Kallie sat on the edge of her bed, her tail sweeping over the thin covers, one hand resting on her chin as she tried to think. There were only a few more days before she had to be out of the temporary rooms they had placed her in when she first came to the keep, and she still didn't have her own place to stay or employment.
With how big the keep was she had thought there would be someone who could have used her abilities, but that hadn't been the case. She regretted not spending enough time on her writing skills, being a scribe would have been useful here, instead her scribbling handwriting was only useful for her own personal journals.
She had hoped to sell her skills with the sword, but most of the caravans didn't believe they needed protection, and those that did already had swords along with them. In the end about the only thing left for her was to join with the guards, no matter how little it appealed to her.
The vixen sighed and picked up her sword, placing it on her lap. For most of her life she had been able to do anything she wanted any time she wanted, it was an odd and unpleasant feeling to find herself so limited in her choices. Still, it was the fate she brought upon herself and she wasn't going to wish for the alternative.
Standing from the bed she put her sword on her belt, if she was going to join the guards she needed to show her full range of skill. Her dagger was tucked onto her hip as well, resting in its familiar location, the blade turned to hide the crest on the hilt against her hips. She thought about taking her chain mail, but decided against it. It hadn't quite fit her since her change, but she hadn't been able to afford to fix it.
Composing herself she stepped out of the room, closing the door behind her and locking it with the simple key. She stopped at a basin of water in the hall, washing the fur of her face to hide the fact she hadn't slept, then moved on.
She stepped out of the keep and into the sun. It was just peaking over the walls, the warm light giving half of the keep a warm glow while the other half was still cast in shadows.
Bracing herself she started on her journey, walking down the path through the gates and down towards the city. Even though it was early people were already about and many of the store fronts were open. The smell of fresh bread rolled down the streets, hanging sweetly in the air and proving more of a distraction than she would have liked. In fact her grumbling belly made it clear she needed to stop for something.
Kallie turned and walked back through the streets, following the scent of the bread. She had expected the bakery to be just around the corner but instead found herself walking along through a number of streets, quickly becoming amazed at how strong her sense of smell really was. When she finally came upon the small stall it had taken her ten minutes out of her way.
A very attractive man was standing at the stall, carefully slicing pieces off a large loaf of bread. Behind him three large ovens stood, each one stocked with a number of pans of what had to be bread. The smell of it was almost overwhelming now, but it was still very pleasant.
She wasn't the only one who had followed the scent to the small bakery, four other morphic keepers were already lined up to buy some.
The vixen joined in the queue, pulling out the few coins she still owned. As she waited she looked over the man, watching his hands work to cut the bread with a deceptive amount of skill. He had clearly been subjected to the transgender curse, but he also seemed comfortable with how he looked. His clothing was lose and light, probably to deal with the heat of the ovens while still showing off his rather attractive body. He also seemed to be a flirt, smiling and winking with the other females in line.
"What would you like?" he asked when Kallie came up to the head of the line.
"Just a small loaf," she said, placing two coins on the counter.
He nodded and pulled out a tray from under the counter, slipping off a loaf of bread the size of her fist. Setting it on the counter he collected her coins and gave her a warm smile, leaning forward slightly. "It seems you need a little joy in your day, hopefully this will bring it to you," he said.
"That would be a pleasant change," she replied, ripping apart the bread as she walked away, her tail slowly flicking against the back of her legs. Biting into the bread she was pleasantly surprised to discover how good it tasted. The inside was still warm and soft while the outside wasn't too hard. All in all it did make her day a little bit better.
With her distraction over with she started back through the city, heading to the large guard post at the main gates. She ate as she walked ,trying to keep her mind clear as she did so. She wanted to be focused and ready when she asked for a job, trying to show the best self she could.
"There she is!" a voice called out from behind her, followed by the sound of leather shoes hitting the cobblestones. Turning around she was surprised to find a pair of children running towards her, an older looking otter was following behind them
"Kallie," the young girl said, running up to her side, "we finally found you!"
The vixen looked down at the two children, a boy and a girl, as they tried to catch their breath. The girl was slightly shorter than the boy, with short brown hair sticking out in all directions. The boy was thin and lanky, his hair cut so short she could see the skin of his scalp.
She worked her mind, trying to decide who she was looking at but just couldn't find a name. She simply didn't know any children in the keep. "I'm sorry, I'm don't know who you are," she admitted with a frown.
