Things Remain the Same

by Christian O'Kane

Misha was annoyed. He had been up all night talking to George and Andwyn on a whole new set of scout missions and patrols and when he finally found some time to relax he gets interrupted.

“What is it sergeant Brea?” Misha asked. The squirrel was the Sergeant of the Guard for the soldiers who guarded Long House. He was dressed in leather armor that had been reinforced with metal studs. On his hip was a short sword in a black leather scabbard detailed with gold and silver filigree. Next to that was a dagger in a similarly decorated scabbard. Sword and dagger were a gift from the Duke for Brea's bravery in defending Long house during the attack. A well deserved gift.

“Visitors Misha, for you. Rickkter and two others,” the sergeant explained. “Rickkter said it was important that they speak with you.”

Misha knew that when the raccoon said it was important he meant it. He followed Brea through the door and out of the office. Stepping into Long hall he found three people being guarded by three soldiers. He recognized one of the visitors as Rickkter but the cheetah morph and the woman were unknown to him. The woman’s looks and scent did seem vaguely familiar though.

Misha turned to the guards, “Thank you, you're dismissed.”

With a short nod the three soldiers and the sergeant departed leaving Misha with Rickkter and the two strangers.

“Guess who these two are?” Rickkter said with a wave of his hand towards the cat and the woman.

“I'm in no mood for a guessing game Rick,” the fox responded coldly as he scratched the bandage on his face.

“I am Sir Edmund,” the cheetah said politely. He pointed to the woman.” And this is Sir. . . My second in command Terrant Gattaway.”

Misha examined both of them with a cold, hard glare. The cheetah bore not the vaguest resemblance to the paladin but now that the fox knew he could see that she was Terrant. The woman uncomfortably shifted under the scouts gaze and drew her jacket tighter around her chest as if trying to hide her breasts. She was dressed in loose fitting clothes that hid all trace of gender. It was only her long hair, soft feminine face and female scent that told Misha that Terrant was a woman. None of this surprised Misha. He had seen many people who did not take their change well.

“Lela,” the fox called out.

A young girl of about ten came running up. She was wearing a green dress emblazoned with the gold axe and bow emblem of the Long scouts on the front. “Yes Sir?” she asked as she skidded to a halt.

“Please fetch Georgette and Laura.”

With a quick curtsey the girl took off at a run

“She wants to be a scout someday,” Misha commented out loud as he watched the girl disappear through a doorway. “She's already very good with the bow and spear.”

Rickkter nodded.

“What can I do for you?” the fox asked.

“Edmund is in need of new armor,” the raccoon explained. “His present armor doesn't fit him any more.”

“I can see why,” Misha commented. “You've lost at least a hundred pounds in weight.”

“I am willing to repay your help,” Edmund started to say but Misha cut him off with the wave of a bandaged hand.

“Don't worry about it. I'm just glad to help a friend.” Misha scratched at the bandage on the side of his head where his left ear used to be. “I know it’s gone but I swear my ear still itches.”

“Your body has not adjusted to it’s lose,” Edmund explained. “That will fade with time.”

Two women came up to the foursome. One was tall with red hair and her right arm was bandaged up to the shoulder. Laura didn’t seem to badly injured but Misha knew she was always stoic about such things. He also knew she was bored and was trying to act less injured then she was so that Misha might assign her to duty besides recuperating. He had no intention of sending her out until she was fully healed.

The other woman was shorter and with brown hair. In spite of the loose blue dress Georgette was wearing it was easy to see the bandages around her chest and stomach. Unlike Laura Georgette had a child, a boy and therefore was NEVER bored. Tired yes, but never bored. Her favorite comment was that she went on patrol for the peace and quiet.

“You called us?” Georgette asked.

“Yes,” Misha said and nodded his head. “I’d like you to meet Sir Edmund Delacot,” he said and waved a hand to the feline. “And his aide, Terrant Gattaway. I’m sure you remember their help during the counterstrike. As you can see the curse has changed them both.”

“Oh,” Laura said quietly.

