Moth to a Flame

by Hawl Enroygall

by Hawl Enroygall a.k.a. Jessica Kylie Nichols-Vernon

Raleigh was filled with a mix of joy and fear. In her hand she held a letter of acceptance into the mage’s guild, at thirteen this was no small feat. Though the date printed on the note reminded her of something. Tomorrow was her fourteenth birthday, she had been so wrapped up in her studies she had forgotten. No wonder her mother was being so nice to her lately. “...I’m not ready for this! I’m not ready for this!” she cried, pulling on her hair, pondering if she’d still have that gorgeous brown hair a week later.

This called forth her mother who had overheard, nearly as old as she was. She was an old crone, barely having enough youth to birth her daughter before coming to Metamor, but now she was the same age as her daughter. A daughter who had a brother that her mother only had because the curse had made her just old enough to be fertile once again. With her boar husband, she celebrated this honor. “....Being accepted into the Mage’s Guild is a real honor darling, you should be happy for yourself.” she smiled at her daughter, placing her hand on her shoulder.

“Not that. Tomorrow’s my birthday… I thought they’d have found a cure for the curse by the time I got to be this old.” Raleigh said with a heavy and disappointed look. “What if I end up as something I don’t like… Once you factor in the variables, I have a ? chance of becoming a boy, a ? chance of getting younger, and a ½ chance of ending up as an animal I don’t like. Leaving barely ? left for a favorable reaction.”

“Darling it’s more likely that you just won’t age again if you get the Youth Curse. And trust me, if I had been given that chance at your age I’d have thanked my lucky stars. Being old is no picnic Raleigh, your skin gets wrinkled, your bones become brittle, and you find yourself getting sick so often that people are only surprised to hear about when you are well. No thank you.” Raleigh’s mother shuddered, remembering her ancient pre-curse body as she reduced her current age from just slightly older than her daughter, to being slightly above only half her years.

“True, but Dad’s a pig though… And not even a cute piggy, but a straight up boar.” Raleigh reminded, picturing herself as being something so ugly. Her dad was a good and honest hard working man, but not a looker. His hideousness combined with her mother’s purity and innocence turned more than a few heads at market. Raleigh still remembered the time someone thought her dad had kidnapped her mom and called for the guard.

“I have asked him about talking to Jessica about becoming a piglet, but he won’t hear of it. Stubborn old fool.” Raleigh’s mother stretched. “Still, whatever happens will happen, there’s no way to prevent it. All I can do is pray to Velena and hope that you receive a body that makes you happy.”

“Thanks mom…” Raleigh smiled, looking back to her mother. That actually had a chance of working, back when she was very little Raleigh’s mother had always prayed to Velena and begged for a body that was healthy and pretty again. Velena told her and her husband to move to Metamor, and it was so just one week after the move.

“Like you mentioned, you could become a boy tomorrow.” Raleigh’s mother said, grabbing a few things from a small chest in her daughter’s room.

“Ick…” Raleigh nearly puked pondering how she’d look with a flat chest and short hair. “Don’t remind me…”

“I mean, if that’s the case. We should play dollies one more time.” Spoke her mother already holding a doll resembling Princess Malisa. “I’ll be the princess and you can be the dragon who saves me from the lutins.” She said, handing her daughter a doll resembling the weather mage and bronze dragon Saroth. All the dolls were made by the mother in her spare time. Though the game offered as a means of cheering up her daughter it was fairly transparent that Raleigh’s mother wishes actually laid within just wanting to play with the dolls.

Still mother and daughter enjoyed it nonetheless, even if the lutin’s demands for raisins was rather silly as was Saroth acting like a naive child and Malisa acting like your normal everyday fairy book princess than the troubled tomboy she actually tended to be. Raleigh wasn’t as mature as other girls, having the mother she did she was encouraged to grow up slowly and enjoy her childhood even now when everyone else in her classes were thinking with their hormones. In many ways this was healthy for the young girl, she never felt pressured to prove herself opting instead to just follow her heart and do things purely for the sake of doing them. This showed in her grades. And was a huge part of the reason for her acceptance into the mage’s guild.

