May 4, 708 CR
Andrew pulled out a small flask from a pouch around his waist, and took a small drink of its contents. It tasted horrible, but he couldn’t just toss it away. That liquid was what was keeping him alive so far. Without it, he would have been dead days ago.
It wasn’t easy for him ever since that accident. He wasn’t able to use a sword anymore, so he couldn’t be a knight anymore. He couldn’t fight or train without possibly aggravating his condition and dying. If only things were different.
The floor beneath his feet creaked, and a splash of water brought him back to the present. He stood on the deck of a large boat, little smaller than that of a galleon, traveling through some really rough waves and a large storm, raining heavily over them.
The captain, a big man looking like someone who has been sailing for a very long time, bushy beard on his face, a thick coat over his shoulders, was talking with another man, this one not as big and wearing what appeared to be a silk jacket and pants under a coarse brown wool robe that also covered his head.
After a few minutes, the captain walked off to talk with his crew, most of them tending the mast and ropes, ensuring they survive the storm and make it to land. The other man walked carefully over to Andrew, leaning on the railing, looking into his eyes.
“If our course is true and steady, and we survive this blasted storm, we should reach port within a day or two, depending on how far this storm has blown us off course!” He shouted, trying to be heard over the winds and the crashing waves. “The captain assures us we will, but I’ve never seen waters such as these!”
“The King trusts this captain! He picked him to help deliver us and the ingots to the Keep!”
“I know! But I doubt even the King would have expected us to encounter waters as treacherous as this!”
“Marlun, it’s alright!” Andrew placed his hands on the other’s shoulder. “The King said that the captain knew these waters better than anyone! He would know how to get through this!” He sighed. “Besides, we have no other choice but to trust him!”
Marlun grinned a little, shaking his head. “Okay! How are you doing? You take your-”
“Yes! I just took the dose.” Andrew interrupted Marlun. “I’m the one who’s most concerned about my problems, since I’m the one having to live with them!”
Marlun nodded. “I certainly hope your uncle’s plan works out.” He mused to himself, looking at the waters.
“What!?” Andrew shouted.
Marlun looked at Andrew. “I said that I hope the King’s plan works!”
Andrew nodded, lurching over the banister of the ship at a near dangerous angle, before righting himself. “So do I!”
He looked out at the dark ocean, thunder pounding and lightning flashing overhead. He listened to this plan.
Metamor Keep. A remote fort located on the Northern Continent. Many had heard of it, and the curse of that land. Any who stays within the vicinity of the Keep for 2 weeks would be subject to the curse, and nothing would reverse it. People there were changed, either into children, the opposite sex, or a crude mix of man and beast.
He was told that people recently went there, suffering from a plague of some sorts, and ended up changed but completely healed. Nobody knew of any better way to heal him, since magic used to try and cure him would be negated, absorbed into the rock fragments stuck in his chest. It was the King’s hope that he would be healed, and he was willing to give it a try.
The ship rocked in the storm, water spraying on the deck.
“We should go down below! I don’t want to get washed away!” Marlun shouted, bringing Andrew back again.
They proceeded to the aft castle of the boat, a room where they slept, and took off soaked clothes, changing into dry ones. They sat down near the table, sitting in silence. This gave Andrew more time to think about everything that happened after taking the suggestion.
It was hard for him at first. The chance to live again, at the price of his gender, his age, or his species. He heard there was a rare chance two parts of the curse would affect him, and supposedly impossible chance he’d be affected by all 3 parts. He shuddered at the thought of being a female nonhuman child. It took a lot of time for him to get over the possibilities, but every time he thought it over, he had trouble getting used to it.
“You know, if this fails...” Andrew looked to Marlun.
“I know.” Marlun sighed. “If the Keep’s Curse can’t save you, you’ll be dead in a month, and I’ll have to be the one to be take on the curse and be ambassador to the Keep. We should know after 2 weeks. Of course I won’t be there for the first 2 weeks, so I won’t have to be cursed the same time you should be.”
The ship rocked violently to the side for a second, Marlun and Andrew falling to the floor.
“Ugh. This is one rough ride.” Andrew took a deep breath, feeling slight pain in his chest. “I should turn in. At least the beds here are hammocks and rock with the boat.” He carefully stood. “Night Marlun.”
Leaning against the wall to brace himself, he moved to the hammock hanging at one side of the room, and carefully climbed in.
Marlun looked at him and smiled. “That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day.” He followed suit, and took the hammock above Andrew. “Night.”
If it was just the crash of the waves and the sound of the thunder, they probably would have had trouble sleeping, but the rocking of their hammocks made it easy for them to drift off to the land of dreams.
