The biting cold of winter was only just starting to lessen so all of them were glad to be in the warm, dry halls and rooms of Metamor Keep. At the moment they were standing in one of the countless halls of this odd magical castle. The hall was simply decorated, the floor was a fine, gray marble heavily veined with lines of red, blue and green. Walls of the same material were covered in places by banners and flags carrying the emblems of people and groups long dead.
Edmund stood at one end of the hall where the floor was raised several steps above the rest of the room. Standing quietly in ranks and files were the one hundred twenty men who followed his command. As a group they had served Sir Edmund Delacot faithfully for many years. In his dedication to the order of Protectors Edmund had traveled all over the Midlands and they had followed. A few like sir Terrant were also Brothers of the same order as Sir Edmund. Others were lay brothers - members of the order who had not yet taken full vows. Most were simply soldiers who had decided to follow the paladin. But all had learned to trust the paladin led them. He never asked them to go anyplace he didn't go first. If they assaulted a castle he was the first one into the breach. And when they fought an ogre last year he himself was the first to charge it.
The paladin raised a hand and the group fell silent. “After much prayer and contemplation I understand what the Great One wishes of me,” the paladin intoned solemnly. “My work lies here at Metamor Keep and the poor souls trapped in the ruins north of here.”
A murmur ran through the assembled men but it died down when he held up his hand.
“I understand how difficult this is and the hardships it will entail. This was not a decision I have made lightly. I am well aware of the curse and the effects it will have on me and all who stay. So I can't order you to stay here. Each of you must decide for yourself. In a day Sir Mursry leaves for the south. He is a bold and devoted Follower who is doing the Great One's work all over the Midlands. If you choose to depart he is a fine man to follow.”
He paused to allow that information to sink in before continuing. “Metamor is the place I am going to make my home. Cleansing the ruins of its curse and freeing the spirits trapped there will take a long time. And times here in Metamor and the Giantdowns are troubled. There will be much work for all here.” He smiled. “There is room here for us all to finally stop our wanderings and make a home where we can raise a family and live in faith. Importantly here we can really make a difference. But that decision is for you to make. This choice is your own.” Then he bowed his head for a moment. "You have till tomorrow morning to decide but you can talk to me or Terrant any time. Thank you and may the Great One guide you to the right path." With that small prayer he stepped down and walked into the group.
Two men broke off from the group and stood next to each other. There was a silence as they tried to absorb what their leader had just said.
"Well, that was shocking," one of them said. He was of middling height but had the muscled body of a person used to exercise or heavy work. The face was well tanned and possessed brown eyes and was topped by red hair cut short. The sword dangling from his belt told of his occupation being a soldier or perhaps a knight.
"Indeed," the second added. He was of the same height but had shoulder length blonde hair that framed a face set with gray eyes. "But not unexpected. He's been talking about the curse all month." He had the slightly bow legged walk of a person who's spent long hours in the saddle.
"We've all been talking about it," Charles countered. "Are you going to stay?"
Anteius shrugged. "I'm not sure."
"I've followed Sir Delacot all this way," Charles said. "I'll not stop now."
"The curse doesn't scare you?" Anteuis
"Of course it does but like Sir Edmund says. There's a lot of good work to be done at Metamor," Charles responded. "I am tired of wandering all over the Midlands. This is a good looking place to settle down,"
"You've already decided?" Anteius asked, surprised.
"I have," Charles said. "I've been pondering the idea of staying since we first came here. And don't tell me you haven't considered it."
Anteuis didn't speak but just smiled broadly.
A week later Charles got a surprise when he woke up and discovered that today was the first day of HER new life. The new woman stood there trying to adjust to the fact that the beautiful woman in the mirror was herself. The figure looking back at her was slimmer but still well muscled. One part of him wondered if his breasts would interfere with using a sword or bow.
After that an indeterminate period of time was spent trying to find a shirt that would fit over her new breasts only to discover that all his pants were now too big to fit properly. Finally she managed to get at least decently dressed. A knock at the door was a welcome distraction.
"Hello?" Came a voice from the other side. It sounded oddly familiar and yet different. "This is Edmund Delacot."
