To Sir Misha Brightleaf
Greetings sir, my name is Walric Yeun. I am a watchmaker of the hamlet of Terreth. Word has spread of your fine craftsmanship and I need parts for a clock that I believe you can deliver. I have included the necessary specifications for the parts I need with this letter.
I do hope this reaches you in time because there is a small burden in that I need these special gears by tonight. Our small town is hosting a fair this night, a very important occasion for us as it is a rarity and also eases the dreary winter to come. Thus I am prepared to pay you a bonus if they arrive with all due haste before the day is out.
Regards, Walric Yeun, master craftsman of Terreth.
The cheetah walked about cautiously. His bare feet didn’t make a sound on the thick green rug. He didn’t know why but he’d found his way inside Long House. Stealth felt anxious at his presence within the grand hall; he didn’t have a reason to be there and he didn’t want to get in trouble for being so. When he realised he walked within the Keep’s fallback point he turned around the same way he entered but halted in his steps after a call from behind.
The feline turned around again, “Misha? I opened my door this morning and...”
The fox laughed as he approached, “Relax!” He pat the cat’s shoulders with both hands, “...how are you feeling?” He asked with genuine concern.
The cheetah looked ready to pounce, “All better! And my full suit has been fixed I hear.”
“Slow down.” He ordered, “Have you healed since that little run? I can sniff out a liar.” The Long warned.
Stealth narrowed his gaze at the fox, “I’m ready to run again, besides, Jotham said I get better quicker if I move about and I’ve been doing that all week!”
“Hmmm.” Misha pondered.
“Trust me! I’m fine.” Stealth insisted.
“Okay! I have a job for you. A big job so follow me.” He walked past the cat and headed in the direction he’d been heading. “Or should I say a Long job.”
The cat followed after the fox. They walked down a corridor that led off Long Hall, it seemed to be quite long, perhaps it didn’t have an ending. Misha entered a door opposite the one that led to Stealth’s apartment. Now that he thought about it the place where his room spawned looked to be the same place where it had when the foxtaur and Jotham helped him to bed a week or so ago.
Misha waited inside the door until the timid feline entered. Stealth looked around the room. He saw a table in the centre, to the left of it a hearth roared and to the right there was a bed. The room looked the same size as his apartment. Actually it looked a little bigger.
“Is this your room?” Stealth asked as he gazed about.
“That’s right! I’ve been in your apartment, now you can see mine.” He walked over to another door in the corner, “In here.”
Stealth followed the fox into the next room. This one had no windows and it was smaller. It looked like some sort of workshop and there were little scale models of ballista and trebuchets on shelves above a workbench. The workshop even had a small forge, it sat there cold and dark.
On the workbench lay a cloth with very small metal objects arranged carefully on it. Next to them larger objects that appeared to be some sort of gears sat on the cloth. “A bird arrived from Terreth, a watchmaker needs parts for tonight and we can do well for ourselves if they arrive there fast.”
Stealth watched the Long roll up the cloth which he wrapped in another cloth, “Did you make those?”
“Yup! I’ve always had a thing for mechanics.” He explained and carried the bundle out of the room. “It’s mostly just a hobby of mine though I need to make parts when I fix Madog.”
Madog. Stealth knew of the metal fox but besides a brief glance he’d never met the automation. The feline headed back out into the fox’s main room. There he went over to the large table in the centre where Misha wrapped the cloth bundle in a large sheet of parchment and then sealed it with red wax that bore the imprint of a fox’s head.
“A real bird or a morph arrived?” The cheetah asked. He’d been meaning to ask...
“A real bird.” Misha answered and unrolled a large map of the valley on the table next to the package. He pointed a claw to a VERY southern town. “This is the village of Terreth.”
“That’s too far for me to run.” Stealth said without pause.
“Hmm.” Misha pondered.
Stealth scratched his chin in thought, “I could hitch a ride south with a galloping horse, halfway I’ll shift and run the rest of the way. I can make good time that way.”
Misha thought for a moment, “It sounds practical.”
“Are there any patrols heading south? I should find out and set off as soon as possible.”
“Hmmm, they usually leave early but if it’s just a patrol south then they would be more flexible.”
“I think I’ll go to the stables and see for myself, I think it’s faster then finding out from George.” The cat figured.
“Alright,” The fox nodded, “If you can’t secure a spot with a patrol you can try hiring a horse.”
“Or better yet talk a morph into taking me though that isn’t too likely.” Stealth picked up the package and weighed it in his arms, the feline looked at the map and noted the icons, “Terreth, after the last signal tower I turn left...” He mused.
Misha shook his head, “No, that takes you directly to the iron mine. You need to turn left at the castle below it.”
“That’s the main path, I’m looking at the most direct way there.” He pointed to a spot near the barrier range, “I head off the path at the tower then make my way past this village and the edge of the mountain range.”
“For all you know that area is dense woodland.” Misha warned.
“It might be but if there are settlements in that area then there should be paths connecting them.” Stealth pointed out. “Besides, an attack is unlikely out that way but if there is, I’ll be ready.” Though he said it he didn’t sound convinced.
The fox nodded. “All right, the gears are unique but cheap so you should be safe. Besides there’ll be retribution if someone is dumb enough to attack you.”
Stealth smiled beginning to feel better, “Why are you Longs so nice?”
The fox gave a yip of laughter, “Not much point getting a price on our heads to protect people if we act like arses to them.”
The cat chuckled, “Good to hear, though I doubt Nasoj can afford to pay any bounty these days.” He pointed out, “So where is my suit, the Guild Tower?”
