Pawned

by Michael Bard

August, 707 CR

"It's Metamor Keep!"

"Metamor!"

"Metamor!"

Sarpadon shook his head as he watched the family in the wagon in front pointing and exclaiming about their new home. This was the first time they'd been able to see it, even if it was still in the distance.

"At least it's not the model," he heard somebody mutter from further back. The comment would have made no sense if the caravan hadn't been carrying an architectural model of the keep somebody had paid far too much gold for.

Sarpadon knew some wierdos came here to settle, knowing of the curse, hoping it would make their lives better, or heal the sick, or whatever. He expected the family in the wagon in front, loaded with all their worldly possessions, to last about three days before the lutins got them.

Turning away, he adjusted his fedora and sharpened his dagger. Sarpadon didn't care what happened to them. He was here for one purpose, and one purpose alone. His current boss, who'd called herself the Lady Tarathana, had hired him because it was possible that the lost Sword of Songs was forgotten in the basement of the Bronze Unicorn Tavern in Euper. Or so she'd said— he'd never heard of any of it. Sarpadon was being well paid to take a caravan in, grab the sword if he could, and get out on the next caravan before the damn curse got him.

In and out and enough gold to keep him in whore-filled luxury for the rest of his days. Even if the sword wasn't there, once a truthspell confirmed that he'd searched, he'd still get enough payment to make this worthwhile.

The wagon bounced, he grabbed his fedora, and the knife went schuckschuck on the whetstone between his legs, and Sarpadon dreamed of a life of endless sexual pleasure. Or, at least one until the money ran out and he had to work again—


They had to make one more stop before arriving at the keep proper the next day. Sarpadon planned to ignore the castle — castles had few entrances, lots of guards, and many powerful people who had a strong lack of respect for a thief. But, like every keep that charged gate tolls, a town had grown up outside where those who couldn't, or didn't want to, pay had set up shop. Of course, to ensure that it was bigger, and more overgrown than anyplace else, Metamor had two. One on top of the ridge the castle was also upon, walled and full of people it wasn't worth getting pissed off, and the poorer town at the bottom of the winding road up to the ridge. It was still walled, but town walls were notoriously more porous than a keep's walls. That town, Euper, was his goal. His fake papers got him through the smaller wall into the lower town with only a small toll.

As he walked down the street towards the bad side of town, away from the keep that had far too many stories whispered about it, he kept in practice by slipping his hand into pouches and across rings. He didn't take anything, no sense risking it, and the take was far too small, but it kept him amused. As to why he was here, his story was that he was tracking down someone, and all he had was a rumour that somebody had seen him at the Bronze Unicorn. Reason to be annoyed, reason to be there, and reason to be in and out fast when nobody recognized the target. And it gave him the reason to look around, ask questions, stay there and check out the basement over night.

It took him half the watch to hunt down the tavern, going from one to another to another. Stinking animal people, little children that still used canes but obviously didn't need them, men who dressed like women and women who dressed like men. They were the safe ones. It was the ones he saw watching him, measuring him, that he kept a subtle eye on. They were predators, and he was a predator, and as they came to realize it, they gave him the benefit of respect and some room to operate.

He arrived at the Bronze Unicorn as the bells for the supper hour rang, and his stomach grumbled at the thick stench of fatty greasy stew oozing out from the entrance. Setting his worn pack over one shoulder, adjusting his fedora, he pushed the door open so that it clunked against the far wall.

The first thing he noticed was that the place did stink. Probably hadn't seen any liquid other than alcohol in a decade, and even the bubbling stew had the malingering odour of worn dirt. Everybody looking at him would probably make water scream and flee. His worn boots and worn clothes fit in perfectly as he pushed his way over to the barkeep.

The barkeep, a big fat pig of a woman, literally, looked at him, and spit on the floor.

Sarpadon let his pack thump down. "I'm looking for someone."

"And why should I care?" the barkeep grunted.

Sarpadon reached into one of the side pouches and pulled out a dirty rolled piece of velum and slapped it onto the counter. With quick movements he unrolled it, revealing a bad ink sketch of some King who'd died half a millennium ago. Somebody unlikely to actually have been at Metamor. "Guy's wanted in Caralore. I got some information that he'd fled here, so I'm here after him."

Somebody behind him spoke up and Sarpadon saw that he was still human. "He won't be here then. Either you'll never recognize him, or he fled whilst he could. The curse, ya know."

Laughter rippled through the crowd.

