by Billy Morph

A deep growl thundered in the tiger’s throat as steel flashed a blood ran down her arms.

“I can’t believe you let him get away,” Krissy snarled, as the pig leg was sundered in two and she chanced a look around the bustling kitchen to see if anyone was watching before disembowelling the rest of the carcass with her claws.

“I hope those paws are clean!” Mrs Klain bellowed in an instant and Krissy winced, picking the knife back up to finish her work.

“Sorry,” she shot back, her voice permeating even the din of the kitchen, and perched on the bench behind her, Hale rolled his eyes as he crunched on a pilfered apple.

“Stupid old shrew,” he muttered.

“She’s a very good cook,” Krissy pointed out, shrugging.

“And also a shrew,” Hale replied.

“Says the former girl to tiger,” she said, slicing a haunch into thin slices with a flick of the cleaver. “And we might have been able to fix that if you hadn’t let Garison get away.”

Hale rolled his eyes again. “Who wants fixing?”

“I, and half this keep if the local rumour mill is to be believed,” Krissy snapped, rounding on Hale, bloody knife held all to close to his throat. “So you’d better explain it to me before anyone else finds out you had a shot at stopping him.”

Hale held up his hands and bent backwards, away from the blade “Hey hey hey,” Hale said, eyes widening. “Let’s not do anything rash.”

Krissy bared her fangs, a low growl rising in her throat.

“Oi, save it for training day!” Mrs Klain roared. The woman seemed incapable of anything but screaming at the top of her lungs.

“I hate this,” Krissy hissed, whirling on the meat and proceeded to chop the haunches, bones and all with mighty swings of the cleaver. “I never used to get this angry.”

“Actually, I think it’s because people tremble instead of laugh these days,” Hale admitted, dropping the apple core in a nearby soup bowl and standing. “Not that you’re being more aggressive.”

The tiger rumbled again. “I managed to tear our old travelling pack to shreds the other day. Once I struggled to lift it.”

“You’ve been carrying it for over a year now,” Hale replied, missing the point.

“Never mind,” Krissy sighed, and slammed the cleaver into the table. It was easy. That was the problem. She’d never been strong, or brave, or anything that the killer animal that had taken up residence in her was. “I just- Want normal to be normal again.”

Hale looped an arm over her shoulders. He had to reach up quite a way “Look,” he began, waving away a few concerned onlookers. “I know this is weird, and it didn’t work out quite as I intended.” Krissy let lose a bitter laugh that sounded somewhere between a growl and a snort. “But Garison did not have an answer. He had at best a patch. I spent all day being drilled about it by the mages yesterday and after a half ton of reverse engin... egnin...”

He frowned. “Working backwards. They figured that their best mages would be able to keep it up for a few minutes.”

“Garison had it working for hours,” Krissy muttered.

“Yeah, well I think they’re missing something,” Hale admitted. “But what does a rude peasant girl from a backwater village know?”

“We’re stuck here, drop the act,” Krissy sighed. Not expecting much to come of it but trying anyway.

“The fact that we’re stuck her is all the more reason to keep it up,” Hale shot back, checking again to make sure no one was listening in. “I’m not planning on running again.”

“Thank you,” Krissy whispered, wiping moisture from her eyes. “And I’m sorry.

“No need,” Hale said without a moment’s pause.

“Yes, need,” Krissy corrected with a rumble, dragging herself to her feet. “I should be keeping a hold over this. Everyone else seems to, but. But- urgh.”

She took up the cleaver again, and Hale stepped away, along with everyone else within ten yards.

“Everything feels like it should be prey,” she growled, hacking at the poor pig, her strokes getting larger and more powerful with each swing. With luck someone had asked for pâté, because that was all they were getting.

“A good chunk of the keep is,” Hale admitted, his eyes glued on the blade. “Erm, Krissy...“

“No! Everyone. The humans, the wolves, even the kids.” The chopping board was notching now but she paid no head. “There’s something at the back of mind whispering about how good they would taste. Instinct hard wired to kill.” She’d run out of meat a few moments ago but no one felt like pointing it out to the whirl of steel and teeth. “The only blasted thing that it seems to think twice about is the bears, and even then it’s like it’s murmuring ‘go on, you can take them’. Well I’m not killing for it!”