“Aye, I would have preferred to move it to the armoury for safe keeping after they finished with it but it’s best to talk to the mages again when you try it on.” Misha answered.
“Then I’ll do that now,” He said and headed to the door with the gears.
“One thing though, you don’t need to rush on your way back, take your time after you get there.”
“I wont. Don’t worry. We cats know how to relax.” He winked at the fox.
Stealth walked back to his apartment, it was only on the other side of the corridor! Inside he placed the package in his backpack and slung it over one shoulder. Returning to his bedroom door, Stealth noticed he left it open and he could hear Misha in the room across the way rolling up his map. The cat closed his door and closed his eyes in concentration then he opened them again and peaked out the door. He could no longer hear Misha’s movement. Misha’s apartment was not out there, instead the portal opened into a courtyard in front of the Guild Tower!
“Thank you Kyia! Thank you! Thank you Milady!” He said to the ceiling in mirth and then rushed the distance to the doors of the Mages’ Guild chambers.
A quarter of an hour later Stealth ran out of the Mages’ Guild covered in a warm and strong coat that covered sporadic parts of his body though concealed under his clothing. Stealth got his armour fitted this time in morph form and it fit much better now then the first time. The morph ran through an arch out of the courtyard into a large hallway. He was surprised to see a single small door at the end but quickly opened it. Inside the courier found another hallway though it ran parallel and horizontal to the one he left.
Another single door stood open on the other side of the corridor. A keeper approached from the room beyond and looked at the feline. Stealth stood there and stared back at the figure in the portal.
“Stealth? I thought you went to the Mages’ Guild?” Misha said confused as he stood at the entrance to his apartment.
The cheetah turned his head to the door he’d entered through, that door now lead to his bedroom. To the Long scout it looked as though he’d never left!
“Oh! You have your armour I see,” The fox noted, “Good, now I know haste is important but I want to see for myself that this thing works properly before you leave.”
“I see.” Kyia can send him to many places but so can she bring him back it seemed... “I did this already at the Guild Tower.”
“I’m sure you did but I won’t have an accident occur with this thing because of me. I want to see if it works.” The fox countered sternly.
“Fine, let’s go into,” He looked behind himself just to make sure, “My apartment.”
Quickly after entering, Stealth removed his clothing and shifted. He began to feel more comfortable with others seeing his body seeing as how many times he had to shift without adequate privacy though he did keep his back turned until the shift to animal was complete.
Turning around, the cheetah looked up at the scout expectantly.
“Move around, let’s see if it’s good to move.” Misha ordered.
The feline groaned and looked up in irritation.
Misha scooped up the cat’s clothes and held them away from him. “Move about.” He ordered again.
The cat sighed and paced around the room like someone trying on a new pair of shoes. He then looked up at the scout again.
“Hmmm.” The Long said and gazed long and hard at the armour, “Do you trust this thing?”
Stealth nodded firmly.
Misha nodded, “All right.”
The feline shook his head at the fox – he thought Misha was overreacting just a bit. In his zeal, Stealth shifted quickly in front of the fox this time. “Now give me my- !” He wobbled about on his toes but managed to right himself. “What? What the hell is happening?”
Misha looked down at the cheetah morph, who consciously clasped his privates. “Stealth, your feet. You’re standing on paws.”
The cheetah looked down past his clasped hands to his feet and sure enough they were elongated. His ankles reached far off the ground while only his toes and the ball of his feet (albeit armoured) rested on the floor.
“I’m digitigrade? He asked in surprise and excitement.
“You didn’t shift completely back to your morph form...” Misha pointed out.
Stealth began to smile. While it did scare him that such a thing happened he felt excited too. However as soon as the cheetah tried to walk forward he instead managed to fall forward.
Misha instantly reached out and caught him. “Are you okay? Perhaps it’s best to shift back to plantigrade.” He suggested softly.
Stealth didn’t speak but went over his situation. In his fright he unclasped his cat parts and currently lay there in the fox’s arms, naked and exposed... The cat began to pale.
Misha laughed a little at his discomfort but only for a moment. "Relax spots. Just relax."
"Misha... give me my pants."
“You still can’t stand, shift back.” The fox reminded.
Stealth cringed and shifted fully back to his most humanoid form then propped himself off the fox.
Misha held out his wrist which had the feline’s pants and shirt draped over it. Stealth quickly took both but focused first on replacing his pants.
"Misha, why do you hate pants so?" The cheetah asked as he threaded his armoured legs through.
"Because they keep ripping when I become a fabulous FOXTAUR!" The fox answered and wagged his tail.
Stealth smiled tiredly, “Now I’m off.” He said and walked quickly away.
“When you get back we can figure out your foot paws!” The scout called out.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Stealth called back. “I’ll have my clothes on!”
“But I need to head south as soon as I can!” The feline implored to a random knight in the stables.
Stealth felt conscious of his armour, while he did wear the suit under his clothing, anyone looking would see his hands and feet were covered with steel claws. In fact he couldn’t even use his hands so he kept them concealed, hoping his appearance wouldn’t dampen his chances of getting a ride.
“Kid, I’m not a hired wagon.” The stallion said and turned his back to adjust the harnesses on his mount’s saddle.
He’d asked the patrol leader for a ride, she declined but eventually agreed to let him join them if someone else in the party allowed him to hitch a ride. The woman also explained that they were only heading as far south as Lorland. The cheetah hoped they would travel a bit further to the next signal tower down but Lorland would be fine.
Stealth turned to another soldier nearby, “I’ve been on patrol with cavalry before, and I know how to ride! Please, it’s important!”
