First Impressions

by John Burman

The sky was clear as Gordon walked north on the road to Metamor Keep. For weeks now he had heard stories about the curses and how they affected all who came to Metamor for longer than a one week’s period.

Now less than a half days walk from the infamous keep he began to recheck his equipment so that everything would be in order upon his arrival. Removing his arbalest from its belt on his back, he wiped down the steel bow with his shirt sleeve checking for any moisture that may have accumulated or rust. Sliding off the sideboard on the stock he checked the internal winch and ropes to make sure they were all in proper alignment. Returning the arbalest to his back, Gordon next drew forth his long sword from the opposing shoulder belt. Scanning its surface for debris on the blade, it to was returned to its sheath. Smoothing his shirt of scale armor, he tucked a few stray scales back into place. Once concluded, he turned his attention to his quiver. Inside some 30 quarrels resided point down awaiting use, different dyed flights designating different uses. Straightening his bracers, Gordon hefted his bag upon his shoulder and resumed his walk.

Coming to Metamor’s gates, Gordon took a place at the end of the line of people awaiting admittance. When his turn came the guard turned to him and, in a voice devoid of emotion, asked simply, “Name?”

“Gordon Argentarge.”

“Reason for visiting the keep?”

“Take up residence as smith.”

In her first show of emotion the guard raised an eyebrow at him and asked, “You do know about the curses, right?”

“Who doesn’t,” replied Gordon with a snort.

With a slight shrug, the guard waived him through saying as she did so, “You will want to speak with Steward Thalberg about residence.”

Walking through the great stone archway of the keep’s main gates Gordon couldn’t help but stare at the vast multitude before him.

Upon reaching the keep proper, Gordon inquired of a boy exiting one of the main gates as of how to reach the Stewards chambers.

“There is no one way to get anywhere in the main keep due to the variable geometry, but if you just concentrate on where you are going it will usually get you there.” Replied the boy.

Thanking him Gordon began to walk through the halls trying to think about the steward while attempting not to gawk at the vast diversity of the keeps inhabitants and decorations.

After about an hour of wandering the keep he decided that this just was not working and found a pair of guards in front of a heavy door.

Inquiring of one of them Gordon asked, “Where might I find Steward Thalbergs rooms?”

“Right in front of you,” replied the guard jerking his thumb over his shoulder.

“Finally,” sighed Gordon, “I need to speak with him about residency at the keep.”

“First of all, you will have to disarm.” Said the guard as if it were obvious, “Then I will see if the Steward can see you.”

“Fair enough.” responded Gordon, “Do you have a safe place where I may place my things?”

“They will be kept safe right here.”

“Very well.” said Gordon as he began to remove his things. First placing his bag on the floor next to the guard, he began to undo the belts holding his sword and arbalest to his back. Carefully placing them next to his bag, he undid his belt with its daggers and quiver and laid them over his bag.

Standing before the guards Gordon asked, “Now may I see the Steward?”

The second guard, who up until this point had not made a move, said, “Please hold out your arms from your sides.”

“What?” Asked Gordon, not just a little surprised.

“Just safety precautions to make sure you aren’t carrying any concealed weapons.” interjected the first guard.

“Ah, I see your point” Gordon said as he raised his arms parallel to the floor.

The second guard quickly stepped forward and did a pat down of Gordon’s shirt and pants saying as he did so, “You will also need to remove your bracers before seeing the Steward.”

Once Gordon had added his bracers to the pile on the ground, the first guard turned and gave two sharp raps on the door.

“Come in!” barked a sharp voice from within.

With a nod, the second guard indicated that Gordon should go in. Once inside Gordon beheld well-kept room. To one side was a large couch; while opposite the couch a wide desk sat. Behind the desk, an ample hutch superimposed itself. In close proximity to the desk was an immense hearth in which burnt a fire despite the warmth of the season. Set in the far wall was a door leading to another room. Decorating everything was rich red cloth. Standing in the center of the room, dressed in only a bandolier proclaiming his rank, was a large crocodile, presumably the Steward himself.