Dead silence fell as she roared in defiance and slammed the cleaver clean through the board, splitting it across the grain and the blade embedded itself in the table below.

“Bugger,” she swore, clutching her hand as the impact sent ripples of pain through her wrist.

“Hey tiger,” a man interjected and Krissy rounded on him and got halfway into a snarl before she recognised the twin swords on the sleeve of his arming doublet marking him as a sergeant.

“Yes?” she muttered. It was official; calling Kristin by her species was not a way to get into her good books.

“You’ve got a lot of strength lad,” the sergeant began. He was some kind of wild dog; short and wiry, with a permanent scowl fixed on his muzzle that was currently warped into what looked like an attempt at an encouraging smile. “Were you like that in your weapon’s trials?”

“I didn’t do them,” Krissy replied, crossing her arms. “I can cook. They said that meant I could work here.”

“Bit of a waste of talent though,” the sergeant pressed. “Chopping vegetables when you could be chopping Lutins. You could work out a bit of that aggression as well.”

“Lutins?” Krissy queried. “They’re the one’s that made this curse aren’t they.”

“Well, their leader,” the sergeant admitted. “But yes.”

The tiger looked down at her claws and flexed them, picking a bit of pig flesh from one. “Okay, I’ll give it a shot.”

“So have you ever done any weapons drills?” the sergeant inquired as Krissy and her bother followed him through the corridors of the keep. Hale had a fowl expression on his face, as he often did when trying to navigate. For someone who always knew where he was the fact that where he was kept shifting put his teeth on edge.

“No, she hasn’t,” he muttered at the same time Krissy said.

“Yes, I have.”

Hale looked at her in surprise. “When?”

“Back in that Eastern King’s palace,” she explained. “While you were fanning around I cajoled one of my guards into giving me a few primers.”

“You didn’t tell me,” Hal said, frowning.

“You didn’t ask,” Krissy shot back, and pulled off a far more intimidating look.

“I take it you know your way around a basic blade then,” the sergeant injected.

“Heck no, blades weren’t peasant weapons,” Krissy sighed. “And I am well into that category. I used a battle sickle.”

“Urgh, I remember those things,” Hale said, shuddering. “I nearly lost my gut to one.”

The tiger grumbled. “That’s because you never block.”

“I’ve never found the need,” he replied with a grin.

“I can give you a few lessons too if you’re interested,” the sergeant suggested to Hale.

“You wouldn’t help my fighting style,” the young man replied, rolling his eyes. “Besides I’d best get back to the mages quarters before my lessons start.” Hale took a sudden side corridor and was whisked away by the keep.

Krissy sighed as her brother lied yet again. Where he was actually working in the keep was the wrong question, given Hale hadn’t worked an honest day since he’d turned sixteen. But it would take a braver man the sergeant though to pick through the full dozen people Hale was claiming to be the subordinate of. So far Krissy reckoned that the only job he hadn’t said he was doing was bodyguard to the Duke and that would only be a matter of time.

“That boy’s going to get a lutin knife in his back,” the sergeant muttered.

“Not if he sees them coming,” Krissy admitted.

“With lutins you don’t. That’s why they’re dangerous. Now if I’ve any sense left in me, this is the armoury.”

They ducked through a little door on the left, the tiger bending double to fit, and emerged into too large a room. Krissy whipped round as the now much larger door was shut, and shook her head. She was never going to get a hang of this place.

A moment later she saw the armoury a gasped. Like everything in the keep it was much too big for her never to have encountered the place before. Heck, the row upon row of polished steel stretched seemingly to infinity underneath the arched ceiling and the tiger shook her head in disbelief. ‘Roll with it’, that had been what they’d said in the kitchens, ‘don’t let the weirdness get to you’.

“Oh, what the hell,” she muttered, and followed the sergeant into the bowls of the depository.

“Like it?” he asked, beaming with pride. “The Longs may have all the fancy stuff in their little storeroom. But this is where the real army of Metamor gets its steel.”

Krissy would have been lying to say she liked the place. The whole thing reeked of oil, maybe with a touch of blood, and the distant clatter of metal on metal was ringing in her ears. Still, the man seemed so pleased she was hard pressed to say anything derogatory.

