burrow.
“Oh so now you’re fine with rolling.” Kickaha would not have been Kickaha if he didn’t tease a little.
“It wasn’t on purpose!” Tony shouted as he rolled back and forth on his back, stuck like a turtle. After about a minute he managed to roll over and stand up. Looking around, the burrow was much the same as usual. The walls and floor may have been made of dirt, but there was all the furniture you would find in a normal house. Just all sized for someone who was roughly three feet and some change tall. There was only one new thing. On the wall of the living room there was now a fireplace. Last time Tony was here he was sure it had just been a blank wall. There had even been a picture hanging on it. Now, a fireplace with two logs crackling as they burned.. “One moment…” Tony had to check something.
He climbed back out of the burrow and looked at the top of the dirt mound. He saw what he was looking for soon enough. It was rather hard to miss. A small chimney sticking out of the top of the burrow, smoke pouring from it. So, Kickaha’s removable fireplace had a chimney as well. Tony for a brief moment considered questioning this and how someone could install and remove a chimney without the whole burrow collapsing. Then he realized that having an active fire inside the burrow and no outlet for the smoke would just suffocate whoever was inside. When he looked at it that way, of course there had to be a chimney. So naturally things would just work out that way.
“Alright, curiosity satisfied.” Tony climbed back down into the burrow, much more careful this time so he didn’t roll along the floor. He moved as close to the fire as he could, happy to feel some warmth after being outside. “Wow… It’s actually really cozy in here. My house isn’t this warm.”
“I mean, we’re underground and that’s a magic fireplace.” Kickaha explained. “Not really a lot of places for the heat to escape so it stays pretty warm in here.”
“Must be nice.” Tony looked thoughtful. “When I’m an adult, do you think I’ll live in a burrow or a house?”
“Well…” Kickaha gave it some thought. “On one hand, regardless of how many times you change your shape, you’re still growing up in human society, and likely to want a normal house. On the other hand, rent and mortgages are expensive, and a burrow will leave you with a lot more disposable income, especially if current trends continue with wages versus rent.” He thought for a moment. “Perhaps a burrow as a sort of bachelor pad and then you get an apartment or house once you’re ready to settle down and have a family?”
“Maybe?” Just as Tony was naïve to how the political world worked, at this age he was still a stranger to the economic world. As a result he had no idea what to make of Kickaha’s little explanation. “Anyway, I don’t think I have to worry about freezing in here, give me a couple minutes to get changed.”
“Minutes?” Kickaha looked at him. “Usually you’re out of your clothes and into your fluff in ten seconds flast.”
“Usually I’m not wearing five layers, each buttoned up or buckled in some way.” Tony muttered as he began to take off his individual pieces of clothing. A pile of clothing formed on the ground next to Tony, and even as the pile grew taller than Tony was the boy didn’t seem to run out of clothing. Finally after several minutes he was down to his underwear. Carefully tossing that aside he knelt closer to the fire to help stay warm as he began to work on a spell.
An animal adapted for the cold?
Well, arctic fox seemed the obvious choice. But, Tony spent a lot of time as a fox. He favored canid and vulpine forms in general, finding them the easiest to work magic with, but he liked to diversify and try new things. He considered a few moments of other animals that were known to live in the cold. It was a snow day at school, so maybe an animal with snow in the name of it was appropriate. And with that he had his form chosen!
First, Tony focused on getting a coat of fur to sprout over his entire body to keep him nice and warm. Fluffy gray fur grew over every inch of his body, with black circular spots on them. Completely covered in fur, and suddenly feeling several degrees warmer, Tony took a few steps back away from the fire as he continued the rest of the changes.
He needed to fix his legs next. It was awkward, being all furry and having human shaped feet. He kept instinctually trying to stand on his toes before it was his proper stance. So he focused his magic on his legs, causing his feet to transform into paws as he was able to balance himself on two legs properly. Ah! Balance! While he was working on that part of his body he quickly focused on his spine, imagining in his mind the image of his tail growing out as the long fluffy thing grew in reality. Tony was of the opinion that tails were pretty awesome just because they were tails. If he could get away with it he would never not have a tail. In fact he might do that at some point. They were also good at helping you keep your balance when changing forms.
