As they made their way out of the Keep proper and back into town before the market closed and they would depart with the caravan again, Cheep sighed, and said, "I kind of wish I could stay here. Guarding may pay fairly well, but it's so boring. There is so much to do and see here. I don't think I would even mind being an animal, as long as I wasn't a reptile or something."
"It's more likely that you'd either become a woman or stay a child," Kag reminded him.
They heard a commotion on the street behind them, and as they turned, they noticed that it followed a coyote morph sprinting past them toward the gates. After he passed, Kag was able to make out the words of one of the people who ran down the street gibbering, a look of wild terror in his eyes. Kag's curiosity turned to fear and he stiffened as the words sent a chill down his spine.
"Plague! We're all gonna die!" the donkey morph was now running on all fours, his words becoming brays. "Baaaaa-HAW! HEE HAWW!"
Kag looked at Cheep, who didn't know what to think or how to respond, and said, "Well, my friend, it appears that you may get your wish."
"If there really is Plague here, they will have to quarantine the city. It's not worth the risk of spreading, even if it kills every last soul here."
Cheep looked horrified. "I heard of Plague once before, when my old slave drivers told me what happened to my real parents. They apparently had heard this secondhand and couldn't tell me any more, unfortunately."
They made their way through the still mostly oblivious crowd toward the gates, which were, sure enough, oddly closed. There was a small but growing crowd of caravans and other travelers trying to leave the city, but the guards would let no one through. They tried to find Morty and his caravan, but they had apparently just made it through the gates before they were closed. The two exchanged worried looks. They heard a commotion behind them and saw a yellow flag being raised on one of the towers of the castle.
"Okaaaay... so now what?" Cheep asked blank-faced after they had overcome their initial shock of being quarantined and made their way back toward the Keep.
"I guess we make arrangements for a long-term stay. That, and try to avoid the Plague."
They entered the Keep again, this time focusing on the Steward in the hopes that he would not be too busy to help them. They found his office after only a few dozen steps. There was already a short line outside his door. They joined it and waited. The line quickly grew behind them as they noticed that the passage behind them now connected to several different corridors from which streamed numerous people.
They waited for the Steward to finish with the person in front of them and walked into his office. The alligator morph was obviously overwhelmed and a bit irritable.
"Before you ask, no, you can't leave. It doesn't matter what you have to do or how long you have been here or who is waiting outside the gates. They will have to wait, and NO ONE is leaving. Now, how can I help you?"
"We weren't actually going to ask to leave. We know the city is under quarantine. We just wanted to know if you can help us find a place to stay. I have a bit of money left, but my friend here doesn't, and we can't afford to stay at inns for more than a couple of days. We need something more long-term."
"Ah, well, that's a different issue. I apologize for being a bit rude, but I have my claws full at the moment, as I'm sure you can imagine. I'm sure we can find you something suitable. What can you do? To clarify, what trade do you practice?"
"We were caravan guards, but my friend here is also an acrobat. What jobs would be available to us?"
"Well, certainly the Watch, but you may prefer to be scouts. You will want to report to George if the latter is true, the Watch office if the former."
"Thank you. Where can we stay?"
"The Keep has been making a lot of new doors recently, but we can probably arrange temporary housing until you find yours."
"Making?" Cheep stared at the alligator incredulously.
"Oh, you must be new here. Yes, Kyia makes new doors and their accompanying rooms appear sometimes, whenever she knows someone will be staying here permanently. They are usually custom made to their designated occupant."
Cheep felt like his head was spinning with all the crazy things he had seen that week. First, talking animal-men. Then women who weren't women, but men, and children who were grandparents. Then, a castle with moving corridors, haunted by a mysterious being who apparently had a mischievous sense of humor. The prospect of a quiet room with a bed was growing more and more appealing. As they walked down the shifting hallways once again, Kag drew to a halt in front of a large wooden door.
"I'd say we have the favor of the Lady Kyia."
"What makes you say that?"
"This door has our names on it."
"You can't read?"
"I can, but I've never actually seen my name written before."
"Ah. Well, I guess that must be how you spell it. Shall we explore?"
