It was a great day for alchemy. The cauldron was boiling, the ingredients were picked out, and the final component for a proper potion was a bag of very rare Ferum Leaves from a neighboring town. Under ordinary circumstances there’s no reason that one cannot simple mount up and gallop off to this town and exchange some coin for these beloved leaves, but when you’re a rainbow zebra striped six breasted porcupine woman with drastically reduced aging there’s going to be a few issues with your travel plans. Outside of the thrice cursed kingdom that was responsible for making you this way, there are a lot of two or less breasted human people with regular aging who just don’t take kindly to the strange and unusual. In fact, before one came to be this way, he was already quite the oddball. Pascal Q. Porcupine’s mind has not been as intact as it would have been had her age, gender, and species gone untampered with.
With a cracked mind and a freakish body one would have to be a master of disguise if they were to get herbs like the ones the alchemist needed. “It’s too good of a day to just NOT do alchemy!” Pascal said, looking at her empty herb bag with disappointment. “But then again, when ISN’T it a good day for alchemy?” the cursed one joked to no one in particular. “Woah... it’s lonely in here without a partner...I mean there’s no one around to be impressed with what I have to do now!” Pascal continued monologuing as she fetched around in her outfit’s pockets for an item she’d desperately need; one single solitary ring that once it was put on made a menu appear in Pascal’s mind giving her a mighty number of form selections, and her mind drifted towards one name. “Quentin.”
Before beginning the change Pascal grinned, laughing to herself. “It’s Morph Ring Time!” The porcupine cheered, it had been far too long since she’d played with her limited shapeshifting abilities. At first Pascal’s breasts receded towards the flat chest of a male as she grew taller, her hips becoming more narrow. The fur seemed to thin until it was pale white flesh from a lack of sun. Pascal had only used the morph ring for this purpose once or twice. Normally she paid someone else to go, but this time she was determined to get this done herself. The last time she had sent one of the female-to-male transgender cursed out to do her shopping for her she came back with ingredients suitable only for brewing up a placebo healing potion and the porcupine down a few silver. This occurred right after sending one of the age regressed only for him to be laughed out of the store until he grew up, which would of course, thanks to the curse, be never. No this had to be done by Pascal herself, or rather Quentin himself.
It felt strange being a man again, Pascal’s back felt better than it had in ages without her swollen six pack, but he found himself feeling off centered with the lack of breasts. What was worse was the sensation in his alchemist’s uniform. It was all wrong, the sensations were coming from outside of his body. It didn’t feel right, the pulsating, the tingling, the pounding. They threw the poor man off and made his mind twitch, begging for the feeling in that part of his body to go away as quickly as it possibly could. “No no no no! This won’t do at all, there’s an itch in my panties that won’t go away and it’s too... too... long, there’s too much in there, and not enough up top. Besides, how the heck am I going to do anything with such swollen shoulders?” Quentin complained, making minor adjustments to his ring until his figure was once again curvaceous and without the excess baggage. Instead all those weird feelings were on the inside of her body and not the outside. How Pascal survived with the male anatomy she’d completely unlearned. “Hmm... much better.... I’ll just need to change into a dress and I’m good to go.” The alchemist said, spinning around and looking her human self over. “A little cold without fur though... I should bring a thick coat... Thick coat with a dress? That’ll turn some heads, especially since Spring is right around the corner. PERFECT!” Pascal giggled, getting dressed from some spare outfits the last time she became a human woman.
Once she was ready, had her coin purse and wrote down on a scroll all of the things she needed, Pascal marched out the door, leaving her tower triumphantly. “Morning Dame Martha, Dame Gregg” Pascal smiled at the two currently on guard duty around her quarters. If something happened to the kingdom’s alchemist then it left them open to disease and poison with lessened abilities to treat it.
“Good Morning Pascal. It’s not often I see your human form.” Dame Martha curtsied before the court alchemist. “What’s the occasion?”
“A little bit of shopping; the last time I sent a human out that idiot got the order completely wrong! So, lesson learned never send a used-to-be-a-woman to do a used-to-be-a-man’s job,” Pascal cheered. Dame Gregg looking dumbfounded.
“Wait, you can cure the curse? What are you waiting for? Mama wants to be a man again!” Dame Gregg asked, cheering excitedly. Anxious to receive the boon of manhood after many years of thinking she’d bear a resemblance to her late mother for the rest of her life.
“I thought you fought in Three Gates?” Dame Martha asked, herself somewhat confused by Gregg’s reaction to seeing a human Pascal. “You should know that there is no cure by now.”
“But, look at her! She’s human!” Gregg commented, dropping her spear in shock and looking the woman over. “She, not quite himself, but... still this is an amazing breakthrough.”
Pascal grinned, taking another Morph Ring out of her pocket. The alchemist only had one back-up on her, but she didn’t see herself needing it. The usually-a-porcupine was usually careful enough to not need such silly amateurish things like backups. They were only for losers who couldn’t get it right the first time. “Sure, why don’t you have a free sample?” Pascal tossed Gregg the ring.
“I just put it on and... I become a man again?” Gregg said, nearly foaming at the mouth. “Wait until the Duke hears about this.”
Pascal just whistled innocently as the Dame Knight put it on. Martha giggling, already knowing what to expect. “Oh yeah... he’ll have a ball.” Martha snickered.
Gregg bit her lip as she slid the ring on. “Okay, change me!” she said, it was definitely working. It was a similar sensation as when the curse first touched her. The sensation of her essence scrambling and reconfiguring, as though something in reality itself responsible for forming her being exploded into various directions and reformed pointed towards a new one altogether. It was a surreal feeling she couldn’t entirely understand. “So... how do I look... bucaww... What did I just say?!?!?”
“Well, you’re even more of a chick than you were before.” Martha snickered. The armor having mostly fallen off as the she-knight was reduced to a yellow baby chicken the size of a human girl.
“B..b.b.bucaww! Pascal why didn’t you warn me? I can’t protect the kingdom in this b-b-bucaww, body!” Gregg said, scared and frantic. The poor girl thought she’d lay an egg if she wasn’t too young for that. “Pascal what have you done to me? I thought you were on our side!”
