A BUNNY’S TALE
I knew something was wrong as soon as I woke up - I wasn’t in my house, or indeed anywhere I recognized.
I was lying on a cold stone slab, instead of a bed. It was in the middle of a room which itself had been constructed entirely of stone. Meaning I was likely somewhere in a castle. Possibly in a dungeon, but I didn’t see any shackles on the walls, and there was no stench of misery or desperation surrounding me. In fact, the room, what little I could see of it, was barren.
Turning my head from side to side to take that in had made me dizzy, so I closed my eyes again, to prevent blacking out. Had I been captured by a sorcerer? What use would any wizard have for me, a twenty-something fledgling magic user who was so in debt that her business of producing charms and wards was in danger of going under before the end of the month? Or was it that one of my creditors had come to collect early, and without warning?
I wanted to sit up, but my body felt strangely numb. After a moment, I found I could wiggle my fingers. I reopened my eyes, and lay quietly for another minute, using the opportunity to gradually bend my arms, and then run my fingers over my body. I wasn’t wearing my nightdress, or indeed any kind of dress. I seemed to be clothed in some sort of leotard.
My ears twitched. My proportions, they seemed to be off. Had my consciousness been transmitted into someone else’s body? I hadn’t been messing around with any long distance communications stones today, had I? No - even if I had, the disorientation one experiences in their use is fleeting. This felt more like the morning after one too many mugs of ale. What was going on? I couldn’t even remember what I’d been doing just prior to being here. Hadn’t I been in the market?
My ears twitched again. Which was when I became consciously aware of that sensation, and my whole body tensed up. That... that wasn’t right. Slowly, fearfully, I brought my hands from my torso up towards my head. I slid them up my jawline towards my ears. Towards where my ears were supposed to be. Where my fingers instead encountered fuzziness. Because my ears were no longer ears, they were long, furry... somethings.
I screamed. For a solid minute, I couldn’t stop screaming, my hands squeezing at my bunny ears, my heart hammering in my chest, a chest which wasn’t even mine, because what in the world had happened to me?! At last, a more rational piece of my brain took over, closing my mouth, pointing out that my newly enhanced hearing had been registering some important details that deserved my attention.
Biting down on my lower lip to keep my mouth shut, I mentally rewound the last sixty seconds. There had been the sound of wood scraping on wood, a voice saying ‘she’s finally awake, get the boss’, and then the sound of the wood shuttering again. A Judas gate? A small peephole door within a larger door? Somewhere about three and a half metres behind me? (Wow, that was precise, go ears.) More to the point, a ‘boss’ was coming.
Okay Ella, get a grip on yourself, you probably want to meet the boss by giving him or her a blow to the head and bolting to safety, not screaming like a, well, scared rabbit. I released my lower lip. Part of me wanted to resume screaming, but I forced that part deeper down inside me. Instead, I pushed myself up into a seated position, taking stock of my surroundings.
My initial “dungeon” vibe still felt valid, though I now wondered if maybe this was some interrogation room, adjoining an actual dungeon. My stone slab could work as a central table, and there were hooks embedded into the side, which could be used to chain someone in place. If so, there was probably an annulment field in the area too, to prevent magic.
I swung my legs off the side of the slab, and attempted to fire off a simple light spell. Either I was right about the field, or my new bunny body couldn’t properly channel the forces, as nothing happened. But the glowing algae on the walls continued to provide enough light for visibility.
Doing a slow pan, I saw the only way in or out was that wooden door, and the only object in the room was a full length mirror, hanging next to said door. Obviously, my captor wanted to flaunt what he or she had done to me. However, shards of glass could be an effective weapon. I hopped down off the slab, then bounced my way over towards the mirror. Only to have my brain ping at me anew, and I stopped in place.
Why was I moving by jumping both feet off the ground simultaneously? I looked down, for a moment fearing that a spell was still in progress, busy turning me into an actual rabbit from the waist down. But no - I still had a pair of normal legs. I took a regular step forwards. Apparently this body merely had certain inherent bunny traits that tended to take over, if I wasn’t making a conscious effort. I wiggled my tail in relief.
