The date: 31st October. The place: Albuquerque, New Mexico. Cal was here on a special Halloween holiday... or vacation, as they'd say here in the USA- a nation that lives large when it came to Halloween. Cal was curious to see just how serious this nation took it compared to his, and had managed to secure a cheap trip to Albuquerque. The climate was temperate, but not as hot as he would have expected from New Mexico: it seemed that fall had brought a slight chill to the state.
For the past few days, Halloween was all around and was the word on everyone's lips, but there was one thing about the holiday that Cal overheard more than anything else: some sort of Halloween Circus... whether it was from those who had already visited or those planning a visit, all those words in the air made Cal ever more curious to visit... what better way to top off a Halloween vacation?
The grounds were around twenty minutes out from Albuquerque, some place on the road out to Santa Fe. The circus had been kind enough to provide a bus out to the grounds from the city centre; around the bus stop, people chattered in anticipation, continuing to do so as the bus approached, and the doors opened. Cal and the crowd flew in, a buzz in the air as people discussed the various acts they wanted to see. Most of the discussion regarded the circus's magic show. Hosted by the ringmaster, The Amazing Leo, the word was that the show was something of a life-changing experience. Could a magic show be so profound?, wondered Cal, taking his seat as the bus set out to the grounds. As the urban landscape faded to harsh scrubland, the sky began to darken. Cal tried following the bus's route on a map, but as dusk fell, he just couldn't keep track of where he was going.
The circus grounds took up quite a wide area of the plains. Cal could get a good sense of the expanse from the view from the bus, but what he saw didn't seem as... scary as he hoped. Just... circusy. Perhaps that was further in? The bus made its way through rows of parked cars, taking the passengers straight to the ticket gate. Clutching his bags, Cal scurried out with the rest of the passengers and made his way to the line. The queue got through the gate quicker than Cal was expecting, and very soon he found himself at a ticket booth, and face to face with a lady in a squirrel mask, complete with furry gloves to give the illusion of paws.
"Good afternoon, sir. How many today?", asked the squirrel lady with a smile.
"A-afternoon? H-have you seen the sky up there? It's early evening!", stammered Cal, a bit confused. The sky had gone pretty dark, but... it was, indeed, 4:47 pm. He'd have expected it to be closer to 6 pm, from the hue above him. The squirrel lady checked her clock.
"4:47 pm. Close enough for middle ground. So just one today, sir? That'll be $9.50 then!" Cal rummaged in his pockets, and presented a $10 bill, asking the clerk to keep the change. She took the money and asked the visitor to stretch out their hand. He did so, and the squirrel stamped the back of the hand with a pumpkin-shaped ink stamp, and motioned to him to pass through the gate. Onward Cal walked, passing through the gate. As he stepped through the setting immediately changed: the dusky skies immediately turned pitch black, the moon hanging high above and looking much larger than before. Jack-o-lantern lamps lit the way, gravestones and thorny vines littering the sides of the paths, the colourful circus tents turning to black fabric with orange lights decorating them.
"Woah...", exclaimed Cal, in wonder. Were those there before? He gingerly stepped back out of the grounds to observe from beyond, before stepping back in, noting the shift in setting as he exited and re-entered.
"Sir, if you could please move along, we need to keep the line flowing"
That complaint came from a security officer standing next to the gate, dressed in a doberman costume wearing a security uniform, though once Cal crossed back over the barrier his appearance changed drastically, his head gaining dark black horns, his tail gaining a spade at the end, his eyes glowing red and his fangs pushing out from his muzzle.
"S-sorry, sir...", muttered Cal, scampering away from the guard in the now macabre costume. His eyes darted about, looking at the landscape that had smoothly changed from a typical circus look to something more sinister. Not far from the entrance was a large pumpkin patch where people were picking and buying pumkins from... what looked like bigger pumpkins? No... pumpkin creatures, with large pumpkin bodies and faces that look shaped like various animals, with their eyes and mouths carved cut out and lit up by candles. Wandering the grounds were various skeletons and zombies, shuffling and clacking but still carrying on normal conversation. The sight of the monsters caused Cal to tremble... those pumpkin beasts were unnerving, and he was never one to hang close to zombies. A pack of wild wolves dashed by, their eyes glowing in the dark as they chased the crowds, who were backing away in fright.
"Yikes... I hope nobody gets harmed here", wondered Cal out loud.
"Oh, don't worry, it's all for show", a deep growling voice said as a tall shadow eclipsed Cal's own. He looked up and behind him, something massive approaching: a bare-chested creature with a leonine torso and head, glowing red eyes, and burly arms. A chitonous plating of sorts covered his lower torso and legs, and a long scorpion tail waved idly behind him. Altogether, a quite intimidating beast.
"Y-yikes... you honestly wouldn't hurt anyone here, right?", asked Cal, sweating at the sight of the beast, its tail looking lethal. The manticore laughed, his laugh seeming to waver towards a deep bellowing roar.
"Don't worry about it. I just look lethal. I wouldn't hurt anyone. The boss would have my head if I did." The beast pointed to a food cart at a corner, where a fearsome looking werewolf was snarfing down a burger and licking the vendor in a friendly manner. "See? Nobody gets hurt here. It's all for show. The name's Rubeus, by the way. At least while I'm in this form."
