Apart from the lame Queens of the Stone Age reference, here's my long-overdue part of a trade with Vir.
Skepticism was the thing at the forefront of Virmir’s mind as he wandered down empty corridors. Well, empty might not have been the right word for it; intercoms were placed at every turn, and the walls were decorated in a tan-white checkerboard style. Lights obviously were placed in the ceiling. They were fancy magical orbs, too, which he liked.
But the décor wasn’t the part of his tour that was setting him on edge.
His invitation was. For one, he didn’t like letters forming out of fire – green fire, mind you, the kind used in illusions – he didn’t like them forming in his treehouse. Wood was susceptible to fire, he knew, and the last time a certain dragon had come by, well, he had to relocate. So after he’d stomped out the fancy, yet fake, fire, he’d lifted it up and read it.
“DEAREST READER,” it began in elegant bold text, and then shifted into an equally fancy, yet completely different font;
“The single representative at BUILDING 301 has invited you to a constructive meeting for all of the planners of the world. The meeting will entail a training course and complimentary scheduling program. Effects are promised to be revolutionary – all planners are guaranteed to experience a permanent change in the fluidity and elasticity of their planning. Refreshments will be provided.”
Virmir had been ready to light the blasted thing on fire and send it out the door (directly into a pool which he’d been forced to install after… antics), but something caught his eye. In the bottom right corner of the stationery was a pair of signatures. One of them looked like chickenscratch, or at least something from a little kid. It read “MEDIK.”
Next to that, though, was a much more elaborate and elegant use of letters. Every letter flowed into the next and it ended with a little curly-cue that ran back to the beginning of the name. It was even in shiny red ink. This one read “Shifty.”
Those two signatures had been enough to convince Virmir that the meeting had to be inspected. Medik, of all people, would know blast-all about scheduling and planning. If anything, he deconstructed all the meticulous and careful planning that Virmir created on a daily basis. If Virmir wanted to draw one day, Medik wanted to speak with him. If he wanted to play games, Medik wanted him to work on something with him. If he wanted to eat, Medik wanted to distract him with who-knows-what.
And who was this Shifty person? Needless to say, he or she was incredibly suspicious with a name like that.
Virmir donned his travelling cape and hopped down from the treehouse, immediately setting out for whatever this “BUILDING 301” was.
With a name as vague as that, it took a while. The fox went to Toast first, the presumed caretaker of Medik, and asked where he was.
“I unno,” was all the dragon said. Then he smacked away an inflated knight who was blown up to the size of a gigantic beach hut.
Virmir tried to ignore the dragon’s lack of manners and dodged a piece of armor that shot out at him as the knight was bounced. “Are… are you sure?” he asked nervously.
Toast shrugged. “Said he had a special project. Didn’t sound that interesting to me, considering it was about planning.” He turned around, nearly slapping Virmir over with his scaly tail, then spun back around eagerly. “Hey, wait a second, I might have an idea of where he went off to. He made a bunch of investments using my money.” His pupils shrank, and his grin grew razor-sharp. “But I need a toy pretty soon…”
Virmir was already walking away. “Nope, I can find him on my own,” he yelled back.
Toast frowned and walked back into his cave, forcing himself to be content with his meager hundreds of toys.
Without much of an idea of where to go, Virmir forced himself to head into the nearest town. Avoiding as many people as possible (and trying to incinerate fewer), eventually he found his way to a section of town labeled “DEVELOPING” on a wooden sign. At the bottom were numerous building numbers, all starting in the hundreds and ending in the single digits. Virmir traced a claw along until he found the number 301 and found the directions for it, then set off to find whatever was there.
Much like the area around it, Building 301 was nondescript and plain gray. Not that these were bad things, obviously, considering this was Virmir. It was pretty large, probably more than 20 feet by 20 feet, which made the fox wonder how in the world a little kid would afford such a place, even if using part of a dragon’s hoard.
The door itself was big and foreboding, too. A set of double-doors, it stood out amongst the rest of the building and almost seemed to be guarding the place. Virmir, however, was not scared in the slightest, and pushed through the pair of doors.
There was no lobby. There were no people. The door just led into a long hallway that split into other ones along the way.
Virmir was considering he might have taken the wrong side of the fork a few minutes ago when his nose hit something. He rubbed it and glanced down at the injury, then looked for the source of it.
Right in front of him was nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just plain, empty air.
