In the room he stood, an empty room in the mage’s guild chambers. In these chambers the many great spell casters of Metamor would pass on their skills to the next promising generation.
They were the people who made the lives of those cursed liveable and comfortable with the talisman they crafted and spells they chanted. It was these people who even saved the keep from the full affects of those devastating spells cast upon the defenders at Three Gates.
Many of them are gone; ether dead or vanished on some quest. But as is usually the case in any profession, their work continues.
The gazelle studied the tomb in silence, although at one point he had to adjust the balance on his hooves due to a sagging concentration. Study was necessary but tedious, usually he'd be practicing the magical-strand-weaving manoeuvre but with his arm in a sling that was out of the question.
His hide twitched with instinctive fear as the journeyman became aware of a visitor standing just out side the door, out of sight. He quickly composed himself, continued his study and pretended to ignore the guest who obviously had his own fears as he remained outside shifting his weight between his paws.
Fell sighed and acknowledged him. “Are you going to come in or just hide from me?”
The cheetah cursed, ‘Damn it, I forgot about that.’ He thought to himself. Betrayed by the gazelle’s acute sense of smell and hearing, Stealth entered the room with his head down, ears flat.
He looked up and fought back his nagging fear. “I... wanted to see how you’re doing.” He looked back down, ‘damn it, chin up! Chin up!’ He ordered himself.
Fell looked at the instinct-confused morph and braved a smile. “Could be better.”
Stealth stood in silence; he looked like a child who had been summoned to the headmaster’s office.
The gazelle abandoned the open tomb on the bench and walked over to one of the middle tables. “Take a seat.” He said, more of an instruction than an offer.
The cat complied and sat on one of the closest stools, glad that he needn’t bother trying to thread his long tail through a back rest.
Fell sat opposite and rested his arms on the work bench, regarding Stealth with a smile. “I hear you found another cheetah.”
Stealth shifted uncomfortably, he wanted to ask how the journeyman found out such a thing in such a short amount of time but he knew better. For a place with such open minded, friendly inhabitants as the keep, these people sure did like to gossip!
“Yes...” He didn’t know what more to add.
“What?” Stealth looked up.
“Yes, I heard about that too, who won?” He knew of some details of the conversation the cheetah duo had in the mule, Heh, and of course that would include talk of a race! However, there was more but the gazelle wasn’t going to mention the other detail he had heard about.
“Well...” Stealth scratched his head, “let’s say I won. ...technically.”
“Technically?” Fell raised an eye brow.
“I’m a cheetah.”
The gazelle just looked at him. His eyes then lit up in recognition.
“Well I had to!”
“So what did you do? Break his legs with an iron bar?” Fell laughed.
“Humpf! Maybe I should have! His legs are longer than mine, how am I supposed to compete with digit grade?” The cheetER insisted.
“So what did happen?” The gazelle pressed.
Stealth pondered and recalled...
They stood in an open field near the keep’s outer walls. Two of the fastest land animals on the planet. In morph form.
After some brief pre race preparations the two cheetahs stood at the imaginary starting line.
“Your legs are shorter, lad.” Edmund noted.
“Don’t write me off yet old man!” Stealth retorted.
The slightly younger, smaller cheetah stood to the left of Edmund, an expression of defiance etched across his face. Edmund smiled and shook his head; the Paladin was far mellower and measured than his friend.
“Whenever you wish to begin.” Edmund said.
“When I say go. Okay! Ready, set... GO!” And they bolted.
Stealth took small, fast strides. The taller cat took much wider, slower strides with his foot paws. With a distraught expression, Stealth helplessly watched Edmund leave him behind. This would not do. He reached out a hand to the Knight’s shoulder.
Edmund squeaked in surprise as he felt a force latch on and pull him back. “What are you doing!?” He demanded.
“Evening things out!” Stealth shot back as he came up along side Edmund once more.
“Is that so? Then so be it!” He answered and reached his left arm to the Courier’s chest, baring his passage.