From the waist down the changes were pretty much entirely complete. It was time to work on his torso and head. He needed the proper ears atop his head after all if he was going to be able to listen to things properly. And then a small muzzle to support his whiskers that gave him better spatial awareness. A minor change, barely visible in his eyes, and it became way easier to see in the dark. He was almost done.
He made his hands more paw-like. He could have kept them as human shaped hands and looked fine, but human hands weren’t useful for running on all fours. And they lacked claws which were good for climbing. He went for a hybridization between hands and paws, and then adjusted his body proportions so that he could easily walk on two legs or four. With that he had finished. He had transformed entirely into a snow leopard cub.
“Oh wow I already feel a thousand times better.” Tony got down on all fours and stretched his feline body. “Not only am I warm I can actually move around.” He stood up. “Honestly, I feel kind of foolish for not thinking of this on my own. I think after lessons today I’ll stay like this, carry my clothes home and change back in my bedroom. Shall we get started?”
“We could.” Kickaha mused. “But, you see, there’s one thing you haven’t considered. Why aren’t you in school today?”
“Because it’s a snow day. School is closed.” Tony crossed his arms. “We went over this.”
“Right! All your teachers have the day off. I’m your teacher. Therefore, I get the day off.” Kickaha beamed. “Quod erat demonstrandum. So, no lessons on a snow day.” He paused and looked over Tony. “Though I suppose for you it’s more of a Snep Day.”
“What’s a snep?” Tony tilted his head to the side.
“Short for snow leopard.” Kickaha shrugged. “You’ll find there are lots of nicknames for different species that humans have come up with. I’m surprised you didn’t know this one. Whenever I get onto the Internet, my laptop starts bombarding me with ‘memes’ to annoy me. It works. But it does broaden my horizons. You don’t spend a lot of time on the Internet, do you?”
“I mean I used to…” Tony looked thoughtful. “But… That was before I could fly.”
“I suppose once your life becomes its own adventure you don’t have to look for them online.” Kickaha walked over to his couch and sat down. “Either way, Snow Day, Snep Day, no school. Teachers have the day off.”
“After I came all the way out here?” Tony objected. “You know you could have told me before we came to your burrow.”
“I could have, but you seemed really annoyed about the whole bundled up thing, so I thought I’d help with that first.” Kickaha grinned. “Anyway, you’re free to go. Enjoy your Snep Day.”
“But I was really hoping to spend some time with you.” Tony sounded dejected.
“Don’t be like this.” Kickaha chided. “You’re only young once. It’s best to make the most out of your youth that you can.”
“Uh huh…” Tony had been told he was only young once multiple times in his life. But he had never heard such a cliched line come from Kickaha. Tony narrowed his eyes as he watched the foxyote sitting on the couch, acting completely dismissive of him.
Only young once? Tony was fairly confident he could prove that wrong. But, it involved magic he hadn’t had a lot of experience in yet. He had seen it a few times. Been the victim of it once in an escalating prank war with a friend. But he had never tried to cast a spell that manipulated time.
Tony turned to face door, acting as if he was about to leave to go enjoy his snow day. Really, this was just so that his back would be to Kickaha and the foxyote hopefully wouldn’t hear him mumbling under his breath. Tony held his two paws together as a blue light appeared between them and continued to try to focus on the spell. He had to be very careful with this. If he got it wrong, instead of a fun little prank, this would turn into him having to play babysitter for the rest of the day. He was trying to make Kickaha younger, but wanted to stop around the same age as himself. The goal was eight years old.