The gray fox tapped at the area in front of him. His knuckles found something solid where his eyes did not. His procedure of dealing with this sort of odd phenomenon was obvious.
“Blasted illusions,” he spat, and threw a fireball at it.
The fire splatted against the empty air, and the residue flame started licking away at the wood walls to the side.
“Blasted… ugh.” The fox pulled his cape off and swung it at the fire, working on killing the orange, dancing flames. Thankfully he had long ago enchanted the clothing so it was fireproof, considering he would have been burnt to a crisp long ago without it.
While he was still in the process of swatting out the fire, a small *beep* sounded next to his ears. A voice came over the intercom, but it was completely computer default. It… sounded like Microsoft Sam. “Barriers down. Guest recognized. Head inside.”
Virmir stared up at the intercom and then in front of him. Slowly, he reached forward with his right hand… and found no resistance. Finally cleared, even in such a suspicious way, he continued to head on through the building, hoping for the meeting room, or at least an exit.
The halls stretched on for a long, long, long, long, long time. He would have called it infinite, but it couldn’t have been. Obviously. Unless it was magical, which, based on all the things he’d seen so far, it probably was. With that in mind, he muttered something about the whole entire place being an infinite swirl of halls and walls, then turned a corner and slammed into a door. An actual door, this time.
It was simple and businesslike, and the handle cooperated with a little squeak as Virmir turned it. He was fully expecting it to lead into another infinite loop of hallways, but was lucky to find a board room instead. There were climbing charts on the walls and whiteboards with little notes scribbled on them, and plenty of office chairs placed around the table just-so. There were little nameplates in front of said chairs, and each had a name in that horrid smelling black marker. He didn’t seem to recognize them. It wasn’t like he was part of the League of the Organized (if such a thing existed), but he at least thought a couple of noteworthy people he knew would be present.
But no one was there. Not even Medik, or the mysterious Shifty. Just himself.
Virmir grumbled to himself and walked along the side of the plain white table, looking for his spot. As he got farther along, the nameplates seemed to get… well, more ridiculous. They went from “Mr. Tom,” to “Atylun,” and then just became a series of squiggles by the halfway mark. Virmir, being the sensitive fox he was, didn’t want to call out this weird sight as a complete set-up, so he kept walking along.
At the opposite end of the table, which was quite a walk away, he finally found his own nameplate, in that same fancy writing from the letter he’d received hours before. He let out a breath and pulled out his chair to sit down in it.
Only there wasn’t a chair there. Or any floor, really.
Virmir yelled “BLAST!” a lot on his long fall down a dark and empty hole. It twisted a bit, too, so when he finally landed in a spotless, white room with no windows or doors or much of anything other than lights, he had a couple of good welts and bruises growing on his body.
“Guest is present. Central command shutting down,” the same Sam-y voice said, making that robot-like diminuendo as it ceased its speaking.
Virmir hadn’t really felt the loneliness of the facility, even when he entered it a while ago all alone. Now, without that voice to even provide some sort of company… well, he felt exactly the same. Loneliness was not necessarily bad, blast it, and being a hermit was just fine. The fox crossed his arms defiantly against clichés and stereotypes of the world.
“Oh, finally,” a slightly deep, but not too deep, and slightly masculine voice, said, coming in to the room… somehow. Virmir couldn’t see an intercom, but when he stood up he saw he was sitting on it. He stepped away from it and stared down into it.
The gray fox couldn’t really think up what he should question first, so he just went with something that might help him the most. “Who are you?”
“No one,” a completely different voice said, deep and dark as the pits of hell. “And everyone,” another voice said, this one bright, cheery, and uplifting.
Virmir didn’t buy it, of course. “Who are you, really?” he asked again.
A mumble about “no fun” came from the intercom in an oddly familiar voice, and suddenly the entire left wall of Virmir’s empty room slid down. It was pretty slow, but it gradually revealed large panels of bulletproof glass, some terminals of some sort… and in the middle of the entire scene, the familiar little jackal he knew of as “Medik” was sitting there, giggling to himself.
Virmir further crossed his arms and added a scowl to his face, a growing list of disappointed aspects of appearance. “Oh, great. Don’t know why I even believed you would ever host a meeting on being organized. Look at your fancy computers there! There’s tons of junk cluttered on them!”
