“Hmmm.” A deep croaking ‘hmm’ at that, emitted from beyond the parchment joined by the sound of heavy laboured breathing, or so it sounded to the cat.
“You spelt ‘glutton’ wrong.” The reptilian steward pointed out. Stealth kept his head down as the seconds dragged on.
“This sentence is two sentences spliced together. You need to make this comma a period or semicolon.” Thalberg added. Stealth sighed at each new note.
A week ago the crocodilian set a series of tasks as punishment for the thieving feline after he sampled a banquet for a dinner which the duke himself as well as the lady Alberta would be hosting for all the other lords of the valley.
Needless to say, Thalberg got his pound of flesh for that! Stealth completed all the gruelling tasks handed to him that week and this was the last. An essay on why gluttony and greed is wrong...
“You can drop the ‘it’s’ from this sentence and try to avoid that evil word ‘was’; find a more active description.” Oh really; the cat got the point across, nay?
“‘Well kept’ should be hyphenated” The reptile paused, “you add a line connecting them.” Stealth blushed at the remark; he knew what hyphenate means!
“And ‘loose’ should have but one ‘o’” Upon hearing an audible groan, Thalberg looked up from the parchment and cast his eerie reptilian gaze on the cheetah. “Is there a problem, boy?”
Stealth’s eyes narrowed, “Boy?”
Thalberg dropped the parchment on his desk. It slid slightly and came to a halt on the oak surface. “Do you have something to say?” The reptile laced his stubby fingers and made an attempt at tilting his head to one side.
“I’m 24.” Stealth didn’t raise his voice, nor did he mumble.
Thalberg leaned back in his chair. “Aye, defiantly an adult...” he observed, mocking the cat’s maturity.
“Will that be all?” The cheetah seethed at the reptile.
Thalberg rolled up the parchment. He took it in one hand and tapped it on the desk, “this is not satisfactory.” He stated bluntly, “Write it again and return to me.”
The steward held out the paper to the cat, however, as Stealth approached the reptilian retracted his extended arm, “and Orix.” He began, “take too many more pheasants and you will be working in the kitchens on a more permanent basis.” The steward then threw the rolled up parchment to the cheetah who awkwardly caught it in his chest with both hands.
Stealth looked up and continued to seethe at the big lizard.
Thalberg turned his large head back down to his other duties, “that will be all, Mr. Zachary.”
The embittered courier took a breath and turned to leave, walking briskly out of the steward’s office while continuing to unmask his frustration. He just wanted to leave the ductile towers and head back into the less ‘stuffy’ lower keep.
Stealth scrunched up the parchment in his paw. Though he knew it would be needed as a reference for his next attempt, he really couldn’t care less. Not to mention today was his day off and he thought the unpleasantness of the past week was finally over with. But no. That bloody pompous lizard...
The feline openly snarled heading out, spooking a mouse morph who stood guard in the hall. The rodential warrior flinched from his proud and disciplined stance though did his best to conceal the discomfort. Stealth hadn’t noticed him anyway; for now his only thought was on the fact that he was free of that place.
Eventually the cheetah came across a courtyard in the lower-keep containing a fountain. Not the same courtyard which played host to the keep’s resident tree morph which the cat had been told of; that would be much closer to the steward’s office – the place he was trying to gain distance from – Kyia permitting – he noted.
Stealth ‘crashed’ on a bench and attempted to cool off both his physical self as-well as his temper. He closed his eyes. The cheetah’s ears flicked slightly as he began to lose himself in the roaring sound of the water. Stealth began to feel at peace and-
The cat sighed. No, jumped then sighed. He had been discovered by Fell. Idly Stealth thought the curse had meant for the grazer to become a predator, maybe a canine.
“Fella...” he returned the greeting though sounded tired.
His gazelle friend perched next to him on the stone bench to rest his own hooves. The prey animal displayed no outward signs of fear or anxiety at sitting right next to a predator that makes his adopted species its primary source of food, despite the terrible accident a month or so prior.
The instincts were always there, however, in the years since the curse had been laid on the valley and its inhabitants the people who were there at the start have for the most part trained themselves to ignore it.
