Trust

by Jack the Lizard

     To My Friend in the North

     Yes I know the last letter didn’t make me sound good but it wasn’t supposed to. It’s something I suspect Eli and I will discuss when I meet Him. The crushing of the Host is something I still regret, but there is no way for me to undo it. It was how I acted and I can’t undo it.

     And it is a sign of Eli’s eternal mercy that the first time I stepped in to the Keep chapel that Yahshua didn’t come off the cross and beat me. I deserved it. Nemo had every right to be mad at me.

     Patric especially, though. I wanted to apologize to him almost right away but it was two weeks before I saw him again. In that time I managed to annoy two people. The first was Sir Egland, the second…a very well known vulpine.

     I want to discuss neither of these incidents but I have to. I might as well start with the first, the time I met Sir Egland. He talked to me, challenged me and then I vomited on him.

     Admit it that interests you. I’ll explain as it goes on.

     May Eli bless this venture as I continue.

      

     March 28th, 707

     The sun slipped into my room from a small window above my bed. I couldn’t remember if the window had been there yesterday, but it was now. It gave me some badly needed light but it also brought in the cold air.

     My tail ached badly even though I was no longer sitting on it. The tip dragged along the ground. I had to either walk with it up or endure the pain.

     What do I do with this damn thing? I sat on the edge of my bed with my tail pulled onto my lap. If I don’t drag it, it sticks up. At least when I wear the sarong I don’t have to see it.

     “What do you think?” I asked the figure sharing my bed. “Do you like your tail?” The little rat from before looked up and squeaked. It went back to nibbling on the small piece of wood that I gave him. “About what I figured.”

     “Nemo wants me to find a job. He says we’ll need employment; I don’t need that I’ve got a job. I’m the son of a Lord; I’m gong to be a Lord.” It’s amazing how hard you can hold on to things you know aren’t true.

     “What do I even do?” I began to wrap fabric around my feet. “I’m good at being the son of a Lord, it takes a lot of training to do that! I don’t want to do anything else!” Now came the leather straps, wrapped around the fabric to hold it in place.

     “I don’t like this place.” I tied the straps together. “These people…they’re insane. Who wants to be an animal monster thing? I just…How can they go on like this?” My memories returned to Patric, carrying his Eucharistic Dove. Despite being a green monster, he went on like this was normal. “How can they be happy like this? Their lives are over…”

     Patric’s life went on. Nemo is being cursed and his life is going on. It’s only you, no one else. I tried to push the voice out. Instead it screamed back. You can’t just hide inside this room!

     “Yeah wait and see.” I tied my other foot up. “Perfect!” My feet were wrapped in linens, held in place by crisscrossing leather straps. They had grown to twice their previous length. Tying them up caused my new claws to rub against my toes.

     “What do you think?” I asked my rodent friend. He took one look and curled into a ball. I rolled my eyes. “Be completely honest, don’t hold anything back.” I wrapped my skirt around me, trying still to hide my tail. This despite its increased length. I might as well have been trying to hide it with air.

     “There.” I secured my skirt and pulled on my falconry glove. My other hand had no glove but did have new claws. This I hid with a new shirt, one featuring two extremely long sleeves. It was an ugly shade of mud-red but it hid my body.

     “Alright and…these” I sighed, “These ugly things.” I felt along my neck at seven spines hiding just under the skin. One came out under my chin and the other six spread out from them. “Why do I have these? What fucking reptile has these?”

     A crystal figure with a big neck holding a stick. You found yourself. I shook my head. “I haven’t found shit. I…I need to get home. I need out of this room.” Their was no decoration in my room, or much of anything. Nemo had acquired a sewing kit for me, that lay under my bed. Otherwise it was an empty tomb.

     “This still doesn’t feel real…” I had purchased a scarf yesterday, during a very brief excursion to the Market Square. I felt calmer wrapping this aba around my neck since it hid the spines. Now only my head was uncovered.

     “My hairline is receding.” I said, feelng along the top of my skull. Yep, it was vanishing and fast. My eyebrows had already disappeared. This curse had taken my home, my way of life, my title and now my hair.

     Truly its evil knew no bounds.

     “I don’t want to go out there today.” I fell onto my bed and leapt up again, “Yow!” Forgot about the tail. This time I pulled it onto my lap before sitting down. My rat friend hopped up and sniffed at me quickly. “I scared you with the screech didn’t I?”

     “Squeee!”

     “Sorry, sorry. Still getting used to…all of this.” I flexed my feet and the claws on my toes tore t the linen wrap. “Damn it. Why do I have to be here?” Because they’ll murder you and hang your body if you leave the Keep and go back home.

     “Know what I want to do?” The rat cocked his little head. “I’d like to go hawking today.” I grinned. “There’s nothing quite like a day spent with your hawk. My current one is Ulysses.

     “He’s this…red-tailed hawk I’ve had for almost two years. He uh…he’s great. Just watching him fly” I shook my head, “I could do it all day. I swear.”

     Hawking is the greatest of all the pastimes. Hunting with arrows is a bloody, violent past time I despise. I’ve never liked killing, but when hawking at least the hawk can get a meal out of this.

     When you’re hawking you are free. In the field, the wind blowing through your hair and the hawk screeching as it circles above you, you are at peace. You can forget your father’s obsessive grooming you to take over for him, your place in an Empire you don’t know.

     “I don’t think Duke what’s his name even knows how to go hawking.” I said. “Who is running this place?” I scratched my head. “Nemo said he was a horse…nope don’t remember.

     “How can Duke Clip-Clop be a ruler and not enjoy hawking? It’s insane.” Not as insane as was calling him Duke Clip-Clop to his face.