She smiled broadly and was relieved to have someone to talk to. She hastily fastened the last few buttons on her shirt. "Sir Edmund. I'm glad you're here. I've finally changed."
"Everyone has changed," the paladin said as the door opened. "Including me."
Into the room stepped a Keeper with the tall, thin, spotted form of a cheetah. The feline was wearing a tunic and pants that were at least two sizes too big for him. The only trace of the old Edmund Delacot was a gold Follower cross that hung from a chain around his neck.
The new feline and the new woman were silent as the two examined each other's new form bodies for a moment.
"Ah," she stuttered. "Is that you Sir Edmund?"
"It is. A little thinner and covered in spots but it's me," the feline responded with a nod of the head. He peered at the woman for a moment with the intensity of a hunter. "Is that you Charles?"
The woman scowled for a moment. "Call me Chantel. But my old name was Charles," she snarled.
"The name fits you nicely," Edmund responded trying to sound reassuring. "I'm glad you're in good health."
"Thank you." the woman said. "Chantel is my mother's name. It seemed appropriate."
"How are you feeling?" Edmund asked as he stepped closer. He looked the woman over carefully trying to gauge her state of mind.
"I feel . . ." She paused for a moment trying to figure out what to say. "Different." Her face was neutral. Not showing any emotions.
He gently paced as hand on the woman's shoulder. "Different good or different bad?" Edmund asked in a soft tone.
The woman shrugged. "I don't know yet. I wanted to be a lion or a leopard."
"You could have wound up as a banana slug," the paladin countered.
The woman gave a slight smile. "True. Did you say everyone has changed?" she asked changing the subject.
"Oh yes," the feline answered, letting the topic be shifted to something less personal. "It seems our whole group has changed at the same time. Have you seen Anteius yet?" Edmund asked.
"Not since I changed," she asked. "Have you? Has he changed?"
The cheetah nodded energetically. "Oh yes indeed."
She leaned close to the cheetah with a look eagerness on her face. "What did he change into?"
"A hyena," Edmund responded slowly. "A large hyena. Very large hyena."
Even when she had been a man Chantel had been a tall person. The curse had made her a woman but left her the same height. So when Anteius stood before her in his feral form she had expected to be looking down at a slightly larger hyena. Something about knee height and with a stocky build. But she had misunderstood what Edmund meant by large. The massive creature in front of her was a hyena but she found herself looking UP at Anteius' new face.
This hyena like creature stood 5 feet tall at the shoulder and the head and neck towered another foot above that. It was almost ten feet long and weighed over half a ton. Its lips pulled back in a deep, guttural snarl revealing jaws filled with an impressive array of large, sharp teeth. Looking into his muzzle felt like looking into a tunnel lined with daggers.
She had to resist the urge to run and took several steps backward without realizing it. "Great Maker. You're not big, you are HUGE!" Chantel stuttered.
Slowly the woman walked around her massive companion trying to take in the sheer size. Gingerly Chantel touched the flank. The fur was tough and wiry. Underneath the surprisingly soft skin she could feel a body of solid muscle. "You're not bigger than a horse," the woman joked. "You're bigger than two horses! You must weigh at least half a ton."
"One thousand, three hundred and forty three pounds," the massive hyena commented. "I had myself weighed."
Looking into the hyena's mouth she saw a set of very large and very sharp teeth. "No wonder Samson won't come near you. These jaws could rip him up in moments. you're new body is one hundred percent carnivore through and through."
"So I've noticed," Anteius commented dryly.
"What are you exactly? You look like some sort of hyena but I've never seen one like this," She asked.
He shook his massive head back and forth. "Neither have I. No one I know has."
"Could it be a mythological creature?" Chantel asked.
"No," Edmund said calmly. "The curse only uses real species, not imaginary ones."
"This animal is like some evil wizard's creation," the woman said. "Or something from a nightmare."
"I have seen some very strange creatures here at Metamor but all are real," the paladin commented. "Misha told me of a scholar who comes here often just to study all the unusual species the curse changes people into. Perhaps he can indentify your new species."
"Good idea," Anteius responded. "It is unnerving not knowing what I am now."