"Are you human really? There a human inside that costume?"
"Of course there is. But I like being a manticore", boasted Rubeus. "I mean, come on, who wouldn't? Big, strong, immortal. I haven't had this much fun in years."
"You do realise that wearing a costume doesn't make you immortal, right?"
"It's part of the act, mister...", said Rubeus, giving a smile that just made him look even scarier. "Oh, sorry, didn't mean to scare", responded the manticore remorsefully, seeing Cal cower.
"Yeah... s-so, what exactly do you do here?"
"I'm usually a trainer for the animals, but tonight, the boss decided to let me have some fun with the rest of the staff in the grounds. It's great being able to help kids face their fears and see that monsters like me aren't always the monsters people think."
"With that face, you'll make them cry, Rubeus." That thought was immediately proved wrong as a little boy walked by, waving and smiling at the manticore.
"You were saying? That little kid's name is Alex. Nice guy. I helped him see that he doesn't always have to be scared of things he doesn't understand. His mother was very grateful."
"So, you build courage?"
"Sometimes. Other times people are looking for a little fright. It all depends on what they want. Then I provide it. But I'm still the same nice guy underneath it all."
"Yeah. A nice guy in a scary costume..." The manticore-costumed man frowned and facepalmed.
"Oh... oh, wow, I just realized, I'm completely neglecting you. Was there someplace I could give you directions? You looked kinda lost."
"Isn't... this Amazing Leo fellow doing some sort of magic show?"
"Yup. He's my boss. Set this whole thing up. Even my costume", the manticore chuckled.
"Have to say... he's good with design!", boomed another voice, coming from another looming figure approaching Cal from behind. He spun around and laid his eyes on a man costumed as a large black bull with draconic wings and a flaming mane down his spine, and a glowing nose ring on his muzzle, shining like his eyes.
"W-wow... a master craftsman as well as a magician?"
"Yup. And then some", said the manticore, smiling more gently now.
"Who's to say it can't be both? Ah well. The name's Red, I'm this place's strongman", said the bull man. "I just was noticing Chri....I mean Reubbubububrsomething talking with you. You looked a bit unnerved."
"Well, realistic costumes, glowing eyes, pumpkin beasts, zombies, the eternal night..." Cal rattled out a list of all the unexpected frights he witnessed.
"That's our boss's magic at work", said Rubeus, with a bit of pride in his employer.
"Yeah... but within it all, we're still human." added Red. "Oh, yeah! I was on my way to my tent and just passing by. Maybe I'll see you later, human dude. Come to my show! Don't forget Red the Bull!" And with a quick unfurling of his wings, he ascended and flew towards another area of the circus.
"Gee..." said Cal, sighing a bit, somewhat overwhelmed by the sight.
"Heh. So, going to see Leo, right? Hey, want to take a short cut?", asked Rubeus, or Chris as he really was.
"...Is it safe?"
"Course it is."
"I'll take your word for it", replied Cal, knowing that there was a good natured human behind the makeup.
"Good. Now just hold on tight." The manitcore smiled and grabbed the human in a tight embrace. Suddenly, he heard a leathery snap as wings he could have sworn weren't there before flew open and the manticore took to the air. Feeling the ground falling away from him, Cal screamed for help as the beast carried him.
"Relax, I won't drop you. It's just the fastest way to get there. And you wanted fast, right?" Rubeus smiled as they soared over the crowd towards the main tent in the center of the fair. The moon looked almost as if it were dyed a deep red as they finally set down in front of the flaps. Cal panted as he and Rubeus set his feet back on the earth, a few people jumping away in shock as the large beast came down, a few of them taking photos of the scene.
"Wow... that was fast... hope I get a good seat. Thanks, Chris. Wow... flying costumes... hey, when Leo's done, feel free to give me a lift back, if you have the time."
"Heh, we'll see. Maybe you won't need it." The manticore winked at Cal as he flew off into the air once more. "Enjoy the show, folks!" Cal waved off Chris as the crowd clapped at the beast's aerobatics, before joining the congregation crowding into the massive big top. The tent was massive; circles of seats within, and in the centre, a large 360 degree stage, simple in design but currently empty. Wandering around, Cal found a vacant seat and took his place, waiting for the show to begin, listening to the exciting buzz hanging about the tent, some people mentioning previous shows and some hoping for a chance at a new life, whatever they meant by that. As the last of the crowd took their seats, the lights dimmed, all eyes focusing on the centre stage. Suddenly, a loud voice boomed across the tent...
"Ladies, gentlemen, and monsters of all shapes and sizes! Welcome to the show! You're mere seconds away from Magic and Mischief that will seek to amaze and make you reborn! Are you ready for a show?"
Free of nerves, Cal joined in with the raucous cheering. Yes, they were ready!
