Chapter 1: Folio Foils (late May, 708)
The inside of Misha's room was well lit and comfortable. Two figures sat in it, examining folios full of drawings. One was Misha himself, the foxmorph dressed in casual clothing. He had obviously been through battles-there was a scar on the left side of his face that ran from his muzzle to his ear, narrowly missing his eye. Where his left ear should have been stood a metallic one instead, close in color to his fur (with distinct, darker tip and lightly painted interior to try and match his other ear) but obviously distinct. A knife scar was clearly visible through the fur of his left arm. It ran almost the whole length of Misha's arm, and his right hand had been mauled as well. Two of the fingers had mechanical replacements in dark bronze, but otherwise seemed to act like normal.
The other was a human. His skin was a rich brown, his hair black, and his eyes hazel flecked with gold. His clothes were the type common in the Pyralian Confederation. His name was Lodovico Buonarroti (insisting on a shortened name of 'Lodo') and he'd not been at the Keep long enough to be Cursed yet.
Lodo put down the folio he'd been looking through and began to pace. Misha noticed him get up. "What's wrong?"
"This doesn't feel right. I came here to see both of you and now..." He walked over to the window, absently tracing a finger down the pane, following the path of a trickling raindrop. The sky above the Keep was a leaden gray, and a slow, steady rain draped the city, as if the whole Valley was in mourning. "To hear that he had fallen to the daedra, then returned warped and maddened? In such a mental state that he destroys nearly everything in his reach?"
"You're right. It shouldn't happen. In a perfect world, people would not be compelled by spells or possessed by demons to do things. But this is not a perfect world. You can take solace in that Drift is unlikely to stand trial, much less be executed for what happened. He was, and still is, clearly out of his mind." Misha sighed. "We must have faith. It may be part of Eli's plan: Perhaps Drift must go through this to be tempered, to achieve something greater than either of us can now know."
"But what if he doesn't survive? What if what has been lost cannot be regained?"
"All the more reason to go through what we have here. If Drift returns to himself, he will appreciate our efforts. If he doesn't...well, what he has created will not be lost, and it will help defray the costs of his care."
Lodo sighed and turned from the window to look at the fox. "You're right, of course, but it was a knife in the heart to learn of his madness. May Eli heal and guide him." He returned to his seat and picked up the folio again. As he looked closer, his brow furrowed in puzzlement. He traced his finger under a line of writing, eyes narrowing. "This is odd. The drawings are similar to Drift's. but the handwriting is much different."
Misha got up and went to look. There were some distinct stylistic differences, most notably the notations. "Hmm...oh! I remember! Drift mentioned an uncle who was also an inventor. I'll bet these are his! Drift would be happy to know they were saved!"
Lodo smiled. "Ah, that explains it! Talent often runs in the family." He continued going through various schemas and designs. While most of the page was dedicated to them, here and there around the edges there were various doodles or seemingly unrelated notes; a creative mind organizing as it went.
Finally Lodo stopped.
"Misha, what do you make of this?"
He held up a paper, yellowed with age, and creased lengthwise from long ago being folded into a narrow bookmark.
"It's a blank sheet."
"Yes, but it's practically at the heart of the folio. The devices have been getting steadily more complex, more unusual, but this blank makes no sense."
Misha nodded. "It does seem odd. Madog found that in Drift's family Canticle and was very insistent that it be kept with these. Yet, I've never known Drift to leave something blank and it seems his uncle was the same way. Put it aside for now and finish the folio-it's the last one. We can figure out the mystery after we've finished."
It wasn't too much longer when both had finished their categorizing. If the end had been reached with a bit more haste, it was not less well-done. But now they both looked at the blank page with curious eyes, unfolding the aged page with great care.
It was a large page,
neatly folded into fourths along the long axis. Holding it to the light showed
nothing at all. "This is the only
blank in any of the folios," said Misha. "And Madog insists it holds a
The fox frowned. "One I have yet to figure out, unfortunately.
There's no sign of magical influence on it, as far as I can tell."
"Hmm. That does seem to rule out spellcraft, but there are mundane means as well..." He paused and his eyes widened, then flicked over to Misha where they found a matching expression. "Lemon juice!" they said in unison.
"Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" asked Misha. He rubbed his eyes again. The device on the page was technically simple but what it promised was almost too good to believe!
"Indeed, and I'm still taking in the import of it! What a mind! This device could change everything!"
"That may be why it was hidden. His uncle could have feared someone coming across this and destroying it. But now that we see it, I think we can create it! There are folks here that would have the raw materials anyway."
"Where shall we construct it?"
"My inclination is here, but I have a feeling that Caroline would not appreciate it."
"I don't think inside the habited areas would be a good idea; it's likely to make noise. Are there any vacant buildings?"