Cheep nodded and Kag opened the large ironbound door. Through this they found a wide room with a table and two chairs, one very large and sturdy-looking, the other smaller, but both with a large unusual hole in the back at the level of the seat. There was also a food cabinet as well as a fireplace and cozy hearth, with a door on either side of the room that led to their respective bedrooms. Kag assumed the one with the large arched doorway was his, even though he couldn't imagine why it would need to be so wide even if it was custom-fit for him. Cheep's door was smaller and innocuous, but the room beyond was bizarre to say the least. The bed, if you could call it that, was a sort of hammock with a mattress in it, and the wooden closet was normal enough, but the first thing Cheep noticed was that EVERYTHING was at least six feet off the ground! There were ladders all over the walls, and wooden beams that stretched across the room from each of the room's features to the others, closer to the high ceiling than the floor. He looked on in wonder, glad that he had long ago lost his fear of heights since this was apparently to be his room. He would have to climb to get to anything! He already felt tired at the notion.
Kag fared better, but everything seemed so much bigger and sturdier than necessary. The bed was as wide as he was tall, although just a foot off the floor, and seemed to have a solid wood base instead of legs like the beds he was used to. There was another chair like the one in the main room that was of average height, but looked as though it were designed to bear an elephant instead of a man.
They reconvened in the living room, and Cheep asked "Weren't these rooms supposed to be custom designed for the person who was to live in them?"
"Then why the heck is everything above my head??"
"I don't know, but I expect it has something to do with the Curse. I think I heard someone say that they thought their room was weird until they changed. Maybe Kyia has designed them to fit our Cursed forms. They seem to be animals."
Cheep looked worried for a moment. "Do you think it will hurt?"
"I have no idea. It is different for different people. Some people change quickly, some slowly. I heard of a beaver who took almost two months to finish changing. Some report a painful change, while others say it feels like breathing, only different."
"I wonder what I will become."
"Well, judging from your chambers, I would say something that is a good climber. But I don't know animals that well. I expect to become something really big. Well, something bigger and heavier than I am now, I mean. Everything in my room is heavy-duty."
"Hmmm. I guess all we can do now is wait."
"Yep, I agree. Although we should talk to this George in the morning, or whatever the other place was."
"Okay. Good night, I guess."
Kag yawned as he loped back to his room, and Cheep looked a bit annoyed at the prospect of having to climb that high into bed. He decided to just make the best of things, and climbed a ladder on the nearest wall. From this, he had to walk across a narrow beam stretching across the room until it intersected with another one at right angles, and balanced along this one until he came to the hammock.
"One of these days, I'm going to seriously injure myself doing this!" he remarked as he dropped into the comfortable bed.
They woke the next morning bright and early, the sun streaming in through previously unnoticed windows. Cheep stretched as he rose, noting that he felt more limber and flexible than normal. Kag rose from his gigantic bed without noticing any difference. As he buckled on his massive claymore, he noticed that the strap buckled in the next hole down from the one that normally fit; there was a deep crease in the leather from wearing it the same way for years. He concluded that the curse must have started setting in already, and continued getting ready. Cheep met Kag in their shared living room and they went to the mess hall to get breakfast before trying to find George. Kag noticed that the beef shank he ate tasted less flavorful than it normally would, but the fruit tasted better.
They left the mess hall and focused on finding this George person who was apparently in charge of something and could give them a job. They didn't know what to look for, but Cheep noticed a door that he was sure they had passed at least twice and pointed it out. Kag opened the door cautiously, wondering whether he was intruding. There was a wide anteroom with maps on the walls and a reception desk at the back, at which sat a particularly beautiful woman who looked to be a secretary.
"Excuse me, but we were looking for George?"
A loud belch was heard from the connected office beyond, and a slightly mangy jackal morph walked out, scratching himself in a very unprofessional way.
"You found him. What can I do for you?"
Cheep stared at him, finding it difficult to believe that this unkempt being was a leader, military or otherwise.
"We need jobs. We were told to talk to you about joining the scouts, I think?"
"That's right. We'll see. The scouts aren't exactly on-duty during this Plague thing, ‘cause nobody can go outside the walls that isn't already out there, but there's plenty to do inside to help out the Watch. What training do you have? I can see the sword on your back, big fella, but do you know how to use it?"
