by Bill Kieffer

I invoke thee... I invoke thee... He screamed those words with a mouth th at no longer existed... he knew some magic... he knew some spells... the charm was still with him... he could feel its magic siting there, just wa iting to be tapped... and all he had to do was invoke it...

I invoke thee... he had to have a second chance... he couldn't live the r est of his life like this... trapped and rooted to the ground... he'd hea rd Jaggs the bastard tell him he was turning into a plant of some kind... blind and bound by his body he could feel himself move a little here and there, swaying in the wind. His only hope was tapping enough manna to a ctivate Dramm's charm. I invoke thee.

He had to set things right. He couldn't do that if he was left out here in the wilderness, alone, waiting to die in the first frost of the season... or worse, to grow again and again dying each winter to suffer blind ly in the sun with bugs and birds living off him like parasites until win ter puts a temporary end to it all. Better he should die.

I invoke thee! I invoke thee!

He could sense movement all around him and he heard his beloved bleating in misery. His mind went in and out of focus... he could hear... he coul d hear and suddenly he had hope. If he could hear... his other sense mig ht return. Yet the darkness stayed with him, even as he felt Giles leani ng on his trunk and tried to make sense of the words... somehow, they'd m ove him to the greenhouse... where he'd be safe... and on display... a pe t of a giant grasshopper who would no doubt see nothing wrong with nibbli ng on him from time to time...

Helpless. Without control.

I invoke thee, please!

He was nobody's pet. He refused to let go.

Please! I invoke thee and please let die before I go mad...

The horse morph had little trouble finding Poppy's lab. Like most Keeper s, Clay had long ago given up on asking directions within the Keep. Town hardly ever shuffled around, but within the palace proper, there were ma ny who claimed that the insides were never the same twice. Where, in Tow n, it paid to pay attention to landmarks, having a mental map of the Keep was simply counterproductive. One simply had to concentrate on one's go al and the Keep wandered around about you, eventually shuffling the desir ed location to you. Variable geometry, the mages called it.

Poppy answered the door on the first knock. Clay had always loved his th ick black hair, striped as it was with white-gray streaks. Handsome olde r men always made Clay's heart skipped a beat, and it must have shown on his face. Poppy blushed, as he was still woman enough inside that rugged , lumberjack body to appreciate having a young man stare at her. Even if the woman named after a delicate flower was now a burly 6 foot 7 man com plete with a prematurely white goatee. "Yes?" he asked warmly. "What di d Blaine do now?"

"Oh," Clay started, "Nothing. At least nothing that I know of." Poppy w as Blaine's mother... or had been Blaine's birth mother... and was now hi s "other Dad," as the rooster called him. "I'm not with the stables anym ore, Sir."

"Call me Poppy," the mage said, opening the door wide enough for Clay to enter. "It'll be easier on both of us, I would think." Clay followed th e brightly robed mage deeper into the lab and tried not to look out a win dow that had a brilliant view of the surrounding valley from over 100 fee t high. Clay had only climbed two flights of steps and there were still some things about magic that the rational mind tried to avoid thinking ab out.

"I have a friend," Clay said, aware at how subdued his voice was. Even t o his own ears he sounded painfully shy, as if the last week of self-disc overy hadn't happened. That was something to think about another time, h owever. "His name is Giles Clifface, he's a goatmorph and he can't reall y talk anymore."

Poppy stopped, an odd look on her face. Behind her, they was a framed pi cture of Poppy and Freddie that Blaine had etched from memory of what his parents had looked like before the curse. It wasn't half bad. Clay bri efly wondered if his mother had any of his pictures where ever she was n ow. But then, Poppy raised a finger in the air and caught his attention before moving along again. "Ahh, yes, K'yphir's friend. I remember him, now. Go on."

It took Clay a moment to connect the properly pronounced name with the na me both he and Grey had known the butcher by since Shinto had introduced them. "You know Key... Kay-Wipe-Her?"

"Ka-Ipe-fur," Poppy smiled as they got to the work bench. "Yes, Samoht c ame to me for some ingredients within a few days of arrival. He comes by about once a week; he's a bit of hedge wizard, you know. Why does he n eed a telepathy spell from me? He could easily make... oh, wait, he's in a cocoon, isn't he?"

Clay hadn't known Keyphir knew anything about magic but he nodded all the same, just to get past the awkward part. "This is for Giles. He can on ly bleat since he changed, I mean, if he tries very hard, I can sometimes just about understand him..."

Poppy smiled sadly as he rummaged through his notes. "One day I'll have to see if I can strengthen his counterspell. Ah, I have a potion that he can use, simple one way telepathy: exclusively broadcast, a normal sonic range emulation, polyglot enabled, voice actuated, with a specified dura tion of one lunar pass. Will that do?"

Clay gave the mage a blank look. "I got the simple part, but could you r epeat everything after that?"