"Hmm. I can't think of any off-hand in the Keep Proper, though one may have grown."
"Yes, I've heard. You must have fun trying to map this place."
Misha chuckled. "Variety is the spice of life! But first, let's see if we can get the parts for it. I think the winery should have a spare press for the center. If not, I can make it myself."
Lodo nodded. He grabbed a large satchel and gently placed the precious instructions inside.
They had only started out when a voice called out. "Papa! Papa! Come see what I found!"
Behind them on the stone street of the Keep was a magnificent automata shaped like a fox! Lodo had heard of Madog, of course, but seeing him was a different thing! He was simultaneously excited at the sight of the magical creation and puzzled how something that large could have snuck up without a sound. Then again, the gentle clacking of claws would be easily covered by the general noise.
"Alright Madog. Lead us to your discovery!" Misha seemed amused and Lodo followed in some confusion. Madog stayed just in sight until they reached some buildings along the walls. One was a short, ornate building with a marble balustrade along the roof. There were four dog-faced statues with oddly short noses on each corner. Overtop the front door was an emblem of a silvery quill pen and inkwell carved out of the wood.
"That's the Writer's Guild. It used to be the old barracks." said Misha.
"I see. That building next to it seems to be of the same style. Is it some addition?" Indeed the balustrade on the roof matched exactly, as did the statues. However, the plaque above the door was blank.
"No, that's definitely new. And a hint. Kyia wants the press here."
"Odd how this place works."
"Well, Kyia can control the Keep Proper. We think it's part of the overall defense. She has no such ability with Keep Town, though."
"In other words, someone bearing ill will could walk through the Keep Proper forever and never find anything."
"Yup. The Three Gates are here too. I'll show them to you on our way to the first place."
Chapter Two: Pressing Matters
There was one winery in Metamor Keep, though there were more outside of it. It was located next to the local brewery and run by a husband and wife duo. One was a burly bull named Farlow and the other a sleek leopard named Bertha. The duo made a good trade with the Deaf Mule.
"Ho now! To what do we owe the honor of your lordship?" asked Farlow, bowing a bit to Misha.
"Would you gents like a drink?" asked Bertha.
"I appreciate the courtesy, but we're here on a simple mission. Would you happen to have a spare wine press?" asked Misha.
The two looked at one another, then back at Misha. "Odd you should be askin' that your honor. One of ours just busted, didn't it Berty?"
"Splintered like a toothpick, it did, Farley. Though we ought to have seen it coming; it's as old as this place!"
"Right you are Berty! The press is still in great shape, but we can spare it. Hardly get to use it 'cept near wine season."
"Indeed Farley! It's hardly worth the pressing sometimes, but the Duke appreciates it, and we're closer than the others."
"His own special stock, he calls it," said Farlow, swelling with pride. "Sure if it's good enough for the Duke, it's good enough for anyone." Farlow slipped around to the back and returned with a good-sized screw press. "Here we are! I can deliver it for you Misha, wherever you want."
"That'd be great! There's a new building next to the Writer's Guild. It looks almost the same except for the emblem. I'll also give you compensation for it too, so you can build a fine new press."
"Much obliged," said Bertha. "Planning to press some private wine for the boys of the Hall?"
Farlow was so startled he almost dropped the press on Lodo.
"Where are we going now?" Lodo asked. "And will that fellow be able to find the new building?" The rain had stopped, though the sky was still overcast. Lodo was trying to take in Keep Town. Its design fascinated him. While the Keep Proper was where the Duke resided and a few other buildings existed (including the famous Deaf Mule), it was Keep Town where most people worked and lived.
Misha noticed Lodo looking around and slowed his pace. "We're heading to the lumber yards outside the Keep. Michael the Beaver is in charge now and might be willing to help with the construction. And, yes, Farlow will be able to find the new building pretty easily. Kyia never keeps someone from somewhere without good reason."
"Ah, that makes sense. This place is truly amazing! So many marvels! It's like potential waiting to happen!" He kept looking around at morphs going about their daily business before they reached the gate to the Killing Grounds and then headed out to Euper.
"I have to say, you're taking us animal morphs better than most," said Misha.
Lodo waved a hand dismissively. "Outer form is but clothing for the soul within. It is that soul which is important. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool."
Misha nodded and smiled.
The Lumber Yard was located close to the Metamor River. Misha had led Lodo through the town of Euper and through what he called the River Gate. There beyond lay docks and buildings extending out into the river. There was even an artificial island where the river had been diverted. Lodo wondered whether it was an extension of Euper.
They headed to a wooded area to the north where lumber mills were set up. A plaid beavermorph was there looking over plans of the Valley. He looked up as they approached. "Hey Misha! Who's your friend?"