“Well? What’s your name?” asked the crocodilian.

“Gordon Argentarge, sir.”

“And your reasons for coming to me?”

“I..., I would like to take up residency at the keep. The guards at the main gate told me to see you, sir.”

“Residence? Do you have any job skills, fighting skills? The keep isn’t free you know.”

“Yes, sir.” Replied Gordon, “I am skilled as a smith in the forge and have been well trained in the use of arbalest, sword, and dagger.”

“A smith did you say?” inquired the Steward.

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, Mr. Argentarge, you are in luck. The last smith at the keep was killed some time ago by lutins and the keep is still short of a master.” Continuing without awaiting a reply from Gordon the steward said, “However, before I can award you any position here I will have to see just what you are truly capable of. Near the east wall of the lower keep you will find the forge; you have three days to prove to me you are capable of this position before I will have to ask you to leave prior to the curses catching you. When you reach the forge, you will probably find the late smiths apprentice.” Walking over to the desk the steward removed a piece of parchment and began to write on it. “Tell him I give you precedence over him in the forge while you make your mastery piece. His name is Daniel.” Folding the paper in half and sealing it with wax, the steward handed it to Argentarge. “This is a letter explaining what I have told you, give it to Daniel when you reach the smithy. For your piece you shall make a sword, the styling is of your choice.”

Thanking the Steward profoundly with a promise not to disappoint, Gordon exited his rooms. Once outside Gordon began to gather his things. Upon looking up at the guards, he noticed the first was smiling at him.

“What are you smiling about,” asked Gordon?

“O, nothing, just glad to finally have a master back in the keep. Some of the metalwork around here is starting to be in need of repairs, so I doubt work for you will be in any short supply,” replied the guard with a grin.

“Thanks for the warning!” said Gordon over his shoulder as he made his way down the hall and out into the lower keep.

Upon reaching the building the steward had described to him, Gordon found a youth working over a horseshoe on the anvil.

Approaching the boy Gordon said, “You must be Daniel.”

Looking up the youth responded, “Yes, and you would be…?”

“Argentarge, Gordon Argentarge.” voiced the newcomer handing the letter from the steward to Daniel. “I just recently arrived at the keep and after talking with the Steward, he told me I would find you here and to tell you to allow me to use the forge to create a masters piece.

“Um… all right,” the boy responded, opening the parchment, ”the forge obviously is in the back, tools are hanging on the wall, and there is a pile of bars and blooms in the corner.”

“Thanks.” Replied Gordon as he deposited his bag and weapons in another corner away from the heat of the forge.

“So, uh, Mr. Argentarge,” began Daniel, “You’re a master smith?”

“Yes, well at least where I come from.” said Gordon as he sifted through the bars. And don’t call me mister; it’s either Gordon or Argentarge. I also respond fairly well to ‘Hey you’”.

Finding a number of bars to his liking, Gordon took a tongs from the wall rack and placed them inside the forge. Covering them with coal, he used the bellows connected to the side of the forge to heat the fire.

Taking several of the heated bars from the fire and pulling a maul from the wall, Gordon began to beat them together on the anvil. After a minute, the metal had cooled enough that it needed reheating.

This pattern continued for the allotted three days, Gordon giving Daniel help and tips with his work and explaining various tools from his bag, while he in turn gave Gordon information about the keep.

As the second day ended, Gordon one last time heated the sword before immersing it into a salt-water bath. Withdrawing the tempered blade, he began to sharpen the edges with a whetstone.

By the end of the third day, the blade was completed. The broad hand-and a-half sword shone dull silver in the light of the forge. The blade, twenty-nine inches in length, was one and three-quarter inches wide tapering to a razor tip in the last three inches. Running its length was a half-inch blood grove both strengthening the blade and lightening it. The crosstree was one of simple design, extending perpendicular to the blade three inches to either side. The grip was seven inches in length, bound with black leather chord. Shaped in the form of a wheel, leaving space at its center for the owners crest to be stamped, was the pommel. The blade, crosstree and pommel were all coated in an alloy to prevent their rusting and helping to strengthen the blade.

