There once was a bunny named Roger.
He lived in the court of the Stag King in a palace that looked like it had grown from the forests around it rather than been built, and he served as the royal steward. Though the king was a wise and kind and patient person, he did not have a very good memory. Thus it was Roger's duty to make the schedules for all the staff, remind the king of things he'd forgotten, and generally ensure things didn't fall apart.
Under Roger's watchful eye, the palace (and by extension, the entire kingdom) ran like clockwork.
* * * * *
One day, in an act of royal neighborliness, the Stag King invited to dinner the Lord of Hounds from the next kingdom over. Most of the staff was wary of this, but the king assured them that nothing could possibly go wrong.
"What will we feed them?" said Henrietta, the chef.
"Whatever they like," the Stag King said.
"And if they like us?" grumbled Bartholomew, the court wizard under his breath.
The Stag King didn't hear him. "Go on, everyone," he said. "Back to work. Get this place ship-shape for our guests. They'll be arriving tomorrow."
He turned and left, apparently finished. Everyone looked at Roger.
"Can't you talk any sense into him?" said Doreen.
"What makes you think I can talk him out of anything?" said Roger.
"He listens to you," said Jacob, the boot boy as he cleaned his fingernails with a knife.
"As much as he listens to anyone, at least,," said Collette.
"Listen, you lot," Roger said, punctuating with an angry thump of his foot. "His majesty wants to be neighborly and it's our job to support him in that. Now, I don't like it anymore than you do, but we've all got to do our part, understood?"
He glared at them all and thumped his foot again. Nobody could meet his eyes.
"Okay," said The Triplets in unison.
"Yeah, I guess," said Andre.
"You're right, Rodge."
"Sorry, just worried. . ."
"Don't be," said Roger. "His majesty says things will be alright, and that's enough for me. Now come on, let's get this place ready."
They all returned to their posts and started preparing for their guests. Roger hung around only long enough to make sure nobody was slacking before loping off to find the king in the library.
"Your majesty are you certain about this?" he blurted out.
"Hello, Roger. Certain about what? And come over here and hold this for me, will you?"
Roger dutifully went over to where the king was clearing off one of the shelves.
"Shouldn't you leave this to the librarian?" said Roger as the king piled books into his arms.
"He's home sick and I figure I ought to do my part, ehy? Keep up morale or some such thing."
Roger seriously doubted the Hound Lord or any of his entourage would even visit the library, much less care how the books were organized, but he wisely kept that to himself.
"Are you certain it's a good idea to have them come here?"
"Of course, why wouldn't it be?" He reached his hand deep into the shelf and found a slim red-covered volume. "Oh. I was looking for this one."
"Because, sire, the hounds have a- a reputation that precedes them in these matters-"
"Pish-posh. I make a point never to listen to gossip." The kind flipped through the pages of the red book and chuckled. "You know, I'd forgotten how funny this was."
"Sir they eat people!" Roger's nose twitched madly.
"Roger, I'm surprised! I didn't think you were one to follow baseless gossip."
The king took his book and headed for the door. "No, I won't hear any more about it. The Hound Lord and his associates are visiting and that is final." He pointed to the piles of books he'd taken off the shelves before Roger had arrived. "Now, clean these up, will you?"
* * * * *
The Hound Lord and his entourage arrived the next day with much aplomb, but no trouble.
On the first day they toured the grounds and the king celebrated the arrival with a feast. The hounds, to the surprise of everyone save for the king, ate their greens along with everyone else.
On the second day, the held competitions. Archery, hand to hand combat, footraces. After which everyone got messily drunk and started singing loudly out of key.
On the third day, the Stag King was murdered.
Early in the morning, Roger went to wake his majesty and give him the morning report. He knocked on the door. There was no answer. "Sir?" he said, knocking a little more loudly. "Sir?"
He put his ears to the door. Inside he heard a slight shuffling, and then a low growl. He threw open the door and found the Stag King dead on the floor, with the Lord of Hounds standing over him, blood soaking his maw.