Poppy poured two mixtures together and smiled. "Sorry, I'm so used to tr ying to teach my apprentice proper phraseology." The combined liquid tur ned brown and then slowly shifted to a clear yellowish fluid. Poppy took the beaker with a stick and held it over a candle, the flame ignited aut omatically as he did so. "This potion will allow Giles to mindspeak what ever he vocalizes. It's range will be limited to the sound of his voice, of course. The potion expires on the next full moon, which will be... D aedra'kema or thereabouts. The potion will always expire on the full moo n, so he shouldn't take another potion until after the full moon. Everyo ne will be able to understand him, no matter what their native tongue is, which might lead to problems since he won't understand them... not magic ally, at least." Poppy repeated the magic words over the flame and Clay thought he saw something happen... some golden glittering, but then it wa s gone.

Poppy filled the hot liquid into a small inkwell sized pot and corked it.

Clay paid him and the one-time sorceress thanked him. He found himself hovering near the door, unwilling to leave. Poppy frowned, but not with out some mild humour. "Was there something else, Clay?"

"I can I ask you something, Poppy? Blaine suggested I talk to you and Mr . Powell, stuff."

Poppy closed the door and gave him a kind but uncomfortable face. "This stuff... would it be easier with tea and crackers?"

"Oh gods, yes."

The mage smiled and seemed to float across the room to the tea cart. Wit h a snap of his fingers, the tea kettle whistled softly and then began to die down. Clay could see the woman beneath the male form and he wondere d how much of that was affectation. Just one more thing he might ask the wizard, if he could find a way to do it gracefully.

As the tea was poured, Poppy sighed and said, "I suppose this is about yo ur father."

"What? NO!" Clay made his disfigured hands into fists, and then blushed as Poppy sat slowly down. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to raise my voice.. . I just want to forget that that... man ever... never mind."

"Clay, your father loved you, in his own way."

"Huh, I guess he still loves me... in his own way. It's just that..." Cl ay spooned some sugar into his tea to try to feed the silence. He sighed and stared into his tea.

"You don't want to talk about..." Poppy paused, lost for a name. "Henrik ?"

Clay shook his head, half amused that Poppy would try to tell him what hi s father truly felt for his son when the mage could barely remember his f ather's name. "No, I wanted to ask... I mean..."

The mage smiled kindly and put his hand on the young stallion's shoulder.

"Why don't you just try blurting it out, then."

"I like boys."

The mage blinked and than sipped his tea for a moment, blank faced. "Wel l, that was the last thing I thought I'd be talking about." Poppy put hi s tea down and suddenly noticed how still Clay was... not a single muscle flinched or twitched... yet, his nose was bright red. "Clay, relax. It 's not exactly a secret and, in the Keep, it's certainly no crime."

Clay smiled without showing any teeth. He felt ugly and crude, and not j ust a little crass. "I... Grey wanted to be discrete... I guess I made a mess of that."

Poppy smiled and shrugged. "Is that why he left, Clay?"

Clay stood up. "I have to go, Poppy."

Poppy rushed over and tried to push him back into the chair. Clay resiste d until Poppy made a gesture and he felt compelled to obey. It wasn't ma gic, just a reminder that he was dealing with a mage. Poppy sighed and s teered Clay back to the bench. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry... I can still be an old hen sometimes when it comes to gossip. Can we still tal k, if I don't mention Grey?"

Clay nodded. "You and Freddie are still together... I don't know how to ask this..."

Poppy blushed slightly. "I'm not really comfortable discussing my sex li fe... mostly because it's not just MY sex life. But Freddie and I had an adjustment period of years... but we found things we could... share."

Clay nodded. "Everything Grey liked, I liked... but I don't think I'll e ver have that again. Not the same way."

Poppy sat for a moment. "Did you love him?"

Clay nodded. "I still do."

"That makes it harder, then, doesn't it?"

Clay chuckled uncomfortably. "No, it doesn't. Loving him is the easiest thing in the world. I know that might sound weird, because I know what you are trying to say, but he didn't leave me. There's more to it than y ou know. More than I can say. But what makes me afraid is that, when he 's not with me, I feel small and dead inside. I feel like hurting someth ing. Even now, knowing I could go to him, because he isn't far... I'm ma d at Keyphir for changing and I'm mad at Giles because he needs me... I c an be cruel to people, you know."

Poppy touched his knees. "I do not believe that. You are a good boy. Y ou are so good, Blaine used to worry--"

"We did stuff in front of Laracin. Me and Grey."


"Grey didn't know Laracin was a Keeper. He looks like a real tree... but I let him and I helped... and I didn't know if he was awake or not... bu t I didn't care." Clay felt a tear on his cheek and wiped it away with t he bushy black wrist. "That's not true. I hoped he was awake. I hoped he had to watch. What's wrong with me?" Poppy sat stunned as Clay began to cry. He couldn't cry in front of Grey . He couldn't cry in front of Shinto. He hadn't a clue where his own mother was, so he settled for crying to someone who was almost a complete stranger to him. "He was my only friend left, and I wanted to hurt him. "

"Why did you want to do that?"