“So you can make a delivery faster and make more money out of it.” A gender morph retorted.
“No, not me, it’s for a friend!” Stealth argued.
“Then tell him to make the trip, son.” An age regressed knight answered.
“But he can’t, I’m gonna run the rest of the way. Come on I’m not gonna slow you down, I’m really light.” He beseeched to anyone who could hear him.”
“Coulda’ fooled me, how can you move in that thing?” Someone he didn’t see asked.
“It’s magical; it’s lighter then me, really! And I know how to fight.” He pestered.
“Who are you doing this for?” Another GM asked.
Stealth turned around, “Misha Brightleaf.” He waited expectantly.
“Oh, why didn’t you say so? He has enough money!” Someone laughed and so too did a few others.
This was not going well. Stealth sighed and pondered to himself. He turned to leave; perhaps he could ask a stable hand if there were any horses for hire.
“Okay, I’ll take you.” A small voice said.
Stealth turned in the direction of the voice and half expected to hear another quip. He turned his gaze down toward a small mouse... thing.
“I am Sir Arenet,” He bowed, “You won’t weigh me down.”
“Thank you sir.” The cat bowed low to the rodent. “I will not impede your task. And my name is Stealth.”
“It is nice to meet you Sir. Now there is one thing,” He pointed out, “I have family in Terreth and I’d like to hear from them.”
“Okay, what are their names, what do they look like?” The cheetah asked, it was the least he could do he supposed.
“I have a sister who is a similar species to me, she runs the local inn, has a long, almost furless and flat tail; she looks built for water. Her name is Lyng. If you can’t find her ask for her on behalf of Sir Arenet.” He explained slowly. “I haven’t heard from them since after the assault. I want to hear if they are well.”
The cheetah nodded, “I will be sure to do that, to be safe I’ll confirm that with you when we reach Lorland and write it down.”
“I understand. We will leave soon so please be ready.” The dormouse said and returned to his horse. Stealth remained near by and waited as the seconds slowly trickled away.
Stealth surprised Sir Arenet. None of the knights or soldiers on the patrolling party believed the cat’s suit to be anywhere near as light as he claimed but the dormouse’s horse didn’t notice any extra burden as the patrol galloped swiftly south to the keep’s southern outpost.
Sir Arenet in turn surprised Stealth; if a predator holding the small rodent by the waist with steel claws troubled him the knight didn’t show it.
“I’ve heard of you.” The dormouse yelled through the noise.
“Oh?” Stealth called back.
“You actually work in animal form.”
“Aye! The curse gives us opportunities doesn’t it?” The feline answered through the sound of galloping hooves.
“In that case you are the most opportunistic man I’ve met!”
Stealth pondered that as he tried not to fall off, “Is that good or bad?”
“It’s interesting, lad. Interesting.” The rodent called back. “By far you spend more time in that form then anyone I know.”
“Good!” The cat shouted, “I’m going for the record.”
Sitting on the back of a galloping horse was a trial for the cat when he’d first gone on patrol, but sitting on one with another person was a new test in balance. Stealth tried to block out the aches and pains and just look out to the horizon. It would be a long trip.
The patrol began to slow as settlements came into view. They were still quite a ways off and Stealth watched them with frustration wondering when they’d arrive. Time seemed to slow down more the further they went until finally the patrol arrived at its first checkpoint.
Stealth couldn’t wait to jump off. He landed in the dirt, feeling sore from the ride but he stood up again and began trying to get feeling back into his legs.
“Sir Arenet...” He said and looked through his backpack for parchment and a stick of charcoal, “Remind me who I’m to reach at Terreth.”
“Lyng, at the inn, my sister.” He repeated, “She’s a rodent like me but more aquatic.”
“Understood...” The cheetah said as he scribbled large letters with the thick block. “Where should I report back to when I return?”
“You can send a message to me via the keep’s messengers or hand them a letter from my sister.”
“Understood.” He said and folded up the parchment, placing it back in the backpack. “If I can, I’ll try to send the answer to you directly.”
The knight shook his head, “That may be difficult as I expect to be in the field for some time this week but thank you, so long as it arrives.”
“I understand, take care out there Sir Arenet and thank you for your help.”
The rodent bowed, “You’re most welcome, Stealth. Farewell.” He turned and led his horse with the other soldiers to a stable nearby.
After bidding the helpful Sir Arenet farewell Stealth looked about for the nearest private area. As the patrol had entered a populated area, most trees and bushes were cleared for homes and agriculture. He saw a large barn but many people were moving back and forth through the entrance. There was more to the barn then first appeared though he had no time to investigate.
Near the town and barren fields were rows of trees and scrub. They’d probably been planted as wind breaks for the farms. The feline jogged over to them and quickly disrobed. Just like in warmer months, he only needed place the garments in his pack and then shift to full form.
Now came the tricky part; a shift into full form with the newly modified suit. Of course the mages didn’t let him leave the Guild Tower without testing it first and neither had Misha but now he was alone in the field and it had to work. Stealth closed his eyes and felt himself... change. Occasionally he wondered what would happen if he got stuck half way. However it never occurred, he could shift into something halfway if he wanted, perhaps, but for now he just needed to become a full animal.
Slowly the cheetah’s eyes opened. The first thing he saw were the leaves and branches but they were no longer shades of brown, rather they were black and white. What evergreens he could see were still indeed green but everything else looked gray. He almost forgot about the armour and shrugged his shoulders to test mobility. The cheetah could move quite well so he moved about and found that the suit worked as it should. In fact it seemed to move better then his body as he hadn’t yet recovered fully from the trip down.