Returning to the Stewards rooms with the sword tucked into his belt, Gordon found the same two guards that had originally admitted him.

With a smile of recognition the first guard said, “The Steward has been waiting for you.” Turning to the door he knocked twice saying after he did so, “The smith is here to see you sir.”

“Well, send him in!” came the reply from beyond the door.

Entering the crimson decorated room, Gordon once again beheld the steward standing in the middle of the room, claws at his hips.

“So where is the sword?” He asked.

Drawing the polished blade from his belt, Gordon bent on one knee, bowed his head and presented the sword, pommel first, to the steward.

Taking the weapon from the smith’s hands, the steward scrutinized the blade with sharp yellow eyes. Turing back to the smith he said, “This truly is a fine blade. You may rise, Gordon Argentarge. I hereby proclaim you master smith of Metamor keep.”

Rising to his feet Gordon accepted the blade back from the Steward saying as he did so, “Thank you sir, this is a great honor.”

Returning to the smith’s house connected to the forge room, Gordon found Daniel awaiting his return with the verdict.

“Well, what did he say?” he asked anxiously.

“I’m the new smith at Metamor Keep,” Replied Gordon with a smile, “and I want to retain you as my apprentice, if your parents won’t mind.”

Looking down at the hard packed floor Daniel quietly replied, “I never knew my parents.”

Taken aback by his reply all Gordon could say was, “Oh. I am sorry to hear that.” After an awkward silence he asked, “Why not?”

“They were killed in the Battle of the Three Gates. I lived on the street until I could become an apprentice and moved in here.”

Without further discussion, the two turned in for the night.

The next day Gordon proposed an idea to Daniel. By that evening, they had everything prepared and presented it to the Keep’s court of law. That evening Daniel officially became Daniel Argentarge, son of Gordon Argentarge.

Returning to their home adjacent to the forge, Daniel gave his new father a stifling hug before retiring for the night. Standing in the middle of the main room, Gordon reflected on the events of the past week. In such a short time, he had gone from a traveling nobody to a resident master smith and adoptive father. With a smile he turned into the bedroom where Daniel was already asleep and turned in for the night himself.

That night Gordon woke to a sharp pain in his backside. ‘What in Eli’s Name is going on?’ thought Gordon. That was when he realized it. The curse had taken hold right on schedule, after a week in the curse’s boundaries, he was developing a tail. Feeling down his backside Gordon discovered his spine had lengthened into a tail already about four inches long. ‘Well,’ thought Gordon, ‘at least I don’t have to worry about becoming a woman or a child anymore.’ With a sigh, Gordon rolled over so he would not be sitting on his new tail and attempted to go back to sleep. He would find out in the morning just what sort of animal the curse had chosen for him.

By morning the curse was only part way done with Gordon. His tail, which he hoped had stopped growing, was nearly as long as he was tall, alternately banded with dark and light stripes. Crawling from his bed, Gordon managed to take one step before falling flat to the stone floor of their home. Looking at his feet, he saw the curse was taking its time with him. His left foot was completely digitigrade, covered in silvery hair with retractable claws on his rearranged toes. Meanwhile his right foot remained the same as before.

“This is going to be a long day,” Gordon thought aloud as he stood back up to continue his self-examination.

Glancing at his cloths, wondering if they would still fit, he noticed his pants, which were supposed to be of a green weave, were a dull gray in color. Hastily looking around the room he found everything to be a shade of gray, black, or white.

“Great, so now I’m colorblind!”

Carefully moving over to the water basin in the corner, supporting himself on anything handy so as not to land flat again, Gordon peered down at his reflection.

“Somebody has really got it in for me today,” he mumbled to his reflection.