“It’s... huge,” she eventually settled on. “There must be enough here to equip an army.”

“Yep, damned if I know where it comes from,” the sergeant drawled. “Still Kyia provides and I’m not complaining. Now, do you have a preference for a weapon?”

“Sickle swords were awful,” Krissy admitted. “So, anything but. I knew my way around a dagger.”

“Yeah, I think a dagger might be a little bit small for you now lad,” the sergeant said, looking Krissy up and down. “Let’s try the big toys and work our way down...” He paused. “I haven’t asked your name yet have I?”

“Kristin,” Krissy replied, and the sergeant frowned at the feminine pronunciation.

“Err, two curses?” he hazarded.

“No, still a girl,” she said, smiling. Well, showing teeth at least.

“Ah...” he paused again while he strove to find a way to get out of the hole he’d just dug. “No, I can’t think of anything I can say to avoid my demise.”

“Right answer.”

“Works on the Misses as well,” he said with a very canine grin and the cat scowled at him. “Now, while it goes against my instincts to give an angry woman a sword, let’s see about getting you armed. You can call me Sarge by the way.”

Krissy raised an eyebrow at that, but decided to let it go.

“Hale uses a short sword,” she suggested as they past row upon row of weaponry.

“Yeah that might be a little short,” Sarge replied. “No pun intended. I think we should start with one of these.” He paused by a stand of great swords, most taller than he. “Give it a swing.”

“I won’t even be able to lift that,” the tiger protested, and Sarge rolled his eyes and hefted one of the blades out of the rack, holding it high for Krissy to grab. “Seriously, I used to struggle with those flour bags.”

“That’ll be good to know if you ever go into battle wielding flower,” he shot back. “Take. It.”

Krissy sighed, and almost lost her grip as she heaved on the blade and it went sailing over her head.


She spun, shifting her hands on the hilt to get a better grip and managed to stop the blade just before it hit the floor.

“Okay, that’s actually quite light,” she admitted, resting the point on the flagstones. The pommel still only came up to her chin.

“Well if guys like me can use one,” Sarge said, rolling his eyes. “I’d hate to fight someone of your stature wielding it. And with a bit of work we can get the Lutins feeling the same.”

“You know, I don’t think I’m cut out for fighting,” Krissy admitted, holding the blade in a sloppy ready position. “I mean. I’ve always stayed out of the fights and I could probably just out ruargh!”

She leapt backwards as Sarge’s baton whistled towards her and yelped as she managed to get the blade in the way

“No offence to the cooks,” he began, fainting left and struck out with a fierce underarm blow which Krissy caught on the hilt. “But I think you might be better served up here.”

The final swing was a quick jab which Krissy stopped by taking one hand off the handle and grabbing his arm.

“Just give the damn sword a good swing,” he said, disentangling himself from Krissy’s grip and took a few smart steps back.

She sighed, wound up for a swipe as if she was about to hit an apple with a stick and swung the blade with all her might. I thrummed as it cleaved through the air and far too late Krissy realised it was slipping and sunk her claws into the hilt only to find it was metal and so the blade went spinning off into the depths of the armoury.

“Well-“ Sarge began, then there was a clatter as the blade demolished a suit of armour. “We need to work on your grip. Also you need a heavier blade.”

“Heavier?” Krissy protested, as he drew a second blade out of the stand. This one was if possible, nastier than the first. The blade was thinner, but the hilt large and broad and, Krissy noted in surprise, festooned with spikes. Instead of a pommel there was a spear tip, the cross-guard was sharpened to points and about eight inches down the blade twin knife edges leapt from the metal, sticking out further than most daggers.

“Now this is a nasty weapon,” Sarge said, whistling through his teeth as he held the blade aloft. “I hope the red’s just paint.”

“I’m not quite sure that’s the weapon for me,” Krissy said, taking a step back. “Actually, I’m not sure there is a weapon for me.”

“You know, I’ve always found the best way to knock aggression out of a person is to have them beat up training dummies for hours on end,” Sarge observed.

Kristin paused, growled something, then snatched the blade away from him, swinging it in a wide circle. Slower than the last one, but Sarge held up his club, with too much optimism in Krissy’s opinion but she brought the blade round in a lazy swing and sent the club spinning to the floor.