"Then let's get started!" The centre of the tent became engulfed in fog as a large pack of over 30 werewolves materialised on stage, snarling to the crowd. Cal cowered a bit as the beasts appeared from nowhere... but breathed out a bit, reminding himself they're only costumes. He watched as the largest wolf, the alpha, stood up on two legs and raised his massive paws. The other wolves fell silent and sat obediently... at a flick of the alpha's wrists the pack began to howl... to howl in tune. In fact, they were howl-singing Halloween tunes! Cal chuckled a little; of course they weren't really frightening.
After a few songs they all stood to take a bow, respecting the applause, before scurrying away, barking and howling, out back to the grounds. The fog that remained began to swirl in the centre of the stage, rising high, thickening... and with a sudden whip of a cape the fog dispersed, revealing a large white lion dressed in a black and white suit, complete with top hat and cape. The crowd roared with applause! And Cal felt inclined to join in; this must be the Leo that nobody could stop talking about!
"Thank you, thank you!", exclaimed Leo, bowing and smiling broadly. "Ah, so wonderful to see you all here tonight! Some familiar faces tonight I see!" The crowd cheered and waved at the man in the lion costume. Cal was just so impressed with the craftmanship and impressive realism!
Leo summoned a scroll from... thin air, apparently, clutched it in his hand, and began to recite. "Let's see... I'm sure your familiar with how this all works. Come on stage, tell us about yourselves, exit reborn and remade yadda yadda ALRIGHT THEN!" With a flick of his wrists the scroll was thrown away and quickly vanished in a puff of purple flame. "So who here among you would like to come on stage first?" All around Cal was a massive demand to be chosen, but he was apprehensive. He wasn't familiar with how it all worked. He seemed reluctant to volunteer as the crowd thrust their hands up.
"Well I shouldn't be surprised by this turnout", chuckled Leo. "Let's see... how about you and you come down!", he said, pointing to two members of the crowd sitting beside each other, beckoning them to join him on stage. Cal applauded them sheepishly as they approached the stage, Leo holding out his wand to them, flicking it upwards in a beckoning motion. There was a woman and man approaching the stage, the former wearing a cheap, or maybe handmade, witch costume.
"Welcome aboard! Welcome aboard! Why don't you tell us a bit about yourselves, eh?", asked the jovial ringmaster. The two introduced themselves as a Richard and a Rebecca, explaining a bit about where they were from and how they came to the circus together as a Halloween date.
"Ah, such a wonderful couple here tonight! And I see Rebecca here has already gotten into costume! A witch is always a classic Halloween getup... magic and mayhem abound! But Richard... colour me unimpressed. Did you not find a costume or do you simply just not get into the Halloween spirit?!" Leo sounded just a bit taken aback.
"I err... well that is... I feel kinda dumb in costumes. I kinda don't like dressing up for Hallowe-" Richard was quickly interrupted with a quick wand to the lips.
"Hold that thought, because I think we have a big violation of Halloweentown already in effect!", announced the lion man. "Ladies and gentlemen, this man does NOT like to get dressed up for Halloween! He has no holiday spirit!" The crowd booed in agreement. Cal wondered whether he came here voluntarily or was just dragged here by his date.
"But I suppose that's where I come in, isn't it?", said Leo, swishing his cape dramatically. "You both raised your hands in an attempt to feel the true spirit of Halloween!"
"W-well I raised mine so you could see Rebecca and-" Whap! Leo harshly forced his paw into Richard's face, interrupting him again.
"Sorry, Rick! But if you put your own hand up you are volunteering yourself and now here you are. So what say we fix this little no-costume situation of yours while we help dear sweet Rebecca with her's, eh?" Richard rubbed his face, groaning at the sudden pain, but as he moved his hands away he revealed a nose that was certainly not the one he took to the stage with: it had been replaced with a small, pink one, and his upper lip was showing a few dark spots dotted around it. Cal gasped with the audience at the sight of it, Richard looking a bit confused at the reaction before twitching his nose and realizing something was off! He gasped and let out a confused mewl... wait, that wasn't what he wanted to say, right? A mewl? More gasps from the audience, at the first signs of Leo's magic.
"Now then, Rebecca, you seem to get the spirit of Halloween!", continued the lion. "You get the mischief of it all. A witch is a wonderful mascot of the holiday... agree?", he said, holding out a paw to her.
"I suppose so?", responded Rebecca, taking the paw. "It felt pretty simple to me" The lion smiled at the more willing volunteer.
"Well allow me to show you how the ordinary can get just a little bit... extraordinary." He pulled away his paw to a chorus of gasps to show the young woman's hand had changed, appearing old and wrinkled and, more importantly, a wicked shade of green! She watched in awe as the discolouration spread down her arm, her plasticy robes changing to appear more like fabric, tattered and aged. Meanwhile, Richard began to mewl more as his body started to shrink, becoming too small for his clothes, black fur covering his body and his eyes gaining a yellow glow. Cal comprehended the change... they were becoming a real witch and cat... for real... but this was unlike any magic he had ever witnessed! Shrinking, ageing, was it painful? Rebecca certainly looked like she was enjoying it, now a hook-nosed witch, cackling to the audience.