Kag spoke up first. "We were just employed as caravan guards for a choosy merchant before being stuck here. I have killed about thirty-five Lutins and innumerable bandits with my blade. But I assume you would want to test us before making a decision."
"You got that right. How about you? I don't see a sword on you. What do you fight with?"
Cheep was only a little bit nervous now. "I can fight with my bare hands, staffs, nunchukas, and throwing blades. I don't know anything about Lutins; I did kill at least four bandits from a group called the Reapers when my troupe was attacked a few months ago. I don't usually need to kill; I have personally disarmed and knocked out at least two dozen bandits who tried to attack me before that."
Cheep pulled his out and held them out for George to see.
"Oh yeah, those. Well, I guess we should head off to the practice rooms to see just how well you can fight. Come on. Terry, cancel all my appointments for this morning."
He led them back through the Keep to a large courtyard where a large number of humans of various ages and animal morphs practiced and sparred. Apparently not everyone was too scared of the Plague to go about their normal business. George tapped a feline morph who was practicing archery as they passed and motioned for him to follow.
They neared a series of rings painted onto the floor, some of which contained pairs of sparring humans and morphs.
"You, skinny kid, what was your name?"
"Chip'ang Koniko, sir. Most people call me Cheep."
"Some barmaids call me that. But that's a different story. And you?"
"Kagmer Quarr. Kag for short."
"Charmed, I'm sure. Anyways, you can't practice with real blades. Grab some practice swords and get your tails back here ASAP."
"We don't have tails."
"Not yet anyways. Move it!"
They each quickly found a wooden weapon appropriate for their size in the racks against one wall and returned to where the jackal stood waiting.
"All right, Cheap, or whatever, you will be sparring with Alex here. Don't go easy on him."
Cheep was unsure of to whom he had addressed this last command.
"Can I use my nunchukas?"
"Not this round. Go!"
Cheep was caught off guard by the sudden ferocity the cat morph displayed as he whipped across the circle and disarmed him with one stroke, and then poked him in the chest with the blunt tip of the sword.
"Again!" George barked. "And this time keep a grip on your weapon!"
Even though he was ready for it, he still didn't last long against the obviously skilled cat, who had no trouble delivering multiple would-be killing blows with the wooden weapon.
George sighed. "Well, you're obviously worthless with a sword. Now try it with those nunchukas."
This time the cat was caught off guard as the now-confident youth stood his ground and remained motionless until he swung the blade at him. The nunchukas spun once and cracked loudly as they deflected the blow. The feline attacked again, this time trying to fake his motions and get in a blow around his defenses. Again the nunchukas flipped and this time impacted the grip of the wooden sword in the cat's paw. Alex almost dropped his practice sword at the shock and pain of the hit, but shook it off and flew into a series of successive quick strikes. Blow after blow was simply deflected as Alex realized that Cheep was simply in his element and was trying to wear him down. He changed strategies again, now trying to hit lower to make him protect his legs so he could attack his vitals again. Once again, the expertly wielded nunchukas prevailed and left no opening for the wooden sword. Cheep saw Alex's frustration and decided to finally press the attack. He spun the weapon around his body in curious arcs and lashed out at the swordsman. Alex had no shield, but would have found it difficult to defend himself even if he had one. He was only able to block a few strikes from the unorthodox weapon before Cheep deftly wrapped the cord connecting the two halves of his weapon around the hilts of Alex's practice blade and he jerked backward. The cat tried to maintain his grip on the sword, but he was pulled forward and Cheep dropped him to the stone floor with a chop to the back as he tried unsuccessfully to regain his balance.
"Very interesting. It seems you might really know your stuff. Next?" George called out.
Alex shook his dizzy head as he tried to get up. Cheep helped him up, and he asked, "Can I at least have a little break first?"
"Yeah sure. Just hurry it up. I don't have all day."
The cat massaged his neck as he rested against the wall. "Wow, that was some pretty impressive stuff back there."
"Thank you. I saw that you are used to fighting people with swords, and that you're good at it, but you've just never seen my kind of weapon before."
"Yeah, something like that."
He got back up and entered the circle once more, this time to face the hulking Kag.
"Seriously. I should get extra pay for this." Alex remarked.
The two combatants faced off, one with a standard wooden longsword, the other with a practice claymore that looked like it was made out of a trimmed-down fence post.