Clay shrugged. "I don't know, I used to lean against him and read. Most ly stuff he wanted to read, sometimes stuff I wanted to read. I think he could have read it himself, but I have no idea how he'd turn the pages. I liked reading to him. He's not blind, you know, but it felt good to b e doing something for somebody... he's just... helpless..."

Poppy stared off into space for a moment and then gave Clay a sudden look of sad understanding. "You were in love with Laracin."

Clay nodded and fell into another burst of crying. "He's so helpless... and sad..."

"That appeals to you, doesn't it? His sadness."

"His helplessness... he's stuck there... rooted to the ground... and he's so beautiful, forced to stand there holding up the sky."

"Oh, Clay... did you... do anything?"

"I... little things... things I hoped he'd notice... but might look innoc ent... I don't think he did. No, I'm sure he didn't." Poppy closed her eyes for a moment and then poured another cup of tea. " Were you mad because Laracin couldn't give you what you needed?"

"I guess... No, I was mad because he wouldn't acknowledge me."

Poppy sipped at the tea, thinking. "If you want my advice, and I can't t hink of any other reason you'd come to me with this, you need to apologiz e to Laracin. And then, if you really do know where Grey is, you need to apologize to him, too. You made him party to a unkind deed, and he dese rves an apology for that."

Clay nodded and got up to leave. "You're right, I guess I just needed to hear that from someone besides my conscious. Poppy did not get up to wa lk him to the door. He carried the corked pot with him and again hesitat ed at the door, placing the pot in the sack he had left by the door. "I' m sorry to burden you with... what I said."

Poppy got up from the chair and glided over to the horse morph. He hugge d the stallion like a father might hug his son. "No, Blaine was right, I 'm glad you came to talk to me about this, and not someone else. But, li sten, there will come a time when you will want to talk about your... fat her, and when you do, I want to come to me... or Kindle... or Magus... no one else, alright?"

Clay was confused, but he nodded. He thanked Poppy again for the potion and the talk, even if he felt like crap afterwards. He knew his father a nd Freddie knew each other, so it wasn't too surprising that Poppy might know his father by way of his zebra morph spouse and have some secrets to share with Clay when he was ready to hear them. That Kindle or Magus m ight know anything about a crabby potter from Town seemed so unlikely, bu t he wasn't in the mood for mysteries now.

Clay didn't find Giles at the Deaf Mule. Nor was Shinto there at his usu al table. As busy as the Deaf Mule was, the table remained empty, as if waiting for the usual threesome. Clay had only met Giles and Keyphir twi ce, glad that his Rider had friends that he could actually meet. Clay ha d reluctantly returned the favor by introducing the still untransformed h uman to Blaine and the few stablehands the horse morph had worked with. They were all children, really, and none of them knew him very well. H e had no friends.

Keyphir and Giles, on the other hand, had shared so much with Grey in suc h a short time, that Clay had actually been a bit jealous. Of course, it was obvious alcohol had played a large part of the sharing process.

Giles enjoyed Grey's company, since they were both submissive, and Clay a ctually thought Giles looked at his Rider as something of a role model. Giles had repressed his leanings over the years until some ass had decide d to use a love potion on him as some sort of cruel prank. The effects s hould have been short term, but the flood gates had been opened and there was no going back.

Clay, for his part, saw Gile's hooves and realized the goat morph's depen dence on Keyphir was both physical and emotional. Clay, himself, sometim es lost patience with his man for being needy at odd moments, and he wond ered how Keyphir had handled the strain of two equally important needs. The horse morph got his answer when Keyphir pulled his thick black tail. Apparently, Keyphir was a very lusty sort.

Clay's first impulse was to ignore the advances, but Grey had leaned over and told him that he had to draw a line or Keyphir would continue to mak e advances. Keyphir was still mostly human at that time, light green b ags under his eyes the only clue that the curse was at work, so the next time Keyphir touched him, it was easy to know how hard he could grip the butcher's hand before he actually injured the man. Keyphir smiled and to ok his hand back and bought the next round of drinks.

Clay would later wonder if Keyphir had ever hit on Grey. Grey had just s miled and said that he wasn't Keyphir's type. "I would just roll over an d submit. He likes a little challenge... a little fight."

Clay didn't picture Giles as a fighter. In fact, the goat morph had seem ed almost totally submissive, despite his obvious reluctance to public di splays of affections. Grey nodded as he snuggled up against the Keeper h e would soon call his master, "He's almost done with Giles. In a few mon ths, he'll be bored and then move on. Probably chase girls for a few mon ths. That's the way it is with people like Keyphir."

That thought had kept Clay up all night, since he was people like Keyphir . But the book Clay had gotten filled in some gaps and Clay began to f eel better about his dominance over Grey. Also, he was always willing to switch roles with the man, if Grey should be so inclined, so he decided he wasn't quite like Keyphir after all.