Gazing into the basin, Gordon saw that his ears had become more pronounced and moved halfway up his head. That same silver fur rimed his eyes, while his nose and mouth had moved forward into a muzzle. His new nose was cold and moist in what Gordon surmised was now a healthy state. His muzzle was light in coloring with a broad, dark vertical stripe about halfway back to his eyes. Immediately under his eyes was a bright white patch before the fur returned to silver. His cheeks however remained human as did the top and back of his head.

Turning to view his backside Gordon found the fur radiated out from his tail halfway up his back and around his middle. It extended partway down his right thigh and completely encompassed his left leg. On his back it was the same silver as his leg, but with large, dark spots in vertical rows.

Splashing his face with water and drying his new fur with a towel Gordon turned around, and forgetting to hang onto anything, promptly fell on his newly acquired muzzle again.

Wincing at his now twice bruised nose, he tasted blood from his lip where his now needle sharp canines had cut him.

“Oh, this is going to make for some great first impressions,”

Carefully climbing into a chair and threading his tail out the back, Gordon painstakingly began to get dressed. First trying his pants, he found that his tail no longer permitted them to properly fit. Taking one of the blades off his belt, Gordon carefully split the seam of his pants so his tail would fit into the split. After adjusting his pants Gordon placed his right boot on hoping, it would help to balance his limp. He did not worry about his left foot due to the thick pads that had formed in the night. Carefully pulling his shirt over his reformed face Gordon silently hoped his hands would not change to drastically.

Though lessened, Gordon still had to be careful of his limp as he made his way out to the forge to begin work for the day. Getting a chisel and mallet from the wall rack Gordon prepared to work on the now cool forge to make a set of runes to help the fires achieve the necessary temperatures to melt iron.

Just as he was preparing to crawl under the flue Gordon heard Daniel come up behind him and say, “Freeze thief or I’ll knock your head off!”

Realizing Daniel did not recognize his changed state, Gordon put his hands in the air and began to turn around, saying as he did so, “Relax Daniel, it’s just m-.”

With a shout of surprise, Daniel swung the iron bar he was holding at Gordon’s head.

Seeing the movement from the corner of his eye, Gordon barely had any time to react before the bar connected solidly with his already tender nose sending him stumbling across the room before he collapsed against the wall.

Clutching one hand over his thrice smashed nose and holding the other up to protect from any other surprises, Gordon yelled out, “Daniel, stop! It is I, Gordon!”

Rising carefully to his feet, Gordon let lose a rich stream of profanities in a language Daniel didn’t understand.

“Gordon?” asked Daniel still hefting the bar just in case.

“Yes, it’s me. The curse caught me last night. Now put down that iron bar before you end up whacking me again.”

“You look ridiculous.”

“I know, I know. I already fell twice on mismatched feet.”

“You have the day off for your lessons, so go have some fun. Look in my coin purse and take a silver; enjoy yourself today. Tell a few people we will be fully up and running again tomorrow, but are closed today.”

Returning from their rooms off the shop Daniel asked, “Just one thing.”

“And that would be?”

“What was it that you said in that other language?”

“Not until your older, Daniel.”

“Oh. Well see you later then . . . dad”

“That’s going to take some getting used to,” Gordon thought aloud as Daniel ran out the door.

Returning to his task in the forge, Gordon picked up his mallet and chisels and crawled under the flue. Once situated inside, Gordon began the laborious task of carving rune sets inside the forge.

The first set of runes he carved was designed to heat the forge to temperatures high enough to liquefy base metals. Once completing the rune on each of the walls of the furnace he moved to the next set. The second set was intentioned to prevent the stones of the forge from melting and or cracking in the intense heat.

Moving to the outside of the forge, Gordon began on a third set with the idea of containing the heat in the forge for two reasons. The first reason was that if more heat would stay inside the forge less fuel would be needed to keep it hot. The second reason was to prevent the structure of the building or any other nearby implements from catching fire.

By the time Gordon was finished with the runes it was already mid afternoon. Preferring not to make an appearance looking as he did, Gordon used the last of the rations in his bag as a meal, hoping the curse had progressed enough tomorrow for him to appear in public and not be a laughing stock.

