For Misha it was good to be back at the Keep and among friends and family. The fox had been away far too long. He was tired and his whole body seemed to ache. His side hurt where he had broken two of his ribs and the wound on his face hurt every time he moved his jaw. At this point in time he was happy to just be alive. He should be helping to repair the damage or helping to train troops but he was just too worn out to work up any enthusiasm. He needed to just relax and recuperate so he decided to do research on the Giantdowns and loose himself in some books. Let his mind and body heal.
Moving past the rows of books and scrolls the fox headed towards the desk of Cutter the Head Librarian. Misha was glad that the library seemed to have survived intact when so much else had been destroyed.
He wondered how the fox was doing. Misha knew that the librarian had killed three assassins set on killing the Duke but had been badly wounded in the fight. The fact that the calm and friendly librarian had killed three highly trained assassins so easily hadn't surprised Misha. He had always suspected that there was more to him then met the eye. Everyone at Metamor seemed to have some deep, dark secret. The place seemed to grow them naturally.
The scout found Cutter seated behind his desk his head resting in his folded arms upon the dark wood of the desk. His right leg was bent under the chair but his left one was stretched out straight in front of him. His whole body sagged listlessly. For a moment Misha thought that he was looking the corpse of someone killed in the recent attack. A body that had lain undiscovered till now. Then he saw an ear twitch and a hand came up and scratch it. Then the limb returned to it's resting place.
"Cutter?" Misha asked softly.
The librarian sat bolt upright in the chair and stared at Misha, blinking and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "Misha. I didn't hear you come in."
"Sorry to bother you," Misha apologized as he moved closer. "I'll come back later if you're too tired."
"Not tired," came the weary reply. "Just worn out. Can I help you with something?"
"I'm looking for a few books on the Giantdowns. Particularly Dark Keep and the area around it. I can come back later."
"No need," Cutter answered in a sad tone so unlike his usual cheerful one. "I don't have anything else to do or think about." He stood up in a slow almost listless manner and took hold of something that leaned against the desk. It was cane made of dark mahogany wood and topped by a handle of pure silver.
Leaning heavily on the cane Cutter moved slowly from around the desk and limped off down a row of book shelves. Misha followed close behind. The librarian moved with a slowness that the scout found painful to watch. It took a long time to move from the desk and through the stacks of books. A time that passed in total silence, the only noise being the slow, steady tap of the cane touching the floor.
Finally unable to withstand the monotonous silence Misha tried to fill it with conversation. "How are you doing?"
"I'm alive," came the listless answer.
Was there much to cleanup here in the library? Any damage?"
"I heard you saved the Dukes life by killing three assassins. A great deed."
The librarian stopped dead in his tracks. Turned and looked at Misha with eyes that seemed full of all the worlds pain. "All I did was murder three people."
Misha started to say something but the pain in those eyes stopped him. "A lot of good people died in that bloody battle."
Cutter slowly turned around returned to walking. The rest of the journey was made in silence. A silence that Misha made no attempt to fill.
Misha dropped the three books on the table with a soft thump and sat down beside them.
"Those should help you," Cutter said in a bland tone as he headed towards his desk.
The scout looked at the books for a moment and made a decision. He couldn't leave the vulpine alone, not in the mental state he was in now. "Cutter," Misha said without looking up from the books.
The librarian stopped but didn't turn around, just stood as still as a grave.
"I guess you've heard that Long House got hit pretty hard," Misha said.
"The whole keep has suffered."
"I know but the physical damage is nothing compared to the disorganization. The keep fixed the damaged stone and would but left we're left reorganizing things and putting them back in their proper places. We could use the help of someone used to keeping things organized, like you."
"I'll have Merlia help you," Cutter responded without missing a beat or looking at Misha. "She's the best Librarian at the Keep."
"YOU," Misha countered. "Are the best. We could really use your help."
Cutter resumed walking and didn't answer except for the tap, tap of his cane.
"In cleaning up we've found several new rooms," the scout commented. "One is a library."
Cutter paused for a moment then started walking again. "I know about the small library you have there. Just the basics you can find in most cheap book markets."
"No," Misha replied, ignoring the implied insult to Long house. "This is different. I found a copy of Ternat's Articulam, complete and in fine condition."
The librarian stopped and turned his head to look at Misha. The eyes that looked at him seemed to burn right through his skull. For a moment the pain was gone replaced by eagerness. Then the pain returned and he looked away.