"I know about your damn curse," Sarpadon spit out, "and I don't aim to stay here long enough for it to bother me. Metamor wasn't far out of my way, and I ain't got no more leads." He picked up the vellum, walked over, and shoved it in the talkative stranger's face. "You seen this guy in the last six months?"

Instinctively the person backed away, blinking in the light. "And why should I tell you?"

"Copper for your info. True or false. True is better though — I have a long memory."

"As though we're scared of you."

Sarpandon grabbed him by his neck. "Well, you better be. I don't forget a face, and one day, when I'm bored, I might just come back this way and look you up. Is the risk of that worth a copper I'll give anyway for the truth?"

The man snorted. "I ain't seen him. How do you know you're in the right place?"

"I had a reliable source. He may even be able to walk again."

A low grunting laughter circulated around the room.

"Now, you seen this jester or not?" Sarpandon held up the vellum.

"No I ain't."

"Then here's your pay for the truth," and Sarpandon tossed a copper.

"Let me see that!" somebody called out.

So Sarpandon began walking around, not expecting any answer, but asking anyway. It was late by the time he'd finished and the place was almost empty. "Figured it was a bum clue, but one's gotta try. Barkeep, you got a place I can sack out tonight?"

"Don't have rooms."

"Oh come on! I hadn't realized how late it was, and I don't aim to sleep in the mud."

"Told you, don't have no rooms."

"A silver to sleep on the floor. I'll leave at dawn."

Her eyes squinted, making her even more of a pig.

He could almost hear the whisper of avarice in her mind. It was why he'd paid a copper to anybody who answered. If he didn't have to break in, it would be money well spent.

"Five," she said.

"Five! That's robbery! I could nap under a lutin hide for half that. Two."

"Three. And if you ain't gone at dawn, I'll call the watch."

Sarpandon growled. "Three then you robber."

Her eyes glinted as he handed over the silver and he watched her shoo out the last of the customers.


Sarpandon woke up sometime after fourth watch in the blackness of the common room. With long practiced silence he pulled out a witchstone and cupped it in his hands, whispering the phrase that would make it glow just enough. He grabbed his fedora and shoved it on, and then his pack and threw it over his shoulders. With that, and his memorization of the room — which was another reason to spend so much time questioning people — he made his way to the bar. It took seconds for him to trip the latch on the door and make his way into the back hallway. The barkeep lived overhead, so he stayed near the walls. The design wasn't unusual, and the trapdoor down into the basement was well worn and obvious. Holding the witchstone in his mouth, he climbed the ladder into the hole hewn out of the dirt.

As he'd been told, it was a mess, filled with piles of forgotten debris. The barkeep was old, and she didn't want to climb down on her hooves, so she'd just been tossing crap into the basement for years. It made his task easy in one sense, but impossible in another. Or, it would have except for the other thing his employer had given him. Another stone, this one covered in runes. According to her instructions, it would detect the Sword of Songs, but only from a distance of a few feet. That's why he'd had to get in first.

He began rummaging through the junk, wondering once again how the hell the thing had gotten here in the first place. And if it even was here, how the hell his employer had known. Yet again, he cursed her. Always hiding her face in shadows, never telling him how she'd found him, or why she was willing to pay so much.

It was so much like a trap, but he was certain of his ability to avoid it. And, she'd offered so much money. He'd given his word, and, to him, that still meant something.

And, to his amazement the damn runes began to glow just like she'd said. He started rooting through the abandoned debris of half a century and saw the gleaming silver of a sword.

"By Klepnos—"

For a moment he just stared. Damn thing was bigger than he'd been informed, but there was a sheath in his bag. He'd probably have to saw off the bottom, but at least the damn thing wasn't a two-hander.

He pulled a half rotten piece of leather and some bones off its glistening handle. The cloth wrapping on its hilt looking as clean and new as when the cursed thing had been forged. Reaching down he grabbed it—

Light pulsed along its length, eye searing to in the blackness, and the tone of a bell rose up, swirling higher and higher.

Not perfect, he heard a voice, but she will do.

Like a living being the light pulsed upward and sparkled against Sarpadon. He didn't even have time to scream, barely time to grab for his fedora, before he slumped into the dirt, not dead but asleep. The light snuck up the ladder pulling the trap door closed with a loud thump. Then all was dark, Sarpandon's hand still wrapped around the hilt of the sword which softly, faintly glowed, glimmering pulses of light and energy almost oozing up its length and up along Sarpandon's arm before sinking into his chest.