Right now Stealth seemed far more uncomfortable and closed off; to him having an inner fear of being eaten by some other people was bad, but the thought of being the one with a desire to eat others, that was more or less horrific!
“Stealth...?” The gazelle leaned over and tilted his head.
The cheetah sighed, though he tried not to, “Yeah.” He acknowledged.
“Am I being a bother? I’ll give you your room.” Fell got up to leave.
“No! Wait.” Stealth assured, “I’m sorry. Don’t mind me, please.”
“I don’t mind.” Fell waved a hoof-like hand and sat back down though a bit further away, “so tell me O spotted one, how are the?”
In his paw, the cheetah held up some scrunched up parchment, “I have to rewrite this gods damned thing.” He took a deep breath, “I really can’t be bothered.” Stealth even considered whether or not to just tear it up and work in the bloody kitchens. Though for the moment he just retracted it from view and muzzle palmed with his other paw. “How are you then, O... oh, um?”
Fell had the consideration to ignore his friend’s failed attempt at emulating his greeting and instead rolled up his sleeve, moving the exposed forearm in-front of the feline. “As you can see, I art well.” His arm healed completely from the accident that had lead up to Stealth’s first encounter with the paladin knight, Edmund, which the two of them discussed soon after their introductions.
“Well that’s something at least,” the cat smiled though without revealing his sharp teeth.
Silence followed for a few moments as the morphs stared aimlessly at the fountain’s mist.
“Well, I’m not spending my day in a courtyard.” Fell got up for the second time, “how about you? Gonna sit here and mope like a pussy cat, Stealth?”
“No, no. I just needed to cool off.” The cat explained.
“You should try going somewhere to clear your head.” The gazelle scratched his head, “it can help with the creative process. I think. I’m heading to town for the day, why don’t you come along?”
The cheetah sighed again, “Aye, why not, I could use the distraction.” He forced himself to his feet.
“Good, good, now mind you; I’m going further than the lower ward.” Fell warned.
“So long as we’re not heading as far as Lorland.” Stealth shrugged.
“Nay, Nay, just to Euper.” He explained as they headed out through a stone arch back into the keep’s interior.
“Euper? You poor fellow, tis bad enough headed down there with boots.” Stealth raised an eye ridge to the morph.
“You’re one to talk.” Fell used his fingers to create the shape of a four legged animal; a reference to the cheetah’s occupation as a full form courier. Stealth’s four paws had trod on the streets of Euper more than once to be sure. How he could do that in a place where people threw their excrement out of the windows was anybodies guess.
“Dumb grazer! I’m agile; I dart around the icky things.” Stealth demonstrated with his own fingers. He paused and looked up to the gazelle, “Fell, show me your hand again.”
He shrugged and did so. After holding it up, Stealth noted that it looked a tad... beastel, more so than usual anyway. Fell had humanoid hands with five fingers though covered in fur and terminating in thick thimble-like hoof-nails. However, on one hand the digits looked thicker and shorter, almost on the verge of merging. It happened to be the hand which terminated the very arm the cheetah broke during their ‘game’.
“It’s okay.” The gazelle recalled his arm back out of sight, though he noticed the cat continue to frown at him. “You know how disused limbs become weak and frail without use? It looks as though the curse works the same way, at least with me.”
Stealth turned away and nodded, “that’s odd, I hope it won’t last. Have you consulted a mage?” Anxiety began creeping into the feline’s voice.
“I am a mage.” Fell answered, beginning to sound terse.
“But someone who knows about this sort of thing, like that bear.” Many keepers knew of Christopher Hughes it seemed, that one could mention a bear in regard to the technicalities of the curse with few failing to identify the full form ursine.
“I don’t need to do that, besides, why would I consult someone who’s stuck as a full animal?” He asked. “My hand needs to be humanoid again, not the other way around.”
“Very well.” Stealth didn’t persist though he remained thoughtful on the topic.
“I just prefer not to think on it.” Fell explained, sounding calmer.
“Then tell me,” the cheetah began, changing the subject, “why are you heading into Euper?”
“I am collecting a new tailored suit; many of my possessions were destroyed in the Yule tide attack, along with the local tailors of the lower ward.” The gazelle explained, sounding slightly ashen.
Stealth nodded while looking to the path ahead, “I see, but why do you need a suit?”