“Please don’t wind up eight months old.” Tony pleaded with the spell as he unleashed the magic. Magic sometimes seemed to have a will of its own, and did as it pleased regardless of your original intention. He didn’t know if magic actually was self-aware in the traditional sense, and its ‘will’ were actually decisions it had made. Or if it was more of a metaphorical will like a laws of physics type thing like how stored potential energy wanted to become kinetic. Not the greatest metaphor Tony admitted, but as it was in his own head no one but himself heard it. But, at worst being polite did nothing, but it might make the spell more likely to succeed.
“Hmmmm, something up?” Kickaha asked, suddenly sensing magic in the air.
“Oh, nothing…” Tony tried to act like how he thought Kickaha would act when he was doing his whole trickster thing. “Just going to get a friend my own age to play with.” He spun in place and pointed his paws at Kickaha turning the unleashed magic onto his master.
Kickaha, being completely relaxed on the couch, didn’t have time to move out of the way. The blue beam of energy enveloped his body and the foxyote began to shrink. He looked over his own body, seeming less than surprised as he watched his body change, as if this was something that had happened to him a million times before.
And now that Tony thought about it, that wasn’t impossible.
Still, Tony watched anxiously as Kickaha shrank, hoping that he hadn’t overdone it and made his master too young. After a few seconds, the foxyote had finished shrinking. He stood up, his cloak now fitting much looser. Him and Tony were roughly the same size, somewhere around two feet and something. He had gotten it exactly right. Kickaha was now eight years old.
“So, we’re just blasting people randomly with magic now?” Kickaha asked.
“Oh, come on! You totally set me up for it!” Tony exclaimed. “That whole line about only being young once and the dismissive attitude! You were practically begging for it.”
“And I’m glad you caught onto that.” Kickaha grinned. “Honestly, if you had just left without trying to regress me, I would have felt like a complete failure as a teacher. And look at that, you managed a time spell perfectly, no errors at all.”
“Wait, you…” Realization set in on Tony. “You wanted me to turn you into a kid? Cub? Kit?”
“I think kit is correct in this case, and that was the idea.” Kickaha grinned. “Honestly, I was worried I might have been laying it on a little too thick. But it seemed to all work out. You seemed pretty self-satisfied a moment ago.”
“Wait… But… That means…” Tony paused. “That… This was a lesson… Sort of… In some way?” The snow leopard was confused.
“Of course not! That would mean I was teaching you on a snow day. That would be cheating.” Kickaha patted the cub on the shoulder. “But I’m proud you picked up on the proper cues and used the right spell. If you decide on a future career as a trickster, it’s important you pick up on these things.”
“I felt so clever!” Tony was indignant. “I can’t believe it was all just a setup! Was it?” He narrowed his eyes. “You’re not just trying to play it off as if you pretended this was all according to plan to save face or something.”
“Anything is possible.” Kickaha wagged his tail. “I may be your teacher, but I am a trickster. Just because I’m training you doesn’t make you not a mark. But… If it removes any doubts, think about if I’m someone who really cares about saving face or not.”
“Huh…” Tony was feeling a lot less clever than he had a few minutes ago. “Okay, but the line was still good right! The one about getting a friend my own age.”
“It was a bit on the nose, but it worked.” Kickaha grabbed Tony’s tail and tugged at it. “Now come on. Do you want to stand here looking confused all day or do you want to get going?”
“Going? Where?” Tony was at a complete loss.
“Anywhere really.” Kickaha mused. “But I mean, it is a Snow Day. And we’re both children who have no responsibility to be in school. We should make the best of it. Go sleighing, build some snowmen. Maybe a snowball fight, you know the usual kind of stuff.”
“Now I feel like this wasn’t any kind of lesson at all, but you just wanting someone to come play in the snow with them.” Tony said accusingly.
“There’s no reason it can’t be both.” Kickaha held up a paw and spoke confidently. “A thing doesn’t have to be one thing. Sometimes, if you ask if it’s one or the other, the answer is simply yes.”
