Two months past her twenty-seventh birthday, Saida Talirend could still usually pass for a college student, but she’d begun to feel self-conscious about it, as if her monthly stays at Mensura College perpetuated some kind of fraud. As a relative of a tenured professor here, though, she had the right to rent a little studio in the staff housing area—-and there weren’t any places off the campus a cat woman whose ears broke the eighty-foot mark could fit.
Mensura’s Student Union building was a marvel of crazy engineering. Set into the side of a hill, giants entered at the ground level and littles entered from the hillside at about her waist level. They had more effective space available, getting in several floors where the giants had only one. She’d overheard giant students grumble about that, but it never bothered her. Giants weren’t normal-sized here, after all—-they were, well, giant. That had become the appeal for her, what drew her back regularly: being in a world where nearly everyone and everything felt toy-sized was magical.
Areas where the sizes mixed freely, though, were even more magical. She’d been coming to the college two years, after reconnecting with her cousin Arilin, and it still seemed like a storybook every visit. The college’s clever design subtly kept students of different sizes apart most of the time, but some spaces deliberately risked mixing things up. The social club-slash-cocktail lounge Arilin owned was one of them, even though she’d somehow kept it a bit under the radar. Another one, and honestly her favorite of the two, was the Beanstalk.
Most of the cafés at the Union followed the rest of the college’s design and tacitly segregated patrons by size: little tables on balconies overlooking giant spaces. The Beanstalk, though, had floor-to-ceiling posts made to look like huge, thick vines, with “leaves” holding groups of tables at various levels—-very often right over tables sized for giants. Littles could also sit “on” the bar at a separate raised bar. Catwalks criss-crossed the space everywhere, somehow artfully arranged to be out of any giant walking paths. On her second visit, Saida realized at least two servers handled each table, one little attendant and one giant. Food orders would always be brought out by someone at the scale of the diner, but they might well be taken by someone on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Originally Saida had been doubtful that the genius of the design outweighed the sheer madness of mixing giants and littles with alcohol and food. But her cousin assured her that no one had ever been accidentally, let alone intentionally, killed, and the serving staff maintained a legendarily zero-tolerance policy for bullying. That didn’t stop them from displaying a deadpan sign behind the giant bar reading 0 PATRONS EATEN TODAY.
The pizza pub was about half full as she stepped inside, lively but not so crowded that she had trouble finding a seat at the counter. As usual, she caught people turning to stare across or up at her, depending on their size. She suspected at least half were doing a double-take to confirm that, no, Professor Thorferra hadn’t just walked into the Beanstalk in denim shorts and a fashionable T-shirt. They didn’t look that similar—-creamy fur rather than snow white, strawberry blonde hair, green eyes rather than blue—-but she got mistaken for Arilin regularly.
It only took about ten seconds before the little tabby cat bartender, rather than the dog her size, looked up toward her and waved. “Hey!” He smiled, as if he wasn’t fazed in the least by a customer who could swallow him whole. “What can we get you?”
“The black lager and a slice of pepperoni and mushroom.”
He nodded, punching a few buttons on his touch screen. “It’ll be right out.”
She spun around on her stool slowly, looking around the room again. Maybe it wasn’t as busy as she’d first thought; there were just a few groups—-two ones her size and an especially rowdy, all-foxboy one at the little bar—-and a handful of loners like herself, all with noses in textbooks and half-forgotten glasses of beer or soda to the side.
No, nearly all the loners were like that. The exception sat alone at a dark table in a corner, a rabbit with fur so white it looked almost unnatural. She’d accented that with black eyeliner, brow highlights, and even lipstick, then kept her wardrobe just as black, too: fur-tight jeans with so many lateral rips across the legs it was a wonder they still held together, and an oversized, plain black tee-shirt slipping off of one shoulder. Her hair offered the only break from the stark monochrome style. While most of the long strands falling down past her chest maintained a deep black, streaks of red, orange, and green ran throughout. It wasn’t a look Saida usually found attractive, but she felt her heart speed up just a beat or two.
The bunny girl wasn’t looking at anything in particular, until she looked straight at Saida. Her eyes narrowed. Probably thinking Shit, that’s not Professor Thorferra, is it?