The sound of seagulls was heard when Andrew opened his eyes. The ship was rocking, the wood creaking a little. He climbed out of the hammock, and turned to wake Marlun, only to find him gone.
“Must have awoken earlier.” He walked out of his room and up to the deck to look ouside. To his surprise, the boat was at a dock with people coming and going from the ship, carrying crates.
Andrew walked up to a man who was just passing by. “Where are we sir?”
“We’re at Menth. The storm’s winds happened to carry us close to our destination, getting us here earlier than planned. Looks like Fortune is smiling down on us.” The man said, before walking off.
Andrew looked up at the sky, the sun was just over the mountains off in the distance, so it was barely mid-morning. There were some clouds in the sky in the distance. He took in the sounds of the port, and then looked around.
“A new land.” He stood there for a second before walking to the ramp off the boat.
“Andrew!” Someone shouted.
He looked towards the source of the voice, and saw Marlun waving to him by a horse and carriage. Andrew nodded and walked down the ramp to him. “What is it Marlun?”
“I was able to procure a ride for us to the Keep, along with supplies you will need.”
“You’re not going to come? You’re the one who can best explain this to the Duke.”
“I didn’t say I was not coming, Andrew.” Marlun shook his head. “We were just getting your supplies on there. I won’t need to stay there unless we know the curse won’t heal you. But I will come to explain the situation to the one in charge.”
Andrew sighed, hanging his head. “Sorry. Okay.” He looked up at the carriage. “Very simple. I guess that’s a good thing.”
“The King only gave us so much for transportation. Now they’re almost done packing things inside. Why don’t you wait inside.” He patted Andrew on the upper arm.
Andrew nodded. “Alright. See you later.” He entered the carriage and sat down, looking out the window at the various people walking back and forth. He saw some children helping out and carrying a variety of things, which he found a little odd, but figured it was normal for Menth.
Marlun walked over to the captain and thanked him for the journey, and then turned and walked off the docks to the local inn.
As Andrew sat there, looking out at all the people, a kid suddenly appeared in the window, looking in with large curious eyes, startling him. “Hey mister.”
Andrew looked at the child, blinking in shock, before calming down a bit.
“Where you going?” The child asked.
“I’m heading to a local Keep north of here.”
“You mean that place with all the weird people?”
“Um... yeah. That’s the place.”
“Why are you going there?”
“Because I have business to attend to there.”
“What kind of business?”
“Adult stuff.” Andrew smirked.
The child looked at him for a few seconds. “Okay. Bye!” He jumped down from the carriage and ran off.
Andrew watched the child go, and just before losing sight of him, he almost thought he saw what looked like a human fox in the shadows where the child ran. Rubbing his eyes, he looked again, but didn’t see it this time.
He climbed out of the carriage, curious as to what he saw, and carefully walked through the crowd of moving people to the spot he thought he saw this fox creature. When he reached the place, he looked around, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Reaching out into the shadows, his hand came against the wall that felt like solid bricks.
“I must be imagining things. That, or the people of Metamor come here a lot and just can’t exactly be seen in public.” He turned and walked back to the carriage, thinking out loud. “I guess that means that kid was also from there, and they will know I’m coming, if they didn’t know before hand.”
He climbed into the carriage and sat back down, gazed out the window, and saw Marlun walking back to the docks.
Marlun came up to the carriage, and after talking to the driver, climbed inside and sat down across from Andrew. “They say everything’s been stowed away. Looks like we’re ready. Last chance to change your mind and live the last of your days in peace.” He grinned.
Andrew didn’t find it funny. “No. I’m not changing my mind. I’ll give this a shot. Besides, they said there was a very good chance it wasn’t going to happen and I would die in the month, so either way I’m very likely dead.”
Marlun nodded, and pounded the top of the carriage. A sudden jolt was felt as the horses moved forward, pulling the carriage. “We’ll be at the border of the valley in an hour, and at the Keep long after that. Will take most of the day.”
Andrew, looking out the window and watching the scenery pass, only nodded.
The trip was mostly uneventful. Along the way, a person stopped them and tried to extort money from them by claiming a toll, but was quickly scared away when Andrew used a crossbow on a nearby rock, bouncing off it and hitting one of that man’s friends in the shoulder, who was hiding behind a tree. Marlun didn’t bother asking how Andrew knew there were others, since he knew Andrew had been watching the road more than just taking in the scenery, and would have seen something that wasn’t tree bark.
They kept on going, not running into any other problems, but when they crossed the border into the valley, Andrew’s chest started to feel warm.
He rubbed his chest, just around the scar, and shifted in his seat.
“Something wrong?” Marlun asked, noticing his discomfort.
“Not sure. My chest feels warm all of a sudden, around the wound.”