"It's the truth," Misha said answering Cutter's unasked question. He didn't mention that he had actually found Ternat's book several months ago in a basement storeroom and had simply forgotten to tell him.
"I really need your help in sorting through all of those books. Some of them could be a lot more dangerous," the fox said. "Plus we have all sorts of stuff laying around in various store rooms. Some of it I believes dates back to when the elves lived here."
The librarians eyes widened noticeably. "Well. I could spare a few minutes of time to look things over."
Misha relaxed. Delighted to have succeeded. "How about we head off now? Do you need anything before we leave?"
"Actually," Cutter stuttered. "I was thinking that perhaps sometime later this week."
Misha stood up and tucking the books under his arm walked quickly over to Cutter. "Nonsense. No time like the present. Besides things are dead..." he paused. "Quiet here." He put his free arm around the Librarians right arm and slowly pulled him towards the door. Reluctantly Cutter let himself be pulled along.
As the two headed for the door a sudden thought occurred to Misha. "Kyia," the fox thought silently. "I've never asked for anything before but this is very important. Please give me a small room of books. Doesn't have to be anything exciting, just enough to keep his mind off of his pain. Please!" Cutter heard nothing of the scouts silent wish. Misha just hoped that the Keep had.
The tap of Cutters cane as it struck the stone floor was the only sound to be heard as the two slowly made their way down the corridor. For Misha the walk had turned into an endurance test. The librarian with him walked at an agonizingly slow pace and offered nothing in way of conversation. Worse still Kyia seemed to conspire to keep all other living beings away from them leaving the two to a long, slow, silent walk.
Finally, unable to stand it Misha started a conversation. "How is the leg doing?" he asked. "Is the wound healing?"
"It has healed all that it will," came the clipped answer.
"They couldn't heal the damage?"
Misha didn't speak for a moment, trying to decide what to say.
"Raven and her Lightbringers can heal you if you are willing to pay their steep price. A very steep price but they would heal you completely," The scout said calmly.
"Such healing would cost me my immortal soul."
"Too high a price," Misha commented. "Are you a Follower? If you don't mind me asking."
"I follow the teachings of the Twins," Cutter answered calmly.
"I see," the scout replied. Misha had heard of the religion but knew next to nothing about it. "I must confess that I know little about the religion."
"I just had an interesting thought," Misha commented, giving up on getting any information from Cutter about religion.
"Walking would be a lot easier with four legs instead of just two," the scout commented.
"You mean like my animal form?"
"Yes. With four legs you would be able to walk again at a good pace and I bet it wouldn't be as painful."
"True, but an animal has no arms. And I can hardly carry books in my mouth."
"Good point," Misha answered. "It would leave too many teeth marks."
"I would need a form with four legs and arms. No form like that exists outside of myth."
"Oh?" the scout answered. "I wouldn't say that." He had the perfect counter to that last statement. Misha stopped and took off his pants. With a flick of the hand he threw them in front of the librarian.
Cutter stopped and looked at the pants laying on the floor then at Misha with a confused look plain to see. That soon changed to surprise. The scout could easily understand why, it wasn't every day that someone like Cutter would get to see a foxtaur.
From the waist up Misha looked the same as always. He had the same red fox, morph head, neck, shoulders, arms and trunk. Below the waist he had the body of a large, pony sized vulpine. Aside from the size, it was the body of a male red fox, complete with four legs and long bushy tail.
"There is a way around every problem," Misha commented, happy to have prompted a response from the Librarian.
"What are you and how did you accomplish that? Shape changing is impossible without powerful magic to circumvent the curse."
"I'm a foxtaur," he responded. "And I didn't circumvent the curse to change. The magic I used WAS the curse."
"Every keeper can change from a full animal form to a human like one," Misha explained. "A taur form is sort of in between. I think everyone can do it. It's just a matter of thinking along different lines. I don't believe anyone changed into a taur simply because they never thought to try it. If it hadn't been for Varnal and that fetish he used on me I would have never thought of it myself."
"Interesting idea," Cutter commented. "We knew so little about the curse and the magic involved with it."
"It's really not very hard to do. I even taught Matthias how to change," Misha paused for a moment. "I could easily teach you."
"No," Cutter responded quickly.