Medik blinked and wiped away some crumbs of food and scraps of paper. Then whole sheets of paper, and some gathered dust. “Well I can’t be expected to keep things clean when I might need them later,” he said. “And… I AM NOT THE MEDIK YOU ONCE KNEW,” he continued, his voice deepening through the intercom. “I AM ASCENDED AND INFUSED.”
The grey fox walked forward and knocked on the glass. “How many fireballs does it take to get to the center of an experimental testing room?” he asked.
The jackal sat up and glared down. “I’m monologuing here! Don’t start threatening the guy behind the controls, either! This is a big deal!”
Virmir sighed and moved to stand back near the intercom. “Okay, okay. What’s your grand evil plan?”
Medik smiled and continued, shutting his eyes and putting a hand to his chest. “I am here to make you much more fluid and flow-y with your scheduling and whatnot! And, uh, along the way, I’m probably gonna end up explaining the oddities that you found to lead up to this point. Like the whole green fire thing, and the illusions!”
At that, Virmir quirked an eyebrow. “Yeah, I guess I’m a bit curious about that.”
Medik cleared his throat and sat up. He grinned wildly and stared down at Virmir as a great, verdant inferno rose up around him. He sure seemed fine with it as there was no screaming or burning. It kept climbing over and over his form until it completely engulfed him.
There was a noise that sounded pretty close to a candle being blown out, and suddenly the fire disappeared. Underneath it was someone, or something, completely different.
Their form was gnarled and twisted, like a burnt branch left out in the rain. The exterior had a sheen to it and looked solid… solid, except for the odd holes in the legs and arms. Speaking of arms and legs, the two different types looked almost exactly the same now, even though the thing in the chair was sitting up. Its tail (an ever-important aspect of Virmir’s judging) was made up of a bunch of teal strands of… something. Maybe webbing, or hair, or both. On its torso were a couple of very buggy wings, though they also had some holes in them for whatever reason. That definitely couldn’t help with flying.
Their neck was segmented in some way, and moving up from that, there was an equine-like head at the very top of the body. It had buggy, green, compound eyes, razor sharp fangs that barely reached over the muzzle, a lack of real ears, and a frilly mock of a mane down the back of its neck. But none of those were the weirdest feature, no – it was, by far, the distorted horn that sat on its forehead. It had a rough green glow that bounced off of its eyes.
The thing held its arms up and said “Ta-da!”
Virmir tossed a fireball at it.
Luckily for the new thing in the chair, the fireball impacted harmlessly against the glass in the way. It shimmered green for a second, clearly some sort of enchantment on it to prevent the very kind of fire from destroying it. The whatever-it-was let out a long laugh before rubbing at some invisible tears at the edge of its eyes. “Oh, that’s an even better reaction than I expected from you,” it said, still snickering. It sounded like that initial masculine voice from the intercom.
“Okay. NOW who are you?” Virmir asked, grumpier than ever before.
“Oh, still that old Medik,” he said, shifting his voice halfway through the sentence to sound like the jackal in question. He shifted it back to say, “But I’m new, too. Shifting Sands, Changeling extraordinaire! Shifty for short.” He glanced off to seemingly nowhere. “Origin story coming soon to a website near you.”
Virmir shifted his eyes.
Shifting Sands turned back to look at the fox in the testing area. “But that’s obviously not what this is about for the moment. I need to finish explaining things and get on with the show!” His horn flared green, and a parchment burst forth from fire in midair. He lifted it up and grinned. “This is one of the best parts of changing so far. Magic! It’s exotic, flashy, and, of course, useful. How else could I have gotten you to come here without giving you some cryptic message made from fire?”
Fire was alluring, Virmir had to admit. “So that explains the illusions and magic. How about those other people who were going to show up for the meeting? Did you kill them all off?” the fox asked, frowning.
Shifty laughed again. “Oh, those were all made up. This was never about others, only about you. You’re such a hardtail when it comes to scheduling and organization and all that crap. I had to come up with some way of getting you out of your tree and into an environment I could work with. Granted, the disguising part only works up to a certain part: until I get lazy. Like with all those names.” He laughed half-heartedly and glanced around.
“Yeah. I had actually been looking forward to meeting Squiggles,” Virmir said dejectedly.
“Shush, you,” Shifty said, and leaned over his terminals. He poked around at some oversized buttons with his unwieldy hooves, still grinning to himself. He lifted one hoof over a rising red button and slammed it with extra force.