Something else didn’t feel quite right. He shrugged his shoulders again and remembered his backpack. The first time he used the suit he didn’t bring it along and resorted to a pouch on the back plate. The backpack felt inconsistent with the suit. He would just need to have it modified later, for now he eagerly started south, getting faster as the circulation returned to his limbs.
Stealth hustled to reach his destination, all the way down to Terreth on foot. Though he wasn’t built for endurance and Misha knew it, he had more versatility in the field than someone on horse back of course he still had to stop after every 3-4 hundred meters or risk overheating....
It still felt odd that he had the trust of the Longs. Just under two months ago, Stealth thought the fox scout was nothing more than a brat-noble who had explosive temper tantrums. However one that fought for the keep.
Yet in that time, Misha had personally welcomed the cheetah to his party, helped pay off his debt, rescued him from the wild and granted him access to Long House. The only others who had that level of trust were the people who worked in Long House and old, experienced soldiers.
Ironically Stealth had more trust then some of those soldiers. Rickkter had access to Long House of course but only with an escort and Misha would always be informed. Rickkter was Misha’s friend but the fox didn’t fully trust the raccoon’s greedy nature. The Long’s library and armoury held several items that Misha had no intention of letting Rickkter get his paws on. The most harm the cheetah would ever do the Longs would be stealing from the kitchen, though given the warmth they’ve shown him he had no desire to do so.
All in all, Misha was no pompous, stuffy noble as the cat thought; Long House is a military fall back point manned by ordinary people like Stealth. And it’s just as well, otherwise Stealth would find himself avoiding such a place; the cheetah felt uncomfortable in the vicinity of the ductile chambers for one and found that he wasn’t too fond of nobles...
Stealth looked over the large open fields with satisfaction and tired relief. Ever since that turn off past the signal tower he’d been running in sporadic bursts on a narrow path through dense woodland for some time. It didn’t entirely consist of enclosed forests; for brief moments the woods opened up and the trail became a large field that took him past a village and then cut across the lowest reaches of the barrier range before dipping back into the forests.
That shortcut seemed to never end and now looking over the barren farm fields the feline knew the trees were behind him and couldn’t wait to dive into the grass for another run... he just needed a moment or two to cool off first.
The courier eventually cleared the distance of the field at a slow pace and found an empty barn at the end. He trot over to one side to get a glance past the structure and slumped when greeted with the sight of another large field. Somewhere beyond the next plain he could faintly make out a settlement. It must surely be his destination. For now though he was much too tired to continue another step. Stealth looked at the barn and fancied the idea of resting his eyes. Just a breather, very short... he sniffed around for danger and searched for an entry point.
The most obvious sign was the barn door so he shifted, perhaps naively into taur form despite his armour. It felt like his hind legs were sliding out of the armour though in reality they were dividing. The rest of the shift felt normal (normal for a transformation) and soon Stealth had a humanoid upper half again, his lower half however appeared as the body of a very large full cheetah. Stealth looked over his new body and the suit which attempted to cover it, the suit still covered his front and upper half but they sat awkward on his forelegs and were absent from most of his taur body which made up the bulk of his new form.
His sizable taur torso and hind legs were only protected by a thin spotted pelt however his tail maintained its ‘scorpion tail’ covering though it stretched to cover a larger area. Connected to the tail, some plates from his lower back sat above his rump and connected to the rest of his suit via two stretched and strained cords. If they perfect it he could probably attach a saddle over the top and give someone a ride.
For now though he just needed hands to open the barn door and with a grunt did just that. The interior stank of sheep and cows. The animals in question nestled together for warmth and nibbled on hay. Stealth closed the door behind him and looked about. He didn’t fancy nestling with farm animals so he looked up and saw a hayloft. It was for the most part a large net holding up a bundle of hay. Oh, he yearned to perch up there; he imagined the loft to be very soft and cosy. If only he knew how to get up there.
Still in taur form the cheetah managed to rear up quite a ways and rest his fore paws on the wall slightly higher then the netting. He turned his upper body to get a better look... after a moment to prepare he attempted to clench a beam on the wall with his metal claws and shift back to full form. He hadn’t even tried to shift back to full form from being a taur in the suit yet he did so now – hanging against a wall. The method for climbing was harebrained at best, he realised as while his fore paws rested above a groove, his hind paws didn’t and the two would now merge.
As his taur fore and hind legs fused into his regular full form hind legs they dislodged from the wall and fell just as the cat became a regular animal again. He flailed and kicked off the wall in a panic while his former arms reached out to the net. He caught it with his sliding metal claws and swung his lower body to climb up. Stealth managed to shred the netting quite a bit as he scampered up, some of the net fell away after being cut and a good amount of hay fell but he eventually climbed up into the loft, rolling on his side to avoid shredding any more of the ropes.
The feline shrugged about a bit to shift the armour suit back into place then he let out a sigh of relief and caught his breath. Stealth’s eyes began to shut, he could finally rest.
The cheetah skulked through the tall grass with intent eyes. It sniffed at the air but could detect no scent. Fortunately, although it found no animal to prey on, neither did it encounter rival predators. Just those hoofed animals and strange primates with them that it would catch a glimpse of.
The male cheetah came out into another clearing, one devoid of mobile termite mounds. But out from the other side of the clearing appeared a large predator! The spotted animal jumped back and hissed at the thing which gave no reaction of it’s own to the feline.
