Some have decided to live in drugs,
Some live in a house,
Some choose to live in drunken mugs,
And another lives as a .. mouse.
OF MICE AND FRIENDS
by Ryan J. Viergutz
Muppets, rival explorers, and an almost-ditzy catgirl partner. Plenty enough for any Ruin Explorer, but with a curse besides, it was the next best thing to too much.
Ihrie had once been the single apprentice to a Magical Academy outcast; her memories had never gone away, and irritation at his outcasting grew more intense with every day. His temper had never been too nice, either, so when Ihrie bumbled one day, well .. Ihrie now had a curse that, by its very nature, came out at the most inopportune times.
It took one spell, and voila! Ihrie was a mouse.
She could speak.
She could sneak.
That was about it.
Even now, in the middle of a dark and now mouse-infested dungeon, she would not have minded it. It was somehow fun to speak with a squeak and scare people like Rasha; but without her cannery jar of pills, which had fallen into a pit somewhere during her transformation, it was quite difficult to become a human again.
Were she home, she could create a new batch - the recipe, courtesy of her mentor on a lighter mood, was firmly in her memory.
She wasn't home.
She was in a dark, mouse-infested dungeon.
Even Fam's 'Ihrie' seemed to be too far away.
A voice! Someone had come! Oh no .. that voice .. A beefy battle-reddened hand picked her up and the goateed face of Rasha's lout partner Miguel laughed. "I knew it was you!"
"So you're not human. So Rasha's not around. So .. something .. "
Miguel wasn't the brightest lout of them all. Brighter than some, say, Damaramu, but that was saying -very- little.
"So we start _searching_?"
"And scare the bugger outta her?"
"So we search for my pills, Miguel, not Rasha. Yet." Ihrie's eternal struggle: to leave Rasha alone, or help her out? The latter ..nearly .. always won, but a yelp never hurt anyone. Especially not someone like Rasha.
Besides, she couldn't do _anything_ until she was human again.
"Your pills .. is that how you change .. "
Ihrie shuffled in Miguel's hand and ended up with her furry arms crossed. A mouse on two legs was not an ordinary sight, but then, Ihrie was no ordinary mouse, nor a natural one at that. "It's how I change _back_," came her impatient chitter.
Explorer repellers or none, dungeons were easier to maneuver throughout as a mouse. Spikes could be worked around, trapdoors could be grasped and scrambled onto; one of the few true threats to a mouse was a catapulting floorpanel. They were a rarity in most dungeons.
This was not one of them.
"Miguel you idiot!"
Fam's voice was now inaudible, and the lout, well, he had probably already picked a fight and thus too distracted. She was alone. Things could be worse, Ihrie nodded, things could always be worse. She could have to work with Rasha.
On with the dungeon. Around the obvious raised panel, into the tiny hole beneath the door, into the large room beyond ..
It occured to Ihrie that the hole in the door had been intentional. The room was large, yes, but the small barred cage she had found herself in was its exact opposite. Even the hole in the door had been barred over with what appeared to be a miniature portcullis.
Cages were nonetheless workable - Ihrie had made it a point to sharpen her mouse-teeth and create at least a modicum of claws - but the things watching her from the large room were not going to be easy without magic. Indeed, someone must have _despised_ mice; two saber-toothed tigers had dropped down from pedestals and were watching Ihrie-the-mouse hungrily, cage-chomping fangs pointing from mouths that could swallow it whole.
Oh, this would be a doozy, yes indeedy.
This'd be a doozy for the _cats_.
"Ah, this one looks much more delicious than the others. More plump?" observed one.
"I am _not_ plump!" Ihrie squeaked.
"It _speaks_? Perhaps this is the one about which we have heard," observed the second, leaning further down.
"You've heard of a speaking mouse?"
"Only one, darling morsel. How a mouse could play a part in the recovery of Reybart, I do not know. You must be that one, ah?" The curious cat's slit-eyes leaned next to the cage and purred.
"There may be more."
"Oh, but the mouse-curse is rarely used. Only one mage has used it to our knowledge, and only one apprentice did he ever accept."
It had her there. "What if I do turn out to be that mouse?"
"Nothing," shrugged the first. "Just a treat to savor; few things are as delicious as a hero."
"Heroine." ... Was that that door creaking?
"Does it really matter right now?" asked the first, yawning.
"It might," said the more curious cat, leaning closer to Ihrie's cage and resting its head on its paws. "We might be interested in a conversation, a chat before the munch.