Raleigh’s mother re-aged to as old as she could go (fourteen years and a few months) as she tucked her daughter into bed that night. “I have faith in your transformation. Velena has always watched over the women in our family and I’m sure the body she has planned will be fine. Now get your rest, your first guild meet is tomorrow and you want to make a good impression. Not to mention the birthday party afterward. Remember, mommy loves you.”

“I love you too.” Raleigh said, feeling better about her situation already.

The Next Day

A carriage had arrived to pick up Raleigh that day, the usual one that picked up children who lived around Keeptown to take them to their classes if their families did not possess enough for a mount to take them, or weren’t made into proper mounts themselves. And right next to her as usual, was her friend Sargosa. Though the term friend was used loosely. “Happy Birthday Ra….’ the raccoon child spoke softly and without her usual pep. Sargosa had recently experienced a loss, her aunt had recently been slain and people around Metamor believed it was a suicide even though Sargosa knew otherwise. No one believed her, Raliegh herself had a hard time doing so.

“Thanks Sargosa… the party’s after school. I might be late coming to it, but my mother will overdo it as usual. Oh and I’m not going to class today, I’ve been excused to attend a Mage’s Guild meeting.” Raleigh informed, placing a hand on Sargosa’s paw. A small way of showing her being sorry about the incident with her aunt, without having to speak word of such a bad happenstance.

“Figures as much, you always were an egghead. But Mage’s Guild material? I guess that’s something to be happy about. Never figured, don’t get too cocky kid it’s easier than it looks.” Sargosa said, seeming disinterested. “I could if I wanted too, but adult stuff is boring...”

Raleigh nodded slowly. “Well it can be interesting, especially if it involves magic, magic has only been getting stronger and stronger as time passes. Soon Metamor may end up being a major power again, we’re the most magical kindgom in all of Galendor. If it weren’t for the curse…”

Sargosa made a bunch of snoring noises to show her lack of interest.

Raleigh stopped talking and just pouted to herself. Sargosa never showed interest in anything important. It made her wonder how Sargosa would ever manage to do much of anything as an adult. Unlike some people she wouldn’t be young forever, at least, as far as anyone figured. Metamor was a mysterious place, and not growing up wasn’t unheard of.

Eventually they made it to the school which wasn’t too far from the where the Mage’s Guild Hall was.

A wolf in mage’s garb was there to greet Raleigh. “Did you bring your letter child?” he said to the girl. “Happy birthday by the way, I can sense the youth that shielded you from the curse as vanished. The curse will have you in minutes.”

“Wh… Really? What am I going to become? Not a boy right?” Raliegh had to know, she had to know sooner rather than later. Sooner even than sooner. Though it had almost slipped her mind to show her letter with the official seal. Eventually she did remember to grab it from her bag.

Fear was noted by the wolf mage who could smell it on the young girl. “Child, the curse will take hold, but it will take a few days for the changes to manifest. Not many, the curse has been twirling around you, waiting for the chance to get in. Now it has. All I can tell you is the curse definitely intends to morph your body, you will either have the second or third curse.”

“Can you not make it the third? Cast a little hex to stir where it ends up going?” Raleigh pleaded as she handed over her acceptance letter over to the wolf.

“We’re working on a way to do that, but our results will not come in in time to save you from manhood. If that’s what the curse decides, that’s what the curse decides.” The wolf shrugged. It’s not that he didn’t want to help Raleigh, there was nothing he could do. By the time she could have escaped the curse’s area of effect it would already be too late. Truly he felt for her, everyone had a curse they feared the most. Most of the time it was the gender based one. Sometimes not so much, there were a few instances of people preferring the ability to give birth over fur in the summer or people preferring to no longer need a bra over scales in the winter. “Our current research could only make you take on two curses and increasing the probability you will receive that which you do not desire. Indeed Ms. Chamberlain. We have been expecting you to show this day. Your skills with illumination have not gone unnoticed.”

“Thanks.. It wasn’t anything special, I just really like pretty lights and when I learned magic could help me conjure them well… I read a few books on the subject.” Raleigh confessed.

“From what we’ve heard from Fox Cutter, the man who wrote your letter of recommendation, more than a few.” The wolf commented taking the teenager by her hand as she showed her to the mage’s guild. “You’re one of our younger members since Wessex came to us, Eli rest his soul. The honor is as much mine as it is yours.”