Alex shook his head and rushed toward his opponent, intent on winning quickly so he could go relax for the rest of the day in the baths and try to soothe his sore body. Kag swung a feint at him, gauging his reactions to see what he would do. Alex dodged the halfhearted blow and pressed forward, trying to get in a ‘killing' blow and end the match. The big man surprised him with his skill as he dropped his hands lower quickly blocking the expert thrust with the hand guard of his practice sword. He then swung the blade around again and drove through the cat's block, knocking him backwards on his tail. Alex winced in pain and scowled at how his day was turning out. He got up again to finish the match and be done, no longer caring whether or not he won. He slashed almost blindly at every exposed part of Kag's body he could, landing many of his blows but eventually getting hit again, this time making him stagger backward instead of falling. He once again shook his head, frustrated that his hits weren't having any effect on the towering swordsman. He didn't even show pain. Alex charged one last time before the huge wooden sword swung around in a wide arc and shattered his own blade in two, not stopping there but plowing into his chest once again, driving the air from his lungs and knocking him to the floor one more time.
"That's it... (wheeze)... I'm done. Get somebody else to test your recruits."
If he noticed the cat's attitude, George didn't show it.
He got up with difficulty and limped off for the baths, muttering something about a broken mirror.
"It seems you can handle yourself in a fight. But if that had been a real sword, you would be cut to ribbons."
"I'm more used to fighting groups of attackers; I usually attack most of them while their focus is on something else. I use a big sword so I can hit multiple foes with a single stroke. I can only block a little, though, so I wear heavy plate to keep the blades off."
"I suppose that works. I guess I could take you both on. Welcome to the Scouts."
"Thank you, sir."
"Whatever. Show up here Monday morning for your training and more instructions and stuff."
As they started to leave the practice rooms, they noticed the tiger morph from whom Cheep had bought his throwing stars approaching.
“I saw your fight, and I was wondering how strong you are,” he said to Kag. “I would like to challenge you to a strength competition.”
“Sounds interesting.” Kag said. “When?”
“Now. Over there.” The huge tiger pointed to the side of the room where there were weights for lifting.
They started with a medium-sized weight. Each would take hold of the steel rod with heavy stone discs fastened onto both ends and lift it above their heads. If completed successfully, they would move up in weight. The tiger went first. He picked up the bar with one paw and casually lifted it into the air. He smiled at Kag and set it back down. Kag gingerly picked it up with both hands, as he had never tried to pick this weight up before, but lifted it with little difficulty. The cat picked up the next heavier weight, this one about as heavy as a pig. He lifted it with the other arm than last time, but the same way, and then set it back down. Kag lifted it with his left arm, the stronger one, and found it fairly difficult. The feline grinned as he saw Kag struggle. The increasing of weight and lifting continued until the tiger morph picked up a weight that weighed as much as a pony and hefted it, this time trying hard not to grunt. Kag was barely able to get it above his head before nearly dropping it to the floor. The feline quickly grabbed hold of it and helped him ease it down without damaging anything.
“It would seem that I am stronger. However, I am impressed. I have never seen another man as strong as you. Congratulations,” the morph said, holding out a paw to shake.
Kag took it as he wiped sweat off his forehead. “Thank you. I could say the same thing.”
“Thank you as well. “
"Sooo... any chance you're going to give back a little of that extra gold I gave you for those stars?" Cheep broke in.
The tiger looked incensed. "They are still worth what you paid, even if you might have argued the price down. I do not really need the money; I get enough from my other work so I make extra weapons simply because I enjoy it. I charge only a little more than the cost of the high quality materials I use."
"Oh. It was just a thought," Cheep said sheepishly.
Cheep and Kag stopped by the baths on their way to their midday meal, washing off all the sweat and grime from exercise, and offered sympathy to Alex, who they saw already sprawled out in one of the larger tubs, moaning from his aches and bruises. He assured them that it was all right, and he was just having a bad day, so he didn't really blame them. They left and once again went to the mess hall, enjoying more fruits and vegetables (Kag noticed the meat was even blander than before, and the fruit tasted even better). Cheep ate several more bananas, still the most delectable fruit he had ever tasted. As they were finishing their meal, Kag suggested that they go out and see how people were reacting to the quarantine.