“Oh don’t be so dramatic Gregg, it’s just my Morph Ring!” Pascal teased the chick in the oversized helmet, plucking a small yellow feather from her face which de-materialized in seconds as she dropped it, the feather never even reached the ground. “It just combines the residual magical energies into a shape and then fits that shape around you! Nothing more than an illusion!”
“Oh? I didn’t know you could do that... that’s neat.” Gregg said, taking the ring off and returning to her abnormal self.
“It takes some alchemical skill to be able to maintain and control it though. Why don’t you practice while I’m gone?” Pascal laughed while she waved bye. “I really gotta get going, see you girls later.”
Martha and Gregg curtsied once more. “Stay safe on your journey.”
Pascal didn’t turn any heads as she walked out of Keeptown and towards the gate towards the outside world where she was stopped by two knights, one a child around the age of ten in small iron armor holding a shortsword and a wooden shield, the other was an incredibly attractive woman with long brunette hair, thick thunder thighs, and an ample bosom. The woman was dressed like a knight, mainly because she was one with an iron skirt to go with her iron top. One designed to show off a fair amount of cleavage. Only she-knights who took great pride in their new selves wore armor anything that scandalous and revealing. It’s not as bad as some of the other Keeper Now-Women who wore what were essentially chainmail undergarments into battle.
“Halt!” Ordered the latter of these two who pointed her sword straight at Pascal. “I don’t recognize you. State your business, are you cursed?”
“As battle-happy as ever aren’t we Seranima?” Pascal put her hands on her hips and shook her head no, dissapointed in the amazon. “You could take someone’s head off with that thing you know.”
“Pascal Q. Porcupine.... I should have recognized your morph ring.” Sera breathed in, lowering her weapon. “Sorry, I’ve just been on edge lately. My father is sick, and my mother is doing all she can for him, but it’s just not helping. I worry I may be attending his funeral by month’s end. It isn’t a very happy thought to have running through your mind on guard duty. I’m just looking for an excuse to slice into someone’s flesh.”
“Well, don’t tear into mine!” Pascal gasped, jumping back with a playful laugh. “No. I’m just going to Komley for a few supplies. Maybe I’ll pick up something for your dad while I’m out. What is he again?”
“My father is a black panther and my mother is a snow leopard. Sadly she’s starting to come down with it herself. The sickness started in dad only a few days ago... A daughter should never be asked to bury her own parents.” Sera looked down at her booted feet. “Not when they were so full of life just last week.”
“No one period should be asked to bury their own parents. I think I know a few remedies for sick cats. Don’t worry, ingredients to help cure illness are what I’m heading out for. Lots of people have been getting sick lately.” Pascal smiled. “Once I get to brewing we’ll be seeing happy healthy faces in no time.”
Sera opened the fence and let Pascal on through. “Get back quickly, the Keep needs your skills. I’d go with you for your protection, but we can’t trust this squirt to watch the gate all by himself now can we?” Sera asked with a chuckle as she ran a gauntlet covered hand through her child-like assistant’s black hair.
“Watch it girlie, if I had my height back I’d show you a thing or two about swordsmanship!” The child raised his voice at the amazon who ignored him and started making babynoises.
“Aww, they’re so cute at that age when they think they can take on mommy.” Sera smirked which Pascal did so too.
“Eat your spinach kid!” Pascal called back, adding to Seranima’s jest as she left on her merry way.
“I’m 83 years old...” The child folded his arms with a grunt. “I’m old enough to be your great-grandfather! Damn curse...”
“I’m only teasing grandpa. You shouldn’t be looking a gift horse in the mouth ya know.” Sera said closing the gate behind Pascal.
“I’m a cute little tyke taking orders from a damn woman who keeps teasing me. I fail to see how this is a gift at all.” The child pouted. “I’d rather be asked to go to school and fly a kite than be insulted by you!”
“I tease you because I respect you. If I didn’t I’d just grumble and mutter to myself about what a bad person you are,” Sera admitted. This was truly how she felt. Though sometimes her kind words were mistaken as an insincere flattery, she could never bring herself to say something blatantly untrue. “Besides, do you want to get teased a little, or do you want to be bedridden as you age away to dust?”
“Good point...” The child groaned as he sheathed his dagger as he leaned against the fence. “Just let me handle the next passerby.”
“Whatever you say old timer.” Sera yawned and leaned up against the wall and proceeded to doze off.
Two more people showed up, men who seemed pretty anxious about leaving. “Hey kid can you open the gate for us?” asked one of the men who sounded like he had a cold.
“Oh certainly you need that cold looked at and we can’t have you wait until Pascal gets back... What with the curse and all. SERA! I can’t reach the gate’s opening mechanism.”
“So much for my nap....” Sera groaned, jumping up from the fence she was leaning on with a skip and a hop. “Alright, are they cursed? If so are they leaving for business or pleasure?” Sera asked, knowing her partner forgot to ask these questions often.
“We’re... ah so itchy...” One of the men said, scratching at this back. “Getting out of this place before our time runs out. We don’t wanna get cursed. That would be... bad,” the man said, looking nervously from side to side.
Sera looked back to him. Something about him seemed off and she was determined to find out what it was. “Walk for me.”
“Beg your pardon miss?” The man asked, seeming uncomfortable.
“Turn around, with your back facing me, and walk ten steps.” Sera ordered, seeming completely serious about her strange and unusual demand.
“Why? Brave Dame Knight, there is no reason for such silly games. Just let us through before the curse gets a hold of us.” The common man pleaded.
“Sera, the man has a point. You’re holding them up,” the child pleaded, looking very disappointed with Dame Seranima.
“If you really want to get out of here, you’ll do as I ask,” the knight ordered, reaching for for the man’s shirt, pulling him close, clenching a fist and holding it back menacingly. “Because if you make a problem for me I’ll be happy to fix it!”
“SERA! You’re going way out of bounds! I’ll make sure the Duke hears about this!” screamed the child.
The man seemed troubled, a large lump forming in his throat. Sera looked pretty damn strong for a woman, and would be intimidating even if she wasn’t holding up a fist encased in metal. “Okay, okay... I give in.”