"This is Lodo. He's been helping with Drift's folios."
Michael shook his head. "Shame about that." He paused and chewed on a stick. Lodo had noticed a lot of rodents had those. Something about how their teeth kept growing. "He was a good, hard worker for us before he went back to the smithing business, and then...well, hope he ends up okay. I'm just looking at the maps of the forests. We keep track of where and how much we've cut down. Gotta be careful not to cut too many trees, you know. All sorts of nasty things can happen. Oh, and pleasure to meet you too, Lodo."
"Same, Michael." Along the way, Misha had explained about Michael and his odd coloration. Lodo tried very hard not to stare.
"We're planning to build something we found, could you fill an order to exact specifications?" asked Misha.
"Sure thing! I know you're good for it. Mind if I ask what the thing's supposed to do?"
"If it works, it'll make thousands of books in a short time," said Lodo.
Michael gaped, his chewstick dropping to the ground.
"This is a rather long walk to the mill," said Lodo. He and Misha were going south around the western side of the ridge that the Keep was built on. They continued along the Metamor River until it met a small canal leading from Euper and the Keep.
"The paper mill makes a lot of noise. No one wants it too close to them. Strangely enough, though it is outside both the Keep and Euper, it was never attacked during either of the wars."
Lodo smiled weakly. "Perhaps it just didn't seem important enough? Please excuse my grumbling, but I'm not used to so much exercise. I'm dreading my first patrol."
"You don't have to stay here that long, you know. Not that it would be terrible, but you know the Curse will hit first."
Lodo waved his hand dismissively. "I'd rather be here than almost anywhere else. Besides, I'm not that worried about it. Agemorph, animalmorph, gendermorph: no matter how I change I still ought to be able to create, though I admit it'll be unusual. " He looked up; the sky was beginning to clear. "And this place is beautiful."
Misha smiled. "We're not far now. Johan Svenson runs the local paper mill. He's an impala. He's got a shop up the canal closer to Euper." A plaster building with a thatched roof stood where the Metamor River and canal met, a water wheel slowly turning on the side, a landmark that cued them to turn east along the canal. Skirting a scattering of buildings that Misha informed Lodo were an extension of Euper, Misha led the way to one in particular.
The inside of the shop smelled like fresh paper and Lodo could see they were arranged by type. He appreciated this, since most people did not understand the difference between types of papers-or even the difference between paper and vellum! The person in the shop, however, was neither a man nor an impala. She looked instead like a white, wooly, long-necked deer.
"Misha, welcome! And who's your friend?"
"Tabitha! Is that you? My, you've grown! Curse finally hit? This is Lodo. He's new."
"Like clockwork. Took me a ton of time to figure out what I'd turned into, though. I was at the library so often you'd have thought I was Mael's assistant! She didn't know what I was either, and I think it bothered her more than me! But finally we found an old bestiary of Fan Shoar and discovered I'm an alpaca. But if you're looking for Johan, he's out for the day." She paused a moment. "Pleasure to meet you Lodo!"
"Same!" replied Lodo.
Misha nodded. "You're here and you'll do just fine. Do you think you'll be able to help us with the paper? We're going to need some that are sixteen inches wide and two feet long. I'm not sure how many we'll need, but I think at least two thousand for a start."
"No problem at all!" said Tabitha as she started getting the paper ready. "What will you need this for? Is the Writer's Guild planning some new book?"
"Actually, we're planning to use a device to start creating books with the help of a press," said Misha.
Tabitha's eyes grew wide and she smiled. "Oh count me in!"
Chapter 3: Muffin Break
Once they reentered the Keep, Lodo looked to Misha. "It's getting towards noon, and I'm afraid my stomach is starting to protest. Is there anywhere close we can eat?"
"Oh yes! In fact one of my favorite places in all Metamor Keep! Follow me!" Misha led Lodo quickly through Keep Town until they reached a colorful shop. There was a colorful sign with a muffin painted near the top of it and the words "Tuffin's Muffins" below. Within, the shop smelled deliciously of fresh-baked muffins!
Indeed, shelves were lined with them and Lodo again marveled at what could be found in Metamor Keep! There was a slight incline to a lower area away from where the muffins were kept that housed a number of wooden tables and chairs. A nearly muffin-shaped gray bear with huge ears and nose rushed from behind the counter faster than Lodo would have given credit to his pudgy form.
"Misha! Misha! My best and favorite customer! I knew you'd come today! And who is your friend? I've not seen him around before unless, of course..."
Lodo smiled at the jolly person. "I'm Lodo, and I'm new. A pleasure to meet you Mr.?"