The scout didn't respond for a moment but simply starred at his companion trying to understand what was going though his mind. The librarian and answered quickly, perhaps a bit too quickly. "No hurry a taur form can be scary to many. I know I've scared quite a few people with it. I think you've walked far enough for today. How about you hop on and I'll give you a ride?"
"Ride you?" The Librarian said, sounds truly shocked. "I am capable of walking."
"Why walk when you can ride," Misha said and grabbed the librarian by the arm.
"I am not some child you can just give orders to," he said resisting the foxtaur's pull.
"Get on!" Misha ordered.
"Why should I?" Cutter asked in a cast iron tone.
"First," Misha answered. "You'll enjoy the trip. Second it will show you that being a taur isn't so bad. And third," he said using his height advantage to tower over his companion. "I'm bigger then you are. So get on!"
Stunned Cutter simply leaned against the taur's body and draped himself over Misha's broad back. A few moments of flailing his limbs around and the librarian managed to get seated upright on Misha's back.
For Misha it felt odd to have a person on his back but he didn't mind. Anything beat a long, slow walk. "Hold on Fox," he said to his passenger.
Cutter gingerly wrapped both arms around Misha's torso, like he was afraid of hurting him if pressed to hard.
"Hang on Cutter. I'm going to show you exactly what this body can do!"
The walls and floor were just a blur as Misha raced down the corridor at full speed. Cutter could feel the powerful muscles ripple beneath the fur of his friend as he clung to the foxtaur's body to keep from falling off. The whole taur body seemed to just exude raw power. It reminded him of riding bareback on some magnificent stallion. He couldn't help but enjoy the exhilaration of it all.
The foxtaur raced down a corridor as people scattered out of the way. Misha swerved around a group that didn't move fast enough. He easily leapt over a pile of broken timbers and rubble. For a long moment they were airborne. All four of his paws off the ground, flying like some sort of oddly shaped bird.
In spite of his weight he touched down softly and without breaking stride. The powerful taur raced along.
Suddenly they broke out of the hallway and into the open air. Misha slowed to walk as the snow and ice crunched under his paws. They were in a small, circular courtyard, barely a dozen yards across. They were so deep in the Keep that the snow could barely find a way in. So only a light dusting of snow on the ground in spite of being open to the sky.
Under paw a pathway of blue marble poked through the snow in various places. Benches of the same marble were spaced out around the courtyard. In summer they would have been shaded by white birch trees whose branches were now bare off all leaves.
In the center of the courtyard was a bronze statue set upon a five foot high pedestal of granite. The figure was a man dressed in archaic looking armor that was now only found on old and weathering statues. In one hand he held a sword and in the other a hammer which he was proudly waving over his head. This hammer wasn't the powerful war weapon used to crack open armor, instead it was the simple tool used by builders.
"Lord Cowell the First, warrior, leader, conqueror and builder," was chiseled into the granite at statues feet.
There was a quiet solitude about the place that made Cutter believe there were the first people to see this place in years. "Beautiful."
"It is," Misha agreed. "I've never seen this place before. Kyia never fails to amaze me."
"I wonder what other secret places she has hidden?"
The foxtaur shrugged. "After she gave us Long House I gave up wondering about such things and just enjoy these gifts."
"She gave you Long House?"
"Matt and I just found it one day, full, intact and ready to use. Even the larders were fully stocked."
Misha slowed to a trot then a fast walk and then to a slow walk. As the corridor opened up into a large hall Misha came to a halt.
It was a small hall, about fifty feet long, and wide. Forty feet above was a domed ceiling with small, glass windows interspersed along it's length. Set in the wall was a small wooden door, in front of which stood four guards. Over the door was a balcony, that was about twenty feet from side to side. He noticed that the entire length of the balcony was lined with battlements.
"Is this Long House?" Cutter asked.
"It wasn't but it is now," the scout answered enigmatically.
Cutter, gave his friend a confused look.
"We call it Battle Hall," Misha explained. "This is where the worst fighting took place when the Lutins attacked Long House." The foxtaur was silent for a moment. "We lost a lot of good people here."
Cutter didn't say anything. Just nodded.