The next morning when the barkeep got downstairs to the empty common room, she grinned, and counted her silver, glad she hadn't been called on her threat to call the guard. There were things she'd rather they not find out about if they started poking around.


Days passed, a week, two— The sword glowed, and its glow poured into Sarpandon as he changed. Changed by the curse, changed the sword. Changed as he slept. Changed all unknowing of his fate.


It was dark when Sarpadon awoke. The basement was black, the only light being the glow of the witchstone that had fallen from his grasp. The Sword of Songs was still in his hand as he blinked his eyes open.

His eyes, or so it was thought as Sarpadon work up. Looking around, blinking, seeing only the dim glow of the witchstone. Hands fumbled, settling his fedora though it didn't sit right, before feeling around for stone. Before they could get a hold, the basement filled with a warm glow.

Sarpadon stared, for the glow was coming from between Sarpadon 's eyes. From a horn on the forehead. Along the muzzle of something no longer human.

A glow that illuminated the fur of an animal, the breasts of a girl, and the ivory hooves of a dream. She stared at her pristine white body, at her ivory hooves and ivory nailed four fingered hands, at the softly glowing off-white of her horn, the golden white of her mane that hung over one eye, and at the silver white tuft at the tip of her tail.

The tail of a myth. The tail of a unicorn.

Unnoticed his fedora fell into the muck.

Above all a thief learns silence. Silence is the first and the most important rule, the one rule that is never broken. But, every rule has its exceptions, especially when one is faced with the impossible.

Sarpadon screamed, screamed with the power of all her lungs when she realized that he was no longer applicable. Nor was the word human. She screamed, a loud nasal sound, almost a neigh rather than anything a human would make.

She screamed and cursed and damned every god and entity and person she knew, and especially the Lady Tarathana. The bitch who'd set her up.

The only thing that made her stop was the sound of the trap door above opening.

Darkness flooded into the room around her, the witchstone went out, her alicorn went out, the Sword of Songs went out, and then the flickering light of a lantern gleamed down. A face looked down, the barkeep's.

"Who the hell are you?" she asked"

Think fast. Think very fast. Sarpadon could feel that her clothes were still on her, though the pants were torn, and the shirt was painfully tight where those pushed it out, the mounds of furry bounty easily visible below her muzzle. And her fedora was gone— no time for that now. She was pissed. Best rule was to act as though you belonged there. She needed a name, she needed a name fast, she needed a name right now. "Yvarra—" She pushed herself unsteadily onto her— hooves, holding the sword in one hand. "And just how in all the heavens did you bring me here!"

"What—?"

"You will help me out, and you will tell me what you did! Where am I? Why have you brought me here?"

The trapdoor slammed shut plunging Yvarra into darkness. Yvarra. It was as good a name as any. A moment later a soft glow lit the room and she could feel a warmth, a slow drain, up and out of her forehead and into her alicorn.

A part of her wondered how much she could sell a real alicorn for, but then the rest of her commented on the fact that alicorns were rare and precious, and that this one was hers. Just the thought of somebody touching it filled her with shivering cold.

She'd bought a little time. Looking around there was no sign of her fedora. No time— Ignoring the state of her dress, no way was she going to put on anything down here, she grabbed her pack and pulled out the sheath. Putting down the Sword of Songs she tightened her belt, drew her dagger, and checked the sheath against the sword. Too short. It didn't take long for her to hack the bottom off and slide the gleaming sword into it and put the strap over her shoulder. Inside the pack she pulled out a belt — she'd had to grab the important stuff and run before and was always prepared — and secured the pouches to her belt. Money. Some rations, though she didn't know if she could eat them, a pair of throwing knives. She kicked the one boot that was still on off. Where was her fed— The trap door creaked open, thudding to the floor above.

Same lantern, but this time a different face. A male face with the curled horns of a ram, and the stench of one. She could smell it even over the stench of the crap and waste she was standing in. He was uniformed, and she recognized the badge.

"And what are you doin' down there?" he asked. "Trying to rob poor Ms Angathan, are you?"

The watch member was more right than he knew. But, no sense in letting him know that. "I have no clue who you are, or who she is, or where I am. I just know that she brought me and I demand to be released! Now!"

