Smoky's body was still growing, changing. His body was hugely elongated now, and a third set of stocky, clawed legs was sprouting from the bottom of his rib cage. His skin was splitting, his white hide hanging in bloody tatters over swelling gray scales.
I was shaking with panic. The pain in my head was making it hard to think; I had no idea what I could do. Thunder rumbled, and the first raindrops started pattering down from the sky.
I can help, I heard in my mind. Let me out of this car and I can help.
The ferret? I didn't expect him to be able to communicate so soon.
I dropped my phone back in my pocket and hurried toward the Lincoln. "Hang on tight," I called, hoping the ferret would hear and understand. "I'm gonna turn the car over."
I spoke the word of a long-dead tribe that described the act of putting a turtle or beetle back on its feet. I made a sweeping movement with both hands. The headache throbbed anew, but I ignored it. I wasn't going to keel over just yet.
The Lincoln creaked over and whammed back down on its wheels. A moment later the ferret poked his head up in the open window.
I ran to the car and started to unbuckle the ferret's harness, wishing I could remember more about what I was supposed to do with a newly-awakened familiar. According to Cooper, familiars could be tremendously knowledgeable, veritable furry little walking magic encyclopedias, provided you were lucky enough to get an experienced one. If the ferret was as green as I was, though, it would be "Magic For Dummies" time and we were probably screwed.
Freed from his harness, the ferret clambered up the door's spongy weather stripping to the roof of the car so we were seeing eye-to-eye.
"So do you have any idea what's going on here?" I asked.
"His true body is coming through into this plane," the ferret told me, staring wide-eyed at Smoky's increasingly-monstrous form. The ferret sounded smart, his voice like that of an excitable middle-aged librarian inside my head. Finally, some good luck.
"It's what?" I asked.
"This animal body ... it's just a flesh vessel for my consciousness. I am not a ferret, and the entity that has inhabited Smoky's body is most assuredly not a cute little doggie. If I'm not mistaken, he's changing into something close to his true form," the ferret said. He had a little bit of an accent, I realized. A Canadian librarian.
"Clearly the magic from the portal has ... altered him."
"But how?" I did realize I was starting to sound like a three-year old.
"I'd hazard to say it's a side effect of whatever disastrous magic caused that portal to open."
"Which is a fancy way of saying you don't know?" The pain was making me crabbier than usual.
The ferret reared back, looking offended. "I admit I've never seen anything like this before, but I am certainly capable of educated conjecture."
The rain was coming down harder; it looked like Cooper and I had called up a real gully washer of a storm.
"Why wasn't I affected?"
"Well, you're not a transdimensional being like us familiars, are you?" the ferret replied. "Badly-controlled portal magic will inevitably affect us; I was lucky to be further away."
>> Go on to Spellbent: Chapter One, Part 13