Misha nodded to Terrant then bowed to the new arrivals. “Terrant I’d like you to meet Laura, her original name was Laurel and Georgette whose name was George till the curse took hold. They are two of my Long Scouts and between them they’ve killed at least sixty Lutins.”

“Only sixty?” Georgette asked sarcastically. “I’m sure it’s at least seventy.”

Misha laughed. “Would you two be willing to give Terrant the benefit of your experience with the gender aspect of the curse.”

“Of course!” Laura said. “Gladly.” She took Terrant by the arm and pulled him away from Edmund. “Sylia is watching our son so I have plenty of time.”

“Sylia?” Terrant asked resisting the woman’s pull.

“Sylia is my wife.”

“WIFE?” Terrant asked, the confusion plain to see on her face.

“It’s rather complicated,” Laura explained. “I was married before the curse.”

“The first thing you need to know,” Georgette said taking Terrant’s other arm. “Is these strange cramps you’ll get every month.”

Edmund watched as the three women walked away from them.

“No need to worry Edmund,” Misha said calmly. “They’ll help her. Georgette had a rough time accepting the change to a woman. She tried to jump off the parapet of a ninety foot tall tower before her brother Philip stopped her.”

“There’s some advice we can give you on adjusting to your new body as well,” Misha commented. “We’ll start with armor.” The fox eyed Edmund for a moment trying to judge his height and weight. “Now let’s get to the armory, I think I have some armor that will fit you.”

“Ah, always a favorite place of mine to visit,” commented Rickkter, his bushy tail flicking about below his clasped paws.

“You just like it because you always find some new goody there,” replied Misha.

Moving across the length of Long hall they came to a small door made of solid iron. In front of it stood a young griffon dressed in a tabard with the red, rearing stallion emblem of Metamor on it. His fur and feather were a brownish white, with gray and brown striping. The guards broad wings were tightly folded at his back but they were impressive none the less. The griffon had a long sword on one hip and a quiver full of javelins hung on his back between his wings.

Before the Yule attack Long house had been barely guarded. Usually only a single person protecting the Halls solitary entrance had been on guard at any one time but now a score of soldiers stood watch around the complex. During the Yule attack the Lutins had made a major effort to take Long House coming VERY close to success. For some reason Nasoj wanted Long house and Misha and the Duke were not taking any chances with him trying again.

“Finnleik,” Misha announced to the griffon. “Three to enter.”

“Yes Sir,” Finnleik said and gave a bow of the head. He then stepped aside allowing the three in.

“I see you've increased security,” Rickkter commented.

“Yes. After the Yule attack I'm not leaving anything unguarded.”

The raccoon just nodded in agreement.

Misha opened the door and stepped inside. He waited until after Edmund and Rickkter had entered before closing it again.

The massive open room of the armory was devoid of life besides the three. Misha could see Edmund looking about at the countless racks of armor and weapons. The paladin picked a short sword off a rack. It had a hilt and blade of a reddish colored metal. “Bronze. The style means it must at least a thousand years old.”

“You like my toy box?” Misha asked. He was impressed with the feline’s knowledge of history.

“This is all yours?”

The trio moved slowly through the room with Misha leading.

“Sort of,” the fox explained. “Kyia stocked this room and lets the Longs use it. She seems to enjoy using it like a museum.”

“Kyia?” the feline asked.

“The spirit of the keep,” Misha explained. “She created Long House just as she creates and controls everything in the Keep itself.”

The cheetah nodded. “I see. She created this whole complex just for your scouts?”

“Not really. I think what we call Long house has been around for a long time. It's just that she lets us use it and protect it.”

Misha stopped in front of a rack filled with a suit of armor that immediately caught Edmunds attention. The armor was made of an unusual array of metal strips. These strips were each about the length and width of a finger and were carefully woven together using steel wire. Together they formed a protection of solid steel instead of the woven rings of chain mail. Three leather straps running down the right side held closed the opening used to don the armor. The only chain mail on the entire armor was around the opening for the head and neck which had a hood also made of chain mail. The suit had been made to fit a thin lanky form like Edmund’s. The entire armor was painted a bright yellow with each metal strip edged in red. The straps and buckles as well were in red giving the armor an oddly bright look, like a child’s gaudily painted toy.

