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When the blessings and hexes began to fly,
Horace the porcupine abandoned his mistress
and fled for cover as fast as his stubby legs would go.
"You undutiful little slut!"
shrieked Amaia Thornstele.
Zenobia nailed her with a curse
and the matriarch dropped to the ground,
narrowly missing her terrified familiar.
Then the floor ruptured and the fortress shuddered,
and when the portal reopened,
Horace did not hesitate to scramble through it.
He tried valiantly to hide himself
but the Temple of Golden Light was open and airy,
full of marble statues and tropical orchids
but no pine trees and no way for a porcupine to sneak out.
The very next morning, Saphrax tripped over Horace
and brought everyone running with his screams.
As Damarion carefully plucked the quills
out of Saphrax's backside,
Zenobia asked Aldornia,
"Why do we have a porcupine in the temple?"
"That's Horace," said Aldornia.
"He is Aunt Amaia's familiar."
"She broke open my tree when I was a baby,"
Horace grumbled. "Her magic makes my quills itch.
I'd rather turn into a puppy than put up with her."
"Is he always like that?" Zenobia muttered to Aldornia.
"No, he's uncommonly cheerful today," Aldornia replied.
"He must be thrilled to have escaped."
As soon as Damarion let go of Saphrax,
the prince stalked over to Horace and fired off a spell.
Moments later the porcupine disappeared under a pile of fluff
as each quill was tipped in soft pompoms of pink and blue.
"He looks like he rolled in marshmallows," Zenobia giggled.
"I will kill you," Horace said solemnly,
"when I can once again move my limbs independently."
Just then the sacred flames,
burning in their braziers around the temple,
all turned from yellow to purple.
"You thieving whore!"
Amaia Thornstele's voice sliced through the air
like a knife through silk curtains.
"Bring back my familiar or DIE!"
Aldornia stalked to the nearest brazier,
put her hands on her narrow hips, and said,
"Zenobia didn't steal anything.
Horace snuck through on his own,
so quit squalling at us like a scalded cat."
"Hide me," Horace whimpered.
"All right, hold still," Zenobia said.
"I cannot move," Horace said,
the pompoms stirring faintly as he tried.
Zenobia sighed and cast her spell anyhow.
Moments later Horace turned into a lapdog
with fluffy golden fur tied with silk ribbons.
Aldornia had her hands full blocking the spells
that Amaia tried to send through the flames.
Saphrax was hiding behind the altar
while Damarion erected an impressive set of shields.
"Here's your familiar," Zenobia said cheerfully,
holding up the beribboned lapdog.
"I'm afraid he suffered the same kind of transformation
that affected your son. Just open the portal
and I'll send Horace right through."
"No! You've ruined him," Amaia said.
Her fury turned the flames nearly black.
"You owe me a new familiar."
Then Aldornia spied her brother Brandeis
standing behind Aunt Amaia.
With a wicked grin, she cast Forthright Form
and Brandeis turned into a toad.
"There you go!" she declared.
Amaia's shriek of outrage cut off abruptly
as Damarion completed the set of shielding spells
and sealed off the sacred flames.
The firelight returned to its usual golden tone
and silence descended in the temple.
"I didn't mean what I said about being a puppy!"
Horace said as Zenobia put him down.
"You have ruined my life, you wretched girl."
Then he lifted his fuzzy leg and peed on her sandals.
"Relax, it'll wear off in less than an hour,"
Zenobia assured him.
"I'm terrible at transformations."
Aldornia giggled and cast a cleaning spell.
"We need to do something about the familiar bond, though,"
she pointed out. "Once Aunt Amaia calms down,
she'll remember that she can still curse Horace through it."
Horace let out a pitiful whine
and pressed himself against their ankles.
"She'll transform me into a pincushion for sure,"
he said, "and it's all your fault!"
"Oh, give the little killjoy to me,"
said Saphrax, drawing his knife.
The two women held the wriggling, whining dog
as Saphrax carefully cut through
all the threads of enchantment
that bound Horace to Amaia.
Horace regarded the bedraggled remains of his magic
and said, "What will become of me now?
I haven't enough left to enhance a cantrip!"
"Your magic will regrow eventually,
just like your shed quills do,"
Saphrax assured him.
"Meanwhile, you can be our mascot,"
Zenobia said brightly.
"Every adventurer needs one of those!"
"I cannot be a mascot,"
Horace said acidly.
"Mascots are cute and humorous.
Who ever heard of a porcupine
providing the comic relief?"
"Who ever heard of a Thornstele saving the world?"
Zenobia said, smiling fondly at her wife.
"Then you can be our voice of humility,"
Damarion said, "for all heroes need those as well,
and you are uniquely suited for it."
"What makes you say that?"
Horace grumbled, twisting around
to nibble at his haunches
where the fur was beginning to return
to its former sharpness.
"Who better than a porcupine
to poke holes in over-inflated egos?"
Not even Horace could argue with that one.