I woke up in a fog, in a daze of grey motes swimming across my eyes. My head hurt as I blinked away the fogginess, but I gritted my teeth against the throbbing and shook my head, trying to encourage the return of full consciousness. I stretched out my right arm and heard the clink of a glass bottle as I knocked it over; my eyes darted to the right, automatically following the sound; I admired the heightened senses my new form possessed.
I rolled over onto my stomach and tried to leap to my feet but my rear legs skidded out behind me and I landed on my chest, hard, thumping the air out of my lungs. More slowly, I raised myself off of the ground and noted that I moved most naturally on all four legs. Looking down at my paws, I saw that they each had three sharp, black claws that clicked lightly as I eased myself forward, just a few steps in the direction of that glass bottle.
When I reached the flask, I picked it up and held its open mouth at the end of my long snout, gagging as the acrid aroma filled my sensitive nostrils. I noted that the scent matched the sour film that coated my tongue, and I turned my head in distaste. Holding my breath against the stench, I raised the bottle up to my eyes and studied it more closely. The bottle was made from opaque, blue glass and had a small loop for a handle on its neck, but its most notable feature was the one that made me fully understand what had happened to me: the bottle was bound by four curved and bony, tusk-like growths, growths which I then confirmed were mirrored upon my own body. As I had suspected, I had been transmogriphied. I was now a mutant Lupe. But who I was and how I had gotten there had been lost in the fog that had gripped and clouded my mind.
I looked around at my surroundings and saw that I was in a small cave, a cell that had been carved from pale, grey slate. I scratched at the wall and saw that it marked easily, and had indeed been marked by innumerable hands and paws; every surface was criss-crossed with drawings and words, each message an expression of gloom, a cry for help. I tilted my head as I processed the question: where was I?
I walked toward the cave’s entrance and carefully stuck out my head. What I saw there filled me with an overwhelming sense of dread: outside my cave was a narrow hallway, and opening onto the hallway were scores upon scores of similar caves, some with trembling heads poking through as mine did, some whose dark shadows consumed their inhabitants. I quickly retreated to the dimness of my own small cell and tried to think. I looked once more at the multitude of hopeless scratches on the walls, evidence of the many who had preceded me here, and I then multiplied that number by an estimation of the number of caves I had seen in the hallway. I felt oppressed by the vastness of the despair that was hinted at and I sank my head onto my paws, tucking my tail between my hind legs. I sat and whimpered, feeling the grey fog begin to gain control of my mind once more.
It was then that I heard a sound, faint at first and then growing stronger, a sound that I immediately recognised and felt compelled to answer: a Lupe howl, powerful and plaintive, echoing throughout my cave, compelling an answer from my own throat. Once more I shook off the fog of despair and followed the howl to the entrance, where I hesitated slightly before leaping across the entranceway and landing in the hall. The howl that had drawn me out of my cell ceased, but I walked with confidence in search of an exit to this strange complex, certain that I would find its source beyond the pale, grey walls.
As I negotiated the meandering hallways, I saw that there were many more caves than I had earlier estimated, and the sense of dread that accompanied this knowledge caused me to shiver despite my thick blue fur. As I walked toward one particular corner, the cave ahead caught my attention: within its shadows I could discern the form of a faerie, looking bent and broken, hunched over a wilted flower.
I approached this unusual sight with caution and asked, “Are you alright?”
The only answer was a delicate sigh as the faerie shifted slightly away from me, causing the last of the flower’s dried petals to tumble lightly to the ground.
“Who are you?” I asked. “How did you get here?”
The faerie looked at me with mild curiosity and leaned forward into the light of the hallway. “I don’t know. I... don’t remember.”
“But you’re a faerie,” I insisted.
“I am lost,” she said with a shrug. “My name is lost and with my name my powers are lost. I am now this tattered dress and these broken wings.” Flinging the denuded flower stem over her shoulder petulantly, she added, “Nothing more.”
I shook my head insistently and replied, “I am lost as well. But I am more than these jaundiced eyes and this exposed skull.”