The fox undid the straps holding the armor closed. “It was custom made for a friend of mine who was a feline, a jaguar to be exact but I'm sure it will fit you.”

It did fit. The armor fit over the felines slim form with surprising ease hugging and protecting in all the right places. Edmund tested it by flexing his arms and legs and twisting his body around. He could even bend over and touch his paws with ease.

“It's light and flexible but it still gives very good protection,” the paladin said with surprise in his voice. “Your friend will not mind me using his armor?”

“Gaubert didn't survive the Yule attack,” Misha said coldly trying to think as little as possible about his friend’s death. “He died defending Long house itself. I was thinking of making him a Long. George had him assigned to me three days before the attack so I could get to know him better, evaluate whether he had what it took.”

“I'm sorry to hear that,” Edmund said solemnly. “You have my sincere sympathies.”

“Thank you. I can't think of any one more fitting to use it then you. Besides I already have several hundred suits of armor.”

The fox removed a helmet from where it hung from a hook next to where the armor had been stored. Colored yellow with red edging like the armor the helmet was appropriately enough shaped into the of a snarling feline complete with two long, sharp fangs of bronze colored deep red. The eyes of the mask were the vision slits for its wearer and were themselves edged in red. “You’re going to have to change your fighting style,” Misha commented as he handed the helmet to Edmund. “You preferred sword and shield didn’t you?”

“Yes, long sword and shield but I’m also trained in the use of the lance, axe broadsword and claymore,” Edmund explained.

“Using a claymore is out of the question now. It’s far too heavy for you to wield successfully. You might try a lighter weapon like a short sword or a scimitar,” the fox said.

“With such sharp claws why bother with a weapon at all?” Edmund asked.

Rickkter gave a half nod, his head cocked to the side. “Claws are good but a real weapon would give you a greater reach. Not to mention that your body's new reflexes would make you a formidable fencer. Besides, steel goes through armor easier than ordinary claws.” The raccoon began to walk among the racks looking carefully at the weapons they held.

“Foxes and raccoons have sharp teeth but our claws are pretty dull, no good for combat. A better teacher would be another feline,” Misha commented.

“If you want someone for the whole claw-and-fur combat you should speak with that that lynx I told you of,” Rickkter called back at Misha. “Alia was fierce when I was leading that team for those hit and runs against Nasoj at the start of the month.”

Misha nodded. “What unit does she serve with?”

“The Fourth infantry regiment I believe.”

“Called the Peltists,” Misha commented.

“Peltist is an old name for skirmishers,” Edmund added.

The fox moved to the door of the armory and opened it. He stuck his head out. “Lela!” he shouted.

“Yes sir,” came the faint reply.

“I need you to go to Fourth Infantry and bring a lynx by the name of Alia here as soon as possible.”

“Yes Sir,” came the distant reply.

“She should have Alai here in a few minutes,” Misha commented as he walked back to Edmund. “Lela’s got a knack for finding people. Now about a weapon for you Edmund.”

“Something light and quick that could take advantage of your new speed would be best. A rapier would do well,” Rickkter suggested to Edmund.

“Good idea. I think a good scimitar or maybe . . . “ the foxe’s voiced trailed off into silence as he looked past Edmund.

Misha slowly walked down several rows till he reached Rickkter. “What are you doing?” he asked. The raccoon was standing there, churring softly to himself as he handled a sword from the racks.

The weapon the raccoon had in his hand was a scimitar. The hilt was made of ivory with worked gold, silver and fine purple stones. The curved blade was of a gray steel with a wavy pattern of a darker colored steel along the edges.

“Now this… is truly a thing of beauty,” Rickkter said as he grasped the tip of the blade and with startling ease bent the blade sideways till the tip touched the hilt. Letting go of the blade it instantly returned to its normal shape with a loud SNAP that made everyone jump. The weapon seemed none the worse for being so badly bent.

“Pyralian steel?” Misha asked.

The raccoon nodded. “With practice and skill it’s possible to make a sound like thunder without the blade seeming to move.”

Rickkter extended the weapon out to Edmund and the feline paladin gingerly took it.