"No! I don't want to get the Plague," complained Cheep.
"We only just heard about it; as far as I know there is only the case that caused the message to the Duke."
"Are you going to stay in here all week?"
"Come on. I know you better than that; you'd be bored stiff ten minutes after I left."
"I promise not to take you any place where the Plague has actually been seen; we'll just go through the market."
Cheep sighed. "I guess."
They noticed that some of the shops were closed up tight, signs posted outside declaring that they would remain closed until further notice. Many shops were open still; since their owners were very unlikely ignorant of the Plague, they must have been apathetic toward it. Most people had not seen any victims, but had simply heard that there was Plague. Some of these were terrified at the idea and barricaded themselves indoors to try to last it out. The guards had their hands full trying to prevent mass panic from the terrified citizens, so Cheep and Kag made their way back to the Keep to find ways to occupy their time. On the way, they passed one of the open shops that appeared to be a small tailor's, but it looked a bit dilapidated. Unsure of what to expect, they walked up to a window and looked in.
"What are you lookin' at?" An irascible gopher's face popped up right in front of Cheep's. He gave a startled cry and fell backwards. Kag remained stoic, but helped Cheep back to his feet.
"Sorry, we were just curious what was in here. It looked open, but we didn't see anybody."
"I'm not just anybody. I happen to be the best tailor anywhere! I can make clothing for anybody and anything. I just haven't had much business since I got here, and haven't bothered much to keep up ‘pearances."
"Oh. Sorry to bother you. We'll be going now."
"Now wait just a goldang' minute there, where do you think you're goin'? Yer' gonna need new duds soon, anybody who has eyes can see that."
"What are you talking about?" Cheep asked?
"What, you think the Curse changes yer clothes, too? You must be dumber than you look."
"How long you been here? Long enough to start changin', that much is fer sure."
"How can you tell?"
"Lookit the back a' yer hand."
Cheep glanced down skeptically, but to his surprise, the back of his hand was hairier than normal. In fact, it looked to be growing a layer of golden brown fur.
"I see you weren't expectin' that. Ha ha!" The gopher laughed.
"What am I turning into? Can you tell?" Cheep asked hopefully.
"I happen to be one of the best here at recongnizin' species, so I can tell you that, well, let's see... you seem to be turning into some sort a' monkey."
"A monkey." Cheep suddenly thought of his only link to his old home, a small jade monkey statue he had in his pack.
"That's right. And you, big fella. You look like you're wearin' yer little brother's clothes. You notice any changes?"
"Just the size so far." Kag scratched his nose, which oddly itched.
"Then what's with the nose- Ohhhhh, ha ha ha ha! I think I know what you are!"
"Lookit his nose!" the gopher was practically hopping with glee.
"My nose? What does it look like?"
Cheep looked and noticed a single thick black hair growing oddly out of the tip of Kag's nose growing upward.
"That's weird. What does that hair mean?"
"That ain't just any hair, it looks like the beginnin's of a horn!"
"A horn?" Kag asked. "What creature has a horn on its nose?"
"Well, there's a couple of them here already, so you can ask them if you like, but if I remember the name rightly it's Ry-nose-a-ris, or somethin' like that. We just call ‘em rhinos, though. Big, tough, grey fellas. Thick skin and muscles an' stuff."
"Hmmm... I think that would suit me fine..." said Kag, looking thoughtful.
"It better, ‘cause you sure ain't gonna be anything else! Once the change starts, you can't stop it or change it or nothin'."
"So why are you so interested in us?" Cheep questioned, looking suspiciously at the gopher.
"Well, as you may have noticed, you is both changin' shape. You are prob'ly both gonna get tails, and you need to get yer clothes altered to ‘comma-date yer new shapes. This big fella here may need all new ones, dependin' on how much bigger he gits. You fellas is just the first in a while to not just walk by my shop with dis-gust. There is just too much rude folk in this world..." the gopher trailed off and began a rambling tirade on the times.
"So you want to make us new clothes? Or at least make our clothes continue to fit?"
The gopher looked up from his tirade. "Why'd you think a tailor would grab you off the street?"
"Oh. That makes sense. We should probably wait until we finish changing, though, right?"
"A'course! You think I'm stupid, or what?"