After a moment of fear and shock, the cheetah sniffed at the air but could smell nothing of the canine-like thing. Cautiously, and with ears still folded and hackles still raised, the cheetah slowly began to walk around the thing. Whatever it was, it didn’t smell like a predator so it probably wasn’t a predator.
The feline’s hiss mellowed into a long chirr; it held a remaining suspicion of the not-canine thing but curiosity too. Slowly the thing crouched low to the ground and lowered its eyes from the cat in a disarming gesture. The cheetah eventually ventured closer and closer where it began to sniff at the not-predator for some sort of scent, it smelt almost like blood but not quite.
After some intense sniffing, the cheetah began to rub its head against that of the animal-without-a-scent to ‘claim’ it and give it some sort of recognisable smell. As the cat began relax and appear more comfortable the thing got up and licked the cheetah’s nose. The cheetah quickly stepped back and chirred uncertainly but did no more.
The not-canine thing cocked its head and playfully pawed at the cheetah, which too cocked its head and looked confused but slowly began to mirror the movement of quick paw-swipes. After a few moments the cat stopped and looked about the clearing, loosing its interest in the creature which seemed to pose no threat.
Suddenly the not-canine bounded toward the other side of the clearing, then stopped and looked back. The cat stood confused, but then slowly it too walked toward the end of the clearing. As it approached, the furless, scentless thing bounded off again which gave the cat pause, though a moment later it trotted along after it.
The cheetah chased the thing about then stopped to pant when the not-predator stopped, then the cat bat at the scentless creature and pounced it. The two play-fought for a bit before the not-canine ran off again, the cheetah giving chase. When they got tired of the chase, the animals explored the fields and woods. They leapt over logs and scampered up and down larger obstacles like mounds.
The furless thing made noises that the cat didn’t understand, only that the sounds were directed at it in some sort of social hail. The feline pounced the not-animal and play-bit it’s tail. Oddly the tail didn’t move when bitten but remained the same shape but it didn’t hurt to bite either. The feline rolled on its back and continued to swipe at the canine-like thing which in turn nipped at the cheetah.
The feline sat up in the dirt and looked at something off to the other side of the clearing. The cheetah bolted and pounced a spot in the grass. The metal creature cocked it’s head and could hear some sort of noises. The cheetah reached it’s head down and bit into something, then the noises ceased. The cat returned to the metal animal and dropped a dead animal in front of it.
The canine-like thing looked at the dead ferret then up at the cheetah. The cat sat on it’s haunches and waited expectantly for the other animal’s approval. The canine-like thing wagged it’s tail.
Suddenly, play ended when a number of hooved animals with half-primate-scent-things above appeared.
“There it is. Flank it!” The animal that made the call pointed a claw while others both above large equines and standing on the ground held out large bags with the intent of throwing it over the cheetah’s head. They were attempting to herd it into a corner and restrain it.
As it did earlier that day the cheetah hissed in fright and confusion, its hackles raised and fangs bared menacingly. Before anyone knew what happened or how, the animal evaded the throng, startling the horses as it bolted off to safety.
The other animal on the ground turned from the runaway feline to the woman on horse back. “Burned-corn-lady! You mean!”
“That was a mad keeper, Madog, we have to catch him!” The bear cat insisted to the automation.
Madog stomped in protest, “You scare friend away!”
Teague ignored the metallic fox and motioned to two of her people on foot to pursue the feral keeper through the scrub, which they did in just a moment though failed to catch up again.
Madog stuck his silver tongue out at the binturong, “spots gone.” The large metal fox sighed, collected the cheetah’s gift and trot out of the clearing.
The wild cheetah hadn’t gone far but hid in a bush watching the strange animals.
Teague scanned the scrub for a moment and- “THERE! Catch it!” She pointed after finding it. Two more of her people pursued it and the animal darted a few yards to safely. The soldiers chased it again and the feline darted off again remaining just out of reach. The cheetah continued to evade it’s pursuers who began to literally snarl and growl in frustration. Somehow the animal slipped away entirely leaving Teague’s team in it’s dust.
The cheetah stirred and slowly his eyes opened.
‘Was that just a dream?’ He asked himself. Shuffling about, the cat noted that his backpack still rested firmly on his slender back, strapped down. His furs and armour, custom fitted to his form sat in place, the amulets glowing with power to keep the suit functioning. It was a dream.
Slowly, Stealth stood up to stretch and yawn. ‘No, not a dream.’ He began after closing his muzzle from the gaping yawn, ‘could it have been... a memory?’ The cheetah’s eyes widened in recognition; he’d played with the metal fox, Madog.
Going feral was never a case of simple amnesia, though still vague in places, a bit like recalling a dream. Ironic, he felt as THIS dream brought back the memory and it was clear as day!
“I see nothing.” A voice said. It didn’t belong to the cheetah. He couldn’t speak as he was.
“There could be scouts in the trees.” A second unknown voice responded.
Stealth stiffened in his place and turned his head down to the hay he lay on. This barn had no other occupants when he arrived save the putrid smelling farm animals.
“I doubt it, they should all be up north.” The first voice answered.
“The other town out here is flanked by two castles and a tower.” A third voice said, “If there are any other defences we would have seen them by now. This place doesn’t even have a wall.”
“We’ve already scouted the area, we don’t need to go any further north then this...” The first voice agreed, “Let’s just sack these monsters.”
Ah, non-cursed humans. Bandits from the south. Wonderful, well he’ll just remain still and quiet until they leave, he mused. He’ll warn the town and those thieves will be in for a surprise...
The three bandit scouts unsheathed daggers and swords when a metal leg dropped through the hay net in-between them. While the surprise Stealth had in store for the thieves wouldn’t eventuate now, they were still very surprised as they stared at the feline’s hind leg.