"Tuffin! Just plain Tuffin! Well, there are tables here, if you wish to eat in or I can get you ones to go or...OH! Misha you must try my latest creation!" Tuffin practically bounced back behind the counter as Misha and Lodo took a seat. They had very open backs that seemed specifically designed for tails.They also had soft, comfy seats. It was not long before Tuffin came bouncing back towards them, a single muffin held on a tray.
"Here we are! Apple cinnamon, just for you to try Misha! Of course, I also have plenty of chocolate chip ones too!"
The apple cinnamon muffin had been carefully baked to be in the shape of a fox's head; its coloration nearly matching Misha's fur. "Why this looks delicious Tuffin! And, of course I'll have a chocolate chip one-to go, I think. What of you Lodo?"
"Hmm, I've never actually had a muffin before. What might you recommend?"
"Never had a...!" Poor Tuffin looked scandalized, but Misha had a more sympathetic look.
"Ah, I was also once new to the delicious perfection of muffins! We can start with the chocolate chip, and then get another for you to go!"
Tuffin looked as though he'd been handed the most daring of challenges and bounced over to where the muffins were. He returned with two chocolate chip muffins, one wrapped for carrying. "I insist you try this for free!"
"Thank you kindly Tuffin." Lodo smiled and took the muffin in his hand. To his eyes, it looked almost like a mushroom. It was warm and smelled delicious. He took a bite from the top and smiled and sat back as the warmth and flavor went through his mouth like a hug. "Magnificent!"
Misha chuckled. "Tuffin is a member of the Royal Order of the Muffin Makers. There's a plaque to prove it." He pointed to a muffin-shaped gold plaque near the counter. Lodo could see there was writing on it, but was too far away to make it out.
"Huh, first I've ever heard of it. Who's the royal behind it, Duke Thomas? Also, uh," Lodo lowered his voice, "what is Tuffin?"
"I'm actually not sure. It's not made up-Tuffin's not the sort-and I've seen it in other muffin shops around the Keep and Euper. At least, I've seen it in all the reputable muffin shops. I'd advise avoiding any muffin shop that doesn't have it. As for Tuffin himself, he's a koala. That's a creature from one of the lands far in the south."
"Ah. Well, you had better taste that muffin or poor Tuffin is going to bounce himself through the roof." Lodo said and gave a chuckle. The koala was, indeed, bouncing up and down anxiously behind the counter, waiting for Misha to try the new treat.
"Can't have that; Tuffin's practically a Keep treasure!" Misha bit into the muffin, taking out one of the ears. He closed his eyes and a contented smile spread across his muzzle. When he next opened his eyes he looked at Tuffin. "You've outdone yourself! This is truly amazing!"
"Oh thank you Misha! Thank you!" The koala looked overjoyed and Lodo made a mental note to praise the koala often. When he and Misha finished their free samples, Lodo ordered one at the counter: banana nut. He insisted on paying for it.
"I want you to be in business a long, long time. How else will the Keep survive, if not for your wonderful muffins?" The glowing look on Tuffin's face was something Lodo would cherish.
Chapter 4: Making the News
Misha led the way back to the press building where the press was already waiting. They found the door unlocked and went inside.
The area within was large and unfurnished. The floors were made of stone that matched the building color. There were windows all around the building, at least where it didn't meet either the Keep wall or Writer's Guild, and they allowed in a dusty light. For some reason, Lodo felt as though the space was even larger than it seemed, but he dismissed it as simply misinterpreting it due to it being empty.
First Lodo and then Misha tried to lift the press individually. The press, however, was heavier than it looked and it took both Misha and Lodo to carry it, despite its relatively small size. "I'd go taur for this, but I'm not sure that'd help. Fortunately, we don't really need this to be very far in."
Nodding, Lodo tried to focus on anything other than his arms as he hefted the press in. He could feel Misha pulling it up much more easily. I really need to get in better shape!
Once well inside, they placed it on the ground. Both Michael and Tabitha had been told where to drop off the wood and paper, and they or a representative would probably be arriving soon.
Lodo pulled the instructions out of the satchel. He noticed an easel he was sure wasn't there a moment ago. Shrugging, he placed the instructions on it. "There we go! I can hardly wait to get started!"
"Same! I'll have to keep up with my duties, but I plan to help as often as I can. Has Kyia made you a room yet?"
"I don't think so. At least, I'm not sure how to find it. Speaking of duties, I'm not one to shirk my fair share of work. I'm an artist by nature, a creator of items ordinary and extraordinary. I'd like to earn my keep here."
"Oh, all you need to do is set up a shop and sell your art from it. I guarantee you'll be hired! People here love the arts and I've seen your work-people will pay top coin for it!"
Lodo blushed. "Thank you for those kind words."
"You deserve them! Oh! I think I know the perfect place for you in Keep Town. It's somewhere I own. I'll show it to you later."