“This is real Pyralian steel,” Edmund commented as he examined the scimitar. “A true Empire weapon. How did such a weapon come to be here?”

Misha shrugged his shoulders. “No way of knowing but the valley was an important outpost of the empire for centuries.”

“These blades were used only by the Pretarian Guard, the Emperors’ personal guard,” Edmund commented as he turned the weapon over in his hands. “They were the most feared and lethal warriors, each one having to be of Pyralian birth.”

“I didn’t think many Emperors made it up this far north,” said Rickkter. He nodded at Edmund. “Check the base of the hilt, see who it belonged to.”

“This is odd,” Edmund said and held the blade close to his face.

“Every group of blades were custom made for a specific Emperor and was gifted to certain guardsman for that man and no other. As such the blade carried the Emperor’s name and that of the soldier who wielded it. But the name of the Emperor on this sword is Mallius Petronius Gallus. There was an Emperor Petronius towards the end of the Empire, I do know that, but his name was not Mallius. Even the guardsman’s name is not Sueliman.”

“That’s impossible,” Misha said. “The secret of Pyralian steel was the exclusive providence of the Pretarian Guard. No one else ever discovered the secret to making it. No exception.”

“A double mystery,” Rickkter commented. “The Keep attracts them.”

“Metamor is a mystery unto itself.”

The room Terrant was led into was a lot smaller then Long hall but was still of a fairly large size. Its floors and walls were lined with mats and pads covering everything but one corner in which rested a rack of wooden weapons of various types.

“I know all the stuff about your body is boring you but the other differences are really minor,” Georgette commented. “You’re new body is smaller and lighter then your old one but it’s also faster and more dexterous.”

“Legally here in the Keep you ARE the equal of a man,” Laura said. “The laws of Metamor see no difference between men and women. You can own property, buy and sell what you want and inherit and pass on inheritance equally.”

“Just here,” Terrant commented sourly. “Many places I would not be allowed to even own property. In some places I AM property.”

Laura shook her head sadly. “True but things are changing. Many countries are slowing opening up and giving everyone equality.”

“At least you are human,” a voice said suddenly. “Most places would have me burned as a demon on sight.”

Standing behind them, in the doorway was a male, canine morph with short, wiry, gray fur. He was dressed in the tunic and pants of a soldier of the Duke.

“Alec!” Laura exclaimed. “It’s good to see you. How are Lisa and the kids doing?”

“Good, Lisa is fine. Her arm is healing well. What’s left of her arm that is.”

“Terrant I’d like you to meet Alec Ringe. His wife Lisa is a Long Scout.”

“I am aware of her. She lost her arm to a werewolf during the Yule attack,” Terrant commented.

“I’m afraid you have the better of me, my lady,” Alec said to Terrant. “I don’t recognize your face.”

“He is Sir Edmunds aide,” Georgette explained. “The curse recently has changed him.”

“Ah!!” Alec exclaimed. “Good to see that the curse has been kind to you.”

“KIND?” Terrant exclaimed in shock. “I’m a woman!”

“You can fight as a woman, but how good a fighter would you have been if you were reduced to a child? You’d scarcely have the power to lift a weapon let alone wield it in combat.”

“If I was a cheetah like Sir Edmund I wouldn’t even need a man made weapon.”

“True,” Alec answered. “But would you ever be able to visit your family if you were an animal man? I have family in the south. I haven’t seen my father or mother in 9 years. When they die I won’t be able to go to their funeral.”

That gave Terrant a pause. He hadn’t considered that idea. It also brought to mind even more disturbing ideas. Even as a woman Terrant was still human. But where did that leave Sir Edmund and the other animal morph keepers? Were they still human? And if they weren’t what were they?

Moving through the narrow doorway leading out of the armory the trio stepped into Long Hall. Edmund was still dressed in the armor Misha had given him minutes before. In his right hand was the unusual scimitar of Pyralian steel. In his left was small, circular shield about a foot in diameter called a buckler. Strapped to hip was a second scimitar in a sheath of black leather. Unlike the first blade this one was a simple weapon devoid of all decorations. Hanging next to the scimitar was a long bladed dagger. Both dagger and scimitar had one thing in common – they were meant for training only and possessed no sharp cutting edge. Being hit by the metal weapons would hurt and bruise but nothing else.