“What... is that?” One of them asked.
“Farming equipment.” Another answered.
Stealth felt a tinge of relief-
“That’s a foot paw! It’s one of those things, kill it!!!”
-which was quickly dashed. He tugged his stray leg free of the net before the bandits could grab it. His steal claws cut through the ropes in his haste, a bundle of hay fell on the thieves just as the cheetah jumped out the opening in the hayloft.
“Kill it! KILL IT!!! Don’t let it warn them!” The man screamed as he removed hay from his shirt. The other two scurried for their bows as they climbed out of the pile.
As soon as Stealth hit the ground he tried to ignore the sting in his legs from the impact and ran on adrenalin from sheer terror. Arrows flied and landed on either side of the cat as he ran and zigzagged toward the town. While he did wear armour it only protected his sides and front, only his tail had armour protection in the rear though one arrow nicked the armour covering his left foreleg. He ran, he ran so far away, he ran faster and faster as each new arrow hit the ground near by.
“Idiots...” The third and most vocal of the scouts said as he began to chant something and raise his arms toward the fleeing cat.
Stealth ran and ran and... He stoped, sniffed at the air and looked around. After looking about for a bit and scratching an itch with a steel claw the creature wondered at its surrounds. Not knowing what else to do, the cat walked in the direction he had been heading.
A full form keeper entered the town of Terreth. The keeper looked to be some sort of cat wearing armour. People stared at the creature and he stared back, he walked slowly and stared at everyone and everything.
“Hello lad!” A man leaned down and said to him, “That’s an interesting thing you’re wearing there.”
The cheetah just stared at him.
“Are you alright there?”
The cat blinked and didn’t know what to do.
The Terrether reached a hand over to the animal’s muzzle. The cat sniffed at the man’s hand and looked about.
“Vin, get the mage.” The man turned and called out to someone, “Tell him it’s ‘one of those.’”
A ferret approached, “I’ll take him there before he wanders off.” Vin held out a rope and tried to leash the cat but it jerked it’s head back in surprise. The ferret-man tried again but the creature didn’t cooperate. It pawed away at the offending rope while stepping back instinctively, looking up at the morph in confusion.
Vinnie scratched his head fur. “Now what?”
A bear approached and lifted the cat up into his arms, “Hey, he’s really light! The suit must be magic or something.”
The cat stared at the ursine in confusion and flailed his legs about for a moment. Though he resisted at first he felt very tired, why did he feel tired? He didn’t know but he settled in and looked about in his daze.
“Must be some poor traveller, I’ll take him to Atherlney and see what he can do. He might be better in time for the festivities tonight!”
The cat looked about from his new vantage point – held aloft in the great ursine’s arms. He had no idea what was happening and just lay back to take everything in. The bear walked toward a structure and entered a small portal. Inside a male human looked up in bafflement.
“Asser? What is this?” The man asked.
“Some odd traveller. He just wandered into town like this, most likely feral.”
Atherlney nodded, “Place him on the ground over here.” He pointed to a spot in the centre of the room.
The cat was placed on the floor and looked up at the two people in front of him. The mage looked back and said nothing for a long moment. “Can you hear me?”
The feline nodded.
“Ah! Well there, he isn’t feral.” The mage said in relief.
“Well what’s wrong with him?” The bear asked.
“It must be the suit, he can’t change in it... pardon me.” The male GM said as he lifted the cat’s fore leg. He eventually found a latch and unbuckled the suit. It immediately regained it’s former weight and fell about on the floor except for the back plate that remained fixed by the backpack the animal wore. The cat began to buckle and fall to the floor with the sudden added burden weighing it down.
The mage and bear carefully slid the plate out and helped the creature into a sitting position on its haunches. “Can you change now?”
The feline cocked his head.
“You know, change form.” The man reminded.
The cat just looked at him.
“Do you understand?”
The cat thought for a moment and then shook his head.
The mage put a hand to his chin and pondered, “Close your eyes, picture your own body, you are becoming humanoid, you look like a person but with your characteristics.
The cheetah closed his eyes and concentrated while the bear removed the discarded armour into a pile near by. The feline soon took on a human-like form and kneeled on the rug carpet.
“Are you okay now?” The mage asked softly.
“I... I’m naked.” The cat said and huddled up.
After taking care of the armour suit, the bear returned and draped a blanket over the form of the cheetah-morph, “What’s your name lad?”
“I...” He looked up at the mage, almost hoping that he would know.
“You don’t remember?” The man looked at him for a long moment, “It would seem you developed amnesia in your full form.” The mage motioned to the backpack that the cat still wore. “May we look in your pack? It may shed some light.”
The morph shrugged, he didn’t know what it contained so he couldn’t say either way. He had to drop the blanket to around his waist then fight with some harnesses before it came free, whatever it contained, it felt very heavy and he was more then happy to remove the burden.
Atherlney carefully opened the bag, “There’s a package in here... no traps, it has a seal. A fox’s head, ring a bell?”
The cheetah timidly shook his head.
“Well, there’s some clothes in here too, perhaps they belong to you?”
The cheetah shrugged.
“They smell like you...” The bear added as he sniffed the shirt and breeches.
The feline put them on promptly, he felt glad to do so... or was he meant to be naked? He put the clothes on just in case.
“May the recipient forgive me...” Atherlney said as he broke the seal and opened the package. “...Gears. It’s the gears from the Keep that Walric needs for tonight.” He said to Asser, “Take these to him, ask him who sent them.”