“The summer solace is approaching.” Fell reminded, looking slightly bemused.
“...So?” Stealth raised an eye ridge.
The gazelle merely turned away and shrugged, “some people like to look presentable.”
Again the cheetah nodded, though his curiosity faded.
The animal duo travelled through the lower ward, using their time on the main street mostly to gawk at the ruins and reconstruction. Though summer was well on the way, the city needed much more work before it could be returned to its former glory.
Growing up in the valley, Fell noted this and compared the sights and sounds to that of the Lower ward prior to the Winter Assault as well as to its condition prior and subsequent of Three Gates. Of course, Fell had been born and raised in Glen Avery – before it became a ‘tree-town’ so he hadn’t seen all that much of it. However the gazelle morph did relocate after that battle to live in the keep proper and in that time has become familiar with the area and the people in it, many of whom will never rebuild...
Stealth on the other hand had been a resident of the keep for no more than two months or so; the ruins didn’t hold the same meaning for the cheetah. Only that the damage which befell the town was bad.
The feline jumped on the spot when a loud ‘thud’ disturbed his sensitive ears. Stealth looked down to the side of the street closer to where they were walking and spied a large hammer.
“Hey you, Save us some trouble?” A soft yet gruff voiced asked from above.
Stealth walked over to the curb and snatched up the dusty hammer in his paw then reached up to a roof and handed it to a child sitting aloft.
“Thanks, kid.” The AR got back to work on the roof’s tiles.
The two AMs on the ground continued on. After a moment Stealth shook his head, “I know this place is built into me now but I just don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.”
“You will.” Fell stated bluntly. “Everyone does.”
Eventually they reached the first gate out and travelled under its massive arch, then onto the barren killing grounds. For a moment, Stealth felt like his feet were moving though not taking him anywhere. The killing grounds were just a big nothing; they were completely devoid of any objects that could be used as markers for distance.
Even the traffic flow seemed dismal compared to the areas outside the gates on either side even though the same number of people travelled between them. Perhaps some people merely vanished as they passed through the gates and Kyia herself ate them.
However the killing grounds did have its charms. It was one of the few places from where the cheetah could see everything and feel safe in the knowledge that if there are predators around then he will know it!
On reaching the third and final gate they were stopped in a line of residents and visitors waiting to be processed and allowed passage. And so they waited, chatting idly about nothing, trying to see through the killing holes in the walls and ceiling to spy a glance at any defenders within and silently compare curses to the other Metamorians while spotting the difference between ordinary humans and ones in fact cursed like them.
It really wasn’t so hard; just look for the men and woman who appear handsome and more or less perfect. Then children without parents and didn’t look to be homeless orphans. Indeed, one of each greeted them at the gate; the gate guards appeared as a man, woman and child as well as a cat.
“Name?” The woman asked in a bored yet stern voice.
“Fell and Stealth.” The gazelle said unintimidated and indicated his cheetah friend.
The house-cat-morphed guard scribbled the words on his board-backed parchment. The smaller, domestic feline appeared some splodgy breed that the cheetah couldn’t identify. The feline-guard seemed to have a subtle habit of wrinkling his nose, folding his ears and squinting as he sniffed at odours that carried through the air from the killing grounds.
The woman nodded her head, “Proceed.” Behind her, the other two full-human guards tended to the driver of a cart. The cat who had taken their details seemed to twitch an ear back to his companions dealing with the carriage to sate his curiosity. The departing keepers paid no heed to him and continued on to the winding road that would lead them down to Metamor’s second great – not to mention only other – city.
As the great keep rested on the lowest depression in a pass dividing the mammoth mounts of east and west, it too was located on an elevated area that the accessing road had been built around. At the mercy of a poor angle, the coble stone path as well as those who traversed it, wound back and forth with their cargo till reaching more forgivable ground. There were actually two paths leading down from the gate; the second turned off to the side and led directly down. That road was used by people heading north though people with carriages still had to use the main, winding road to Euper as the former, more direct path north was too narrow.