“Yeah, that’s your sword,” Sarge declared, picking up the club and fingering the new notch.

“It doesn’t feel that heavy,” Krissy admitted as she followed him to the practice fields. She fingered the edge and lost a clump of fur. “Nor did I expect it to be that sharp.”

“Metamor keeps them remarkably well,” Sarge admitted, as the sound of metal on metal began to ring in Krissy’s ears. “And it should feel light. That means we’ve got the balance right.”

“That doesn’t mean the sword’s right,” she murmured. Looking down the length of the black blade. There was something off-putting about the weapon, or maybe it was just the fact it was a weapon and a great sword at that. It was a noble’s weapon, or a hero’s, not some peasant girls from the quiet end of nowhere.

She pricked her finger on the pommel and smeared the blood across the cross-guard without noticing as Sarge bellowed.

“Oi, you!” At a surprised squirrel morph. “Stop battering that bit of wood and find someone your own size to practice with.” The rodent scurried away, and Sarge stopped by the battered wooden dummy.

“Right,” he began. “With a blade like that you’ve got two choices, no make that three. First, chop at them like you’re using an axe. Hit here.” He tapped the nape of the shoulder. “Here.” The armpits. “Here.” The sides of the leg. “And this one’s popular,” he concluded, rapping the groin with his club. “No matter what any nobleman says to you.”

“Stabbing,” he began.

“Is this really the right weapon for stabbing?” Krissy cut in.

“It’s longer than some spears, its fine,” he snapped. Kristin grumbled, it didn’t feel like a fencing weapon to her.

“Stabbing you hit the chest, or leg, or throat if you can manage,” Sarge explained. “Anywhere that’ll bleed them. And if they get close enough to be in your guard hit them with those spikes. Head’s the best bet, but anywhere will put them off balance enough to avoid you getting a blade in the gut.”

“Hit them somewhere meaty and they die, got it,” Krissy clipped, taking the sword in both hands. The cat in the back of her head was winding itself up for a fight and for once she let it play.

Sarge steeped away and gave a few growled commands on Krissy’s grip and stance as she braced herself in front of the dummy, which someone had drawn a crude smiling face on. Most of the advice she ignored, just putting the weapon where it felt best and in a sudden explosion of movement she had the blade over her head and slammed it down into the shoulder of the dummy. There was an ear-splitting crack and she slid the blade out of the fractured wood and dropped back into a ready position.

“Good,” Sarge said after a moment. “Don’t use that kind of swing in a battle; you’ll get stabbed in somewhere vital.”

Kristin rolled her eyes. She’d like to see someone try.

“You want to focus on getting just enough power behind your blows to cause a wound, not chop their arms off,” he explained, as Krissy dropped into another series of strikes. By anyone’s measure they were clumsy and amateurish, a kid playing with her father’s sword, but she was still moving faster than half the people on the range and leaving deep notches in the wood.

“And watch your guard, try and stop a bit of that follow through it’s leaving you open,” he continued, watching the tiger hammer away. “Try closing in.”

Kristin darted forwards, leading with a smash to the dummy’s face with the cross-guard and, while she imagined the figure reeling, lifted the sword high in the air and slammed the hilt into the head, the spear point biting deep into the wood.

“Reckon he’s dead?” she inquired, taking her hands away from the sword a moment and it stayed quivering in the dummy’s head.

“You’re enjoying yourself aren’t you?” Sarge asked, a knowing grin spreading across his face.

“More than I’ll tell Hale, yes,” she admitted.

“Want to do this full time?”

“Oh yeah.”

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” Hale said, flipping the pair of short sticks in his hands. “Reckon these are strong enough?”

“Probably not,” Krissy admitted, hefting a tree bough. After Hale had almost lost an arm the other day even with Krissy’s sword wrapped in cloth they’d given up sparing with actual weapons. “And what do you have a problem with this time?”

Hale raised his sticks in a loose guard and the siblings faced each other down across the courtyard of the inn. “It’s boring,” he told her, and Kristin charged, roaring.

She swung with a colossal blow and Hale vanished, appearing a heartbeat later only to have to throw himself out of the way as Krissy’s faint caught him by surprise and he rolled to his feet as she pressed the attack.