Once he agreed, Sera let her captive go. Her older yet younger assistant seemed incredibly disappointed in her. The child believed that the woman had gone completely nuts, or maybe even a dash mad. “Sera......” the kid sighed
“Quiet old timer I’m investigating.” Sera said, eying the marching man. The child came close to abandoning the post to tattle on his partner. Especially when the swordswoman walked up the man and grabbed his rear end.
“Good lord woman, I thought such depravity was beneath you... you...” the boy became calmed when he noticed something that eased his concerned. Seranima had grabbed his rear end not out of an insatiable lust, but in order to pull down his pantaloons, which revealed several splotches of orange-brown fur. “....Oh...”
“Your shirt was a little loose on you, people try wearing bigger outfits to hide their growing fur all the time, you aren’t the first person turning into an... orangutan I’m guessing... that’s tried to get past me.” Sera said pounding her booted heel to the ground as she pointed at yonder castle within the distance. “Anyone new not on official business with a curse needs to report to that castle to discuss housing with one of the local lords.”
“Heh, glad I’m not going to turn into a mangy beast...” The other of the two trying to escape said, with suspicious nervous laughter. “Hehehehe... You can let me through now Dame Knight.”
“Well you’re right about one thing,
Sera smiled, unsheathing her sword and swinging at the individual who said these words. All parties were equally shocked by this sudden action. “You shan’t be taking the form of a mangy beast as you put it! I promise you that.”
“NO.. NOOOO!” Exclaimed the cowering traveler for a few moments, sighing in relief as he realized the blade did not touch even an inch of his flesh. “Oh... you didn’t... cut...” Suddenly this man’s voice broke and was made very high pitch as he squirmed as he meekly said. “Me...” The traveler’s shirt was sliced open and into two vertical slices with bandages dropped to the ground. Bandages that were holding back what everyone could see. Two perfectly big spherical mounds of feminine flesh, breasts, ones that actually bounced as she stepped back in shock.
“Oh, please... let my girlfriend through.. she doesn’t even look cursed, unlike me...” The orangutan pleaded. “I’ve already got a house anyway...”
“Sorry, but she’s a danger to herself unless she’s used to being female.” Sera shook her head, denying passage to them both. “Oh don’t worry... It’s not as bad as it sounds.”
“Wait, your girlfriend?” the child knight asked confused. “But... the curse is making her this way... how can she be your girlfriend?”
“Well, I asked the court mages to try and focus their magic to letting the curse do this to me, and on my way to Metamor from the Midlands with my darling Ben we started talking about my reasons for asking and we found that...” the breasted man said, looking towards her partner. “We’d make a great couple if...”
“Wait, I thought you were leaving because of the curse... and now you’re saying you wanted the curse... What are you even doing here?” the child pondered, looking up at the two. The breasted man now covering her new body parts under her white shirt halves.
“Well I inherited some property from an uncle, but now that I realize the area is cursed, I was told that I could just leave and it would... start reversing itself. By.. by one of your mages.” Ben fibbed, sweating as he did so and trying to look away from the two knights. The obvious sign of a liar running out of things to say.
“Not buying it, we both know you knew this place was cursed coming here and if you didn’t it wouldn’t take a week to notice it was.” Sera exclaimed, she didn’t point out that the curse would NOT reverse itself if they left before it took hold. It just didn’t seem like the biggest flaw in this lie, even if it was elephantinely colossal. “Why are you leaving?”
“...Just hurry up and let Daria through please and make it snappy, before...” Ben stopped himself from finishing that sentence.
“Y-yeah...” Daria, the breasted man, added. “Before they come...”
Ben looked at Daria angrily, but before Sera could ask before who came, one of the couriers slithered by. A barely humanoid, yet obviously feminine and armless snake known as Quiz moving as fast as she could yelled out “PLAGUE! PLAGUE! The whole Keep issss quarantined, don’t let anyone through the gate! In or out!”
“...You two! The Keep. Now!” Sera yelled angrily. “You sleazebags tried to save your sorry hides by dooming the whole damn province! If you hurry I’ll forget this happened.” The two made like lightning as Sera began beating her helmet on the fence. “Balthazar, can you BELIEVE that people exist with so little honor.”
The child knight Balthazar looked up. “It’s sickening, but that’s young people these days, don’t know the first thing of honor or chivalry... But, speaking of sickening... aren’t they going to need an alchemist to fix this problem?”
“Well yeah, Pascal will come through for us. She always does,” Sera assured her partner.
“Yes, but wasn’t she the first person we let out?” Balthazar exclaimed frightened. “And she works at the heart of all three gates! There’s no way she isn’t infected! What do we do about that?”
“Damn it you’re right!.....Quiz!” Sera called out panicked, realizing just how doomed Metamor would be without Pascal, and how doomed Komley would be if she made it there. “Have someone cover my shift... I need to go!”
“Did you not hear me? The Keep issss under quarantine!” Quiz repeated, slithering closer to the Dame Knight.
“Pascal was let out earlier. If I don’t bring her back the disease will spread to Komley and we’ll have no medicine man to help us here at Metamor!” Seranima exclaimed. “I’ve got to bring her back or we’re all dead!”
“...I sssssupposssse...” Quiz said, half-sure about this. The snake mulled it over for a while before realizing that Sera did have a point. “Well if anyone gets mad about you leaving to get Pascal... I’ll pretend you left before I got to you...”
“I won’t though.” Balthazar made very clear. “We have our orders... but I won’t say anything to get Quiz in trouble. So how about you just didn’t hear? If I saw Quiz as well, then I’ll just say you overpowered me. You won’t get into as much trouble, but no one should get scot-free off for what you’re about to do.”
“Fair enough, just... let me try to save our Keep, and my parents as well!” Sera smiled and kissed Quiz on the mouth, just a quick peck. It was considered a great taboo in many lands for two women to kiss, but it wasn’t as big of a one as in Metamor and the Dame Knight saw no better way to say. “Thanks Quiz, I owe you one even more.”
Quiz smiled at Seranima. “Ooooh my... mmhmmhmm.. Maybe I’ll visit your quarters when you come back tonight... If you bring Pascal.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” Sera nodded, returning the smile as she ran into Metamor Forest where the chase was on!
