Chapter 5 - A Stranger in a Strange Land
After what seemed to be hours, but were just a few moments, Sasha opened her eyes and started moving. She had lost conscience shortly after being sucked by the magical vortex and, by instinct, morphed into a ball so her body would absorb the impact if falling too hard, protecting her newborn pups this way. Usually, that would have been enough and she wouldn't resent it at all, but the magical energies' combination and the vortex's force, much powerful than the one that sucked her the first time Belladonna used this trap, left her dizzy and weak for the moment, and therefore couldn't help but fainting after she stopped moving.
"Where... where am I? This place looks... familiar... but..." Sasha looked around, realizing that she was in some sort of jungle, but the sky looked as if it was a painted ceiling, and the trees had a weird scent on them. After walking a few steps, Sasha realized something even weirder and far scarier.
"Who am I?" The dog thougth out loud, and then realized she had absolutely no memory of her life before opening her eyes. She started concentrating, trying to remember anything, but her whole mind was a blank space. It was almost a miracle that she could remember being a dog and not some other animal.
"Hello? HELLO?" Sasha started yelling, hoping somebody could hear her. "Nobody's here? Please, anybody, answer me! I'm lost! I'm a lost dog! And... that's all I know who I am!"
Now completely terrified, Sasha started running around in no particular direction, something actually logic since she had no idea of where she was or where she had to go. This continued for a while until Sasha, panting in exhaustion after running like crazy, had to stop to catch her breath.
"Where am I? Do I have others looking for me? Are there are other dogs around here? Do I have a family?" Sasha, a bit more calm yet still obviously scared, continued asking herself; she kept thinking out loud since hearing her own voice gave her a little comfort, considering the scary possibility that she was the only dog, or sentient being, in the area; the silence was becoming as creepy as the loneliness, and despite not knowing about her own life, Sasha soon realized she was probably used to noisy or talkative companions, since she had problems to stand being quiet for long.
"Great, I'm learning about myself. Maybe if I concentrate and stop panicking, I'll be able to remember more." Sasha paused and smiled. "That actually sounded smart. Maybe I have a working brain after all... hope it starts working the way I want it... and that sounded a lot like an ironic comment. Do I like irony? Do I have a sense of humor? Hope I do, because right now, this isn't funny at all."
Sasha then started looking at herself, hoping this would trigger some memories, or at least, help her remember her own breed.
"Mmm... I have big, falling ears... so, I'm not a Doberman or a Husky... and I have long legs, so I'm no Dachshund or Basset Hound. My muzzle is long... so, no Bulldog or Boxer either. And I'm very furry... so, no Greyhound or Great Dane... but not that furry to give me a lot of heat, so I guess I'm not a British Shepherd, and since I'm not bulky, I'm surely not a Mastiff or Saint Bernard. Maybe I'm a German Shepherd... no, the ears don't fit..." Sasha then paused and thought for a moment. "German Shepherd... why that one sounds important? Maybe I'm half German Shepherd... that would make me a mixed breed... or I know a German Shepherd from somewhere. Come on, come on, Brain, you could remember several dog breeds right now, so you should be able to remember that one!"
After concentrating for a few minutes, Sasha groaned, upset with herself, as this German Shepherd-related data missed her memory.
"Great, this breed is now giving me a headache. But... funny enough, I actually think it's normal for me to feel like this... Maybe I'm not a German Shepherd but I know one, and he or she drives me crazy, or at least it's someone close to me." Sasha actually felt some relief from this information; at least, it proved she wasn't alone in the world, and she had family and/or friends who would probably be looking for her at this same moment.
Sasha was so focused on her self-discovery issues, that she didn't notice a large, legless creature approaching her from behind.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Charlie was almost ready to have a heart attack while breaking everyone's ear drums on the process.
"STUPID, STUPID, STUPID! I'M A COMPLETE IDIOT!" Charlie continued ranting against himself while pacing back and forth, his friends trying to calm him down without any success at the moment. "I SHOULD HAVE BEEN HERE TO PROTECT SASHA! LANCE COULD HAVE COVERED FOR ME WITH THE WOLVES! WHAT KIND OF HUSBAND AM I?"