“I don’t find it boring,” Krissy pointed out, as Hale slapped both sticks against her bough and sent it skittering away and almost got through her guard but Krissy got the branch back round and slapped it against his wrist. Hale vanished.

“You’re guarding a caravan,” Hale shot back, smacking the tiger across the tail and flickered again as she whirled, the bough hitting nothing but air. “Hardly the noblest of duties.”

“It’s been a month,” Krissy growled, glancing round for her errant brother. “I’m not going to be leading an assault on the black keep.” There was a whisper of air to her right and she moved without looking, slamming the butt of the branch into the empty air.

“Argh,” Hale exclaimed as he appeared, and danced backwards as the blow came all too close. “Nice.”

“See this training is good for something,” Kristin replied, swing the bough round but Hale was gone again.

“Yeah, but I can teach you to fight if that’s all you want,” he shot back, voice echoing around the enclosed space, and Krissy spun the tip of the limb around in a slow circle. He was no where to be seen, or more likely always popping behind her.

“Ha, I asked.” She reversed the bough, stabbing the air behind her and Hale appeared in front. “You never agreed,” she pressed as he struck. She dropped her limb and grabbed at him, one paw clasped over his wrist and she squeezed, forcing him to drop the stick, but the other hand was faster and caught her in the shoulder before she could react. The tiger didn’t even flinch from the blow.

“No fair,” Hale snapped, vanishing again, the dropped stick disappearing off the ground with a whisper and Krissy picked up her bough again. “That was supposed to be a direct hit.”

“I have a thick hide these days,” Kristin explained, shrugging. “And you’re evading.”

“Of course, I don’t want to be hit by that thing.”

The tiger growled. “Still evading. Why don’t you want me to be able to defend myself?”

“I do,” Hale protested, appearing before her palms raised. “I also don’t want you to have to defend yourself. I promised mum no one was going to hurt you.”

“You promised her nothing. We ran,” Krissy snapped.

“I promised that no one was going to hurt you,” Hale pressed. “Why care who it was too? I don’t want to put you in danger, and I don’t want to see you thrown into the meat grinder in this blasted senseless war.”

“We’re defending the realm,” Krissy shot back.

“The realm will defend itself with or without you,” Hale replied. “You don’t have to put yourself in danger.”

Two hundred odd pounds of fur and muscle slammed into him and they crashed to the floor, Krissy with both paws on his shoulders and the man struggled for a moment before yellowed teeth unveiled themselves a bare inch from his nose.

“It was your choice to come here Haley,” Kristin growled, a deep predatory rumble that put Hale’s hair on end. “And that choice put me in the body of a killer. Live, with, the, consequences.”

Hale flickered, and then was standing a good ten feet away from the enraged animal. He didn’t face her.

“We can always run,” he suggested.

“Leave!” the cat bellowed, the word degenerating into an unintelligible roar as she lost all control.

Hale vanished and didn’t reappear.

“There’s no where left to run,” the cat growled, sinking onto her belly, all traces of humanity fading from her as she buried her face in her paws. There were only two ways to leave the valley, as pet or as a rug.

The tiger sobbed in the quiet of the courtyard.

“I want to go home.”

“You know what this place needs?” Raff, a scruffy housecat morph, announced as the cart rumbled through the woods.

Krissy hadn’t wanted to move, let alone go on duty, but duty must and it wasn’t like she had anything better to do than watch a cart for the next two days.

“Apart from a roaring fire,” Jan, their sergeant inquired. It was a small escort, just four guards and one scout, who Krissy hadn’t seen in hours.

Just why they were guarding a cart through the south of the valley hadn’t been explained, which seemed to be typical for the infantry, but Kristin had figured it all came down to money. The caravan guards wanted more for risking the curse, so instead of just paying them the fist of coppers extra Metamor had offered its own idle soldiers for a modest fee. Everyone was happy, trade flowed, money came back to the keep and the only people to lose out where the poor shmoes trudging through the November snow.

Raff, one of the aforementioned shmoes, shivered, clutching his cloak tighter. “Yes, but I meant back at the keep.”

“What do we need Raff?” Douglass, the deer morph, sighed.

