Cutter sat in front of his work table, resting comfortable on his haunches in his fox'taur from. The large vulpine flicked his tail slowly behind himself as he read over one of the numerous scrolls that were stacked on his desk, his glasses perched on top of his nose. By his left hand was a flat sheet of brown paper that he carefully wrote on with a steady hand, scratching out a letter at a time with his quill pen.
Leaning forward he looked at the tightly written Elvin script on the page, the letters were blocky and simple but with large deviation between each of them. To the unaided eye they seemed to blend and roll together making an indecipherable collection of symbols, but to the fox they were easy enough to read. The translations of the words appeared on the inside of his glasses, glowing slightly off his blue eyes. As he read them he made more notes on the page, carefully dipping his pin into the ink well every now and then.
"Excuse me," a voice asked from outside the library, but Cutter didn't notice it.
A few moments later the owner of the voice, one of the guards of the long house, walked in. The young woman looked a bit frustrated as she walked across the room to stand next to the librarian. She had been told, like everyone in the long house, not to disturb him when he was working, but this was important.
"Excuse me," she said again, but again he didn't seem to hear her.
With a sigh she reached out, waiting until he moved his pen of the page, and placed a hand on his shoulder.
He jumped, freezing in place for a moment before turning his head around to look up at the guard, noting for a moment just how pretty she was before setting his pen down in its resting spot next to the ink well. "Yes?" he asked.
"You have a guest," the guard said, motioning towards the door of the library.
The vulpine blinked in surprised, looking at her over the top of his glasses. "I do?"
"Yes, a vixen, she seems to know you."
"She's early, we were supposed to meet at 10," he replied, looking up at the clock on the wall, something he had brought with him from the Keep's main library.
"It's almost noon," the guard replied.
Cutter froze for a moment, looking at the clock again. With a sick feeling in his stomach he realized that the pendulum on the clock had stopped. He had meant to pull the weights that morning but had gotten lost in the translation of the scroll. The scroll he had apparently been reading all morning long.
He sighed and flicked his ears back as he pressed his hands against his muzzle, glad that the black fur of his hands hid the stains from the ink. "Okay, please show her in."
The guard nodded her head and walked out of the library, a few moments later Kallie walked into the library. The vixen had a slight look of awe on her face as she stepped between the wide shelves covered in scrolls and books. The anger in her face fading away as she looked over them all, her ears perking up high over her head and her tail slowly flicking, making her long skirt flutter around her legs. "I've... this is amazing."
He smiled a bit, feeling slightly underdressed next to her. For a fighter she had very elegant tastes in clothing, unlike his simple laced up shirt and vest. "The main Keep library is significantly larger than this, this is just a small elven library. Though it's still probably the largest collection of their lost knowledge in the world. Most of the scrolls here are centuries old."
Kallie nodded and walked up to the desk, stepping gently around the fox'taur's bulk, her skirt swaying, the dark fabric both contrasted and enhanced by the lighter colored shirt she wore. The clothing also provided her a great deal of freedom of movement . "Can you read it?"
"I can," he said, carefully removed his glasses from his nose and folded them closed. He placed them on the work table next to his quill pen, then quickly wiped his paws clean on the blotch cloth.
She nodded and picked up his parchment paper, reading his carefully written notes on the page. " 'Every soul born on this world has a path set before it, but the journey is not a fixed one. While the course of a life can wind and change the destination can never truly be altered.' Your translation?"
"Yes, but the writing is like that naturally. It's very poetic, a study on what it means to truly live a life, and what does living truly mean in a world where your fate might have already been decided for you."
"I would like to read the finished work," he said, setting the page back down.
He smiled. "There are eight scrolls, each one rather long to begin with. It will take me months to translate it and sadly there are more pressing issues to deal with. As much as I would like to dedicate my time to the job I have to catalog everything else in here."
A smile small crossed over Kallie's muzzle. "More pressing issue, like our plans for lunch, which will be an early supper now."