But it could also be because Saida had been looking at her so intently. The cat flashed her a small, hopefully disarming smile. After a moment the rabbit’s posture relaxed into a slouch and she gave a small smile back, picking up her drink.
The giant bartender set her beer down, along with shakers of red pepper and grated cheese.
She leaned toward him. “Who’s that?” she said softly.
She nodded toward the corner.
The dog, a handsome retriever type, tilted his head, one ear flopping over. “Don’t know her name, sorry. I’ve seen her around campus, and here occasionally. Think she’s a MAP student.”
Saida nodded. “Thanks.”
“MAP” was the Magical Arts Program. So Goth Bunny was a sorceress in training? That gave her some pause. Her past experience with magic was mostly as a target.
She glanced toward the rabbit again. Now she had leaned forward, elbows propped up on her table, arms crossed, giving Saida a one-raised-brow look. The cat flashed another smile, slightly sheepish. This time, the rabbit didn’t smile back; she nodded at an angle, eyes flicking down and up again. Toward the seat opposite her? Was she inviting Saida to come over?
The laughter from the group of littles on the bar grew more raucous, coincidental to her smile. Or maybe not. Her ear swiveled to focus on their conversation.
“—-really be a dyke if you’re not really a—-“
She glanced down with a sharp frown. A couple fell quiet, ears lowering, but one of the ones who’d been speaking yelled up, “No offense, big girl. We’re just saying.”
“You’re ‘just saying’ what?” Saida kept her voice low and deliberately foreboding. The dog behind the counter was giving the littles a disapproving glance, too.
“Bunny’s…you know…was…” He trailed off, as if finally realizing he’d headed onto dangerous ground.
“Never mind,” another one muttered, voice low enough she had to strain to hear it.
Out of the corner of her eye, Saida caught the rabbit girl’s expression darkening into embarrassment. She was standing up from her table, almost certainly to head out.
She turned to look back down, and raised her voice, keeping her tone deadly flat. “Leave before I use you as pizza toppings.”
It wasn’t just that group that went stone silent. The pub’s background babble dropped to near nothing.
Just Saying Guy was the first to find his voice. “Y-you can’t make jokes like that here.” He looked up at the dog giant behind the bar beseechingly. “If students get caught—-“
“Shame I’m not a student.” Saida flicked her gaze to the frowning dog, giving him a wink. Hopefully he’d cut her some slack.
After a moment he turned away from the scene, studiously wiping down an already-clean prep area. “Let me know if I gotta change the number,” he said, jerking a thumb at the PATRONS EATEN sign.
The foxes all turned to look at up Saida, each set of ears back. Keeping a steely gaze fixed on them, she slowly raised the cheese shaker.
They bolted, knocking over chairs as they scrambled to the elevator.
She looked back toward—-where the rabbit had been. Dammit. Twisting around in her seat, she caught her just hurrying past, and spoke quickly. “Hi. I’m Saida.”
The rabbit girl stopped, but didn’t turn around. “And?”
Saida lowered her ears. “Um. I thought you might want to talk for a bit?”
“About anything you want.”
The rabbit held still a couple more seconds, only her whiskers moving. Then she turned and headed back to her table without saying anything. Saida chewed on her lip, watching. Should she follow?
“Here’s your pizza.” The dog set down a plate behind her on the counter.
“What? Oh. Thanks.” She turned around. “Wait, I didn’t order two slices.”
“You didn’t? Sorry.” The dog flashed an unapologetic grin, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “Maybe you can find someone to share it with.”
Another glance toward the rabbit showed that her smile hadn’t returned, but she didn’t look hostile, either. She looked toward Saida expectantly, long ears up.
Picking up her beer and the plate of pizza, Saida headed across the room to the table, setting both down and taking the opposite seat. Across from the younger woman, the cat finally realized how much taller the rabbit was: at least a hundred feet high, not counting the ears. It was extremely uncommon for her people to be that big. In this world, at least this part of it, there seemed to be little limit on potential sizes—-and, for that matter, powers. She liked to think she’d made her peace with it, but she might never be completely used to it.
“You’re not related to Professor Thorferra, are you?” The bunny’s voice had a lovely smokiness to it. Deep violet eyes locked onto Saida’s.
“I’m her cousin.”
