Burning Time

by Lurking Wolf

"Blast it, wake up, man!"

Lois started slightly as he woke up, and he raised an eyebrow in question to the speaker.

"Are you done yet?" he mumbled.

"Done?!?" the raccoon healer yelled indignantly. "With you sitting like that, if I even started you'd probably pull the stitching before I finished closing the wound!" The healer was absolutely outraged, and it showed in the sporadic twitching of his whiskers.

Lois sighed and settled into a better position so that the doctor could tend to his wound.

He was now sitting in the infirmary, waiting for Coe to finish his work. They had simply bandaged his wound for transport since it wasn't life threatening, and Lois had been able to walk under his own power all the way there. He hadn't been asleep because the walk had exhausted him; rather, he had fallen asleep while trying to shut out the doctor's livid ramblings about how many times he had to tell stupid warriors not to spar with sharp blades. Lois had heard similar lectures before, and he wasn't about the listen to another one. Unfortunately, his skills at shutting out those ramblings were just a bit too well-tuned, and so he had managed to fall asleep despite the doctor talking loudly behind him.

The raccoon had apparently realized that his patient wasn't interested in his ramblings, as he now worked with only the occasional word to himself. Lois could feel the needle being worked through his skin dully; the area had been numbed carefully by the doctor, so it left only a feeling of pressure as the needle worked in and out. Sometimes he felt more pressure than others.

"Good grief, man!" Coe grunted. "Your skin is like leather!"

Lois snorted humorlessly. "When you've faced the lash as many times as I have, you're lucky if you live long enough to hear someone say that," he commented. Lashings were not entirely at fault for the calluses, of course, but enough of the wounds had been caused by them that the doctor continued on without showing any suspicion.

"There's a lifetime's worth of scarring back here, and you still have a good bit of life in front of you if appearances mean anything," Coe commented. "As a doctor, my personal suggestion would be for you to avoid anyone with a whip in the future."

The humor of the statement wasn't lost on Lois, but he didn't laugh at it. He simply sat quietly while the doctor struggled to sew the wound without bending his needle.

"There," Coe announced after working for fifteen minutes. "I've closed the wound now. I would appreciate it if you would do your utmost not to tear out the stitching, though. No sparring for at least another week. Also, running at full speed would have the potential to tear the stitching as well. Mostly, just take it easy for about the next week."

"In a week, I'll be Cursed," Lois noted.

"Hmm, you're right," the healer pondered. "Are you planning on staying through the Curse, or were you thinking of leaving before it takes you?"

"I'll be taking the Curse," Lois responded. Those were words he really hadn't pondered until now, but he considered them for a moment now. In a week, he could be like the man that stood before him, equal parts man and beast. He might also be given the form of a child, or even perhaps be changed into a woman. Whatever the fate that met him, one thing was for sure. He would never be the same again.

"Come back in four days," the healer said finally. "I'll check on the wound then. With luck, it will be healed to the point where it can hold together without aid."

"I'm interested to know what would happen if I was Cursed with the stitches still in," Lois said. Coe just shrugged.

"The Curse has the noted effect of healing most wounds," he said. "Likely, the wound beneath the stitches would be completely healed. If patterns held, it would likely lack even a scar to show its prior presence. As for the stitches themselves, I do not believe I have had to deal with that question before. I imagine several possibilities, though. Likely, if you changed size much one way or the other, the stitching would come undone on its own. If not, it might either be sealed under a new layer of skin, at which point it would be best just to leave it alone, or the Curse might somehow get rid of the stitching for you. Regardless, I don't suppose they will be a health hazard at all."

"Comforting," Lois said tersely. Then he looked up at the raccoon and smiled. "Thank you for your help, doctor. I will try to keep from having to make these visits too often, but it is hard to make any promises when you fight for a living."

Coe muttered something under his breath. Lois couldn't be completely cure, but he thought it started with the phrase, "If I had a garret for every patient who told me that…"

Alex had taken it upon himself to wait until his opponent had been tended to by the healer in the main lobby of the infirmary. He stood as Lois emerged, still pulling his coat around his shoulders. "Well, how do you feel?" Alex asked.