"Charlie, quit it, now!" Itchy finally had enough and grabbed Charlie by both ears, forcing him to stop and looked at the Dachshund's eyes. "You didn't do anything wrong. You made the right decisions in an emergency situation, and nobody could have predicted what happened, so stop blaming yourself before you go insane! Sasha needs a sane husband and not-deaf-friends to help her right now."
As usual, Itchy was the best to get Charlie back to his senses, at least when Sasha wasn't around (and even in those cases, Itchy was still a very close second best option); the Elemental Canine calmed down and took some deep breaths, while Lance and Bess looked back at Annabelle, who certainly looked distressed enough to start a rant of her own and the only reasons she didn't was due to her naturally calm and logical nature, and the fact Charlie started ranting before she had the chance.
"I'm afraid we... no... 'I' underestimated Belladonna. She didn't just come with a good, elaborate set-up, but also powered herself up so I couldn't stop her this time." Annabelle sighed. "Normally, we're evenly matched, so much, actually, that we rarely get into a real fight because we both know it would be a potential mutual disaster... but this time she was so strong I barely could stay awake after she attacked me, and I had to use all my power just to try rescuing Sasha from the Kibbleland game."
"How is this 'Kibbleland' thing dangerous? I never played it, but I heard it's just a board game." Lance asked, puzzled.
"Did you ever see the old 'Twilight Zone' show?" Itchy turned at Lance, pausing until the Doberman nodded. "Well, in that show, even the most innocent, harmless things could have terrible, demonic powers; a ventriloquist dummy, a talking doll, a carnival game or mask... You can only imagine what real demonic powers can do when applied to an object."
"Itchy is right. Demons had been cursing all sorts of common use objects and toys since they were invented. In the hands or paws of a very experienced demon, even a coin can be as lethal as a bazooka." Annabelle added.
"But what does this have to do with the Kibbleland game?" Asked Lance, still confused.
"Demons have a weakness for enchanting games and toys, Lance, because most of their victims are innocent players, in other words, a demon's favorite victim. Belladonna's Kibbleland trap is very similar to another game created by a demon many centuries ago, Jumanji, but that one was set up to capture humans. In both cases, the victim can either get sucked inside the game, and stay trapped in an alternative dimension, consisting on the game's settings made real, or, in more extreme cases, the game's features manifest in the real world. And don't think they manifest as plastic toys or something like that; if the game says 'You fell in a lion den', you know you'll have to face a real lion."
"And the only way to break the spell is if you win the game, or if you can accomplish a specific task required by the game." Charlie explained Lance. "This happened to Itchy, Sasha and myself some time ago. Belladonna knew I had a thing for competitive gaming, gambling and getting quick profits, so she gave that game to Carface and Killer, and made them invite us to play a 'friendly' game... and being myself, I couldn't resist the chance to beating up those two, and of course, Sasha and Itchy got involved, as it happened with most of the crazy schemes I used to come up with."
Charlie groaned and looked down, pausing the story; these times, when remembering past mistakes, were always hard for him since he always felt terrible when admitting all the occasions he got Itchy and/or Sasha into trouble. Itchy realized this so he continued telling the story to Lance.
"Anyway, Sasha started the game, and the moment she threw the dices, the game sucked her in, pretty much like it happened today. With Sasha trapped inside, Belladonna finally revealed being behind the whole thing... of course, a magical game that sucks dogs inside itself was a very obvious hint of her involvement... and Charlie and I knew we now had no choice but entering the game and beat it from the inside in order to rescue Sasha. It wasn't easy because of all the traps and obstacles..."
"And because I was stupid enough to focus more on winning the game than in protecting my friends." Charlie groaned, feeling even worse than before. "Seriously, I was so... absorbed by the game, and I don't mean just literally, but the whole 'win at any cost' mentality, that I was trying to get to the finish line before Sasha and Itchy even if we were supposed to be competing as a team in order to escape."
"And things got even harder when Belladonna sent Carface and Killer to Kibbleland, so, besides the game's obstacles, we also had those two giving us a difficult time. Luckily, in the end, Charlie helped Sasha and I to escape, even if he was almost surely staying trapped inside." Itchy pointed out, smiling a bit and trying to light the mood a bit; Charlie was already a mess with Sasha's disappearance, and getting depressed over previous problems wasn't helping either.