However, they were heading to Euper anyway, though lacking the burden of a carriage or steeds, the lithe and agile feline scampered down at the first bend in the large and winding path, making his clothes slightly dusty. Unfortunately, his friend kept his hooves on the stone path and preferred to remain tidy and dignified. And so Stealth had come to a grinding halt at the lower base of the winding road. For some minutes the cheetah paced back and forth till the gazelle finally reached the bottom and they continued on once more.
The rest of the path to Euper was short and straight. A minute or so of brisk walking brought them to the short, wooden walls of the city and its clear north gate; security was clearly far more lax outside the walls of the great keep, but then, Euper remained more or less untouched after the Yule time assault.
The smell of Euper hit their animalistic noses, a smell Stealth was well acquainted with from all his time on four legs. They could smell it from the trip down but that was not the worst of it; the source of the pungent stench was no mystery hidden away, it was everywhere on the streets while yet more of it was thrown from windows.
The waste of Euper coated its pavement, unlike the Keep and lower ward which had an ancient Seuilman sewer, Euper was a wonderful ‘modern’ city which its builders didn’t bother to provide with a hidden waterway.
Soon, Fell pointed off to a sign on one side of the main street. “That’s the place, the red sign with a needle.”
Stealth nodded and followed after, hoping the smell indoors would be much more pleasant.
The old wooden door opened with the chime of a bell and a slow grinding ‘creak’. The interior smelt stuffy and a thick cloud dust could be seen in the sunbeam. Momentarily, a small man appeared from behind a curtain and smiled to his guests.
“Welcome! Welcome! You need new clothes, yes? Let’s get you measured up.” He said persuasively.
“No, no!” Fell held out his hands and chuckled. “I already bought a suit, I’m here to retrieve it, Miss.”
“Ah! Yes, your name?” S-he asked the gazelle.
“Felltho. I had measurements taken and made a purchase under that name.” He answered, hoping the gender morphed man would recall.
“Yes! Please, right this way, in here, this way.” He waived his hands to the curtain.
Inside, the room was much more spacious than the foyer. Large racks lined the wall on either side with clothing of all sorts crammed into the space. Without even pausing or looking, the male human pulled out the gazelle’s suit. Fell took it in his hoof-like hands, one of which had thicker, stubbier digits. It appeared just as he remembered it but was it the one made for his form?
“Try it on!” The man said. “We should see now if there are any problems with the suit.”
Fell nodded and after he handed the suit to the tailor, he quickly disrobed. The cheetah blushed and flinched as the gazelle-man removed his shirt and pants in full view then took the first piece of the suit to put on. Stealth shook his head of the embarrassment; there are times when modesty becomes impractical as he knew from his own familiarity. He was being inconsistent he realised, but still, it would take him by surprise all the same.
“A perfect fit Ann.” The morph said. By this time he wore the complete top half of a full dress suit... but no pants. However the shirt and overcoat covered him up well enough anyway.
“You’re too kind. I do see a few places that need my attention...” The tailor – Ann said as he approached and began to pin up the overcoat in places.
The man was armed to the teeth with needles all of a sudden as he worked on the suit. Stealth didn’t know from where he’d procured them though he hadn’t been paying a great deal of attention; he left the keep to unwind but clothes shopping was just a bit too lax.
...eventually the coat and shirt were placed on a wooden mannequin then the gazelle tried on his new pants. The better half of fifteen minutes passed and all was done.
“There! Come back in a bit and I’ll fix this right up for you. What about your friend?” Ann asked.
“Huh?” The cheetah asked quite taken aback by the break in monotony.
“I can take your measurements and fix up a suit for you by the end of the day.”
“Uh... no, no thanks.” Stealth shook his head.
“It won’t take long my boy, just pick out something you like and we’ll get your measurements.” The tailor persisted.
“Come on, you should get a nice suit, it wouldn’t hurt to have in your closet.” The gazelle agreed.
“But what use would I have for it?” The cat asked.
“There may be a time when you will need to be well dressed.” Fell implored, “You can’t always just run around naked in your animal form or gods forbid, dressed as a bachelor when a morph.”
“Hmm, if it’s affordable I suppose...” The cheetah offered.
“My wares are comfortable on your pelt and your pouch.” The tailor assured.
“Hmm, okay I guess.”
“Great! Now off with the rags.” The man said enthusiastically.
The cat blinked, “All of them?”
