The silence was disrupted by the sound of a rapid heart beat, the darkness however remained undisturbed and it un-nerved the troubled keeper, there was no source of light, not from underneath the door nor from the window. He intended to change that and struggled to light a candle. Eventually much to his relief the sparks from the flint lit the blackened candle wick stub.
Sitting upright on the bed fighting off nausea he took deep breaths and gazed at the puny orange glow, then to his wrists, they were still human shaped but tainted with spots. He wanted to tear them off and just see normal skin. Then there were those pads, they were like calluses from hell. And finally there were the blunt un-retractable claws at the end of each digit.
In a fresh bout of anxiety he remembered the previous day. He killed them. People were dead because of him, and it was easy. He was a freak and a murderer. He would be nether if he didn't travel to this cursed castle. 'Sigh', 'if'.
He had to get out of this place, out of this room.
The keeper wrestled free of the blankets and without another thought headed for the door. The corridor beyond was much colder; he embraced the cold hoping it would wash away the stress. He walked quickly in any direction, dressed in loose clothing and walking on bare feet, the cold stone floor was comforting but it soon felt very cold. Before realizing it he had cooled down significantly and was starting to get cold and drowsy, returning to the apartment seemed like a good idea but he didn't want to go back.
Looking up, the sight was a stark contrast to the beautifully illuminated ceilings of the more traversed corridors one would come across during the day. The dark grey stones disappeared far above and some rafters complete with cobwebs were vaguely visible, beyond that were roofing tiles and battlements. This was the source of the, at first refreshing but now bitter, cold. His apartment was on one of the highest levels.
Through cold dark halls, corridors and stairways he traveled without a goal, perhaps until the sun came up, maybe he would feel better then. He began to shiver and arched forward, arms crossed, breathing on them for warmth. Then flinched and uncrossed them just as quickly in disgust, he didn't want to make contact with the pelt.
Stealth opened a door leading out to the battlements and slammed the door behind him resulting in an agonizing sharp pain in a place where there should be no pain, he spun around and grabbed the tail. 'Ha! Good! Bloody thing, I hate this thing!' He thought and grappled it in both hands, trying to twist it in frustration. The change hurt enough as it is, he cannot allow it to hurt anymore.
It felt like a graze or a terrible cut but the pain dwindled into a dull throb. Fortunately it wasn't one of the big bulky doors, the ones you'd barricade during a siege when scores of foot solders are scampering up the walls, they were already open. One of those would have taken his tail right off, not that it would be a bad thing.
The cat-man ran a thumb claw through the fur to check for damage but then stopped and chucked the tail behind him, so what if it bleeds? Who cares? Let it. It shouldn't be there anyway.
He looked out over the battlements and took a deep breath, exhaling a large mist. He had arrived, he was here now, 'here' is somewhere, somewhere, anywhere outside of that stuffy room. ...It's cold. The moon was nowhere in the sky and there was no sign of the approaching dawn so it was pitch black save the torches which only made everything around them look darker anyway.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see a shape hovering near the flame. There were a pair of morphs wearing hoods, their snouts emerged from the void of those hoods along with their ears which were sticking out through holes cut in the top. It's probably practical and comfortable to give them room but still, such ears would have to be sensitive to the harsh cold, and this is just early morning cold, try doing that when it's windy or during a storm.
Stealth was conscious of the guard’s presence; they were staring at him, why? He's allowed to be here, what are they looking at? Who do they think they are?
Now he knew the guards were looking at him, their eyes were glowing in the torch light so they could see him but he couldn't see them. The thought frustrated Stealth all the more, he reached for and grasped his muzzle, he wanted to pull it off. It should dislodge from the point of the two black lines leaving a nose with it's own shape, then the pupils should contract to a normal human size and allow the whites to show again, then he'll grab those lines and tear the rest of it off his head, oh, and he'll give that door another try.
He was tired of frustration and tired of the intimidation from the guards gaze. The cheetah was probably the most interesting sight they had seen after hours of watching the never changing surrounds.
But the cat wouldn't tolerate them any more, he turned and stared them down switching between the two faceless inquisition like figures until they looked away and continued on their rounds. Stealth, feeling a little satisfied, wondered for a moment where the hell all the TG's and AR's must be and then broke off from being a frozen statue to return to the keep's interior and hopefully warm up.