Once finished with his meal, Gordon took up the task of unpacking his travel bag. “Well, seeing as I have begun to change I won’t have to worry about leaving any time soon,” he said aloud to the empty room. Withdrawing his cloths from the large canvas sack, Gordon heaved a sigh of contrition as he realized he would need Daniel's help in getting dressed to coordinate colors.

By this time, the boot on his right foot was beginning to feel uncomfortable and, fearing the curse’s possible affects on his clothing, he sat down to remove it. Sitting on a chair Gordon began to wiggle his foot from the confines of his old boot hoping it would not be stuck. Once his foot was free, Gordon just looked at his right foot and leg. Beginning halfway down his thigh where it had left off before, the silvery fur began to spread down his leg right before his eyes. Once the fur had encompassed his whole leg and foot, Gordon felt a pain so intense shoot up his leg that he cried out and fell from the chair. Lying on the floor still watching his leg, he saw his foot begin to shift and rearrange to look like his left, the toes developing pads and stretching in length, his toenails forming into claws at their tips.

After only a minute the change in his leg was complete. Carefully rising to his now completely digitigrade feet, Gordon realized with a smile that at least he could walk in what would now be a normal way.

Fearing further change and not wanting to ruin his cloths if he could help it, Gordon removed his shirt and unceremoniously dumped it on the chair. Shortly afterwards Gordon was rewarded for his forethought as he felt a tingling in his back. Turning his head Gordon saw the patch of fur radiating outward from his tail growing all around and spreading up his back.

As an after thought, Gordon once again laid down, this time on his bed. As the fur spread, Gordon hoped that this would be the last time he would have to experience the change. The spread continued around his stomach and the moved down to his crotch as Gordon, wide eyed with fear, prayed he was not about to lose his manhood. The fur spread over his entire chest and down his arms to his elbows while continuing up to cover his head and neck.

Once the fur had stopped it’s advances Gordon felt the surge of pain return, this time beginning at his genitalia. Quickly undoing his pants, Gordon watched in despair as his manhood reformed into that of an animal. Once finished down below, the change moved to Gordon’s chest. With a cry of pain his chest barreled out from it’s original shape. Finished with his chest for now the changes moved on to his face. Beginning with his ears they moved to the top of his head and rounded out much like a cats. Next, in pain so intense Gordon could not even cry out, the bones of his skull reshaped to better fit his muzzle and new ears.

After the pain from the shifting subsided Gordon thought he was safe to get up, but before he could move another wave of pain and nausea struck him back to the bed. In twisting agony, Gordon could feel his internal organs reforming and rearranging to fit his new anatomy. Curling into a ball on the bed, Gordon tried to remain conscious as his insides adapted to a new diet and anatomy.

After what seemed an eternity the pain finally subsided and Gordon managed to sit up on the bed. Moving carefully on his new paws, Gordon made his way to the washbasin in the corner to look at himself.

Looking at his reflection, Gordon began to test and flex his new muscles. Turning his ears, he was amazed at the abundance of sounds in the previously silent room. Twitching the new whiskers protruding from his upper lip, Gordon could feel a very new sense of his surroundings. Added in with his new olfaction and he could pinpoint where everything was in the room.

Wiping a bit of dried blood from his muzzle from when Daniel had hit him, Gordon noticed that his lower arms and hands were still human.

“You mean to tell me I have to go through that all at least one more time?” he yelled to the empty room not really expecting an answer, but hoping for one nonetheless.

Still getting used to his new paws, Gordon made his way back to the chair where he had been unloading his possessions. Continuing with his task, he began to unload a vast collection of specialized tools from his bag. Carrying these to the shop, he began to hang them on the wall next to the other, more basic, tools.

Once finished, Gordon began to hang his weapons on the rack in their living quarters. Rechecking the workings of his arbalest, he hung it from the bow on a pair of pegs set apart for this or a similar purpose. Hanging his long sword from the scabbard’s carrying loops, he turned his attention to his belt. Sliding off the quiver, Gordon hung it too by the belt loops. Placing his bracers on the rack, Gordon stepped back to examine his work.