Chantel placed a hand on Anteius' shoulder. "Riding a horse is not possible anymore," the woman said calmly. "You're a carnivore and no horse will come within twenty yards of you."
"We can train a horse to accept a carnivore," Anteius commented as he shifted back to his more human like form. "It will take a long time to do it."
Chantel shook her head slowly. "Even in your two legged form you are massive." She stepped closer to the knight. The top of her head barely reached his chest. "Riding your old horse is not possible. You weigh as much as he does."
"At least you'll need to get a larger animal," Edmund added as he looked at the hyena's massive form.
The woman looked up at Anteius. "A lot larger."
"Is there a horse large enough?" the hyena asked.
"I know of at least one breed of horse capable but I don't know if any are available here," the paladin answered. "I will find out for you. But, I just had another idea," he fell silent.
"What idea?" Chantel asked as all eyes turned to the cheetah paladin.
"Well," Edmund stuttered and looked down to the ground. "In your feral form you are as large as a horse."
"Do you mean that instead of being the rider I be the ridden," Anteius responded surprised. "Let myself be ridden like a common animal."
Edmund straightened up and stared the hyena straight in the face. "You are anything but common! And I already have heard of a unit of cavalry here where both rider and mount are Keepers."
"Being ridden seems," the hyena stuttered for a moment as he looked for the right words. "Obscene."
"Well, I'll admit it sounds kinky," Chantel responded with a smile. "But why even bother with a rider? Between your feral form and this human like one you combine the best of cavalry and infantry all in one."
"A very good point," Edmund commented as he nodded his head. "But eventually we'll need to consider that at some point you'll need to carry a person. If only in an emergency. But that is a thought for the future. For now we all need to adapt to our new bodies and their capabilities. And that means training and more training."
It was a month before the expert would arrive. In that time they all filled their days with training. Most of Edmund's people had chosen to stay with him but many had chosen to go with Sir Mursry. But to compensate some of Mursry's people had decided to stay as well. In the end Edmund found himself with the same number of people as before. But this did not make things easier. The new people had to be checked and their abilities judged. Then they needed to be worked into the group as a whole. It took a long time and a lot of practice and training to turn a stranger into a fellow warrior. This was not made easier by the fact that EVERYONE had changed and no one really knew what they were capable of anymore. Thankfully Misha and George had some veteran Keepers to help.
Chantel had to get used to a form that was smaller and not as strong but one a lot more nimble. But for her it was simply adapting to a few changes. For Anteius it was harder. In addition to adapting to his newer, much larger human like form he had an entirely new body to learn how to use - his feral one. It was hard adapting to fighting without using a sword and shield but his massive body did have some very serious advantages and disadvantages.
"Alwyn," Anteius said slowly. "You don't have to stand so far away. I won't bite."
"I'm fine here," Alwyn responded. Before the curse had changed him Alwyn had been a tall, brown haired knight famous for his riding abilities. Now he was even taller. He was also a dappled, gray stallion with the long legs and graceful lines of one of the southern breeds. At the present Anteius was standing on one side of a corral along with Chantel, Edmund and Terrant. Alwyn stood on the other side of the corral with 20 feet between him and the hyena morph. Also at that end of the corral was the seven (regular) horses including Anteius own.
"Alwyn," Terrant said in a calm but firm tone. "Come over here."
The stallion Keeper took one hesitant step and then he shivered, shook his head and neighed nervously. "Sir, " he stuttered. "Ah, Ma'am. I can't. I'm afraid. Just the thought of being close to those killing jaws terrifies me."
Anteius muttered several curses and shook his massive head. "I can't get a horse near me even when he's a fellow knight."
Terrant let out a deep sigh. "This is going to take time."
"A lot of time," Chantel added.
"So you're afraid of predators," Edmund said. "So what. My sister is afraid of heights and she struggles with that every time goes even two stories above ground."
"You have to understand that you have replaced your human instincts with animal ones," Terrant said. "You have to get used to that. But also remember that you are still yourself. Your soul is still the same."
Alwyn took a deep breath. "I am a knight not an animal," he said is a firm tone. The knight slowly lifted his right leg but then froze at that point with his leg and hoof dangling in mid air. "I . . AM . . A . . KNIGHT!" The equine knight said forcefully. He planted his right leg down with a resounding thump.
