I had the oddest of dreams last night.
Murky darkness surrounded me. All was indistinct except for a lone figure. He was crystal clear. It was me, as I appear here now in Metamor. Both a gray furred fox and a child. But he wasn't me, not as I am now at least, for he was also a child in mind. He ran towards me brandishing a simple wooden toy sword, boyishly swinging it through the air.
"Let's play! Let's play!"
His voice echoed as he spoke. I remember that sword. I played with it quite a bit when I was young. Alone in the woods, I beat back imaginary hordes of goblins, imps, and the like. I never really had anyone to play with.
In contrast to the child that resembled me, I was my normal human self, how I was before the curses of Metamor and my own bumblings with transformational spells. Though I had no interest in playing with children, I found that I also had a toy sword in my right hand. So just to humor the vulpine child, I parried his fake blow and lightly tapped his wooden blade with my own.
"He he he he!" he giggled in delight, playfully blocking and striking back. Like me, he was no where near skilled with a blade, but it certainly did not slow him down. I found myself smiling at his antics, and mine as well, as he had managed to break through my shoddy defenses and lightly tap my legs a few times.
After a short time sword fighting, he dropped down on all fours and he was simply a sliver furred fox, waging his black-tipped tail excitedly. There was no spectacular transformation, but rather it was like the most natural thing in the world. He was larger than a kit, yet smaller than an adult, a lanky young adolescent.
"Let's play! Let's play!"
Now he had a stick in his mouth. (Perhaps the wooded sword had transformed into the stick?) And he plopped this down at my feet, his tail swishing to and fro. Do foxes play even play fetch? I tossed the stick and he went for it, giggling excitedly. He returned it with a run that resembled a series of excited bounds. I threw it again and again.
At some point, he was bipedal again, and we mock fought some more with the wooden swords. Then he was fully a fox once more, and we played fetch. This continued back and forth.
I eventually realized I was no longer human, but I had become what I am here now in Metamor and this fox child's identical twin. Still we played. Back and forth with the sword fighting, then the fetching, and so on.
Then somehow I was alone, but not really. It was like the two of us merged, and my mind was not my own. I was fully a child both in body and mind then, blissfully swinging my toy sword around without a care in the world. As a child, I loved my tail, my ears, and my fur. They were who I was, and I simply loved being. I joyously twirled the wooden blade around, reveling in the excitement of imagination.
I was not alone for long, for my replacement playmate was none other than my grandfather. I chased after him in childish glee. He was impossible to catch. He seemed to fly backwards, his feet hovering above the ground, his blinding white robes with their crimson flared trimming flapping in the wind. Then he waved his hand and I fell forward, running on all fours. I was entirely a fox, just as he had done to me when we met so many years ago.
Then it was my turn to fetch, and I did so with utmost enthusiasm. Chasing the stick as it flew through the air was the most exciting and satisfying thing in the world. And once I had taken the precious wood in my teeth, I returned it as quickly as possible so that I might experience it one more time.
The dream became foggy beyond that point. There was no startled-wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night. I didn't even remember it until a few hours after breaking fast. I never put too much thought into dreams, as they are generally a tangled mess of random subconscious thoughts and other nonsense. Degrading as it was though, I did find my mood brightened just by thinking about it. I thought I would write it down so that I might remember it years from now.
Lady Vale wondered just how much farther she had to walk. Even after all these years, she still wasn't quite used to allowing some spirit guide her to her destination. It seemed especially difficult for her to find a place she'd never been to before. Yet this was only a minor annoyance, a little inconvenience that occasionally brought a smile to her canine muzzle. The twisting halls of Metamor were nothing like the cold halls back home.
Home. There was a thought that never failed to chill her heart. But every time that feeling emerged, the question came with it: Was it really worth it? She shook the thought out of her head. She would not deal with that now.
A moment later she turned a corner and began down a dark stone hallway with a suit of armor affixed to the wall at the end. She remembered she was told to look out for such a piece and breathed a sigh of relief, realizing she had finally made it to her destination. Why would Kyia place Virmir off in such a dark, lonely corner of the keep?
