Enkindled Part 1

by Noir

Enkindled Part 1
By Noir

   Standing outside the gates of Komley, William Pernese shaded his cinnamon colored eyes from a late March sun. The day was calm, making the sun feel a little bit hotter, and even at this early time in the morning one could feel that it would be a beautiful day. It's too bad the eighteen-year-old man couldn't enjoy it.

   In fact he was feeling almost mutinous, seeing as he had been forced to join this trading mission his cousin cooked up. His parents idea, of course, to make him stop trying to join the military. His one dream, to fight amazing battles among his brothers-in-arms, like Captain Kaltro in the town guard. His parents, though, wanted him to become a glassblower.

   Tradition, how he hated that word, for the second son to uphold his father's honor and become an apprentice. It didn't matter how much pride his father showed when William proved to have a knack for shaping glass, it was what he'd wanted after all, it didn't matter how William felt.

   Looking moodily at his leather-clad feet in the sandy brown dirt, William's sullen thoughts were interrupted by his cousin's loud voice.

   “We begin, gentlemen!” Betan proclaimed, spreading his arms in a grand gesture William found over dramatic. “After planning this trip for three months the time has come to make a small journey for big profit! In just under five days we will be in the cursed valley of the demon-beasts.” He took a pause to meet the gazes of them all, William last, “But fret not, we will only stay long enough to make a bargain. After that we will all be richer men.”

   William snorted quietly. A soldier didn't need riches, he needed a blade, good boots, and a strong arm. Patting his new iron knife, the young man felt just a little better...And it really was going to be a beautiful day.

   A large man, the largest in the group at a full head above William, spoke up at this point with a heavy accent. “Mister Pernese, what of this curse? I have heard it turns grown men into children, warriors into mad fanged demons, and goodly women into succubi.”

   Betan shook his head, “The curse transforms people, but my father assures me that as long as we don't stay inside the valley too long we will be fine. The people there are godless monsters, but they still need goods and trade to survive. Apparently they can still reason like people.”

   “What about pay?” This from a pale thin man in dark clothing and a hooded cloak to William's left. He was standing away from the rest of the group a little, he made the others uncomfortable.

   His cousin smiled, though it was clear he wasn't very happy with the dark man's company, “I have given you a stipend for supplies. As I said, once the journey is complete you will receive payment in full...plus any expenses for a celebration when we return.”

   The dark man only nodded, William stared at him until his black eyes raised, and William looked away. The stranger made him uncomfortable.

   “Anything else? No?” With this Betan gestured to their guide, a short fat man with a small dark goatee, who bowed briefly and scooped up his travel pack. He started away, Betan close behind with a spring to his step, the rest filing behind.

   William scooped up his own pack with his right hand and grasped the pack mule's lead with his left. Trailing in the back of the group, he watched the swish of the dark strangers cloak as he walked, thinking forlornly of his room in Sorin and its lovely sea breezes.

   He hadn't wanted to come on this trip; it'd been his parent's last-ditch effort to prevent him from joining the militia. Ship him off with Cousin Betan on his first solo trading mission. Betan's father, Uncle Vince, had organized the trip and given them the idea.

   So here he was trudging through the countryside with four strangers and his headstrong, overconfident, butt-head of a cousin on a boring trading run.

   At least the two mercenaries Betan had hired were interesting.

   The tall one's name was Dorian, thick as an old oak tree, but pleasant enough so far. He wore only a simple cloth vest and pants, no shoes, and a scary looking notched greatsword poked over his left shoulder under his pack. His long blond hair and beard were uncut, which give him a wild looking face, but his easy smile sort-of ruined the tough-guy he appeared to be at first.

   Walking beside him was his half-brother, Haliard, who was a darker shorter mirror of Dorian. Though the man didn't look half as wild, with his hair pulled back into a braid and his face shaven, he looked every bit the soldier William wished he could be. Observant, stoic, speaking only when it appeared appropriate; a true hero.