As Raleigh went through the guild she noticed many mages working on things. The Mage’s Guild mages were all hardworking masters of their craft working in all sorts of magic. Small wooden dolls being manipulated by invisible strings, a freshly enchanted paintbrush that could paint messages in the air being tested, and magical crystals being levitated by apprentices. One thing that caught her eye was a pyromancer jackal in the corner making a small fire dance, back and forth. The young illuminator had to stop to admire it as the fire took on a humanoid shape of a small maiden made of flames doing a complex dance. One involving many twirls and skillful turns, eventually it concluded with a flip. The small fire maiden smiled at Raleigh and curtsied politely as a thank you for watching her dance before she dispersed, putting herself out with a nearby thimble of water. The jackal turned around and grinned. “I take it you enjoyed the show lass. Tell me, age regression or did you used to be a lad? Provided my question is not rude.”

Raleigh smiled. “Heh, loved it. I’ve always had this thing about lights, they’re just so pretty. Oh and I haven’t changed yet, today’s my birthday, so it should be any day now.”

“Ah, happy birthday then Ms. Chamberlain, I’ve heard about you. I hope you enjoy what you become. Heheh, if you liked my flame spirit now. You become a lad and I’ll show you what happens when Ember gets risque. Heh heh.” The Jackal teased, nudging Raleigh who had no idea how to react.

“Is this really appropriate discussion?” The wolf growled at the jackal.

“I was kidding. Ember doesn’t even have an act like that.” The jackal pyromancer chuckled, Devon the Metamor Jester could have learned one or two things from this man.

“I thought she put herself out…” Raleigh pointed out. “Isn’t she dead?”

“Not at all my dear, the act merely separated herself from the flame, she put out the fire because without her artificial soul to control it is merely a normal fire. I say her soul, but it’s actually a small chunk of my essence that does it.” The jackal smiled as he explained his craft. “Wee bit of my feminine side, we all have them, even us men. We just aren’t in a position to know how to put them to good use. So I let Ember handle it. The feminine side is where our vast emotions and sense of creativity come from. By separating part of mine to create Ember, she can inspire me to learn new uses for my dominion over fire.”

“I think I’ve read that somewhere. The Masculine side is our logical side, the part of us that allows us to think clearly, analyze facts, and vital for judgments that are not popular, but right. To put it simply, when you want Power you seek help from your feminine side, when you want Control you seek help from your masculine side. I read it in one of my illumination books while trying to figure out how to make a perfect rainbow. It requires equal use of both, the feminine to produce the color, and masculine to keep it in the perfect shape.” Raleigh rambled on, recalling her reading. “It is a basis for many magicians. And a reason why magery has remained a gender neutral profession throughout Galendor and not exclusively in Egalitarian Metamor.”

“Like lights do ya?” The jackal asked, nodding and only barely listening to Raleigh’s long winded speech. Having been a mage longer than he was a jackal he knew the gist of her ramble already.

“They’re just so PRETTY And colorful! Especially green lights! They’re the cutest!” Raleigh squealed in delight. “And they can light up the darkness! Light doesn’t normally, but can be made to produce heat, a quality that makes illumination magic perfectly suitable for field work, especially since using magic light instead of fire has a lesser chance of attracting the enemy or causing accidental damage to the ecosystem or…”

The jackal was putting away his reagents and magic supplies, giving casual nods between the girl’s small pauses to pretend that he was still listening. In reality he didn’t care about Illumination magic, he was a pyromancer, he had no reason to do so. Still why crush a young girl’s hopes. No it was best to keep her feeling welcomed and if her words entertained then it was best for her if he let her continue to speak. It was likely to be good for memorization regardless. “Yeah, yeah lights, they’re great.”