“Really. So you’re another Rha.” She folded her hands in front of her on the table, the dim light catching glittering black claw polish. “Are you a student?”
She shook her head. “I live back in Stravell. But I take long weekends here at least once a month.”
The rabbit lifted one brow and smiled curiously. “Stravell is where Rhas are from? I hear second- and third-hand stories about Thorferra having got here through some kind of mad science accident.”
“It’s the name of my country. And I guess it was a mad science accident; her father was, well, a mad scientist. Teleportation is less mad science than niche business back home now, though.”
“You sound so blasé about traveling between worlds.”
“No, I don’t mean it that way.” She shrugged self-consciously. “We can only teleport between beacon stations, so the one here is probably the only one that ever will be on another world. It’s a strange fluke, a silver lining to what happened to my cousin. Otherwise, where I’m from is…no magic, no crazy tech. No giants, since everything is my scale. It’s nice, but boring.”
“That’s what most of this land is. We have giants and magic here, but go just a few hundred miles away, nothing. Half the world still thinks they’re only in the distant past, or myths to explain the Great Chasm.” She shook her head. “So is that why you come here? Because it’s not boring?”
“That’s a fair way to put it. I like being a real giantess, having the world literally at my paws. When I first got here I used to take long walks around places where people might never have seen giants.” She laughed. “Although I appreciate the campus and the area around it more now, since it’s nice to be a real giantess without worrying someone’s going to send an army after you.”
That earned her a charming giggle from the rabbit. “Yes, it is.” She held out her hand across the table. “I’m Autumn.”
Saida closed her hand around the rabbit’s for a moment, smiling back. Autumn’s palm felt fuzzy against her own velvet pads. “So you’re a student here?”
Autumn nodded. “Magical Arts.” She spread her hands. “I look the part, right?”
“Maybe. I don’t know too much about what magicians are supposed to look like. I imagine robes and pointed hats, or maybe sweeping blue capes.” Not that the magician—-or whatever the hell he was—-who cursed her looked that way. She forced her mind off that path. “You look—-more like a singer.”
The rabbit laughed, crossing her arms. “A singer? In some kind of goth or emo band?”
“Maybe. Although…I’m sure this is a terrible stereotype, but I think of emo as maudlin and mopey, and you’re not that.”
“You don’t know that yet,” Autumn countered. She looked away with a soft, wry smile. “I might be very mopey. What you know about me is that I like to sit alone in the corner, and that I lose my cool at insults.”
“That’s not true. I think you like having a dark and mysterious air. You didn’t explicitly invite me over as much as signal I had permission to approach.”
That brought more of a teasing smile. “And I don’t give it to just anyone.”
She smiled, taking a sip of beer. “I also know…let me see. By Rha standards you’re extremely tall. At home, I’m five foot seven, so you’d be…how tall are you?”
Autumn picked up her own drink. It looked like a soda, most of the ice melted by now. “A hundred and one feet.”
“That’d be…” She closed her eyes, working out the math. “Six foot nine.”
“You can do that math in your head?”
“I’m good with numbers.”
“I see that.” She grinned, showing off her sharp front teeth. “I like the idea of being six foot nine. I like the idea of beng a hundred feet tall better, but if I’m standing next to someone on my scale, I want to be the taller one.”
Saida laughed, although she felt her tail twitch. She thought she’d seen something glint farther back in the rabbit’s mouth, and couldn’t help but be curious. She sighed inwardly. On top of everything else, that damn curse had given her an oral fixation, hadn’t it? Shoving it to the back of her mind, she picked up one of her pizza slices. Fortunately, it’d just come out of the oven when she’d gotten it, so it was still warm. “It looks good on you.”
Autumn’s ears went up, then lowered into a more relaxed position. Even so, self-consciousness shadowed her eyes as she looked down at the table. “Thanks.” She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry for… Normally I can let stupid insults go, especially from ankle-high jerks. It was just the timing.”
“With you.” She looked back up, meeting Saida’s eyes and smiling apprehensively. “It seemed—-I mean, it looked like we had…”
The Rha smiled. “So it wasn’t just me.”
“No.” Autumn relaxed again. “It definitely wasn’t.”
Saida took another bite of the pizza. “Want any? Although it’s not vegetarian.”