"No, neither... I guess we'll seeyouagainsoonBye!" Cheep started to walk away anxiously. Kag followed.
"You better!" the gopher shouted after them.
The next few days were met with little enthusiasm. They had not started work yet, and Kagmer's wallet was almost empty, so Cheep went looking for something to do for free.
Cheep was walking down a street in the market section of town. He watched the odd people as he went, chuckling at the sight of an angry toddler giving a big bear morph a lecture on appropriate behavior as the bear cowered, flinching at the harsh words. He passed a seedy-looking booth run by an equally seedy-looking human merchant, who appeared to be selling cheap jewelry for quality prices. Cheep paid him almost no attention, but turned at the sound of the man's honey-smooth voice assuring a customer that the talisman she was considering was pure gold, and magical as well. Cheep watched the gullible bird woman drinking in the man's words, a look of adoration in her eyes. He approached the booth again, and the man looked at him and smiled broadly.
"Good afternoon, sir! You look like a fellow who knows a bargain when he sees one! Just look at this cloak pin, it suit you perfectly. For you, I will offer it for a measly two gold!"
Cheep had been skeptical, but now he was downright disgusted. He decided to play along for a bit, though, and see if he could do something about this greasy vendor.
"Hmm, shiny. What's it made of?" Cheep asked, trying to sound interested and not-so-bright.
"It may look like ordinary silver, but this fantastic bauble happens to be made of mithril! Only the finest for such a fine customer," the man oozed.
"Oh, so it's scratch-proof! That's great. So you won't mind if I scrape at it with a piece of steel," he said, pulling one of his ornate shuriken off the cord tied around his belt.
"Oh no! I mean, there's no need, I, I can assure you that- Wait!"
But Cheep had already gouged a deep furrow into the pin, which had only a thin layer of polished silver on top of the pewter it was made mostly of. Cheep gazed at the spluttering merchant with a look of utter contempt. The bird woman looked at the pin in shock, and then at the dishonest trinket peddler with spite and humphed as she turned and stalked away.
"I will give you one chance to stop lying to your customers before I turn you in to the Watch."
"Lying? What? I, but I, I, I didn't know! The person who sold it to me, he-"
"That's it." Cheep started to walk away.
"No! I'm sorry! I'll do anything, don't tell on me!"
"Anything?" Cheep raised one eyebrow.
At this point, everyone on the street had stopped whatever they had been doing and were watching the confrontation unfold.
"Give back all the money you gouged from people already and sell your cheap trinkets for what they are really worth, instead of trying to take advantage of people's ignorance. This pin is worth maybe two coppers."
"Can't we just- I mean- you..."
Cheep remained immoveable.
The man sighed, defeated. "Deal."
Cheep smiled to himself for a job well done as he returned to the Keep, thinking of the people he just saved from being ripped off. He walked along dreamily, imagining being rewarded for his efforts with bananas.
Cheep turned just in time to see a runaway cart full of rutabagas rolling down a hill toward him at a startling speed. He tried to leap out of the way, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
"Oh grea-" WHAM! Splat. Cheep was thrown five feet and landed face-first into a mud puddle, sprawling on the ground. The vixen who had been chasing the cart ran up to him with a concerned expression on her face.
"Are you okay?"
Cheep groaned as he extracted himself from the mud and got to his feet.
"Owwwwwww." He moaned.
She stood twisting her hair nervously. "I am sooo sorry. I'm so sorry. Um, here, let me help you up."
The girl pulled him to his feet.
"Are you going to be okay?"
"I'm fine, just give me a minute. Ow." He winced, rubbing his side where the cart had struck him.
"Umm, thanks for stopping my cart. That must have really hurt." She commented sympathetically.
"Yeah, don't mention it." Cheep's mood had gone from good to terrible in one fell swoop.
Cheep scraped some mud off his skin and clothes, realizing he badly needed a wash, picked up his belongings, and trudged back to his room. Kag was reclining at the table, reading a book. He looked up and noticed a mud-caked figure standing in the doorway who did not look particularly happy.
"What happened to you? Decide to have some fun in the mud?" Kag laughed.
Cheep was not amused. "No. For your information, I sacrificed my body for a cartful of rutabagas. Now I'm somebody's hero. I'm going to get a bath." With that he dumped his pack and grabbed a towel before slamming the door on his way out.