It wasn’t long before the wolf dragged her away, a meeting was taking place today for the whole guild. Raleigh was disappointed yet excited. She loved rambling on about the wonders of literal light-bringing, even if no one else seemed interest in whatever she had to say. At the same time though, this was the first meeting of a guild willing to pay her to do the only thing she loves more than talking about being an Illumanist, actually being one. Everyone was seated and ready for the meeting. One interesting thing about Metamor Keep was that when people lined up for a show seeing the variety in the faces of the crowd. Especially when it invited the rousing game every Metamor Local loved called guess that critter! There were many creatures on display, Raleigh had read a few of them. A kangaroo or two, various exotic birds, a coelacanth of all creatures, a camel, couple of dinosaurs, oh and some red raccoon thing sitting in the corner with the infamous Pascal Q. Porucpine, she believed it was called a red panda.

There was much talking, a few people still playing with their magical instruments even while in the meeting, this was true dedication. After calling for attention some put their things away, but Pascal did not, still mixing concoctions. Eventually she must have done something right because she smiled real wide and got a glowing white solution. Her assistant, Xhyz was clapping for her and congratulating her. As to be expected, Raleigh was looking over at that solution until Pascal eventually did put it away. Afterward she had no choice but to watch the two gender reversed female human mages in a demonstration where the elder of the two lifted a large rock with a summoned stream of water. Very shortly after the younger one used geomancy to shatter the rock into many pieces. Through their combined efforts the water and rock combination formed into various arcane symbols and just plain pretty shapes.

As the former males displayed the results of their practice the crowd cheered, a few times one of the higher ups had to remind the crowd to pay attention. Saying to the crowd that this was hard science, not some circus with over priced confections and trinkets or a minor illusionist performing for a child’s birthday. After showing off for a bit the two women finally attached the rocks and water stream holding them together to a large bell, all whilst discussing the very powerful connection the elements had to one another and their direct relation. Here Earth and Water were combining to form art, but not just any art. A good number of enchanters in the crowd recognized this as a symbol for good fortune.

With one final motion the water turned to molten lava and the rocks began to dissolve, in a matter of seconds even the lava vanished without a trace aside from the burn marks it made into the bell. The two women then took a bow, the elder then spoke forward. “And this is our proposed method for a new way of enchantment for those of us among us who don’t have hands anymore. Sadly it is very energy consuming and requires a partner. If anyone would like to invest in further research into this, please speak with me or my trainee Michelle after the meeting. And now, a word from Headmistress Jessica.” The woman said, welcoming the hawk who was the headmage at Metamor.

“Thank you Ryan, lovely display.” Jessica congratulated as the two women walked off stage. “I must say your interest in aiding Keepers with aspirations of being enchanters is…” The hawk tried hard to prevent from cracking a smile and letting old aspirations shine through. “Very inspiring. Now I suppose you’ve all heard about the happening a couple of days ago involving how a few of us have been studying the Transblade that was left with us. Well the only real conclusions we’ve been able to make is that there is definitely a living consciousness in the sword and for whatever reason that consciousness will only obey someone who has physically transformed. How the blade was crafted or any side effects outside of the ones we’ve found are currently unknown to us.”

“What side effects would these be then?” Asked Pascal’s assistant Xhyz, if Raleigh had not have known better she would have dared to say that Xhyz was a little TOO enthusiastic about this question, but it really could have just been in the imagination of a young girl.

“Well if someone isn’t used to the curse, the energies the Transblade gives off once it recognizes a new wielder will exaggerate it temporarily. Eventually you can wrestle control back over it without facing any permanent problems unlike the case with Prince Phil’s transformation.” Jessica continued to say.

“Prince Phil?” Raleigh asked someone nearby. “I’m not that involved with politics, but I didn’t think Malisa had a brother.”

“He acted as an Ambassador from Whales for awhile, even lead the Metamor House of Intelligence. Eventually he had to go home when his father fell ill. That may be why you haven’t heard of him. Now please, I’m trying to listen to the headmistress.” Spoke the voice of a nearby male coyote morph.

With this explanation taken to heart quickly, the announcements from Jessica continued to be listened to, though it appeared she was nearing the end of her speech. “The only real mystery that remains aside from what powerful magick binds the spirit in this sword and how to better communicate with him is why does the sword obey only those with physical transformations? We can’t find any enchantment or curse giving it this restriction, which only limits one explanation. The Transblade is choosing not too. Given this, we will perform a test that requires someone who hasn’t changed yet, but cannot be prevented from starting. Knowing the blade will understand the circumstances. Raleigh Chamberlain please come forth and take the blade.”