“Hmm. That’s strange indeed. We just passed the border into the valley.”
“How would that cause the sudden warmth I’m feeling?” Andrew turned to look at Marlun.
Marlun only shrugged, and went back to minding his own business.
Andrew looked back out the window, and watched the scenery. The sun had moved high into the sky, lighting up the land and showing all that was around the carriage. As they rode onward, Andrew saw a bunch of farms, some fairly close by, others off in the distance. The ones in the distance looked like they were having some activity, though he couldn’t tell what the people there looked like.
The distance soon was blocked as the path took them through a small forest. The trees were covered in leaves, signifying it was Summer, and were blowing in the winds, swaying and leaning. The view of the trees vanished quickly, and Andrew was able to see the plains and field again, though this time he was seeing odd sights.
On the fields were strange looking people. Somer were large, some were small. They all had weird colors on them, and when he tried to focus on a few, he could have sworn he saw fur on them, but this fur was under their clothes.
Andrew knew that they were people affected by the curse, but even knowing what to expect didn’t prepare him for the sights.
They passed through a few towns that were surrounded by walls, various people and creatures going about their business, some stopping and looking at the carriage before continuing about their day. The ride continued uninterrupted for a while longer, until the horses came to a stop.
“Hmm?” Marlun looked out the window, and smiled. “We’re here.” He quickly climbed out and stood to the side, waiting for Andrew.
Slowly, Andrew followed and stood outside, looking at the Keep. It was old, if not ancient, but the structure was well kept. Cold, gray stones stacked one upon another rose up before him into a blend of tall towers arranged in a ring, while the other half, more stocky and sturdy with squat wide towers and lined with crenelations and narrow windows, brooded like a giant contemplating its children. There were two guards standing at the tall bronze gate, looking at him. One looked like a woman wearing armor that was meant for the fairer sex, and the other looked like a bear, only this one looked more like a man covered in bear fur, wearing very little armor.
Marlun walked up to the guards with Andrew following at his heels. “Hello, I’m Marlun of the kingdom of Tuulrith. With me is Andrew, also from Tuulrith.”
The woman studied the two, her eyes narrowing suspiciously. "Tuulith? I've never heard of it. What brings you to Metamor?"
Marlun licked his lips and did his best to smile. The bear was glowering down at them from his height, hefty forearms resting between the points of an axe head that could easily cleave them in twain from the top of their head down to their feet, and probably still dig deep into the close-fitting stones beneath them. 'We are here at the behest of our sovereign to open up trade and diplomatic relations with the Hassan Duchy. My companion, the nephew of our liege, suffers from a terrible wound and seeks the healing powers of your Curse."
Both her and the bear lifted their eyes in surprise, glancing from Marlun to Andrew and then back again. The woman, in a friendlier tone, managed a smile and beckoned them forward. "The Prime Minister is seeing to some affairs in Lake Barnhardt, but if you are willing to be patient, you can speak with his grace Duke Thomas himself. He's holding an audience today and hearing petitions. I will take you there if you would follow me."
Marlun turn to Andrew who sighed and nodded, waving one hand toward his friend. "You go on and present our petition. I think I will wait here, maybe walk in those gardens. "
Marlun nodded, his expression filled with sympathy but firm resolve. "I will apologize to his grace for your fatigue when I speak with him."
"Thank you," Andrew said with a wan smile before watching the woman guide Marlun through the tall bronze gates into the castle. The bear who leaned against his axe, an axe whose haft stood taller than him, pulled back his jowls in what must have been a smile but which revealed more than enough beastly fangs to make Andrew anxious.
But if the bear were able to speak, he certainly didn't seem inclined to speak. Andrew nodded his head quickly to the guard, and then turned away from the gates and walked slowly toward the gardens, the warmth in his chest ebbing in and out with each ragged breath.
The woman led them through the Keep and stopped before a large door. She carefully opened it and motioned for them to go inside.
Marlun nodded. “Thank you.” He turned to Andrew. “Take care Andrew.”
Andrew simply nodded.
Marlun smiled turning back to the guard. “Lead the way.” He then followed the guard inside, the door closing behind them
Andrew turned around and looked at the courtyard for the Keep. It looked well kept, flowers growing in small gardens, small fountains near the sides, presumably to allow people to easily water the flowers, lined with paths of close-fitting tiles, giving a terrazzo pattern.
He leaned against the stone wall, and looked around at the various creatures that moved about. Some of them took notice of him, and simply nodded as they went about their business. He nodded in return, just watching them go about.
Some of the creatures did many things a normal person would do. He saw a few carrying bags of grain, others walking towards one of the gates with children, all wearing what looked like hunting gear, and one wearing a smith’s apron. It was fascinating and weird to see all of this, and Andrew couldn’t help but hope to live through this so he could possibly get to know some of these creatures.