“The pepperoni gave that away. Just because I’m a rabbit doesn’t mean I’m an obligate herbivore, though.” She picked up the other slice. “You didn’t put any of the jerks on here, did you?” Without waiting for an answer, she opened her mouth wide and took an exaggeratedly big bite.
Autumn chewed and swallowed, then smirked. “Just as well. They’d probably be bitter.”
Saida laughed, then lowered her voice. “I hope I’m not going to be banned from here for making the joke. It’s kind of frowned on around campus, right?”
“Did the server say anything?”
“No, he—-I mean, he heard it all. And he played along with me.”
The rabbit glanced toward the counter with an expression of relieved surprise. “Cool. I think you’re safe, then.”
They ate their pizza in silence for a few moments. Companionable silence? Maybe. Saida felt…not at ease, not even comfortable, but happy. She’d had lust-at-first-sight crushes before, some of which hadn’t at all been good for her—-some of which she couldn’t help blame on that damn curse. But this, whatever it was, it didn’t feel like that. Not a strange fascination, not some reluctant curiosity she couldn’t help indulge. She just—-wanted to keep this moment going.
She realized Autumn had paused chewing, head tilted to the side, expression quizzical.
The Rha flushed. “What?”
“You were looking at me with, with…like…” The rabbit trailed off, looking to the side with another sheepish smile, then back down at the cat.
“Sorry. I got kind of lost in thought in a moment.”
“Ah.” The rabbit looked just a little disappointed.
Saida bit the inside of her lip. She needed to get the conversation going. “What kind of magic are you studying?”
“Hmm? Oh.” She took another bite of pizza. “I started with transformation magic. That’s what I came to the school to do. The instant I learned about the school, getting here and learning that became my life’s mission.”
“That’s a very…specific focus.”
Autumn fixed her gaze on the cat. “I had big things to change.”
Saida nodded slowly. The word choice wasn’t accidental, was it? “You weren’t a giant when you came to the school.”
Autumn took a deep breath. “Like I said.” She spread out her hands, pressing them against the table. “There’s what I realized I always had been, and what I realized I should be. I knew I needed to change to be both. So it’s what I did.” Her expression grew more intent, and she bit her lip.
The cat reached across the table, putting her hand over one of the rabbit’s. After a long moment, Autumn flipped her own hand over, entwining her fingers with Saida’s and beaming. The Rha felt herself melt into a happy puddle.
“You need to tell me a secret now,” Autumn said after a few moments, smile growing impish once more.
“I do?” Saida gave her a lopsided smile in return.
She leaned forward, lowering her voice. “Maybe my transitions aren’t secret, but I don’t share them casually with strangers. So we shouldn’t be strangers, little cat.”
“Little?” Saida drew herself up with a smirk.
“Little,” Autumn repeated. “Want me to stand close enough to you to touch and compare heights?”
Saida felt her ears blush. “That’s not as effective a threat as you might think coming from you.”
Autumn’s ears went up. “You know that reaction is just going to make me more intrigued, don’t you?”
Saida sighed. The blush wasn’t going away. Well, she had an obvious choice or two, but obvious wasn’t necessarily wise. “I get it. It’s just hard for me to come up with something. My choices are either boring or overly personal.”
“Go with personal.”
Right. Given what Autumn had shared, that was a lousy attempt at deflection. “They’re…I mean…kind of…intimate for a first…” She caught herself and cleared her throat.
Too late, though. Autumn leaned forward, thin brows lifting. “Date?”
“Are we on one?”
Autumn tilted her head to one side again, then the other, then straightened up, looking intently into Saida’s eyes again. “That depends on whether you let me lead you out of here holding your hand. If you do, then I’m going to buy you coffee, and we’re going to call this our first date.”
Saida laughed. “All right.”
“All right.” Autumn stood up slowly, still holding Saida’s hand.
The Rha stood up too, not letting go.
Autumn walked around the table, eyes on Saida’s, then slowly walked past her, fingers still entwined with the Rha’s. Saida tightened her grip on the rabbit’s hand and followed.
For more of this slice-of-life serial, which is projected to be at least short novel length, support my Patreon! Everyone at the $3 or higher level will have access to new parts as they appear. (This preview is the first two parts.) The serial will be made available to everyone eventually, at least as an ebook, but you might have to wait quite a while before that appears!