Back inside the not so cold stone corridors of the castle the shivering cat started jogging, winding around corners and eventually coming to a seemingly never ending corridor, the cheetah gradually warmed up but tired much quicker and was eventually cold and tired. Instead of giving up he turned off down a new direction and almost tripped on the incredibly narrow steps but continued down the stairwell, taking almost sideways steps down to the bottom.
The stairs didn't seem to end anywhere but Stealth wanted to reach the ground and kept on. As each stairwell ended and another began he found himself having to sidestep empty bottles left by drunks. Other times he just jumped down the last stretch and sometimes almost crashed into the wall at the bottom. When Stealth got to the ground floor, or at least it's probably the ground, he was both pleased and disappointed and sought out another descending stairwell.
He found one near by and the process began all over but this time he began to tremble from the effort and started to seriously wonder if he had long since gone below ground, even bellow the cellars and dungeons and was descending to a place no one had ever been and one that he wouldn't return from. Without another thought the stairs ended. Putting a trembling foot on the flat ground he looked both ways down the corridor that the stairs had led him to.
The cat chose a direction and staggered down it. It opened up into the main mess hall, more guards just like the ones higher up. He sat down at one of the benches but didn't get anything, he wasn't hungry. Just needed to sit down and rest up a bit. 'What are they talking about? A girl or something.' All he could really make out was laughing and the sound of utensils. Stealth soon found the strength to get up and move off again.
Woo warmth. And that smell, no, it's not the kitchens. It's water. He found himself in the baths, it was poorly lit much like the rest of the keep at this hour but the light was reflected off the floor and all the walls. The steam felt wonderful and that water was so inviting, yes, cats don't like water, they don't talk ether.
The cat lifted a foot out over the surface of the water and was about to step in but remembered it would be too hard to get out again and he didn't bring a towel or anything, he would end up freezing, even more that is. He pulled his foot back and turned to leave, stopping to take in the steam one last time before heading back out into the dark passageways.
Once more the cold and darkness closed in. The barren corridors occasionally gave way to flickering light and tapestries, these were not the proud well kept tapestries one would expect to find rather they were quite old and worn. Large amounts of grit covered some completely obscuring what ever was being depicted. Despite their appearance they looked inviting, they were large carpets.
A whitish, yellowish hand reached out to one to touch the ageing fabric but was drawn back again, the tapestry was truly worn, fabric was missing in places and there was a tear running almost the entire length horizontally just under the pole suspending it to the wall causing the entire thing to sag. One touch would probably turn it to dust. Stealth moved on again to find warmer, less dusty, passages.
He tried to find a source of heat again; the nearby torches would not suffice. He eventually stumbled on a large hall with a hearth to one side but it had not been lit, it didn't even have any kindling, it looked like it hadn’t been used in years.
There was a glimmer on the other side of the room, pushing the idea of spooky things to the back of his head but still hoping that someone else would be in ear shot all the same Stealth proceeded to the other side of the hall. It was of course pitch black; the only illumination was coming from the corridors on ether side of the narrowest part of the room.
But despite the darkness he could make out a statue, it was one made after three gates, ugh. The figure appeared to be some sort of feline- oh, jeeze, is it? Na, oh wait, actually, it is. ...It's him. Ugh.
The Stone-Stealth looked very ordinary; the statue appeared to be clothed the same as him but he was looking more comfortable and pleased, there was even a sense of pride. The one other difference was that he was draped in something, a thick coat, it wasn't made of stone. The living cheetah gladly took the hint and removed the coat to drape it over himself. After walking back to the other exit with two coats, one thin and built-in and the other thick and detachable, he turned around to look back at the statue but it was gone.
The next corridor was well lit as it was lined with many more torches than the other areas, the extra illumination made it easier to make out details in the stone wall although it wasn't really necessary as it was easy to tell that the right side was lined with window arches. The bright light from the flames made it almost impossible to see anything outside.
Wrapped in the thick red coat the cheetah tried to block the glare with his hands as he strained to see out into the darkness, some movement and lamp light could be detected. The investigation was interrupted then when someone called out to him.
Stealth swiveled his left ear around and acknowledged the interruption. "Fell-a."