"Yes! Yessss!", cried the witch, a hiss in her mouth. "I can feel it now! The dark night! The full moon! Halloween! Now is the time for some truly dark and wicked magic from Morgana! Come my little Richard, let's give these young people a little last bit of entertainment before the real haunting begins!" She plucked a gnarled wand from beneath her robes as Richard mewled, using it to summon forth a broom that swooped into the tent, spinning above the audience, circling to her. She mounted the broom, her cat jumping onto the front, and cackled as she took off into the moonlit night. "A happy Halloween to you all! Enjoy it... While it lasts. KEEEHEEHEEHEEE!"
As the crowd applauded, Cal scratched his head, puzzled. Morgana? A broom? Did Leo change Rachel's memories? Reality? He knew Rebecca had Halloween spirit, but this was inexplicable.
"Now then, my beautiful audience!", announced Leo, making his presence known once more. "Who else is ready? Who else is willing? Who else... is curious?" The audience members raised their hands again. Cal was a bit afraid to raise his but... he didn't want to feel left out. Now he understood what was meant by the promise of renewal, even if what he witnessed was more of an ageing. And... yes, he was a bit curious about how things worked...
"Let's see... Let. Us. See... Ahhhh. Now there is an interesting aura in this tent. But where is it...?" Leo turned his head, surveying the spectators, seeking something only he could sense. "Ahhh... And there it is. Right. There!" With a firm flick of the wrist, Leo pointed his finger at Cal. The man felt a tingling feeling in his gut as the finger's point fell on him. No question now, he was the one who was picked.
"M-me!?", asked Cal, standing up, nervous. Why him? Why would he have an aura that was interesting Leo so much?
"Yes, of course you! Hurry now, while we're still young!" Leo, in a large puff of smoke, suddenly looked old and gray, wobbling on a walking stick. "Oh no! Too late!" The audience clapped and laughed at the ringmaster's antics, as Cal trembled, moving towards the stage.
"There m-must be some mistake, why me? I went by myself... I don't have a costume... w-what have you got in mind, knowing that?"
"Don't worry, my boy, that will come on due time. Now then..." Leo warped back into his normal age and held his wand out to Cal like a microphone. "Why don't you start with telling us your name?"
"C-Cal...", he said, his voice amplified by the wand's magic. "I kinda followed the crowd... d-didnt know what to expect really..."
"Kale? What is that? Isn't that a vegetable? Are you a vegetable, sir?"
"D-don't make fun of me...", muttered Cal, sweating under the spotlights as the audience laughed at him.
"Aww, we're very sorry Cal. We only seek to have a good laugh and some entertainment. Talking of... hmm... you seem a bit confused about what's going on so I'll explain it nice and easy."
"G-go ahead... I..." Cal tailed off, unable to explain his curiosity in his state.
"Now then, I deal in 'transformative experiences' using magic to dazzle the body and the mind. You'll feel like a whole new person when I work my magic, if not that, then more! Now for you, I sense a whole new case entirely. You have this aura about you. As if you has multiple auras inside you! I've never felt such a strange magical energy coming from anyone before!"
"I... I don't understand. You're not g-going to t-turn me into a scary old hag, right? I d-d-don't want to be a hag, or get cat, or..."
"Relax, my friend, just relax", said Leo, putting a large paw on the stammering human's shoulder. It felt incredibly realistic, bringing with it a comforting, calming warmth.
"Really... I d-don't know what I want to b-be. I'm s-scared..."
"Well normally I'd tell you not to be scared but..." Leo slowly rested both his paws on Cal's head. "...it is Halloween."
"H-hey... get off...", Cal moaned, sounding very afraid as the lion gripped at his head. Suddenly, with a mighty tug, he thrust his paws down, seemingly intent on tearing at Cal's whole body. The motion caused a ripping sound like Christmas presents being opened, and a sudden, instantaneous feeling of his back being smoothly torn apart like paper, but... no residual pain. In fact, he was sure his body was still in one piece... but was still incredibly freaked out by the percieved pulling apart. "H-huh?", wondered Cal aloud, as he slowly, very slowly, turned his head around, fearful of what the man behind him had done to him. In both of his paws hung two bodies, completely identical to Cal, in looks and clothes. As the ringmaster held them up, they swayed limply as if asleep.
"M-me?", stuttered Cal in shock. "W-what... are you wanting to s-show me something?"
"Perhaps", replied Leo, setting the bodies down, starting to awaken as the soles of their shoes touched the stage. "I can sense the auras have all been isolated... my my. It seems as if there were three different people inside you! That's an impressive feat! Usually I have to get three people together to make one!"
"I am... three? C... can you usually duplicate?"
"Well... duplicate may not be the correct word here. You three are all similar, yet there is enough difference within each and every one of you... all it takes is a little bit of a push to bring it out." Placing his paws on the two doppelgängers, he focused his magic into them, the copies gasping in shock as their bodies began to flood with magic. Cal gaped as their bodies contorted and reshaped, their bodies getting more extreme curves, pressing against their identical clothes at the chest and hips, their facial features shifting.
"F... females? I guess this explains... me b-being shy... afraid... a feminine side..." Leo turned to face Cal, who looked on in terror.
"Yes... now, you as well, original... there is something else about you that just needs to be brought out."