“Ack!” He quickly reached out both arms to force the Knight back and continued on. After a brief set back Edmund quickly made up the lost ground, Stealth prepared another attack for him but his plans came crashing down, literally as he tripped on a rock he failed to navigate and fell in the dirt.
Barely a moment later, Edmund came to a complete halt, not to check on his friend as he would have done anyway but due to the oppressive grip on his left haunch. It had almost caused him to fall forward. After a moment of desperate flailing, the Knight composed himself and shot a venomous glare back to the cheetah lying on the ground.
Upon his fall, Stealth managed to grapple Edmunds foot and held the Knight firm in place, hopping on one paw. “Are you DAFT? LET GO!” He hissed, quite literally, at the fallen cheetah.
Stealth hissed back and scrambled back up at which point they both continued running. The finishing line was in sight, it had always been in sight, being such a short race although its participants had been bogged down considerably due to the silliness of one.
Stealth’s tactics had not changed, they had gotten him this far and without them Edmund would probably already be at the finish line. He batt Edmund’s face, Ed in turn batt at Stealth and the two continued to batt each other as well as swipe, shove and restrain, right over the line.
At the finish line they panted. Stealth eventually looked up and pointed to the line. “My foot was ahead of yours, I won!”
Edmund rolled his eyes. “If you won, you are a Paladin and I am an atheist.”
“Eli be with you, loser!” He retorted faintly and they chuckled.
In another few moments they had regained their breath. “Well, that was an interesting waste of time, shall we try that again some time, properly?” The Knight asked.
“Of course we will, I look forward to finding new ways to foil you!” Stealth answered.
Edmund chuckled, “I look forward to it, Stealth.”
“What?” Edmund asked confused.
Stealth pulled one of the Paladins ears close, “my real name is Orix Zachary, but don’t tell any one.”
Edmund nodded, “I won’t my friend, thank you for telling me.”
Stealth or rather ‘Orix’ smiled and nodded. “My family actually migrated from Pyralis and we changed our name years ago. Just so you know.”
"I see. But rank, noble status and place of birth mean little here. everyone is judged on their own worth." Edmund explained.
Stealth nodded again. The two collected their belongings and headed back.
"You told him your name?" Fell asked interested.
Stealth nodded with a shy smile.
"Well, I suppose it's insignificant really, and after you told him that other thing." He reasoned.
"That other thing?" 'Orix' asked with a frown.
"I don't mean it like that, just saying, you know I don't care ether way." He explained.
Stealth nodded and tapped his fingers.
"Why did you hide out there? Trying to live up to your name, Stealth? Or did you think I was going to eat you?" The gazelle joked.
The cheetah cringed at the bad joke, momentarily feeling horrified.
"Sorry, forget I said it." Fell said, but continued. "You need a sense of humour to survive the curse."
"Chin up! Wounds heal and in the end I'm no worse off, but perhaps wiser. Offering a game of predator and prey to a carnivore isn't in my best interest it would seem!" He chuckled.
“It would seem so!” Stealth answered with a faint smile. He made sure to keep his muzzle closed so the sharp incisors would remain hidden from view.
“I underestimated your instincts.” Fell continued on a serious note.
“I thought I didn’t have any and I misled myself and those around me that I didn’t.” Stealth answered, feeling the guilt.
“No, I misled you; I’ve been affected by the curse from day one and I should have known what could happen. We both became complacent and lured ourselves into a false sense of security.” The gazelle explained, “Now you know that the animal curse affects you to the same extent as everyone else who has been struck by it. You need to accept that and respect it.
“Don’t be frightened by it, Stealth; you are still a human but don’t ignore your other side, keep it in check and it won’t overcome you.” He finished soberly.
Stealth could do nought but to nod.
The gazelle stood up once more and clopped back over to the side bench to continue his study of the tomb. “Come by again some time.” He said, finding his place in the tomb, “and don’t freak out about it.” He looked over and added with a smile.
With another nod the cheetah stood and made his way out of the chambers.