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A/N - I had a 3k word chapter and debated with myself whether to split it or not. Splitting won over, since aside from sharing a wardrobe, both scenes have nothing in common. But since that makes for two rather short chapters, I've decided to post one today and then again on Tuesday. Yay!

Chapter 22: In Which There's Some Business With The Wardrobe

In my room there was a large wardrobe made of maplewood, with little grapes and childish nymphs carved into its two doors. It had long brass handles that folded into sockets in the door when they weren't in use, and small wooden panels that one could slide over the sockets and hide the handles. That wardrobe gave me some trouble when I first came to the palace. I had to wedge my fingernails between the doors to open them before I discovered how to summon the handles.

Today this wardrobe was going to serve another purpose besides holding boy-sized clothes. It was going to be my practice room.

I pulled the curtains over the windows, and shut out most of the sunlight, but it still wasn't dark enough. I took off the soft slippers I wore while indoors and padded across the room, opening the wardrobe and shifting aside the clothes that hung there. The wood creaked as I climbed inside; in my months here, I had grown somewhat fuller, somewhat taller, yet I was still a scrawny little lad. I pulled the doors towards me and shut myself inside, effectively casting into darkness.

I leaned my back against the back pane and hugged my knees, pressing them to my chest. Then, when I was comfortable enough, I closed my eyes and began.

First, I cleared my head of every thought that was unrelated to the task at hand. I called up a memory, the clearest one I had, and dived into it, summoning up every smallest detail. I played it again and again in my mind, until it became so clear and vivid that I felt as if it wasn't a memory at all, but a reality which I was in the process of living.

That was how I turned myself into a rat.

I've done it countless times since, I've gotten extremely good at it, so good I barely have to think "rat" and there I am, on my four paws. In every single time I accomplished this feat, I tried to catch that moment of shifting from boy to rat, exactly what had happened and precisely what I had been thinking when it did. But it's like trying to catch the moment in which you fall asleep. When you think about it, you're awake, but when you are asleep, you forget to think.

Even though I had full awareness as a rat, it wasn't the same kind of awareness as when I was a boy. Everything was remarkably different. It was like jumping into someone else's skin, your mind is still your mind, but you see the world from different eyes.

I pushed my body against the door and it opened a fracture. The dim light in the room made me feel unpleasantly transparent and vulnerable, but I was still decidedly a rat. The Grand Master watched from his seat silently as I scampered down and crossed the room toward him. From down on the floor, he was a monster of a being, looming over me larger than a mountain. I wiggled my nose at him.

"Can you understand what I'm saying?" he asked.

"Of course," I said, but by his face I realised that all he could hear was a loud squeak. I leaned back, grinding my teeth, as I thought how to reply. Finally, I remembered that I could sign with my head, but for some odd reason I shook it from side to side instead of bobbing it up and down.

He leaned in, staring down at me with orbs the size of planets. "Is that a yes or a no?"

I scratched my chin with my back leg in frustration and then, very slowly and carefully, I nodded.

Finally, communication was happening – he understood. The Grand Master was an unrelenting teacher; he never let me go for one moment. Sometimes it brought about surprising results, but more often than not it was frustrating, as if he expected out of me more than what I was able to give. "What I want to know is," he said, "whether you can perform magic in that form." He placed a feather the length of my tail on the floor next to me. "Try lifting this like you do when you're a boy."

I turned to face the feather, sniffing it thoughtfully and then I tried to concentrate. But the noise of someone sweeping the floor above, the sound of a man singing some rooms away, the scratching of a beetle on the outside of the window – all these were too distracting. I searched my entire mind, throughout my soul, and all my senses, but I couldn't find that part of me with which magic happened. I therefore lifted the feather with my mouth and presented it to the old man.

"So like this, you're just an ordinary rat?"

I nodded with the feather in my mouth.

"Hmmm," he said thoughtfully rubbing his chin. Finally, he came to some sort of conclusion. "Turn yourself into a boy."

My nose shook making my whiskers bounce as I ground my teeth together for the calming effect that brought me. I turned on the spot and nestled comfortably on the floor, closing my eyes. Then, like before only the other way around, I concentrated on a memory from being a boy, not a rat –

But it wasn't working. Every memory I had of being a boy, I wasn't a boy in it, I was actually a rat pretending to be a boy. I was just a huge, boy-sized rat. Alarmed, I opened my eyes and looked at the Grand Master. I tried to remember days when I was with Fizz and Moe, a particular conversation, some game we played together. But while Fizz and Moe were human in all those memories, I was a rat, always a rat. Then I tried something more recent, Varemini's cat sitting on my chest – but it was a cat sitting on the back of a huge rat that was me.

Now I realised what the other rats meant when they called me Human Rat.

He clicked his tongue and sighing, got to his feet, crossing over toward the window, he threw aside the curtains.

As a boy, I sat on the floor blinking dizzily in the sunlight.

"Interesting ability you have," Marning said while I took a moment to get accustomed to my lack of tail and whiskers. "I've never seen nor heard of anything like it. You have just defied Dumweiller's Law of Shapeshifting."

I looked at him with questioning eyes. He sat back down and prepared to lecture me. "Two hundred years ago, after conducting numerous experiments, Dumweiller concluded that no matter the shape or size, a human being cannot change his essence. He can only become the shape of the thing he wishes or another wishes for him to become, but he can never really become the thing itself. So if you were to turn Elmoria and Estelle into mosquitoes like you promised – "

" – I wasn't serious about it!" I protested.

" – then they would still be Elmoria and Estelle," the Grand Master continued, ignoring my comment, "only in the shape of mosquitoes. They would be able to fly, but they would not be able to drink blood with their stingers. You are the first to ever prove Dumweiller wrong."

"That makes me feel proud," I said sarcastically.

"Your father would be," Marning said with delight, which only earned him a glare from me. "You use shadow-movement for transformation," the old man continued, "but how do you do it?"

I shrugged. I didn't have the slightest clue.

"Mind showing me once more?" he asked, seeming, for a moment, like a gluttonous child eager for another piece of a particularly creamy cheesecake. I shrugged again and rose to my feet to close the curtains.

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