"Hello Papa! Whatcha doin'?"
Lodo looked up. He had definitely not heard the automaton, and the building was not noisy enough to hide sound. How had Madog gotten in? How could something so large move so swiftly and silently?
"Hello Madog. We're building a press to print books with." Misha smiled. Madog's sudden appearances had long ceased to surprise him even if they were no less confounding.
"Ah! I am looking forward to reading all about it!" Madog had a sense of humor. Odd, at times, and often seeming to reference things that only made sense later-sometimes much later.
"You'll be able to read once we're able to start printing," said Lodo as he helped with the frame. The thing was coming together faster than expected. Madog looked around at the device and even sniffed it.
"This is very nice Papa!"
"Thank you Madog."
"You should make dancing letters to go with it!"
"Dancing letters?" Misha looked at where Madog was, but he'd already left the room.
"That fellow can move very quickly. I can't say I saw him leave!" said Lodo.
Misha chuckled. "He does seem to like doing that. I wonder what he meant by 'dancing letters'."
"Hmm, well, the notes says this can print books, and there's some indication of block print for it. Nothing too unusual about that-rather like more complex signet rings-but it'd be pretty cumbersome."
Misha's eyes widened. "Unless we could make it where the blocks move! Yes, individual letters in a matrix! They could be switched out to make whatever we wanted!"
"That's brilliant Misha! Who could make them?"
"I could. It'll take a while, probably a month, but I can definitely make the first molds. After that we'll need to get ink-Pascal can help with that-and then experiment until we can print."
"That sounds like a good plan! We'll finish this and once you're ready we can start making books with it. Say, do you think the Writer's Guild next door would be willing to help us?"
"Likely, as long as we can convince them we're not trying to make them useless. If anyone could be quick with forming words, it would be them!"
After long hours of work, Lodo and Misha had gotten the press together. All that remained was the movable type, which Misha would have to work on when he could. The Deaf Mule was not too far, and it was thankfully open very late. It was a three-story building that showed signs of being recently rebuilt. Most of it was now made out of stone with windows to let light in. There was a picture of a mule with plugs in its ears above a sign reading "Deaf Mule".
The interior had a worn, wooden floor and a bar. There was dark wood paneling along the walls as well. Even at this hour there were patrons in the various dimly lit areas of it and a strange, smokey haze permeated it. Looking for the source, Lodo saw several people smoking what appeared to be pipes. The scented tobacco added to the atmosphere. Behind the counter was a bovine being of immense size.
"Hey Donnie, could I get a couple of late night meals for myself and my friend?"
"Right up, Misha! 'Tis good to see you again. How goes the Jolly Collie?"
Misha had recreated the Jolly Collie after its destruction. The two pubs were not rivals: the Collie served Euper as the Mule served the Keep. "Faring well, I'm glad to say. I'm also happy to see you rebuilt this place in stone."
"Ah, well, there are still wooden floors and boards against the walls to give the illusion of it being wood, but you're right: stone is more enduring."
"I always found it odd that Kyia didn't remake it for you," said Misha. "This is part of the Lower Keep and within her abilities to alter or regrow."
"Well I'm not Raven, so I can't ask her, but I think she may have sensed I wanted to do this on my own and let me. I'm glad she did."
Misha nodded; it made sense, and the work would have made the Mule feel more like Donnie's place rather than just another building in the Keep Proper. Lodo was looking around. Aside from some of the clientele, it reminded him of taverns and inns he'd seen before. He and Misha sat at a table near a window that looked out on the street. Though the Deaf Mule had an external lantern, no other building had any lighting at all, making anything beyond a few feet of the light shadowy at best. Lodo shivered.
"You okay?" asked Misha.
"Just a bit cold. It's much warmer where I come from. It didn't bother me so much during the day, but at night..."
Misha nodded. "I do understand. Sometimes I'm cold even with all this fur."
Donnie returned quickly with two mugs of beer and a pair of steaming bowls of stew. They smelled delightful. "That ought to help you gents. These spring nights can be awful cold." He smiled and winked at Lodo, who blushed. Both of them focused on eating their hearty, spicy stew and cleaned up the leftover broth with some bread that Donnie brought. They quaffed their beers, paid the tab, and headed out of the tavern, muffins in tow.
"Will I be able to come and go here or do I need your help?" asked Lodo as they walked the darkened streets of Metamor. Lodo was still unsure of his way around and feared becoming lost. The dark and cold were not helping ease these fears. Misha had lit a small lantern to show the way. Lodo cursed himself for not thinking to bring one. Then again, he hadn't planned to be out so late!
"I think so. Like I said, Kyia lets people get where they need as long as they have good intent. Just ask anyone that's ever found the library!" he chuckled. Being one of the buildings inside the Keep Proper, the library's position could and did change.