One such creature apparently took the initiative and walked up to him. It was small and hard to make out what it was at first, but as it got closer, it appeared to be a rat-like person walking on two legs, and had what looked like a black hand mark over the right side of its face.
“Good morning sir. My name is Charles Matthias. You look rather out of place here. Are you visiting this place or merely passing through?” He asked with a smile on his snout. Despite his black eyes, and the shortness of his stature, there was a brightness in his expression, and a lightness to his step that made it appear as if his toes touched the tiles only to be polite to the stones within as he could have floated along if he so chose.
Andrew looked down at him. “Um... Hopefully I’m staying. My name is Andrew. Andrew Zernkez.”
Charles peered at him with a vigorous shivering of the whiskers protruding from either side of his snout. Andrew couldn't tell whether he was shocked or merely amused. “You’re staying? May I ask the reason for your stay?” He looked Andrew over, a quiet hum as he looked.
“It’s my hope that the Keep’s Curse can save me. It’s a big hope, due to the nature of my problem.”
“The nature of your problem? Wait..." Charles's dark eyes studied him for a moment, and the saucer-shaped ears seemed to rise higher on the sides of his head. And then, to Andrew's complete astonishment, from this rodent's tongue danced the language of his homeland! "By your appearance and accent I would say that you are from Sonngefilde."
"Yes!" Andrew exclaimed, nodding his head vigorously. "The Kingdom of Tuulrith is my home. Are you from Sonngefilde as well?"
Charles eyes widened, ears moving upwards ever further in surprise. “My. Tuulrith? That is a long way from here. As for myself, I was born in Kitchlande, but I spent most of my youth in Sonngefilde. Not far from Tuulrith. It is a very beautiful country there in the shadow of the Darkündlicht mountains. It has been a very long time since I have trod those ways. Though soon I will return for, I hope, a short visit." Even as he spoke, the rat's gaze took on a distant, thoughtful cast. But the moment was brief and he quickly returned his attention to Andrew and asked, "Have you been to Galendor before? Your speech, though accented, is quite good."
"I have rarely left my home, and certainly never have I come to Galendor before. If not for my ailment..."
"It must be very serious to bring you so many leagues from Tuulrith. News of the healing that Metamor's Curse brings has spread far indeed if it has made it all the way to Tuulrith."
"The news came to us only recently. Many of my people do not believe it to be true, but I am willing to take that risk. Perhaps our people can even trade with Metamor if this works."
Charles nodded thoughtfully, before asking, "Do you still export Moridanium?"
Andrew was impressed. "Yes we do. I'm surprised that anyone this far from Sonngefilde would have heard of it."
"I hail from Sondeshara. I know of the stories and the ore. I handled a crafted piece once myself, but only a nugget no bigger than your thumb." He held a furless paw up and gestured with two fingers to suggest the dimensions of the nugget he'd once touched. He then clasped one paw over his wrist and let his arms hang in front of an ornate belt buckle in the shape of a rat's head. "Please, tell me what ailment brings you to Metamor? Perhaps there's a solution other than our Curses that the healers of Tuulrith haven't thought of."
Andrew looked at him, his eyes changing from impressed to sadness as he hung his head. “We did think of everything.” He said quietly, then looked up at Charles. “You know how toxic the ore is in its raw form?”
Charles nodded, brow furrowing in concern. “Yes. We know that you mine it very carefully, since it’s so rare, even within your own borders. Even after handling that one refined piece I had to scrub my hands thoroughly to be safe.”
“That’s just it. I have fragments of the raw ore stuck inside my chest. A mining accident nearly killed me and many others.”
“Oh my. That’s.... That’s terrible.” Charles swallowed heavily, eyes wide and ashen at this news. “What happened?”
“We don’t know. Me and a few other knights were assigned to guard the mines, and then there was a rumbling of the earth. The workers came running out, claiming the mines were becoming unstable. My fellow knights and I rushed in to help save as many as we could, but before I could get out with the last of the miners, the tunnel collapsed right on top of us.”
Andrew had tears running down his cheek as he recounted the event.
“I barely remember what happened next, but I remember waking up with a bunch of people over me, and I felt numb all over. They were doing something with my chest, and.... and.... they were removing pieces of the ore from a gaping wound.”
Charles nodded, walking up beside him and placing a comforting hand on Andrew’ leg. “It’s alright. I understand. If I recall correctly, the ore is a powerful magical negator. They could not use magic to heal you because of it. Could they have removed all of it safely?”