"Remarkable," Lois responded with a slight bite of sarcasm. "Your blade didn't strike anything I needed too terribly much, thankfully."

The lynx chuckled quietly, but quickly turned more serious. "I'm sorry about the accident, by the way. You're right; it takes more skill to know how to miss in that situation than it does to strike."

Lois waved Alex off. "I don't need sympathy, just rest," he commented. "Besides, I had set you up for a fall by getting in so close to you. I could not have done much better in quarters that tight."

Alex snorted as he followed Lois from the healer's. He caught a brief glimpse of the ripped and stained shirt where his blade had struck and shook his head. "Regardless of whether you could have done better than I did in those tight quarters, I should have been more careful simply because we were so close."

"False," Lois responded tersely, looking back at the lynx with a grim smile. "A sparring match is a simulation of battle. If you are careful in close quarters during a sparring match, you may hesitate on the battlefield, and that is the fastest way to end up in the mortuary."

Alex nodded, but said nothing more until Lois stopped at a junction of hallways. "Well," Lois said, "I could use a rest, but I have not really eaten anything yet today, so I think that should take precedence. Care to join me?"

Alex laughed humorlessly. "If I was in your shoes, I'd think I would want to avoid the man who had just nearly killed me," he commented.

"Nonsense, you're a remarkably interesting opponent, and your skills do you credit. I will not hold one slip of the blade against you if you won't hold the results of our first match against me."

Alex smiled. "Very well, then. Do you have any ideas of where you want to eat? As a patrolman I can use the Keep's kitchens for the price of my services to Metamor, but I sense no taint of the Curse on you, so I don't believe you have similar privileges."

"Mage?" Lois queried without answering Alex's question.

"Hardly," Alex laughed. "Being able to use the Sight is a handy skill to have when battling Nasoj, though. Anyway, what will it be?" Alex could see that Lois was slightly off ease, so he tried to look as unthreatening as possible. He figured it was unlikely that him image intimidated the other man, but he wasn't going to take a chance of having him walk off rather than keep his company.

"I believe the Mule's kitchens will serve me just fine for the time being," Lois commented. "I could use something good to drink as well, and I haven't had the time to stock up on anything yet."

Alex nodded. "The Mule it is, then. I believe I'll be paying for this meal, on account of your injury."

Lois gave him a half-serious glare. "I thought we had agreed that we were both going to forget our respective moments of humiliation. That precludes any favors one way or the other. You pay for your meal, and I shall pay for mine."

The arrangement sufficiently pleased both of them, and they were soon enjoying a bowl of stew and a drink over a quiet conversation. Lois asked Alex about his role in the Keep's patrols, and Alex asked a little bit about Lois' background. The latter gave some vague ideas of where he had come from, but made it quite obvious that he didn't want very much prying into the subject. Alex, however, was far more inclined to give information about his own life, and so they spent most of their time talking over the various adventures that the lynx had gone through over his years of service.

As soon as the meal was over, Lois dismissed himself so he could go rest his injury. In reality, although he wouldn't admit it, he was also physically exhausted by the morning. It disturbed him; before he had left his assassin's trade for the life of a glorified security guard, he had been able to keep chases going with the local authorities for days without ever being found. He had been a master of sneaking winks of sleep in between chases, true, but it was never because he was absolutely exhausted. He had done it to avoid exhaustion during extended escapes, but never had he actually reached that point.

It almost scared him to think what it could mean. He had so far managed to avoid the pains of getting older as time went by. Even now, while approaching forty years of age, the only pains he felt generally came from pulling muscles or breaking bones. He had apparently not been able to keep as fit as he would have liked, though. At least, he hoped that was the reason…

November 28, 707 CR

After his run-in with Alex's blade, Lois decided to take it slow for a few days while his wound healed. He had planned to wait until he could go back to see the Healer about his injury. This plan pretty well held out, aside from a few calm visits to the Mule for a meal. Occasionally someone decided to take it upon themselves to try to make conversation with him, but he turned them away. At the moment, he wasn't entirely sure of his skills with Keepers. He was used to being able to read facial expressions to tell what the other person was thinking, but nothing that the animal-morphed Keepers did even looked like anything he was used to.