Of course, after dredging up that first night with Grey, Clay was beginni ng to think that maybe he was worse than Keyphir. But, he knew he wasn't a bad person. There was something very unsettling about the way that st ory just popped out of him. He'd overstated things to Poppy, too. He ha d tried to say hello to the big tree, but Laracin had remained silent. Y et, he'd left that part out when telling the tale to the mage.

As Clay walked thru the corridors of the Keep, he couldn't recall the las t time he had just confessed like that to someone. He couldn't recall an y. There were a hundred times, when his mother had still lived with them , that he had given into bouts of self-pity, crying to himself. Then the re were those times, while he was still human, that he would rip his skin apart with broken pottery, hoping to find fur underneath.

Those were awful years as he sat hiding and unchanging at his potter's wh eel. He had blamed both his parents for being greedy for all but chainin g him to the wheel. He cursed the gods for excluding him from the curse. He hated his brothers for changing. He hated the friends who left him behind. But, really, hadn't he played some part in that himself? Shinto seemed to think so.

Over a sour mash the monk had insisted he try last night, Shinto had aske d him about his friends and family. He hadn't a clue what happened to mo st of his friends. They changed. They left. Except for Custard and Carn ie, he hadn't a single clue as to what his childhood friends were doing f or a living. They were guards. So he knew the fate of three of his frie nds. Lars, of course, had died early last summer.

As if he already knew the answer, Shinto had asked if Clay had gone to th e funeral. No. That was a creepy Follower thing, he wanted to remember Lars the way he was, laughing and teasing, always just out of reach, unle ss he let Clay tackle him and pull him down to the ground. Lars had been the first boy Clay had seen naked. Shinto had raised his naked eyebrows at that, but Clay just rolled his eyes. Being naked was part of the gam e, after all. Except, unchanged Clay had been forced to wear clothes.

The Solfire monk was a fun drunk, but Clay hadn't ascribed much more to t he coyote morph than that. He wasn't a Lightbringer, nor was he a Follow er; that much was obvious. He did not get the shaving of the monk's head nor why Shinto would choose to use a bow that tried to twist out of your grip when you used it. But, Shinto did seem wise and Grey seemed to res pect him almost as much as he loved Clay.

Still, Clay decided to call it a night right after he'd come close to tel ling Shinto how Lars had haunted his dreams months before he died. And m onths afterwards. It was something best not drudged up.

Clay turned a corner and found himself outside, in Laracin's court.

No, he thought, not now, Kryia. Not now.

He dodged back into the corridor and closed his eyes. "Later," he said s oftly. "I promise, but not now."

When he looked back, the corridor suddenly continued on to a staircase th at he knew would lead up to the greenhouse. "Thank you, my lady. Thank you."

No one answered him, but then the staircase was really answer enough.

The staircase led to an other wall and then to a buttress where the twin mountains that hugged Metamor Keep obscured the sun the least. Never hav ing been to the Duke's official greenhouse before, Clay was entranced by the sparkling structure. Against the softened blue of the autumn sky, th e glass panels seemed to fracture the sun into a million brilliant stars. He was literally blinded by its stark beauty. More than just practical beauty, it was a display of wealth. The wealth and generosity of Duke H assan.

It was perhaps the worst side effect of the curse, that Duke Thomas, know n for years as a most generous patron of the arts and of knowledge in gen eral, should now be reduced in statue, known as the pitiful horse king of the mountains. The time before the curse, Clay could barely recall, exc ept as a patchwork of family members, but the Duke... those days were sti ll fresh to him and apparently, the pontiff's recent visit had risen his hopes that relations to the outside world might warm up again. The ponti ff's death had crushed those hopes, leading to Thomas' vacation.

Thomas had shared so much with them, and Clay a commoner. He had wanted to ask Thomas all sorts of questions about being a horse morph, but the m eeting really belonged to Grey and his distant cousin. By mutual consent , neither had mentioned the royal appointment that Thalberg and the Prime Minister had offered Grey. Thomas, as they had suspected, did not seem to know of it.

Thomas, for his part, kept whatever opinions he had of their relationship to himself and reluctantly agreed to keep Grey's existence a secret unti l Grey was comfortable with his new form. Of course, the truth was that few accepted their new forms as well as Grey had. If the stories were tr ue, only had Pascal handled the transformation better. Grey was just fin e with being a tiny little mouse. It was Clay who was having the problem s.

His Rider had opened a whole new world to Clay when he had walked in on h im at the royal row. The curse had slammed the door to that world shut. There was nothing in the book Fox Cutter had given about dealing with a lover who could fit in the palm of your hand. Any thoughts he had in th is direction frankly scared the horse morph beyond reason.

Perhaps this was why his nerves were shot. Snapping at Shinto. Crying i n front of Poppy. That wasn't like him. Not at all. Once he gave Giles ' Grey's old robes and activated the spell so they could talk, Clay had a feeling he was going to have to talk to someone about HIS problems. Pro bably Tina... or maybe even the Lightbringer for guidance. At this point , he'd even be willing to talk to Blaine; anyone really, as long as it wa s someone who knew him before Grey had come to him.

