"…and thanks to Twitchy's timely rescue, he and Julie escaped the cat's lair," Maxwell read from the book in his paws, "and they both lived happily ever after.  The end."

            The other Ham-Hams around the fire smiled in appreciation at the story Maxwell had just finished.  "Isn't that sweet?" Sandy said.  "Twitchy was so timid, but when Julie was in danger, he knew he had to be brave!"

            "I know," Bijou agreed.  "It is romantic, no?"

            Folding his arms, Boss remarked, "Eh, it's not bad, I guess.  For a beginner, I mean.  I've saved a few Hams myself in the past, y'know."

            "Yes, like me," Bijou said, turning to look at Boss with a smile.  "Zat was very sweet of you, too."

            "Aw, it wasn't nothin', really…" Boss said, scratching his head and blushing at the same time.

            Hamtaro nodded, "It was a good story.  Even someone as shy as Twitchy still had the heart of a hero.  I like that!"  He looked over at Maxwell and asked, "So what's next?"

            "I know just the thing," Maxwell said, thumbing through his book.  "It's a story about a lost little puppy and the three hamsters that helped find his way home."

            "Cool," Stan exclaimed.  "Let's hear it!"

            Penelope nodded in agreement, "Ookyoo!"

            As he went through the book, he looked puzzled and said, "Hmm…oh wait, that's right, that story is in volume three…maybe I should read a different one…"

            Oxnard was just finishing a roasted sunflower seed and said, "Don't do that!  Now you got me wondering what happens to the puppy!"

            "Yeah," Maxwell said.  "Oxy, could you go get me the book?  It's on my top shelf.  They're the only books that are green…volume three, remember."

            Oxnard nodded and said, "Got it!"  He got to his feet and scampered off towards the clubhouse.  As he headed inside and went upstairs, he thought, I wonder if the puppy does make it home at the end…I've just gotta know!  Maybe I can peek at the ending before I bring it down…I'm sure he won't mind…

            He went in through the door to the room where Maxwell keeps his books, and headed for the shelf.  Sure enough, there were about five green books on the top shelf, and he reached up, pulling volume three down.  As he flipped it open to find out the ending, he blinked a few times and said, "Oh, I almost forgot, I don't even know the name of the story!  Aw…I guess that means I'm gonna have to wait and…"


            "Heke?" Oxnard said, glancing around.  He thought for a moment that he heard something whispering, but there wasn't anyone there.  Of course there isn't, he reasoned.  Everyone's outside.  I'll just take the book down…


            That time, he knew he didn't imagine it.  Clutching the book to his chest, he turned around to face the door and said, "Wh-who's there?"  There was no answer.  He started to edge towards it slowly, wondering if maybe he should just leave…he didn't notice the shadow that grew against the wall behind him, spreading across the bookcase and up to the ceiling, a shadow that slowly took shape.  The shadow fell across Oxnard, and he noticed it out of the corner of his eye.  He spun around, but wasn't even able to speak as the voice echoed in the air again, more loudly this time…


*          *            *

            "What's taking Oxnard so long?" Boss complained.  "He shoulda been back by now.  He better not have taken a break to eat…"  The other Ham-Hams were beginning to notice how long he'd been gone as well, and a couple of them were wondering how come he hadn't yet returned.

            "Maybe he just can't find the book," Pashmina suggested.

            "I told him exactly where it was…at least, where I last saw it," Maxwell mused, then looked worried, "Good grief, I hope he isn't tearing through my library looking for it!  I have them in a certain order!"

            Dexter shrugged, "I'm sure it's nothing to be concerned about…"

            "Yeah," Howdy agreed.  "We're readin' too much into this.  Hah!  Get it?  Readin'?"  The glares from everyone else showed that they did get it, but weren't too pleased about it.

            "That's it, I'm going to go check on him," Maxwell said, getting up and starting towards the clubhouse.  "If all else, I can just get the book myself."

            "Hurry back!" Bijou called out.

            Maxwell went inside, shaking his head as he did, and thinking, Oxy, c'mon…it couldn't have been that hard to find it, they're the only green ones on there!  Hmm, maybe I put volume three somewhere else, though.  Ah, I don't know.  All I know is, if one book is out of place, I'll have to have a little talk with Oxy about the Dewey decimal system…

            As he started to approach the door to his library, he noticed it was still slightly ajar, and heard sounds coming from inside…he couldn't make it out, but it sounded like chewing.  Should have figured he'd take a break to stop and eat, he thought, and stepped up to the door, swinging it open.

            He didn't expect to see what he saw, though, and found himself frozen in shock, staring open-mouthed at the sight.  There was something hunched in the room, something that he could barely describe…it was both formless and solid at the same time, like dense, swirling red mist, with long, thin arms and legs, ending in three-toed claws.  A pair of something that looked like wings emerged from its back, although they were little more than skeletal, and burned an even brighter red than the rest of it, like they were on fire.  Its head consisted of a wide mouth lined with sharp teeth, and curved horns sticking out from the sides.

            The thing was holding something in its claws and tearing into it with its teeth…something small and furry, and covered in blood.  It was already half-devoured, and even though part of Maxwell told him it was impossible, logic forced it on him.  It was Oxnard…there was no mistaking the fur color that he could barely make out beneath the blood, which collected in a pool on the floor beneath them as well.