Virmir was an... interesting fellow. The gray fox was apparently serving in the patrol as some sort of punishment, though she did not know the reason. It was a good thing Vincent didn't know, or he would never hear the end of it. Virmir seemed a competent mage, and he was by far the most professional member of the squad. He seemed a tad reserved though, and Vale hoped it was not because he felt uncomfortable, as Vincent and Rufus could make others feel. But it was her fault she was so distracted these past few weeks. She hoped she didn't come off as being too cold or stern. If she did, she intended to correct that right now.
The dhole morph gave the door a few good knocks as her bushy black tail swayed behind her. On the third knock the door opened slightly with a creak. Ears pointed forward, she stuck her pointed nose through the crack as she gently pushed it open.
Vale froze, one foot paw in the air. Though she had released the latch, the door continued to swing until it was fully open, creaking all the way. Her jaw dropped as she tried to comprehend what she saw.
All of the furniture in Virmir's room save the bed was pushed up tightly against the walls. The table was overturned, the book case turned sideways and resting atop the dresser. Covering the entirety of the stone floor was a mangled mess of white chalk lines. Circles and chevrons and twisting patterns of all shapes and sizes. It was madness. As if an entire classroom of young children had successfully raided their instructor's chalk reserves and then proceeded to have the time of their lives.
Sprawled out on all fours in the center of the room was Virmir, wearing only a pair of black pants that seemed too large for him. He was delicately balanced over several designs he had drawn on the ground, his feet and hands placed awkwardly on tiny patches of ground that were free from the white lines, his right claw clenching a tiny stub of chalk. The silver furred fox's eyes were wide and his teeth clenched. Both his ears and tail stood straight up, as did the ruffled fur on his back.
"Do. Not. Step. On. The. Lines... please..."
Vale looked down and saw that her suspended foot was hovering mere inches above an intricate set of runes scribbled right in front of the doorway. She proceeded to take a step back, securely planting both feet in the hallway.
"... Sorry..." she breathed out slowly.
Virmir's black nose was smeared with the white powder as if he'd been scratching it with his drawing hand. In fact, his entire body was covered with random splotches of white dust, including the very tip of his tail. He looked absolutely ridiculous, and Vale could not help but try to cover her muzzle as she smiled.
"What are... you doing?"
Virmir seemed slightly less tense now that Vale had backed off, but his voice was strained, as he still held the uncomfortable position.
"I'm... working on a spell."
Well that was obvious. Vale had heard of such magic done with chalk lines, though she knew nothing about it. There were areas in the Keep set aside for such things.
"What sort of spell?"
"It's... a personal matter."
The dhole decided not to pursue the issue further, as the fox was clearly irritated. This was not how she intended this meeting to go at all. She struggled for a moment, trying to figure out what to say. Virmir finally broke the silence.
"Can I help you?"
Vale clasped her claws before her, trying to maintain a professional demeanor.
"Well Virmir, I was wondering if you'd like to join us at the Deaf Mule tonight. I'd like to go over some things for tomorrow."
It was of course a ruse. She was loosing control of her squad. Everything especially began to fall apart since Henri's death. They desperately needed to learn how to work together... herself included. Maybe if she could get them all talking...
Virmir took a moment to respond, his ears slowly drooping and folding back.
"This is my day off."
"Yes, I know. This is totally optional. But it won't take long at all. Don't worry, the drinks are on me."
Her voice raised hopefully on the last part, her tail hooking upwards as she smiled.
The silver fox's eyes narrowed slightly.
"Great. I'll see you at sunset, then."
She took a step back before pointing at the open door.
My door latch is apparently broken.
Lady Vale nearly walked in on a rather complex symphony I had constructed on my floor. Although it would have been mildly amusing to see what would have happened to her had she triggered the transformational runes intended for myself, it could have potentially gotten very messy with me in the room as well... Thankfully, I was able to stop her.
Then she had the gall to "invite" me to some run down tavern to talk about what we needed to do the next day. Why? We do the same blasted thing every single day! And on my one day off in the entire week!
And I accepted! I have no idea why I did that. Perhaps I was trying to be rid of her as quickly as possible. Oh confound it all!