"That was... a very brave, noble action, Charlie." Lance said to the German Shepherd, in a very honest and, even, admiration tone.
"Thanks... luckily, the game thought the same, so I could get out of it even if I couldn't reach the finish line." Charlie sighed, getting a slight smile at this triumph of his; besides beating up the game, this helped him beat up his own addiction to gambling and lose a lot of his old selfish ways.
"Yes. One good side about evil spells, and that's possibly the only good side of them, is that even the one who made the spell can't go against the magic's specifications, and there's usually a 'loophole' you can exploit in order to get victorious. In order to make the Kibbleland game hard enough so even I couldn't get Charlie and company out of it by force, Belladonna had to allow an 'alternative exit door', a very hard one to exploit, of course, since it involved making a huge, unselfish sacrifice, but one that she couldn't remove on risk of making a defective spell that I could break with relative ease." Annabelle finished the explanation; Lance nodded in understanding, realizing the kind of magic they were facing at the moment. "Unfortunately, now that Belladonna has stronger magic at her disposition, she could have changed the rules and added more dangers to the game. Luckily, even with her pregnancy, Sasha still has her powers, so she's more capable of defending herself than the first time the game absorbed her. Still, we have to locate the game and find the way to get her out."
"Don't need to Annabelle; I still have my copy of Kibbleland from that fiasco." Charlie replied while he started looking among his old stuff.
"Good. Hopefully, I can create a magical bond between the two games, so we can use your copy as a portal to the lost one, even if the new version has new 'lands' and set-ups." Annabelle nodded at Charlie.
"How about we use the dices and let the game to suck us inside, as it happened before?" Bess suggested while holding a dice that was left after the game got teleported away. "That way, we'd be attracted to the missing game despite the distance or location, right?"
"That would work, Bess, if we had both dices; otherwise, your 'turn' is incomplete and the magic will not start your 'game'. And, apparently, when the game started attracting Sasha, it also attracted some random, small objects from the room, as a giant vacuum cleaner would do, including one of the dices. And since Sasha would need both dices to play a turn as well, she can't 'advance' in her own game in order to escape faster, so she'll need to survive and advance the old fashioned way, beating up the obstacles as they present themselves." Annabelle explained to Bess.
"I have the dices from the old game." Charlie said while holding the 2 little objects.
"That will help us so you can enter the 'old game', Charlie, but I don't think they'll be useful with the new one. Otherwise, any pair of dices would be capable of starting a game, and that would be extremely dangerous; even the demons wouldn't allow that because the game would get, let's say, overpopulated, and enough victims working together would be able to escape more easily, or, at least, defeat the game's dangers and made it a harmless space." Annabelle said while grabbing the dices and starting to chant a spell on them.
Back at Kibbleland, Sasha started sniffing around, forgetting, by the moment, about what kind of dog she was, and focusing instead on finding her way back home. When doing this, she finally noticed the whole area actually smelled...
"Delicious." Sasha thought out loud. "This whole place smells like a large buffet... and why I suddenly have a craving for sausages?"
Sasha heard a hissing sound and turned to see a huge line of sausages... that was looking back at her; and it had furious, predatory eyes, and large fangs.
"And it seems the sausages here have a craving for me!" Sasha yelped and barely dodged a bite from the Sausage Snake, one of the many monsters from the game. It was a funny, crazy idea for puppies playing it, but not that much when facing a real one attempting to eat you.
Sasha jumped aside to dodge another bite, and then realized several other similar creatures were surrounding her. The Afghan then jumped over the first Snake, and made a dash away from the monsters. Without her realizing it, Sasha's legs were now extending, until they were as large and strong as a horse's, allowing her to leave the snakes far behind her plus avoiding any obstacles on her way; Sasha, of course, was so scared at the moment that she was acting mostly out of instinct, so didn't realize she was using her Elasticity Powers.
"Whoa... I'm fast..." Sasha said to herself when noticing her speed yet still without knowing how long were her legs at the moment. "Maybe I'm a Greyhound... or at least a half'Greyhound... or... what's that breed that looks like a Greyhound but furrier... French Poodle? No, it's not that one... Foxhound? No, not furry enough... Afghan? Possibly... but their fur isn't reddish... I guess... Mmm... Irish Setter? Yes, that's the breed!."