Andrew shook his head. “No. Some shards were embedded deep enough that to pull them would cause me to bleed, and without magic to close the wound, I would have bled out.” He looked at his chest. “They had to let the wound heal naturally, and over time, while using a small elixir made from various plants, some of them poisonous, to counteract the toxic elements of the ore.”
Charles nodded, looking at the Keep. “I see. But... if the elixir is counteracting the ore, why do you need to come here? You could live out your days peacefully back home.”
“It’s because the elixir causes the body to increase its own defense response to poison, enough for it to be able to counteract the effects of the ore. But it can’t destroy the ore. Over time, my body will work up an immunity to the elixir, rendering it useless, and I will die from the ore.”
“But... the curse that changes people. It can heal poison and ailments, but it does that through magic. It is based on the three spells cast that fateful day. The only way you could be saved is through magic, which Moridanium negates.”
Andrew nodded. “Yes. That was discussed. We see this as the only chance possible. We are hoping that the Keep’s Curse will be so powerful that it will overcome the ore’s properties and heal me.” He rubbed his chest, as the warmth increased a little bit since he arrived.
“I see. You are very brave for coming all this way, Andrew. I will pray for you that it was not in vain. No man as young as you should face death over something like this." He glanced to one side and in the distance beyond a row of lilacs he saw another rat waving. His face brightened and standing on his toes, he waved back. "I must go now. I have responsibilities to tend to, and my wife will hang me by the tail if I shirk! Eli be with you!"
"And with your spirit," Andrew replied, before the rat disappeared around the row of lilacs. He then glanced at the castle and wondered how long it would be before Marlun could speak with the Duke.
“I forgot to ask you something.” Charles’s voice was came from behind his back.
Andrew turned and saw the rat person was back.
“Zernkez. That’s the name of the royal family of Tuulrith. Are you related to the king? His son perhaps?”
Andrew shook his head. “No. His son is still back home, being tutored by the court mages. I’m only related to the king though my grandfather. He and the former king were brothers. I’m the king’s second cousin.”
“I see. It’s not every day we get royal blood to join us here. Welcome.” He smiled. “Sorry. I must go again. We’ll meet again.” Charles turned and ran off, turning around a corner of high hedges, nearly missing an eagle man.
The doors opened to the building, and Marlun walked out of the Hall, followed by a guard and a large horse person. Marlun looked to Andrew and nodded before running back to the front gate, the guard following.
The horse person walked up to Andrew. “Hello Andrew. My name is Thomas Hassan V, the Duke of the Keep.”
Andrew bowed. “Hello.” He rose.
Thomas smiled and nodded. “Your friend Marlun told us everything. It’s sad to hear that you might not be saved by the curse, though some people have said it’s better to die than to be cursed. Usually a matter of perspective. Anyways, you’re welcome to stay. And I’m curious to learn more about this ore and how we can put it to use for various armaments and accessories.”
Andrew nodded. “I can explain to the smith on how to make those from the ore. Marlun told you we brought some of it with us?”
Thomas nodded. “Yes. Processed ore, not toxic. Marlun told me they have been refined and put in ingot shape for easy transport. He explained everything as best he could. I just hope it will be useful.”
The guard came back carrying various things with him. It was helpful that this guard was a very big reptile like morph with wings on his back. The guard set the various bags and boxes down, and stood there.
Thomas looked to the guard, then back to Andrew. “Which of these is the ore?” He asked.
Andrew walked over and carefully opened a large box. Inside the box was a chest. Andrew picked it up, and looked at Duke Thomas. “Can we go inside?”
Thomas nodded, and led him inside, showing him to a small private room, where the chest was set down. Andrew proceeded to open with a key he had around his neck, under his shirt. The chest unlocked and opened, revealing a bunch of purple colored bricks, neatly stacked.
Duke Thomas walked over and picked up one of the bricks. It was smooth and cool to the touch. “Amazing.” He turned it over, admiring the work. “To be honest, I was surprised to hear about this from Marlun. If your kingdom is where you say it is, then one of my people here would have known about it. I’m kind of curious about why he never brought it up before.”
Andrew looked at Duke Thomas. “Do you mean a rat person called Matthias?”
Thomas looked at Andrew with a smile. “Yes. You met him I take it?”
Andrew nodded. “Yeah. He told me he was from Sondeshara. It’s the closest kingdoms to mine. And he might not have brought up this knowledge because of the value and price of the ore. It’s only found within my kingdom’s borders, and because of its rarity, it would cost a lot to be made into any kind of armor. Plus there is the problem with how far Tuulrith is from Metamor.”
Duke Thomas nodded, rubbing his chin. “That would certainly explain it. Still, sending us this ore means a lot to us. It would be useful for any magical problems we might have later. I know that there is one wizard who would try to use his magic on us again.”