Walking next to the feline paladin was Misha. The fox was dressed in a full suit of chain mail armor. He clutched a buckler like Edmunds in his right hand but he had no helmet only the chainmail hood that was integral to the armor itself. Hanging from his belt was a plain long sword and a dagger. Like Edmunds weapons Misha’s was also devoid of a cutting edge.

Rickkter was dressed in the same robes and jacket that he had first met Edmund and Terrant in the shop. Of the three he was the only one who was not obviously carrying a weapon. It didn’t mean he wasn’t armed, it just meant that nothing was visible.

The raccoon mage suddenly stopped and turned back to the armory. "Hey!” he yelled. “What about me! Edmund has all the goodies but there’s nothing for me.”

“We’re testing Edmund not going out to kill something,” Misha commented. “Why don’t you take one of the practice weapons?”

“The perfect weapon to test him would be my battle staff, but I need to replace it seeing as Madog ate my last one,” Rickkter commented sarcastically.

“Instead of finding a replacement why not make one?” the fox asked. “With your skills you could easily give it the magic needed. What is the staff itself made of?”

“Ironwood or something REALLY solid. There are various metals embedded as enforcing at the top and around the blade of course.”

Misha nodded. “I can think of several people who could easily craft the staff to your specifications.”

“Crafting the weapon itself is not the difficult part. Infusing the magic to create a proper resonance with the staff will be lengthy.”

“I’m sure you can do it.”

The raccoon growled and looked away, his ears turning back. “I was planning on doing it, actually. It was the next project Muri and I were to be working after finally completing the illusion amulets. But since what happened to him in the attack…”

"I understand. No chance of that for the near future," Misha commented sadly.

“Not until he recovers, if he ever does,” Rickkter added.

"Nothing you can do about that Rickkter. Nothing but wait and hope."

Rickkter nodded in agreement but didn’t speak and neither did Misha.

Edmund and Misha moved to the center of Long Hall and stood about five feet apart. Rickkter stood off to one side leaning casually against a wall.

“Ok, let’s try sword and buckler first,” the fox ordered. “After that we can move onto two handed and by that time Alia should arrive and we can get into fighting with claws and teeth.”

Edmund drew the plain scimitar from its sheath, the magic blade was too powerful to be used in practice.

Taking a ready stance with his knees bent and crouched down slightly.

The fox circled slowly to the left forcing Edmund to move right. He had no intention of letting Misha flank him. Suddenly the paladin charged straight at the scout. His scimitar slid past the foxes shield and connected with the Misha’s chest with a loud smack that echoed all over the hall. He brought up his own blade and managed to partially deflect his opponents reply stroke. The blade clanged off of his leg with body jarring blow.

The paladin backed off as suddenly as he attacked. Misha didn’t take advantage of the retreat but simply kept his distance. Edmunds leg was tingling from the blow, even without a sharp edge the blade hurt. The leg would undoubtedly be bruised and sore tomorrow but his new armor had stopped most of the blow preventing a broken bone.

“You need to loosen up Edmund,” Misha suggested. “and use your flexibility to it’s best advantage.” The fox pondered for a moment. “Take off the armor and fight only in the linen under padding. With no armor to stop blows you will had to move more flexibly just to avoid being cut.”

“Take off your shoes as well,” Rickkter ordered.

“Why?” the paladin asked.

“You have claws on you feet as well as your hands, might as well use them to good effect.”

Edmund nodded in agreement as he removed his boots.

“Misha , Rickkter, may I ask you a question?” Edmund asked as he placed his boots on the floor.

“You mean a second question don’t you?” the raccoon mage answered.

Edmund looked at Rickkter for a moment before speaking again. “What was the change like for you? How did it feel?”

Misha shook his head. “I didn’t feel anything. I was here for the original casting of the curses. All I remember is that one moment I was human and next I was a fox man.”

“And nothing else?”