"You're not going to... me too..." Cal muttered, backing away.
"No, no. I sense in each of you, quite literally, a unique person deep inside you. Your own self gives a very male aura. I sense a youthful and athletic spirit in you, boy. A very outspoken and outgoing individual." As Leo declared what he sensed in the original Cal, the man felt an odd warmth within him, a sensation seemingly echoed outside him too. But... these things he was apparently sensing...
"No... that's not me... that's not me at all!" Cal cowered, his fingers making contact with his skin as he recoiled, brushing over something curiously bristly. Taking a look nervously, Cal screamed at the sight: blue fur sprouting all over his body. "Aaaah! No! What are you doing, you... making me a wild animal?"
"Relax, buddy", assured the lion. "You aren't becoming some wild animal. I mean you kinda are... but... different context. I mean, look at your friends here." He gestured to the duplicates; one was gaining a fairer brown skin tone and many hard looking scales growing along their head and back, something that Cal winced at while observing it, concerned by the thought of how painful that must be, while the other was starting to shrink a bit in size while tan fur covered their body.
"You plan turn me into a z-zoo exhibit? Split me up and make me into a bunch of animals?", complained Cal, a bit of anger entering his voice as he watched his fate in front of him.
"Not at all. I'm sure deep down, you see... that these are people you've had on your head in the past. Do these not look familiar to you?" Familiar... within his mind. They seemed to be... he seemed to be... no...
"No... that's a... secret!" Cal protested as his body shifted, adjusting to become something very familiar to Cal and Cal alone. He felt a curious pulling at his feet, a stretching sensation as his feet lengthened into paws, pushing out of his shoes.
"There are no secrets here with us... Ralf", said Leo slyly, giving a smile and a wink.
"No, stop! Leave them be and put them back!", complained the magician's victim, all his fear vanished, replaced by outrage, unwillingness...
"Relax, my friend. My intention was never to harm. Surely even you realize how you truly wished for this. Feel it now. Feel the fur, the paws, the spirit of Ralf within you Let your other selves embrace their inner selves too." Cal clenched his fists, spikes and leather growing from the backs of his handpaws, feeling ashamed and enraged, this magician exposing his inner selves for the audience to view. "What is it that angers you so much?", asked Leo, as the fur spread to coat Cal's head, his face starting to push out into a canine muzzle.
"Grrr... this was my private, personal fantasy, and you... you have no concept of privacy, Leo!"
"Maybe not. But I do recognise the concept of personal desire. I could see how much you wanted this. You are far from the first I have given this to. Some have acted out as you have but in the end they all saw to embrace who they are on the inside. I saw who you were, former human, and I sensed your dissatisfaction. I thought to give you that which makes you happy and bring it to life. To make it the true you."
"Perhaps you just need to relax", said Leo, slowly. "Just close your eyes and take a deep breath. Let my voice guide you though this change."
"No!", exclaimed Cal as he lashed out, claws growing from his fingertips, but Leo was too quick for him, catching Cal's arm in his paw, flexing it and revealing his own sharp claws.
"I had so hoped to do this with civility but I see that fear and anger have clouded your judgment. Now take a seat, all of you." With a snap of his fingers he summoned a bench and set the three victims on it, locking them in place with some kind of magic force, keeping them from getting off the seat. They moaned angrily as they tried hard to escape, but were forced to remain by their invisible bonds. As they struggled fruitlessly, Leo summoneda large red and white swirly wheel, and turned it towards the bench giving it a spin with his strong paws. "Now, all three of you look into the wheel. Allow yourselves to relax. There is no danger... There is no anger here..." With no escape, the lion's volunteer and his doubles were unable take their eyes away from the wheel. The crowd, once tense and on edge at the scene that had been playing out, now sat quietly and excitedly as the trio relaxed, hypnotised by the spiral.
"There now. Just take a deep breath, all of you, and just listen to my voice. Don't let your fears or anger get to you just yet." The human with blue fur was looking much more lupine, growling slightly as he sighed in relaxation, his fangs growing from his extending muzzle. To his right, his now female double was becoming what he recognised as Terra. She took a deep breath and sighed, her nose pushing out and turning black, opening her mouth and showing off several pointed teeth in her little muzzle, while the figure to his left was looking more and more like the armadillo characterhe knew as Alyce.
"There you all go. Such a wonderful group you are. Ralf... Alyce... Terra... just feel yourselves coming to life. Being locked away for so long and now finally coming out. Doesn't it feel wonderful to be who you were truly meant to be?" The lion observed his subjects, seeing a hint of a smile from all three of them, happy now they were relaxed and transforming without resistance. He turned his head right, adressing one of the female copies, although they were becoming less and less identical. "There now... Alyce. I hear you enjoy going boarding: sand, snow, skate... I bet that doesn't matter does it?" The near-human shook her armour-backedhead... no... not at all... she'd ride whatever... "And Ralf", continued Leo, turning to the figure in the middle, "doesn't the thought of going out for a ride with your friend sound exciting? Exhilarating even?" The wolf nodded gently, letting a long tongue extend, lolling out of his muzzle. "Awww, look at how excited they are! You can see it in their tails!" A wolf's trail burst out of the seat of Ralf's pants, wagging eagerly, while a slightly longer and thicker one emerged from Alyce's rear, touching the ground, snaking about. The once apprehensive, concerned audience applauded once more, not that the creatures on the bench cared...