"I see." Lodo sighed. He still had one worry. "I have to be honest, while I understand the need for people being trained and serving to help on the various patrols, I fear I'd be a rather poor fighter."
Misha nodded. "A lot of other folks have felt the same way over the years. Most of them ended up surprising themselves with an unusual proficiency. That said, the mandatory training isn't because we like having it; we're basically all that stands in the way between invading forces from the north and everyone else!"
"I do understand. I'm just not looking forward to it. I'd much rather be making art in a studio than out on patrol in miserable weather or fighting goodness-knows-what."
Misha chuckled. "I think we all would, my friend, but I promise you it's not that burdensome. Would you like to stay with me and Caroline tonight since you're not sure where your room is?"
"Hi!" A cheerful voice called out in the darkness before Lodo could answer.
"Madog!" Lodo shook his head. There was no possibility of missing any sounds. "Misha, are you sure he's not part ghost?"
Both Misha and Madog laughed at that. "I have a soul, but I am not a ghost." To prove it, Madog nuzzled under Lodo's hand. His metal felt comfortingly warm and Lodo could not resist scratching between Madog's ears.
"You're really a fine fellow. I'm glad I got to meet you."
"Same. I can take him to his spot Daddy."
"Alright. You're in good care Lodo. I'll see you tomorrow sometime!" Misha waved and headed off into the night. Lodo looked at his vulpine guide.
"Follow me!" Madog went quickly, but not so fast that Lodo lost track of him. Through the gate and into the area that was Keep Town, he followed until Madog stopped at a building. It was a beautiful old structure with an unusual, large front window that would be perfect for showing artistic pieces in. It seemed to have two floors as well, likely so that the shopkeeper could sleep just above. Lodo, with some trepidation, knocked on the door while Madog watched, his tail wagging.
The door opened and Lodo walked inside. "Is anyone home?"
No one responded, but Madog was laughing. "Daddy owns this. You stay here now."
Lodo stared at Madog in amazement. "I-thank you!" Madog bowed and left. Lodo made a mental note to be sure to ask Misha about the shop in the morning. He had a feeling it was the same one Misha had mentioned earlier. It was empty of all furnishings, but there was a pile of wood by the hearth. Lodo lit it and slept near it on the floor. Not the most comfortable rest, but he was warm and safe, and that was all that mattered.
Misha had happily helped Lodo to get the shop in his name. It had taken a bit longer to secure the materials he needed were purchased, but as soon as he was settled he started taking commissions. Misha had been right; people loved his art!
Chapter 5: Stop the Presses! (mid June, 708)
Lodo was not surprised when the Curse began. It had started about ten days after he'd arrived and just after he opened the shop. He'd bought a full-length mirror so he could track and sketch the changes.
His skin had turned black and gained a covering of what looked like a cross between fur and feathers. This covering was also black in most places, except the center of his torso where it was brilliantly white. This area of white rose up his neck and around his face up to his eyebrows-or where his eyebrows would be if he still had them.
'Face', at this point, might have been a bit of a stretch, as he had a beak that could be favorably compared to a toucan's. Fortunately its edges were much more malleable than that and he could emote fairly normally. Unfortunately the comparisons to a toucan ended there, as a brilliantly colored crest rose along his beak and over his head like a cock's comb!
More than that, his arms had become some sort of wings. They weren't bat wings-though his pinky fingers had grown to an absurd length, with an attached membrane under them and most of his arm-his other fingers and thumbs were free. Fortunately he found he could return them to normal arms, though some webbing remained near his armpits and his pinky fingers were now the size of his middle fingers.
His feet were clawed and colored in a sedate blue-gray scale. They were also amazingly flexible, like a second set of hands. He had a tail as well, the same black color as his body.
No one in Keep Town knew what he was. Even Misha was stumped! Finally, he took a break from his art and headed to the Keep Proper, hoping he could find the library.
It was not long before he found it. Though he was sure it would be a trek, it had appeared almost as soon as he was past the Deaf Mule! It was obviously the library: it stood five stories tall and had rows of long glass on each story. The top was a blue dome that seemed to glitter like a gem. The uppermost rows of windows seemed to be made of stained glass. It was braced on all sides by flying buttresses.The doors were inlaid wood with stained glass all around them. Directly above the doors, in a circle of stone, there was a golden quill and a book in white marble. So carefully was it carved that Lodo almost thought he could read it if he could but reach it.
The vestibule was a well-sized area. The floors and walls were burnished, inlaid wood that had a comforting, welcoming look. There was a large, ornate rug on the floor in warm red with patterns of gold and black. It had a border pattern very distinct from the interior, though not in different colors. There was a desk immediately to the right. Just beyond the desk there seemed to be a ramped pillar. Behind the desk was a human woman in a green dress who smiled at Lodo.