I frowned, glancing over my shoulder. In two more strides, I was at the mirror, and able to confirm the presence of that little cottontail, poking out through a hole in the leotard. Lovely. Actually, I would call it adorable, if it were on anybody else. I wiggled it again. Actually, even on me it was... okay Ella, no, get a grip. I turned around to take in the rest of my appearance.
I was still a blonde, but my hair now stretched past my shoulders, down onto my back. I was more slender, and more busty, so either my mass had been redistributed, or this was an entirely new body that I was inhabiting. Likely the latter, given the rabbit accoutrements and those inherent traits that my mind was occasionally fighting against. Good thing I’m smarter than your average bunny.
Something about my intelligence being used in this way triggered a memory, but it refused to fully coalesce.
I supposed this new body still looked about twenty-three. Thankfully, my ears and tail turned out to be the only non-human abnormalities (and the only parts of me with fur). I double-checked on that, particularly in my mouth, ensuring I had no buck teeth. Whatever wizard had crafted this rabbit form, they had been going more for aesthetics than realism.
Granted, certain stereotypes may have been in mind either way, as I was starting to have a peculiar craving for carrots. As well as a slight craving for... I squirmed my hips. Okay, wow, definitely not the time for such primal thoughts. Focus, Ella, remember you’re more than some dumb bunny here.
As far as clothing went, my leotard was pink, as were the thigh length stockings that adorned my legs. I wasn’t wearing shoes, which was a shame, as they would have been useful for smashing the mirror. I suppose it’s good that I was clothed at all; in desperation, maybe I could strip down and use the fabric as a garrotte? But we weren’t there yet. So what could I use to break the glass that didn’t involve damaging myself?
I scoured around the room, hoping to find something. A forgotten chain, a loose rock, anything with decent mass to it, tucked away in the shadows. No such luck. Then my enhanced hearing picked up on the sound of footsteps, at the far end of the hallway, beyond my door. Out of time. New plan, random destruction.
I hopped - no, no, alternate your feet, there you go, good - back to the mirror. By grabbing it, bending my legs, and shoving up with all my might, the mirror became unhooked. I released it, springing back before it could flatten me, and was rewarded with a loud crash as it hit the floor.
Too loud of a crash. I clapped my hands against the side of my head, where my old ears had been, which was useless - but I had also instinctively folded my new rabbit ears in against my head, to try and mute the sound. My bunny instincts served me well that time, though I did end up with a momentary ringing sensation in my head. Through it, I heard someone fumbling with keys on the other side of the door.
I bent down, and with a grunt, shoved the upside-down mirror frame to the side. Fortunately, there was a nasty looking shard of glass from the edge that I could hold onto without slicing into my palms. I grabbed for it. As the door opened, I rolled back onto my tail, holding the glass up in front of me. “Don’t come any closer!” I shouted. My voice sounded not-quite-right.
A man stood in the doorway, wearing a blue wizard’s cloak. He sported that white beard that all wizards over the age of thirty tended to craft, supposedly as a measure of stature, but secretly, I think it’s to make it harder to tell them apart. Stupid male guild solidarity thing. Which meant it was hard to tell his age, but I pegged him as being in his forties.
The man smiled, then turned to the guy in armour holding the key ring. “See that we are not disturbed, for any reason.”
I twisted around to get back to my feet, still brandishing the shard of glass. “No, see, your annulment field here prevents you from doing magic as well. And I have this weapon. So you’re going to let me out of here. Now.”
He shook his head. “Ah, Ella Umber. Even in your youth, you had spirit. Tell me, once you get beyond this field, what’s to keep me from restraining you in a much less pleasant manner than behind a locked door?”
This guy was making all sorts of mistakes. He had now confirmed that he was magically powerless at the moment, and that he knew me - even though I didn’t know him. The ‘youth’ thing was weird, but one problem at a time. I hopped to the side, thrusting my arm forwards. He didn’t flinch, so he had that going for him. “Let me out.”
“Let’s chat first. You aren’t wondering how you ended up in the body of a bunny golem?”