"Of course, we already had one," it yawned, showing its enormous mouth to practiced effect. Its tired eyes peered into Ihrie's, and its fangs tilted fearsomely. "Quick or slow? Munch or - "
The door crashed, and a sword bashed through, followed by the inexplicably alert eyes of Miguel. A lout, yes, but one with skill. He looked around quickly, saw one cat, saw the other, looked back at the first and then to the cage. "Ihrie!" he said, and startled, dropped the jar of grey anti-curse pills just inches from her cage.
Inches. Way too far for a mouse.
And Miguel the lout already had his sword out, slashing at the cat before her cage. It slinked out of the way as per its species, and Miguel stepped where it was, watching the cats circle him and Ihrie.
Ihrie knew the dangers of poking an embattled warrior, and refrained from the obvious temptation, instead reaching for the pills that lay out of reach .. and were taken by a cat as she watched.
"Watch what you do with those!" she screamed, eyes threateningly to pop out of the cage by themselves.
Miguel was dueling the other cat, too deep into his berserken battling to be interrupted; Ihrie was going to have to do this alone. Somehow.
The cat was playing with the bottle, gnawing the lid and peering curiously at the pills. "These restore you to what you normally are, hm? Surely you'd rather be a mouse - a digested mouse - than become a creature like _him_ again."
"I'm not _male_."
"Who's to say these pills would give your desired result? I say take the simplest route." Smiling to its fangs' best effect, the cat tilted its head backward, pouring the bottle's entirety down its throat.
Ihrie's eyes went wild but the cat, now facing the mouse and still smiling, swallowed.
"STUPID CAT!" Ihrie screamed - more a shrill, as a mouse - and began to shake the bars of the cage. "STUPID BLIGHTING CAT!"
Miguel spun in a full circle, slicing the cat in two through the midsection, and returned to his battle with the other. "That should help," he said distractedly.
The pills! The cat's stomach!
The cat was thinking the same thing, running out of the room to places unknown before its final death-throe thoughts had dissipated. Minutes passed, during which Miguel finished the other cat and rested along a wall. "Tougher than the other one," he panted.
Ihrie snickered and tilted a glance at the door. "Care to find the cat? Or let me out?"
"Can't." Miguel slumped along a wall, the battle done.
There was only one other option, then: "Fam!"
The little Wiggan stumbled into the room mere seconds later, ruffled, somewhat charred, and dressed even skimpier than usual. "Rasha found me fi - Ihrie!"
"Help me out?"
Fam was already beginning.
"All is nearly nothing,
And cages are often less:
Unseal this troubling thing
With the power blacksmiths possess."
Ihrie touched the cages' walls carefully, and realised they were melting around her. "Nice - and on the First try for once!"
The Wiggan grinned demurely, as Ihrie skittered out of the cage.
"A ha ha ha .. "
From a warm cozy to a chill up the spine. Rasha.
"A ha - ha?" Rasha's feet came closer to the door and Ihrie four-footed over to it, arms crossed.
It took a few seconds, but Ihrie attained the desired result.
"Eeeee!" and a thump.
"Hi, Rasha. What's this you have? A partly-digested pill? Two?" Ihrie chuckled and poked her head around the edge of the door after a few seconds. "My clothes in there?"
Fam peered around, looked at Ihrie, and shook her head.
"No," Fam said, whispering around the door's frame.
"A trap door? Something? Um, Fam, what do I hear .. ?"
"Miguel. Getting up."
"Oh no - Fam, hold him in there."
"He's bending over Rasha."
"I'm coming in."
"But Ihrie - "
"Those cats seemed to be expecting me .. I think I know where one is. Follow me, Fam." Ihrie slunk along the door and wall, her back facing Miguel. A slight bump in the ground, another one a mouse-length away, and Ihrie jumped.
Miguel's head jerked up, eyes wide, and was promptly jerked back down, Rasha pulling him to her and muttering something.
Ihrie screamed, suddenly discovering there was no ground below her feet. A long-abandoned chute and Ihrie found herself lying in something from which she grabbed her clothes and prepared to -
"I've got my clothes, can make another batch of pills, and have you on me. Get off, Fam."
Fam rolled over and onto a patch of grass. "You're in - "
"I'm in one of those things that require an immediate bath."
"Help me out,
I need to be clean.
Give me some clout,
And please don't be mean."
Ihrie-the-mouse skittered out of the Bog of Biodegradable Stench, followed by an "Eeeee!" and a thump. Few things were as nice as seeing Rasha out of her element, and oh, it..
"You're out of pills, Ihrie."
..it _almost_ made it all worth it.