Misha's usually quiet footfalls sounded loudly through the hall as he walked across the gray flagstones to the door on the far wall. Each step sounding like a hammer blow as the paw hit the ground. Looking up Cutter could see motes of dust slowly floating around in a ray of light streaming through a window. Elsewhere in their trip there had been sounds; people walking, doors opening and closing, even the soft rustling of the wind as it danced through the ancient structure. Always there had been sound around him, even in the quiet library, but not here. In this hall the silence was deathly. Nothing intruded upon the silence here, it was a quiet as a tomb.
The taur did a sudden dance, side stepping to the right before continuing his walk. Looking down the librarian could see the reason for his friends sudden maneuver. There on the floor was a dark red stain in the stone floor about the size of a mans head.
We can't get that one out," Misha said in a distracted tone looking at the spot. "All the other blood stains came out but not that one. It will never come out." Without another word he picked up his gait and left the stain behind as quickly as possible.
In a moment they arrived at the door and the four soldiers standing guard. The foxtaur stopped and turned head and shoulders around to the his rider. "I'm afraid from here you need to walk."
Cutter struggled to get off of the taur's broad back and finally managed to stand upright with the help of Misha. The foxtaur handed Cutter his cane and the Librarian used it to steady himself.
Misha walked past the guards and opened the door. With a wave of the hand he ushered Fox into the small room that lay beyond. The librarian regarded the door for a moment before stepping in with Misha following close behind.
The room was crowded with the taur taking up most of space. The room was devoid of all content save a second door that was in the wall opposite the one they entered through. "We call this little place the Welcoming Room," Misha said. Anyone in here we don't want can be covered with boiling oil or skewered with a dozen spears."
Cutter nodded but didn't comment.
The foxtaur opened the other door and sunlight streamed in as he spoke, "We call this next room Long Hall."
Fox stepped into the large open space the tap of his cane echoing over and over again in the vastness of the room. Shafts of multicolored light played across fine decorated carpets that covered the gray stones that made up the floor. He looked up at the large tapestries that seemed to cover every vertical surface.
"Lovely," the librarian said in a tone slightly more raised then his normal dreary tone.
"I still get a thrill out of seeing it. This was the first sight I had when Charles and I first found Long House. It's not the only hall in Long house but it's certainly the most impressive," Misha commented.
Misha walked alongside his friend as the two moved slowly out into the middle of the hall. "You say she gave it to you?" Fox asked.
"I think Kyia gave it the Long Scouts to use and to guard," the fox tried to explain.
"To guard what?" Cutter asked.
Misha shrugged. "I'm not sure but you must have heard the tale about the Keep being created to protect some great treasure."
The fox morph nodded. "Every keeper has. It's a bedtime story that you tell to your children."
"It's not just a tale," the foxtaur replied. "This place is completely self-contained. Close that door," he said point back to the way they had entered. "And this place is completely shut off from the rest of the keep."
"Meaning?" Cutter asked.
"It's like this is a treasure vault of sorts meant to protect something of great value."
"I wouldn't place much merit in the idea. I doubt that Kyia would be so obvious."
"Nasoj thought enough of the tale to send some five hundred Lutins after this place," Misha explained as they continued to walk.
Cutter started to reply but he was interrupted by their arrival. Having crossed the hall they now stood in front of a small door made up of a dark wood banded with steel. In front of which stood a guard, sword and shield at the ready.
"Misha Brightleaf and Cutter the librarian," the taur said to the woman.
"Recognized," she answered and stepped aside.
"This is the armory," Misha said and opened the door.
The librarian looked in through the open door. Inside he could see row upon row of shelves and racks stretching the length and breadth of the large room. "Hmmm. Enough to start your own war."
Misha didn't answer but simply closed the door. "Lets head off this way," he said and pointed to a doorway. The doorway opened into a short corridor that was lined with various doors and smaller hallways.
Walking down the corridor they made a left turn and the close set walls opened up into a good sized room filled with a score of tables of various shapes and sizes. A handful of people sat at one corner table eating.
"Our mess hall complete with a full kitchen and pantry," the taur explained.
"How many people can you feed here at one time?"
"During the attack we were feeding over five hundred people a day," Misha explained. "And the larder held enough food to feed all of them for over a year. Two if we had stretched it."
"Five hundred?" Cutter asked. "How many people were here?"
Misha shrugged, "not really certain but our best estimate was over five hundred of all species, sexes and ages."
"Impressive," Cutter answered in a monotone and turned away from the doorway.
The foxtaur turned and found the librarian looking at a door set in the opposite wall. One glance at told Misha what had drawn the fox's attention. There engraved into the wood and decorated with gold leaf was the word "LIBRARY".
