Matthias hustled down the hallways of Metamor with determination. He was a rat with a mission. With the letter firmly grasped in his hand he reached the entrance to Misha's office. Opening the door he found Finbar and Kershaw playing cards and drinking ale, but no sign of Misha. "Where's Misha?"
"Boss ain't here," Finbar answered without looking up. The panda held up a card for the ferret to see.
Matthias just stared at the two for a moment. "I noticed that. Do either of you two know where he went?"
Finbar took a drink from his mug and shook his head. "Not my day to watch him." Kershaw took two cards from the deck on the desk.
"He took his bow and left about an hour ago," Kershaw said.
"Where did he go?"
"East. He likes to hunt deer by the slopes of the mountains sometimes," the panda explained. "Just go straight east towards Olamar mountain and you'll catch up with him."
"Shouldn't be to hard to find him," the ferret commented. "He's a bit big today."
"What does that mean?" the rat asked.
Both Kershaw and Finbar laughed. "You'll find out."
Seeing that he wasn't going to get anything else out of the two, Matthias turned and left the room. As he was leaving he heard Finbar mutter something too low for him to understand.
"No," Kershaw responded. "Go fish."
Finbar had been right, it wasn't hard for Matthias to find his friend. He caught up with Misha at the base of the mountain. His vulpine companion was standing with his legs in a small stream. All four of them.
Matthias starred at his friend for a moment. "Misha, you're a foxtaur."
Misha looked down at his four legged, taur body. The vulpine was naked aside from a brown vest and a quiver and long bow. From the waist up he looked the same as always. He had the same red fox, morph head, neck, shoulders, arms and trunk. Below the waist he had the body of a large, pony sized vulpine. Aside from the size, it was the body of a male red fox, complete with four legs and long bushy tail. A look of mock surprise crossed his face. "Wow! I didn't notice that," he said sarcastically.
Charles just shook his head. "I'm starting to worry about you."
"Why?" the taur asked. "All because I'm just out relaxing and doing a little hunting."
"You have four legs and two arms. That's not normal."
"Matt, you're a four-foot tall, talking rat who walks on his hind legs and uses his front paws as hands. Around here what is normal?"
"Good point. You have to admit that a fox-centaur isn't normal either, even for Metamor Keep."
"Why?" Misha countered.
"Because in the eight years since the change you're the first person to change into a taur."
"It's all a matter of attitude," Misha answered. "I bet anyone can do it, even you."
"You mean it's never happened before because no one has ever thought to try it?"
"Exactly! Why don't you try it? You'll like it."
Matthias just snorted in response. "I don't think so."
"Ah, come on Matt. Try it. It's really fun," Misha commented, splashing around in the water. "Besides if you don't like it you can change back."
"All right. I know I'll regret this, but I'll try it once," Matthias said reluctantly.
Misha brightened. "Great! Now the first step is you have to take your pants off."
"Take off my pants? Why?"
"Because you're going to grow two extra legs and double your weight. So unless you want to destroy your pants, I suggest you remove them."
"Oh." Matthias reluctantly removed his pants and placed them, neatly folded on a rock. "Now what?" he asked, self consciously aware of his nudity.
"Now," Misha started. "Close your eyes and picture yourself in your mind."
Doing as he was instructed. Matthias closed his eyes and imagined what he looked like. The image that came to him was of his four-foot tall, brown, rat body, the small, dexterous hands and the long furless tail that trailed behind. The image was standing on two legs next to a small mountain stream. He could see the short, brown fur that covered his whole body, which was in excellent physical condition.
"You have the image?" asked the voice of the vulpine.
"Yes I do."
"Now this is the hard part. Alter the image in your mind into a centaur shape," Misha instructed. "Imagine your head and trunk attached to the body of a giant rat."
In his mind Matthias tried to alter the image but his mental body didn't want to change. The mental form remained stubbornly two legged. Having no luck with his whole body he concentrated on just one part; his legs. The rat tried to imagine a second set sprouting behind the first. He gathered his will and tried to force his body to shift, but it was like trying to push a mountain. His mental image resisted the change.
Suddenly he felt the soft touch of Misha's hand on his shoulder. "Relax Matt. Don't force it, imagine your body is like a river, shifting, flowing, changing. Don't think of it as forcing the change, but imagine that the change is in you already. All you have to do is release it. Now, try to picture your two, new, hind legs. Think of the lower half of your body expanding horizontally, that hairless tail of yours moving back. In your mind picture your new lower body growing that extra set of legs to handle all that extra mass."
The rat relaxed and stopped trying to force the change. Instead he tried to feel what his body wanted to do. Something in Matthias's mind came into place and his image there started to shift and flow. The body lengthened and grew, the image grew the extra mass and the needed weight. After a moment of change the image had changed into a rat-centaur.
"All right Matt, open your eyes," Misha said in a surprisingly soft voice.
The first thing Matthias noticed was the height. He was at least a foot taller. "Hey! It worked! I'm a centaur." His body had indeed changed. Looking down what he saw unnerved him at first. Where his hips and legs should have been was the body of a giant rat. His torso was attached to the rat's body where the head should have been. Matthias experimentally tried to lift his right, front leg. The correct limb responded and raised up and then lowered to the ground. He carefully tested each leg in turn and all four of them worked fine.