"Now you just shut up and—"

"You listen! If I was robbing the place, would I be down here? I am Yvarra, and I am on a quest, and I want to know why you're not arresting her for bringing me here and yanking me away from—"

"I don't care who you are, but you're in her tavern, and you have no right —"

Yvarra grabbed a rung of the ladder, and began carefully climbing. That was when she learned that hooves were a demonic pain at certain things, and those things included climbing a ladder. She shoved a cloven ivory hoof down, feeling the round rung twist and turn her leg, forcing its way between her lobes and pressing against the sensitive skin between them. Gritting her teeth, ignoring the soft glow of her alicorn, she dragged herself up, step by step.

"You listen to me! Ignoring the fact that a unicorn would never stoop to armed banditry, if, and I say if I was robbing this so-called establishment, in Eli's name, why would I be down in this cesspool?" She poked her head and the guard backed away and she saw that the barkeep, presumably Ms Angathan, was there too, holding the lantern as it sputtered and hissed, the thick cloying odour of the oil thick in the air. The barkeep took a step back, staring at her in shock. "Better you should ask why she," she motioned with her alicorn, "would drag me here by forbidden sorceries, than what I, a Follower, am doing in this rat's nest!"

The lantern shook. "Sorcery? I never!"

The guard took a step back.

Never give them a moment. She glared at the barkeep and snorted her disdain and noble arrogance. "Well, obviously she couldn't have done it—"

The pigwoman hissed.

"—so somebody else did. And, I will find out who, and Eli will make them suffer."

"Now you listen here—" began the ram.

"No, you listen! I'm willing to accept that neither of you have the capacity," she let the disdain drip off her voice, "to do what was obviously done. However, I think that one of you might have enough of a brain to tell me where the nearest bath is. I refuse to stink like a common slave any longer than necessary!"

By now she'd clambered onto the floor, the sound of her hooves loud on the old wood. She could feel a warmth, a supportive pressure, against her back — had to be the damn sword. No time to worry now. And, besides, this was fun!

"Now, do I have to repeat myself in small words? Why the Nine Hell's not! I want a bath. I want to find a bath house. I want to walk to the bath house."

The town guard broke first, but then she had been concentrating on him, though she could see the barkeep lowering the lantern out of her far wider vision. "You— I—"

"Spit it out!" She shoved her muzzle against his, and glared down its length at his distant eyes.

Oddly, the answer burst out of the barkeep. "It's right, towards the keep road. Turn at the third street. Sign of a water fountain." Her voice was steady.

The guard blinked, looking a bit confused.

"About time!" She shoved her way past him, ignored the barkeep, and went out the way she'd snuck in. Shoving the open door to the common room out of her way so hard that the wood banged against the bar, and a wooden mug wobbled and clunked on the floor, she glared at the few patrons and stalked across the room, hooves clicking, tail waving back and force agitatedly, bent painfully by what was left of her pants, and poking out the top underneath the belt. The wooden shutters were open, the sun shone brightly, and the fall air was crisp, assuming it was the same season she'd arrived in. From the angle it was morning, and that would explain the lack of crowd.

Don't worry. Don't think. Don't remember the fedora left behind.

With a horrid squelching sound she stepped out into the mud, and tried not to think of what she was walking in. Spinning right in the cold goo, she could feel the slime oozing between her lobes. She could smell the rain in the air, it must have just passed. Now— third block. Walking a brisk pace fueled by adrenaline, she made her way down the street, shoving people aside. This wasn't a good persona to be unnoticed in, but even in this rat's nest how could anybody fail to notice the gleaming white unicorness with ill fitting clothing?

She didn't even cut any purses because of all the notice she was attracting.

In the distance she heard the barking of dogs, could smell the frying of meat and dough and vegetables, and hear the rumble and rattle of wheels through the streets.

Then she stepped in it. Literally.

She couldn't help but cock her muzzle and look down, and see her dainty ivory hoof almost in the exact centre of a slab of horse crap.

She could feel her body begin to shake. Damn this! Damn Metamor, damn Tarathana, and damn this muzzle that kept her from looking down!

She kicked at the pile of hot stinking goo and stalked down the street, almost missing the third corner. Thank Kelpnos the Sign of the Water Fountain wasn't far. She stopped, skidding and almost falling in the slime and the shit, and banged on the door.

"We're not open!"

"I don't care! Get me a bath, get it now, and you'll get an extra silver!" Normally she'd have skipped the bath, the excuse had worked, she'd be gone, but she needed some time. And she needed to be clean.

There was loud grumbling inside. "It'll take time!"

"Hurry it up!"