In the afternoon of his third day of rest, however, Lois' rest was interrupted by a knock on the door of his room. He opened the door to see a young man standing outside, eyes bright and body bursting with visible energy. He looked like some sort of dog, and Lois had enough experience in the field to recognize the pattern and appearance of a coyote. The boy was remarkably well controlled, even though his constant energy showed, and he flicked a scroll case out from within his cloak with a flourish, not even minding the scarred face and icy stare of the man in front of him.

"You've been sent a summons, sir!" the coyote said, looking up with a dutiful smile as he held out the scroll case. When the lad didn't immediately take off when he was handed the scroll case, Lois returned his smile.

"I can read, lad," he said as he opened the case and let the scroll slide down into his hand. He was careful not the bend the parchment as he slid it out, and he noted the seal on the scroll with an upward twitch of his eyebrow. It was the Stallion seal of the Duke of Metamor.

"Indeed, sir," the coyote said, bouncing on his tip toes. "However, I am under orders to stay here until you respond to the summons, and carry the response back to the Duke."

"Written?" Lois asked. He was carefully prying the wax of the seal off of one side of the paper. A few rifts appeared on the back side of the wax, but the front stayed mostly intact when the seal came loose from the paper and allowed Lois to read its contents.

"Not necessary, I can take whatever response you have by memory." The coyote's delivery was fast, yet at the same time entirely intelligible. No wonder he had been assigned to post of messenger, Lois mused.

The note itself looked like it had been copied down from a standard message for the same purpose, with only his name written at a different size and in different lettering than the rest of the message. Its statement was still clear enough, though. The Duke wished to see him at the earliest opportunity. The suggested time was later that evening, after regular audience hours if Lois wasn't mistaken. Regardless, he couldn't think of anything that would prevent him from going to the audience at that time, so he nodded and looked back down at the coyote.

"Tell the Duke that I will be able to meet him in audience at the requested time," Lois announced. He rolled the scroll up offhandedly and held it out towards the coyote. "Will you need this back?"

The coyote shook his head. "Hardly, sir, I only need to case it came in for my later messages." Lois nodded and handed the decorative case back to the boy, who nodded and took it. "Thank you very much," he said, and took off at a run across the balcony that led down to the main room of the inn.

Lois returned to his room, thinking quietly. He finished peeling the seal from the scroll carefully and quickly inspected the imprinted surface for any significant cracks. A few insignificant fishers went through the symbol, but the imprint marks were undisturbed. They would do fine if he ever needed the symbol later.

He walked over to the chest that he kept in one corner of his room. Instead of opening the top, however, he flipped it over. He made a careful count and then pressed the third rivets on each side of the bottom of the box. Rather than stay put as they should, however, the rivets slipped into the box with a click. Lois released the buttons and reached carefully for what seemed to be part of a decorative carved pattern in the bottom of the chest. Hardly visible was a raised section with a small hole hollowed out of the center. Lois carefully placed fingers on either side of the hole and pushed the raised section in.

At the same time, two things happened. The bottom of the chest suddenly popped open and bounced for a little bit, half opened already by the quantity of stuff contained in the secret compartment. The second thing that happened was that a small blade, about the width of a pin, came out through the hole in the center of the button. If anyone pressed the button without knowing that the blade was there, he would have been given a significant dose of a paralytic that would have left them unable to leave for several hours. In that time, the likelihood was that Lois would come back and find the would-be intruder incapacitated.

As it was Lois' chest, however, he had long since learned to avoid that little trap while opening his chest's secret compartment.

Inside the small compartment that had just opened was a heap of black material. Lois carefully took it out and set it aside. He had not used that set of clothing in years, and it would be a good bit longer until he did again if he had anything to say about it.