Everyone looked at the new girl at once, making various comments to themselves, some praising, some nagging. Some believed her magical aura showed impressive talent and that she would be a very welcome addition. Others believed that her young age could be detrimental and a sign that she could in fact endanger the other mages by combining inexperience with youthful arrogance. All around it was silently agreed that only time would tell for sure as history was full of unexpected changes in their personal realities. The reflections most of Metamor saw in the mirror was proof of that.

Raleigh herself just swallowed a lump in her throat and stood up, shaking in her boots. “You mean me? But all I know is illumination…” she barely managed to say.

“That doesn’t matter. Just take the sword’s hilt.” Jessica spoke softly.

Raleigh nodded and walked towards the stage, the anxiety was about to eat her alive. This was her first official task from the official Mage’s Guild in what is officially Metamor Keep, she could show no fear or hesitation or the whole guild would descend upon her like wolves on a lamb, possibly literally so. Her hands grasped the blade and the world became nothing to her. For a few blissful seconds, Raliegh could see eternity itself, various magical formulas some she knew well, some that were only rumored to exist. All this power, it was intense. Many mages were making attempts to snap her out of it, but she not only couldn’t listen, she couldn’t even hear or percieve anything that wasn’t the magic. Finally a male cheetah morph looked her over and she fell backwards violently. Dropping the blade and appearing visually, a little different.

That afternoon was Raleigh's birthday party, an event to which she was late. Kids were playing with each other and a few chaperones who decided to form their own petting zoo for the children as they waited for Raleigh herself.

The girl did show up soon enough being ridden on a horse and escorted by one of the guard. No one in particular, just someone who asked for Raleigh’s mother, found it a little odd that she seemed to be one of the kids playing with dolls, remembered she lived in Metamor, realized it wasn’t that weird after all, gave her a note from a doctor, assured her she’d be fine and trotted off. The real attention was on Raleigh herself who appeared to be wearing some kind of turban.

Sargosa was the first to say it as she rode up atop a doe, one of the keepers who took a feral form for the petting zoo. “Okay Ra, what’s the deal with that hat? You look like you’re a sheik from some far off desert country.”

Raliegh’s mother quickly tried to defuse the brewing scenario having read the note and understood the riddle behind the headwrap. “Children please it’s nothing we need to get ourselves worked up about. Now that Raliegh’s here, we can start the festivities proper. Now where is that husband of mine?”

Sargosa nodded looking all innocent, maybe even a smidge remorseful. “Of course Mrs. Chamberlain… We should respect Ra’s privacy and… HUTTAH!” Sargosa jumped off her doe and unwrapped the turban in mid-air. Holding the remnants in the air for all to see as she took a bow, and then a second.

“SARGOSA!” Raleigh nodded, covering her now exposed head with her hands, but it was too late as children laughed now knowing what she did not want them to see. “What the hell!?!?! You can’t just… Since when you can do front flips off of venison anyway!?!”

The raccoon didn’t bother answering that question, nor did she give any response outside of a loud burst of laughter. For Raliegh’s turban was intended to hide the fact that she was now irreversibly, and quite visibly, bald. “Mwhaha… HAHAHA! Raleigh's a badly! Raleigh’s a baldy! Oh my goddess, what did they do to you at the Mage’s Guild?” The other children were joining in with her. Raleigh’s mother was running off to get her father. Surely he’d know what to do.

Raleigh looked away covering her eyes as she held out her palm. “STOP LAUGHING AT ME!” she roared summoning all the latent magical energies in the air around her into a ball of light which appeared for a few brief seconds before exploding into a blinding flash. Leaving everyone unable to see for more than a few moments.

By the time vision returned Raleigh was missing, but Sargosa still had her scent, and so did her mount. The two decided to give chase. “Come on Jeanie, I want answers.” she said to her doe. The deer seemed to agree with her. It didn’t take long for the duo to realize Raliegh had taken shelter in a treehouse not too far from where the party was taking place.