   Then there was the dark man, known only to them as Cal, and he was asked by Uncle Vince to be Betan's bodyguard. He was a thin, pale man with a pockmarked face and shifty black eyes. He'd been the one who inspected the mercenaries before allowing Betan to hire them. He was unpleasant but necessary.

   The last man in the brown robes was a guide hired in Komley. William didn't know his name yet, as he was only hired that morning, but he belonged to a travelers guild who guided explorers as well as merchants to various areas of the country. He hadn't seemed happy to get the job, though it appeared that his guildmaster may have given him this assignment as a punishment.

   All of them had been given a choice to join this expedition, for whatever reason, except for William. Five days traveling with his cousin, three heavily armed strangers, and an overweight guide who clearly wished to have refused the position.

   With a long-suffering sigh, William pushed these thoughts from his mind. It was looking to be a long trip.

   The last five days had passed far more pleasantly and quickly then William had first imagined. Cal had begun to scout ahead for the group and had come back twice to warn them of some danger. They had been forced to go around it, costing the party almost a day's travel time. He rejoined them at night where everything was broken down and watches were chosen.

   Being the pack leader, a fancy way of saying “the guy who watches after the food and cares for the mule,” it was William's job to have last watch, mainly so that things were packed, quietly, before setting off each morning.

   Fortunately, the mercenaries were much more fun than it first appeared. After camp had been set up they would share stories of their adventures and the strange places they had visited. It had almost made the trip worth it for William, who Dorian had apparently taken a liking to, which also made a great deal of difference.

   Haliard did not seem to care much about his brother's new friend, though the man would often interject to correct some of Dorian's wilder claims or stories. The blond warrior took this in stride, pretending to have forgotten or else admitting he'd been “trying to spice things up,” and never did they fight.

   Betan, on the other hand, was constantly having quiet arguments with Cal. Neither man seemed to have much like for the other, so when he wasn't arguing, Cal stayed cold and quiet. His cousin had always been stubborn, it wasn't a surprise to William that they had become lost somehow when Betan had put his foot down. As Tradesmaster he had the right to supersede the others, so they had been forced to go east around Midtown to avoid the crowds and market.

   None of the detours or the fights bothered the youngest man, who had to grudgingly admit he was having fun, but being lost so far from home was not sitting well with anyone.

   The goal was to approach a town called Jetta from the southeast, without passing through Midtown, and save a day from the trip. This did make some sense, though Cal argued hard for a stop in Midtown, and they continued on well into the night.

   Just after a stop for supper, with the sun already low on the horizon, they had spotted a sign warning them that the boundary of this valley's curse lay near. Discussing this briefly, the guide (who went by Samual) spoke up to let them know that Jetta is very close.

   They walked for about two hours, the sun had set by now, and a light fog had settled on them. With the torches lit they continued, met up with Cal, then came upon the edge of a forest. Within a few confused moments it was decided that they should stop for the night while Samual checked his maps.

   With the mule settled for the night, at the edge of the forest, William approached the brothers for the customary story. As per usual all six bedrolls were arranged in a protective circle around the packs. With the warm spring night a fire was both pointless as well as dangerous, so the brothers and Betan were sitting on their bedrolls, while Samual sat apart with a hooded lantern and poured over his maps. The only sounds in the creepy fog were Samual's muttering to himself.

   Cal stood a short distance away, gazing into the tree line, arms crossed and tense-looking.

   Dorian looked up as William approached; he smiled, though this time it didn't reach his eyes, “Hey buddy. Sorry, but there won't be any stories tonight.” He motioned towards the bedroll and William sat down. Shortly the three men were continuing a conversation they'd been having all evening: How had they gotten lost?

   The conversation was fairly repetitive, not to mention boring, and William's thoughts wandered aimlessly. Though this had been an interesting trip, he missed his bed at home, not to mention the salty air from the docks. Being lost now only made it worse and William realized how homesick he felt.