“Another Kickahism.” Tony muttered. Then he paused. “Wait… Earlier I mentioned not knowing if I counted as a human or animal…” He realized that Kickaha might have just attempted to give Tony a small bit of comfort and certainty.
And of course, being Kickaha, he had done so in the most roundabout and nonlinear way as possible to the point that Tony couldn’t be sure if it was on purpose or not. He was starting to suspect that was kind of the point. There was probably some lesson there about deniability, and taking credit for things that got out of control somehow turning out alright or something else there.
But, Tony had done enough thinking today. There was a ground of fresh snow waiting for the two cubs to make something of it.
“Race you outside!” Tony shouted. “Mrooawrl!” And he broke into a sprint.
“H-hey!” Kickaha objected. “That’s hardly fair! You were already at the door!” Naturally Kickaha lost the race on account of the fact he didn’t start at the finish line. “You have a lot to learn about playing fair.”
“Ah, sorry, I’ll try to make things more one sided next time.” Tony stuck out his tongue.
“I’m not sure if I should give you a pat on the head or pounce you where you stand.” Kickaha swished his tail. “Ah what the heck? Why not both?” Then to Tony’s confusion, Kickaha reached up and patted the snow leopard on the head. And then pounced on him. And the two began to roll around in the snow, both soon in a fit of giggles as they wrestled and tried to pin the other. After a few minutes they both needed a break and lay next to each other side by side in the snow.
“You seem different.” Tony looked over at the foxyote.
“Well, you did just turn me into a little kid.” Kickaha stuck his tongue out.
“Can I really be blamed for that if you purposely set me up to do it?” Tony asked. “But I mean… These spells… You haven’t taught me anything about altering people’s minds.”
“And with good reason.” Kickaha chided. “Free will is important. I may swindle the occasional fool out of their humanity, but that doesn’t mean we take away their identity.”
“On occasion?” Tony shot him a look. “Isn’t that basically your job?”
“Several times a week still qualifies as ‘on occasion.’” Kickaha tutted.
“Uh right…” Tony tried to get back onto his original train of thought. “But, the point is… If the spells don’t affect people mentally, why are you acting the way you are now?”
“What do you mean?” Kickaha knew exactly what Tony meant. But Kickaha was not known for making anything easy. Even casual conversation.
“I mean, you seem… More kid-like right now in general.” Tony replied. “Not just your body. How you talk, act, the general level of energy. Is that all you just playing along and going with it, or does the spell have some impact on you.”
“Well, it’s hard to say.” Kickaha answered truthfully. “I mean, on one hand, I’m not exactly the ideal image of maturity one might think of. So it’s entirely possible this is just me acting out. On the other… Well, just because we don’t affect someone’s mind with our magic doesn’t mean their new body won’t.”
“What’s that mean?” Tony asked.
“Surely you’ve experienced it several times by now.” Kickaha grinned. “A new instinct kicking in. Perhaps, while spending some time as a cat you found yourself mesmerized by a bit of string and chose to attack it. Maybe another time while in the form of a fox you felt the urge to pounce upon a delicious rodent-“
“That hasn’t happened.” Tony replied coldly.
“Really? Still? Not even once?” Kickaha seemed confused. “Clearly, you have more to learn.”
“Whatever.” Tony rolled his eyes.
Kickaha had attempted to introduce Tony to the idea of eating rodents on a multitude of occasions. At one point he even tried to take him to a restaurant that the foxyote had apparently at one point had an advertising deal with. Tony didn’t ask questions about that. Either way, he balked at eating mice, or doing any kind of hunting. If there was one thing that showed he was still hard coded human it was his preference for cooked meals with meat bought at the grocery store that didn’t contain any rodent meat. And Kickaha was okay with that. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t have fun with it.
“But to your point, it’s impossible for a transformation not to affect someone mentally in some way.” Kickaha explained. “Because everyone is going to react to things in a different way. If you had your left arm chopped off for example, that would probably leave a pretty large mental impact.”