A bunny golem. I cursed myself for missing the obvious. That made total sense.
Most magical golems were simple automatons. Some wizards personalized their forms, adding additional arms or putting them on wheels or whatever else made the golem useful for specific tasks. And of course, on the black market you could acquire cats, foxes, any number of fetish forms. Including bunnies. But all such golems were driven by pure instinct, acting upon their base programming and the orders they were given, lacking any human intelligence. Human intelligence, like mine...
That memory tugged at me again. Alas, as my mind drifted, it gave my captor an opening. Before I could react, he’d stepped in and seized my wrist. Goddamn it.
I pounded at his front with my free hand, but to no avail - I had smarts, not strength. He twisted, forcing me to drop the glass. Then he released me and stepped back, more glass crunching underneath his boots. “Go sit on your slab.”
I turned to comply, then overrode that instinct and spun back to face him. “No.” Part of me felt ashamed to be disobeying. I told that part of me to get stuffed.
The wizard made a gesture towards the door, and the person with the keys pulled it shut. Which meant a mad dash for the exit wouldn’t get me anywhere. I might have to talk my way out.
“Go sit on your slab,” the man repeated.
“No,” I repeated, without hesitation this time.
“Is Ella-bunny not at all scared to be disobeying me?”
I felt my heart rate increasing. The scared part of me that had screamed upon my awakening was stirring again. With effort, I suppressed it again. “N-No.”
“It’s hot in here, isn’t it. You look flushed, Ella-bunny, are you overheating?”
More parts of my golem bunny body started firing signals that I had to quash. “Nnngh. No,” I said, baring my teeth. I was not going to allow myself to become ashamed, scared, or worst of all, horny.
He pulled something out from his robes. “Does Ella-bunny want a carrot?”
“Oh, shut up!” I shouted. I was growing irritated at having to maintain control over all these very basic internal impulses. At least, out of all of them, hunger was the least of my worries. So I crunched down on the vegetable, continuing to try and corral the rest of the conflicting emotions running rampant through my body.
I froze. I pulled the carrot from my lips.
“Your golem body is the latest model,” my captor pointed out, pulling his hand back. “I know more about it than you do.”
I chewed my mouthful of carrot, and swallowed. “Obviously.” I wanted to throw the carrot in his face, but on the other hand, maybe if I kept it, I could jab it somewhere painful later.
“Go sit on your slab.”
A compromise position seemed to be in order, to prevent further humiliation. “I will lean against the edge.” I went over to do exactly that - by walking, not hopping. He stepped back to lean against the wall, crossing his arms. We stared at each other across the four metre distance for a short while, during which time I managed to subdue most of the rabbit urges inside me yet again.
“What IS the last thing you remember?” he asked me at last.
“I was walking through the market,” I shot back. “I was wondering how I might advertise my warding business better, and what might happen to me if I couldn’t, when someone..." I stopped. I had been about to say ‘abducted me’, but that was wrong. Someone had approached me - but it had been with an offer.
The memory that had been tantalizing me finally snapped into place. “Someone bought a copy of my baseline intelligence,” I realized. “I wasn’t going to do it, I was going to blow them off, but they offered me so much. It was enough to get my business out of debt.”
He nodded. “And that was twenty-five years ago. It’s that intelligence which I’m conversing with even now.”
My knees went weak. I threw more of my weight onto the slab to stay upright. “Impossible,” I assured him. “The spell, it captured intelligence. Not wisdom, not personality, not... not someone’s ESSENCE.” He half smiled. I glared. “The buyer assured me that it would be used to make golems more battle-capable, or lifelike. Not this. Not make something like another ME.”
“As time marches on, so does magic,” he remarked. “Did it never occur to the old wizards that they WERE capturing more, it’s merely that they weren’t able to transition anything out of the vessels other than the intelligence?”
“No. You’re lying.”
“Plus the human donor’s ‘essence’, as you call it, is usually diluted, by siphoning it out to many golems at once, or one over a span of decades. Here? Wham, all of you, crammed into a single bunny. It’s rather fortunate that your original buyer was killed before he could put you to any use.”