"I guess Kyia is eager to show you the library," Misha said as he walked up to the door.
The taur opened grasped the handle of the door and gave it a twist. The door opened silently. "This is the library. When we found it there was only a collect of fairly common books in it."
Cutter stepped into the room and found it filled with numerous bookshelves arraigned in neat rows that almost filled the room except in one corner. Mage lights danced in each of the four corners of the room, casting a bright but soft light over everything. In the corner closest to the door was a small fireplace with a fire burning in it and a screen of metal in front of it to keep sparks from flying out. In front of the fireplace was two large stuffed chairs. Nearby was a large table with several more thickly stuffed chairs surrounding it.
Seated in one of the chairs by the fire was a female wolverine morph who was surrounded by dozen children. A book rested in her lap. "Misha," the wolverine said looking up from her book. "I'm glad you're here."
Misha carefully stepped over and around the various children and hugged the female. "How are you doing today Jenn?" he asked.
"Don't you mean; how is Andre doing?"
"No I meant how are YOU doing?"
"Doing good. Glad to be out of the apartment for a while and back to teaching," Jenn replied.
"After living in your own house an apartment must be pretty cramped," Misha commented.
She ruefully nodded. "It'll be spring before we even start to clear the debris and rebuild."
"Spring?" Misha exclaimed. "Why that long?"
"There just aren't the people to do the work till then," the wolverine explained. "With Andre still recovering we can't even do the work ourselves."
"Don't worry Jenn. I'll have a crew out there within two days," the taur promised.
She looked at him askance.
"I'll ask one of the work crew captains, several of them owe me a favor. The Longs have saved their tails a few times over the years. They can spare a few workers for a couple of days. We can at least get the worst of the debris removed."
"Thank you," she said gratefully.
"No problem," Misha said and gave a her a light kiss on the muzzle.
"Oh by the way, there's been an addition," Jenn said and pointed to the far wall. "That appeared about an hour ago." Set in a wall that until today that had only held books was an odd shaped door.
The taur and the fox stepped up to the door and examined it closely. Unlike the other doors in Long House this was completely of wood without any iron hinges or handle. It seemed to be one, solid piece of blonde colored wood. Even the handle seemed to have grown from the door itself rather then been attached to it. On the wood in gold lettering was a message written in a loose flowing script that was unlike any language he had seen before.
"What language is this?" Misha asked running his fingers over the odd lettering.
"I believe it is Elvish," Fox answered. He reached into a pouch on his belt and produced a pair of glasses which he perched onto his muzzle just in front of his eyes. Misha peered at the librarians eyewear. It had a simple silver frame that fit so perfectly that they were obviously made to fit the fox's muzzle. The lenses were hexagon, but two parallel sides are longer then the others. Sort of like an oval with no curves. An odd shape for glasses. It was clear that the glasses had been specifically made for Cutters face.
"Are those reading glasses?" Misha asked.
"No," The librarian said and gave a very relaxed smile but no further explanation.
"Lord Erleshi has bequeathed this place to preserve for all time the great knowledge of our people," he said reading the script.
"Oh God," Misha said with awe. "A real Elvish library."
The foxtaur extended his hand towards the wooded door knob but hesitated. "Why don't you do the honors," he said to the librarian.
Cutter slowly reached for the knob but didn't touch it. Instead it hovered just short of it. "What could be inside?" he asked. "It could be empty."
"It isn't," Misha answered flatly. "Kyia would never be that cruel."
"True," Fox's eyes lit up with a bright look of hope. The first that had been there for a long time.
The door opened with the merest touch of the librarians fingers. It swung inward with a smooth silent motion that belied its great age. A cool but bright light filled the space beyond the door illuminating a scene that most people thought only existed in stories.
The room itself wasn't very large, being about the size of Misha's apartment. The walls looked and felt like the bark of a tree. The room was filled with a score of bookshelves none of which came higher then Cutters shoulder. What really startled the librarian was how different each individual bookshelf was. Each seemed to be a tree root or a branch that grew up out of earthen ground that lay under foot and had been shaped and sculpted into shelves. It felt more like they were standing inside a massive tree trunk instead of a massive stone fortress.
"Are we still in the Keep?" Misha asked.
"I'm not sure," Cutter answered honestly.