"I have got to hear this one," Kag said as he shook his head and resumed reading his book.
He scratched his nose again, feeling the rapidly growing thick hair on his flattening nose. The developing horn was now about an inch long and an eighth of that in width, and he could feel another similar one starting to grow above the first. His skin had started to lose its color, too, he noticed, as well as getting thicker. He wondered how long it would take to complete the change.
Cheep scrubbed at the caked mud on his body with a brush he had bought after discovering his personal Curse. He looked at the fur again, and noticed that it was growing lightly on his entire body except the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet. These were getting darker, he noticed, and instead of having stubbly facial hair, he had a thin coat of golden brown fur on his whole face. His pink skin was still showing through, but he could almost watch it fade as the fur grew thicker. He was distracted from watching his skin change by a sudden spiky tingling sensation coming from his backside. He felt along his backbone until he came to a knobby protrusion that had certainly never been there before. It was observably growing longer, and sitting on the stone bench in the recessed bath he was soon able to pull the tip of it above the surface of the warm water. He stared at the odd thing in his hand: his tail. It even sounded weird as he said it in his mind. Cheep watched it elongate with an uncomfortable feeling of pressure coming from the end of his spine, which he realized was becoming his tail, and then continued scrubbing off the dirt until all the solid pieces were off him. He drained the tub, refilling it with clean, fresh, hot water, and then got back in to soak for a while. It felt heavenly. He began thinking of all the things he could do with a tail until the heat started making him drowsy.
Cheep suddenly jerked up, splashing water onto the cold stone floor when he realized that he had fallen asleep in the tub. His skin felt all wrinkly, and he got up and dried himself the best he could, not really knowing what to do now that he had a full coat of fur. His tail now reached the ground, and he realized that his arms had gotten longer while his body had shrunk a bit. He put his clothes back on, which were only partially dry, and noticed that they were too loose and too short now. On top of that, he now needed a tail hole in his pants. Only having a single pair made him apprehensive about it, but he reasoned that they would need fixing anyways and went ahead and cut a hole on the back just below the beltline. This satisfied him reasonably well, and after managing to feed his tail through the hole, he cinched up his belt tight enough to keep his pants up and made his way out of the private booth, through the public baths, and back to his chambers. By the time he got there, it was late and he could hear his friend snoring loudly already from the room across from his. He suppressed his curiosity about Kag's changes and sat down in front of the fire that was left burning in the fireplace. He added a few more sticks and pulled off his damp clothes, spreading them on the stone to dry.
"I should go back and see that gopher guy tomorrow," he thought as he stretched and groomed his fur, which was still rather damp. "I needed to get a few more sets of clothes anyway."
He had barely noticed how drowsy he was before he fell asleep again.
Kagmer woke in the night to a strong discomfort in his midsection. He cleared the fog from his mind and tried to discern the source of the irritation. He got up and realized that his trousers were extremely tight. He fumbled around until he found a candle and lit it with some effort. He removed the offending garment with difficulty, noticing that his legs were much thicker than before, and his feet were shorter and wider. His skin was now a light grey, much thicker and tougher than before, and the skin on his back was starting to fold and form armor-like plates. He looked at his hands and realized why lighting the lamp had been so difficult. His fingers had sort of ‘melted' together in two places and he now had two wide fingers and a thumb on each hand. He reached up to his head when he noticed something in the middle of his field of view and felt that his skull had changed drastically, elongating forward and down. His hair and beard had been shortening for a few days now and were almost completely gone, but the curved horn that protruded from the end of his nose (which was now a snout) had grown much larger, as had the smaller one behind it. His ears flicked in surprise, and as he felt them move he was even more surprised. His ears had grown longer and more pointed and shifted to the top of his head, sticking out at angles. He set the lamp down on the dresser and noticed that there was now a mirror on the wall. Apparently Kyia had wanted him to see his new form. He gazed at the unfamiliar figure in the mirror, opening and closing his mouth and turning his ears. He flexed his arms, noting that the muscles were even harder and thicker than before; his arms were now as thick as his head used to be. As he turned about, he noticed a tail hanging from his backside. It was small and ropelike with a hairy tassel at the end, but the tail would not bother him much, Kag decided. He lifted one foot into the light and saw that his boots would never fit again; his almost circular three-toed feet were built broad and heavy just like the rest of his body. He was glad he didn't wear much to sleep in, or he would have torn out of it like the light shirt he had worn that was in tatters around his shoulders, or possibly he might have been injured as he grew. He felt himself growing still, but he felt very tired; he got back in his bed, which didn't seem so big anymore, and went back to sleep.