Thomas put the brick back in the chest, and pulled it out of the box. He walked over to the guard. “Can you take these to the smith? Let him know that this will need to be put somewhere safe for the time being. Let him know what it is.”
The guard nodded and took the chest, put it over one shoulder, and walked away.
Thomas turned to Andrew. “Let’s find you a place to put your things and call home for the time being.” They walked outside, where Thomas kneeled down and picked up a bunch of the things, and slowly stood up. “I got some free time to help out. This way.” With a start, Thomas turned and walked off.
Andrew quickly picked up the remaining things, finding that Duke Thomas had grabbed most of the stuff and left him with just enough to carry, and walked after the duke, following.
They walked around the Keep for a few minutes, before coming to a door. “This is something we have for visitors who stay for a day or two. Some of them are important people, so we try to make them comfortable.” Duke Thomas said before setting some of the stuff down and opening the door. He took a step back and motioned to Andrew. “Take a look.”
Andrew walked in and looked around the room, finding it spacious, a table in the middle of the room, with a small side room on the other end, that housed a large bed.
“What do you think? Something good enough for the Ambassador of Tuulrith?” Duke Thomas said, chuckling as he walked in with the bags and boxes he carried.
Andrew moved out of the way as Thomas set the things on the table. “It’s bigger than I anticipated, but it looks good.”
Thomas smiled. “Glad you like it. After you’ve gotten settled, go to the Deaf Mule. You can meet some of the locals, and maybe have Copernicus give you a tour. Just be wary that it’ll be fast, so you might miss some places first time through.” He turned and walked out. “Be seeing you.” With a wave he left Andrew alone to unpack and settle in.
Over the next few hours, Andrew carefully unpacked his things, putting everything he had in what looked like the proper places, lastly pulling out a small smooth stone with a few runes on it, setting it on the table. He sat down and stared at it. “Maybe later.” He said to himself, before picking it up and putting it away in a drawer by the bed.
He walked out of his room, outside into the Keep, and looked at the sky. It was midday. Looking around, he saw the place was becoming more active now, with lots of people and creatures roaming around, minding their own business.
Standing there, watching, Andrew thought about what Duke Thomas said. There was a place to socialize and get to know the denizens of the Keep. Deaf Mule as it was called. He walked out into the middle of the area, and looked around.
“Excuse me, but do you know where I can find the Deaf Mule?” He asked a badger person passing by.
The badger looked at him for a second, and then pointed in a specific direction. “Just go that way, and you’ll find it. Should be the only place where a lot of noise is coming from.” The badger then continued on his way.
“Thank you.” Andrew said before turning and following the direction. Within minutes, he came across a building with many people coming and going, and a lot of noise coming from the inside. “Must be the place.” He walked into the Deaf Mule, only to be hit in the face as the door opened in front of him.
He fell back onto the ground, and a small kid walked out followed by a wolf person.
“I’m sorry. Are you okay?” The child ran up to him. It appeared to be a young girl, no older than 14 years, wearing a red hooded cloak over her shoulders, the hood on her head.
“I’m fine.” Andrew replied, holding his nose. It hurt, but he knew he wasn’t bleeding, nor was it broken. “I should have watched where I was going.”
“I’m glad you’re okay.” The girl said. The wolf man held out a clawed hand to Andrew, which Andrew took, and pulled him up. “Sorry we can’t introduce ourselves. We gotta run.” The girl waved and ran off, with the wolf following.
Andrew shook his head, getting over a small wave of dizziness, before walking into the Deaf Mule. He saw a lot of people here, children, men and women, as well as a variety of non-human like creatures. Many were talking around tables, some were at the counter on the other side of the room, drinking, and some were playing on a pool table.
Andrew walked over to the counter and sat down, a few people looking at him as we went, and looked around.
“What’ll it be?” A voice asked.
“I’ll have some mead please.”
“Alright. One mead coming up.”
Andrew didn’t bother looking at the person who asked, just watching the room. A few seconds later he heard a small glass set down beside him. He turned and took it, nodding to the person behind the counter before he took a sip of it. “Thanks.”
He watched all the patrons of this place going about their business, not sure what to do other than watch, but he found the atmosphere in the room pleasant. After a few minutes, he got up and walked over to the Pool table.
“Hey, can I join in?”
All the players looked at him, and nodded.
“Sure.” A lizard person handed him the pool cue. “You know how to play?”
Andrew took the stick. “No. I’m afraid not.”
“Heh. What you do is hit the white ball on the table, knocking it towards the other balls. When you start the game, all the other balls are in the shape of a triangle.” The lizard pointed to the table. “Now, you see the balls that are solid and the balls that are striped? If one of them falls in the 6 pockets on the sides, that type is the kind you have to knock in from then on. If you knock in the opponent’s ball type, your turn ends. If you knock in one or more of your balls, you continue and try knocking another. But if you fail to get any ball into the pockets, your opponent takes his turn. You understand?”