Clay steeled himself and entered the greenhouse. The sudden warmth hugge d him like a mild summer day. Everywhere he looked, the young stallion s aw green. There were reds and whites aplenty and in many shades and hues , with yellows and blues making token appearances, but it was the unyield ing force of green that he would never forget.

A single insectoid guard nodded at him almost invisibly from the green. Clay nodded back and smiled. Duke Thomas made sure everyone had work the y could handle, as well as be comfortable with. Guarding the greenhouse entrance was probably unnecessary, but still a pleasant duty for Keepers who had trouble resisting the cold. "Zack Chik, right?"

Zack nodded silently. His eyes catching the light of the sun and the man y sparkling reflections it cast onto the greenhouse. Grey would become d istressed if he had been there, having a phobia about bugs, but Clay thou ght even the dung beetles were beautiful, in their own way. Zack, howeve r, had always reminded him of a living weapon and abstract sculpture fuse d into one. Which he was.

In fact, Zack had a few pages in one of Clay's notebooks devoted to him, not that Clay had ever talked to him. He hadn't known Zack was even male , but Blaine had, for some reason, made it a point to find out what Clay had liked and hadn't liked. Supposedly, it was one artist to another, bu t Clay had his doubts. Blaine always had an agenda.

The old Clay wouldn't even have spoken to Zack, being too shy and withdra wn. The young stallion felt very good about this, but then realized that he had nothing to say to the preying mantis morph. And, even if he had,

Zack was mute, unless...

*Greetings, Clay Potter.*

Telepathy. Many morphs had it via a spell or charm, but unless you were magically inclined, it was an expense to maintain. Which is why, no doub t, Giles had gone so long without it. Or, if he was a Follower. If he w as a Follower, that might cause a problem, Clay thought, but Zack stared at him, as if waiting for a reply.

"Hello. Is it... um... all right if I come in?" That was stupid. Of co urse it was all right, the green house was usually open to the public, if not exactly encouraged.

*For the butterfly, you are welcome. For the goat, you are welcome still more, if you are here to take him home.*

Clay blinked. Zack's "voice" was as clean and angular as his body was, b ut Clay could have sworn he could hear non-existent teeth gnashing behind those words. "What?"

Zack sighed. *Any moment now...*

Suddenly, Clay heard a series of bleats that grew louder and then became outright wailing. Clay's own ears flattened against his neck as the pane s of the greenhouse shuddered in their casements and frames. Zack Chik t ried to cover ears that no longer existed, but within a minute... that ke ening faded into sobs and then those began to trail off. *You would think someone died.*

Clay was worried, but also happy to have an "out." "I'll go see if I can calm him down."


Clay found another guard, this one a huge yellow and white snake morph na med Earl, standing between Giles and the six foot long seed shaped cocoon that was Samoht Keyphir. Earl was one of the floating guards and never seemed to have the same duties twice. Earl had helped carry Grey home af ter the unfortunate meeting with Thalberg and Mal that one time. He see med relieved to see Clay and spread his spindly hands as if to hug the ho rse-morph as he slithered back. "If ye's a friend of this one, ye've got to talk to 'im! 'e keeps trying to decant 'is friend and that is nae good."

"Baaaaaaaaa!" Giles protested and turned pleading eyes to the young stal lion.

Clay dropped his bag and hugged Giles, but the goat froze and then pushed him away after a brief second, striking him with half hearted blows. Th at hurt since the caprine morph had cloven hooves where his hands should have been, but Clay took the impact without flinching. It was his own fa ult, Clay had never touched Giles before. In fact, he knew Giles resente d being the way he was. In front of complete strangers, the stigmata Gil es imagined would probably seem much worse.

"Could you leave us alone for a few moments, Earl?"

The snake morph nodded and slithered away, his kilt swirling as he droppe d down to push his body across the floor. "I shan't be too far, if 91e = goes off again, young Potter." Legless and all curves, Clay thought, jus t the opposite of Zack. But, like the insectoid, he had known the stalli on's name. Well, the Keep was small and Clay had no doubt generated enou gh gossip to get his name on quite a few tongues. He had meant it when he had told Grey that there was nothing to hide about their relationship, but he was beginning to miss his anonymity a little.

Giles tried to wipe tears from his eyes, but the fur on his forelimbs wer e already moist with them. Clay felt an urge to wipe the tears away and stroke the man until he stopped crying. He immediately put this thought aside; Giles would only resent it at this point. Instead, he looked at t he long coat and blouse the goat had worn. Both had been Keyphir's, both were likely to be useless to the man in the cocoon when he escaped it.

"I brought you some things I thought you might be able to use," Clay said after Giles refused to look at him. He took out two silk robes that Gre y had brought with him. The yellow one Grey had worn with the odd dog co llar that one time and a deep blue one that was buried deep in his Rider' s trunk. They were slightly different, but both would cover Giles better than what he was wearing. "These are robes that Grey wanted you to have ."