This truly is a prison. I thought I would use my one day off to go searching for my grandfather's notes. But they wouldn't let me out of the blasted keep! Though it hadn't rained since I dropped them, I fear the worst if we get more than a drizzle. My leather sack isn't waterproof. Clouds covered the sky this morning, and I fear I do not have much time left before I lose them forever. I suppose my only remaining option is to trick the squad into patrolling over in that area. It shouldn't be too difficult to do.
I then thought to past the time and keep my mind off of the notes I would see if I could find that blasted library once more. I gave up after an hour. I hate this castle.
My last resort for the day was an attempt at reversing my curse. Metamor had made me a child. It still made me panic to think that I may never be able to undo this. But that spell must wait for another time. The fur, tail, and claws, these were my own doing. To be honest, I didn't mind them so much. In the past I enjoyed it each time I changed myself into a fox. But the sudden loss of ability to change back drove me mad. I thought I would make one last attempt at restoring my humanity with my dwindling free time.
Without my notes, I had to rely on larger chains of inelegant runes that took up more floor space than I planned for. Some five hours and one interruption later, I had constructed the largest gaggle of runes I've ever drawn without a reference. Some even went up the walls, and I had to construct extra lines just to shift the power correctly up the right angle.
It wasn't exactly a curse removal. More like a human transformation spell, with enough multipliers to triple the effect. Plus a doubly enforced time limit. The way my spells had been working, I thought it best not to take any chances. So this would be only temporary. But it was going to work. I knew it.
Kneeling in the center circle, I shut my eyes and felt the power flow over my body as I activated the symphony. I could feel a million pins and needles pricking my skin under my fur. It was working! Experiencing the expected disorientation, I fell forward and caught myself with my hands. I waited for the spell to end and the effects to cease before opening my eyes...
Triumph! At last!
But then I realized I was looking at two silver furred paws. Not hands, or even clawed hands...
I stood up on four legs, tripping over my ill fitting pants. Perking my ears and bending around, I saw that I had somehow turned myself completely into a fox.
Oh blasting confound it all! All of it!! Why?! How?! This is impossible!! None of this makes any sense!
Why does this keep happening to me?!?!
Blast! Blast! Blaaasst!!!
With a mighty wag of my tail, I threw my breeches across the room. I then proceeded to try to smash the piece of chalk with my paws. Failing at that, I took it in my mouth and crunched it a few times. After spitting the vile powder out, I turned my attention to the sack of spare chalk on the other side of the room. I took the tiny bag in my front teeth and shook it back and forth violently, sending the contents flying and breaking against the walls. Next was the bed. I leapt on top and bit down on the covers, ripping, tearing, and shaking. After a minute's work I was finally satisfied with the number of ribbons I had made. Turning around a few times, I curled up as tightly as possible and went to sleep.
Many hours passed and it was dark when I was awoken by a splash of light and my creaking door.
It was Lady Vale. Again. Am I to be denied even a nap?
Then I remembered the meeting that I agreed to attend at the tavern. I had obviously missed it completely. Oh, confound it all...
"Is that... you?"
She slowly stepped into the dark room. Still an animal and lying in the middle of my shredded bed sheets, I picked my head up and regarded her with flattened ears. I suppose if my cheeks were capable, they would have been blushing. It was... a rather awkward situation.
"Are you all right?"
Unable to speak, I simply nodded. Oh, blast it!
She kneeled down next to the bed so that she was eye-level with me. I must have shrunken quite a bit because she seemed very large.
"Can you change back?"
Metamorians changed to half animals by the keep were able to change completely into animals and back to their half animal forms at will. This was an ability I did not have. Fearing that something like this might happen, I was careful to weave the spell so that it would wear off by morning. At least I hopped so... I simply nodded 'yes' again.
By now she was eyeing the room, still in disarray. I doubted she could see through the darkness as well as me with her canine eyes. She waited a moment, apparently expecting me to transform back just then. I simply averted my gaze.
"Are you sure you're okay? Do you need me to get a mage?"
I shook my head 'no' vigorously. The last thing I needed was some senile kook in my business. Almost as much as I needed her in my business. Blast it.