"Then the stories about the elves once living Metamor are true,"
"Most legends about Metamor are true," the librarian said as he started to walk among the rows and stacks.
Misha picked a row at random and started down it, being careful that his great bulk didn't cause any damage. What he found surprised him. Every one of the shelves was filled with scrolls each neatly held place by a loose ring of branches. He reached for one scroll and tenderly removed it from the rack. The moment his fingers touched the scroll the branches withdrew leaving the rolled text cleanly in his hand.
The scroll in his hands was of papyrus tightly rolled onto a metal spindle made of bronze. Despite its great age the metal showed no sign of any decay or corrosion. It was as if some Elven hand had just placed it there.
Unraveling the parchment Misha found the scroll was covered with what looked to be little arrows pointing in various directions. It took him a moment to realize that those arrows were laid out in patterns. It was a language he had never seen before. He rolled it back up and deposited back onto the branches which quickly reached out to support it.
Moving along down the aisle he saw row upon row of scrolls each neatly held by the living branches. Suddenly a flash of blue caught his eye it brought him to a stop. There close to the floor was light blue tassel. Misha had to carefully lower his large bulk to the wooden floor to get within arms reach. With care he brought the scroll the tassel was attached to up to eye level. Hanging next to the tassel was a small oval shaped piece of stone.
Neatly incised on the stone were the emblem of an owl, below that was the image of a woman headed bird with it's wings outspread. Below that was a dozen more symbols each different and each just as skillfully carved and the others.
"Interesting," the foxtaur said. He unrolled the scroll reading as he did, "And the city of Ridu sent in tribute four thousand horses, three thousand cattle, fifteen thousand bushels of wheat."
"You read hieroglyphics?" Cutter said, surprised.
Misha looked up and gave small jump of surprise. The librarian that had been dozen feet away was now standing in front of him, leaning over his arm looking at the scroll the foxtaur had been reading. Those odd glasses were still perched on his muzzle. He had never heard Fox approach. "Yes," the taur said trying to cover his surprise.
"How? That language has been dead for centuries," Fox asked.
"She taught me," Misha responded as he looked over the scroll more.
"Who? Aside from a few mages and scholars none now alive can read such writings," Fox said tapping lightly on the papyrus.
"Your axe?" the vulpine asked, surprised.
"Why not her?" Misha countered casually. "After all she was created by a Kkarrt mage."
Cutter simply shook his head. "You surprise me Misha."
The taur laughed. "I like surprising people.
That got both of them laughing.
"We're going to need a lot of expert help to classify everything here and I can't think of anyone more skilled then you to do it. There's no desk for you to sleep under but I'm sure we can find a nice room for you here."
Cutter didn't answer for a moment. "With one addition. Teach me how to become that," he added and pointed to Misha's foxtaur body.
"Ok, time for your first lesson," Misha said calmly. "Ready?"
Cutter nodded solemnly. "Yes." He felt self conscious about standing naked in front of the Long scout but it didn't seem to bother Misha who was naked from the waist down.
"Changing into a taur is not so much a new power as it is learning how to manipulate an old one, the Curse itself. All animal morph keepers have two forms; human and animal. A taur is simply a mix of the two," Misha commented.
"So if a ‘taur is an intermediary form, why were you the first one to discover it? Keepers have been experimenting with the curse right after the Battle of the Seven Gates. If changing is so easy, how come you're the first one who could do it?"
"Because no one thought that a ‘taur form was even possible," Misha replied, dancing a little to the side on his four legs. "Everyone knows from legends that centaurs were once a real race. And, even from the beginning, people have realized that the curse does not change people into other intelligent species." He waved his paw in the air dismissively. "As for it turning people into dragons, I think that was the fault of Cerulean's magic getting mixed in with things. But what I am getting at, is that since people knew that centaurs were something that the curse could not transform people into, no one ever tried to assume a form like it. As I told you, it was only blind luck that it happened to me. But since then, though, I've come to realize that anyone can do it."
Cutter folded his arms before him, grimacing and letting out a small growl of distrust as he shook his head.
"Okay, try this," said Misha, clasping his paws before him. He knew his own vulpine behavior well enough to recognize Cutter was close to giving in. "Ever notice how some keepers have opposable thumbs and some don't like Wanderer? How some can see in color like before the change and yet others are colorblind like animals? It's all in your mind," the scout explained. "It's all a matter of how the individual person sees themselves. Wanderer expected to be like a normal wolf and have no thumbs. So he doesn't have any."