Pascal hadn’t gotten out and about herself in a long while. This was going to be exciting. The last time she had left Metamor was before she was a she! About ten years ago, nearly ten years of being under Nasoj’s curse. “Woah... Kind of makes one think... it’s like stepping out of the womb almost!” she said to herself upon realizing it. “Welcome to the human world Pascal...” It was hard to compare this to the memories she had as Quentin, the male human version of herself, it was just unthinkable. As though that version of Pascal was a completely separate person she had only read about.
The trip was nice and quiet for a little while, but after minutes the disguised porcupine was forced off the road by several carriages driven by overly concerned drivers pushing their horses as hard as they could go. The poor alchemist had only barely managed to dodge out of the way. “Well that was rude. Where the heck are they off to in such a hurry?” Pascal asked herself before taking a shortcut through the forest. A shortcut that proved worthwhile as it did not take her long to find a tree that held emotional significance to her. Metamor Valley holds many secrets and memories. Echos of the latter came rushing to Pascal.
It was here that she, he at the time, had, under guidance from his teacher, taken some flower that grew in this area to make his first hair dye. A very curious fellow who was neither male nor female, but had become a mixture of both through the use of his, or hir as she, or shi, liked to call himself, or hirself, skills. Pronouns were a bit of nightmare with that one. “Quentin this is a very good spot for reagents of all sorts, not just the flowers you came here for. I’d mark it if I were you.” Shi said to young Pascal.
“Wow you’re right there’s practically a whole florist’s shoppe out here! But how should I mark it?” Pascal inquired looking around the field for any sign of his presence he could leave. “I guess I could leave something here, but it would just get stolen.”
“You have a knife and plenty of trees, carve something meaningful,” the teacher said with an assuring smile.
“But isn’t it disrespectful to nature? You said we should always act as welcome guests in Mother Nature’s kingdom,” Pascal objected.
“Not if you carve something true and dear to your heart, then you’ll be sharing your love with Nature instead of poisoning your ego to graffiti of your travels,” the wise teacher assured.
“Okay I got it!” Pascal went right away to carving, and in a few small strokes of the knife had created a symbol that the young lad would always recognize.
“Interesting, may I ask why you chose a hedgehog carrying a flask on his back?” The teacher observed. “It seems so.. arbitrary.”
“It’s not a hedgehog! One day, when I’m really good at alchemy. I’m going to make a potion that will turn me into a porcupine, because I like them a lot and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be one. They’d call me Pascal The Porcupine Alchemist! Or Pascal Q. Porcupine if I worked my real name in there!” The young assistant cheered. “People would come from far and wide to see me brew and in my time off I can lick the sap out of the trees!”
“It’s good to have a dream, even better to find a dream that is truly yours instead of the usual gold or women that fools preoccupy themselves with,” the teacher said with a smile.
“You think I can make a potion that’ll make me one?” The young student said. “I mean it’d be hard to brew potions on four legs, but I could pull it off! I’ll invent human-like porcupines with pawhands!”
“Not if you keep dozing off at your cauldron when you think I’m not looking.” The teacher chastised, Pascal blushed a bright red and the two walked off into the fog of Pascal’s memory.
In the present, the thrice cursed Pascal put her hand over the carving and rubbed it. “Nasoj beat me to the punch on that one it seems,” she laughed to herself. Remembering how excited she was to be a porcupine woman after the attack, she was so caught up in herself she didn’t realize the attack had happened yet or that her friends’ voices were coming from farm animals! She looked it over for a while remembering more innocent days. Her teacher never really spoke to her all that much these days, the last time she saw hir was two years ago. Pascal wondered if something happened to hir in the forest.
“Excuse me miss,” spoke a voice from behind Pascal. “Do you know where I can find the person who carved that picture.”
Pascal turned around to find a man with a skin coloration she had never seen before, he was strangely red. “I did, a long time ago.”
“It looks cute, an image of the infamous Pascal.” The man said looking the carving over with a smile. “I was told that I could find her in a Keep not far from here.”
Pascal took a step back feeling somewhat uncomfortable. She didn’t think she was so well known. “I’m Pascal, the Court Alchemist of Metamor Keep and I am armed!”
“I’m Xhyz, and I’ve come a long way to meet you,” the man said, bowing politely. “I believe your people call where I’m from Fan Shoar. It’s an honor to see you Ms. Pascal. Though I see the stories were exaggerated, I was told that Pascal was a monster and that these woods are infested with them.”
“...Well Xhyz, I’m thrilled to meet you, or horrified. Normally when we get strangers who have to see someone important it either ends in people dying, our Keep gaining some brand new magic defense, or some big prophecy that involves Keepers having to save the world… which usually results in people dying.” Pascal said scratching the back of her head. “I’m on a road trip to Komley to stock up on some essential items. I’m all out of Sylvesta Esca! I don’t suppose you want to come with?” Pascal sounded unsure, but it would have been nice to have a bodyguard in case something happened.
“You’re the one I’ve traveled so far to see. In my dreams I see a castle ruled by a horse whose son won’t stop crying, a tiger dressed like a jester, and in a tall tower therein lies a porcupine.” Xhyz explained, beginning to follow Pascal as she went down the road. “The dream is recurring and I wake up every night covered in sweat. I don’t know what it means.”
“So why come to me then?” Pascal asked looking at Xhyz suspiciously. “Duke Thomas and Princess Malisa are of better help. I just blow things up and make hair dye.”
Xhyz smiled, taking a out a bag of herbs from a buckskin pouch on his pants. “Because I am a Shaman, I hear that you are an Alchemist. I’ve studied the Alchemical profession and it’s similar, but still different enough to be intriguing. I was hoping you could teach me.”
“I’m not interested in an understudy from guys wearing strange pants and carrying crude stone axes on his belt, sorry,” Pascal said, shaking her head. The guy looked like a savage, maybe he was some lutin in disguise? No, no, lutins aren’t this smart. Still, there’s no way he’d be able to even begin to understand the true art of alchemy.
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Xhyz said with a chipper tone in his voice. “Well, still... worth a shot. So what’s Komley like?”