"Only if we go outside of the walls, we can easily take lunch in the market place."
Her smile grew just a little bit narrower. "Will you be able to teach me there?"
With a chuckle Cutter stood up on all fours. "Yes, I will be able to teach you, I know of a few quiet places." He said, offering out a hand to her."Would you care for a ride?"
She smiled and holding onto his hand lifted herself up onto his back, settling down to ride side saddle on the fox's back, one arm wrapped around his chest. She allowed her tail to drape down the far side of his lower body as she settled onto him.
Collecting his money pouched he slipped it into the pocket of his vest, then together they walked out of the library and out into the long house, quickly finding their way through to the keep itself. "How are your rooms?" he asked as they walked past the guards.
"Acceptable, but I will need to find something more permanent, perhaps in the city itself."
"If you join the watch they will provide quarters for you."
She blanched at that. "I dislike the idea of sharing a room with anyone, let alone a dozen other people. No, I would rather keep my own residence and rent my sword to anyone who cares to use it."
Cutter nodded at that. "Well, there are many merchants who would like to have a defense against any raiders instead risk being trapped here by injury."
"I am well aware of that," she replied, resting her head against his shoulder, her muzzle pressed into the fur of his neck.
He chuckled softly and nodded, pleased to find that the usual stairs down had become a sloping ramp. He took it easily, his bushy tail swaying behind his hind legs. "I suppose so. Have you taken to explore the Keep?"
"Yes," she replied softly. She had only been living at the keep for the last week, the place was still new to her as was the strange geography of the keep itself. It was almost frustrating the way nothing was ever in the same place twice, but it seemed that she would eventually find her way.
"See anything interesting?"
"More pubs then I care to mention, it's hard to find a new place to get off my feet. I also paid a visit to the Chapel."
Cutter tilted his head at this, giving her a slight look with narrowed eyes. "You're a follower of the Way?"
She nodded. "Somewhat, less so since my father died, but I still believe. Does that conflict with your believe? I have to admit I'm unfamiliar with the Twins."
His smile grow a little bit thinner at this. "There is no issue between my faith and yours, other than the conflict between Eli and the Twins, but it is not as bad as their issues with Akkala and the other Lothanasi gods."
"Oh?" she asked, the tone of the one word making it clear that she wanted to know more.
The fox nodded, his ears flicking back slightly. "Yes, the Twins have managed to annoy almost every god to one extent or another. They have their own agenda and have made some... creative choices in following it."
"But they are not very well known?"
"Not this far north, no. I'm the only one at the keep. There is no place of worship and Kyia isn't interested in creating one. Though I've never gone looking either. To be honest I never been that faithful."
"I see," she replied.
Cutter smiled, touching her arm as they walked out into the lower keep. The day was overcast, giving everything a dim glow to it all, but it was still enough to make the fox'taur squint as they stepped out. People moved all around them, a few giving him a slightly annoyed look but no one saying anything. He started down along the wall, following it towards to the inner gate and the tower square.
"Maybe we should have our lesson first?" she suggested.
"Aren't you hungry?"
"Yes, but I had something to eat while waiting for you to come and collect me."
A blush passed through Cutter's face, burning under his fur. "Yes, sorry about that, I didn't mean for that to happen. Sometimes I get caught up in my work."
She nodded. "Well it seemed interesting."
The foxtaur turned, heading down between the walls of the keep itself, following them to search out a quiet place. He wasn't sure where he could find one, but he knew that one would be along in a short time. "I can let you read it sometime."
"I thought you didn't have time to translate it?"
He smiled. "I have my ways," he replied, the walls of the keep pressing around them as they slipped between the towers until they came into an open alcove between them. The only thing in the alcove was a empty pedestal, split down one side, and a few large pieces of marble.
Offering a hand he let her slide off his back and onto the ground. "This should do nicely," he said.
"I wish there was a place to sit," she replied, brushing out her skirt as she did so, her tail flicking quickly in excitement.