"I'm not surprised, I only know you because I saw you change," the girl replied with a sharp tone and a warm smile.
Her mind raced a bit as a name finally came to her mind. "Breina?"
The girl smiled and clapped her hands together. "Right! And this is Deitan," she said, nodding towards the young boy.
Kallie looked between the two children, surprised to see the husband and wife struck by the same curse yet neither one of them seemed to be put off by it. That made sense in Deitan's case, he had nearly died during the attack on the caravan and the curse was pretty much the only thing that had saved his life.
"How are you two dealing with the curse?" she asked, bending down to be at their level. Her first instinct was to treat them like the children they looked like, but she fought that down, they weren't really children, no matter what they looked like.
They looked at each other and smiled. "We're doing well enough, we found an old farm that needed some extra small hands. The pay is good and the people are nice, after a few years we should be able to afford a farm of our own."
She nodded. "Good for you. What brings you here then?"
"We're looking for you," Deitan replied.
"Or rather they are helping me find you," the otter behind them said, startling Kallie a little bit, in her confusion she had forgotten about the man.
Slowly she rose back to her full height and looked at the older man. "Why are you looking for me?"
"One moment," he said then turned to look at the are regressed couple. "Thank you for your help, it is greatly appreciated," he said, taking a few coins from his pocket and handing it to them.
"I'm glad we could help you," Breina told the otter then turned to look at the vixen. "We have things we must do, but I would hope we can meet again, we still owe you a great deal."
"Of course, I would like that," she said.
The two children nodded, then taking each other's hands they ran off down the street, acting for all the world as young as they looked.
Kallie turned her attention to the otter standing in front of her only to find that he was sizing her up as well. He was an older man, hints of gray fur showing up in his pelt, but that seemed to be the only sign of age. He was well toned and looked very fit, a fighter judging by the sword on his back and the hints of scars that distorted his fur.
"You know how to use your sword, that's good," he said.
"How can you tell?"
"Your weapons are properly sheathed. Most people here who carry weapons don't know how to handle them," he said, crossing his arms over the leather vest he wore.
She rose up a bit, her ears rising as well. "Very well then, why are you looking for me?"
"Your friends were happy to tell me about your skill in defending their caravan, I wished to speak to you about that. Have you had your morning meal?"
"No, I haven't," she replied.
The otter smiled a bit and offered out his hand. "Then allow me to provide you one, I know of a nearby pub that can provide a decent meal"
She returned the smile but didn't take his hand. "I think we are missing something. We have not been introduced."
A small frown crossed over his face as he shook his head. "Yes, where is my manners, I am Duimlar Fletcher," he said, placing his hand on his chest.
"I am Kallie Evergreen, and I would be happy to speak with you over a meal."
His frown turned into a smile as he pulled at the edge of his vest. "It's a pleasure to meet you Ms Evergreen, if you care to follow me?"
The only response she gave was a short nod, but it was enough for him. He started down the street of the city, heading towards a large pub only a short distance away. Kallie followed right behind him, staying close to his large swaying tail. He walked with confidence but never seemed to look directly ahead, instead his head was constantly shifting from side to side, looking for any threat that might rear its head.
He wasn't just a fighter, he was a soldier, and a well trained one at that, but nothing of his clothing indicated he worked for the Metamor guards so he had to have been some kind of independent. From behind his sword was in plain view, a Gladius with a pitch black pommel. The leather on the hilt was worn in many places with parts of it looking frayed. It was an old weapon but one that had been well maintained.
They walked into the pub and he motioned for her to sit at the table. She sank down, keeping one hand on the end of her sword as he watched the otter collect two plates of food from the bar and two empty steins. She gave him a curious look as he set them down at the table. "Nothing to drink?"
"I have something special for that," he said, reaching into his vest and pulling out a leather wrapped flask. It had to have had some magic to it as the moment he pulled the stopper she could smell the hot drink inside.
With flourish he started to pour the flask into the steins, it was a thick black liquid, and the smell was strong to her canine nose.
"This is—" he started to say, but she cut him off.
"Coffee," she finished, a smile cross her lips as she took in a deep breath, letting the scent of it fill her nose.
Duimlar looked flustered for a few moments, his whiskers twitching as he moved to fill the second stein. This was obviously something he did to impress people and he didn't quite know how to recover when it didn't work.
"Are you familiar with it?" he asked, pushing the filled glass to her.