Pascal looked towards Xhyz with mild confusion. Why was he this happy about her being rude to him? That was a strange response. “You feelin’ okay... uhh what was it again?”
“Xhyz! And I’ve never felt better, meeting a new friend in a strange new country talking a strange new language, what’s there not to feel okay about?” Xhyz asked.
“Finding those monsters you were talking about.” Pascal giggled, a small joke.
“Eh, they could be friendly. Just because you look weird doesn’t mean you’re evil. I mean, you people in Galendor have such pale skin. I think that’s pretty weird, but so far you guys seem pretty nice,” Xhyz defused Pascal’s joke without even knowing the punchline. At this point the Porcupine was determined, she was going to get that sucker.
Seranima was hot on the trail, though right now she wished she’d been turned into a bloodhound instead of a woman. Navigating through this place would be impossible for a human. Sera had been wandering the forest for what seemed like a half hour without a single sign of anything, not even a lutin. “This is hopeless without a good tracker!” Sera exclaimed kicking the grass. Shortly afterward she heard a voice from behind as if an angel sent by heaven.
“You rang?” Asked a ferret from behind Seranima, scaring the daylights out of her.
“Claire?!?!” Seranima called out. She recognized Claire she was the wife of a good friend and the daughter of another good friend. “You scared the daylights out of me, why aren’t you back at the Keep?”
“I was doing a little bit of scouting, then I got hungry so I decided to go to the mess hall, but no one will let me back in Metamor. They say it’s quarantined. I told the guy, ‘Yeah I’m a ferret, I know it’s plagued,’ but he still wouldn’t let me through,” Claire explained, walking and twiddling with her trademark pike, the one that had her husband’s feathers tied around it just before the point.
“He wasn’t talking about the curse. There’s a huge plague at the Keep. No one’s allowed in or out; but I don’t see how Metamor’s going to survive unless you help me bring Pascal back to the keep!” Seranima pleaded, “No alchemist, no medicine.”
“Yikes.. I better help you out,” Claire said, crouching down and taking a whiff in the air. “Potions, a porcupine, and a human... the human’s male. A few clicks south, but the smell’s faint. It picks up at that tree carving though.”
“Thank you, the nasally impaired need help from time to time.” Seranima commented jokingly, trying to lighten the mood, but she couldn’t even force laughter at that. “Well, let’s run like Captain Brightleaf when the Muffin cart opens!” And so they did.
Pascal kept trying to annoy Xhyz, but it just wasn’t working. At this point it wasn’t about getting him to go away, but to see if this guy even had a negative emotion in his mind. “Well.. I..” Pascal tried thinking of something, but drew a blank. She was thinking so hard that she didn’t see where she saw going and tripped over a small rock. “Gaaaah!”
Xhyz immediately picked her up and laid her against a tree. “You okay Ms. Pascal?” He asked as he took off her shoe and examined her foot which didn’t seem in too bad of shape, but no way could Pascal walk to Komley on it. “Looks like a sprained ankle let me take care of this.”
“You’re a medic?” Pascal said, holding her hurt foot, “Ow ow ow.”
“Like I said I’m a shaman, we’re medicine men mixed with wizards.” Xhyz said as he walked up to a nearby stream and got a hand full of water to pour on Pascal’s ankle.
“Yeah that’s not going to wor...” Pascal was saying, and silenced herself when Xhyz sprinkled a small green powder on it. “...Okay when mixed with this it does!” she said. Her foot healed, but still, it seemed like a good spot to take a rest anyway. “Xhyz how did you...”
“Life Root Extract, hard to come by, but gets the job done.” Xhyz grinned. “They say it makes you immortal if it’s prepared the right way, it might be true, but what fool would wish immortality upon himself?”
“And you used it on a sprained ankle?!” Pascal inquired.
“If you sat here too long predators will get you, if you tried walking anywhere your ankle would have gotten worse,” Xhyz pointed out.
“Good point actually... uhh... tell you what... why don’t we rest here? I just decided that it might be important I know you,” Pascal said, sitting in silence.
“I’ve told you all I can,” Xhyz said with a sigh. “I wish I could tell you more, but really I’m from Fan Shoar and I came here because of a dream. Anything else is uninteresting or... just uninteresting.”
“Yeah, but what’s Fan Shoar like? I’ve never met anyone from there,” Pascal asked in awe.
“Hmm... well we don’t have forges, saddles, or a lot of the conveniences you have here. We don’t even have houses. We live together in little tents and blend in with nature, learn from her ways and become like her creatures,” Xhyz said with a hint of nostalgic glee.
“Now when you become like her creatures... What do you mean?” Pascal asked, clutching her Morph Ring nervously.
“I mean we watch them to become as strong as the bear, as nimble as the deer, as pure as the rabbit, and as loyal as the wolf, that sort of thing,” Xhyz explained as he pointed to his outfit made of a skinned deer. “I wore the skin of a deer here hoping to gain its speed, as I fear my dream meant bad things would happen here.”
“So you don’t become the animals then?” Pascal asked, putting her ring hand away.
“Only those who practice a magic called Skin-Walking. I’ve never done it myself, but if an animal spirit smiles upon you he will bless his skin and with it the power to become that animal,” Xhyz explained, leaning back and looking at the clouds. “It’s a very big deal. Precious little is more sacred to us than animals.”
“So why did you kill that deer you’re wearing?” Pascal pondered, you don’t normally kill things you find sacred.
“It’s fine to kill an animal if you honor it by using its bones for our crafts, its skin for our clothes, and its meat for our food. Otherwise you’re ticking the spirit of the animal you killed off because you spilled their blood in vain,.” Xhyz preached, feeling the fire of his people burning within him even across the ocean.
“...What would you use a porcupine for?” Pascal asked, wondering if she should put down her disguise.
“For laughter when the biggest moron in the tribe pricks his feet stepping on one,” Xhyz answered with a laugh.
“...Do you promise that animals are sacred to you and that you’d never kill a porcupine?” Pascal asked as she swallowed a lump in her throat.
“Well there’s nothing I can really use a porcupine for...” Xhyz was not sure at all where this was going.
“Okay, well, here it goes. I can explain the porcupine in your dream,” Pascal said, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath as she focused on fading her disguise. “This is what I really look like,” she said, appearing as a porcupine before Xhyz.