"If this goes well hopefully you won't need it," he replied, turning his bulk around until they were facing each other, his larger size putting him over a head taller than she was. He gently rested his arms on her shoulders and smiled down at her.
Kallie took in a deep breath and smiled at him. "So, what do you do?"
"You might want to take off your skirt, you wouldn't want it ruined."
"I wore the skirt because I can easily hike it up."
He nodded. "But it can come on quickly."
"I'll manage," she replied with a small smile.
The fox'taur chuckled and nodded his head. "Alright then, have you learned how to turn into your pure animal form?"
"I have, it was easy," she replied, her memory flicking back to her second night at the keep, and how easy it was just to push herself and have her body change into that of a true vixen. It would have been a less pleasant experience if her mind had become that of an animal as well, but as it was only her body she was able to accept it with only minor discomfort.
He took in a deep breath. "Okay, this is kind of easy at first, but it takes a little bit of work to find it. You need to try to push yourself into being a 'taur, it's kind of like trying to find a notch between your two selves, your human self and your animal self. You're kind of tricking the magic to mingle both of the forms into one. There's probably more to it than that, including why it takes on the form of a centaur, but that seems to work."
"That's it? I just find a place in the middle? No prayers, no rituals, I just slip into it?"
"That's about it."
A smile flickered over her face. "Well, that's not that hard at all," she said, then closed her eyes. Taking in a deep breath she slowly let it out as she reached down to pull her skirt up over her hips, her tail sliding free of the back. A moment later her fur seemed to ripple like it was in the wind, then in a flash she grew. Her forelegs climbing taller as new hind legs grew, her lower body stretched out behind her as she took on a quadruped stance.
Letting out a gasp the new vixen'taur opened her eyes to look down at her long back side, reaching out with one hand to touch her flank. She stroked her hand along the fur, running her fingers through it before smiling and flicking her tail. "I feel powerful," she said, starting to dance on her four feet.
Cutter laughed. "That's normal. My first time I ran half way across the inner keep in just moments. It was exhilarating."
"How long ago was that."
"Just after the assault on the keep where I was injured," he replied, touching his right leg, where the dead muscles would have been had he been in his bipedal from.
A small frown crossed her face, but she didn't say anything, she knew that the events of the winter before last still hurt him, but she did not know why. She doubted that it was something that he would confess lightly, but one never truly would know. They both had pain in their pasts.
"Can you help me with this?" she instead, pointing down to her skirt. It had bunched up over her hips, right where her upper body joined the lower one. It was tight around her waist, tighter then she had expected, and was quickly growing uncomfortable. She twisted it around until the ties were under her fingers, but the fabric was pulled so tight that she couldn't work the knots free.
He nodded. "You might want to exhale," he said, pulling at the cords, constricting the skirt even tighter around her waist. She let out a long breath as he kept pulling, then reached down to grab the ends, holding them in place.
This gave him more than enough slack to work the knots free, pulling at them with his fingers until he finally had them loose in his hands. They both let go at once, the top of the skirt expanding as she took in a deep breath.
"Thank you," she said.
"I'm happy to help," he replied, lifting his head to look at her, realizing they were almost eye level again. They looked at each other for just a moment, Cutter tilting is head slightly to the side as he moved a bit closer. She moved closer to him as well, her lips parting slightly, almost ready to kiss, but it was interrupted when their noses bumped into each other.
Pulling back in surprised the vixen started to laugh, rubbing at the side of her muzzle. "How do you kiss with one of these things?"
"I don't know," he replied, laughing in return.
With a shake of her head she pulled the now free skirt off of herself, then draped it across her back. "It was easier when only one of us was a fox."
He nodded and touched her shoulder. "Well, we'll work it out. It's not like we're the first couple in the keep. I think it will just take some time and experimenting."
Kallie flicked her tail at the touch, happy for the confirmation that their time together before the curse had taken her was not going to be the extent of her relationship. "I'm looking forward to that," she finally said.