            It lifted its head to look in Maxwell's direction, with a pair of bright, glowing red eyes that seemed to pierce directly into his soul.  He was horrified…he felt like running, and knew he had to get away, yet the unearthly stare of this creature somehow kept him rooted in place.  By fear, or by some other means, he couldn't be sure.  All he could do is watch as it dropped what was left of Oxnard and approached him, crossing the room in only two heavy, slow strides.  Maxwell shook uncontrollably, but still couldn't budge.

            Gazing down at him, the creature lowered itself down to one knee.  It opened its mouth and spoke…the words that emerged were twisted, meaningless, like some ancient, indecipherable language, yet as it sounded aloud, a voice echoed inside his head at the same time.  […Greetings, my master…]

            "Wh…h…" Maxwell stammered, trying to form something coherent, but failing miserably.  "Y…y-you…w-wha…"

            Narrowing one eye curiously, the creature spoke again, […You are the one who summoned me forth, are you not?  The one who bears the Magus Liber?…]

            Maxwell's eyes fell on the table to his side, where the Magus Liber rested.  He looked back at the creature, and said, "I…I s-summoned…you…?  Wh-who are you?"

            […I am called Gur'chrugoth.  You recited the incantation that awoke me, mortal.  As I am bound by the powers of the Magus Liber, I have come as you have asked of me…]

            "B-but…Oxnard…" Maxwell said, his eyes darting over just for a moment to look at the remains of his friend.

            Gur'chrugoth cast a glance in the same direction and said, […You did not have the necessary sacrificial meal prepared when you summoned me.  I assumed this was it…]

            Maxwell shouted, "No!  That was my friend!"

            The creature didn't looked like it cared…it looked at Maxwell again and said, […I am satiated now, and ready to do your bidding, my master…what would you have me do?]

            Storming the rest of the way into the room and slamming the door behind him, he said, "Can you save him somehow?  Bring him back?"

            Shaking its head, Gur'chrugoth said, […No.  Even had I the power to restore life to the dead, the being's soul has been consumed, as part of the sacrifice…]

            Maxwell's head was awhirl…things were happening to fast.  He had summoned up some kind of demon…one of his best friends was gone…and all because of that book he found.  He felt terrible, wondering what he had done to deserve this…what Oxnard had done to deserve this…

            Okay, calm down, calm down, Maxwell thought.  It looks bad, but at least this thing's under your control.  It's not running around trying to kill anyone else.  You can still get rid of it…maybe that book… He pointed at the Magus Liber and said, "What can you tell me about that book?"

            […The Magus Liber?  It was written and crafted long ago, a tome that grants great power to the one who possesses it.  It is merely a focus for that power, which is released through the incantations scribed upon its pages…]

            A knock sounded at the door, and Hamtaro's voice came from the other side, "Maxwell?  Oxnard?  Are you guys in there?"

            Seized with sudden fear, Maxwell thought, Oh no!  I…I can't let them find out about this!  I can't let them find out I caused this to happen to Oxy…what do I do?!  He turned to Gur'chrugoth and whispered quickly, "Can you do something to hide this?  They can't find out about you, or that Oxnard's dead!"

            With a spread of its claw, the mess on the floor vanished…Maxwell gasped as the bloodied remains of Oxnard got back to its feet, and a mist of blood swirled above it.  He watched wordlessly as bone, muscle, and skin began knitting itself back together again on the top, and when it finally finished, Oxnard was standing there once again, back in one piece.

            […A soulless corpse…but it will serve as a sufficient vessel…]  Gur'chrugoth turned completely into a red mist and moved to surround Oxnard's body, disappearing into it.  A moment later, the body's eyes opened up again, blinked a few times, and he looked over at the shocked Maxwell, speaking in Oxnard's voice, "The deception is ready, my master."

            "Hamha?" Hamtaro's voice shouted from the door again.  "Are you guys okay?"

            Snapping out of his trance, Maxwell realized he had no choice but to see this through.  He turned and opened the door slowly…Hamtaro looked like he was nervous, but then looked relieved once he saw both of them.  "You had me worried for a second.  Did you find the story okay?" he asked.

            "Uh…w-well…" Maxwell said…he looked over at 'Oxnard', who raised a green book with one of his paws, the one that Oxnard had been going to get.  He breathed a small sigh of relief and said, "Yeah, we've got it right here."

            "Great!  Now let's get back out there," Hamtaro smiled.  "The others are getting anxious to hear it!"

            Maxwell took the book from Oxnard and handed it to Hamtaro, saying, "Here, you read them the story.  I've got some…uh…I mean…Oxy got some of the books out of order, and he's going to help me put them back the way they were, okay?  You'll do fine…the story's in there, it's called 'The Lost Puppy', okay?"

            "Sure, I guess…" Hamtaro agreed.  "Well, don't be too long…"

            Maxwell nodded slowly, and Hamtaro left to head back downstairs.  Closing the door, Maxwell leaned his head up against it, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, trying to sort the whole mess out.  He opened his eyes again and looked over at the Magus Liber, then started over towards the table it was sitting on.  Oxnard turned his head to watch him cross the room, following his every move with his gaze but not moving from the spot, and stood wordlessly as Maxwell started going through the book.   He thought, There's got to be some way I can undo all this…it's a spell book, after all, so I'll just figure it out…if I can…please say that I can…