“...Are... you a goddess?!?!” Xhyz exclaimed in wonder, his eyes growing wide. “You’re... you’re so beautiful. I mean, wow. You must be truly blessed.”
“Much the opposite actually,” Pascal said, putting her morph ring in her parchment. “The ring is just creating an illusion, I got hit with a curse and it turned me into a porcupine.”
“I’m not sure how that’s a curse,” Xhyz said innocently.
“Because the person who cast it thought it would make me easier to kill,” Pascal explained. “I was hit with three curses making me a female baby porcupine, and they could only be undone half way.”
“Isn’t it redundant to say you were turned a female baby porcupine,” Xhyz scratched his head.
“Not when I was a guy before that,” Pascal replied with a sharp look, before laying back down at the tree. “Eh... it’s fine. I got mistaken for a girl all the time back before I was one.”
“Then it is an honor to be in your presence,” Xhyz bowed unable to believe his eyes and ears. “I cannot believe how blessed Galendor is to have people who are both Two-Spirits and Skinwalkers!”
“Two-Spirits?” Pascal asked, her eyes growing wide as she did so.
“When one has within them both the masculine and feminine element it is said that they are of two-spirits, it’s considered good luck to have one around,” Xhyz was so happy that he could have danced with the porcupine.
“Huh...” Pascal said, thinking back to her younger years. “I guess I am one of those now.”
Quentin was an alchemist in training under a wise man two decades ago. His master was a very skilled alchemist with an interesting idea. Given that all elements were differing parts masculine and feminine he theorized that a human who was equal parts both had the potential to gain an understanding of the universe that was unparalleled by any philosopher, living or dead.
“Master, are you sure want to do this?” Young Quentin asked, eying the golden fluid in his master’s shot glass like it was the foulest substance known to man. “It smells horrible and if it works you’ll be a woman forever!”
“No Quentin, only half of a woman. I’d be just as much a man as I would be a woman. All things in the world are connected, indivisible yet with perfect duality. If I become like the world, if we could all become like the world, we might have better understanding of our connections to one another. Does that make sense my young apprentice?” the Master asked.
“I guess so, but.. aren’t you worried that you’re going to get treated like, you know... a girl?” Quentin queried, hoping his master would put down the vial.
“Quentin...” The Master chugged, his body instantly beginning to change, his hair growing long, his hips growing wider, and a bosom developing on his chest. All at once, yet at the same time he kept his proud shoulders, the bulge in his outfit, and a strange masculine quality in what seemed to be half of his face, yet oddly it didn’t conflict with the other portion. This change took several minutes during which Young Quentin was as disturbed and as he was intrigued. “I am a girl, I’m a boy as well. Now that we know it works, why don’t you try some?”
“No thanks, I get called a girl all the time. I don’t want that to be technically true!” Quentin objected, turning his nose up at the remainder of the potion.
“You have much to learn about Alchemy my apprentice. Without a division, I feel as though I am a human being, nothing more, nothing less. Just as the world is one thing, nothing more and nothing less. You really need to try this to get an appreciation for...” Quentin walked away in the middle of his master’s lessons. “Quentin you fool, if you don’t drink this concoction now you might not get the chance. You know how rare the powder I used to make this is!”
They didn’t see each other again for three months. By the time Quentin returned, deciding to change his mind, his master had already shared the formula with other disciples more eager to take it. He secretly regretted it for a very long time. Though Metamor had the proper ingredients, it could not effect Pascal in her current condition.
“Yeah... in a weird sort of way,” Pascal said after zoning out for a bit. “But... I haven’t felt like a man in years... I don’t even know if I’d know what it’s like anymore. Even if it came up and plucked out all of my quills.”
“When did you unlearn that?” Xhyz pondered.
“I don’t know, I guess I just woke up one morning and my brain had no more room left for ‘being a guy’ because I had filled it with too much potion making and girlishness,” Pascal shrugged, “Maybe Nasoj’s curse fried my brain too much... moreso than...” Instead of finishing her sentence the porcupine got up and continued moving.
“What?” Xhyz piped up. “Moreso than what?”
“Something I’m just not ready to talk about with anyone.” Pascal hand waved Xhyz’s question as she donned the Morph Ring and began to look like a human once again. “If we want to make it there by nightfall we’ll need to hurry.”
“Back to Metamor I hope,” Sera said, having been there a little under ten minutes and a little more bothered than she should sound. “Pascal, forget this errand, we need you back to the Keep. There’s been a plague and we have no alchemist. I’m sorry but I have to ask you to return to Metamor.”
“Without herbs? Well some daughter you are. First you kill your sister... brother... whatever and now you’re killing your parents,” Pascal argued.
“You know that’s not a topic for discussion,” Seranima said unsheathing her sword. “Please come with me or I’ll have to put you under arrest...” She said turning to Xhyz. “You... I’ve never seen you before and you didn’t leave with Pascal so you can skedaddle.”
Pascal sighed. “Look my comment was out of line, but I’ve needed these herbs for a long time. Besides, if there’s a plague then whatever your folks have is probably what the Keep has so I’ll NEED my herbs to save anyone.”
“I’ll get your herbs. If you go you risk infecting everyone in Komley, you could be a carrier for the disease.” Sera begged.
“What makes you think you’re not?” Pascal asked, her paws angrily placed upon her hips. “If we’re both carriers, then at least we can send the one who can get the order right.”
“...Wow I did not think this one through...” Seranima said sounding flustered as she sheathed her sword.
“Well this has been a fun waste of my time...” Claire yawned, startling Xhyz and Pascal who had not noticed her standing there. “If you don’t mind I think I’ll camp out for the night if I can’t find a way back into Metamor.”
“Why would you want to go back to Metamor?” Sera asked in confusion.
“Because my husband and parents are still back at the Keep. I told you the story of how I lost my brother. If my loved ones are dying, then I’m dying with them,” Claire barked and ran off.
“Shouldn’t you go chase her?” Pascal asked Seranima.
Sera shook her head at Claire who was already long gone. “Stealth couldn’t run that fast!.. Well... I guess I’m escorting you to Komley then... this was an anti-climatic venture.”