"Good," he replied, only to be interrupted by the loud rumbling of her stomach. It was loud enough that it echoed around the close walls and brought a blush to her face.
She reached down to touch her belly while Cutter smiled. "You have a new stomach, and 'taurs need a lot more to eat than normal people do. Come on, let's go down to the town and get something to eat. I know a place that knows how to perfectly cook a side of mutton."
She looked at him with a little bit of disbelieve. "A whole side?"
Cutter nodded, taking her hand in his and leading her out of the small alcove, prancing a little bit as he walked. "Yes, a whole side, trust me, you'll be through it before you realize. Trust me, 'taurs need a lot of food. And it goes back onto your normal from if you're not careful."
"I'll have to be careful then," she said as they came out into the lower keep. A few people eyed them for a moment but only one person opened stared for a few seconds before shaking it off and moving on. Kallie looked back at him for a moment as they walked towards the gate.
"I would think people would be used to seeing fox'taurs by now."
He chuckled. "You would, but it turns out they aren't, and I doubt they have ever seen a vixen'taur. Only a few of us have bothered to learn the trick and I honestly think you're the first female."
"The first?" she asked, her tail curling slightly. Now that she had time to think about it she realized that she was basically nude from the waist down, but it seemed like it would be okay because that part of her was an animal, and no one wanted to dress animals. Cutter had never bothered with pants and she had never even noticed it until then, it just seemed natural.
"Are you okay?" he asked, looking back at the vixen.
"I'm okay, my mind was just thinking about some things," she replied, her ears twisting slightly to the side, her tail flicking out again, starting to sway.
Cutter moved back slightly until he was side by side with her, pressing his flank up to hers. Her back was slightly lower than his was, but also lacked the fox's extra weight, leaving her looking lithe and muscular. She moved easily in the new from, like it was natural for her. "What sort of things?"
"Well, horses needed to be shoed, do we need to do anything like that?"
He shook his head. "Oh no, that's not really needed, though watch it when it gets muddy. Having your back end go slipping when your font is firmly planted is a bit of an experience," he said as they walked through the gate and down towards the town. There was the familiar smell of life washing over them, food, dirt and waste. Kallie didn't really notice it, but Cutter did, he always did, and even with the keep's rather advanced sewage system it still smelled, even more so in the summer.
The vixen smiled a bit. "I'll make sure to avoid that," she replied as they walked past an ever growing number of people. Most of them saw them coming and moved to give them space, allowing the two 'taurs to move easily through the growing crowd.
The crowds grew even heavier as they walked through the town square, a few trading wagons lined up along one side and selling exotic fabrics and jewelry. She couldn't see it very well though the people, but the quality of the products were somewhat reasonable. Some of it she recognized from the midlands, and a few from across the sea. As trade collections went it wasn't that impressive, and with the travel distance she wondered how they would be able to make any money selling them at the keep.
They walked past the wagons and out of the town square, taking a turn down a side street, then shortly after that turned again, now an alley between two buildings that was too narrow for them to walk abreast. The smell of food drifting down the small way, making her stomach rumble.
Cutter went first, pressing his way under some low hanging banners, the bottom of each one had become tattered and torn, a layer of fur covering each one from the number of animal keepers that had crossed under them in the past.
The road lead to an oddly shape square between five buildings. It was littered with tables and chairs, most of them filled with keepers of one type or another. One of the buildings had been opened up with a low set bar, with a large grill to the side, the smell of cooked meet radiating out from it filling the square.
He walked up to one of the free tables and pulled the chairs away. "If you care to sit?"
"Thank you," she replied, walking up to the table and sitting down on her haunches. It was an odd experience, with her rump resting on the ground but feeling like she was standing up. Instead she curled her tail around her hips and gave him a smile.
"I'll be right back," he said and walked up to the bar, he spoke with the child behind it for a few moments, then put down some money on the counter and came back carrying a pair of mugs. He sent one down in front of her then took a seat across the table from her.