Giles bleated something that might have been "Thank you but leave it over there" or "Thank you but I don't really care" or might have just as easi ly been "Tranquil unleavened pink furred bears." It was impossible to be sure. Giles eyed them cautiously. Clay doubted the goat had ever seen silk on anyone who wasn't a noble. At the pub, Shinto had worn some kind of light cotton weave robe. What Giles made of them was anyone's guess.

Which brought to mind the next item in the bag. The potion. He took the inkwell size jar out of the bag and held it up for the black and brown c aprine man to see. When he was sure he had the weeping creature's attent ion, Clay told him what the potion was. Giles obviously wanted that poti on very much, but he hesitated and bleated out a question that Clay didn' t understand until the goat morph repeated it twice slowly.

"Oh," Clay was actually startled by the simplicity of the question. "No, it won't interfere with the curse. A spell to fix your mouth might, but a telepathy spell won't."

Giles hesitated and then reached out for the pot and Clay, idiotically, h anded it to him. The goat fumbled with the small jar, not having fingers , and it fell into his lap.

It didn't break, but Giles did.

Clay gingerly lowered himself to the floor as Giles' sobbing began again. He missed the days he could just drop to his knees, but his equine legs weren't built for that now. He wanted to hold the poor man very badly, but he knew better. Instead, he settled for putting a hand on Giles' sho ulder.

"Come on, I'll help you." He took the jar from an unprotesting Giles and uncorked it. The potion had turned to a light green syrup, which Clay p oured into his palm. Giles hesitated, apparently ashamed that he could n ot even drink with dignity, there being no bowl shaped mazer for the goat to lap from. He leaned forward and began lapping the green potion from Clay's pinto coloured palm. The goat's rough tongue was warm and a littl e rough, not an unpleasant experience for Clay.

From the smell, he doubted Giles enjoyed it at all, but in only a minut e the palm was licked clean and Giles sat back up with a very human look of distaste on his face. "Baaaa! That is that worst crap...Baaaa? It w orked?"

Clay smiled at the shocked look on Giles' face. He was a little surprise d, himself. He expected Poppy's spell to work like Christopher's or Zack 's did, but then he remembered that Poppy had said the potion needed Gile s to give voice to his thoughts before they could be projected. With tha t in mind, Clay felt he had to explain. "It only works when you try to s ay something. I guess that way you don't mindspeak stray thoughts or sec rets."

Giles hugged him. "Baaaa! Thank you, Clay!" The goat morph's eyes glea med moistly, but at least the moisture seemed happier. "Baaaaaaa.... Sa m was the only one I could talk to and now..."

Clay hugged him back. "It's okay. The important thing is we can all und erstand you now and that you and Samoht are going to be all right." The goat blinked and turned serious. He looked at the cocoon that held t he man bound to him by a unexpectedly strong love potion. "Baaaaaaaa... baa. Clay, you have to help me... you've got to." Giles reached forth, as if to squeeze the horse morph's hand for emphasis, but his cloven hoov es were ill-suited to do that.

Clay reached out and gave the goat morph's forelimb a squeeze instead. " Anything."

The goat began to breathe heavier as if panic was building. "Baaaaaaa! You've got to get me away from him!"

It took Clay a second to understand what the goat was saying, but even th en it was hard to comprehend. "What? But, Giles... I thought..."

"Baaaa! Baaaa!" The goat was starting to shake and his eyes were wide. "You don't know what he's like! He's.... Baaaaaa.... not a nice man..." Something that Clay hadn't thought of before began to stir in the back of his mind. Something that he had dismissed before he really began to thi nk about it. It had something to do with Keyphir but the bey fell morph couldn't think about that now. Giles seemed about to have another anxiet y attack. "But... he loves you..." he said, inanely.

"BAAAAAA!? LOVE!?" The goat morph scrambled up on all fours. The curse had left him so mangled, he didn't have to invoke the counter-spell's sli ding option to be comfortable on all fours. "He doesn't know what love i s! He... you just don't know.... Baaaaaa! What he did to me!"

Clay started to stand up, always an awkward process, when suddenly the fa cts slid into place. His ability to always understand Giles... his going to Poppy for ingrediants... Poppy's confusion that a man Clay had though t was only a butcher hadn't solved Giles' communication problem... and th e way a simple love potion seemed to get stronger over time rather than w eaker... and the way a cure hadn't been found until it was too late and t here was no going back.

Clay's hind end fell on the floor as his eyes went wide and perfect circl es of white appeared in his eyes. He stared at Giles pacing with dawning horror. "He's the one who... slipped you the potion..."

Giles' eyes clamped shut and he stood on his hind legs. His jaws worked a nd his throat spasmed but no sounds came out, although Clay could see the goat wanted to scream very badly. He ripped at his blouse, revealing a stripe of gray white hairs along his stomach. He swallowed and locked go lden eyes with Clay. His hooves tapped his chest. "Baaa! Baaaaaa! He did this to me! He did this to me!"