   Bittersweet thoughts of his family filled his mind. He missed them all, from his stern but loving mother, to his father's quite smiles, and even his stupid little brother being so serious all the time. He'd spent so much time dreaming of being a great soldier that he had never considered what it meant to leave home. It was this sobering reflection that he drifted off on, frowning slightly.

   Soon enough something prodded William's side hard, Cal's cold voice hissed from somewhere above him, “Wake up you miserable piece of dung! Arm yourself and keep your eyes up.”

   William rolled over blearily, removed his hunting knife from the tangle of his bedroll, and stood up rubbing his eyes. He blinked at the sight before him.

   The fog had thickened so that the trees were barely perceptible; the mule looked like a shadow in the white mist. By its motion beside the tree to which it was tethered, and the small noise it made, the animal was clearly upset about something.

   With the six of them standing around their gear with weapons drawn, William came fully awake with a trill of fear riding his spine. “What is it?” He whispered to Haliard on his left, watching the fog with wide eyes, “Bandits? Wolves?”

   Haliard shook his head, but Dorian answered quietly from the other side, “There was a strange noise just a moment ago...listen.”

   At first there wasn't anything to hear, then through the white cover came a noise none of them had ever heard before. It sounded like wood or bone being banged together, except it came very rapidly, a sound no human could hope to recreate. Right as the first one died, an answering clatter came from somewhere else, but direction was hard to figure through the blanket of fog.

   “What is that horrible noise?!” Samual asked, terror in his voice, “It gives me chills.”

   “...Chills?” Dorian spoke barely above a whisper, just before another staccato burst sounded, “Teeth...it's teeth banging together.”

   And it was, the mental image fit perfectly, but it didn't take away the eeriness of the sound that continued to increase in pitch and number around them. Time seemed to carry on slowly as the chattering quieted again, everyone shifted nervously about for what felt like hours, then they jumped as a loud scream split the air.

   “Look!” William pointed with his right hand at where he'd tied the mule. It was now thrashing on the ground as if fighting for it's life, except there wasn't anything to fight. They watched it, cringing slightly as it struggled, completely transfixed. After a few more seconds it made an awful noise and flopped into stillness, a dark lump on the ground.


   The noise came from behind them, making them all spin with a sharp intake of breath, but nothing appeared in the mist.

   “There!” Betan shouted, pointing off to the right and making them spin again.

   “What?” Dorian asked tensely

   “I saw a shadow, in the mist,” Betan replied in a choked voice. “It was some kind of animal, a big one.”

   Cal snorted, “It's the fog, makes things look bigger the they are. It's probably just a pack of wolves, or wild dogs.”

   “Wild canines don't make that noise,” Haliard stated calmly. He stood between Betan and William, each hand holding a curved sword.

   “What does?” William ventured, his knees shaking.

   “I don't know,” came the reply from Haliard. William didn't understand how he could stay so calm.

   “Daemons!” Samual squeaked, “Gods preserve this mortal coil, if I should die let my soul be lifted into etern-”

   “Shut up, you sniveling coward!” Cal spat, “No god wants to save your worthless hide.” He then sheathed his short sword to ready his hunting bow, notching an arrow.

   “Okay, whoever you are, come forth so I can kill you!” Cal snarled, “I want to see the whites of your eyes.”

   Silence reigned for several long seconds before the clacking started up, seemingly from all around them. Shadows began to materialize from the fog, a dozen shadows standing on four legs, each one was at least the size of a large dog. They began to growl menacingly between bursts of clacking, the largest of them stood opposite Cal, and they stopped right outside the group's ability to make out any other details.

   “I told you,” Cal muttered, “cursed dogs.” With this he drew back on his bowstring, sighted down the arrow, and let fly.

   William heard the 'twang' as the bowstring released, then almost immediately a meaty thud, followed by a shallow hissing noise. He turned in time to see the large shadow advance, to Cal's shock, and come within easy (not to mention uncomfortably close) sight.