"Damn nobles—"

She paced back and forth in the mud, watching the traffic splash by with one eye, watching the door with her other. Finally, finally, her ears heard footsteps behind the door and she had turned as it creaked open. At the other side was a boy, maybe eight, so where— but then she remembered this was Metamor. Damned curse.

"You wanted the bath?"

"About time!"

He stared, and she stared back. "Fi— five silver."

Highway robber, but she needed this, and she was in no mood to argue. She fumbled in her pouch and pulled out a handful of coins and counted out five silver. He watched sullenly. "The water had better be hot, and I want privacy, you hear? For what you're charging I'd better get it!"

He bit at one coin, and clenched it in his other hand. "This one's been shaven."

"You think I care! I know what the rates are like, and you're already getting triple—"

"It's shaven! Another two copper!"

She snorted, and reached for her dagger. No! This wasn't the time, and she really really needed this. Fine! She counted two copper and tossed them on the floor. "Now get out of my Eli-damned way!"

She was twice his height, and he stared, eyed the copper, and then stood aside. "First door on right."

"About time!" She shoved past him, and yanked the door indicated open and slammed it shut.

"You damage anything, you'll pay for it!"

Ignoring him, she spun around and dropped the bar on the door. Then she dropped the sword with a clunk, undid the belt and dropped it, the money clanking, and almost tore off the shirt and pants which were all that remained of her clothes.

The bath was small, rough wood around it, big enough for her to get into, though she'd have to fold up her legs. She didn't care. She almost jumped in, the water warm and sloshing, warm waves of relief soaking into her body as she stretched her tail and waved it back and forth to work out the kinks.

Kelpnos— Klepnos—

Her body started shaking as the tension finally burst and she sobbed.

What in the Nine Hells had happened?

She'd lost her fedora, the one that had seen her through so much. Her symbol, her badge—

Why had she been stupid enough to come to Metamor in the first place?


She was still shaking when she heard a hum— not a hum, more a single deep bass note. Deep, haunting, pulling at her. Almost outside of her will, she turned and looked at the Sword of Songs glowing in its sheath. It was almost—

The tone changed, oscillated between two deep bass rumbles faster and faster.

Like a—

Her ears wiggled around, the sound faded, became distant, monotonal, and she heard footsteps on wood. And not from the door. There was a grinding, a deep bassona groan of wood on wood, and she stared as a panel of the wall swung open.

The little boy was there, the one who'd let her in. But— now—

His eyes were white, as though he was blind, yet she knew that he could see.

His face was pale, almost bloodless.

A heavy black robe rustled around him, and she saw his pale feet slapping against the grimy wooden floor.

There was a symbol on the front of the robe, where his heart would be but on the opposite side. It was in deep red, so deep it could almost not be made out. Three hooks, a crown, all twisted— all wrong.

"The One must die!" Screaming incoherently he ran forward, a glistening dagger coated in a greenish slime that sparkled in the sunlight from the one small window high up in his hand.

What in the Nine Hells?

She didn't have time to think, didn't have time to consciously react, as the sword's tone rose higher and higher. Whether she did it, or something inside her, something gifted or cursed, she could never say. Bowing her head, she leveled her alicorn at him, the ivory glistening in bright yellow as she looked along its length at the little boy leaping towards her, dagger out—

The point of her alicorn touched his skull, piercing the sallow white skin, slicing through the bone with a crackle of energies. She stood up, thrusting forward with her legs, pushing at the sides of the tub with her arms, and shoved the ivory through his skull with a wet squelching sound and a release of steam and stench.

There was a scream, human, non-human, and thick black smoke billowed out around her alicorn which burst into a colourless glare so bright she pinched her eyes closed. Something cold squeezed around her, cold and grasping. Through her alicorn she felt— felt— something. Something tiny and lost and tortured and sold and haunting and magnificent that sucked energy out of her, clawed at her to try and flee the blackness that oozed everywhere. She felt something, something normal compared to what howled around her, and then the— the soul was gone. Taken. In a soundless screech the blackness around her screamed, clawed at her, and her horn flashed and burned, the heat searing her forehead, before the blackness screeched and fled.

And then silence.

Gasping for air, so weak she almost couldn't stand, she opened her eyes.

The room was— normal. Sunlight, dirty water. Right, right before her eyes was the corpse of the boy, impaled on her dim alicorn, blood oozing down the ivory length and soaking into her white fur.

Leaning forward, the body slid off with a cold wet sucking sound, and thudded onto the floor. More blood drip drip dripped off the tip of her alicorn and splatted.

