Author’s Note: While I do have to wonder… Can I call the story The Squirrel Prince when he’s not always a squirrel?
Well, either way, several months ago, I posted a teaser of this story, the first scene, and in the meantime, I’d stalled out on writing it. When I was considering what to post as a serial while I continued my overhaul of Even Better than Dreams, I posted a list of possibilities, and I was pleased when Liana Mir suggested I resume this one. Over the last few days, I’ve been editing, fixing where I think I went off track a bit, and I expect to be writing new scenes by the end of the day (don’t worry, there’s plenty of written, to the tune of about 36,000 words) so with a bit more work, this will be ready to launch as a serial. In the meantime, enjoy a bit more.
“I don’t suppose the odd smell was food, was it?”
“Are you that hungry, Lady Lodyma? I am certain we can find some sort of food here, wherever we are,” Anson said, and were he not a fox, he would have given her the brightest smile she’d ever seen, she was sure of that. He bounded ahead to his brother’s side, enjoying this too much. Lodi walked behind the foxes, smiling a little as she watched the younger one. Anson seemed to be loving his experience, whereas Trystan was in a bad mood and extremely touchy. Anything she said annoyed him, and she knew that was probably because she was human here and he was not.
He made an adorable fox, though. Not quite as cute as he was a squirrel, but he was still rather charming as a fox, at least in appearance if not in mood. She found it interesting that he always changed, and she would actually like to see more worlds and what he would turn into there. How many worlds were there, anyway? She had no idea. She would be curious to find out, but if the number of them were as infinite as parallel universes were supposed to be, then they might never find the one where the giants came from in order to save their kingdom.
She watched as Trystan scrabbled up the support beam of the wall, jumping up onto the rafter that ran the length of the room, moving along it quickly. Anson tried to follow him, but he slid down off the beam and sighed. “How did he do that?”
“Well, he did have a bit of practice as a squirrel,” she began, though that really didn’t explain the way that Trystan adapted so easily to whatever form he was in—he seemed as at ease in his fox body as he was his human one or his squirrel one, and that realization made her frown.
“Just thinking, Anson.” She moved forward, trying to find where Trystan had gotten to, since he had managed to disappear from sight. She didn’t like this, either. Now she felt strange, as if she couldn’t trust him. She felt sick. She wanted to be able to trust Trystan—needed to be able to trust him. She didn’t want to think that he had done more exploring than he had admitted to, that he knew more of these worlds than he was saying.
It wasn’t like he’d told her everything, though. He’d left out more than he’d said.
She looked up, seeing him pace the rafter. She fought against the uneasiness of her stomach, flinching when he almost lost his balance. She didn’t know if she wanted him to know how worried she was, though. “Oh. There you are. Did you find what you were looking for?”
“Not even a way down.”
“You mean you’re stuck? I thought you knew what you were doing and where you were going.”
He stopped, frowning at her. “Why would you think that? I’ve never been here before. I don’t know the first thing about this place. I only thought this would give me a good vantage, but I have seen nothing of use, and I cannot think how I will get down from here.”
“I still don’t know how you got up there,” Anson said with a slight pout. He interrupted himself by scratching his ear, and Lodi smiled. He was even more of an adorable fox than his brother, though she had a strange fondness for her first talking animal prince. “No fair that you were a squirrel first.”
“Squirrel would have been easier for this. Better claws for climbing,” Trystan remarked, lifting a paw to study it. He unbalanced himself and tumbled forward off the rafter. Lodi stared, her brain somehow not getting the message that she should try and catch him. He tried to stop his fall, the flailing and scratching at the air getting nothing but laughter out of his brother.
She rushed to his side after he hit, grimacing. “Ouch. That had to hurt.”
“I think I shall not move for a while,” Trystan agreed with a sort of hissing moan. He did not even open his eyes. Anson seemed to be grinning, still amused by his brother’s sudden lack of grace. She ran her fingers through Trystan’s fur, inspecting him for damage.
She lifted him up into her arms, continuing to pet him. She couldn’t feel anything broken or out of place, at least not that she could tell. Oh, and his fur was so soft again. She wasn’t putting him down, not now. Maybe not ever. He could stay right where he was.
“Lodyma, now that you know that I am not gravely injured, please put me down.”
Lodi shook her head, running her fingers through the fur and speaking like a little child. “No. My fox now. Gonna keep it.”
Anson snorted, laughing and rolling around on the floor. “She’s got you now, brother.”