He wasn't after his clothing, however. Instead, he reached in and pulled out a small wooden case. It had no markings on the outside, and was no larger than Lois' hand from pinky to thumb. It was also short and stood only about two inches off of its resting place.

Lois slid his hand across the top until his hand found the knick that was placed there just so he could grip it. He held onto it and pulled back, sliding the lid out of the grooves that secured it to the rest of the container. Inside was a circular patch of red wax, with a symbol pressed into it. The assassin stepped towards the table that sat beside his chest, pulling the old wax seal out and poking a hole in it with a finger as he went. He draped it over a candle that sat on the desk, allowing the wick to poke through.

"I won't need this anymore," he mumbled, and lit the wick of the candle. He watched it until he could see that the symbol had melted off of the seal and returned to his chest. He placed the Stallion seal into the wooden box carefully and slid the lid back into the grooves, covering the seal so that it would not suffer any damage while it was being stored. He had paid a good bit to have the box charmed so that it wouldn't let heat in, so he didn't have to worry about whether or not the seal would melt while in storage.

Lois carefully placed the box upside-down in the secret compartment and replaced the clothing he had set to the side a moment before. He then pressed the bottom of the chest back down until he heard it click, and the button popped back up to cover the blade, while both false rivets resumed their positions in the middle of their real counterparts, nothing showing what they really were.

After flipping the chest back into its proper position, Lois dusted off his hands and checked on the progress of the melting seal. It had melted to his satisfaction; it was hardly even distinguishable between the half-solid rivulets of wax that coated the candle's surface.

With this done, Lois decided he would go have something to eat. He had a few hours before he had to attend his audience with the Duke, and he wanted to make sure that he did so with a full stomach.

Lois walked through the halls of the inner keep without showing any signs of hurry. In reality, he had now been late to his audience with the Duke for at least five minutes, but he had no reason to hurry things up. Besides, he needed time to steady himself so that he could deliver an appropriate address to the Duke when he was called upon to explain his desire to enter the Keep as a citizen.

The dull pain from the wound on his back was, by now, something absolutely familiar to Lois as he walked. It still bothered him when he turned too far or stood too straight, however, and he was going to be doing either one or both of them during his audience. He quietly composed himself, readying for the pain he was sure would come when he bowed and stood at attention. There wasn't much to be done for the pain; he only hoped he wouldn't pull out the stitching while speaking with the Duke. Beyond the obvious complication of having to sit through another tirade from Coe, Lois was also worried that Lord Hassan would want an explanation for Lois having blood showing through his clothing.

Finally Lois let his mind settle on the audience chamber. He usually did his best to picture in his mind where he was trying to go, but at the moment he had no idea what the audience chamber would look like, so he simply thought of it as his hopeful destination.

Before long, Lois found himself on the far end of a long hall which ended in a pair of solid wooden doors, flanked on either side by a guard. Lois quickly took note of his surroundings, and was reasonably certain that he could spot two or three more guards trying to hide out of sight so that their visitor wouldn't feel threatened. Their first purpose was a complete failure, as Lois had spotted them almost immediately, but their second purpose was well served. It was actually some comfort for Lois to know that the Duke had a healthy amount of respect for his reputation. Evidently, Andwyn had put in a good word for him…

Lois stopped a few paces before he reached the guards. They both held polearms at their sides, but neither made a move to guard themselves. Lois took a step forward, though, and both of them crossed their weapons across the doorway.

"That strategy will easily backfire," Lois commented drily. "I'm obviously not going to get in without going through you, but you're guarding the door and not yourselves. The door does pretty well blocking me on its own; you should focus more on defending yourselves, or I could take both of you down and open the door quite easily."

The guards gave sideways glances to each other, but neither changed their stance. Lois just shrugged and continued forward until he stood just before the two of them, in such a position that either one of them would have to put himself woefully out of position to even move against him.

"Fortunately, I am not here to make any trouble," Lois finally continued. "My name is Vincent Lois, the Duke is expecting me."

Lois held up the summons he had received. It was notably missing the seal from the bottom, but neither of the guards saw need to comment on that fact.