The ursine nodded and took the package. He looked once at the blank cat on the floor then headed out towards the watchmaker’s shop.
Atherlney placed the pack with the armour in a corner then returned to the courier, “Here, take my hand.” The feline allowed himself to be moved to a comfortable chair from his previous spot on the floor, “Can I get you anything son? How about some tea?”
He nodded, “Thank you sir. I don’t know why I’m so tired.”
“Call me Atherlney.” The mage walked over to his hearth where a kettle hung, “From what I could see of your aura it looks like someone cast a ‘cloud’ over you to fog your mind.” He began to pour the tea into a cup. “I’ll remove it but it will take time for it to be fully lifted, perhaps a day or two.” he then handed the hot cup to the cat.
The feline took the offered drink and mumbled a thankyou. He soon placed the hot cup on a table and rubbed his arms before looking up, “Atherlney?”
“Yes, dear?” The man asked as he prepared bottles and flasks for a potion on his work bench.
“What am I?”
“You’re a cheetah, my boy.” He answered, like a parent explaining to a child.
The cheetah looked at himself for a moment then he looked back up.
“They’re a southern cat that can run very-“
“What AM I?” He asked again sounding terse and indicated his form.
“Oh, you’re a keeper.”
“What? Aye, you said the package came from a keep.” The cat furrowed his ridges.
“No, I mean a person like you with your form.”
“What form? Am I supposed to have four legs or two or what? Am I another race? Was I always like this?” He asked quickly.
“Not always, no earlier then the Battle of Three Gates at the most.” The Mage answered and opened a flask of herbs.
“I was in a battle?”
“I don’t know but you are not another race, you were most likely a human and now you are a human-cheetah hybrid or a cheetah morph.” He answered distractedly. Not that he needed to explain this; otherwise he wouldn’t be working on a potion...
“Like the bear... and that ferret guy?”
“Yes, you are an animal morph.” Where were the blue herbs when he needed them? “You can also become a real cheetah as you already know.”
“Then how come I can’t change into a full human?” He asked with mild curiosity or hope... did he want to be a human? He wasn’t sure.
“Because it is a curse, everyone who is here for a week or two gets stuck with a new form.”
“Then why aren’t you affected?” He asked with a tinge of jealousy. ...should he be jealous? “Did you used to be an animal?”
The man paused in his work, “I used to be a woman.”
The cat just looked at him.
“That’s why it’s called the Battle of Three Gates. The first gate defenders became children, those at the second became animals and everyone at the third changed their gender.” She didn’t work on the potion at all as she explained.
“But what does that have to do with staying for two weeks in the valley?”
The man turned his head down to continue his work, “The spells and counter spells fused with the Keep’s protective magic.”
“What ‘protective’ magic?” He asked.
“It protects us from ballistics and destructive spells that have the same affect.” He added liquids from bottles to the herbs in the flask.
“Sounds like this protective magic is more trouble then it’s worth.” He scoffed.
“We would have been destroyed rather then changed otherwise...” She answered and gently mixed the liquid in the flask. It began to change colour.
“So it affects everyone here?”
“Everyone who stays too long.” ‘Now just a pinch of saffron’ the mage thought to himself.
The feline nodded, “I’m sorry ma’am.”
“For what?” He asked and softly chanted something on the flask.
“For being jealous.”
“No problem, son.” There, the potion was ready. “Besides, I can leave the valley whenever I want... so long as people don’t find out I’m from Metamor.”
“Why, what if they know you’re from... Metamor?” So that’s where he was.
“Because they’ll think I’m a demon for being touched by the curse, a demon in disguise at the very least.” The mage sighed.
The cat looked up in surprise, “We can’t leave?”
He shook his head, “There are many... misled people out there.”
“Oh.” He said simply. “Atherlney?”
“Will I get my memory back?”
“That’s the idea, now drink up.” He handed the cheetah a steaming flask of liquid, “Don’t try to taste it, just shoot it straight down and KEEP it down.”
He shivered from the smell but quickly downed the drink. He almost retched instantly but gulped it down. The cat shivered and gagged but he held it down.
“I’m sorry. The taste won’t last, you should start to remember things.”
The cat tried to speak but broke out into a coughing fit. It tasted bad, really, really vile and he had to choke back the reflex to vomit. The mage tried to ease him and handed over another cup filled with water.
“Thank you.” He managed after a deep breath.
At that moment the door opened. Asser entered, back from the watchmaker’s workshop. “Hail again, anything yet, lad?”
The cheetah looked at him for a moment. “Not yet but I’m keeping down the potion.”
“Well that’s a start, but I can tell you old Yeun sent for parts from someone in Metamor Keep who goes by the name Brightleaf.”
The mage nodded and looked to the cat, who by the look of him still hadn’t recovered from the putrid potion. “Anything?”
The cat thought for a moment then he slumped with drooped ears, “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry, just take your time.” The man said softly.
“What should I do in the meantime?” The cat asked shyly.
“Well, how about you come out into the fresh air. Perhaps a meal from the inn like a nice hot soup or some treats, can you eat pastries? Say pies, bagels, muffins?” The bear asked.
“...muffins.” He furrowed his brow in thought but the thought slipped away. “I don’t know, I can try.”
“Good, and don’t worry about the coins but it’s cold out so you’ll need a coat.” Asser pointed out as he headed to the door.
‘Coat... coat’, like the suit he wore earlier? The thought was interrupted when the mage dropped a cloak over him.
“Remember to return it afterwards.” He said and began to put away the bottles and flasks.
“I will. Thank you.” He got up and slowly followed the ursine out the door.