Roger turned and sped down the halls, screaming that the lord of hounds had murdered the king. Three of the Hound Lord's lackeys came out of the rooms and chased him down the hall.
"Roger?" said Bartholomew, leaving one of the rooms, arms full of papers. "What-?"
Roger grabbed Bartholomew and kept on running, dragging the sorcerer with him.
"They killed the king."
Bartholomew nearly tripped. Half his papers flew into the hall. "What?"
"No talk," he panted. "Run."
Bartholomew saw the hounds chasing them and didn't argue.
They ran to the window. They were four stories up, but there was a balcony two floors below them. The hounds were closing in behind them.
"No," said Bart. "You're not-"
Roger grabbed the skinny lizard, half dragged him over his shoulders, and then jumped.
They landed on the balcony with a crack immediately followed by a searing pain in Roger's left leg. They toppled over.
"Are you all right?" said Bart. Since Roger had been holding him, he hadn't borne any of the fall.
"Fine!" Roger gasped. he stood up again and grabbed Bartholomew's sleeve. "We have to warn everyone-"
There was a scream from inside the castle. "Look!" said Bart. He pointed out to the front walls, across the courtyard, where an army of hounds was storming the gates.
"What do we do?" said Bart. "What do we do?"
"Your tower, can they get into your tower?"
"No," said Bart, already pulling Roger into the castle. "I've got wards up all over the place, if any of them tried while I wasn't there, they'd be fried. Come on."
Again they tore through the palace halls, this time with Bart in the lead. Even with a hurt leg, Roger was able to easily keep up. Once on the way a group of hounds came by, sniffing for them.
Bart and Roger threw themselves to the side, against the wall and behind a table, just out of view. They sidled up close to the wall, crouching low, and Bartholomew muttered something unintelligible under his breath. Pale silver light sprang from Bart's fingers and enveloped the two. One of the hounds came so close to them, so close that Roger could feel the air moving when he sniffed, but after a moment, it sneezed and left.
"Come on," said Bart after they'd turned down the hall.
Roger found that he was utterly incapable of moving. He sat, shaking almost imperceptibly. Bart crouched down in front of him and snapped his fingers. "We don't have time for this!" He snapped again, and this time there was a fizzing red light that popped from his fingertips and singed Roger's nose.
Roger bolted up and down the hall, towards Bart's tower, completely unaware of the pain in his leg, completely unhearing Bart's frantic whispering behind him. He bolted down the stairs, through the empty kitchens, across the field and to the steps below Bart's tower, all before the chameleon even left the hall they'd been in. Once there, he curled up as small as he could in the enclave before the door and wished that his patches of white fur weren't so noticeable against the gray stone.
Bart showed up a few minutes later, huffing and puffing his way up the steps. He didn't stop to say anything, just pressed his hand against the center of the door. Blue sparks sprang from his hands and wormed their way into the wood. The door swung open. They both walked in. The door slammed shut behind them.
"Did anyone see you coming?" said Roger.
"No. I don't think so."
"Do you have anything to stop them?" said Roger.
Bartholomew didn't answer. He upstairs, and Roger followed. On the top floor, Bart went to the window and stepped onto the sill. Then, one hand holding onto the window frame, he held the other hand out and shouted. A ball of red flame flew from his hand and streaked across the sky.
"Just called for reinforcements," he said. "The Order of Sorcerers will be here soon."
"That's great! They- oh."
Across the courtyard, a pack of patrolling hounds noticed the fire. They looked for the source and saw Bart and Roger in the window. They dropped down to all fours and ran towards the tower.
"But what do we do now?"
"I- I don't know." Bartholomew started to hyperventilate. He fell back against a bookshelf and sank to the floor. Color darkened his skin until he was pitch black. "I don't know!"
"Bart! Snap out of it. We've got to get out of here."