In the corner, in its sheath now charred around the bottom edge she'd hacked at to make it large enough, silent, was the Sword of Songs.

With a splash and a stab of pain in her backside, she fell back into the tub, squashing her tail against the side.

Klepnos, what had she done?

She starred at the body, unable to look away to save her soul. She was weak, barely able to breathe, let alone move. And all she could do was stare as the blood spread.

She'd never killed before. Never.

Sure, she wasn't a saint, but then who was? She lived at the edge of society, too lazy to be a merchant, too worried about her own skin to be a mercenary warrior, not born to the right family to be a noble. She'd stolen from those who could afford it, kept it for herself, acquired the occasional weird antiquity for study by top men, but—

She'd lived in cities all her life. All her male life. Survived by cunning and skill.

She had never lost her hat. And she had never killed anybody. Never!

Until now.

The scent oozed into her. The scent of blood, the cloying stench of death and decay.

Like tearing apart a wet orange, she tore her gaze away, closing her eyes to try and get rid of the scene.

The smell wouldn't let her.

She was too weak to stand, her stomach growled, and she reached over and fumbled at the pouch. Rations— she had some rations— Grabbing one she unwrapped the cloth and raised the tough dried meat to her muzzle

The scent— sweet spices, prickly meat of death and disaster—

She gagged and threw it away.

Her stomach growled louder.

From deep in her soul a sick laughter curdled out through her lips. Apparently she was a vegetarian now. Damn Metamor!

And she needed food now. Had the attack done more then just threaten her? She was so weak! Or was it what the alicorn had, what she had, done?

Pushing herself out of the tub, she fell forwards towards the floor, catching herself with her hands just in time, the hoof nails clacking loudly. Licking her nostrils, she sniffed, almost drowning in the scents of blood and death and worn wood and sex and tar and oil and— and— bread?

Thrusting everything else away, she concentrated on the bread, focused on it. She clambered to her hooves, slammed against the wall, felt around and found the door, the bar, shoved it off so that it banged onto the floor. Hand slipping, she yanked it open and stumbled into the hall. She raised her head, sucking in great gulps of air, following the fresh bread. Down the hallway, open a door. Kitchen? There! On the counter! It must have been freshly delivered — odd that a bathhouse would have fresh bread— Staggering over, she grabbed the warm loaf and shoved it into her muzzle, chewing just enough to swallow. First loaf, second, third— With a thump she collapsed to the floor—


There was a banging at the door. She blinked. Something was in her mouth being chewed and she swallowed it, somehow feeling it go somewhere else. Through the window she could tell that the sun was higher in the sky. Her body hurt, all of it. At least the all consuming fatigue was down to a dull roar.

"Erond, you awake yet you lousy good for nothing boy? Open up, you hear me?"

The banging got louder.

What to do— what to do—

She'd killed, murdered—

But it was self defense— wasn't it?

What had he said, something about The One? Who the hell was that? Her?

It didn't matter. She was the stranger. She would be blamed.

Think!

How many people had seen her go in? It was too late to pretend to have found the body—

And what was going on? Secret door? Bread? Black robes?

"I'm not going to wait for you Erond, I'll take my business elsewhere!" More banging, and then it stopped. "Damn fool kid—"

She had to hide what had happened. Somehow.

Carefully she pushed herself back to her hooves. It wasn't easy, but her body knew. And, finding where she'd been attacked was easy. The stench. Klepnos knew how long until somebody outside scented it. Damn these noses. Damn the curse!

Grabbing a agger, she drew it from its scabbard and forced herself to go over to the body. She kneeled, staying outside the pool of black blood that had soaked into the wood, and hacked through the neck. If they found the head and the horn through it, they would know she was the culprit. She stood up, carrying the head by its hairs and went back out. Where to toss it? The place had to have some kind of garbage, or midden, or something! Licking her nostrils, it didn't take her long to find it, and she dropped the head down where it splurched into the goo.

And what was a run down bath house doing with a midden anyway? You'd think it would be just a bucket to be dumped outside or something.

Don't think. No time.

She clicked her way back to the kitchen, finished the bread, wolfed down what greeneries she could find that hadn't spoiled, or what her nose told her hadn't. Then she ransacked like the thief she was for where he'd hidden his valuables. It didn't take long—

By the Nine Hells— She'd never seen that much coin in her life!

What was a bath house attendant doing with that kind of money?