Virmir stood up straighter as a large, cold slab of iron slammed against his back and raised him into the air. It rose him up halfway between the ceiling and floor and slid some iron bars over his gut to hold him down. Now safely kept under wraps, dozens of long, pointy needles descended from above him and dangled to his sides. He gulped toonishly.
The Changeling grinned and kept leaning dangerously over the terminals, watching the event from behind the glass. “Ready for your life to become much smoother?”
Before he could give an answer, Virmir was stabbed into with tons and tons of needles. It earned quite a few cries of pain from the fox, but they were quickly silenced by anesthesia being pumped through the jabbing pains. The fox panted some and wiggled weakly on the iron slab, but it didn’t accomplish much. His joints and muscles were all weak and useless now with numbing drugs being pumped through them, and he was feeling lightheaded.
Just barely, he could see Shifty off in the corner of his sight looking a bit nervous. “Ooh, um, maybe a bit too much of that stuff. Didn’t think it would do much of anything to a toon… eheh.”
Barely conscious now, Virmir felt like his arms and legs were falling off. Struggling to sit up just a tiny bit, he found that they were, in fact, disconnected! He kept squirming around, now a head and torso, trying to wiggle and reconnect the missing limbs. It didn’t work at all. He looked back down at the disconnected pieces, but some bits of water were gathering in his eyes and blurring what he looked at. It seemed like they were now all gooey… and… disintegrating? That wasn’t just the water any more, that was the real deal!
Dizzily, Vir found that the restraints on the iron slab weren’t holding him down whatsoever anymore, though he couldn’t tell why. Uncaring about that, he wiggled to the side very slowly… until he reached over the side of the artificial floor and fell down to the real one. It was actually rather painless, and even caused him to bounce a bit. Some weird quicksilver goop pooled around him, which he spat away… until he realized it kept making more and more of the quicksilvery stuff, and made him lightheaded!
More confused than ever and woozy still from the giant dose of anesthetics, Virmir struggled to try and move his limbs around. It didn’t seem to work, but there was a feeling like his arms and legs breaching the surface of water, and suddenly four tendrils of that same quicksilver stuff roooose up and dangled slightly. Virmir blinked and barely sat up, his center of focus rising up with him. He tried to manipulate his legs, and two of the tendrils moved in order with what he thought. He tried the same with his arms, and the other two cooperated with his will.
The arms and legs he had left behind on the slab above him suddenly swamped down onto his face in a waterfall of goo, shaking him some but not causing any real disruption. The goopy stuff only added on to the puddle of being that the fox was in, giving some more mass and even some extra tendrils.
Senses returning, Virmir grumbled and looked back at the glass that had a laughing horse-thing behind it. Shifty was rolling around on the ground, giggling himself to death. “Yeah, yeah, it’s funny,” the goo fox mumbled. “Now let me out.”
Shifty sat up and sighed, tapped a big green button, and sighed. “Fine.” The glass slid down, and before he gave Vir the chance to throw around any magic, teleported him back to his treehouse in a flare of green fire.
A now-goopy Virmir sat at his desk in his treehouse, holding up a couple of tablets and scribbling away on them. His head was tilted to watch at the main computer, and had a couple of arms and hands made for typing and clicking on it. He yawned slightly and covered it with yet another tendril, the sun setting beyond his window.
Someone knocked at his door. Letting out a grumpy grumble, he made another tendril to yank open the door. He twisted his head around to look at who the offender was. “Yes?”
Shifty was there, glancing around inside. “You said we were gonna go to the zoo today. Remember? Are you ready?”
Virmir recalled no such thing. He pulled up his calendar from a corner of the abode and looked for any sort of meeting and, unsurprisingly, saw no such thing. But…
He turned back to the Changeling and shrugged a pair of shoulders, half of his gooey form puuuuulling away until it snapped apart, leaving a slightly smaller version of the same goo-fox working while another carbon-copy slid away from his clone. “I suppose. There was that new fox exhibit, right?”
Shifty grinned and hopped off from the treehouse, fluttering around. “Sure! And see? More fluid schedules. I knew I was on to something.”
Virmir jabbed slightly at the horsefly and just jumped down from his balcony, hitting the grass with a splash. “Hah, hah. Like I couldn’t do this on my own.”
Shifty shifted his own eyes, though it was hard to tell.