"In your mind form a picture of yourself as you are now," Misha ordered. "Now in your mind imagine yourself as a foxtaur, a powerful, healthy, and muscular taur with four legs bulging with muscles. Now picture you body changing into that perfect four legged form."
As Misha spoke Cutter just let the words flow over him only half listening to words. Instead he concentrated on the rise and fall of the scouts voice and letting his mind wander to his body. Once clean and whole his was now able to barely hobble along, his leg ripped and torn in a bitter fight. He couldn't let think upon that and this thoughts drifted to the form Misha was talking about a fox centaur, strong, powerful and straight legged. With FOUR legs it did not matter that one was twisted and crippled. He could move about easily without the need of that hated cane.
Suddenly his skin and muscles seemed to ripple and distort. His tail moved backwards seemingly of it's own accord as his torso below the waist extended backwards, lengthening horizontally, growing thicker, more powerful. Two new, healthy legs grew outward from this bigger body to support it. After a long time his body stopped changing and growing and seemed to settle down to its new form.
His first thought was that the pain was gone. For the first time is weeks his leg no longer throbbed with pain.
He didn't know where it came from, wasn't even conscious of it coming on, but all of a sudden Cutter realized he was laughing to himself. It was only a soft chuckling, but it left like the first time he had laughed in years. Even the missing part of his tail, a difference he could feel in the now rapidly wagging appendage, didn't seem to bother him any more.
Misha smiled back at his fellow fox, his own tail tracing lazy arcs behind him.
"This is... extraordinary," the librarian muttered to himself, as he tried to lean and bend to the side to look at his once injured leg. Alas he was not used to balancing a body on four legs as opposed to two and began to list dangerously to one side. With a loud yelp Cutter's legs folded up under him, dumping the foxtaur unceremoniously onto his rump on the floor.
This time it was Misha who broke into uncontrollable laughter. "That's... not quite how you do it," he chuckled as he pranced over to Cutter. The librarian had flopped around a few moments, trying to control his suddenly very long body, but had finally managed to arrange himself with all four feet on the floor. Extending a paw, Misha told him, "Let me help you up."
Fox just looked at the proffered paw for a few moments before sneaking a quick glance up at Misha. He hesitated a moment longer before clasping Misha about the wrist.
"Okay, that's good," Misha replied, a slight smile tilting his whiskers. "Now, just concentrate on doing this one step at a time. Put your front paws down and try to stand as you would normally."
Cutter looked down at his sprawled out body a moment before putting pressure on his front paws and lifting himself up.
"Okay, good. Now do the back ones."
Fox's back end came up quicker, the tail flicking around a bit quicker. "I think I might be getting better at this," Cutter admitted with a smirk.
Misha yipped affirmative. "Well, we'll see. I want you to try walking again, only this time don't think about it as much. This body knows how it works, it does not need you telling it how to do things. Just walk like you walked in your non-morphic form."
Cutter nodded, letting out a quick wuff before taking a few hesitant steps. The more he took the more confident he became and the wider the smile on his muzzle became. Having reached the end of the room he turned around and began to trot along the walls, eventually working his way up to a slow run. Misha was just about to call out for him to be careful when Cutter tried to make too sharp a turn. His heavy taur rear end didn't come around quite as quick as his front and his rear paws lost purchase, causing the foxtaur to go into a skid across the stone floor, his front claws clattering for purchase.
Misha was quick to go over to his friend to offer assistance, but Cutter had managed to get to his feet before the other foxtaur even got close. "I have to remember this body is a little heavier than what I'm used to," Cutter observed as he brushed some dust off of his leg fur.
"A lot heavier, you now weigh almost half a ton and are the size of a horse. You have to take that into account. Maneuvering into tight places is a lot harder but with a body this big comes one advantage - Power and speed."
And what power!!! Cutter could feel his new body rippling with muscles. Each step was with a firmness and easy that he had forgotten since that dreadful Yuletide attack. A room that had taken him minutes to cross took mere seconds. No longer did he have to spend long painful hours moving at a slow pace. He found himself slowly walking around the room at a faster and faster pace. But the empty room that had once felt so large now too close and confining. In the smallest fraction of a moment he had crossed the room and was through the door and into the hallway beyond. The whole way he was picking up speed. He could feel the power in his new body. Now he wanted to find out about its speed!