“N-No. I don’t believe it. Why, that means we’ve discovered immortality.”
“Ah, no,” the blue robed wizard said, now stroking his beard. Trying to look smarter than he was. “For there seems to be a threshold of viability. I’m already too old, for instance. Related, eventually your sense of self will be utterly consumed by the golem you inhabit. Oh, don’t worry,” he added, as I found I was unable to hold back a horrified expression. “It will be years, perhaps decades before that occurs.”
He wasn’t giving off any of the usual indications to suggest he was lying. “S-So I have years of living like this, as your slave, and then... then... w-why, why did you do this to me?” I whimpered. Inwardly, I wasn’t sure if I was speaking to him, or to my younger self, who had apparently sold me (her soul?) into this life of servitude.
I realized I was back to obediently sitting on the slab, and I couldn’t even bring myself to care. I crunched more carrot in my mouth.
He gave me what I decided was meant to be a conciliatory look. “Ella, I didn’t spend months hunting down your magical vessel in order to make you my slave. I’m above such a petty form of revenge. Rather, I’m hoping we can join forces against one of the greatest threats this land has ever seen.” He took in a deep breath. “Namely Ella Umber.”
I connected the dots. “My future self.”
“Present self. Let’s say she’s gone a little... evil.”
Good for me, I’d made a name for myself. Pity about the circumstances. “And you’re betting that I’ll have a unique insight into that self?”
“In ‘essence’, yes. So, what do you say? Will you join forces with me, and try to redeem yourself here? Because frankly, the alternative is being forgotten within the depths of my castle.”
I felt some of my indignation returning. “What I say is - you couldn’t do better than a BUNNY golem for me?”
He chuckled. “Their more timid nature will be of use in case you get any evil inclinations of your own. Besides, for all of it’s faults, the bunny model is equipped with excellent hearing.”
“Hmph. Point,” I yielded. “I can hear your guards fighting out in the hall even now.”
“What?” His head tilted. “I hear nothing. Why would they be fighting? Is this some sort of trick?”
I shook my head. “They ran away from the door as you were telling me I had only years to live. Something’s happening at the end of the hall now. I figured it was an argument over a shift change.” Except - I now heard metal on metal. Why would they be using swords?
“Nothing should be happening,” the wizard grumbled. He moved to the door, while keeping one eye on me. “If this is another escape attempt, you should know that--"
I never found out what it was that I should know. The door blasted inwards with the force of a cannon, propelling the wizard back into the far wall and knocking him out cold. The scared bunny part of me was screaming again before I could get it under control, my ears back to being flattened against the sides of my head. I had barely managed to close my mouth when SHE strode into the room.
Despite the difference of twenty-five years, and the dark wizard robes she now wore, I recognized myself straight away. Every detail. Well, except for the red eyes. The merciless red eyes. Those were new. My desire to scream resurfaced.
Ella snapped her fingers. “Take him,” she said, motioning to two people who had followed her in, pointing them towards the unconscious wizard. She then advanced upon me. “So. He did succeed.”
“Please,” I whimpered, seeing the lips of her (my?) mouth curl into a sneer. I was quickly gaining far too much insight into this particular future pathway. “Please, no.” My ears quivered.
“Adorable,” Ella murmured, reaching out to grab my chin. “Simply adorable. Oh, we’re going to have such fun together, younger me.” Her eyes flashed as she released me. “Now, be a good little bunny and finish eating your yummy carrot.”
Too busy trying not to be frightened out of my wits, I found myself chowing down on that yummy vegetable goodness in record time. Belatedly wondering whether there had truly been any chance of saving me from myself.
I'm not certain if there was a message or a metaphor in this; I have some thoughts, feel free to suggest yours in the comments. Other considerations: Was there a "horror" vibe to any of this? Am I still decent at playing with expectations? How's my pacing? What about "first person" perspective?
A reminder that I'm still publishing a time travel serial (updating Tues & Fri) and a comic about personified math (updating Mon). I also wrote "The Girl Who Speaks With Algebra" in first person (currently on Wattpad). Thanks for reading to the end!