You're lying flat on your back in a magic circle. There's an electric smell in the air, as if massive energies had just been discharged. You don't know how you got there. You don't even know your own name.
"Oh, good. You're finally awake."
You get your hands under you and try to climb to your feet. The room tilts—you're still dizzy—and there's a pounding that you realize isn't just in your head. Something big is hammering the building. You also hear voices and the clatter of what sound like weapons.
"Better hurry up over there, the pitchfork brigade are almost in the tower."
You stand up. Your mouth is terribly dry. There's a floor-length mirror just next to you and it makes you jump.
"Yes, yes, that's not what you looked like last time you remember."
You're a cat person. Quite literally. Basically human-shaped, but with a cat's head and furry coat. You're wearing rags, too, but that's a minor detail compared to everything else. You're a cat person. You say that out loud.
"Yes, and you'll be a dead cat person if you let the mob catch you. Get me off the table, grab some gear, and head for the secret passage!"
You get a good look at the source of the voice. You've always known where it was coming from (your directional hearing is way better than it used to be) but you were ignoring it until just now. The voice is coming from a little statue shaped like a cat.
Cat person . . . cat statue . . . you're starting to notice a theme.
The pounding continues, but now you hear splintering. Whatever the mob is battering down, it won't hold for long. You glance around the room, which looks like it's straight out of a costume movie, with tapestries and candelabra and solid wooden furniture. Looks almost like a wizard's study, what with the chalk circles on the floor, the shelves full of books, and the stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling.
"Just grab what you need and throw 'em on the table!"
There's a sword hanging over the fireplace and you grab that. There's a simple supper of bread and cheese on a side table. You grab that too. There's a book lying open on the same table—it joins the other things on the table. Clothes and money would've been nice, but you get the feeling that someone else already grabbed the best stuff and ran. There's a wide-open window, they could've gone through there.
"Now bundle everything up in the tablecloth, throw it over your back, and skedaddle."
You do that. You remember to ask it where the secret passage is.
"It's in the basement. You'll have to run past the main door. Hurry!"
There's a huge crash, like a heavy oak door finally breaking down. The shouting and clattering is suddenly much clearer. You hear running feet going up the staircase. There's pounding on the door. In no time at all, they've broken through. It's a mob of peasants straight out of central casting, complete with pitchforks and torches.
"There it is!" someone screams. "There's the abomination!"
* * *
They're blocking the doorway, but you run for it anyway, hoping to surprise them. They're all human as far as you can tell, and they seem frightened by your appearance. They start to shrink away and that gives you an opening. You plunge into the mob and start elbowing and shoving.
Someone swings a club at your head and you duck. You growl despite yourself and the man recoils. The claws on your right hand come out and you swipe instinctively. He screams and stumbles back. You're halfway through the crowd and almost through the doorway.
"Behind you!" the cat-statue screams. You have no idea how it can see from inside the sack, but you trust it. You twist aside and barely avoid getting stabbed in the back.
And then they're kicking and punching from every direction. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Someone tears the bundle off your back. Someone else punches you in the gut. You double over and they rain blows on your back and shoulders. But at least your left hand is free. The claws come out there, too, and you start slashing. You lay open a man's cheek and tear another man's forearm almost to the bone. You're growling and yowling.
The statue is bouncing from foot to foot. "Pick me up, you idiot!"
You lunge and scoop it off the floor. The movement takes you through the doorway and into the spiral staircase leading down. You don't have to be told twice—you bound down the steps two or three at a time.
A man runs up to meet you and you kick him aside. Another swings a sword at you, but he's right-handed and the central pillar gets in the way. It doesn't stop you from clawing his face with your own right paw.
"Stop him! Stop the abomination!"
Voices calling down the staircase. You reach the bottom of the tower and see two broken doors, a big one leading out and another leading to the basement. The mob has battered down the basement door as well and, if the flickering torchlight coming through the door are any indication, are searching it in force.
One last option. You run out the front door, bowl over the people standing guard there, and run into the freezing night.
* * *
"Well, this is a pretty mess you've gotten us into."
You're walking down a dirt road. The night is cold and moonless, but it isn't completely dark, at least not to your eyes. One of the perks of being a cat-like monstrosity, you suppose.
"I'd just like to point out that you could've totally climbed out the window, saved yourself a beating, and kept your stuff."
You ask the statue if it ever shuts up.
"Not really. But the good news is that you're the only one who can hear me."
You fail to see how that's good news.
The lights of the torches have long since faded behind you. After running out of the tower you ran some more, until you couldn't take another step and you were sure the mob was no longer after you.
That doesn't mean you're out of danger, though. Furry hide aside, the night is very cold. Unless you can find shelter or warm clothing you're likely to freeze to death.
You realize you've been walking toward a light source. It's faint, but it's there, and it's got the warmth that only comes from some kind of flame. You keep walking (silently of course) and before very long you find yourself approaching a little cottage. It's made of rough-cut logs, with a thatched roof and brick chimney, and the light is coming out of the cracks in the shutters.
Something makes you crouch and walk a wide circle around the place. There's a vegetable garden and a chicken coop, plus a door leading into a little hill that the statue informs you is a root cellar. All very appropriate for the low-tech world you've found yourself in. So what is setting off alarm bells?
You finally creep up to one of the windows and peek inside. There's an old woman in there, and she's reading by candlelight.
"So how do you want to do this, chief?" the statue asks.