   The thing was the size of a mountain cat, though it was shaped like a greyhound. That was where the nightmare began. It was pitch black from snout to tail with very little fur, the body was bony and it's glistening black skin looked oily.

   Where the bones weren't showing beneath its shadowy skin it had well defined sinewy muscle bulging under the surface. Starting at the top of its head was a ridge of long stiff hair that stands up all the way to the base of it's tail, which was long, ropy, and thin.

   Its face was the most horrible.

   It looked to be canine in shape but it was as if all the flesh had been burnt off, leaving a blackened skull showing through. There were no ears, just holes on the sides of its head, but two luminescent white eyes peered at them with cold hatred. The thing's maw had no lips, letting the row of sharp, yellowed, fangs be seen in all their terrible glory. Even as they watched, transfixed, it let out a low snarl and began clacking its teeth rapidly. An arrow protruded from the side of its throat dripping a thick black blood that seemed to smoke as it hit the air.

   “Hellhounds,” Samual breathed, barely containing his fear.

   Terror seized William; he almost dropped his blade, he couldn't do this.

   “Not a hellhound,” Cal said, shaking his head without taking his eyes off of the monster.

   “What is it?” Dorian and Haliard asked in unison.

   “I don't know,” Cal returned through gritted teeth.

   Meanwhile, William's bowels felt like water, the young man was shaking so bad he bumped into Haliard. The mercenary caught his eye, nodding encouragement, and Dorian spoke from the other side, “steady there.”

   Dorian's voice brought back memories of the brief lessons William had learned about knife-fighting. Though he still felt unsteady he took a breath and shifted into a fighting stance, blade held defensively before him.

   “'atta boy.” The large warrior said without looking.

   As if frustrated with the distraction, the beasts advanced, they tightened the ring so the companions had to stand almost shoulder-to shoulder. Just to the left of the largest one with the arrow in its neck, another one advanced further with a snarl, only to be snapped at by its brother. Then the large one made a noise that sounded horrifyingly close to:


   Samual let out a whimpering cry of fear at this and dropped his quarterstaff, instead opting to hide midst their belongings.

   Cal dropped his bow to draw the short sword again, making a 'come get me' gesture with his other hand at the beast. He was rewarded with a low snarl followed by a chorus of clacking jaws.

   Suddenly the thing vanished, without making a sound, and Cal had a few heartbeats of confusion before the beast materialized right inside the reach of his outstretched arm. He let out a startled cry as it bore him to the ground.

   For William, time appeared to slow down to a crawl. He watched as Cal struggled beneath the evil hound thing, grunting, crying out in pain, then watched the rest of the monsters begin attacking as well. Many of the other creatures...blinked like the first one, some of them just charged. It felt like hours, fighting the beasts, being bitten a dozen times, hearing the others as if far away crying out. In reality it was maybe two desperate minutes.

   The end of the fight found William alone, buried beneath Dorian's bulk as he'd tried to shield the young man from one of the larger beasts, and fighting for his life with the same beast that had just finished off his companion. Desperate, tired, one arm trapped under the strangely bloodless corpse atop him, William could only gasp in the things fetid breath as it tried to rip his face off. He had his only free hand around the thing's throat to stop it from killing him, the teeth snapping so close to his face he could feel the concussion.

   Just when a sob broke from William's throat, as he prepared to let the monster end his struggle, a bright flickering light washed over him. The beast above him froze mid-snap, its pale eyes looking at something he could not see from his position, and it stopped trying to kill him for a span of several heartbeats.

   A roaring noise followed by a blast of heat...then the thing was gone with a yelp. There were several yelps, snarls, and other noises, before the night fell quiet once more. William let his hand fall into the wet grass, suddenly aware how badly he hurt, and stared at a fog-free sky full of stars.

   The flickering light moved, washing out his view of the sky, and something very bright forced him to close his eyes for a moment. Squinting up, William was unsure what he was seeing.