“Of course! How else am I to take proper measurements?” He asked.
“I...” Stealth sighed and removed his top. “Let’s get started.”
“And...” Fell asked with a malicious grin.
“First the top.” The cat answered and glowered at the gazelle.
The tailor quickly made measurements all over the feline’s chest, back and arms, occasionally disturbing the seam of the fur. Stealth would twitch and try to brush it back into place each time without disrupting the man’s work.
When those measurements were done, the cheetah put his top back on before he let the tailor measure his lower half. Stealth’s top provided some overhanging modesty though during the close contact it didn’t quell his discomfort much.
The cheetah man’s measurements were taken and it was time for him to pick out a suit that would be adjusted to his form. Before doing so he replaced his pants and boots, and then walked over to the rack. He’d already seen everything on offer, from a partial glance anyway but still everything seemed the same. They were just fancy suits and dresses, quite a few colours and fabrics but still... to the bachelor cat it really made no difference.
Soon though he found something he liked and pulled it out. “...this one.”
“Ah, a light blue doublet, nice choice. That comes with the breeches and short sleeve white muslin shirt.” Ann informed.
The cheetah nodded uncertainly, “Can I afford it?”
“It’s made from wool but I can fix you something made of silk if you really like.” The tailor said in jest though he would have loved to sell something nicer to the feline. Ann took the clothes and placed them near the gazelle’s suit on another rack. “Come back in two to three hours and they will be ready by then.”
“Good, we’ll be about town...” Fell said as he noted the clock high up on the far wall.
Stealth quietly breathed a sigh of relief, eager at the thought of doing something else. Clothes shopping was so mind numbing, at times he fancied the idea of becoming a full cheetah and just curling up in one of the tailor’s fabric piles. Then he imagined what would happen if he did just that in the keep’s laundry... the old croc would make him wash all the linen and get every shed hair out. How did they get all that shed fur out? Stealth wondered.
After leaving the shop, the savannah creatures started on a b-line through the town... and b-lines past un-pleasantries on the street. The gazelle pointed to a bar but the cheetah shook his head. Fell rolled his eyes and lead his friend onward to a store that sold games, toys and puzzles.
When they entered Stealth noted the pleasant scent of carved wood though anything smelt nicer than the street. Fell made his way to a shelf of challenging puzzles that the cat couldn’t hope to beat so he went to another shelf that held board games. The cheetah tried to ignore the irksome children that mindlessly wondered about till he reached the games.
Most of them were generic games like chess. He could just see a few chess boards and playing pieces for both chess and checkers. Most of them were built from different types of wood and others were carved from stone though the latter were secured behind glass and must have had a price of a good few garrets.
Another shelf consisted of boxed games. Carefully written on the sides were titles but Stealth didn’t understand what such games were meant to be or if they were even games at all. Heading out of the isle, the feline gawked at a large table and it’s contents. The entire surface had a scale model of a battleground with trees and battlements. It was completely arrayed with infantry, cavalry, ballistics and dragons. Even some gryphons and centaurs did battle in the scene.
These figures had all been carved from wood and were painted in exquisite detail. More then that, some of them were Metamorians. Stealth examined the figures for quite some time before approaching a nearby shelf. This one had more carved figures however they were full animals rather than the morphs on the table. Around this point the cheetah caught up with the gazelle whom held at least one odd looking wooden device he intended to purchase.
“Aren’t you getting anything?”
“No, this stuff is expensive.” The cat gagged.
“Not all of it costs that much, you could buy a figure to take home and paint.” Fell suggested.
“Like the keepers on the table?” Stealth asked as he warmed to the idea.
“Those aren’t keepers,” Fell pointed out, “Some of them are but many are races that have featured in games and fiction for some time before the curse, the centaurs and hyena men for example and some of the felines but a few of them are new.”
“Well either way, I want... this one.” He lifted up one of the blank wooden anthro figures.
“A cheetah... how surprising,” The gazelle grinned, “How about a fox?”
“The keep has too many foxes.” The cheetah joked. “I’ll go with this one.”
“Fine, let’s find the paint...” Fell pointed his muzzle off in another direction.