"Anteius is my friend," Alwyn said in an angry tone and took another step forward. Slowly the stallion made his way forward. His steps were sometimes slow and measured and often hesitant but he never stopped moving forward. The others waited patiently and Anteius didn't move but remained as still as stone. The only sign of movement was his flanks moving in and out with each breath.
Finally the stallion stopped less than an arm's length from the hyena. He was shaking like a leaf and breathing heavily like he had just finished a long race. Slowly, tentatively he reached out with a shaky, gloved hand. It moved forward with an almost glacial slowness. When it was a hand's width from Anteius it paused for a moment. Then it moved forward again and touched the hyena morph on the shoulder.
"See," Terrant said. "You control the animal not the other way round but never forget that the animal is always there."
"It always has been," Edmund commented. "Even without the curse we are all still flesh and blood. We've all met people who never think beyond the base instincts to pleasure themselves. Alwyn, Anteius, Chantel you were all with me when we tracked down and brought justice to Lendrus the slayer. You saw what he did to those people. Those women." The paladin bared his new feline teeth in anger and disgust. "Can you really say that Lendrus was human? No he was an animal who only lived to satisfy his base instincts and desires."
"You aren't the only knight one who became a predator. It will take time to get the horses used to being around predators like you and me," Edmund said. "Until then we will have to concentrate on foot combat."
Alwyn gave a short neigh of laughter as he looked down at Anteius. "I'm taller then you are," he announced with a somewhat forced humor. "And if you make a hung like a horse joke you'll get a hoof to the face."
"Let's see just how powerful those jaws of yours really are," Edmund said firmly. The paladin, Anteius and Chantel were all standing in one of the training fields that surrounded the Lower Keep. The snow had started to melt turning much of the ground to mud. They were grateful that portions had been paved at some point in the past. The massive paving stones had been swept clean of snow and ice. There Edmund was drilling his troops most of whom were still a little awkward in their new bodies.
Behind Edmund was a wooden beam resting horizontally on two wooden blocks. Propped up against one of the blocks was a large kite shaped shield.
Edmund and Chantel each took one side of the shield and held it up at arm's length. "Now bite down hard in the shield," the cheetah morph ordered.
"Why?" Anteius asked as he examined the shield. "It's oak two inches thick and rimmed with iron."
"So?" Edmund countered. "You weigh half a ton. A little ten pound shield is no trouble. Now bite down."
The massive hyena stepped forward and gently lowered his jaws over the top edge of the shield. Slowly he closed his jaws till his teeth were against the hard wood and metal.
"Bite," Edmund said simply. "BITE HARD!" The paladin shouted loudly right into Anteius' ear. Startled, he bit down with all his might.
Anteius' powerful jaws went completely through tough material with surprising ease. He moved back a few steps and spit out the splintered remnants. Edmund and Chantel were each holding a separate piece of what was left of the shield. He had bitten completely through the oak planking with ease. "Wow."
Chantel examined the piece she was holding. The edges looked like they had been sliced through cleanly with an axe. "That's impressive!"
Edmund examined the piece of the shattered shield he was holding. "There's no armor thick enough to withstand this type of power. I bet the jaws in your human-like form will be powerful too."
"Who needs a sword or a mace," Anteius muttered.
The paladin tossed the piece he was holding onto the ground. "Indeed. Now let's really test those jaws." He pointed to timber resting on the blocks behind them.
Anteius walked up to the long piece of wood and got a good look at it. What had at first seemed to be just a log was in fact a squared off beam at least four inches thick. It had been finely cut and carefully smoothed. It was dark with age but he noticed places of charring that told of it being in a great fire. He realized this was a roof or wall beam taken from the ruins of some destroyed home. Probably destroyed in the recent Yuletide attack. He picked a spot on the wood that seemed smooth. He put his jaws around the beam placing his front incisors into the middle.
"No," Chantel ordered harshly. "Shift the wood to the back of your jaw. That's where your powerful, crushing teeth are."
Edmund turned to the woman. "How do you know that?"
"Haven't you ever watched a dog or wolf eat?" She responded. "When they are working on a bone they use their back teeth."