"We'll need you to leave your weapons with us," one of them said. Lois nodded, but instead of removing weapons from all over his person, he simply handed the man a well-wrapped bundle.

"I expected as much," he said. "I didn't bring many weapons, but what I have is in this bundle. You may check me for further weapons if you like, but I assure you that any effort you make will be wasted; I carry no weapons to a peaceful audience."

The guards still searched him rather than trusting his word, but no other weapon was found on his person, as he had promised. Still, the fact that they had bothered to check was testament to the fact that they respected him as a threat. Lois didn't doubt that others received similar treatment, but it did give him some faith that the Duke was not some pompous noble who thought that his wealth was sufficient to protect him.

Finally, the two guards opened the doors to the chamber, and Lois stepped between them into the room beyond.

It was well adorned, although not nearly as much as many other places he had visited in the past. The man that sat at the far end of the room was dressed in fine clothing, but it lacked much of the frilly adornment of which other nobles seemed so fond. Lois noted this with respect; he could understand a man who had wealth but didn't use it on unnecessary embellishment.

The actual man that was dressed in that clothing was slightly less comforting. It sat like a nobleman, showing well-schooled posture in its movements, but the appearance of the man was far from what one would expect in someone of such powerful position. The face of the Duke seemed to be that of a horse for all intents and purposes, reflecting in his gaze the rearing stallion emblazoned on his flag. At the same time, the neck connected to the body in the wrong way for him to be a mere animal, and almost all of the mannerisms were human, from the subtle, keen gaze of a man that was sizing up the man in front of him, to the light drumming of the hard fingernails of his right hand on the arm of the modest throne he sat in. The only noticeably equine mannerism that Lois could detect was the occasional rustle of the robe's cloth as a long, regal stallion's tail turned back and forth in nearly-controlled nervousness.

Lois finally came to a stop in front of the Duke of Metamor. The audience hall was not very long, but he had taken it slowly, measuring his steps carefully so he would have enough time to take in the picture before arriving. He stood there for a moment, making firm eyes contact with the stallion and gave a respectful bow. It was not so shallow as to be disrespectful, but neither was it deep enough to suggest a man who submitted only for the favor it gained him.

"Milord," was the one word he spoke, and then he stood and waited for the Duke of Metamor to address him.

"Vincent Lois," the Duke said. His speech was very human in tone and inflection, with just a hint of something that might have been an accent. There was very little there that would have given away his form, however, and Lois noted the fact with satisfaction.

"You're somewhat late," the Duke continued, bringing Lois back from his reverie.

"My apologies," Lois responded. He gave a short bow of the head to go with the apology, a gesture quietly but definitely acknowledged by the equine Duke. "I have never truly been here before, so I was not certain how to think for Kyia to bring me here."

"I assure you, it is not the first time this has happened," the Duke said, equine lips twitching with some mirth. "I have had audiences delayed by hours by similar complications."

Lois laughed politely along with the Duke, although he kept his tones subdued. He usually only laughed for the intimidation factor, so he had to concentrate to take the edge of harshness from his voice. Evidently the Duke didn't notice any special effort, as he carried on directly with no comment.

"Very well, then. Do you understand why you are here?"

"I believe so, sire," Lois said. "If I am not mistaken, I am here about the issue of my desire to make Metamor my home."

The Duke nodded slowly. He leaned forward a little bit, arms resting on the sides of the chair, strange, thick fingers threaded under an equally strange equine head. "I am sure you know that I have my doubts," he continued. "Your reputation preceded you, and it is one that makes many wary of your presence here."

"Not the least of which was your loyal spymaster, Andwyn," Lois noted. He turned his head to look at the bat, who had secured himself to the decorative architecture under one of the pillars that lined the room. "Rest assured, you need not lay awake wondering if he will kill you someday."

"You, however, are a different story," the Duke noted, tapping his chin with hoof-like fingernails. Andwyn, now that he was obviously discovered, dropped from the ceiling in a swoop, landing beside the Duke, who showed no reaction. "You've killed many men, including men in positions of power such as myself."