Raliegh did not hear Sargosa climb up, having lost herself in a book she checked out from the Mage’s Guild Library “Shedding Light On Eyesight” and recanting to herself formulas for mystical equations. Giving the raccoon ample opportunity to surprise Raleigh, while considering how exactly to do so she noticed something she hadn’t before.

Raleigh had diddly-boppers on her head, wait, Sargosa had to think. What did adults call those? Oh yes, antenna. Specifically, like those of a butterfly or maybe a moth. It didn’t take long for Sargosa to connect a few dots. “The curse took your hair didn’t it?”

“My hair!?! Sargosy, it took my life!” Raleigh cried, tears still dripping from her eyes. “You’re like seven or something. You know nothing of life, all life to you is go outside and play with your toy sword Fissuresk! Besides you were BORN an animal! So I don’t expect you to understand this, But… My life’s dreams have been just.. taken from me, and because of that STUPID Transblade. Days sooner than it would have normally.”

“I don’t see the problem… did you SEE that light you made? I mean I knew you always had your nose in magic books, but I didn’t think you could do that. It’s almost as sublime as my magic!”

“Ha? You have good magic? You couldn’t protect rain during a lightning storm with a tarot deck even if you were a Weather Monger. You’re just teasing me as usual.” Truthfully all Raleigh wanted right now was to be left alone.

“Look, so you’re becoming a bug. I don’t see why that’s a problem!” Sargosa stressed in awe of her friend’s talents. “You’re light show was brilliant! I mean it left me blind for a little bit, but, still that was neat. So much so, I’m not gonna call you Ra anymore. I’m calling you Razzle!”

“I’m becoming a Moth! I can’t conjure a ball of light without getting the urge to STARE at it. THAT’S THE PROBLEM!” Raleigh sighed. “My life is over…”

“Wait seriously that’s… that’s…” Sargosa was about to laugh again, but a hoof covered her mouth.

“Troubling, but nothing you can’t overcome.” Spoke a more mature, but clearly feminine voice, it was clear the owner of this voice wasn’t sure how to use it as it came off sounding awkward, upraised, and angry. Almost like a man’s voice. It came from the Doe who accompanied Sargosa, she was now in her morphic form and appeared to be wearing an amulet of some kind around her neck. “I’m Jean, Jean Sleeper. Your mother hired me to help chaperone your party and I agreed to do it for free as part of my research. I must say I was expecting more out of a coming of age celebration.”

“You were the deer Sargosa was riding on… Yeah.. See, my mother isn’t one for Coming Of Age anything.” The deer was most unusual and very strange. Her posture was clearly an emulation of a seductive feminine pose coming from someone who clearly does not spend time in the company of many women. Maybe it was because Raleigh herself was off-puting and unusual, but this calmed the moth-to-be slightly.

“So I’ve noticed… Raleigh. You’ve still shown one aspect of womanhood that is universal to all people. Fear. Fear of change. It’s not just the curse that you’re experiencing right now. It’s life itself. You say you can’t make light anymore?”

“Or I’ll get the urge to look at it and get lost in its gaze for hours… I mean I did that before, but… now it’s gotten worse…” Raleigh said discouraged.

“So you’ll need to keep working on it. It’s not like you’ve lost an arm or anything of that sort. You’ve just been thrown a curve. It happens. I’ve been given several myself. A decade ago I was just a librarian, now I’m studying womanhood in the middle of a warring nation under a curse.” Jean said plainly. “And your friend here has recently been dealt a curve more serious than that.”

Sargosa nodded meekly, remembering the death of her Aunt Vercetti. If she couldn’t get in trouble for striking her elder she would have kicked Jean in the stomach for even bringing it up. “Yeah sorry for laughing there Razzle… It’s like Jeanie here says. Let’s just get back to your party.”

Raleigh stood up, holding her book to her side. “Okay...maybe I did over react… I.. I do have the Mage’s Guild backing me.”

“That’s a good little egghead.” Sargosa grinned, unsheathing a wooden sword from her back. “Jean, let’s ride!”

Jean curtsied, and did a very awful job of it. It didn’t help that she was basically naked, fur covering her naughty bits, while curtseying requires a dress. Assuming the deer form once they were out of the treehouse.

Raleigh needed to start taking care of her problems, but it could wait till tomorrow.