Clay almost lost his bladder staring at Giles, as if for the first time. Giles wasn't a Keeper, he was an outsider. He wasn't brought up expecti ng to turn into something from a wizard's bestiary. For a normal human, this would be a fate worse than death. Only the hope finding a cure or l iving with the potion induced affair in relative peace had supposedly bro ught the two to Metamor Keep.

Keyphir had supposedly suggested the Keep out of desperation, but now the revelation that he had targeted Giles changed everything. Clay's mind r eeled as events and conversations realigned themselves properly. "Gods.. . Giles... I didn't know."

"Baaaaa! I found the scrolls when Shinto was cleaning my room." Giles f ell back onto all fours, pacing. "Baaaaa... baaa. He can't read, you kn ow... but I could, as bad as my eyes are, now... I could."

Clay's own breathe was hard to control, and he was all too aware of the g uards. Now he understood why Giles tried to get at the cocoon. "Giles.. . I am so sorry... we can't stay here."

Giles sat on his hind end like a dog and stared at the cocoon. "Baaaaaa. .. did you know I was happily married? Baaaaa? That I have... had two kids? To his sister... he did this to his sister, too. Baaaa... my bus iness... all gone."

Clay shook his head. He hadn't known about the children, or that Keyphir was apparently his brother-in-law. It just kept getting worse.

"Baaaa... I thought the love potion had worn off... that it was... baaaa. .. love." Giles swallowed and looked at Clay with drying eyes. "If it was love.... baaaaaa.... it would have been worth it, but it was.... baa aaa.... just a sick game for him to play with me. Baaaaa'rd. Bastard." Clay put his muzzle in his hands and squeezed it, trying to focus. He ha d to get Giles someplace they could talk. There was no way he was going to think straight with strangers hovering around. And there was no way Gi les was going to keep calm with Keyphir sitting silently in front of him.

"Giles, come back to my place, please."

"Baa. Baaaaaa. I was so grateful he didn't leave me when I changed, Cla y. I would have... baaaa... I put up with so many things, that he did an d I was... willing because I needed him. Baaa! I didn't have a choice! He made it so I didn't have a choice!"

Clay struggled to his feet, dizzy with panic, knowing the Giles was build ing himself up for another run at Keyphir's helpless form. "Giles, pleas e. We can have tea at my house. You can sleep in my brother's old bed."

"Baaaa... he was so happy I had horns. He would grab them and steer my h ead..."

The image that brought to mind froze Clay half-standing. "Oh gods, Giles ."

Giles stared at nothing expect the past, wide eyed horror naked on his ca prine face. "Baaaaa... the training... the experiments... Baaaa! He pu t THINGS inside of me."

Clay flinched like he'd been slapped and he heard Earl gasp. He suddenly knew that if Giles made for Keyphir, Earl might be tempted to let the go at at the helpless man. His mind kept trying to make excuses for Keyphir , too, but everything pointed back to what Clay had said about him. But it went far, far deeper than just a simple need to dominate. It was quit e clear Samoht Keyphir was a sadist on a par with Lord Loridid.

"If I was baaaaaaa bad, or I looked at anyone the wrong way... he would p unish me at night." The goat's voice hitched and fresh tears ran down hi s face. "Baaaa... he would truss me up like a slaughtered goat and show me... baaaa... baaa.... where the... best cuts were. Shank and loins and how many steaks he could get out of me."

Clay felt the tea and cookies climb up his throat as he helplessly pictur ed the scene in his head. He nearly fell over as he vomited into a potte d beef stake tomato plant. Giles continued to repeat the list of things his so-called lover had done to him and it was more than Clay's heart cou ld bare. The equine urge to trample Keyphir was almost overpowering. Giles fell silent and stared at the coccoon for a long moment. His anger seemed completely drained now, but he wasn't finished. He looked away f rom Keyphir and rose back up to all fours. He tugged at his blouse with his teeth until his private parts could be seen. "Baaaa, look what he di d to me."

Clay looked although he did not want to. There were burns on the scrotum and his teats were red and sore looking. Clay could think of a dozen wa ys that could have happened, but Giles' came up with something he hadn't expected.

"Baaaa. There are tricks farmers have for goats... did you know that you can get milk from a billy goat if you are willing to put the effort into it? Baaaaa. Sam did, Clay, and he did. Baaaa. He milked me." Giles shook his head wildly. "Baa! He milked me! Baaa... It took him two we eks and it hurt so goddamn much but he kept doing it and doing it. And f inally, he got a few drops out of me and it made him so happy. Baaaa! H e said he could taste the beer in it."

"Gods, Giles... why didn't you tell someone?"