   At first it was just a bright wash of flame seen through his eyelashes, then it...dimmed enough that he could make out a vague human shape. It appeared to be a man, made out of rolling flames, the man was hard to look at directly, but it had a definite human shape. There were no features to the Pyre-man, but somehow William knew it was looking at him, and he wasn't scared of it.

   Pyre-man kneeled in the grass beside him, the damp grass hissing, then paused as it flickered briefly, growing dimmer. It reached out one of its hands, plunging it through Dorian's unmoving chest, before William could cry out in weak protest.

   He felt the flame limb enter his chest, it didn't hurt, and he looked at the Pyre-man's face in confusion. The face was much easier to gaze at, it had dimmed from a blaze to a flicker, giving him his first glace at its expression. It looked...scared? In pain? Impossible to tell for sure, as the fires that continually rolled over the features made them difficult to read.

   Briefly, William felt something tug inside him, it wasn't a physical sensation, but he felt it all the same. It was a very queer feeling, then something spoke to him from inside. It was more like listening to thoughts than hearing words, and also strangely intimate.

   <=Do not fear me...=>

   “I...I don't,” William stammered, “You saved me.”

   There was a pause where the Pyre-man regarded him, <=Drove them away...they will return...no time=> The thoughts seemed weak somehow; they were getting harder to grasp.

   William nodded, “I don't think I can move.”

   Flickering, the thing dimmed again briefly, <=We are...dying...wounded...together...survive=>

   Swallowing hard past his dry throat, William shook his head, he didn't want to die, “I don't understand.”

   It pointed first to him, then to itself, and shook its head slowly, <=separate...dead.=> Next it made a fist, <=together...strong.=>

   “How?” William asked in a whisper.

   Pyre-man leaned in close, dimming further so his “flesh” became speckled with ashes, <=bond with this one. Be one...not two.=>

   Whatever connection the flame creature had made was weakening it further, causing blackened bits to show through the flames of its body. Somehow, through the connection, William felt its grip slackening. Even so his body was cold and heavy despite the proximity of the living fire, he felt like sleep would be so blissful. He had to fight to make his thoughts connect.

   “Please,” the weakness of his voice scared him, “I don't want to d-.” William swallowed, unable to utter the word.

   The flame being appeared to sigh and collapse inwards, giving William the frightened impression that it had died, but as it collapsed it grew brighter until a little ball of fire drifted down the flame arm still inside him.

   He could feel it the instant it touched him, his whole body warmed, then burned until he gasped in agony. It felt as if his very self was being burned away, but the burning subsided into a comfortable feeling. He became acutely aware of his body and the warmth spreading to every tinniest piece.

   Without knowing how long he lay there, absorbed in a feeling of comfortable oblivion, eventually he was forced to surface from the bonding. He felt decidedly strange, sort of disconnected from, yet still bound to, the waking world.

   He kept getting disparate flashes of memories, both being his own somehow, and he could not untangle them. Trying to puzzle them out gave him a headache, he spent long seconds trying to recall what a headache was and when he'd last had one. With his mind foggy, putting the wondering on hold, he turned his attention to his aching body.

   Vaguely, he remembered the man named Dorian atop him. Images came to him, the blond man grinning widely, stories shared by firelight. Sorrow claimed him at the same time as curiosity as to why this human had been so important. Wiping his face, his fingers came away damp...how odd.

   He regretted having to shove and wiggle his way out from under the corpse, then lay in the scorched grass for a bit to gather his strength. He felt this was very inefficient but, as there was not a nice hot fire nearby, he stood up eventually to look around.

   He stood in a patch of burnt grass beside a dead man, who was currently smoldering, and there were three other corpses nearby as well. Something about those four dead men bothered him; he could not think what, though he supposed if it had been important, he'd remember.

   Instead he searched through the trampled bags in the center of the area to find a large bag of trailfood, a handful of golden metal discs, a small fragrant leather pouch that seemed important, and a wooden chest slightly bigger than his outstretched hand. These things he gathered into a haphazard bundle, swung them over his shoulder, and began to walk away into the woods.