“Don’t make jokes about that.” Tony muttered. “Especially after I nearly did lose a body part or two back during Operation Field Trip.”
“Getting to the point, everything affects someone mentally. These new instincts when becoming an animal. A more juvenile attitude when becoming younger. It’s hard to say how much of it is caused by the actual transformation and how much the person’s own psyche. For example, watch this textbook display of frolicking.” Kickaha fell backwards into the snow and began waving his arms and legs, making a snow angel. “Am I doing this just as part of my normal carefree nature, that I’m using my newfound youth to carry out? Or is being young causing me to have less impulse control? Or do I only have less impulse control because I think I do? It’s hard to say for certain why I’m distracting you, isn’t it? Think it over.”
“It could be all of those things,” Tony mused. “Wait, what was that about distrac–” Tony picked up on a very important part of that monologue. But the snowball hitting his face demonstrated that he had not picked it up quite quickly enough. “H-hey that’s hardly fair! I wasn’t ready or anything!”
“You did promise to make sure things were more one-sided in the future.” Kickaha knelt over Tony and grinned. “I’m just playing along at this point.”
“Play along with this.” Tony rolled to the side and sprung to his feet while scooping up a ball of snow and tossing it at Kickaha.
“Meep.” The foxyote snickered as he fled too slowly and was hit. “You know, if we are going to be judging your one liners and stuff… I think the one about getting a friend your own age was a lot stronger than play along with this.”
“Fine.” Tony prepared another snowball. “But I wasn’t expecting such a frosty reception from you.” He tossed it at Kickaha who quickly ran behind a tree.
“Ahhhh! See! That’s much better! You got some proper wordplay in there.” Kickaha quickly scooped up some snow while behind the tree. “Wordplay is very important when it comes to magic. And we really haven’t covered it enough. So, it’s good you’re starting to pick it up a bit on your own.” Kickaha leaped from behind the tree only to find another snowball thrown at him. However, it lacked sufficient strength to go the full distance and landed on the ground short of Kickaha. “Even if you do sometimes come up a bit short.” Kickaha tossed his snowball.
And like that the war was on.
Tony and Kickaha were no longer student and teacher. They were just two friends having fun in the snow. And that meant right now they were on equal footing. And so snow and puns flew back and forth across the battlefield as each took turns poking fun at the other. Kickaha was proved to be far more practiced with puns, as he rained down a torrent of snow, cold and cat paced jokes at Tony’s experience. Tony had a little catching up to do with the wordplay. But he was a far better shot with a snowball. Perhaps, this was due to him being at his natural age, and thus a snowball fight still being a normal activity. He was more practiced.
Either way the battle continued through most of the day, and both of them only agreed to a ceasefire when they were united by a common need. The growling of their stomachs.
“We should head to Rodent Repast.” Kickaha suggested. “Right now we both qualify to eat off the kid’s menu.”
“Euu, gross. No.” Tony made a disgusted face. “Let’s just go back to my place. I’ll tell my mom you’re a friend from school. That’s… Technically true. I’m sure she’ll make us snacks.”
“You don’t think there’s going to be a problem with that?” Kickaha asked as he tugged on Tony’s tail.
“They’re just snacks, not dinner.” Tony shrugged. “I’m sure she’ll continue to convince herself that I’m not a talking snow cat and just have a really elaborate costume or am playing an immersive game.”
“Adults are good at that.” Kickaha nodded. It felt more satisfying to say this while not being an adult. “Alright, we can have non-rodent based snacks. But only if you’re buying.”
“It’s… It’s my mom making the snacks. We don’t have to pay her.” Tony muttered.
“Oh in that case, lead on.” Kickaha grinned. “I need a proper meal before I finish you off in a snowball fight.”
“That confident huh?” Tony asked. “Fine, soon as snacks are over round two will begin.”
And so the two cubs headed back to Tony’s place, where his parents would somehow convince themselves that their child and his friend were both normal humans while the two enjoyed their snacks and their snow day.