* * *
"Wait, what are you doing?" the statue asks. You're digging a little hole in the dirt. A little statue-sized hole.
"Wait, stop!" it says, but you've already slipped it in and started shoving dirt all over it.
"Hey, I'm you're only friend right now," it says. "And you need me. You don't know anything about this world. And I warned you about the backstab. Hey. HEY!"
But you're already walking out of the woods and back toward the cottage. Its voice fades into the distance, even if you're pretty sure it's not a real sound and you're just hearing it in your head.
Maybe you'll check on it tomorrow, see if it's undergone an attitude change. But in the meantime there's someone else you need to talk to.
"Yes?" the old woman says. "Who could it be at this hour?"
You stammer as you try to explain. Your voice comes out harshly and there's a growl to it no matter what you say. But she opens the door anyway.
"Oh, you poor dear, come in!" And she ushers you into the light and warmth of her home. "You look like you're starving!"
And for the first time since you woke up in this place, in this body, you enjoy a bit of normalcy. She fusses over you like a grandmother, gives you a big bowl of stew still warm from the hearth. She says her name is Mastika and understands completely when you tell her you can't remember your own name.
"You're obviously a fresh chimera, and those don't always get through the ritual with their minds intact."
You ask her what a chimera is, and if there's anything you can do about your memory.
"Answering the first question takes a bit of explaining. As for the second question, a good night's sleep has been known to restore a few recollections. Why don't you try it?"
She pulls a bedroll out of a chest and sets it down next to the hearth. You're full of food and finally warm again. The old lady seems so nice, so welcoming. You don't know why you were so careful in scoping this place out.
What you do know is that you're tired. Before you know it you're lying down, basking in the heat from the banked-down fireplace. You close your eyes and drift off to sleep.
* * *
You sleep. You dream.
You're standing in front of a room full of students. They're wearing lab coats and goggles and standing in rows along a pair of long tables. You see test tubes, bunsen burners, electronic scales. It's a chemistry class and you're the teacher.
You're trying to do roll call, but you can't read the names on your list. But isn't that to be expected? It's a dream, after all.
You manage to catch a look at something written in your own hand:
TRAITS -- TALENTS
Brains 4 -- Chemistry 3D6, Night Vision 1D6
Muscle 2 -- Claws 1D6
Moves 3 -- Catlike Reflexes 1D6
Cool 3 -- Fuzzy Cuteness 1D6
BROWNIE POINTS: 20
You have no idea what any of that means. Probably just more dream-gibberish.
Something has caught fire on the other end of one table. You pick up a fire extinguisher and hurry over.
* * *
You wake up and throw off the blankets. The old lady is fussing over the fire and cooking things over it.
"Good morning," she says. "I'm still cooking breakfast, so take your time getting up."
In the early light she looked like somebody's grandma, with the apron and the old housedress and the neat gray hair. She's setting the table and you try to help but she shoos you away.
"Go for a walk if you need something to do."
* * *
It's still early morning, and outside it's cool and bright. You walk around for a bit, do a wee against a tree, and walk around a bit more. The air smells fresher than anything you've experienced in the world you came from, fresher even than the air in the countryside, and you realize you can't smell a single car engine. Or hear one, for that matter.
Mastika calls you in for breakfast. It's stew, and the chicken in it had been scratching in the garden just a few hours ago. There aren't many spices but the meat is intensely flavourful by itself. The bones are shockingly hard though, and you can't crunch them with your teeth like you expected. The bread is fresh too, flat loaves baked in the hearth.
You're grateful to the old woman but a bit confused as to why she's been so welcoming.
"Oh, I knew a new chimera when I see one," she says. "And you remind me of my son."
You ask her what a chimera is and she explains that it's a magical fusion of two living things, usually a human and some kind of animal. You end up with something with the strengths of both, though the exact mix of traits varies from individual to individual.
"The local peasants never much liked magic, and they especially don't like magical by-blows. You were lucky to get out with your fur unsinged."
It's why you can't stay, she tells you. Not safe to be a chimera in these lands, though it gets safer the closer you get to the city. That's where you ought to be going. And she gives you directions.
She urges you to eat some more while she gathers a few things together. She finds an old backpack and fills it with supplies. She takes a coat off a peg and a pair of shoes out of a chest.
You protest. But she says they used to belong to her son and he doesn't need them anymore.
She looked sad when she said that. You ask her if his son is dead.
"They burned him at the stake for being the son of a witch," she says. "They burned me, too."
The room flickers. For a moment you see Mastika again. For a moment you see a raw, skinless corpse standing in her place. Then the room flickers and is gone.
You're sitting in an open field, in the burned-out ruins of a house, in a chair that's the only piece of furniture to have survived in all this time. You stand up and it folds into a pile of kindling.
The old woman. Gone. The little cottage and the garden. Gone. The root cellar is a hole in the ground.
But the bag of supplies, the travelling clothes. They're still there.
* * *
You dig up the little statue. You think you'll probably need it.
"Had a little shock, did you?" it asks.
You don't answer.
"Finally saw through the glamour, I guess," it says. "Poor old ghost was just waiting for someone like you. She can rest now."
You ask it if it's going to keep giving you attitude.
"Eh, I'll try to tone it down. But if it gets to you, do me a favour: give me away to someone else. Don't bury me where no one can find me."
"Do that again," it continues, "And I'll burn all my markers getting back at you."
You think that's fair. You slip the statue into your pack and start walking in the direction of the city.