She looked at me with concerned eyes for a bit more. Then she did something totally unexpected. She extended her right claw, hesitating for a second. I drew away slightly, pressing my left ear closer to my skull. Then she placed her hand on top of my head and stroked down my neck three times. I could feel her nails sliding through my fine thick fur.
She pet me!
She actually had the nerve to pet me! I couldn't believe it! Who did she think she was?!
She drew her hand back, the side of her muzzle curling up slightly in a sly smile.
"I'm sorry. You're just so adorable."
Adorable?! Oh confound it all!
She stood up and frowned momentarily as she regarded the pads of her hand, now covered with a fine white dust. Wiping it off on the side of her breaches she smiled and nodded.
"I'll see you tomorrow morning then. Good night, Virmir."
I didn't respond. She turned and strode out the door, shutting it behind her and leaving me in the dark.
I simply fell on my side and smacked the bedding with my tail in frustration. Ugh.
The spell gradually wore off during the night and I ready for another week of mindless patrolling by daybreak. Anything seemed better than what I went through the previous day. Still, I learned a valuable lesson.
Always make sure the door is locked.
Music suddenly filled the air.
It was a lone organ, its shrill tones piercing every stone laid in that dark hallway. It startled the creature at first, but he was used to it by now. He continued on, the click-click-click of his claws echoing down the corridor as he waddled on, adding his own sound to the distant melody.
The notes grew louder and louder the closer the creature drew to those tall doors. Soon the massive portals were visible, palely illuminated by twin torches on either side. He ran his claws over his ebony robes to smooth out any wrinkles that might have formed during his approach, careful not to snag the fabric.
The two shadows that were guards watched him silently as he approached. He was half their height. He stepped up to the base of the short fight of steps before the doors, the dim orange torchlight barely illuminating his form. Both shadows bowed slightly at seeing the short creature. Then with a loud bang the doors suddenly unlatched and began to swing inward, though neither shadow moved from its spot.
The blaring sounds that escaped from that room nearly knocked the creature over like a gust of wind. He leaned slightly on his tail until he regained his balance and composure. The music filled the air, three times louder than before.
Welling confidence into his chest, he strode forward, up the three steps and into the vast dim chamber. No normal source of illumination was apparent here. Instead, the sprawling walls themselves seemed to glow a weak blue.
From here on the creature had to be careful. Disturbing his Master while playing would be an offense with repercussions he could not possibly imagine. He gently strode forward, across the arena sized room, careful not to catch his claws upon the crimson carpeting.
There before his eyes was the massive instrument. The organ bellowed its notes from colossal metal pipes that soared over twenty feet up the walls, disappearing into the darkness above, for the illumination from the crystalline walls only reached half that height. He stood in awe for a short moment as the tones filled his ears before he remembered his place and bowed lowly.
A silhouette played at the organ's base.
Bony hands madly danced across the keys as the melody grew more intense. The creature shut his eyes and imagined that there were perhaps two or three of his Masters playing at once. Oh what a glorious thing! The music's tempo rose and fell many times. There was chaos in those notes. Chaos, and ambition, and power...
The creature waited for perhaps twenty minutes, his head bowed low the entire time. When the silhouetted finally stopped playing, he remained still for several more moments, unsure if the pause was only a lull in the symphony. Finally he opened his eyes and looked up at his Master, though he didn't dare move.
The silhouetted did not move either, still sitting before the keys, his back turned to the creature. Finally a deep voice rang out.
Grav's heart skipped a beat, his presence finally recognized. He stood up, his entire body stiff after remaining still for so long.
"My Lord, the harvest was a success."
"And you've brought an example?"
"Yes, my Lord."
Grav reached a claw inside his robes and fumbled around. He hated to part with it, as it kept his whole body warm. He tenderly removed the long blue crystal and held it out to his Master, though the latter's back was still turned. The crystal glowed palely, not unlike the walls of the room.
The silhouette then stood and turned around, robes flowing around him. Grav felt the precious stone pulled from his claw and it soared through the air, landing in his Master's grasp.
"Yes... These will do nicely..."