The new taurs path was easy to follow with Kyias help. The corridors shifted and moved around Misha so he could follow the faint tracks of the librarian. The tracks took him up and down passages, over great, arched bridges spanning snow covered courtyard and through rooms and hall filled only with silence and dust. He passed through a larger courtyard busy with workers who were rebuilding shattered and burnt out walls. He found a spot where Cutter had leapt over a tall wagon, clearing it with easy. Amused he followed the trail back into the dark stonework of the Keep and down another corridor.
Suddenly Misha found himself back in that quiet little courtyard that they had discovered before. But this beautiful little place was no longer silent, instead he could here the sound of someone softly weeping. He followed the sound and found his friend collapsed into a heap upon the ground under the stark, bare branches of a birch tree. It's white trunk and limbs looking like the bare bones of some grotesque creature.
"Are you all right Fox?" Misha asked softly.
All he got in reply was silence.
Misha looked at Cutter for a moment then spoke. "Who was killed? Someone close?"
The librarians head whipped around and he looked at Misha with shock and surprise. "How do you know?"
"I know the look," the scout explained. "I've lost too many friends myself not to recognize it."
Cutter didn't answer at first but just stared into space at some spot only he could see. "The woman I loved died."
"How did she die?" Misha asked in a soft voice. He didn't want to intrude in the vulpine's grief but he knew that Cutter had to let it out. Having such emotion bottled up in him would only eat him up. As it was the librarian looked to be close to suicide. Misha knew the signs of that all too well.
"I killed her."
Misha looked closely at his friend hoping that it had been some cruel joke but all he saw was pain and grief. He mean every word, literally. "She was one of those who went after the Duke?"
Cutter gave a shallow nod in agreement.
"My God." He put his arm around Cutters shoulders and hugged him tight. It was all he could of to do.
Sir Edmund walked stood in the doorway to the chapel. His mind was finally at peace. He never doubted his decision to remain at Metamor but he couldn't help but worry about what the curse would change him into. The idea of being trapped in the form of a child worried him. How could he fight if he was as week as a young boy? And what if he became a woman? He tried to understand what it would be like to be a woman but he just couldn't. As a woman he could still fight - he'd known a few tough fighters who were female and wasn't as lioness more powerful then a lion? That left him one great worry - if he did become an animal what would it be? There was thousands of different species in the world and in his short time here at Metamor he'd already seen hundreds of different types. Some species that no one had seen before!
How bad could it be to become an animal person that which the Keepers call them morphs? He'd still have be an adult and male and he'd have the addition of whatever the animal gave him. He could be as swift as a cheetah, or strong as a bull (literally), or the endurance and ferocity of a wolf. Maybe even a griffin, like the one that topped his families coat of arms. That would hardly feel odd or strange. He could only hope that he gained that part of the curse.
"Good morning Sir Edmund," a voice said behind him.
Turning to the sound of the voice laid eyes upon a scene that made him doubt his sanity. The two creatures before him reminded him vaguely of the centaurs of legend but only in the general shape. Instead of the beautiful combination of man and horse these creatures seemed to be some terrible mix of fox and centaur.
"How are you doing today?" the one asked in a voice Edmund recognized. This fox centaur had one ear missing and part of one hand bandaged. With a start he recognized it was Misha!!! Instead of the scouts normal two legged form he now had a four legs! FOUR!
"Sir Edmund, I'd like you to meet Metamors great librarian Foxeris," the strange looking Misha pointed to the other Fox centaur with him who gave a short bow.
"Cutter, this is Sir Edmund Delacot, a paladin of the faith who has decided to stay and help rebuild the Keep."
The paladin found himself returning the bow automatically.
"Not worried about the curse?" asked the second taur.
"A brave knight like him?" Misha answered. "I'm sure he'll become some powerful creature like a leopard or a lion."
"Then you must be eagerly awaiting the change."
As the two talked the continued to trot towards Edmund at a leisurely pace till they we're even with him. Their massive forms towered over him as they moved passed one on either side of him.
It was with great relief that they soon moved away and down the hall their tremendous forms moving with surprising speed. It wasn't till they had passed out of sight with a brief wave of the hand from Misha that Edmund spoke. "I WAS looking forward it." Suddenly being a woman didn't seem so bad.