She picked up the mug and sniffed at, finding the familiar scent of beer, but the color was darker than she had seen before at the keep. Carefully she lifted it to her lips, taking a sip while trying not to let it spill down her thin muzzle. It was a different taste then she had before, but one that was strong in a very pleasant way. "That's good," she said, setting the mug back down. "Where does it come from."
"Michal and Della brew it themselves, apparently they import some of the ingredients from Whales. Honestly it reminds me a little bit of home."
Kallie leaned forward over the table. "Are you from Whales?"
"Oh no, I've never been there, though I should someday. No, this is closer to some of the beers from my homeland. Not exactly the same, but closer than any other beer I've had."
"It's always good to find a piece of home," she said, her smile faltering a moment later as she looked down into her mug, her ears dropping to the side of her head.
Without a word Cutter reached out and took her hand in his, holding it gently and lacing his fingers between hers. It provide some comfort for her, making her ears perk up just a little bit.
"Where is your home?" he finally asked.
She shook her head. "It doesn't matter."
"Of course it does, but I won't pry. Everyone who chooses to come to Metamore Keep does so for their own reasons. Sometimes it's to find a new life, sometimes it's to leave an old life behind. Though sadly the change is not enough to hide from your past, if there is something hidden it will still find you here."
The vixen let out a sigh. "That's not reassuring. So, why did you come to the keep?"
A small smile flicked over his muzzle, his ears perking up as well. "Oh, for a number of reasons. Yes, I was leaving my past behind, but it's already tried to find me," he smile faltered at that, but he put it back on. "It might try to do so again, but for now I feel safe. I have a new life here and one I'm happy to keep simple. I have a library to sort, a keep that I still have places to explore, and a few good friends. This has been one of the few places in this world I've been comfortable living at."
"I see," she replied, taking another ship of the beer.
Cutter shrugged and leaned forward a bit, resting his elbows on the table. "As odd as it may be, the keep is a good place to live, even if people like us really can't leave. That's one of the upsides of the transgender or child curses, you can still go out in the midlands. Even so, I've been happy here and I haven't really wanted to leave since I changed."
"Sounds like you don't want me to leave."
He chuckled. "I wouldn't mind you staying here," he said, touching her hand again.
A smile crossed over her face. "I just need to find my place here in the keep. I wouldn't mind working for the watch, but I would like to do more."
"There are always the long scouts?"
She cocked her head to the side. "I've heard of them, what exactly are they?"
"They are very specialized. I should introduce you to Misha, he would be able to explain it better than I can. I'm just their librarian."
The vixen nodded for a moment, then gave him a particular look. "If you're just the librarian, what were you doing going around saving ladies from raiders?"
A flash of worry crossed over his face for a moment before it was replaced with a fairly controlled natural look. "I was out to pick up a book from a local village and just found myself in the right place at the right time."
"You're lying," she replied.
He shrugged and took a sip of his beer, a smile hanging onto the edge of his muzzle. "Maybe, maybe not."
"No maybe about it."
The conversation was interrupted by a bar maid coming over with a pair of platters, each one filled with a huge side of lamb. The moment the smell hit her nose she felt her belly rumble deep in her lower body, her muzzle starting to water as it was set down next to her.
Without a word Cutter reached into his vest and pulled out a pair of small knifes, holding them easily between his fingers instead of with them. He flipped his hands and the blades as one, pulling one from his hands with ease before spinning the other blade and offering it over to her, hilt first.
"You're good with your hands," she said, taking the knife from him and using it to slice off a piece of the meat. She placed it into her muzzle and let out a sigh at the flavor, it was good, very good. Not the best that she had ever had, but it was the best in a long while.
He nodded. "I've a number of skills."
"So, once again, why were you running around killing raiders?"
The fox'taur paused for a moment, then set his knife down. "I had found some interesting notes in one of the scrolls, about a cache of some sort down in that direction. I was trying to find it, hoping it was books or scrolls, but all I found was some rusted tools."
Kallie took another bite. "What where they for?"
