One of Each

by Oren the Otter

"I have taken the liberty of changing your bedclothes to a more cheerful color." said Desuka. "Of course, if the color does not suit you, I will gladly change them back."

"That's quite all right." replied the Duke. "Hot pink is just fine." Actually, it wasn't. Even with his dimmed sensitivity to color, Thomas found that the sheets hurt his eyes. However, he knew that Desuka was trying his best, and wanted to encourage the panda. Besides, who would be able to tell the difference at night?

Mong Ho entered the bedchambers with no more than a knock for etiquette's sake. "Your gracious, must have word with you, if you pleasing."

"What is it?" asked the Duke, his ears swishing curiously.

"I am have evening tea, and am disturbed by what I see in leaves."

"What is it?"

The rooster showed his master the teacup. "Is always same. Showing three evil spirits will visit Keep this day."

"Thank you, Mong Ho. I will take that under advisement. And Mong Ho?"

"Yes, your Gracious?"

Thomas motioned to where the rooster's robe was beginning to seem tight in the chest. "Are you changing? You've only been here a couple of days."

"Been in valley longer. Also think first transform got something do with it."

Desuka stepped forward calmly. "If I may suggest, it would be wise to have your mages seek out these spirits and nullify whatever threat they represent."

Thomas smiled his horsey smile. "I trust Mong Ho to be able to handle it."

The rooster seemed happy to hear that, though the panda withheld his thoughts. He wasn't sure whether the Duke was truly confident in his countryman or if he was simply being polite. Desuka made up his mind to look into Mong Ho's precognition on his own.

Ye was madly scribbling down notes in his native language. He was rapidly growing smaller, beginning to take on the proportions of a child, if a somewhat green and scaly one.

"Tail is now at twenty-one inches and shrinking. This is rapid increase in change rate from previous hour. Will continue documenting as before."

Suddenly, a monster rose out of the floor. It appeared to be a man, but was covered by tongues of pitch-black flame. It bellowed at the komodo, preparing to make a kill.

"For the love of Ku." muttered Ye as he picked up two open jars and threw their contents at the monster. The liquid splashed seemingly without effect, and the monster laughed, only to pause a second later as a foam began emerging where the liquids had mixed. The foam snuffed the monster's flame, leaving behind blackened charcoal-covered bones. With a soul-piercing scream, the monster collapsed into a skeletal heap.

The dragon went to the door and opened it, calling out "Mong Ho, One of your three spirits just made huge mess in workshop!" Turning back, he muttered "Distractions." and went back to documenting his age regression.

Sir Samantha didn't come to the Keep very often. She preferred to stay in her cottage most of the time. However, in this instance, she had been introduced by Gornul to one of the rats who lived in the cellars. Saulius was his name, and though he had been a bit shy at first, He'd come to enjoy chatting with a fellow knight. As the two of them discussed the finer points of armor care, Samantha couldn't help but wonder at this knight who had come to imprison himself out of shame for his form. Yet there was hope, she thought. Within the rat beat the heart of a warrior.

As the two talked, a shapely chicken in a magenta robe came walking by, holding a strange contraption which included a pair of dowsing rods. The two stopped and stared.

"No mind me." said the chicken in a girlish voice. "I just looking for evil creature."

"What vein of maliciousness seekest thou, my lady?" asked Sir Saulius.

"LADY?" asked the chicken angrily, until she realized that she was indeed female. "Ah. I forget. I am new at being woman. I am Mong Ho. There it is."

As quick as lightning, Mong Ho reached into her robe and produced an object, invisible to the naked eye because of it's speed until it stopped just short of the far wall. It showed itself to be a glowing dagger even as a black silhouette appeared around it. A humanoid figure, totally black, clutched the dagger as it keeled over and died.

"Black shell." commented Mong Ho. "Was expecting spirit. Duke will be interested to hearing."

Mong Ho put a torch next to the body, which promptly dissolved into nothing. She picked up her dagger and went her way.

Saulius and Samantha looked at each other.

"Thou wert saying?"

"Best thing for rust is hydra spittle."

"For sooth?"

"Oh, yes. Put's the shine right back into steel."

Desuka calmly sat and magically projected the image of Emperor Ku for his new master.

"Things are grim thus far." said the vulpine potentate. "Our fighters have managed to save the city of Kisanje, but Tsu Gar has fallen to the Qor Horde. Each day our defenses grow weaker, and there are rumors of a second warlord coming with his own army."

"We can send warriors to your aide, Emperor." said Hassan, his tail swishing agitatedly.

"No. Your land is too distant, and besides, you face a foe as powerful as ours. Your forces are needed where they are."


"However, I would be grateful if you would share with me some of the tactics used in..."

Suddenly, the image of the Emperor disappeared as Desuka shot to his feet. Hassan followed the panda's gaze to see a pitch black figure coming toward him.

The strange being made a motion as if it was casting it's breath across the room, strange because it possessed no mouth, nor even any facial features at all. Allthesame, the torches on the wall began one by one to flicker and die.

"GUARDS!" Thomas yelled. But even before those assigned to protect the Duke could enter the room, Desuka had cast off his robe and was flying through the air. He landed on the black creature, screaming both from the pain that was coming as his skin froze every time he touched the dark thing, and from the sheer joy which escaped his throat each time his long, sharp claws tore a new gash in the monster.

In mere seconds, it was over. The dark creature lay dead, slowly dissipating in the light from the adjoining room. Beside it stood a bright red raccoon-like creature, a savage lesser- panda, which slowly resolved into the familiar, if naked, form of Desuka, having only a tinge of red in his fur to bear witness of the transformation which had just occurred.

"Sir, what happened?" asked one of the guards.

"A darkman appeared in this room." replied the Duke, placing a hoof over his throbbing heart. "Desuka saved my life."

The panda bowed low as he returned to where his clothing lay. "All in a day's work." he said. "Allow me to retrieve some sake to help you to calm your nerves, your Grace."

Far away, in the deep darkness of the forests, a lutin snapped to his senses.

"Well?" demanded a bigger lutin. "What does your magic tell you?"

"The three darklings which entered the keep were all discovered and destroyed, my Lord."

The bigger lutin kicked the one who had just made the report, neither caring that he was not at fault nor that he was not yet recovered from an astral excursion. "First the female defects to their side, and now our own summoners' incompetence brings our plans to naught!"

"But they don't know it was us..."

"You IDIOT! They know that the darkings are running rampant! How long do you think it will be before the Keepers realize who it was who summoned them up and ten let them escape! Incompetents! If it weren't for their stupidity, we wouldn't even be out here chasing the miserable things down! And once they know this, how long will it be before they learn of the alliance with Devils' Strand?"

The forest got suddenly quiet.