"Note the implication of past action," Lois responded. "I was that man, a fact of which I am immensely proud and immensely ashamed at once. Proud, to have been the bane of many a black-hearted tyrant during my work. Ashamed, to have killed many a good man because he had made enemies with too much coin. Regardless, it has been many years since the last time I performed an assassination. I am, for all intents and purposes, retired."

"You've lost none of your talent, though, that much we can see by your displays of acrobatics on the rooftops and the training field." The Duke sat back again, although he kept his fingers steepled in front of him. "That creates lingering concern, regardless of your claims of loyalty. Please understand, I would like nothing better than to be able to know for sure that you are honest. I am, however, dealing with a man whose life's work hinged on being dishonest."

Lois nodded. "It would be a foolish course of action to fully trust such a man," he commented.

"You do realize that we are talking about you, don't you?" the Duke asked with a slight smile.

"The key to defeating your enemy is to know your enemy. The key to knowing your enemy is to understand yourself, your motives, everything about you. I understand that I am not exactly the most trustworthy of people; few people in my former line of work are very trustworthy."

"Then you do understand my reluctance to admit you to this Keep as a citizen," the Duke said.

"Your reluctance, yes," Lois confirmed. "I hope that the reluctance will not translate into refusal, however. I believe that Andwyn told you when he reported to you that I gave him the message that I was willing to be locked in the dungeons until the Curse took me. The offer stands; if you have your men come here and arrest me, I will not resist."

The Duke nodded slowly, even as Lois held both of his hands out as if expecting to be shackled immediately. "You may relax, Lois. As I remember, you have already been here for quite a good bit of time, so the Curse should not be too long in the coming for you. For the time being, consider your application for citizenship to be accepted. Kyia should be kind enough to provide you with quarters adequate to your needs within the walls of the upper Keep. Know this, however: If we find that you have, in any way, been involved in anything questionable, it will be investigated and, if enough evidence is given, you will be removed from the Keep, regardless of how the Curse may affect you."

Lois bowed his head respectfully. "I could expect no better consideration from you. I thank you for honoring my request," he said in a respectful tone.

The more nitty-gritty business of officially securing citizenship was rather quickly dispensed with, and Lois soon found himself walking down the hallways of the inner Keep, unable to focus on anything because of the buzzing in his head. Before he could calm his mind enough to focus on leaving the Keep, though, he turned a corner and found himself staring at a wooden door, cut out with remarkable perfection so that he could walk through without stooping, yet not much higher than it had to be. Inscribed on the door was a very familiar name, and Lois touched it and ran his fingers across it gently.

"Vincent Lois," he read to himself. As he spoke the words, it seemed to him that the letter faded, and then the door was plain again. "Well then, I suppose this will be my new home."

He reached for the door, but then lowered his hand. "Not yet," he mumbled. "I shall return when my Curse is completed." With that, he left, walking down the halls and once more focusing on the lower keep. Behind him, the letters on the door once more appeared, identifying it once again so Lois would be able to remember it later.

Thomas leaned back in the throne he used for audiences, grateful for the copious amount of padding it possessed. At this point, he needed anything he could get to help him relax.

"What do you think of him, milord?" Andwyn asked quietly.

"I think we need more time and a much more careful observation to know for sure. Lois will go on his patrol, and his squad-mates will be watching him for any behavior not fitting a scout of Metamor." Thomas looked over at the spy. "I also think that we need to find some way to stay out of sight. He noticed you; I fully expect that he could have noticed anyone else that might be following him from day to day."

Andwyn nodded. "It is a very interesting predicament, sir, to be honest. Lois is good at reading signs other than sight to make his assessments of situations. Even if we put men under illusions to watch him, and even if we could hold the illusion for long enough to get anything done, there is nothing to say that he wouldn't notice something out of place."

Thomas sighed and rubbed the side of his head with his hand. "If you have any appropriately morphed Keepers at your disposal, you might try having a few watch him from full morph," he suggested.