“Thicker coats?” Krissy suggested. Everyone was wrapped up against the cold, even the cloth merchant was huddled within his wears, but she still had just a simple set of hide armour over her fur. It was going to be murder come summer time.

“No,” Raff protested. “More cat girls.”

Jan sunk her head into her hands. She could see how this was going to end.

“A third of the keep got turned into women,” Doug pointed out, as Krissy flexed her claws in anticipation.

“Blegh,” Raff said, blanching. “And they all used to be guys, no thanks. I want a girl that makes you stand to attention and say meow.”

Jan sighed. “Raff, this is your last warning before you get yourself hurt.”

“I just want a slinky girl with feline grace and great big... personality.” He squeezed the air and Dough let lose a snort. “Warm fur pressing against you and running their tongues down your—”

“Permission to strike Raff Ma’am,” Krissy clipped.


“What!” Raff exclaimed, as Krissy reached over a hit the cat hard enough to spin his helmet and he yowled in surprise. “What was that for?” he spluttered.

“I’m a girl you moron,” Krissy growled.

Raff paused, looking her up and down. “You are?” he asked at length, and Kirssy’s hackles leapt up.

“Well done Raff,” Jan sighed. “There were many things you could have said there to avoid a mauling, but that was not one of them.”

“Was that permission to maul?” Krissy inquired.


“Okay, let me be clearer,” Raff began. “I meant to say we’re short of hot cat girls.”

“How about now?” Krissy pressed. “No one has to find out.”

“Still no,” Jan sighed.

“Just an ear maybe?”

“Kristin, drop—”

“Ah...!” echoed through the forest.

“What the?” the three animal morphs all said in unison, flicking their ears.

“Weapons,” Jan muttered, hand on her sword and one by one the keepers unsheathed their swords.

“What’s going on?” the merchant asked, pulling a short bow out from under the piles of cloth.

“Don’t know,” Jan admitted, all four guards scanning the tree line for movement. “Probably trouble.”

There was a buzz and just enough time for Doug to yell. “Look out!” Before an arrow embedded itself Jan’s chest.

“Ambush!” Raff yelled, about five seconds to late and he dropped to the floor as another quarrel caught Doug in the neck.

The merchant was returning fire as another arrow spun out from between the trees, almost tumbling in mid-flight and hit Krissy in the shoulder. The point thudded into her armour, but stopped short with another inch of fur to go through before being anything but a nuance and Krissy heard the archer scream in pain as the cloth merchant’s missile disappeared into the wood.

A human burst out from the trees, dressed in rough leathers, wielding a rusty sword and Krissy pegged him as a bandit from his three day stubble and desperate look in his eyes.

The man bellowed as he charged the merchant, only to be overshadowed by the tiger’s roar as Krissy rushed him. He swung his sword around to parry the tiger’s bade and the clash of metal on metal rang across the road as Krissy pressed her attack. There was another clatter, and the bandit swiped at the tiger, his blade falling well short and Krissy swung high, aiming for his shoulder. The bandit leapt forward, darting left and brought his sword around in a wild blow that Krissy just caught short of her kidneys.

With another cry the human swung again and Krissy fought to get her sword between her and the flashing death. His sword caught on the great-sword’s bladelets and for half a heart beat he tried to overpower Kristin before realising that just was not going to work.

Krissy stumbled forwards as the human darted back and the resistance vanished but ran with it, closing the distance faster than she had any right to and tried to bring the sharpened pommel down on the bandit’s head. He dodged, pressing himself against the tiger, pinning his sword arm but sending Krissy’s blow wide and she barrelled into him, shoulder cracking him over the skull.

The man staggered backwards as the two fighters disengaged, clutching at his head and struggling to keep his sword up. Krissy wound back with her blade and hit him round with the flat round the ear, huffing as the bandit crumpled to the earth and didn’t even try and get back up.

“Little help!” Raff called, fending off a pair of bandits who’d pinned him against the cart and Krissy stepped round yelling.

“Duck!” as she swung with the huge blade. Raff dropped to the ground, so did the sharper of the two bandits, but the other didn’t think that advice applied to him and so the sword slammed into the mail draped across his shoulders and he bellowed in pain as his sword dropped from his broken arm.