"Right." Bartholomew straightened up and strode to a desk across the room that was loaded with mystical looking baubles. He flushed first yellow, then red, with orange stripes. "I think I've got an idea," he said, mixing some powders together in a bowl. "It's just going to take me a minute-"
There was banging on the door. "Open up."
"No!" said Roger. A little more quietly, he said to Bart, "They can't get in here, right?"
"Not so long as I don't want them in here."
"No!" Roger shouted again, a little more loudly.
The door went silent, allowing Roger to hear better the words Bartholomew was murmuring under his breath. Red and orange smoke mushroomed up from the bowl. Bart made a few signs with his hands and the smoke drained away into a small red gem in the center of the table.
"Done!" said Bart.
"Great!" said Rodge. "What is it?"
"It's a teleporter."
"Great! So we can get out of here?"
"Even better." Bart's coloring went from red-orange to a satisfied bright green. "It will get rid of the hounds. All we have to do is get close enough to their lord, and they'll be gone, dumped in the next world over. He's the trigger. We just need to smash it near him and the spell will kick in-"
There was thumping at the door.
"Bart?" said a small, scared voice. "Roger?"
"Jacob?" said both Roger and Bartholomew at the same time.
"Open up," said a much deeper voice. "The Hound Lord wants the wizard alive. Get out here or we rip the kid's throat out."
They exchanged a worried look. Then Bart snapped his fingers, and the door opened. They stepped out and were immediately accosted by the hounds.
"Don't hurt them," Bart said as two soldiers grabbed Roger. "Hurt either of them and I'll turn you into fleas."
"No," said one, holding up a pair of iron manacles. "You won't."
Bart darkened again as the cuffs were put on, turning a dusky gray. The three were then led back into the castle proper.
* * * * *
The dining hall was full when they got there. All the tables and chairs had been cleared away, making room for everyone to stand. The hounds all crowded against the edges of the room, and all the castle staff was herded into the middle. Jacob was thrust forward into the group. One of the hounds grabbed Roger and made like to push him in as well, but another hound soldier said,
"No. Wait. Is that the steward? The lord wants him up front, too."
And to the front they went, directly in front of the Hound Lord and his body guards. He grinned at them, turning his head slightly to the side so they could better appreciate the long rows of teeth. He was about to say something when the doors to the side burst open. Henrietta ran in, wielding a frying pan, with two hounds trying to keep up with her.
"What is the meaning of this?" she shouted.
The Hound Lord didn't say anything. He just made a small gesture with his head, and the three nearest hounds dove at Henrietta. She smacked them on the heads, sending them flopping to the floor, but she didn't see the one coming up behind her. She fell to the ground, a bloody chunk taken from her neck. A few loose feathers scattered beside her.
Doreen screamed and ran to where Henrietta had fallen. Collette screamed, and charged the nearest hound. It didn't matter that he was three times her size, she sank her long teeth into the side of his neck and held on for dear life. That set everything else into motion. Jacob pulled a knife from his boot and stabbed the hand of the hound holding him. Andre and the Triplets leapt up and proceeded to cause as much havoc as possible. Somewhere while this was going on, the guards holding on to Roger and Bartholomew let go of them to deal with the others.
As soon as they did, Bartholomew raised his hand, intending to throw the gem. Two hounds fell on him instantly. The gem fell to the ground and, instead of breaking, skittered across the floor.
Roger dove after it, avoiding feet and heavy boots until he snatched the gem up. As soon as he had it, strong hands grabbed him by the ears and lifted him from the ground.
"What is this?" the Hound Lord growled.
Roger grinned and bit the gem between his teeth. It shattered like thin glass and for a brief, whirlwind moment, the world was tinged red and spinning. He saw the hounds all freeze and stare down at themselves in horror as they disintegrated from the feet up. He laughed, then noticed that, as the Hound lord was still holding him, he was beginning to disintegrate, too. The last thing he saw was the look of absolute horror on Bart's face before he vanished entirely.