A smirk crossed his face, which he hid by folding his hands together and propping them in front of his muzzle, his elbows sitting on the table. "Nothing obvious, but I have my theories about it, but I think it has something to do with water," he said from behind his hands.
"Interesting," she replied.
"That's one word for it," he replied.
"What are you going to do about them?"
He shrugged, still keep his hands folded in front of his muzzle. "For the moment, nothing. I can't do much with them at all, but I am trying to find a way to clean them up, they might be useful to other people."
"I see," said, looking into his bright blue eyes, trying to understand both what he was, and was not, saying.
Instead he just smiled and put his hands down and picked his knife back up in one single fluid movement. He sliced a piece of meat and ate is in a few quick bites, not even getting a bit of it on his fur.
She tried to follow suit, but wasn't quite as successful, having to wipe her muzzle clean a number of times. Still, she managed to keep any from staining her shirt. All in all it was an interesting meal with a man she was finding very attractive, but there was just something about him, like he knew more than he was telling. In many ways he was like every other librarian she had ever met, yet more so. He was both shy and reserved yet outgoing and almost strutting at times.
That, and the knife in her hands was clearly from the northern area of the Kitch Steppe, something she had never thought she would see outside of the finest homes. The fact that a librarian at Metamore Keep had it said something very interested about the man across the table from her. She wondered if he even knew the significance of them.
Soon enough she had eaten through the whole side of meat and five mugs of beers. She was surprised by it, not only did she feel just full she hardly felt drunk at all, and that was extraordinary. She could hardly have two glasses of wine without getting tipsy.
Cutter just smiled at her as he cleaned his knife on the table linen. "Is your stomach satisfied?"
"Yes, rather nicely to," she said, reaching up with one forepaw to rub at her belly. It fell tight, but not in a bad way.
He nodded and stood up, stretching out his hind legs. "Shall we head back to the keep?"
"We shall," she replied, standing up, finding her hind legs kinking for a moment before she stretched them out and flicked her tail. Together they walked out of the small square, back through the narrow street and back into the town.
The crowd in the town square was even larger than before, the crowds filling in around the merchant wagons. A new wagon had joined the group, but even from a distance she could see that their goods were worthless. She didn't say a word though, it wasn't her concern.
As they walked up though the gate to the keep something rather unexpected happened, something that looked like a fox was standing in the center of the path, watching them walk. While it looked like a fox it clearly was something else, the skin was made out of metal and it moved with a soft clicking and whirring sound, which grew louder as it moved towards them, it's head cocked to the side.
"Hello Madog," Cutter said, bending his forelegs so he could reach down and pet the top of his head.
"Madog?" she asked.
He nodded. "He's an automation, harmless mostly, but clever, or so I've been told."
The mechanical fox leaned up into the petting and wagged his tail. "Very clever."
Kallie bent down as well. "He talks."
Madog looked at her, his ears flicking a bit. "You talk, so I talk."
For the life of her she couldn't think of a good response to that.
The fox'taur chuckled and nodded his head. "I know many people who can talk but were far from clever. What brings you out today?"
"Meting a new friend," he replied, turning his head to look at the vixen, his metal eyes glowing in the sunlight in a way that made them shine in an very interesting way.
She offered out her paw to him. "It's nice to meet you."
Madog leaned up and pressed the top of his head to her hand. His skin was warm, not at all like she had expected a machine to feel like. She could also feel the clicking and moving on the mechanisms inside of his body. It was like touching a complex clock.
"Foxes, foxes and more foxes! Always room for more foxes!" he said, casting an look at Cutter before pulling away and walking away from the pair of 'taurs.
Kallie turned to look at Cutter. "Is he always like that."
"Pretty much," he replied.
Madog stopped and looked back at them for a moment. "Such silly foxes, a nun and a blade," he said, then vanished off through the gate.
They looked at each other for a moment, then without a word decided it was better to not even ponder what the mechanical vulpine had said. Instead they walked back through the keep, though everything felt odd for the rest of the trip.