Andwyn nodded. "We have already begun exploring such possibilities," he said. "Eventually, though, it may just come down to us trusting him enough to let him off of the leash."

"We may be waiting a while for that."

November 29, 707 CR

Lois grunted quietly while Coe worked with the stitches in his back. The healer mumbled as he worked, but nothing Lois had heard him say seemed to have anything to do with the context of his work. The former assassin wondered to himself if the healer found his work anywhere near as distasteful as he himself did, and if perhaps his mumbling had anything to do with getting his mind off of his work.

"You're a quick healer," Coe finally commented. "The injury is still very fresh, and the healing process is nowhere near complete, but removing the stitches should be safe for now. You'll need to keep it under a bandage for a while. Could be… anywhere from two weeks down to a day or two, depending how long the Curse takes to get to you."

Lois grunted again, this time in affirmation, and gave a short nod. The Curse held an ever-growing tension for him. It was coming soon, and he knew it. He had little to do but wait, now. Fortunately, years of experience had finely honed his patience, and he put it to use now.

"Have you given the Curse much thought?" the healer asked presently.

"Have I given it much though?" Lois echoed. "I am being healed by a raccoon, and you ask me if I have given it much thought."

The healer smiled and shook his head. "I was referring to your own Curse, Lois. Have you given any thought to what you would like to become?"

Lois shrugged, and winced immediately as he did, leading to a stern prodding from one of the healer's claws. "Really, the chances are not in my favor if I start wishing on stars about what I'll become. I'd like it to be an animal Curse, certainly. I cannot imagine what it would be like to fight as a woman or a child, especially not in my style. Of course, that brings up the entire issue of what animal I might become, and there are quite a good number that would have the same or worse effects on my combat style."

"Not that I would be suffering at all by not having to see you for a while longer," Coe commented.

"I suppose I would like to be something fast, flexible, nimble. Then again, I would like something that would allow me to switch between fighting styles as I do now." Lois shrugged. "Well, regardless, I'll take what I get."

"It's what we all did," Coe commented. "Of course, for some of us, there really wasn't really enough anticipation to do any speculation at all. I was working at the time the Curse was cast. I thought I was going to lose my patient, and I was not happy. The Curse came through, and I only have foggy memories of what came next. Next thing I knew, it was like I was waking up, huddled in a corner of the infirmary and shaking like a leaf. Seems the patient I had been working on had been fully healed when he was Cursed, and he had been trying to hunt me throughout the infirmary." The healer snickered. "Sort of ironic. One moment I'm there healing a man I think is going to die, the next he's up and trying to kill me."

"No gratitude whatever," Lois responded, grinning sarcastically. The doctor was just finishing up removing the stitches, and Lois turned a little bit so he could see the healer's face a bit. "You know what would be really ironic, though?"

The healer shook his head without saying another word.

"It would be ironic if I turned into a woman and came in here trying to seduce you," Lois finished.

The healer cuffed him soundly across the side of his face, just hard enough to turn his head a little bit. Lois laughed through it, even as Coe began roughly securing a bandage over the injured area.

"Here," Coe said, stepping around in front of Lois and handing him a roll of bandages. "I don't know how much of this you will need, but do try to keep the wound clean and freshly bandaged. I don't need you coming in here half-dead with an infection before the Curse takes you."

"Right." Lois took the bandages and jumped down from the table he had been sitting on. He pulled his shirt back over his head, followed closely by his winter coat.

"And Lois?" Coe continued, speaking without raising his eyes from his next task. "Don't ever try to put dirty thoughts in my head again. Next time you do that, I'm sticking you with the nearest sharp instrument, whether or not I'm really that distracted."

Lois shook his head and chuckled quietly as he left. In reality, he had no desire to find out what it was like to be a woman. He had enough adventures in his life, he didn't need to have his reality turned on his head to make it more interesting.

Not that he had much choice in the matter.

Lois left the infirmary and headed back to his room at the inn, quietly wondering how long it would be until the Curse took him, and what it would do to him when it did.

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