The remains of a muffin sat on the table before him. The cat pulled it apart as if the pastry would unveil a secret. He didn’t have much appetite for the wheat based food save the meat pie; everything else just had one or so trial bites until he settled on destroying the last bit of pastry.
“Playing with your food?” a muskrat asked from behind the counter.
“No... Never mind.” He sighed.
“You know.” Asser started from near by, “We thought you were feral. Why didn’t you give us an indication you weren’t?”
The cheetah looked at him and brushed some crumbs out of his palms. “What do you mean by feral?”
“It means someone who has become an animal in mind; we thought you lost your mind.” The rodent behind the counter explained.
“I guess I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what I was or what I was supposed to do.” He shrugged, “I don’t know who I am... I’m still not entirely sure what kind of creature I’m supposed to be.” He looked at his hand, “Cheetah-human. Doesn’t sound... natural.”
“It doesn’t to most people but there is nothing you can do about it so try not to worry about it.”
The feline nodded. The scary thing was he had no recollection of being an unaffected human. He just couldn’t remember or imagine life without his fur or tail.
“Lyng, mayhap make some coffee.” Asser suggested.
The Inn keeper shook her head and turned to the cat, “If you’re tired perhaps you should head upstairs and get some rest.” She offered.
“No, it’s not that. I think I should see the watchmaker... can I take this with me?” he pointed a claw to the last muffin he hadn’t yet destroyed.
“Of course, but promise to eat it.” She scolded.
“I’ll try, they are very nice.” He said. Though they didn’t taste that nice to his carnivorous tongue he could still enjoy the taste somewhat. Did he eat them as a human? Perhaps they tasted much nicer back then but he couldn’t recall.
After leaving the inn he had to navigate around a large bonfire being built for the night’s festival. The night would be very cold but the fire would keep people toasty and create a pleasant atmosphere. He asked someone adding on lumber where he could find the town’s watchmaker and was guided to a building across from the commons. The building was constructed of lumber and had a small clock tower. On the other side of the alley was what must be the town hall or the lord’s residence or mayor’s office or all three in one seeing as it was a very small hamlet.
The whole village couldn’t have been any larger then the Glen.
The Glen! He remembered travelling there. He remembered a hedgehog in a tree... nothing more then that. Why did he go there and what happened there? Was the place really built into the trees? It had to be, he remembered it! He tried to focus on that positive thought rather than the many questions it brought up as he headed to the watchmaker’s workshop.
The courier stopped at the door of the workshop, not knowing if he had to knock or not seeing as he didn’t know whether it was a home or a store. He knocked on the door.
“Come in!” A scraggily voice answered.
He rolled the muffin in his palm and opened the door. The cat courier entered a large, poorly lit area and looked about. Tall beams reached into the dark ceiling, they were simple logs and the walls and support beams above looked to be no different. The building seemed much like a warehouse though broken up with panels and instead of crates it held tables and shelves crammed with tools and gears of all sizes. The room smelled strongly of metal and oil, even outside he could long smell it before arriving.
“You must be here for your payment. You remember that much I see.”
The cat turned on his feet and found a small mouse man standing behind him. The morph had a pair of glasses that looked to be modified to include extra lenses that could be moved and adjusted.
“Yes sir, actually I was also wondering if you could tell me something about who sent you the parts.”
The mouse looked at him for a moment, “Do you remember how much payment you were to take?”
The cat looked at the mouse for another moment, “If I receive the incorrect amount I’m sure I’ll discover that upon returning to the keep...”
After a moment the mouse laughed, “Smart Lad, you lost your memories but not your brains I see.” He trudged over to a small crate next to a forge. It was a small forge, sitting there cold and dark. He’d seen something similar somewhere... The watchmaker opened his chest and moved some coins into a small pouch.
“I never did expect these parts to arrive at all...” He said over the sound of metal clinking into the pouch. “You’re interested to know who sold me the gears?” He said and finished filling the pouch.
“Aye, I was told they came from a Keep called Metamor...” He pondered, “He’s some sort of watchmaker like yourself?”
The mouse trudged back to the cat and handed over the small pouch, “A watchmaker? Perhaps, but he has a very different reputation.”
The feline took the offered pouch with his free hand and attached it to his belt. “What reputation?” He finally decided to eat the pastry he’d been holding. His palm began to sweat from holding it. Unfortunately his padded hands were one of the few places he had sweat glands...
“Of the vague stories I’ve heard this far out from the keep, one is about an odd fox... never thought I’d need to call on him or that he’d come through.” The rodent shook his head.
“What’s his reputation?” The cat asked and took another bite out of his muffin.
“Folk call him an axe wielding maniac.”
The cheetah pondered but drew nothing. “What’s his name again?”
“Brightleaf... no, he’s known as Misha.”
The feline looked at the baked good for a moment then his hand clenched and crushed it as his eyes widened. “Misha! ...The fox taur guy!!!”
“Taur?” The mouse cocked his head, “Hey, you’re getting crumbs on the floor.”
“Sorry, say I don’t suppose I could smell those gears?” The cat asked.
The mouse shrugged and walked over to his workbench. He lifted up a very small part to the cat who sniffed it.
Yes, the scent did belong to the bouncy foxtaur. It even smelled like the room where the fox wrapped up the parts. He remembered heading out of the room. There was a table with a map...
“Lad? Are you okay?” The watchmaker asked. “What’s a taur?”
“I... sorry, I need to go. Thank you for your help.” He said and left the workshop.
The rodent sighed and grabbed a broom to sweep up the crumbs.