“Is that right?” the faerie whispered with a hollow laugh. “Who are you, then?”
The fog yet clung to my weary brain, the answer to that question erased and gone. “I don’t know,” I answered quietly, the weight of the faerie’s despair threatening to pull me down with her. “But I do know that I will figure it out.” I brightened as an idea hit me and I said, “Come with me. We’ll find your name as well.”
The faerie sighed and replied, “I am lost and I am trapped.” She waved feebly in the direction of her cave’s mouth, the empty space that lay between us.
“But surely you can see that there is no door?”
“I am trapped,” she repeated more quietly.
I remembered my own cell and remembered too the pleas for help etched upon its walls. Could they all have been held captive by their own minds? I shook my head at the notion, not wanting to believe it, but also not wanting to spend any more time than was necessary in this strange place. I could feel the sadness radiating from the faerie and my own safe cell tugging at me.
“I’m lost, I have forgotten my name, but I’m not trapped. You could come with me, but I must get out of here now.” I looked around at the other caves, and seeing that some had curious faces peeking out of their entrances, I said more loudly, “None of you are being held here against your will. I’m leaving and you’re all welcome to join me.”
One by one, each face retreated to its solitude, and as I turned back to the faerie, she shifted once more until she too was obscured by shadow. As I turned to leave, I heard a sigh behind me that seemed to clutch at me with icy fingers, scrabbling at my fur and threatening to pull me back into a deep, grey fog. I ran.
I ran past the countless caves, occupied and unoccupied; I ran through a labyrinth of hallways, trying to make eye contact with others, promising deliverance to those who would make the leap across the doorless entries to their cells; I ran until I reached a large opening filled with the light and heat of the sun, the exit to this prison complex, this complex prison. I leapt into the sunlight and rolled onto my back, letting the warmth hit my belly, my chest heaving with deep breaths.
As I lay there, happy and oblivious, I heard the sound of small stones skittering down the rock face of the cave complex behind me and opened my eyes to see a blur of blue and grey fur passing through the air above me. As I scrambled to my feet, I turned and came face to face with a large Tyrannian Lupe.
My first instincts were defensive; the fur rose in hackles along the back of my neck and a low growl rumbled in my throat. I lunged forward, the other Lupe mimicking my actions, and we turned in slow circles, nose to nose, lips aquiver and teeth flashing in the sun. As we turned, the other Lupe winked at me, taking me off guard. I stumbled backwards and asked, “Do I know you?” Remembering the howl that drew me out of my despair, I added, “Do you know me?”
“How could I forget my twin?”
I stopped dead and asked, “Twin? We’re...”
I closed my eyes, trying to remember what came before the cave, before the transmogrification, but grey mist still filled my mind. “We’re twins? We don’t look that much alike anymore,” I said with a chuckle.
“We never did. We’re not so much mirrors of each other, or even opposites, as...”
“...complementary, like puzzle pieces,” I finished, surprised by my flash of insight. “How did I know that?”
“Everything you ever knew is still inside. You hold the keys to your self-discovery... again.”
“Again? I’ve had this experience before?”
The Tyrannian Lupe smiled and nodded his head. “Yes, you’re a little... impulsive, let’s say. You’ll do anything to save that grey faerie.”
“Of course, like I said, this was not your first attempt. We’ve been here in Tyrannia for a long time.” The Lupe paused and sniffed the air, his head tilting in concentration. “We need to get moving, there will be time to answer your questions along the way.”
“Just one question, please.” As the Lupe nodded, I asked, “What’s your name?”
“My name is Thin. And you are...”
“...Thick. I remember that now, but... nothing else.”
“The grey daze, I know. Let’s get going. We have a lifetime to catch up on...”
“...and a lifetime to do it.”
Thin smiled at me and turned to lead the way along a stony path that trailed away from the cliffs, the towering edifice that contains the grey prison. I felt my own mouth break into a wide grin as I watched him leave and I jogged a few steps to catch up, falling in step with my newfound twin.