“Eh, well you’ve made a new friend out of it. The name’s Xhyz. You’re the first woman knight I’ve seen since I arrived in Galendor.. What’s up with that?” Xhyz introduced himself, bowing before the Dame.
“Did Pascal tell you about the curse?” Sera asked, sounding bored.
“Yes.” Xhyz answered.
“I have it too,” Sera said simply.
“Oh... that curse really gets around,” Explained Captain Obvious, better known as Xhyz.
“Tell me that in a week,” Pascal giggled, elbowing Xhyz in the shoulder.
“This Nasoj guy isn’t still around is he?” Xhyz asked, noticing right off the bat how ominous Pascal’s jest sounded. “Cause if he is that’s something I’d get checked out...”
“Let’s just say he left behind a legacy that some people hate, some people love, and the remaining third are entirely indifferent,” Sera added as she cut a few thick branches out of their path. It started getting late, but no one wanted to stop to make camp. Xhyz had too much respect for human and formerly human lives and Pascal and Sera knew that every second lost would be another casualty they couldn’t prevent. When they finally arrived in Komley the stores were all closed and the three had to get an inn. Fortunately Sera and Pascal’s salaries were more than enough for three separate rooms. In order to hide where they came from Sera had given Xhyz her armor, claiming it was his and needed refitting by a blacksmith.
The trio slept like babies and got the herbs without any problems. One or two people gave Seranima some funny looks due her body language being more fitting for someone in the military than your everyday damsel, but fortunately no one thought too much about it. Likely because they were wondering where Xhyz hailed from. It seemed like everything was fine until an entire cavalry of knights showed up. A few of them that were drunk began stampeding through the town. “You have got to be kidding me...” Sera exclaimed, instinctively drawing for her sword only to remember that Xhyz had it. “Right... Gender is no object doesn’t apply here... uhh... so Xhyz. Got any Shaman magic?”
“Yeah, but I really don’t want to use it,” Xhyz replied, looking nervously at the tomahawks in his belt.
“I really think you should...” Sera warned Xhyz.
“I really think I shouldn’t,” Xhyz warned back.
The three ran around trying to find a way out of this section of town, Sera and Xhyz managed it. Pascal however got trampled by a horse. “Gaaaah...!” she cried out. “Ooof oof ooooof”. This was enough to get the guard of Komley involved, who scared away the drunken cavalry’s horses with a few arrows.
“Miss, are you alright?” One of the guards asked while checking her for bruises. “SOMEONE GET A MEDIC FROM THE INFIRMARY!”
“Yeah... I think I just bruised my hand... and...” Pascal stared speechless at her ring hand which no longer had a ring on it. “And lost my morph.... I mean my mother’s ring! It’s an ancient heirloom... it must have flown off my hand.”
“Don’t worry milady, we’ll find your ring and get it right back to you. I know how much jewelry means to women.” The guard laughed, “but seriously though, if all you did was bruise your hand you must be one tough lady.”
“Or an alchemist who drank a potion of barkskin at the right time," Pascal muttered under her breath.
“What was that missy?” The guard asked. “Didn’t quite catch that.”
“Oh thank you, thank you,” Pascal cried, feigning tears, the woman’s trump card. “If I don’t get my mother’s ring back in time I’m going to be in big trouble.”
“Alright men gather round and look for a ring. This little lady here lost her mama’s ring and we need to make sure she gets it back,” said the guard who comforted Pascal. “It’s gonna be alright now darling we’ll find your mama’s ring.”
“You’re so kind!” Pascal continued mock-crying, walking towards Xhyz and Sera with a look of urgency on her face. “The effect of my morph ring only lasts one hour if I’m not wearing it and it’s going to take us longer than that to get back to Metamor Valley.”
“Why didn’t you bring two?!?!” Sera yell-whispered.
“Back-ups are for amateur alchemists,” Pascal pouted.
“...Or maybe for porcupines who don’t want to get burned at the stake! Ever think of that?!?!” Sera whisper-yelled.
“Okay calm down and take a deep breathe. It’s got to be around here somewhere.” Xhyz spoke up as the voice of reason.
“You’re right... if we keep bickering all we’re going to find is roasted keeper,” Sera cleared her throat and joined the search.
“What she said,” Pascal agreed.
Thirty minutes were wasted in a fruitless endeavor. The ring wasn’t anywhere in sight. Pascal was beginning to get worried, and then petrified when she noticed her legs under her dress were covered in fur! And what was this? Spikes? “Okay, small ones for now... I just gotta find that ring soon...” she said, going into the nearest pub to try and charm some more volunteers. Not that she could charm anyone right now, the poor girl was hyperventilating. “Was I this easy to panic as a guy? Brain stop bringing up stupid questions. Of course I’d be if I was in danger... which is why I didn’t care when Metamor got attacked in the first place... PASCAL, CALM DOWN!” she muttered the first parts, but yelled the last one.
The whole bar looked at the crazy woman. “She’s even more insane than you idiots,” spoke a silver haired man as he drank. “Madame, were you the one that my drunkards trampled under with that horse? You’re lucky to be alive!” the man said, walking forward to kiss Pascal on the hand. “Sir Leo, Also known as Leo the Lancer. If there’s anything I can do to make up for a beautiful young woman such as yourself don’t hesitate.”
“Well I lost a ring that was very important to me and I’m going to be in a lot of trouble if I don’t find it...” Her quills were getting a little longer as she looked behind her. “I’m as good as gone... and it looked like the one that guy’s examining!” Pascal exclaimed, pointing right at her morph ring. “Give that to me please.”
“Finders keepers lady,” said the obese man not in any armor, but instead a red vest.
“I’m sorry, but our Duke has a policy. Never give up any treasure when we’re doing an important mission, not even for young damsels. I’m sorry.” Leo the Lancer actually seemed sincere, but sincere didn’t stop an herbivore from being crucified.
Suddenly it hit her! Pascal grabbed a potion from her potion bag and threw one at the red guy’s face. “My Duke has a policy too, every able bodied person has to fight for their lives!” She called out as the red shirted man began grabbing a chain and whirling it around everywhere while referring to everyone as demons, giving Pascal the perfect chance to grab the ring and resuming her false humanity as she ran with the tavern knights ran after her. “Xhyz, Sera, RUN LIKE HELL!”