She nodded, picking it up and taking another deep breath of the scent, almost putting her nose into it. It was so different than she was used to, the same familiar smells were there, but there was so much more along with them, an odd mix that filled her nose and head. "My father loved coffee, if he was alive he could tell you exactly what Kingdom things came from just by smelling it."
"He must have been an expert in it," he said, smiling as he closed his flask and tucked it back into his jacket. "These beans came from the far south of the Pyralian Kingdoms."
"Those are hard to get this far north, how did you come across them?" she asked, carefully taking a sip of the drink, not wanting to spill it on her muzzle. The flavor was just as strong as she remembered, but with so many other layers she had never tasted before, she couldn't even easily describe them all. A small part of her wondered if this is what her father had tasted, if so she finally understood his love for the drink.
He took a long drink himself, sinking back in the seat as he did so. "It was given to me as payment a few months ago. I've been very careful with how much I drink, I want it to last."
"Payment for what?"
The otter chuckled and set his glass back on the table. "I am in charge of a small group of sellswords here in Metamor Valley. We escort caravans from the midlands though the valley, protecting them from raiders."
"I see," she replied, looking at him over the top of her stein.
He let out a soft sigh. "There have been a growing number of attacks on caravans, as you yourself experienced, at our current strength we cannot protect them all. In full honestly we cannot protect even a third of them. I need more men, it's a simple as that, and from what I've been told you have the skills that I need."
Kallie carefully sat the glass back down on the table, trying not to let her excitement show. "And that is why you had Breina and Deitan looking for me."
"Yes, they told me how you defended their lives, almost losing yours in the process. If you are half as good as they say you are then I want you working for me. This time of year there are a lot of caravans and we need to protect as many of them as we can."
"So what do I have do to prove myself?" she asked, hardly believe her luck.
Duimlar smiled again and motioned to her plate. "Finish your meal, and we will discuss that."
After everything that had happened to her, to have a job like this just fall into her open hands... she quietly thanked Eli for his blessings and started to eat, hardly tasting the food.
Kallie moved from side to side, her hand resting on the hilt of her sword. Duimlar stood a few feet in front of her, his own sword held loosely in his hand. They stood in the middle of the killing fields, far enough away from the walls of the keep to be safe but the guards were still watching them from the far wall.
"So, are you ready?" he asked.
Without a word the vixen pulled the sword from her belt and nodded her head.
A smile crossed his face. "Good, please remember to only hit with the flat of your blade. This is only practice and we do not wish to draw blood."
"I understand," she replied, adjusting her stance as she tighten her grip on the blade.
"You may begin whenever—"
She didn't let him finish, as soon as he spoke she moved forward, her sword flashing towards his own sword hand. The idea was to catch him before he was truly ready and disarm him. It didn't work, but only by the slimmest of margins. He pulled his sword up slightly, her blade striking his just above the cross guard.
The otter still grunted in surprise and pushed her away with the back of his hand. She took a few quick steps back to keep from falling then lunged forward again, this time sending her blade high.
He countered her attack with ease then twisted his blade around, pushing hers away before sending his own towards her shoulder.
Kallie quickly ducked under the blade and swung her fist, hitting him against the shoulder and sending him stumbling back. She smacked the flat of her blade against his side, right under his arm.
Taking a few steps back he laughed and rubbed his side. "That was very good, you are willing to do what it takes to win. Your skills with the sword are strong and you clearly know what you are doing. I am impressed."
"Thank you," she replied.
With a spin of his blade he moved to put it back into his scabbard, but instead moved forward, swinging the sword at her, the flat of the blade heading right towards her head.
She reacted by bringing her own blade up, blocking his only for a moment before twisting to the side and bringing her sword around, trying to go for his chest. He blocked it easily and pushed her back, his leg kicking out to catch at her foot, trying to force her to the ground.
It didn't quite work, instead it sent her stumbling back a few feet until she regained her footing, but by the time she was steady the otter was attacking again. She deflected his blade away from her chest, grazing the edge of her clothing. She lunged forward, trying to hit him with her shoulder but he stepped to the side.
She took the chance to step around him, pulling one hand free from her blade as she swung it down at his thick tail.
Duimlar blocked the sword easily, pushing it to the ground as he spun in place.
The vixen let go of the blade, pulling her dagger free from her hip as she lurched forward, pressing the flat of it against his neck, right under his chin.