"Baaa, what was I to say?" Giles wailed and then looked at Clay like he' d never seen him before in his life. "Baaaa? Do you want to know the wo rst thing? The absolute worse thing? Baaaa, when I finally gave milk... I was so happy for him. Baaaa! I hated myself but I was happy for him!" Giles walked in a tight circle shaking his head. "Baaaa? What kind of shit is that?"

The cocoon seemed to flex a bit and Giles stopped dead, staring at it. T hen he exploded, "Baa! You bastard! You dragged me here! BAAAAA! YOU D ID THIS TO ME! BAAA! YOU TORTURED ME AND THEN YOU MADE SURE I WAS GRATEF UL!"

Earl darted forward just as Clay did, but Giles surprised them all by rea ring up and jerking himself around. He leapt over earl's tail end and ra n full tilt towards the glass wall overlooking the Keep. Clay instantly knew what the goat planned and wasn't surprised when he leapt forward int o the green and towards the fragile expensive glass.

Suddenly, the green flinched and Giles was pinched out of the air.

Zack wrestled the goat to the ground effortlessly and Earl wrapped himsel f around Giles to keep him from hurting himself. The caprine morph bleat ed his distress as Clay staggered towards the trio. He looked back at th e cocoon, knowing he could easily dispose of Keyphir now and save everyon e some heart ache later. One little hole and a host of parasites would f ind their way into Keyphir's changing flesh.

But he couldn't do it, he just couldn't. There'd been enough pain here t oday.

And he wasn't that kind of man.

Giles followed Clay obediently through the Keep. He had pleaded with Cla y to let him take Grey's place, that he would do whatever he needed to do , if the horse morph would simply accept the damage goods that Giles was as his own. Clay held firm, but Giles felt he had to prove himself so he had followed Clay home when he'd been invited to. Spoke when he had bee n invited to, and sat quietly on the bed young Clay had slept on when he was told to.

Clay had vanished into his own room with his little pet mouse and Giles c ould here him crying and talking to himself. He missed Grey, no doubt, a nd it was only then he knew he could never take Grey's place. Grey was a n older, wiser man and he was just a stupid goat. Maybe Samoht had had t he right idea when he had tried to figure out how much meat there was on Giles' bones.

An hour later, Clay had come out and he hoped the stallion noticed that G iles hadn't moved a single muscle since he been told to sit where he was. He hoped Clay would reward him by letting him use the chamberpot. The mouse stared at Giles from the stallion's shirt pocket as Clay dressed hi m in the silken robes that his own hooves would have torn apart.

Dressed in yellow silk, Clay led him back into the Keep and through the e ver-changing maze of corridors to a simple door with the Follower emblem on it. Giles was confused as Clay knocked given leave to enter. He left Giles alone in the hallway wondering if this would be were he would be a llowed to use the chamberpot. A small voice in the back of his mind told him that he should probably should say something, but he ignored it.

After a few moments, the door opened and Clay waved him in. A small boy smiled serenely and held out his hand. The boy was dressed like a pries t and a number of scenarios danced into his head, must of them fueled by outrageous statements Samoht had said over the last few weeks.

"Giles, this is Father Hough. Father Hough, this is Giles Clifface, the friend I was just telling you about."

Giles stared at the innocent little boy and then looked at Clay and then back at the lad dressed in black clothe. Giles reached out and the boy w rapped his pink fingers around his wrist, as if Giles was still capable of a handshake. "Clay tells me we have something in common, Mr. Clifface ."

At the mention of Mr. Clifface, Giles flinched back from the expected blo w. He wasn't supposed to flinch, so fear squeezed his bladder and he fel l to the floor as he urinated onto himself. He could almost feel Samoht standing over him, waiting to kick.

Mr. Clifface. That was what Samoht called him when he was supposed to si t there and take it like a man. Mr. Clifface.

Clay and Father Francis Hough looked down at the shaking creature, but ne ither of them looked down on him. Clay got some rags as the age-regresse d priest tried to comfort the one time soap and candle maker.

"Can you help him, Father?"

The priest nodded. "I think so. If he can see that I am not a threat, I think I can win his trust. Do you know who did this to him?" Clay nodded. "I know, I was hoping to bring Giles to Eindah, the Watch c ommander to file a report, but I ended up here, instead."

"The Keep sometimes makes better choices for us. I don't think Giles is ready to talk to another man about this."

"He told me."

"I think you just happen to be there, more likely. You should tell Einda h all the same. The man who did this should be in prison." Clay nodded. "He is, don't worry. The sad thing is, he doesn't even kno w it."

I invoke thee!

Samoht struggled in the darkness in and out of sleep. He was so incredib ly hungry... and his throat ached for a beer. He screamed into a darknes s so thick that not even his soul could hear him scream. He was imprisoned in flesh turned to wood and he screamed into the great void of insanity when a voice cut through it all with clarity beyond all reality.


Giles knew everything! And that sick little perverted beast broke his he art and fractured the last shards of sanity Keyphir held onto in this dar k, crazy place. And before he went over the edge, he caught a fleeting g limpse of a shapely pale woman in a red leather bodice pointing at him.