After leaving the toy store, the two headed off in the same direction as before and turned at the first intersection. The gazelle pointed to a book store with his free hand but the cheetah gagged. Fell rolled his eyes and they travelled onward looking for something more interesting. They passed a swathe of pubs and inns but nothing of interest to the big cat.
They entered streets that looked more shady and crummy and eventually found a place that didn’t just serve grog. A big sign read ‘Masai’s Market – weapons, artefacts and treasures’. Their interest piqued, they headed in.
The room was dark... for a human. The cheetah and gazelle moved about unfazed by the thought of bumping into anything. Stealth glanced idly at the wares. They did look kind of interesting but nothing that either of them would wish to own. These included ancient tomes, small statues and some furniture. Moving on to the weapons – now THESE were interesting – they could see many different types from many corners of the globe, unless they’d been made locally not to mention the thought that they could have been fakes...
Some of the blades and other objects had little parchment notes near the hilt, one read ‘used at Battle of Three Gates’. Given that Three Gates happened less then a decade past and many weapons in the armoury were used in that fight it didn’t sound like that big of an artefact though it still held a special meaning. Another weapon had a much more audacious claim; it said ‘used at the Fall of the Seuilman Empire’. Such a weapon would near be priceless, if the item were genuine.
The door to the store creaked open once more. Stealth turned from his musing to see a fairly large reptile drag his tail through the door, he kind of reminded the cat of the steward. The lizard has a large, stubby tail and small, stubby hands and feet. What parts weren’t concealed by a rather expensive tunic and breeches were visible as greyish scales with a dark stripe pattern. The customer shuffled toward the counter and rang a small bell. Momentarily a feline smaller than Stealth emerged from an archway.
“Torquil, my dear fellow,” The cat behind the counter began in a hypnotic hiss, “Good of you to grace me with your company, how may I be of service?”
Stealth’s eyes widened slightly when the reptile opened his mouth, inside that big gaping maw a large, blue tongue emerged to seemingly taste the air.
“I am here for my order; you sent a message telling my servants it was ready.” Torquil croaked.
The cheetah tried not to blanch and turned away, trying to focus on the weapons case. The salesman didn’t seem bothered by the lizard’s manner but just smiled or pretended to. He had the face of a domestic cat but the pelt of an exotic wildcat; something golden and covered in a pattern of spots, stripes and blotches. Besides his fur, the small feline differed from a house cat in that he had very long ears.
“Yes, of course. We got it in last night.” He continued to smile.
Torquil tapped his fingers on the counter. “I do not have all day, give me what is mine and I will leave.”
The cat slowly and lazily moved his hand up then dropped it again, “It is such a nice day out, are you late for a date, perhaps a picnic with someone special? I do sell books on poetry.”
“I have no time for this.” Torquil said. His tongue then darted out of his mouth a number of times.
“Very well.” The serval reached up his hand again and clicked his fingers.
A small boy emerged from the adjoining room carrying a chest that was probably just a bit too big for him to manage but he carried it successfully and dropped it on the counter with a thud – much to the reptile’s annoyance.
“The coins, sir.” The cat asked with a predatory grin.
The reptilian quickly deposited a pouch on the counter.
“Tomo.” The merchant said. The boy moved over to the other side of the serval shop keep and slashed open the pouch. A small handful of coins spilled out.
“They are genuine... do you doubt my word?” The lizard said.
The cat looked at him for a moment. For once he didn’t smile, “...No. Tomo, count them.”
The boy took the pouch and the spilled coins, deftly counting each coin. “15 of them in here.” He said. The other two customers couldn’t see the coins from their place in the store so they didn’t know they were talking about silvers or gold or garrets.
“Then we are done here.” Torquil said.
The cat smiled again, “Come back soon.”
“Then move to a better location, Masai.” The lizard retorted and left with his prize.
Outside the reptilian merchant’s servant opened the carriage door for his master and shook his avian head, “Milord, why do you do business with that thing?”
“Because most others I trust even less.” Torquil said as he grunted and dragged his tail through the door, “And as much as I hate to say it, that grubby fur rug can get things I need. Now take me out of this god awful gutter.”
Inside Masai’s Market the feline merchant’s assistant scoffed, “Boss, why do you deal with that pompous handbag?”