The scout pondered for a moment before answering. “Nothing solid. A few vague memories but that’s all.”

“Oh?” Edmund asked.

“I do vaguely remember chasing a rabbit around,” the fox laughed. “I think it was Phil!”

Edmund looked over at the mage. “And yourself.”

Rickkter laughed and shook his head. “My own tale is even less involved.” He scratched at his front. “When I came here I was dying of a malady of the lungs. Well, after a week of looking for a cure I had stated to change so I knew I was stuck here. And I decided to go out and get drunk. And get into a bar fight.” Rickkter laughed, once, to himself. “My body couldn’t handle it and I almost died after.” He shrugged. “But, the curse had started its work already. I was mostly unconsciousness for a week before coming out of it almost completely changed. The last little bit of the change more… itched than anything else,” he commented, looking at his paw. “It’s not all that different from before, is it? Mostly it’s the tail, but sometimes I manage to forget that I’ve changed at all.”

Finnleik walked over to them, his long striped tail flitting about behind him. “Ah, one of the lucky ones.” He stopped short of the three senior warriors, clasped his paws behind his back and gave a smart bow to Misha. “I overheard what you said about going to practice, sir. Permission to watch as well.”

Misha nodded and wagged. “I don’t see any reason why not, Finnleik. Who knows, you may even learn something.”

“What was it you were saying about being a lucky transformation?” Edmund asked.

The griffon shifted about a little, his wings making a soft rustle as they rubbed against his back. “Well, sir, I had just meant that wizard Rickkter hadn’t experienced any discomfort during his transformation. My personal experience was quite different. The week I spent changing into what you see before you was the most agonizing of my life.”

He moved his paws from behind his back and spread his taloned fingers. The paws and arms were a fusion of avian and feline, having thick segments of gray skin like an eagle but with soft brown and white fur of a cat on the sides and undersides. The hands themselves were still human in shape, despite having an inch of hard black talon in place of a nail. “The day that these grew in, it felt like my hands had been placed over a fire to slowly roast. When my legs changed it felt like I was bathing in the left over coals of that fire.” He cracked his beak in a shy smile as he lowed his head and rubbed a paw over it. “This was the worst, though. I can only remember screaming in agony, clawing at the skin as my face distorted itself into this. My father told me after that neighbors from two streets over could hear it. They gave me something for the pain then. That allowed me to sleep through the growth of the wings and tail.”

Of the three listening to his tale, Edmund’s expression conveyed the most sympathy. “I am sorry for your ordeal.”

Finnleik shrugged. “That was the worst of it, sir. The fur and feathers, when they came in, were like a fiery itch. Thousands of little pin pricks all over my body. Thankfully that was the end of it.”

“Sounds like quite an ordeal,” said a voice from behind the group. The four morphs turned to see a female lynx in light leather combat armor swaggering up to them. “I hope it did not sour you on becoming an animal.”

With a large flick of his tail, Finnleik opened his beak in a smile. “The first time I was able to fly, I knew it was worth it.” He opened his wings and gave them a slow wave. Edmund noticed they shared the same off-brown stripes as the rest of Finnleik’s body. “The first time I saw the entire valley from a half mile up in the air, I knew that I would experience everything again for the chance to become this.”

The lynx nodded. “Glad to hear it.” She turned and nodded at Misha. “Sergeant Alia reporting for duty as requested, sir.”

Misha nodded back. “Pleasure to see you, sergeant. Sir Edmund has just been changed by the curse and we were hoping you could give him the benefit of your experience fighting with claws and fangs.”

“Of course,” she replied.

Misha turned to Edmund. “Shall we get started?”

Edmund opened his mouth a moment and paused, his tail tip twitching back and forth. “A moment longer, if we may, Misha,” he said. Nodding towards Alia he asked, “Perhaps one more story?”

Misha considered briefly. “As you wish. Alia?”

The lynx shrugged and twitched one of her large tuffed ears. “I was young when the curse took me, not quite thirteen summers. My family lives on a small piece of land near Ellingham, farming mostly.” She smiled at the assembled group. “Unlike my mother and sisters, I never favored a woman’s chores. I always enjoyed being out in the forest or hunting for dinner rather than preparing food or making clothes. Thus, that is where the curse took me.” She began to pace a little, her naked feet silent against the stone floor. “I was just about to shoot a good sized hare when all of a sudden my body seemed to stop responding to me.”