Didn't matter. Take the gold she could carry, make it look like a botched robbery. Nothing small enough. Klepnos, was that a bag of gems? For a second she hesitated, no where to pawn it, but then she took it, unable to resist and dropped it into her pack. Pouring out half the gold she got the sack more manageable, and it would still barely fit in the pouch she had.

What had she stumbled in to?

No time— no time!

She ran back, hooves clicking on the wood, and shoved what was left of her clothes on. No way was she going to wear what he had on. On impulse she grabbed the robe still on his body and hacked out the symbol embroidered into the cloth. Somebody would know about it. Somebody had to know. She put the belt around her waist, put the cloth in the pouch and put that on the belt, the gold heavy against her hip, and put the Sword of Songs in its sheath over her back. She looked at the bloody dagger and went back to the kitchen and found a bucket of cold water. She cleaned the dagger, wiped it, and used the cloth to clean her fur as best she could. No mirror, it'd have to do. Unless—

Reaching behind, she drew the Sword of Songs and looked at her distorted image in its polished blade. Nothing had any right to gleam like that. Still blood— what to do? Dropping the sword she kneeled down and grabbed dust and dirt from the floor and rubbed it on her muzzle, around her eyes, on her long ears on the side of her head that tried to flick out of the way, into her— mane. Not perfect, but she could feel time pressing down upon her.

She pushed herself up, wobbled unsteadily, gagged and a big lump of— something came up. Spitting it out, she glared at it— bread? What the hell? She remembered chewing something, re swallowing. Oh hell— Scooping it up she put most of it back in her muzzle and chewed, wiping up the rest and tossing the dirty cloth into the bucket. She looked around for her fedora, remembering too late— Kelpnos—

Time to go. Back door, there had to be a back door. No way was she going to risk the passage he'd come through in this state.

She turned to leave, but a bell gonged behind her, low, long, and she stopped, almost fell, and then spun around— Damn sword! Well, it had to be worth something. And it had warned her. Grabbing it, she put the sheath back over her shoulder. Back door— back door— There! She yanked it open, and ran into the ally, and then slammed it shut.

No alarm yet, and it was noon. Nine Hells! She needed some place safe, she needed to think. Someplace classy. But, she shouldn't go like this. She was in the poor part of town, she needed to get out of it. Get proper clothes, a proper inn. Then—

She strode out of the ally in arrogant confidence ignoring what she was waking in and sniffed. Turning away from the worst of the stench, towards the keep road, she stalked through the streets.


"'Ware below!"

Like every other urban dweller, Yvarra started turning away, but then looked around, found the caller, and made sure to be right under. A bucketful of dirty, slimy water plummeted down and splooshed all over her.

The crowd moved away with a few titters.

It might not have been the best of ideas, but she needed some ironclad reason to buy new clothes that fit properly, and to have a bath, and everything else. By law it couldn't be too dirty — actual shit went elsewhere — and thus it was just dirty water with some bones and scraps of food.

"Eli curse you!" she screamed as she looked up. "Why don't you look where you dump that thing! Do you have any idea who I am?"

The woman, whatever the curse had made of her, was gone. Realizing that cursing a vanished soul would do no good, she turned and stalked through the crowd that scurried out of her way, hurrying as water dripped off her. Her hand whipped out faster than the wolf carrying a bundle of cloth on his back could flee and she grabbed his ear so hard that he yelped, the sack spluching into the mud.

"You! Where's the nearest inn, and good one mind you! I've been robbed, spit on, and now dumped on, and I will have a bath now!"

The wolf sputtered.

"Is it that hard of a question? I want a place to stay. A place with—"

"The White Hind!" the wolf squeaked out.

"About time!" She twisted his ear until he yelped, and then let go. Arrogant nobility was fun! Though, she wouldn't want to really be one. "Where?"

"Du— Duke's Way. Right before the keep road." He pointed. "Straight, left. Sign of a white stag!"

"That's better!"

She strode off, ignoring the wolf as he scrambled to pick up the pack he'd been carrying, following his directions. The dousing made sure the crowd scrambled out of her way, as she tuned her muzzle left and right so that she could see down to see what she was going to step into. It didn't take long to find the first left, and look towards the winding road that rose up, up, up to the plateau. Oh well, she had an act to play out. And there was the sign of the white stag.

Now, hopefully this wasn't another setup—

Of course, what were the odds of her going to the exact bath house where they tried to kill her— And what were the odds of that happening— again—

She stopped. So suddenly she almost fell. Fucking barkeep! She'd been the one that had directed her, not the guard. The whole Eli-damned thing had been a setup! The fucking barkeep had to be a member of the group, or cult, or whatever it was!