Edmund shook his head. "My family used hunting cats," the feline responded and gave a chirp of laughter. "Including cheetahs and lynx."
"That's ironic!" the woman said. "Do you think it had an effect on what the curse chose?"
The paladin shrugged. "Who can say? No one is sure of exactly how the curse works. The mages have all sorts theories but no answers."
The woman laughed loudly. "They never do. They're full of questions and even if they do give you an answer no one can understand it."
"Try it now," Edmund ordered and pointed to the beam. "We can find out how strong you are without some wizard confusing things."
"Now use your back teeth. Those are the ones a dog or wolf uses to crush bones so use yours," Chantel ordered.
The hyena shook his massive head side to side. "But I'm not a dog or a wolf."
"You're a hyena," the woman shrugged. "That's close enough. Now bite!" She patted the piece of wood with one hand.
Anteius wrapped his jaws around the timber and ran his tongue over the smooth surface. He could taste the wood, that odd tangy flavor. He pushed his jaws further over the beam till the wood was pressed against the back of his mouth and could go no further. The hyena drew his jaws together until he felt his teeth start to push into the wood. The crunching of wood came to his ears as the hyena knight felt the material slowly give way. The cracking grew louder as his jaws continued to crush and slice their way through the tough oak timbers. As he got into the heart of the wood it grew harder and he had to strain harder and harder. Suddenly there was a loud CRACK and his jaws snapped shut.
Surprised Anteius pulled his head back and spit the wood out of his mouth. The beam in front of him tumbled to the ground in two pieces.
"Great Maker!" Chantel whispered, a look of surprise and fear on her face.
It was early morning when Anteius and Chantel found themselves waiting in a small hall along with Edmund.
"Why are we here sir?" Anteius asked as he looked around. The room was fairly large but sparsely decorated. Only a few simple tapestries broke the monotony of the stone walls and floors.
"Our expert has finally arrived!" Edmund chirped happily. There was a happy twinkle in his eyes.
Chantel smiled broadly and clapped her hands."Finally!"
"I was beginning to think he wasn't coming," the hyena morph commented.
"The scholar is coming all the way from Silvassa," the paladin responded. "So he can only come here twice a year."
Chantel shook her head. "The man came from Silvassa?" She exclaimed. "I'm surprised he came here at all!"
"Misha is bringing him here now," the paladin explained. "They only just arrived."
The hyena cocked his head to one side. "They?"
Before Edmund could answer a door behind him opened and Misha walked in. There were several fox morphs at Metamor but the missing ear and scar on his muzzle made him easily recognizable.
Anteius had imagined the scholar to be some gray haired old man who was traveling alone except for a young apprentice. Instead a dozen people followed behind the fox scout. It seems the professor not only came but he brought his entire staff too.
Misha pointed to the gentleman at the head of the group. "This is Decius Pulini. Scholar of the University of Silvassa. Holder of the order of the Blue Star and an esteemed member of the university council. He's been good enough to bring along his senior students and staff to help."
Decius was wearing a long, flowing robe of dark brown edged with gold and silver. His blonde hair was cut short and framed a face that was bright. His eyes alert and seemed to take in all the aspects of everyone present.
Anteius bowed to the new arrivals. "It's an honor to meet you sir. You study unusual Keepers like me?"
Decius returned the bow with one of his own. "My true area of study is rare, ancient, mostly extinct animal life," the scholar said excitedly.
Chantel bowed to the new arrival. Protocol called for a woman to curtsy but some elements of being a woman she refused to give in to. "Is it true you've traveled here from Silvassa?"
The man smiled and returned her bow courteously. "Oh yes! It's not a difficult voyage. We took a ship to Menth and from there a caravan to the Keep. And it is well worth all the fuss and bother of the journey. The curse here at Metamor has been a great boon to me. I've been able to see in the flesh creatures I've only seen as bones or as badly drawn pictures. Instead of just seeing a handful of bones I can see a full, living creature. It's been a priceless gift. In the last six years I've indentified 173 new species," he said cheerfully. "And completed 145 others we've had only partial information about."
"I'm glad that such good has come from the curse," Edmund said.
"We're hoping to mount a full expedition here later this year," Decius commented. "To do a more in depth study."