Sasha, satisfied with this new self-knowledge, and happy she no longer could see the snakes chasing after her, stopped running, and her legs returned to their natural size, again, without her noticing this. Sasha then noticed that the ground under her paws wasn't made of soil, but kibble.
"Weird... well, at least I'll not starve while I'm lost here." Sasha decided to eat at the spot... literally. Once she had eaten enough kibble to satisfy her appetite, she started looking for some water since, as any dog, she got thirsty after eating a dry food meal.
After searching around for a while, Sasha found a little pond, and she could get a drink, not noticing the kibble under her paws was getting softer and mud-like.
"Mmm... good thing I found this... I had so much kibble I really needed a drink." Sasha paused her drinking to think a bit. "Wonder why I felt so hungry all of a sudden; I wasn't even thinking about food until after those sausages attacked me, and I can't believe I said it out loud. Maybe I got a craving from sniffing them... and that gave me an appetite. Still... I'm sure I wouldn't eat that much on a regular basis, or I'd be as fat as pig."
Sasha then gave her belly a good look, realizing she looked a bit pudgy. At the moment, she thought it was because of how much kibble she just ate, but then remembered she already looked like this before eating; she hadn't paid it enough attention until now since, before this little lunch and water break, she had been too busy thinking about her identity and whereabouts.
"Guess I really have an appetite. Maybe I'm a glutton... but somehow, I don't think that's normal in me." Sasha continued thinking, and then, all of a sudden, she realized her paws had started sinking in the kibble ground. The Setter then realized that, just like normal kibble, this one could get softened by water, and since she was standing on the kibble around the pond, this ground wasn't as firm as the rest, but almost mud-like, and it was now working as quick sand.
Sasha panicked at this, and tried to run back to dry land/kibble, but her attempts only made her sink even faster; now her paws and legs were entirely immersed in wet kibble, and it was just a matter of seconds before the same happened to the rest of her body. Even if she had known about her powers, this would be a hard escape for Sasha, with the kibble encasing her limbs and making moves difficult, so, without her knowing about her own abilities, this was a death trap.
"Okay... remember... remember... what to do in a situation like this... oh, yeah." Sasha took a deep breath before yelling in fear. "SOMEBODY HELP ME! HELP!"
Sasha continued trying to break free while yelling, but even in her panicked state, the Setter knew there were little chances to get rescued.
"Oh, perfect... I'm gonna die and I don't even know my name to call myself a moron for falling in this death trap..." Sasha gulped and took a few deep breaths, knowing her head would soon end submerged in wet kibble.
Sasha gasped when hearing this howling; it seemed that now her options were choking to death in food or being eaten by some wild beast.
"Unless the beast gets trapped in here with me... great, what a nice companion in my last moments." Sasha groaned yet it was very obvious she was quite scared.
Then, a large, canine humanoid creature jumped out of the bushes; Sasha immediately realized it was a male being, and she instantly remembered the technical name of the creature... a werewolf. It was huge, easily as big as a medium-sized bear, with large, sharp teeth and claws; his fur was a light, almost pale tone of brown, with some dark on his back and ears. However, unlike most dogs (or anyone with a little self preservation instinct), she didn't feel overly scared; Sasha didn't know if he would attack her, or if he was friendly. After all, just some time earlier that day, she was almost eaten by stuff, she remembered, was normally something she would be eating.
"Uh... eh... Mister Werewolf... Sir... can you... assist me... or at least, restrain yourself from eating me?" Sasha tried to stay as calm as usual; even without her memories, Sasha's instincts told her that being afraid in front of a predator would only make her appeal more vulnerable.
The werewolf looked at her for a moment, and then started advancing towards the trapped dog; then, the creature realized why she was in trouble, when one of his paws sunk slightly on the wet kibble. The werewolf retired immediately, and then started looking around; when spotting a large log on the ground, the werewolf lifted it, and then, with more care anyone would expect from such a fierce-looking beast, placed the log next to Sasha; besides giving her a way to escape, the werewolf was doing it in a way he wouldn't get trapped himself.