"Welcome to the library, my name is Merlia. I'm the head librarian here. How can I help you?'
"My name is Lodo. I'm an artist and fairly new here. But I'm not sure exactly what I'm supposed to be."
"Yes, I can see how that would be an issue. Everyone that becomes an animalmorph usually ends up wanting to know more about their new species, unless it's particularly common. There's nothing common about you, though. Could you shift into feral form so I can see what the, er, more natural look for your species is?"
Lodo nodded and allowed his wings to grow out. Most of his body didn't change much, other than in size, shrinking to that of a toucan's, but once he'd finished he flapped over to the desk to let himself be inspected.
"Hmm. Yes, you're neither bird nor bat. There's something familiar about you, though. I'm sure I've seen this form before. Well, change back and we can go into the repository."
Lodo flew off and changed back, glad that his clothes were of the magic variety in the Keep. Merlia led him through the doors to where the books and scroll were. Inside the library opened up. All floors were visible from where he stood. The topmost windows created multicolored lights from their stained glass while the whole of the interior was illuminated by the long windows all around. The very top was the interior of the dome.
Carved shelves lined all around in neat rows extending in all directions. They looked like they were wood-colored stones with shelves for books and scrolls. The interior had silvery pillars at even intervals, the largest ones surrounding the open interior. They had carved tops to look like flowering fruit trees. Their flowers were painted while the globes of fruits seemed to hold a very faint light within.
It was a long time before Lodo could do anything but stare. Merlia let out a gentle cough and Lodo shook his head. "Words cannot possibly do this justice!"
"Indeed. The ramp you saw leads to the other levels. Each is categorized as best we can. There are two librarians on each of the levels. Mael-Murie is also on this level. Somewhere."
A great horned owl flew down to where they stood. It changed into a humanoid form. "Mael-Murie present and accounted for! Who's this fellow?"
"I am Lodovico Buonarroti; Lodo, for short." Lodo gave Mael a gracious bow. "I'm trying to figure out what I am."
"Hmm, I think maybe the Tened section Merlia?"
"Just what I was thinking. He has a sort of ancient look to him."
The two women led Lodo through the stacks to a particular section. There the three of them started taking out books and looking through them. Finally Merlia found one!
"Here we go! Some of the fliers from the time of the Tened. You look roughly like one, though I must say you're better colored!"
"Thank you! Hmm, there's no writing, though. Or it's too small to see."
"None of mine are much better," said Mael. "We'll likely have to make something up for the time being."
"Hmm, there's 'pteros' for 'winged' and 'saur' for reptile, so 'pterosaur' seems about right." said Merlia.
"That seems accurate enough, but I haven't felt any stupor in the cold," said Lodo.
"Maybe the down helps insulate you," said Mael.
"Or it could be you're not truly cold-blooded," said Merlia.
"In any case, I thank you both!"
Misha was still working on the molds for the press and the Writer's Guild had been non-committal about helping. They seemed to be worried that the printing press would put them out of business, though he and Misha had assured them this would not be the case. They'd pointed out that if the press could print things quickly the copyists could make more copies faster. In addition, illuminators would certainly still be needed.
Tallis, Nahum, and Madra-the headmasters of the Writers' Guild-were still debating it among themselves. Madra was for it, Nahum was against it, and Tallis was undecided. Lodo and Misha had both made their cases for helping with the press, but until the three decided one way or another, the Writers' Guild was an unknown. Fortunately Lodo had his artwork to keep him occupied, as well as his formal training under Jack DeMule.
Chapter 6: Pressing the Point (late June, 708)
"That's it! Up and defend!" CLANK! Lodo was feeling overheated as he defended himself with a sword. Jack DeMule had been teaching him the basics of swordplay. He'd never be an expert, but at least he could defend himself. "Say, is your nose supposed to be glowing?"
"Uh, not nose. Comb. It's pretty bright!"
Lodo could feel it himself. He carefully touched the area. It was just beyond where he could make his eyes meet. It felt hot. "Well, I can't sweat like I did as a human. I suppose this ridiculous comb allows blood to be cooled through it."
"Interesting. Well, I think you're about as far as you're ever going to get with swords. At least if you need to use one you can. We should see if you have a knack for anything else."
"Well, I'm pretty good with a throwing knife."
"Oh? Well, let's try that." Jack led him to where a number of hand-held knives were. Lodo tested each one and found one he liked the balance of. There was a far-off target and he launched the knife with speed and power. It struck dead center.
"Right. Note to self, do not challenge Lodo at darts. Hmm, if you're good with this, what about a bow and arrow? Crossbows are easy as a start."