"Aren't you worried about the curse?" Chantel asked. "Everyone else seems to be."
"I'm aware of the curse," the scholar answered as he walked up to Anteius. "I am also aware of its limitations. All problems can be resolved or dealt with if you understand it. And what we are learning here is well worth the risk."
"It's a risk but a calculated one," The cheetah added.
"Yes. If you do not mind sir we'll begin our examination," Decius said. "With the time limit of the curse we do have to move fast."
Edmund nodded. He turned his head to where Anteius was standing. "Of course. Is it all right with you?"
His massive hyena head bobbed. "I can understand the need for haste."
"You want to study animal species," Chantel commented. "And not be one."
The scholar slowly nodded. "Yes. Still appearing at this year's symposium as a Elephant would make quite a commotion."
That got a round of laughter from everyone.
"All right," Decius said in the tones of a leader. "You all know you assigned tasks. "Let's get to them."
"Please hold still sir Anteius," he said to the large hyena. "This will take some time. We will be most thorough in our examine but we'll try and be discrete and polite."
The students spread out in a circle around Anteius. Some started drawing sketches. Two others took out measuring cords and started measuring various parts of his body. They called out the results to other students who studiously wrote them down.
"So," Anteius asked slowly. "What am I? What species?"
"I have no idea," the scholar explained without stopping his examination of Anteius' right front leg. "But it's obviously some sort of hyena."
"I've traveled to many places," the woman commented. "But I've never seen any hyena like this."
Decius left the front leg alone and stood up straight. "I'd be surprised if you had. The species has probably been extinct for millennia."
The hyena pulled its head back in surprise causing the whole group to stop for a moment. Several stepped back. "Extinct? What happened to them?"
Decius shrugged and gave a wave of the hand to get everyone back to their tasks. "No one knows. There are many species that once existed but have vanished leaving only bones and questions. They are believed to have lived about the same time as the Giant wolf and the Saber cat."
"What's a Sabercat?" Edmund asked.
"It is a large, stocky feline with large, front teeth that protrude downward," the scholar explained and placed his hands to his mouth in imitation of the teeth. "The incisors could be up to a foot long."
"I've heard stories of a creature," Misha said slowly. "Legends really. The Lutins speak of a large cat with teeth as long as a sword blade. They call it a Ghost Cat."
The scholar stared at Misha intently. "You never mentioned this before."
"You never mentioned the Sabercat before," the fox countered. "And I've only just recently heard the tales about it."
"Giant wolves have survived," Edmund commented slowly. "Why not Saber cats as well?"
Excellent point," Decius responded. "But seeing as the only place they might be is the Giantdowns there is no chance of looking for one."
"At least for the near future," Misha commented. "The Giantdowns is huge. Larger than the rest of the continent combined. There is no telling what wonders await us there."
"Someday we will explore it," Decius said firmly. "We can wait another century or two."
"Only a century or two?" Edmund said with a chirp of laughter.
"These animals have waited 15,000 years to be discovered," the scholar explained. "What's another century or two?"
The fox scout gave a quizzical look to the scholar. "You scholars always think in such long terms?"
"You think 200 years is a long time?" Decius asked with a smile. "The oldest sample I have in my collection is the jawbone of some reptile. It's four feet long and 3.4 million years old."
"3.4 MILLION years?" Anteuis asked amazed. "I didn't think creation was that old."
"No wonder a century or 2 doesn't bother you. It does feel like nothing compared to 3 million years," the feline commented.
"I've tested the bone myself several times and the spells confirmed the age. So many species have come and gone over the years leaving no trace except for a few scattered bones," Decius said with a shake of the head. "So sad. Some have even theorized that at one time there were only reptiles on the planet. No mammals at all."
"Do you believe it?" Edmund asked.
Decius shrugged. "It seems very unusual but as proof there are the Tened. An entirely reptilian race. We know they did exist. There are the ruins of Tened construction as proof."
Decius looked at Anteius. "You're a knight are you not? Misha mentioned that."
"I am sir," the hyena knight responded. "I've been riding almost since before I could walk. We have been acclimatizing some of the horses to my presence but my sheer size is a problem."