"Super strong, has a brain, and he knows compassion... okay, I'm officially impressed." Sasha, smiling for the first time in what seemed to be ages, used all her strength to release one of her paws and grab the log; then, now she had a support point, Sasha could release her other front paw and hug the log. The werewolf, noticing she was holding herself well enough, started pulling the log, taking her whole body out of the wet kibble, and a few moments later, she was completely out of danger.
"Thanks, Tall, Furry and Fearsome. Heh, not that fearsome, actually." Sasha smiled at the werewolf. The large beast nodded at her and then, surprising her, started morphing into a smaller creature; his muscles reduced to a more normal size, and his features changed to an average German Shepherd's, still conserving the fur color.
"I think I look better like this." The male dog smiled at the female. Sasha gasped a bit at this but soon realized her savior looked kinda attractive; of course, she didn't remember at the time, but being in love with Charlie, it was obvious she considered German Shepherds very good looking, and that knowledge was practically an instinct by now, so it didn't disappear along with her memory.
"V-very good trick... heh, do you perform in parties?" Sasha used a little humor, again, surprising herself at how easy she could use jokes and sarcasm in a casual conversation; she was just glad this time she actually had someone to talk with instead of just herself.
"Yes, I do, if there's a birthday boy or girl among the audience." The German Shepherd chuckled and then extended his paw at her. "My name is Donovan, but you can call me Don; everyone does it and you don't wanna go against the status quo, right?"
"Great, a werewolf who also tells jokes." Sasha shook his paw, smiling back. "Thanks for rescuing me... and excuse me for asking, but aren't werewolves supposed to be humans who turn into wolves? Or you're actually a man who can change himself into dog and then into a werewolf?"
"Well... I'm more like, a dog who can turn himself into a bestial shape, but that's a mouthful, so you can call me a werewolf." Don grinned at her. "And what's your name? I am already sharing private information with you, and I don't even know who you are."
"About that... funny thing... well, not that funny... I have no idea of who I am. Last thing I remember before finding myself here is that... some sort of storm caught me... but whatever happened before that, I'm a complete blank." Sasha sighed.
"Amnesia... Belladonna is getting creative with her punishments." Don frowned slightly, and Sasha couldn't help but cringe a bit when hearing that name. Somehow, she suspected 'Belladonna' wasn't exactly a kind person, or dog.
"Who's this 'Belladonna' you talk about?"
"Oh, right, you have amnesia... well, I'll explain everything to you once we get back to my place. Trust me, this place isn't safe; no place is safe in this land, of course, but I know the not-so-dangerous spots where you can actually relax a bit." Don motioned Sasha to follow him.
"Thanks... and yes, I might have no memories right now, but I know sausages aren't supposed to eat dogs." Sasha followed him while looking around, fearing the Sausage Snakes or some other monster would appear at any moment.
"Heh, I actually do a 'normal' thing with them. The only reason I come here, away from some friends I live with, is because my werewolf side needs to get... dangerous, once in a while, and hunt for my own food. In this land, you can get easy food most of the time since almost all the ground here is made of kibble, but if you have strong predatory instincts, like myself, you need to hunt, kill and devour prey once in a while, so I morph into my werewolf self and come here to have a Sausage Snakes' feast. Stay close to me and they'll stay away from you." Don said to Sasha, greatly comforting her.
"Good to know; I found myself a perfect bodyguard, and his job and his payment are the same thing." Sasha chuckled, making Don to get a fond smile as well.
"You have a cute laugh, you know... Mmm... I need a way to call you, so... How about, Chuckles?" Don grinned.
"How about you try harder?" Sasha arched an eyebrow at him.
"I deserved that; okay, fine, how about... Irish? You're an Irish Setter, so it's fitting."
"Then, it's a good thing you know your own name, or I'd be calling you Shep." Sasha rolled her eyes yet continued smiling. "Okay, while I finally get this brain of mine to remember who I am, guess Irish is a good option."
Don nodded at her while they continued walking out of the jungle part of Kibbleland. The German Shepherd smiled in delight; this wasn't the first time he went out for food and returned home with a guest; after all, he had met many of his current friends that way; but somehow, he felt this girl was special somehow. He also made a mental note about asking her if she was pregnant, since her belly looked a bit bigger than usual and he knew it wasn't from body fat, yet, considering she had been partially submerged in wet kibble, it was possible that extra volume actually came from moisture on her fur.