   Days passed in a sort of blurry fog. The man didn't think he was particularly injured, but it was as if he had two conflicting thoughts about everything. Like catching himself staring at a perfectly normal tree in complete confusion one day. These moments were disturbing, to say the least, so he did his best not to think about them too much. Luckily time appeared to help his condition, as these moments of conflict grew shorter in duration and strength.

   At one point he felt a strange...something settle over him, causing him to panic. Running didn't seem to make a difference; he didn't know what it was, though it made him afraid as well as uncomfortable. Whatever it was didn't ebb or go away, it clung to him like cobwebs, and it was a constant presence.

   Over the next week he felt random pains, particularly in his joints, as well as bouts of itchy patches on his skin. He knew he was transforming; he couldn't miss the thick soft black hair on his arms, or the way the lower half of his face slowly pushed out. He'd ditched his damaged shoes a while back after they stopped fitting properly; eventually his shirt went, too, after it became more of a nuisance to wear.

   Growing tired easily was also a problem; he was running low on food despite the foraging he'd done since starting this venture, so he often had to take a seat for an afternoon doze. It was in one of these dozes, lying with his back against a tree, that he heard a voice. At first he thought it was one of the nightmares he suffered, before waking, but this voice sounded way too polite for such a thing. Upon opening his eyes he came face-to-face with a dark brown reptilian head with copper colored eyes looking right at him.

   He let out a manly scream of shock, shoving the packs, much lighter now, at the gargantuan snake.

   Letting out a noticeably human scream of surprise of its own, the snake reared back itself, raising its arms to protect its face.


   The partially transformed man stared up from his spot on the ground, leaning back on his hands with his legs splayed before him, eyeing the half-human half-serpent. It seemed to be doing the very same thing.

   “What?” He asked, intelligently, his voice a rasping croak from disuse.

   “What?” The snake lowers its arms, seemingly confused. Fourteen feet long from nose to blunt tail, it was mostly covered in small tightly packed brown scales the color of milk chocolate, with its broad under-scales a light creamy yellow. It wore a skirt-like dark orange cloth around its middle where the waist would be on a person with a single strap holding it up over one shoulder. Strapped around the top of the garment was a medium sized pack resting against its spine.

   “I'm sorry if I scared you,” snake-man said, ”I was passing by and saw you lying here....I thought you might be hurt.”

   He stared up at the thing for a second before responding, “Are you a cursed human?”

   It paused for a few seconds, a forked black tongue popped from its mouth briefly, “Yes. I was a cursed human, but I'd prefer the term 'morphed' to 'cursed.' It's more polite.” Softening his posture, the snake morph offered a hand to help the man up.

   A moment passed where he sighed, then took the snake's cool, dry, hand and accepted help to his feet. They both mutually, silently, gathered the scattered items and replace them into a manageable bundle. After that they stared at each other in a sort of embarrassed moment of quiet.

   Breaking the moment by rubbing the back of his scaled head, the snake spoke first, “Listen...this is an awkward question but you do know you're partially transformed yourself? It looks like you've been out here for a while, the cur-I mean transformation, is already pretty far along.”

   He looked down at himself with a frown.

   His legs and feet had already mostly finished becoming digitigrade as well as being covered in long black hair. All except for the bottom of his feet, which were tipped with very bright orange fur. His hands were mostly normal but they, too, had begun showing signs of growing thick black pads. His torso was in various stages, sort of like a patchwork, of conversion as there were places one could still see pale skin beneath. A tiny tail-nub poked out over the top of his breeches, covered in orange-tipped fur duskier that that on his feet flowed all the way up his back and across both shoulders.

   Strangest of all, his head had transformed in a patchwork manner, giving him a sort of frightening visage. The top right half of his face still appeared human, with one cinnamon colored eye, a shock of wheat hair, and an ear still apparent. The rest of his face was in transition, though. One triangular ear, somewhat stunted, was almost to the top of his head. His muzzle had already started showing itself. His nose changed by flattening out, his teeth becoming larger, and his left eye had gone a shocking shade of bright green.