"The only horse breed I know large enough to bear your form would be the Haltstier," the scholar commented. "And I have not seen any outside of Sathmore and Pyralis."
"There are none here," Edmund explained. "Few in the Northern Midlands and none at all in Metamor. Duke Thomas has little heavy cavalry."
"That's not surprising," Misha added. "All the fighting here is with raiders and ambushes. Speed and maneuverability are the order of the day. So if you want to be in the cavalry it won't be while riding something. At least until we can import some from the south."
"I will NOT wear a saddle," Anteius snarled as he waved his head back and forth. "I am not some mindless riding animal!"
Edmund patted the hyena on the back. "Never fear. We will not force anything on you Anteius. You can still be in the cavalry. Just without a rider. You can move in full form and then shift to your human like one when needed. You'll have the best of being both cavalry and infantry."
"What about my weapons, armor and clothing?" Anteius asked. "I cannot just carry them in my mouth."
"What about a simple harness?" Decius asked. "While in your morph form it could be a harness on your chest and shoulders. When you go full form it would hold your weapons. And if need be you can carry someone who can use the straps to hold on. Or if they're too wounded they can be tied to the straps till you get them to safety."
"How am I supposed to adjust such straps if I have no hands after I change?" the hyena asked.
"The Keepers have perfected a form of magic armor and clothing that changes to fit whatever form the wearer has," the scholar explained. "So when you change from morph to full animal shapes the armor changes too."
"I like that idea," Anteius said slowly. "This form is powerful but I'd feel better with good, solid armor on too."
"I can find you some armor to fit," Misha said. "But it will take some time. We don't have many as big as you. I'll talk to the armorer. DeMule must have a set that fits you somewhere."
"You have armor large enough to fit this?" Anteius patted his chest with one paw.
"Metamor's armories seem to have everything. If you know where to look," Misha replied. "I actually saw barding for an elephant once."
"Armor for an elephant?" Decious asked with a surprised look on his face. "Here?"
"Oh yes," the fox said. "I've no idea how it got here. No one does."
The scholar laughed. "No matter how often I come, Metamor always surprises me."
Misha gave a yip of laughter as his tail flipped back and forth. "I've lived here for over eight years and Metamor still surprises me every day."
The group around the hyena slowly filtered over to Decius and each handed the scholar several pages of papers or parchment. Decius waited till the last person had given him the last page of notes. He turned to Anteius who was still waiting patiently in his full feral form. "Thank you Anteius. We're done with the full animal form of the examination. Can you please resume your anthropomorphic form."
Edmund titled his head to one side in curiosity. "I thought you were only interested in the wild animals."
"I am but several scholars back at the university are studying the effects of the curse," the man answered. "And all the information we can gather is helpful. We especially want to compare the difference between your feral form and your morph form."
The massive hyena reared up on its hind legs and balanced there for a moment swaying back and forth a little. Then his torso shifted and he stood up straight as the paws on the front legs changed into proper hands. In moments Anteius was in his most human like form and totally naked.
One of Decius's students, a young woman with long, red hair looked at Anteius and smiled at the sight of his nude form. Then she turned red with embarrassment when she saw that the hyena morph had noticed her gaze.
Anteius quickly stepped across the room to where a pile of clothing rested in a neat pile. His large hands rummaged through the pile before pulling out a small loin cloth. Hastily he pulled it on and buttoned it closed. He secured a belt around his waist and gave a look to be sure the private parts were covered. "So you've never seen a hyena like me?"
Decius didn't look up from the large sheaf of notes in his hands but kept on reading. "No! It's completely unknown. It doesn't even have a name yet."
"Since it has no name yet do we get to name it?" Edmund asked as his tail whipped back and forth.
Decius still didn't look up from his papers but he did nod energetically in response. "Oh yes! By right of first discovery."
"So what do we call it?" Terrant asked. "What do we call this new breed of hyena?"
"What name do you give to a gigantic hyena?" Misha asked.
"What about hyenadon?" Came the suggestion from Edmund.
Decius finally looked up from his papers and smiled. "That's an impressive sounding name. What does it mean?"
"Gigantic hyena in an old Seuil," the paladin responded simply.