“He needs me more then I need him and he knows it.” Masai grinned, “Sweep up the store...” He nodded to the two departing window shoppers as they passed the counter, “...and let me know when my next client arrives.” He went back through the archway to count the garrets again, he trusted Tomo but he wanted to make sure all the same.
“What the hell was happening in there?” The cheetah asked outside, as he sidestepped another un-pleasantry.
The gazelle shrugged, “Just business I guess, who cares.”
Just then the two parted to allow a black cloaked figure past who then entered the store.
“There is still quite some time before we need to head back, we should head back to a more favourable part of town, find an inn to get lunch.” Fell suggested as he hefted his puzzle box under one arm.
“I’m not really hungry.” Stealth answered.
“You should not go without meals.” Fell persisted.
“How can you want to eat something with... this smell?” The cat gagged.
“You get used to it...”
“Still, I’m good for food, no need.” Stealth shrugged.
“I’d feel better if you eat something...” Fell insisted.
The cheetah’s eyes widened for a moment, “...fine.”
The gazelle pat him on the back with a free hand, “I wouldn’t want to be tripped up again in THIS place.” He joked as they both avoided a big, fresh one from a carriage probably led by a team of horses.
Stealth cringed but despite himself he began to laugh along with his friend.
Eventually they headed to the inn that the cheetah had rejected some time earlier. It was a modest but clean establishment, smaller than the Mule but it had the right pub atmosphere. They sat down in a booth and while the gazelle had enough room for his tail the cat was regretting the choice of seating. Stealth slid back out and insisted on a table, or better yet a bar stool!
Stealth squinted at the chalk scribbles on the wall that advertised the pub’s meals and drinks...jeze, all the good things were expensive. He wanted the stake with gravy... he could just taste the venison being shredded up by his fangs but today it would only be a daydream.
Fell didn’t have the same problem he ordered right away, “Porridge with apples! And a mug of mead.”
Stealth felt anxious at his own indecisiveness, “I’ll have the... the....” Damn it, this place must discriminate against carnivores or something. “I’ll have fish and cider.” Damn it, he was tired of eating fish but it tasted nicer then pork. At least the crap in the mess hall had more variety, whatever it was they served there.
The man behind the counter nodded and headed out back to the kitchen.
“When do we head back?” The cat asked. He balanced the wooden figure and paints on his lap and looked for a time piece that someone remembered to wind.
“We still have one and a half hours but we can check in early after this and see what she, I mean he’s up to.”
Distractedly, the cheetah withdrew a scrunched up parchment from the side pocket on his breeches and looked around nervously while he drummed his claws on the table top. “Excuse me sir,” He said to a nearby mouse, “Could I borrow those if you’re not using them?”
“What? Oh sure,” The literate rodent answered between bites of his sandwich.
“Thank you greatly.” The feline said and slid over the quill and bottle of ink.
The mouse morph for some reason had a small burden of parchment on the bar counter that he’d been scribbling on. Perhaps a member of the writers’ guild or some sort of bureaucrat, Stealth didn’t care as he began scribbling madly.
“Would you drop it?” The gazelle rolled his eyes.
“Kitchens.” The cheetah mumbled.
“Kitchens?” Fell asked and nibbled some bread.
“He’s not gonna put me in the kitchens, damn it.” He mumbled some more.
“Put that thing away before I tear it off you.” Fell ordered. “You’re not going to work in a bloody kitchen.”
The cat sighed and complied though not out of accordance but because he was simply too frazzled to do any work.
“...why did you...you know.”
“What... raid the kitchens?” He asked, “Why not? Don’t those snooty nobles stuff themselves enough? Just how often will people like us eat like they do? Try never.” The cat spat.
“Common folk do get invited to their banquets, usually people of note but sometimes ordinary people.”
“I don’t want to be invited among them. I don’t want to be reminded that I ‘don’t belong’.”
“Edmund’s a noble...”
“So what if he is?” The cat asked without pause, “He doesn’t act like one.”
“And the duke, he’s fair.”
“He’s supposed to be, besides, how many other nobles can you call fair?”
Their food arrived and the conversation dimmed down, “He heard about it you know...” The gazelle grinned, “The horse lord had a good laugh I hear.”
The cat blushed and just drank his ale.