Alia inhaled deeply and smiled, showing off a good many of her sharp white teeth. “It was like being wrapped in a warm blanket after a long bath. All I wanted to do was sleep. I figure that my new animal half took over at that point, as when I next awoke it was near sunset and I was not in the place I first was. I was also naked and looked like this,” she said, waving her fingers. “There was still a little blood on my muzzle and finger tips, and I found what was left of a hare in a near by bush. I guess I was hungrier than I thought. It certainly shocked my parents when I arrived home that night, I can tell you that!”

“Nothing wrong with being naked,” a female voice said. Looking in the direction of the sound they found Ferwig and Teria standing near an open doorway. The hyena morph warrior was dressed in a kilt of dark blue and green strips and a belt of dark leather. Next to him was Teria, a canine of a breed unseen this far north – A wild cape dog. She was dressed solely in a loin cloth and several strips of strategically placed black leather and gold buckles and rings. Dangling down from the loin cloth was a piece of dark blue linen edged with gold thread. No less then three gold rings dangled from her right ear.

“Aren’t you cold?” Rickkter asked casually. “I have a pair of gloves that has more material then that outfit you wear.”

Ferwig laughed. “ I was born and raised in the Sathmore mountains. A little snow doesn’t bother me. And Teria,” he explained as he caressed the dogs shoulder. “She has her magic to keep her warm all day.”

Teria turned to Ferwig and holding him close lovingly licked him on the muzzle. “And I have you to keep me warm all night,” she said seductively.

“For us the change has been a great aphrodisiac,” Teria explained.

“That’s all you’ve discovered?” Edmund said in a condescending tone. “There is more to life then just the pleasures of the flesh.”

“Tell me you haven’t found it a exhilarating to being an animal?” the woman mage said.

Edmund remembered the rush and thrill of the chase as he was running down Terrant in the market place. He felt the fur on his neck and shoulders go up and his tail tucked between his legs.

“Are we blushing?” Teria asked in a teasing voice.

Before Edmund could answer a door slammed across the hall and all eyes instinctively turned to the sound.

The figure that walked towards them looked terrible. He was a canine with a tan/golden fur that was black along his back and the top of his head. A liberal sprinkling of gray and silver spoke of maturity but his body had the lean and muscled lines of a person in fine physical shape. He was dressed solely in a pair of red shorts and a pair of fuzzy slippers. In his right hand was a mug of some liquid that might be coffee. What caught Terrant’s attention was the wild and chaotic state of the canine’s fur. It was twisted, knotted and snarled into a shapeless mass. It looked like squirrels had been nesting in it. His eyes were half shut and moved with the slow shuffling gait of person who was half dead or half asleep.

“Morning George,” Misha said cheerfully. “I see the dreaded Morning Fur has struck you hard.”

The jackal gave a short wave with his free hand and shuffled past them without stopping.

“George is not a morning person,” Misha explained.

George sipped from the mug as he walked. “Hello Edmund,” he said without looking up as he past the feline. “Spots look good on you.”

He walked past Terrant without stopping. “Hello Terrant. Don’t forget our meeting this afternoon.”

Terrant just stared at the back of the still moving jackal morph. “He really doesn’t care about the change, mine or Edmunds,” the woman said with the shock plain to hear in her voice.

“Nothing bothers George,” Misha explained. “Not even his own change.”

“What was his reaction when he changed?” Edmund asked.

Misha laughed. “At least I won’t go bald,” was his first reaction.

George stopped he shuffling and from across the room spoke loudly to the group without turning around. “I’ll tell you one thing about the curse. It’s made me stronger, faster and improved my senses immensely but my mind is still the same. Even as a woman Terrant your body is lighter and faster. A definite edge in combat. And besides it only changes your body not your mind. You have the same soul in a new and better body. Can we really call it a curse?”

No one could argue with that logic.

« Previous Part