At least, with her choice, she should be fairly safe for the short term. She'd have time to think. To actually look at herself. And maybe even figure what in the Nine Hells was going on!

Pacing the rest of the way, she shoved in through the entrance to The White Hind. It was a large building of wood construction with two stories. The common room was large and well lit by windows, actual windows, of mica.

The innkeep, presumably the black-furred antelope putting away a cup, had turned to stare at her. "Ma'am," he began in a voice full of disdain, "we expect a certain level of cleanliness in this establ—"

She stopped in front of him. "I am the Lady Yvarra! I've been robbed, beaten, spit upon, and doused, and I am not in a happy mood! I want a room, I want a bath, and I want them now."

"But— but—"

She reached into the heavy pouch and grabbed a handful of gold and slammed it on the counter. The coins rolled, one bouncing off to the floor behind.

The antelope's stance completely changed. "As you wish, ma'am. The bath first? And would you be needing clothes?"

"What do you think? I want something basic and simple right now. I'll go to a tailor to get proper apparel tomorrow!"

The antelope hesitated until she pulled some more gold out. She hadn't wanted to spend it this fast, but she needed to think, needed to calm down, and this was the fastest way. And, this was most unlikely to be a front for whatever the cult was that seemed to have it in for her. Or, if it was, then her only real option would be to flee town. Besides, she'd gotten so much gold, and knew that somebody had her name in blood, that she wanted to spend it while she had it.

"Lady, your bath will be ready momentarily. Lupanth!" A boy looked up. "If you will show this lady to room twelve? And get her bath ready?"

The boy nodded.

Money did have its uses.


The bath was hot, almost scalding, and scented with sweet oils. She'd told Lupanth to just burn her clothes. She'd have to do a lot more to disguise her form, probably try and find somebody she could get some dyes from, but now she needed to relax. Relax and think.

Though she kept the Sword of Songs nearby just in case.

Clean, her nose filled with pleasant scents for the first time, she climbed out and looked at herself in the polished metal mirror as she chewed some more regurgitated bread.

She certainly wasn't the classical unicorn. Not the typical horse/lion with a horn. She was almost entirely deer, though her legs seemed a bit thicker than was right. Her tail was, of course, the classical lion's tale ending in a puff of silver-white hair. Her hooves were ivory, cloven, with a bit of feathering. Her chest was endowed, but not excessively. Maybe even on the small side, but she wasn't going to complain. Her arms were long and slim, and she had two hooflet-tipped fingers and what seemed to be two opposable thumbs. There was no dewclaw, though each of her legs had them. Her head was entirely deer, from the nostrils to the muzzle to the ears that poked from either side. She was maned though, a fine silver-white silk. And her eyes were large, and a deep, deep blue. And, of course, there was the alicorn itself. It was a spiral of glittering ivory, extending almost three feet before her. There was no way she could reach its tip.

It was odd, how she was comfortable. She didn't feel a need to feel herself up, or have immediately sexual gratification as was always talked about those afflicted with the Metamor Curse. No panic or fear or horror at losing her manhood. And she had no trouble using the body in a basic sense. Juggling the dagger, she dropped it. She needed practice, but only for the advanced stuff. She didn't dare pick any pockets until she did practice. Her body was just too noticeable.

So, it was a question of what now? After getting a new fedora of course—

Wrapping a towel around her waist, she walked over and picked up the still-sheathed Sword of Songs. "And what about you," she whispered.

The sword gleamed, but it did not glow, it did not sing, it did not make any of the sounds that it had made.

"I should just sell you and get the hell out of this place. But, where would I go?" Metamorians were more or less stuck at Metamor. Kind of the ultimate recruitment tool if you thought about it.

She drew the sword, and looked at her distorted reflection in its polished surface, letting the scabbard fall to the floor.

"You'd be more useful if I knew how to use a sword."

The sword is the key—

"Who's there?" Then she realized that she knew the voice. The Lady Tarathana.

It saves the world on darkness eve—

"Why in the Nine Hells should I do anything for you?"

Destroy the cult, close the gate— You will be paid—

That she could deal with, even if she didn't have a lot of choice since they seemed to have it in for her.

You are The One—

Oh Eli— She'd swore never to be geased or quested or any of that crap. And now—

And now she had no choice.

"You better pay me well!"

Silence answered her.

"Fine!"

She swore she'd never take a job like this again!

"Pawned", copyright Michael Bard