Andrew looked the table over. “I think so.”
“Good. Now here’s the biggest rule of the game. You see that solid black ball on the table? That must be the last ball you knock in. Both you and your opponent’s goal is to knock in every one of their balls, and then knock in the 8 ball. If you knock it in before the others, you immediately lose the game. Now for beginners, you can just knock the 8 ball into any pocket you want when it’s time. But us professional players play by the rule that we have to announce which pocket we are going to knock it in. And if we knock it in any other pocket, we lose.”
“Those rules seem complex.” Andrew looked at the lizard.
“They can be, but then the more experienced you are at a game, the harder you have to make it to keep it interesting. Oh, and here’s a little rule that is known well to this place.” The lizard motioned for Andrew to lean closer.
He leaned forward. “What is it?”
“Here’s a rule for this place. I never lose. Ever. Don’t think you can win against me. A normal game of Pool, and I will win. Understood?” The lizard grinned. “Names Copernicus.” He held out a hand.
Andrew took it, shaking it. “Andrew. Nice to meet you.”
“I can tell you’re new here. For one, you don’t look like someone that has been cursed and changed. And two, you’re just a new face all together.”
Andrew chuckled. “Is it that obvious that I’m a new face?” He laughed.
Copernicus laughed. “Yeah. It’s very obvious. You lack the nose of the usual people who live here. You staying or visiting?”
“Staying. Hopefully for a long time.”
“For a long time? What do you mean?”
“I mean that if I don’t start changing from the curse, I’m a dead man.” He leaned back. “Now, how about we play a game? You said that you never lose, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play a match for no reason.”
Copernicus nodded, thinking about what was just said. “Sure. Let me get it set up. I’ll let you break.” He walked around and put all the balls in their spots, using a triangle to hold them, then removed it. “Just move like this, hitting the cue ball.” Copernicus went through the motions, showing Andrew how to hit the ball.
Watching, Andrew tried following, hitting the cue ball dead center, and watched as it rolled to the others, hitting and knocking them apart. It was cool to watch the action, the balls rolling around on the table. Sadly, none of the balls went in the pockets.
“It’s alright. That happens a lot.” Copernicus smiled, moving around the table. “My turn.” He went about the table, and knocked the cue ball. It was like watching a magician doing an act. Copernicus knocked one solid ball into the pockets, and it was quickly followed by all the others, followed by the 8 ball, ending the game.
“Um....” Andrew looked at the table, all the striped balls still there. ”Good game.”
Copernicus smiled. “Yeah. Next time I’ll go easy on you.”
“Yeah. Thanks.” He shrugged and handed the pool cue to one of the other players. He turned and walked back to the counter, only to find all the seats were filled, the spot he was at earlier taken. by a squirrel person. Even his drink was gone, apparently vanished somewhere.
With a sigh, he turned and walked out of the inn, and decided to head back to his room. He knew it was going to be a long week. As he walked, he noticed a large furnace, and heard the sound of a hammer striking metal. Out of curiosity, he walked over and looked around.
Walking in, he heard the hammer strikes even louder, and noticed that the source of the noise was coming from around the corner. He turned the corner, and saw what looked like a large spotted cat person hitting a smith’s hammer against a red hot blade. After a few seconds, the person dipped the blade into a large tub of water, steam rising as the hot metal touched the cooling water.
The person turned to him, smelling Andrew’s presence. “Hello. Do you need something?”
Andrew shook his head. “No. Just curious. Are you the one who got the ore?”
The creature raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. I did earlier today. How did you know?”
“Because I was the one who brought it to the Keep.”
The smith nodded. “Ah. Thank you. I took a look at it and find it fascinating. Don’t know if it will make durable armor, but could make for great accessories. Maybe for some ladies.”
“Maybe, but those bricks are of an ore that negates magic.”
The smith looked surprised. “Really? You don’t say. That certainly would explain why I had to put it someplace safe. It would make for excellent armor in skirmishes against magic casters. Certainly would have come in handy against Nasoj. Thank you. I’ll see to making some armor out of this.” He smiled, showing off his sharp fangs.
“That’s kind of why we brought it here as bricks. We knew it would need to be custom made armor for everyone. But please don’t go overboard. I came from a very distant kingdom, and so these bricks will be hard to replace.”
“Understood. Use them sparingly. I might as well just make some kind of accessories and things that people could wear on their person. How powerful is this ore?” Gordon crossed his arms.
“A lightweight gauntlet made purely from the ore will negate even the most powerful spell you can think of.”