Not long after lunch the two still had much time to spare so before heading back to the tailor Fell managed to drag the cat to the book store he’d seen earlier that day. It was a quaint boutique stocked with second hand books. Not that many in Euper could read unfortunately.
While most of the shops in Euper and Metamor town were set up as stalls in the market squares, there were a small number of shops scattered about among the many inns and pubs. Seeing as neither of them really browsed those places usually, they made an exception that day.
As with the toy maker’s store, Stealth was left to browse the isles while his friend pursued something of interest. He glanced at each book spine, noting the works of fiction. Some of them were fantasy stories though now they seemed more like mundane adventures.
The next isle had some non-fiction titles. One had a bright cover and looked relatively new. Sliding it out he read the name, ‘Hunting Animals of Southern Galendor and Sonngefilde.’ He opened the tome. There weren’t many hunters to speak off but regardless the inside held many pictures of animals and diagrams to their harnesses and hunting method as well as instructions on how to capture them.
‘Northern Sonngefilde and Pyralis.’ The next page read. It named some creatures that were powerful predators though they couldn’t be ‘domesticated’ then the book went on to the ones that could, ‘Acinonyx jubatus.’ Hunting...cheetah? Stealth didn’t consider the thought; they were so small and lithe. But it showed pictures of them and special harnesses made for them by nobles.
Some of them had a bag on their heads; the bags would be removed when they were to hunt. Others just had an odd looking leash. For a moment Stealth honestly considered the idea of hunting for a living but it just didn’t sit right. He almost put the book back but paused then decided to buy it. He’d be spending a small fortune today it would seem.
Eventually the pair headed back to the tailor, a small bundle under each arm. Though thieves were undoubtedly about they would be more interested in coins. The tailor’s door opened with a jingle and they stepped in.
As before they were hastily guided to the main room in which on one of many racks two altered suits waited. Both tried on their new clothing. For Fell it was a wonderful feeling to do this; he just loved making himself look presentable and it made him more of a human. Though he always shrugged off the curse and what it had done to him he always resented becoming a piece of meat as he sometimes saw himself.
For Stealth it was more of a hassle. He knew good clothes were necessary in some situations, and it’s not like he never dressed nice before but it wasn’t really his fancy. Still, he did look nice in the light blue doublet. He did kinda feel good. He felt like a person.
“Are you okay?” The tailor asked.
“Aye, the suit is lovely.” It was though despite that he did start to reminisce about his full form. Just something about breaking into a run in the fields, feeling the freedom, the thrill. He’d make much use of his body in the next few months but what would come next? How could he continue such an exercise in the dead of a Metamor winter? He did have a thought on a possible solution but he’d never brought it up till now...
“I’ve been thinking, the weather is fine now but when it sours again I won’t be able to head out in my other form any more.” The cat began, “You probably get this a lot or it sounds new and odd but can you make a suit for...”
“Animal form? Yes.” He answered without pause, “However it’s rare and usually for novelty attire. If you want something to run in, that would take special consideration.”
“I may be able to fix that,” The gazelle chipped in, “I’m a mage and have a friend who deals with rune craft, if you can provide the parts to a ‘full-suit’ we may be able to assemble it into something.”
The small man rubbed his chin, “I can make the pieces from something strong and thin that covers the right places, just enough to keep him warm but not overheat... I believe it can be done. But first we need the measurements.”
Stealth sighed and started to remove his new blue doublet. Life had changed since the curse but never did he think he’d have measurements taken in the form of a full animal. Or have to hand in homework to a croc after being chased by a mouse for that matter. After being measured up literally from head to tail as the suit would include the appendage, Stealth shifted back and replaced his rags. The new suit would be saved for when it’d be needed.
Outside the store the two headed back to the keep though this time they were fortunate to hitch a ride on the wagon of a friendly trader. The cheetah tried in vein to ignore the bumps and focus on preventing his bundle from spilling out of the carriage. He’d write a fresh draft for the steward upon returning to the keep but till then he paid the thought no heed. Thoughts turned to the measurements he had the tailor take and what would be the result. And could running in such a ‘suit’ be any worse then dodging the open sewers of Euper? He could get some shoes for his four paws he thought with interest.