“Niceyoowwl!” Raff screamed as the final bandit, a little quicker on the uptake than the cat, caught Raff in the nuts with the hilt of his sword. That did leave Kristin with a slight dilemma as to whether to stab the bandit or shake him by the hand on behalf of womankind, but the flash of steel soon solved that.

“Come on, surrender,” Krissy growled, as the slow bandit got a rap to the head from the merchant’s cudgel and slumped to the ground, but her opponent didn’t even miss a step, striking low and fast with his own sword.

Their blades met with a crash and Krissy swatted the bandit’s weapon into the earth and slammed the flat of her cross-guard into the guy’s septum. He gasped, but held his ground, and Krissy whirled away as he swung the blade up between her legs and a clump of orange fur went spiralling into the snow.

Kristin went with the spin, bringing her sword round in a huge arc and the bandit braced himself against the blow that he just caught, pushing the tiger to a standstill with her sword bare inches from his throat. Both fighters snarled at each other, and the bandit flicked his sword and sent Krissy off balance, her blade hitting nothing but air as she stumbled and the tip dug deep into the earth.

The bandit grinned in triumph as he went for the coup de grace, and almost looked surprised as Krissy punched him in the jaw, wrenching her weapon from the ground and slammed the sharpened cross guard into his ear. There was a crack as the guard sunk deep into the man’s head and his eyes misted as he slid of the blackened metal and crumpled to the floor. Very dead.

Krissy raised the blood soaked blade high over her head and roared her dominance to the battlefield.

“Now that,” Raff gasped, dragging himself to his feet. “Was—”

“If you say hot I’m going to stab you,” Krissy snarled, rounding on the cat.

“I was going to say awesome,” he muttered, hanging his head.

“Oh right. Um, thanks?” Krissy hazarded. “Go check Doug and Jan, see if you can do anything for them.”

“Doug’s dead,” the cat observed, looking at the sheer amount of blood that had spilled from the deer onto the snow.

“Well focus on Jan then,” Kristin snapped. “A lung shot is survivable.”

“Right.” Raff leapt off round the cart and Krissy sunk her blade deep into the ground before resting on it, panting.

“Are you okay ma’am?” the merchant inquired, as the tiger trembled.

“I think I just killed someone,” she admitted after a long moment.

“Considering the circumstances I’m quite glad of that.”

Krissy rolled her eyes. Of course. No one could imagine that that was the vicious tiger warrior’s first kill.

“What does that say?” the merchant said suddenly. “On your sword.”

“Nothing,” Kirssy replied, breaking out of her reprieve and glanced down at the blood on the blade. There was a short string of squiggles, untouched by the red staining the metal. “Huh, I never saw that before.”

“May I see?” the merchant asked, and still more than a little shell shocked, Krissy passed him the weapon without thinking. She didn’t notice how much the merchant relaxed when it was out of her grip.

“Hmm, New Suielman,” he said, hefting the sword. “Ow!” he sucked his thumb as one of the many points caught him. “Vicious little thing too.”

“Is that important?” Krissy asked, glancing around for another attack, doing anything but looking at her sword or the body on the floor.

“Means it’s an old noble’s weapon,” the merchant explained. “They liked to use the old language to make their swords look more important than they really were, maybe even weaved a few spells into the metal. That went out of practice centuries ago though. This is one well travelled blade.”

“They gave it to me at the keep,” Krissy replied, still trying not to look at anything.

“Then someone has a good eye.”

The tiger rounded on him, baring her teeth.

“No offence. I just meant—”

“No I know what you meant,” Krissy sighed, holding out her hand for the weapon which the merchant handed over without a second’s hesitation. “It’s a killer’s weapon.”

“They’re bandits, they gave up their right to life a long time ago,” the merchant replied.

It was meant to be comforting, but Krissy felt none of that. “What does the writing say?” she asked after a moment.

“Oh, um. It’s not a very good translation of Suielman mind you,” the merchant explained. “But loosely, Bloodfall. Maybe bloodletting or even blood rain.”

“That’s your name isn’t it?” Krissy asked the blooded metal, ignoring the merchant who continued to prattle for a moment. “Well Bloodfall,” she said, surveying the red snow surrounding the battleground. “Welcome to my new life.”