"You're up early, even for a keeper." Fell the gazelle morph had the sense to dress appropriately for the early morning chill. In a human looking hand, although one with fur and what looked like pointy thimbles at the end of each digit he was holding a cup of something steaming, it smelt like some sort of dairy drink and he was happy just to drink in the steam.
Stealth's hands were becoming very cold on the glass so he stepped away from the window and clenched the coat tighter. "So are you, what's up?"
The gazelle-man had closed his eyes and moved his nose right over the cup, a bit like he was worshiping it. He soon looked up from it again, kinda like being dragged out of bed or having to climb out of a sauna into the snow. He finally spoke. "You know how it is, working late, loose track of time. If I could perfect these movement's I can get something lethal together."
Fell took a sip and walked closer. "Are you pissed about that underground place, still? I told you there's nothing down there."
"No, I don't care about that." 'Stealthy' rubbed his hands together to get feeling back, whatever feeling could be given back to the thick pad's.
The cheetah looked up at him from the coat. "Doesn't it bother you that we just brutally beat to death a score of people?"
"..." The two just looked at each other.
"What? It was, and you've probably heard this like a billion times but it's still true, it was ether them or us. And I don't see how using fists and blunt weapons are brutal compared to sharp pointy things."
That didn't really help, "It's just, I, but, it..." He was just too flustered to form a sentence.
"I know, I know, just relax, the next time won't be as bad." He took another sip. "You just get use to it, ya know?"
"It really doesn't bother you?" The cheetah's face furrowed in a questioning glare and as has been the case quite often his mouth was open with the large canines exposed.
The gazelle shook his head or he was shivering away the anxiety from the carnivorous display. "I'm a Glenner, Stealthy. Born and bred, I've been killing those green things since I was a fawn, I mean child."
Stealth doubted that very much, but the point was taken, he'd been doing it for a long time.
"...is that all?" Fell tipped his head back and downed the hot liquid then let the mug hang from one finger.
The freezing feline just looked down at the ground and scrunched up the soft red coat tighter around himself.
He just couldn't get warm.
Then he realized the problem, the tail ...his tail, it was cold.
The cat-man slumped and started to look uncomfortable, he was even starting to warm up again and loosened the coat. "I, I’m ...I’m not'. I'm not 'me'."
"Is that it then?" It's not to be taken lightly but still... "You seemed to be enjoying it; I mean you've even been running around full form."
Stealth cringed and began to feel terrified, he has stooped to doing that and the humiliation just hit him. He started to panic and tried to turn away but was stopped by a hand on the shoulder.
"No you don't, last time I made that mistake someone was almost killed." The gazelle spun the cheetah around and chuckled slightly at the irony. "Listen up, okay? Listen, you took advantage of an opportunity, that's nothing to be ashamed of."
"..." The cat just wanted to leave.
"Everyone here does it, it just makes sense."
"..." He was feeling restless, this was the reason he left the room in the first place.
Fell sighed, "Now if you want to be like that why don't you just live in the cellars with the rats."
"It's just, this is so... different." He released a hand and after a brief moment of panic from a claw getting caught in the fabric he managed to wave it in front of him for emphasis.
"Yes that about sum's it up for everyone here, look at Alex, she even wanted to be like us but it didn't go that way for her and in this place you know how more people have fur or scales, well, she's not just different, she feel's like an outsider." Fell was recalling a memory.
"What? Just because of that?"
"And because there are people here who 'loathe' humans due to the way they would be treated by them down south."
He was surprised to hear that, people tend to have some prejudices but that sounds a bit harsh, having a problem with a fellow keeper because a random curse struck them differently? Do these people feel comfortable around him for loosing his humanity then? That's just great. "I don't want her to feel like that."
"I know you don't, I'm just saying we're all screwed by the curse, some far more than others." 'Or at least that's how they feel.' He thought to himself. "But it's, and I know you've heard this like a trillion times, but it's given us an opportunity that people can only dream of, so you might as well move on and make the most of it and that's what you've been doing."
"Hmm." He didn't feel convinced.
Or maybe that's why he feels different, if not impaired in the use of acute scent and sound unlike other morphs than he's running around in full form, again unlike most morphs. Perhaps if another joined him? Fell looked outside, it couldn't have been that long but the horizon had turned a pre-dawn blue. "Ever heard of predator and prey?"
"Huh?" Stealth furrowed his eye brows, ridges, whatever.
"I'll explain on the way."