   “It doesn't matter,” he gave a shuddering sigh.

   Concerned, the snake man reached out, patted his shoulder, then looked curiously at his own hand. He then placed his hand on the man's forehead, “You're burning up!”

   Confused, he put his own hand to his head, “Really? I feel fine.” His stomach chose this moment to growl very loudly. The blush could still be seen on the human side of his face.

   The snake regarded him a moment, tongue flicking out, “Here.” He reached behind him, his head rotating inhumanly (if that word could even apply anymore). He soon produced a package wrapped in paper. Undoing the twine revealed a sort of large meat pasty wrapped in cabbage leaves.

   Offering the food, the snake nodded, “I was saving this for tomorrow's lunch but...I think I should get you to a healer.”

   Sheepishly taking the bundle, the young man dug into the pasty before answering, “Thanks.”

   Regarding him curiously again, the snake placed its hands on its hip-area, “Well maybe its just me being cold-blooded but...I still think you should come to the keep. I can tell you from experience, it will be easier if you can see others like us. It helps to know you can still be happy. Besides, we're supposed to bring lost morphs we find to the keep, to get them sorted.”

   “I suppose I don't have many other choices, do I?” He asked, offering back the half-eaten pasty, “You can finish it. I don't want to eat all of your lunch.”

   “No!” The snaked waved him off, “No, you're fine! I'll go hunting tonight for us; you can finish that while we walk.” With this he turned swiftly and literally started to slither away.

   Hustling a bit, the man catches up, careful not to step on the snake's large tail. They made steady pace through the trees, headed north, both of them rather quiet for a time. It didn't take too long before he was finished with the pasty, unconsciously running a large tongue over his lips to sweep up crumbs.

   “So,” the snake asked suddenly, “What is your name? Mine is Psylaphen.”

   “I-” he paused, unsure, “I don't remember.” This was only partially a lie, as he could remember being called William, but he was also called something else, too. Trying to reconcile both sets of memories often left him confused and sad, so instead he'd chosen to be someone new.

   “Hmm,” Psylaphen mused, eyeing him. “Well, as most of the others come to the keep on a stretcher, I guess you can count yourself lucky.” As he spoke he slid right over a fallen tree, which the former human had to walk around. Upon seeing his crestfallen face on the other side, the snake bowed its head slightly. “Sorry. I don't mean to make fun of you.”

   The man shook his head.

   “Well,” Psylaphen began, rubbing the scales at his throat, “would it be rude if I gave you a name? At least until you remember yours,” he amended quickly.

   Meeting those slitted pupils, the former William gave a weak smile.

   “How about,” Psylaphen looked him up and down a little, then pointed at him with a triumphant nod, “Noir?”

   “Nwar?” He scrunched up his brows.

   “N-O-I-R,” the serpent spelled out, “I read it in a book at the keep once. It mean's 'black' in another language.”

   Looking down at himself, he let out half a chuckle, “You'd literally name me for my fur?” It was a strange thing, to have to consider a name for yourself, but given everything that had happened so far...maybe something so simple and exotic was just what he needed.

   “It was a first attempt!” Psylaphen said, somewhat defensively, “Give me-”

   “I like it,” he decided. “It fits.”

   Taken aback, the reptile reared up a bit, then dipped down in a small bow. “Well, Noir,” he says with amusement in his voice, “It's nice to meet you.”

   Bowing back stiffly, Noir matched the smile heard in the snake's voice, “Nice to meet you, Psylaphen.”

   “You can call me Syl,” he explained. “Come on. We have a long trail ahead.”

   As Syl the snake morph started to glide off, the newly dubbed Noir took a deep breath of warm air. Letting it out slowly, he allowed some of the tension bleed away. He was alive, he wasn't alone, and he didn't have to focus on things before the bonding for a time. Starting anew felt right, a new chapter to start...

   A new chapter at Metamor Keep.