So the two did exactly that. Seranima thought about going back for the armor left in Xhyz’s room, but that was too many knights. “At least hand me the sword, Xhyz for the love of Velena hand me the sword.”
Xhyz did so, though Seranima realized she had little to do with it while fleeing several attackers all hot on their heels. Eventually the three managed to get back into the forest which sadly got them surrendered.
“The ring and any other valuables you have,” Leo the Lancer demanded.
“Sir, you really don’t want to ask for this lady’s ring back.” Xhyz warned, grabbing the tomahawks out of his belt, “and you really, REALLY don’t want to ask for our valuables...”
“Your rocks on sticks aren’t threatening red man, no matter how much you think I don’t want to do something. Do you think I’m stupid? That girl was turning into a porcupine, but that ring turned her back. It’s enchanted and very valuable. Hand it over!” Leo the Lancer grabbed his lance and lunged at Xhyz.
“Sorry...” Xhyz said meekly as he twirled his tomahawks in the air and blocked with them, shattering the lance in seconds and giving off various sparks of lightning in the process. “But please, don’t make me use more shaman magic, you have no idea what it’s capable of.”
“I guess you’re Leo the Lanceless now,” Seranima cheered, holding her sword up to his neck. “If I ever catch you in the Northern Midlands again I am going to filet you.”
“What does a woman know of swordplay?” Leo scoffed, hoping to call Seranima’s bluff.
“Enough to know the sharp end goes into the fleshy part... which is currently your neck.” Seranima taught Leo some lessons in common sense this day.
“Fair point...” Leo said while taking a step backwards. “We’ll be on our way then.”
“I’m not joking, if you go anywhere near these Northern Midlands or Metamor Keep. You will regret it for the rest of your life Leo. I’ll see to that!” Seranima warned. The trio made their way to the quarantined Keep with their task complete. “You know Xhyz, if you come with us to Metamor...”
“Archers, fire when ready!” Leo yelled, going in for an incredibly dishonorable kill.
“It’s a very sad day...” Xhyz said as he stopped, turned around, and twirled his tomahawks, letting loose two purple streams of lighting which decimated the arrows to dust and reduced the two archers to skeletons. Their bones literally fell in place, it would be amusing if it wasn’t so barbaric. “That I had to do this... Please, just leave us alone.”
“How did you?” Leo asked confounded and afraid.
“Shamans are deeply attuned with mother nature, with life itself... You made two men unworthy of life, Mother Nature saw fit to take it away. Now their essence, their souls... are part of nature itself. They don’t even get an afterlife.. not in the usual sense anyway... You should feel even guiltier than I do, and I feel pretty damn guilty right now!” Xhyz screeched, even tearing up a little. He said nothing on his way to Metamor.
Leo shed a tear as well, those archers were two of his best friends. “Boys... I think we’re in too deep this time... But I’ll be damned if I told the Duke I surrendered.”
Upon returning to the Keep Xhyz was cheered up by seeing animal men and two-spirits everywhere, but that’s not all! People who were kids, adult people WHO WERE KIDS! “...This wonderful place has a plague on it? Pascal, I’m going to stand by your side and try to fix this mess. I won’t take no for an answer!”
“...Sure. Do a good job and I might even take you on as an apprentice as long as you don’t mind taking the curse.” Pascal smiled, it had been the end of a good trip and an exciting adventure.
“I’d love that! Besides, being a kid again, a two-spirit, or an animal? I can’t lose!” Xhyz still felt bad for using his powers to kill two people, but at the same time he did it to save his new friend Pascal. The medicines made with the herbs saw that there would be no punishment for bringing Xhyz in or letting Sera out. Though they weren’t miracle cures, they did delay the reaper for awhile.
After The Plague
After all of Xhyz and Pascal’s hard work, none of the medicines cured anyone. It turned out it was an evil magic statue that was making everyone sick, but that’s Metamor for you.
Pascal was in her lab waiting for Xhyz to show up, she had him messaged about a very important meeting. While waiting Pascal thought about her old master and her acceptance of femininity. She realized that the real conclusion to be made is that you are what you are, and if you aren’t, then who's stopping you? On her trip she had charmed a city and made fools of an army of knights, and the motivation for both was because she chose to. Was that what Quentin’s master was saying all those years ago? Who really knows. Maybe one day Pascal would take another trip, but for now it was her turn to be the master.
“Sorry I’m late,” said an adorable red fuzzy creature with a big tail. “I’m still not used to this constantly changing landscape.. or... walking with this tail.”
“Xhyz... is that you?” Pascal asked, baffled by what he had become. “What ARE you!?!?!”
“I have absolutely no idea, but I kinda like it!” Xhyz exclaimed throwing his arms up. “Also, this candy thing you have at the keep... I mean... wow... I thought Mulberries were delicious.”
“You look like a raccoon... no a panda... like some kind of raccoon panda,” Pascal had no idea.
“I like red panda better,” Xhyz cheered, looking himself over as if to say, “Not bad, not bad at all.”
“Well, Xhyz. you remember how I said that if you did a good job you’d be my apprentice?” Pascal asked.
“Yeah, but we didn’t cure a single person...” Xhyz said, disappointed.
“Neither did I. So you showed just the same level of skill I did.” Pascal grinned and hugged her new assistant. “Welcome aboard Xhyz!”
Xhyz smiled “Glad to be abo... hey what are you pouring on me?”
Pascal giggled. “Oh just a little headfur dye. It’s what I do with all the newbies who start working with me.”
“Blue hair? That’s no good,” Xhyz complained, though, at least it only affected his head fur. Previous people who worked with Pascal weren’t so lucky.
“Be glad you didn’t end up plaid,” Pascal laughed. Xhyz just stared at her confusion. “Well, are you going to gawk or are we going to make potions?”
“Right... gotcha!” Xhyz said as he slid a morph ring on his finger, turning it to rubber. He wasn’t sure why Pascal insisted they turn rubber for some of their potions, but much like Pascal. He was here to learn.