He woke to the sound of a bird singing so loudly it sounded like it was perched right in front of his ear, and opened his eyes to see bright sunlight streaming readily in through the window.
"SHAAADDUUUUUP!!!!" an irritated voice shouted from somewhere outside his window, presumably from another person leaning out theirs. The deafening birdsong stopped.
"Well excuuuuuuse me," a chirpy sounding voice said. "It's such a beautiful morning, I couldn't help but sing. You could use a little more cheerfulness in your life, anyways."
"In the wild, cats eat birds. Restrain your instincts or I may ‘conveniently' lose control of mine," the first voice growled.
"Some of us like to sleep in the morning and not become deaf."
Kag smirked as he rose and stretched his new, unfamiliar body. He looked down and realized he would need to find something to wear, at least something temporary to wear to the tailor's shop. He found that his cloak that was more than big enough before now just covered his back and shoulders, so he wrapped a sheet around his waist. He could no longer wear boots, but the thick pads on the bottoms of his almost circular feet protected him from rocks and other things normally uncomfortable to step on barefoot. He tried walking back and forth in his room a few times, noting that his new feet were very different and that walking normally would take some practice. He fell down once and wobbled a few more times before mastering moving in his new body sufficiently and heading out for the day.
He opened the door to his room to discover a naked monkey curled up asleep on a small pile of clothes in front of the cold fireplace. He realized that Cheep must have finished changing as well, but left him alone to wake whenever he would. For now, he gathered all his old clothes into a sack and slung it across his wide back, headed to the tailor shop owned by the crotchety gopher he and Cheep had met previously. He only met a few odd glances on the way, mostly owing to an unfamiliar face rather than lack of proper clothing. He walked up to the door and thumped on it with a meaty fist. After waiting a minute with no response, he knocked again, this time eliciting a string of curses from the occupant.
"What do you want?" the gopher scowled, and then looked up at the hulking grey figure dressed solely in a white loincloth who filled up most of the doorway.
"I came back to get my clothes refitted," Kag replied calmly as he held out the bag of clothes.
"Oh, you're that big guy who came here a few days ago, aren'tcha? With a skinny little fella who was turnin' into a monkey? Anyways, a customer! Great! Come right in." The gopher's irritation turned to pleasure at the prospect of business and non-hostile company.
Kag squeezed through the doorway, ducking his huge head to avoid smacking his larger horn on the frame. It was slightly difficult, as it was now about a foot and a half long and increased his overall height significantly. He looked around the cluttered shop, strewn about with scraps and bolts of cloth on racks and the floor, pairs of shears, and a few measuring tapes. The brown rodent dumped Kag's clothes out of the sack onto a table and sorted through them.
"I can't use any of this. You sure did a lot of growin', that's fer sure. Tell ya what, I can buy yer old clothes from ya and apply that money to new ones, but that's all I can do. Whadda ya say?"
"How much would a couple of sets of normal clothes cost?"
"Depends on the material. Yer gonna need som'n sturdy, so with what you got here, I would say prob'ly about, oh, say twelve bronze. ‘Cause I like you." The gopher left off the bit about needing business badly.
Kag agreed and let the gopher run his tape all over him, watching as he scurried around and wrote figures on a sheet of parchment that had been lying on the floor. The furry tailor finished taking his measurements and told him to come back in the afternoon to pick up his new clothes. The rhino thanked him and left.
Cheep was looking himself over in a mirror when Kag got back, and he greeted him as he came in.
"So I'm a monkey. Cool."
Cheep opened the door to his previously disliked room and walked in.
"This makes so much more sense now," he commented, swinging himself up to the higher beams with startling ease.
He made his way over to one wall with the wardrobe and pulled the jade monkey statue out of his pack.
"I think this might turn out to be pretty fun after all," Cheep said, placing the figure on his dresser and smiling.