Freezing in place he looked at her with wide eyes, then flicked them down to look at the blade, the majority of it obscured by his muzzle. "I didn't know you had a dagger."
Kallie smiled a bit and took a step away, returning the dagger to her belt. "I am full of surprises," she replied.
"This is very evident," he replied, rubbing his neck. "You simply do not play fair."
"Why should I? I'm hardly a knight," she replied as she picked up her blade and cleaned it on her sleeve before returning it to the scabbard.
A deep chuckle escaped the otter's lips. "Of this I have no doubt. I believe that you would be a more than capable addition to my men, if you would like the job."
Her smile was too wide to keep hidden, crossing from one edge of her muzzle to the other, her ears and tail also betraying her joy at the offer. "I would be happy to work with you."
Duimlar smiled and reached around to place a hand on her shoulder. "We have a caravan leaving for the midlands in three days, you will join us for it. You will start with four silver moons per a mission and you will have to find your own room and board."
She nodded. "That would be fine."
"Now I must wonder, what other surprises might you have?" he asked with a smile.
The smile on her face grew a little bit wider. "I have one or two more," she replied, her mind quickly turning to her 'taur form. She quickly decided not to show him, not only to keep it as a surprise, and she didn't want to remove her pants in the middle of the killing field.
"I look forward to seeing them," he replied and squeezed her shoulder for a moment before turning to head back to the keep.
Kallie followed after him, staying at his side. "I do have one request before I begin."
"And what is that?" he asked, his eye flicking over her for a moment.
A blushed crossed over her face under her fur, her ears pressing down to the side of her head. "I only have a few days left in the temporary housing, if I could have an advance before the first caravan."
Without a word the otter reached into his vest and pulled out a single silver moon, he gave it a close look, like it was something personal to him before he offered it to her. "That is perfectly understandable, you are new to the keep and finding your own place can be difficult. Use it wisely."
"Thank you," she replied, tucking the coin into her pouch and pulling it closed. It felt heavy on her hip, grounding her in the firmly packed dirt.
Once they crossed into the keep he smiled and squeezed her shoulder. "I will see you here in three days time, one hour after dawn."
"I will be here," she replied, then headed back towards the keep, a small skip in her step. A skip that stayed with her all through the town and even into the keep itself. She bounded up the few steps that lead to her rooms, stopping only by the small desk by the entrance to place her silver piece on the counter. "I need two more weeks," she said, her tail flicking.
The striped equine behind the desk looked up at her for a moment, then without a word took her silver piece and handed her back some coppers. The only other action he did was to make a note in the ledger then returned to what he was doing.
Kallie returned to her room, happy that she would have a place to stay for a bit longer. Pulling her weapons off she placed them on the small writing desk, then sat down on her bed, letting out a long breath.
She had no idea what she should be doing for the rest of the day, her tail flicking back and forth quickly over the bed, messing up the thin sheets. The last thing she wanted to do was to spend time stuck in her room with nothing to do, it would be slightly better if she had something to read, even a copy of The Canticle would give her something.
A smile crossed over her muzzle as her tail flicked even faster. If she wanted something to read she knew exactly who she should talk to, Cutter! Jumping from her bed she started for the door only to stop as her hand touched the handle. If she was going to see the librarian she should be properly dressed.
With quick hands she worked off the laces on her boots and trousers, then kicked the clothing off into an indiscriminate pile. Once she was bare from the waist down she closed her eyes and concentrated, reaching for the fox'taur form she knew was inside of her. She had only changed a few times before and the feelings was still new for her, but it was also very easy. With a simple push she felt her legs and rump flow backwards as she shifted, and in only a moment she had all four feet placed firmly on the ground.
Opening her eyes she looked back over the extent of her body. She could still hardly believe that it was all her and found herself reaching out to touch her flank, running her fingers through the fur and feeling the muscles beneath.
The oddest part had to have been the dual heart beats, with one in her chest and one in her lower body. They were almost in sync, to the point she never really noticed them unless the thought about it, when she did it seemed all she cloud hear was the cadence for beats drumming in her chest.
Stroking a hand down her body one last time, she composed herself and left her room, locking it once more. Instead of taking the front way out she went down the back, not surprised to find a shallow ramp waiting for her instead of the usual stairs. With a smile she patted the stone wall and started to make her way down through the keep and towards the Long House.