* * * * *
He didn't remember the trip. When he tried to recall it later, he thought there might've been blackness and thrashing around, as though tossed by strong winds, but these were always fleeting memories, gone as soon as he'd called them up.
He landed in a park, much smaller than he normally was, on all fours, stripped of his clothing, and surrounded by dogs that looked every bit as confused as he felt. he tried to say something, but found he couldn't. There was something wrong with his throat.
The largest, meanest looking of the dogs came to his senses before the others. He saw Roger and growled incoherently. Roger turned tail and ran. The pack of dogs followed.
Through unfamiliar streets and fenced in grassy areas and under giant machines on wheels, he ran. By the time he finally lost the Lord's hounds, it was raining. He was thoroughly soaked. He was in an unfamiliar neighborhood in an unfamiliar world, with, the pain was quick to remind him, a broken leg. He had been so pumped with adrenaline before that he'd barely registered the pain as anything more than a mild annoyance. Now he was paying for it: every step was agony.
He hopped lightly beneath someone's mailbox and sat, feeling sorry for himself.
"Roger?" said a small voice in his hears. He whipped his head around, looking for the source. "Roger, can you hear me?"
Yes, Bart! he thought, unable to speak. I'm right here!
"Can he hear you?" said another voice.
"I don't know, Collette. He's not answering."
"Maybe he can't answer," said Jacob.
I can hear you all fine! I'm right here!
"Roger," said Bart. "I don't know if you can hear us at all, but if you can, listen. I'm setting up the retrieval spell right now, but it's going to take a while. A few weeks tops. And for it to work, you need to go back to the exact place you arrived at, understand? In a few weeks time, get back to where you landed and wait for us."
Roger's heart sank. He had no idea where he'd landed, other than it was at least one hour's panic-blinded run away and possibly infested with hounds.
"If that doesn't work," Bart went on. "If we do the spell and you don't show up, then we're going to figure out a way to send a team in to get you, alright?"
That sounded a little better. If they could find him, that was.
"Don't panic. Whatever you do, don't panic. We'll get you home soon."
The voice dwindled away into silence. Again., Roger was alone. He huddled beneath the mailbox, perfectly still save for the slight shivering. he knew he ought to find some better shelter from the rain, but he couldn't move.
"A bunny?" said a voice near by. His ears twitched. He turned his head slightly to see.
A big human girl was looking at him from a few feet away. She came closer, and he was too tired and sick to move. She held up a strange small box in his direction and then, seeing he wasn't going to run, came forward and picked him up.
"Aww, poor baby!" she said. She turned back the way she had come from, Roger tucked firmly in her arms.
"It's okay, little guy. It's okay."
He didn't believe her, but was too tired to argue.
They called him Roger, which was a wonderful coincidence, he thought. They fed him and took him to see a vet. He would have escaped, but his leg was still hurt.
Tomorrow he thought. Tomorrow he would leave them. After that, he would go home.
* * * * *
It's been a few months since then. Every day, at the same time, Bart and Collette and Doreen and Jacob and all the others call him, pouring their voices directly into his ears and telling him that they'll be trying again to pull him home. Each time he's unable to answer them. Each time they sound a little more desperate.
"I know you're out there," Bart said once. "If you were dead, my readings here would say so."
They tell him how reconstruction is going. About the new king and the trouble with the kingdom of hounds and how the Order of Sorcerers was setting up shop so that nobody could start any outright wars with anybody else.
For the most part, Roger listens to these pieces of news with an even mixture of relief and guilt. Guilt because he feels he should be there to smooth things out, but relief that he doesn't have to.
His leg has long since healed, but he sticks around anyways. He tells himself he'll go tomorrow, to find the park, to find Bart and the crew. But today's tomorrow becomes tomorrow's yesterday and he tells himself that the next tomorrow for sure. Or the one after that.
For now, he spends most of his time harassing cats the same size he is, jumping onto furniture when he thinks nobody is looking, and knocking over his food dish until the humans give him the good kind of food.