“Even the curse? I know some people would kill to be restored.”
“It doesn’t undo spells already cast. It only stops the energies of spells that are being casted from affecting you. If a spell already has its hold on you, this won’t undo it.”
“That’s a shame. I guess there will never be a simple fix to this curse.” The smith smiled. “I need to go back to work. Thanks for the bricks.” He turned and walked off to continue working on the sword.
Andrew watched him go, and left himself, walking out into the sunlight. He took a deep breath, and walked back to his room. He didn’t know why, but the warmth in his chest was beginning to get really annoying. That and he was feeling very tired, something he had been feeling a lot ever since the accident. Removing his shirt, he walked to the bed and laid down on it.
He stared up at the ceiling, thinking back to the trip and what had happened earlier today. After a while, he reached up and felt his chest. Slowly, his fingers ran across the scar that ran down the middle of his chest, the one thing that would show his condition, would be a constant reminder to his problem.
The scar was almost sickly to look at, discolored by the ore. Instead of one that was red or brown, like a normal one, this was a deep purple. Some veins could be seen around the discoloring. It was not a pleasant sight.
A loud banging on the door took his attention. Climbing out of bed, he put his shirt back on, walked to the door. “Hello?” He asked, opening the door.
Almost immediately he was pushed back into his room as a large zebra-striped porcupine woman walked on it. “Can you take off your clothes please?” She said, setting a bag down on the table and opened it.
“W-what?” Andrew blinked, looking shocked.
“Your clothes. Take them off. I want to see what you’re look like and what your problem is.”
“Wait. What!?” Andrew was confused.
“Oh, I’m sorry. My name is Pascal. I’m here to examine you. Duke Thomas told me that we have a new person coming to stay with us, someone of royal blood, who was dying from some toxic magic sucking mineral?” She looked at him. “I do have the right room, correct?”
“And so you’re the one who is dying? It’s a shame that you might go out on us. But at least we might learn something from you, regardless the outcome. Tell me your name.”
“It’s Andrew.” He looked at her as if he was talking to a mad man.
“Please to meet you Andrew. I’m Pascal. Now, remove your clothes and let me examine you.” She pulled out a magnifying glass from the bag, and held it up to her eye.
“Why do you want me to remove my clothes!?” He held up his hand.
“I want to see where you were injured and how it’s affecting you.” Pascal said, lowering the glass. “Are you going to remove your clothes or not?”
“I’ll just take off my shirt, if you don’t mind.”
Pascal sighed. “Not at all. At least we can start somewhere. Sit down at the table and please take off your shirt.” She patted a stool beside her.
Andrew cautiously walked over and sat down at the stool, and removed his shirt.
“Face me please.” She motioned.
Andrew turned to her, showing his large scar.
“That is not natural.” Immediately she brought the glass up to her eye and she peered at his chest closely. “You’re built well. Thick chest, big abs.” She said.
“Um... thanks, I guess.” Andrew said, looking around.
“Shh. Don’t talk. I have to concentrate on your body and your voice is distracting me.” She motioned with one finger wagging to him.
She continued looking his chest over, lifting his arms up and looking over his shoulders, neck, and face. “Okay. Turn around now.” She grabbed his shoulder and forcefully spun him on the stool, making him face the table.
She then went up and down his back, looking at his shoulder blade and spine, then up the back of the neck, and finally to the hair. “Hmm.” She reached into the bag of hers and pulled out a small glass vial and some scissors, and proceeded to cut some of his hair.
“Hey, what are you doing!?” Andrew asked, tempted to turn around.
“Shh! I’m collecting samples.” She said, cutting more and depositing a big chunk into the vial, before putting a lid on it and putting it away. “All done. Now, are you going to remove your pants?”
“Uh..n-no. I’m... I’m not wanting to take them off.”
“But I need to look you over more and see if there’s anything else about you that I might need to know. Come on. Up! Up up up up!” She nearly knocked the stool out from under him, but he quickly stood.
“Come on. Please stop this.” Andrew pleaded
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Your choice.” She looked at him.
With a gulp, Andrew did as he was told, and within an hour Pascal left him alone, claiming she had all that she needed.
Andrew sat back down on the stool, mostly confused about what just happened, since it felt like it went so fast. He brought his hands up to rub his head, and felt a bald spot. “What the!?” Feeling around, he felt all the hair in that area was missing, right in the area Pascal cut earlier. Pascal had cut all the hair in that spot of his head, leaving a bald spot.
He groaned and hit his head against the table. “Ugh. Is this place insane?” He pulled out his flask and took a sip of the elixir, grimacing at the taste. With a sigh, he climbed into bed, weary of the days ahead, and fell asleep.