"Now! Remember, and be who you truly are! When I snap my fingers you will awaken... no, you will REAWAKEN!" The ringmaster snapped his fingers loudly, the sound echoing though the tent. Ralf's eyes snapped open right on the snap, the wolf gasping as he awoke to the sound of cheers, as Leo took a bow. The beings beside the wolf awoke more wearily, getting off the bench as the binding force lifted, their seat fading away. The more awake wolf's eyes darted left, right, up, and down, taking everything all in... none of this felt right at all...
"W... Where am I? Wh-who are you? What have you done with my friends? What have you done with our clothes?" He laid eyes onthe audience... the very human audience... "Wh- oh man, this is not our home dimension, isn't it..."
"Oh, you certainly are home, Ralf", replied Leo mysteriously. "You and your friends are just here for a show. I'm a magician, see? And, well, you were our recent volunteers. As for your clothes, here." Leo pulled out three wide metal rings from behind his back and handed one to each of his volunteers. Attatched to the ring was a circular strip of rainbow fabric. "Hold these over your heads and they will take care of the rest", explained the lion, as the trio observed the curious rings carefully.
"Y'know, home doesn't have so many humans, lion... humans... watching us?", said Ralf, warily.
"Hmmm... you have a point there. In any case I assure you I know what I'm doing. And my name is Leo, good sir." Alyce turned her hoop in her hands looking at it confused, shifting it between her growing claws.
"So I just hold it up like this or som-- EEP!"
As she held the cloth wheel directly above her a long round curtain of rainbow fabric fell from it, completely surrounding her. Ralf and Terra turned to view the commotion; they could see motion within the cylinder as the fabric cascaded, flapping and whipping around. Within, Alyce could only see a blitz of colour, but she could feel a familiar weight overcoming her, the weight of her proper clothes. Within seconds, the fabric dropped to the floor, revealing Alyce clothed in her usual leather belt adorned garb and goggles.
"Alyce!", exclaimed an overjoyed Ralf. "You're... well, your muzzle looks a bit short... but you're back!"
"Ralf? What's wrong with my muzzle?", said Alyce, returning to full conciousness. "It feels...ACHOO!" With a quick sneeze her
nose pushed all the way out into proper length. "A-ahh! There we go! Man, that was weird..."
"Yeah... weird things all around here...", agreed Ralf, shaking his hoop over his head, a rainbow curtain falling over him. Within the boundaries of the magic fabric, his clothes transformed, becoming baggy camo pants and large boots, with shoulder pads fused to his shoulders and a dog collar forming around his neck. The shirt that the human that was once Cal wore became a simple white t-shirt, just to keep Ralf looking decent for the audience. "Whew!", sighed Ralf, exiting the cascade. "Terra, your turn! Quick, shake your hoop!"
"You mean like this?" The sandy figure shook her hoop, and as before, bright enchanted fabric fell over her, quickly changing her overlarge garb into a puffy, fur-lined, brown winter jacket and warming, insulated pants with pink kneepads. Ralf and Alyce were glad to see Terra emerge from the curtain equipped with all her rock-riding gear, and happy to see the misty green glow surround her gloved paws as she regained her earth guardian powers, her fur gaining her usual three rectangle pattern on her forehead.
"Phew...", said Ralf with a massive amount of relief. "I think we're right as rain... now then, Leo... give it to us straight, where the heck are we?"
"Well, you're currently located on the outer city limits of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Does that mean anything to you guys?"
"No. No such country that I know", said Alyce with a shrug.
"Dammit, we have ended up in another dimension, haven't we...", grumbled Ralf.
"United States of America? North America?" The trio scratched their heads as Leo tried telling them where they were. Their home planet had no such nation, no such location...
"Well, anyway, I think you guys can adjust well here! This place has a lot of desert and wasteland! Among fertile lands, mountains, and plenty of towns and cities... you might be surprised by the similarities."
"And places to ride?", asked Terra, interested by the mentions of earthy places.
"Absolutely. People love to ride the mountains."
"Well, you hooked us up with our clothes... I just hope that our boards make the journey too...", said Ralf, feeling a bit anxious about not being able to use the opportunity to ride.
"Did you summon us here?", asked Alyce, echoing her friends' desire to know more.
"In a way I kinda did. I'm not very good with dimensional stuff but it seems it somehow happened!" Around Leo and the stage the audience was buzzing with confusion and intrigue. Did he really hypnotize this guy? Were they really from another dimension? Or did the original human have this colorful of an imagination...?
"You... you can get us back, right?", asked Ralf, starting to worry slightly.
"I can try, but it might take a while. After all, I am a busy man! I run a circus and it's Halloween! I got a lot on my plate tonight."
"Hang on... circus... top hat... a magician? You're a magician!", exclaimed Ralf with realisation. "And you pulled us out of our world like handkerchiefs from a hat!"