Lodo went to the crossbows as Jack removed the knife. He picked out one with a good balanced weight and, after being instructed, aimed and fired. He hit very nearly the same hole. "My! If I'd known this I'd have taken archery years ago!"
"Right. So other types of bows take more upper body strength to use, but I'll bet if you practice you could master it. We do have a bow teacher here. I'll introduce you to her."
"I'd like that very much! It's strange. I never thought I'd like a weapon, but I feel like I'm drawn to the bow."
"Har har. You should get together with Wanderer sometime. The two of you could make corny puns together."
Aleria Alban stood almost a head taller than Lodo. Her physique was stunning and statuesque. She had a head of white feathers that almost seemed to glow. Her eyes and beak were a stunning yellow, and what he could see of her body feathers looked like burnished bronze. That she was an eagle, there was no doubt, but Lodo had no idea what kind. Nor, somehow, did it seem to matter.
"Jack says you're a fair hand with your marks. I'll help train you more with them. Pick up one of the lighter bows-you'll need more muscles for the heavier ones-and we can start."
Lodo nodded and picked up one of the bows and its accompanying arrows. There were several targets at different distances, some almost insultingly close. "Hit each of those as close to the center as you can get. I know some seem too close, but it wouldn't be an accurate test if they weren't."
"If someone can't hit those closest ones, they have no reason to be here!" The closest had to be no further than the average dart board! Each target seemed to be about three yards further than the last.
Lodo did well until he got a bit past the mid-range mark. He felt frustrated at not being able to hit his targets, but Aleria seemed very pleased. "You've reached about the maximum range with that type of bow. Go get yourself a heavier one and I'll fetch the arrows. We'll see how far you can get next."
Though his arms were feeling sore, Lodo was determined to prove himself. He was sorely tempted to try the largest and heaviest bow, but he knew he had neither the skill nor strength to manage it-not yet. I will, though! I really like this! Not giving up my art, though.
The bow was better, but with each shot Lodo could feel his arms beginning to burn and strain. Finally Aleria called an end. "I'm all for self-improvement, but don't take it too far! If you hurt yourself it'll only make training take longer since you'll first need to recover! Here's some ointment for those sore muscles. They sell more of it at the apothecary-I'd advise you to stock up!"
Lodo nodded. "Thank you, Aleria. I greatly appreciate your help!"
"Finally finished them!" Misha entered Lodo's shop with a joyful expression.
It took a minute, but Lodo stopped his work and got up! "That's fantastic! When do you want to start?"
"I was going to head by the Writers' Guild and see if they'd want to see a demonstration. They've been putting this off too long and I want an answer one way or another!"
"I need to finish a few pieces I promised customers, but I can get there by this afternoon if that would work?"
"That'd be fine. It'll give me time to visit Pascal for the ink and set the last bit up."
"Wonderful! I'll be there as soon as I can!"
The inside of the new press building had many onlookers. Tallis, Nahum, and Madra were closest, as were all the senior copyists. Others were near, but in the back. Fortunately there was no crowding. Misha led the demonstration. "Before you is a machine that was created by Weldon Trendahl. He was a great uncle to Edward Snow also known as Drift." He paused and let a few murmurs go around. Drift had been fairly well-known and his current state was more rumor than fact, but nearly everyone knew something bad had happened to him. "Lodo and I were able to create or, perhaps, recreate the device from a schema we found. We're now going to make a copy of the Canticles for you."
More murmuring arose but both Lodo and Misha ignored it. They placed the paper, prepared the lettering, inked it, pressed down the paper, and pressed it. Page after page went through this process until the full of the Canticles had been printed out in what was a surprisingly short time. Lodo, however, was glad he'd been keeping up with his arm exercises.
They hung the pages on lines to let the ink dry. "If you are worried about illumination, you will see that there are spaces on the pages where they can be easily created. Further, the copyists need only have the paper available and change out the type, which I can show you how to do. I took into consideration that there will be older letters needed as well, and you can find them alongside the others. Will you help us to make books more available?" asked Misha.
"Yes," said Madre.The goose looked fierce as she said it. "This will enable a new era of literacy!"
"Yeah!" said Tallis. "This is a great idea! It'll be interesting to see where it goes."
"No reason not to," said Nahum. "As long as the Writer's Guild can do its thing."
Misha and Lodo smiled. "Glad to hear it!" said Misha. "I'll show you all how it works and then we can get started!"
As the copyists gathered, Lodo and Misha showed them how to change out the type, how to ink the type, how to lay the paper, and finally how to press. It didn't take them long to learn, and before the day was over there were more copies of the Canticles translated into Common.
The excited scribes began thinking of what valuable tomes could next be made through the wonderful press, and even discussed how best to do bestiaries-something of deep interest to anyone at the Keep.
A new chapter had begun.