Looking out the window at the end of the room, Gordon saw the sun was just beginning to dip below the western mountains. Anticipating Daniel’s return soon, he made ready to retire for the night.

Getting undressed proved to be a task as he struggled to get his pants off his reformed legs. Even so, he managed without too much difficulty and without ripping anything further.

Lying in the darkened room awaiting Daniel's return, Gordon could not but help to notice that, although colorblind, his vision as a whole was vastly improved, particularly his night vision.

Unconsciously swiveling his ears towards the door, Gordon could hear Daniel quietly enter the room.

“What took you in getting back?” Gordon asked.

“How did you know it was me?” blurted Daniel, surprised that Gordon had heard him enter.

“The curse decided to go a little further this afternoon.”

“Oh. I was at the library trying to find out what you are changing into and I kind of lost track of time,” said Daniel, lighting a lamp.

“So what am I?”

“Well, with the striped tail, the first thought I had was a raccoon, but you don’t have a mask. Instead you’ve got those big white splotches under your eyes. So using what you looked like earlier and reinforced with the way you look now, I think you’re becoming a genet.”

“A genet. What in the Midlands is a genet?”

“The books simply said it is a small, arboreal, carnivore. Whatever arboreal means.”

“It means they spend a lot of time in the trees. Ok, so I’m turning into a genet.
I think I’ll end up liking this in the end. Thank you for your help, Daniel. Now then get to sleep, we reopen tomorrow.”

That said they both turned in for the night, each with different thoughts of what the morrow would bring.

The next morning dawned bright over the Dragon Mountains as Daniel swept the shop to prepare for their reopening. With a yawn revealing vastly changed dentition, Gordon opened the door to their quarters and entered the smithy to prepare for the day. Pulling the door shut behind him, he let out a sharp yowl of pain and surprise, quickly releasing his tail from the door.

After another stream of foreign obscenities, this time directed at the door, Gordon made his way over to Daniel who was trying his best not to laugh.

“Quit laughin’ boy, it’s not funny. Just you wait till you get a tail and shut it in a door.”

“IF I get a tail,” Daniel reminded him.

“Yeah, well, you’ll probably be begging for a tail the day you wake up with a pair of tits, boy. Finish sweeping and you can come help me light the forge.”

Sweeping the last of the dirt out the door, Daniel made his way back to the furnace to help Gordon.

Loading wood and coal into the furnace Gordon said, “Now, normally I would not show you how to do this for a while longer, but seeing as the use of my hands and weather or not I can do it with paws remains to be seen, I shall teach you forthwith.”

“Now, in all likelihood you’ve never seen these symbols before seeing as they are something of an old family secret in the Argentarge clan. So I will start at the beginning.”

“The first one to activate is the container, this one keeps the heat from burning things we don’t want to burn. The second is the stabilizer; it keeps the rocks of the forge from cracking, melting, exploding, or any number of other unwanted effects from the heat. This last one is the dangerous one, mess it up and the whole building could go sky high. This one will raise the temperature in the forge to whatever you need to shape the metals you are working with. Did you see how I did that?”

“Yes sir.” replied Daniel.

“Good, now go open the front door so people can come and do business.”

While Daniel opened the shop for the day, Gordon made a cursory glance over the room making sure all was in order. Eyes coming to rest on the stack of bars in the corner, he made a mental note to find a bloom merchant.

Unconsciously turning his ears toward the walk outside, Gordon heard the click of claws upon the flagstones and turning to the fore, saw a tall fox entering the smithy.

“Good morrow, sir”, said Gordon, stepping out from behind the anvil to shake hands with the renard.

Taking the proffered hand, the fox replied, “You must be the new smith everyone is talking about. Misha Brightleaf, head of the keep’s long scouts.”

“Gordon Argentarge, um … keep smith. What can I do for you?”