"Like handkerchiefs?!", said Leo with incredulity. "Good sir, I do better than handkerchiefs!" He whipped off his top hat and reached inside, pulling out... a handkerchief. "Oh..." The audience laughed at Leo's misfortune, feeling calmer now. But Terra saw an opportunity. "Quick!", she called, leaping towards the hat, trying to dive in head first... fitting into the hat... and bursting right through it, tumbling onto the floor. The audience gasped at the destruction of Leo's gear, and the lion looked shocked.
"Huh.. Wh- oh no! I ruined our way back!" Terra clutched her head, exasperated. Leo seemed just as dissapointed.
"Darnit, I liked that hat. I had a lot of my stuff in there. Come on... lemme just..." Leo started flicking it around a few times before his hat suddenly popped back into brand new quality. "Ahh, there we go!", said Leo, looking much more satisfied as he fit it back on his head. "Now, that hat isn't going to get you back. I didn't pull you out of that! And I'd appreciate it if you didn't try jumping into my hat without first asking me!"
"So how did you get us here?", asked Ralf, feeling very confused.
"Ah, hmm... well... it's hard to explain. Why don't I just show you how I work?"
"Pay attention, guys. This could be our ticket back home", noted Terra.
"Well, are you at least familiar with Halloween?", asked the ringmaster.
"Yeah... We have it too...", said Ralf, discussing with his friends. "I think we must be in a nearby dimension."
"Leo, your magic must pull those you summon from neighbouring worlds", said Terra, with an air of understanding.
Leo stood for a few seconds in silence, blinking.
"Sure... let's go with that...", he said slowly, with a sweat and a sigh. What kind of crazy mess did he get himself into with this? "In any case, my circus is currently celebrating the holiday. provide the crowd with... transformative experiences to get into the spirit of things." At the mention of the word "transformative", the three athletic animals' ears perked up.
"Transformative? Heh, you've summoned the right wolf for that", said Ralf; he knew all too well about transformation, being the owner of a collar with transformative powers. Alyce told Leo that they'd happily volunteer. A chance to see this magician in action and get transformed! It was a win-win!
"...Well then!", announced Leo, turning to the audience with a newfound energy, "Ladies and gentlemen, let's welcome our new... NEW volunteers!"
"I admit... this is going to be interesting...", said Ralf quietly, his voice a bit muffled by the audience's loud applause.
"Now then... maybe we can start with... Alyce", said the lion, approaching the armadillo showily. "Tell me, Alyce. You like to be extreme, right? Liking to fly by on boards and go at incredible speeds?"
"Yeah... hang on... I've just noticed... we've only just met yet you seem to know about us an awful lot."
"You're well known... to a few people on this side", ad-libbed Leo.
"Have we... been here before?", said Ralf, confused again.
"Maybe Kai has", suggested Terra, referring to her fellow guardian, this one being an air guardian who frequently travelled between dimensions.
"Maybe! Perhaps we can try and get home with her?", suggested Alyce.
"Well before that, let me ask you... have you ever wanted to truly fly?", questioned Leo, getting back to the act.
"Without Kai? Without a board?"
"Just you, my dear", said Leo with a chuckle.
"The thought sounds... exhilarating, sir."
"Then allow me to help you with that..." Leo raised his paws up, then swept them down dramatically. As he thrust down his hands, a swarm of bats flew into the tent, circling around the audience before heading towards Alyce, swarming around the armadillo. She covered his face in fear, her friends panicking and telling her to be careful around the screeching bats, their wings beating around her, generating a forceful wind that slowly took her upwards, the flock rising with her.
"So this is how you want me to fly? Like a vampire?", asked Alyce through the mass of winged beasties.
"Oh, no not like that. These bats are friendly... once you get to know them, Alyce". As Leo spoke, Alyce felt a thin layer of dark grey bristly fur growing across her skin, and membranes starting to form between her arms and the sides of her body.
"H-hang on... wings? You want me... to become a bat?"
"You will be able to fly! And you'll make quite the resident of Halloweentown!"
"You'll have to explain... resident?", inquired Ralf, analysing Leo.
"Well, Halloweentown does require its spooky attractions... it adds more authenticity to its design! Don't you worry... these are merely temporary", explained Leo, looking up within the spinning flock, observing Alyce's nose morphing into a bat's snout, her ears flopping as they lost their rigidity, and her body shrinking within her loosening clothes.
"Just don't lose me in the crowd, OK?", said Alyce, in a higher pitched voice than she expected.
"I remember each and every one of my volunteers on stage. You'll be fine!" A tiny bat scrambled from the clothes in the air as they fell back down to the stage, screeching loudly as it joined the swarm, speech lost to the screech.
"Alyce!", called Ralf. "Stay safe, OK?", shouted Terra, looking up at the bats leaving the tent, Alyce among them, identical to any other bat in there. As they spiraled back out, the audience applauded at yet another fantastic magic trick from the great ringmaster, while Ralf gathered her friend's clothes, belts and goggles, now piled up on the stage without a wearer, and offered them to Leo.
"Make sure she gets these back, they're very meaningful to her", said Ralf gravely.