This was a strange feeling for Matthias. His new body felt both unusual and normal. He could feel the cool ground underneath all four of his paws and a soft breeze blowing across his lower body. A little unsure of his new form, he moved unsteadily on his four legs, carefully placing each paw slowly on the ground slowly. He knew this centaur body was new and the sensations he was feeling were new. Yet this body felt natural and normal, like he had been a rat-taur his whole life.
"You're a rat-taur my friend. How do you feel?" the vulpine asked.
"Big," Matthias answered. "I feel like I weigh three hundred pounds."
Misha laughed. "You do weigh three hundred pounds. Your body has more then tripled in weight."
With growing confidence Matthias became bolder and moved faster. He felt new muscles flex as he walked. "It's hard to describe but it's unlike anything I've ever felt before. I know what it feels like to move on four legs as a rat, but then I only weighed a pound and I didn't have my arms," he explained waving his hands and arms at Misha.
"The extra strength is what I like," Misha commented. "You'll be surprised how strong your lower body is. And I bet your endurance levels went up too. Everything changes with the taur form."
"What else can I do in this body?" Matthias asked. "How different is it from being a morph?"
The foxtaur shrugged. "I honestly don't know. I've been experimenting ever since I first changed into a taur and I'm still discovering things. In combat a taur is a formidable warrior. Using a lance with my eight hundred pound body was incredible. It was better then riding a war horse. No need to guide your horse or worry about it bolting and running off. You go exactly where you want to, when you want to," Misha said waving his arms for emphasis. "All it takes is some getting used to."
"But a rat is not a carnivore, like a fox. I doubt this body will be very good in combat," Matt countered as he tried his new body.
"I'm sure your body has its advantages. There's no telling what powers that new body of yours has. And speaking of power, that reminds me, can you use the Sondecki in that shape?"
"I'm not sure," was the rat's honest answer.
"Well now's as good a time as any to find out."
Matthias picked a small open area next to the stream and tried moving through some simple exercises, to test his abilities. He was clumsy and awkward with the moves, the exercise was meant for a human shaped body, not a centaur's form. Within him he felt the power stir and move, but it didn't move easily or correctly. Gathering his strength he lashed out at a dead tree limb as big around as his hand. There was a loud snap and the wood cracked all the way through. "I should have shattered that," he complained loudly.
His friend chuckled. "Easy. You're in that form for five minutes and already you think you've mastered it. It takes time. In a few hours you'll have it perfected."
"A few hours? Misha, this is fun but I don't intend to stay this way all day," Matthias said. "Now to change back all I have to do is get that mental image again, right?"
"You'll need one more thing," Misha countered.
"These, " the foxtaur answered, holding up a pair of pants. "That is unless you want to walk around Metamor naked from the waist down."
Matthias reached for his clothes, only to have his friend slowly back away from him. "I think this is a perfect time for you to get better acquainted with your new taur body."
The rat-taur followed his friend. "Please give me my pants Misha."
The foxtaur continued to back away. "I don't think so," he said, his voice filled with humor. "I think you and your new taur body need to spend some quality time together."
"This isn't funny. Give them back," Matthias said forcefully.
"Hmm. Maybe in an hour or two."
Matthias made a sudden lunge for his cloths but tripped over his own legs. Slowly standing up he saw Misha stand just out of reach the pants dangling from his fingers."
Arguing wasn't accomplishing anything, so perhaps a change of tactics was in order. "We don't have an hour or two," the rat said. "There's a messenger back at the Keep waiting for you. He brought a letter from your sister, and he wants your reply."
The foxes ears perked up. "A letter from Elizabeth? Where is it?"
"It's in my pants pocket. Can I please have my pants now?"
Misha rummaged through the pants he was holding and quickly produced a blue edged envelope. He ripped it open and quickly began reading the letter that was inside. "This is great! She sent me a package! Come on Matt we have to get home, I want to see what she sent me," with those words he took off running in the direction of the Keep.
"MY PANTS!" Matt shouted, to no avail. He started after Misha but stumbled and fell into the cold stream. Standing up, dripping wet, he shook off the water and took off at a run to catch his friend.
It was a long, chase back to the Keep. A chase that Matt didn't win. With his longer, vulpine legs and greater experience Misha kept a steady lead. All Matthias could do was stumble along behind as he tried to master the art of running as a taur. By the time he reached the Castle, Matthias was bruised and tired. He silently endured the stares and comments of people as he walked slowly through town and up the road to the castle. He finally caught up with his friend at the South Gate. To his utter embarrassment the Gate was crowded with people entering, leaving, doing business or just lounging around.
Misha looked at the rat-taur slowly walking up to him; battered, tired, and worn out from the chase. He quietly handed Matthias his pants and a large water sack. "I'm sorry if you got a little battered. I guess I got carried away."
Matthias took a long drink of the cool water and splashed more over his head. It was a welcome relief that refreshed him. "No problem. It was an unusual experience. Now if you don't mind I'm going to my room and change."
Matthias turned and started down the corridor when his thoughts of a bath and dinner were rudely interrupted by a voice echoing through the hall. "Well, this is a side of you I've never seen before."
The rat knew that voice all too well. Turning in the direction of the voice, he saw Rickkter standing in a side doorway. "Now I know how you got Kimberly. Every woman loves a man who's hung like a horse."
He almost made it through the door before he was hit in the back by the rat's projectile.