As Kallie worked her way through the hallways of the keep, she thought about where she wanted to go without trying too hard to get there. It was a difficult way to move around and sometimes drove her to frustration but there was no other choice. Every time she tried determinedly to get someplace she always found herself going around in circles.
She had been assured that she would quickly get the knack of navigating the corridors but so far that had not been the case. It always seemed to take her three times as long to get anywhere by herself then with someone else.
In fact she wasn't at all surprised to find herself stepping into a small courtyard lined with a trio of marble benches and a stump of a burnt out tree. A pair of young children were sitting one of the benches, talking quietly with each other but looked up when she arrived.
The vixen hurried across the court yard, surprised when she heard a voice call out. "Excuse me?"
Coming to a stop she turned her large body in place to look at the two children. One of them, a young boy, had spoken. They were too young to have been age regressed keepers and from the resemblance had to have been brother and sister. "Yes?" she asked.
"We're trying to find the library," the young boy asked.
She paused for a moment, thinking about where that would be. "I think the main library is that way," she said, pointing to her left.
"No, the other library," the girl added.
"Other library? The one in the long house?"
The pair of them nodded in excitement.
With a soft grunt of exasperation Kallie looked up at the walls of the keep. Apparently she had ended up in this out of place court yard just to make sure the children could find their way back. Though if it made her trip to see Cutter easier, she would be happy to do so.
"I'm heading that way myself, if you would like to follow me," she said.
"Yes, please," the young girl said at the same time her brother said "Thank you."
She smiled at the pair of them then started back on her journey, making sure they were following her. Proving her point after only three somewhat random turns she came to the large hall that was the entrance to the long house. The two guards at the door watched her as she made the long walk towards them. She smiled as she approached, recognizing one of the guards for her past visits.
"I'm here to see Cutter, and these two are looking for the library," she said, motioning over her shoulder at the kids.
"Which two?" The guard asked.
Looking back she let out a long sigh as she saw she was alone. "I had run into a couple of children on the way here, they were supposed to be following me."
The guard chuckled and nodded his head. "You need a close eye with them, even more so here in the keep."
"I suppose," she replied, still a little annoyed by the whole thing.
"Come with me, I'll escort you to the library," he said then entered through the door. She followed after him, down the slightly to narrow corridor and out into the main hall. As she walked she ran her hands through her short hair, making sure it was in place. She wanted to look nice when she saw him.
The vixen was surprised to find that Cutter wasn't hidden back in the elvish library, but instead was laying on the floor of the main room. He had a book in his hands and a dozen or so children around him listen to every word he was saying... with the exception on one young girl who was sleeping against his flank.
She hesitated, not wanting to disturb him and from the look of it neither did the guard. Instead they just stopped inside the doorway.
A few moments later a girl standing near the back looked over and saw them. She came over, her arms tucked behind her back, she was old enough to have been a regressed keeper and not one of the children.
Coming up close the girl whispered. "You're Cutter's lady friend?"
"I'll take care of her until he's free," she told the guard.
The guard nodded. "Very well," he said then turned around and returned to his post.
The girl looked Kallie over for a moment then smiled. "You've had quite an effect on our invisible librarian," she whispered.
She turned to look at the fox'taur. "He's never done anything like this since he's come to the long house, he's always been cooped up in the back with his scrolls. This is the way I remember him, before he was injured. "
The vixen looked back at Cutter, seeing the smile on his muzzle as he turned the page and continued to read in a soft and slightly sing song voice, the children all enraptured with the story he was reading them. "He changed a lot?"
"It was hard to say they were the same person. You seem to have brought his old self back, I thank you for that."
She blushed. "I didn't do anything," she said, her whispered voice dropping even softer as her ears and tail dipped down as well.
"Don't discount yourself. I'm Lisa."
"Kallie," she replied, still not taking her eyes of Cutter.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, but we should move out of the way so your bulk isn't running outside the door," Lisa said with a smile, her arms dropping to her sides as she looked around the room. The vixen couldn't help notice that her right hand was missing, but decided to say nothing of it.
Together they moved to the side of the library, Lisa taking a position against the wall while Kallie settled down on her belly, watching the other 'taur read and waiting for him to see her. When it finally happened he stumbled over his words, a smile crossing over his face for a moment as he returned to the book.
By the time he had finished reading to the children she had forgotten why she had come, other than to spend time with him. That in and of itself was enough for now.