"Her goods are safe in here, Ralf", said Leo, doffing his top hat. Ralf put the bundle of clothes in, trying not to break the hat like Terra did. The hat expanded as it was filled, before shrinking back to normal.
"Now then... which one of you wishes to go next?", asked Leo with a smile, fitting the top hat back on his head.
"Me!" "No, me!" After seeing what Leo did with Alyce, both of the remaining volunteers were very eager to step forward.
"Oh, both interested?", said Leo positivly. "Hmm... I think I can make this work."
"Think you can transform both of us at once?", challenged Ralf. Leo was ready to rise to it, dramatically twisting around the stage, getting behind the twosome, placing a paw on both of their shoulders.
"Ohhh, you should have been here when I debuted the Halloweentown... just watch me." A sudden surge of power pushed from his hands, deep into both of their cores, reverberating within them.
"Woah! I... I think this is going to be pretty intense...", reacted Ralf.
"We don't usually meet people with that much power, Leo...", added Terra, shaking a bit.
"Well I normally don't meet people from other dimensions! Welcome to Earth!" Terra felt the energy in her grow, providing a warming sensation all around, as her fur slowly darkened.
"I feel... warm. Pleasantly warm. Like a sunny day at the dunes", said Terra, her short muzzle stretching out longer and thinner, her teeth starting to poke out as they lengthened and sharpened.
"Oh... sounds nicer than what I feel", groaned Ralf, clutching his torso, feeling an indescribable tingle. He could feel a swelling in his chest, two mounds starting to form, while his waist slimmed down significantly, his hips gaining what bodily matter had been lost there. The groans became moans. "Oh... this...", said his wavering voice, his fur beginning to take a more deep purple tone, and his head feeling a bit of pressure as two horns began to bud from in front of his ears.
"Do you change your volunteers' gender often?", asked Terra, her internal heat continuing to rise, feeling sweltering in her snow gear. A thin, ropy tail was sliding from her rear, tipped with a spade, and her normally short ears had grown long and pointed.
"It all depends on who volunteers, Terra. And also what I feel might be fun!", answered Leo.
"It's not like I had a choice though", murmured Ralf, clutching his... her breasts, covered by that white t-shirt. "Thanks for providing some modesty, by the way."
"Now now...", said Leo wistfully. "Before long you likely won't be worrying about that!" He swirled his wand and jabbed it towards Ralf, and suddenly her top tightened, becoming little more than a black leather bra. "You were saying? Heheh... now, how about you Terra?"
"H... hot..." Terra was sweating grains of sand, the earth elemental taking off her gloves and unzipping her clothes, revealing thick black and red fur. By the time she had got all her clothes off, she suddenly lurched forward. "Woah!", screamed Terra, her hips cracking, locking her into a quadrupedal stance. "Yikes... Hey, Ralf, mind throwing my clothes into the hat?" Ralf nodded, taking her paws off her chest to grab the warm clothes, as Leo swept off his hat again.
"Gear please...", said the lion holding out his hat. "Oh, except for you, Ralf. You're gonna need those." At Leo's vocal command, Ralf's cargo pants suddenly tightened, turning into black shiny leather tights with fishnet stockings, leading down to long black high heels. Her legs became much more shapely as the tights compressed them, and her tail became ropey and spade tipped like Terra's.
"Mmf... tight...", observed Ralf, tipping the clothes in the hat. Terra tried thanking her, but her head was starting to spin... something causing her thoughts to go foggy... She tried to call to Leo, telling him not to harm her clothes, but just couldn't manage it. She slumped her head, some alien sensation wracking her mind, causing her thoughts to slur. They were feeling less reasonable, more feral. Hot spit drooled out from her muzzle as a streak of fur erupted into flame down her back, a spiked collar suddenly appearing around her neck.
Meanwhile, Ralf's own mind was experiencing its own little waves of change... As bat-like wings unfurled from her back, her thoughts became more seductive, and those thoughts of being seductive to naïve humans gave her a deep sense of satisfaction and thrill. She gave a heavy sigh as her wings grew, moaning "oh, yes..." slowly and sultrily. A black leather whip appeared in the succubus' hand, extending to Terra's collar and acting like a leash for the feral hellhound, who was growling and drooling, unable to say anything intelligible, her saliva boiling as it hit the stage.
"Now then... don't you both just feel better?", asked Leo, his work complete.
"Ooh, yes... I can sense... I can feel... this will be a most excellent night...", answered Ralf, her pet growling, perhaps in agreement.
"Good, good. I suggest you keep your pet on a short leash tonight... who knows what kind of trouble she could cause."
"Oh, don't worry. My girl always behaves well, don't you, my sweet?", she asked, looking down at the growling hound.
"Alright", nodded Leo. "Well folks, that's tonight's show! Thank you very much for joining us tonight! Be safe and have a Happy Halloween!"
"But be sure to stay a while...", said Ralf, licking her lips at the sight of all the men she could seduce within that applauding audience, some of them definitely whooping and hollering at her. Prime targets. "Come, my pet. The night is still young... the night of seduction!" The succubus cackled, vanishing with Terra in a puff of purple smoke that smelt faintly of roses.