     Which I did.

     But not for a few months.

     “I need out of this room.” I stretched and stood. “I need a whore very badly. I need a whore, where is the brothel?” I yawned. “God almighty. Think think, think…oh I know where it is!”

     Yesterday I had heard someone discussing a business somewhere in Euper. From the name, I knew it had to be a brothel. “It’s called the Jolly Collie inn! How can it not be a brothel?”

     In my defense, that does sound like the name of a brothel.

     “I’ll find the brothel and then I’ll…maybe I’ll fuck a dog girl.” I shrugged. “Never done that before. What do you think?” My rat sniffed curiously. I smiled and stroked his fur.

     “I’ll bring you like a nut or something to eat. Promise.” I left him there to gnaw things while I searched for the brothel.

     The center room of my new home was empty. The fire was put out and the ashes were piling up. Beside the fireplace two glaives rested: Qual and mine. Mine was a dull iron blade mounted on a shaft of oak.

     Qual was magnificent. A two-pronged silver blade, reminding me of the face of the moon. The shaft was unlined, unblemished and utterly perfect. When you looked at it, no matter how long you did, you couldn’t see how the blade and shaft connected. Obviously they did but your eyes…just kind of slid off.

     I touched the shaft. It was warm, almost pulsating beneath my touch. I looked then at my glaive next to it. The shaft was splintering, the blade was wedged on and the blade itself was dented and dusty. I lifted it up.

     “At least I can use this.” I swung my weapon, letting it move across my fingers. The blade of my glaive was sharp and the weapon was balanced for me. I sat it back down and put one hand on Qual.

     “A runic weapon…what I wouldn’t give…” I closed my eyes and imagined that Qual was mine. Perfect weight, perfect fit and able to spin without hitting myself. “Gods in heaven yes…”

     I’d stand before all of the Keep, above them all holding Qual over my head. The invading armies would come and I’d fight them off. Because I was just that good! In my own fantasies!

     It’s my fantasy; I’m allowed to be a god among men if I want.

     “Then after I fight off the army…what of? Lutin? Good as anything else, I can go back to Isenport.” I sunk against the wall. “Then they’ll name me Emperor and the best dressed human ever. And not a lizard.” I sighed.

     “I need to train more. Where can I train…not in this place.” The city as it was cramped and full of people, I couldn’t go around swinging a blade. “I’ll have to leave the walled Keep…” My heart froze in my chest. “Can’t do that…”

     The Keep was a cage and I a falcon. It confined me but at the same time it protected me. An eyas couldn’t be allowed to fly free, they’d die. They also couldn’t be contained, they’d go insane.

     “Going outside to train won’t kill me.” I mumbled. “I can be with Nemo, in eyesight of the Keep.” Now I had to laugh. “I’ve been miserable here, now the thought of leaving scares me. I still don’t want to be here…” I moaned.

     “I wanna go home! I don’t want to be in this place. I want my bed again.” My head dropped. “I don’t know anyone here. I don’t belong here, what was Father doing here? Why did this happen to me?” Again I had sat down on my tail but I was so drained that the pain didn’t bother me.

     “How can I get home?” I glanced around the living room. “I can’t live here. This place is a crypt. I need to get back to Isenport.”

     What would make this place more comfortable? I laughed.

     “If it was in Isenport.” I shook my head. “I’m never going back am I? It’s done; I’m stuck in this place. I’m going to die in a city in an enemy kingdom and I’ll never see my home again.” Something began to bubble up inside of me. But it wasn’t depression.

     It was rage.

     “I’m never going to get to see home because of that son of a bitch I call my Father who always needs to pull something underhanded.” I shook my head. “I’m going to die here while he’ll just raise my brother in my place.” The anger I had felt when dealing with Patric was back, now it was coming out though.

     “Why was that bastard even here? We’re meeting with someone? Who do you even know?” I grit my teeth. “I’m going to see the whores, then I’ll feel better. I can…I can pay them…” I sighed, “I can pay them to talk to me. I can pay them to not to think I’m a monster.”

     I pushed myself back up again as Nemo’s door popped open. I forced a queasy smile onto my face. “Just woke up, surprised I beat you.”

     “I was quite exhausted.” Nemo said with a yawn. “How are you this fine morning James? Your feet have changed.”

     “They have not!” I snapped. He gestured at my linen wraps covering my changed feet. “Well…the floor hurts when it’s cold now so I needed something to keep them warm. What would you expect me to do?” Nemo rubbed his chin.

     “Well you’re becoming a lizard—

     “I am not!”

     –And as a lizard you will not be able to handle cold temperatures. So this” He said, gesturing at the floor, “needs to change. I’d recommend we go find something, carpeting, thrash, sand or something else.”

     “What on Earth is thrash?” Nemo sat down and rubbed his eyes instead of responding. His black hair was slightly pressed down but it actually looked a bit shinier. Not only that but the gray at his temples looked less gray. I sat down beside him, careful to mind my tail. “Something wrong?”

     “Actually no. I’m tired but not bad tired. I just feel peculiar.” He held up his hands. “My skin is less rugose. I wonder, perhaps a result of this beneficent place?” Nemo asked. I rolled my eyes.

     “Can’t you just say stuff without me wondering what you’re talking about?” I asked.

     “I understand my vocabulary. You would also if you read some. James you were going to be the ruler of a city, you should have read more. You can rectify that.”

     “I wasn’t going to be anything,” I snapped, “I’ll be the ruler of Isenport. Now shut up.” Nemo sighed and yawned again. “So what’s for breakfast.”

     “Right now? Not a thing.”

     “What?”

     “Nothing. I need to purchase more food for us.” Nemo shook his head, trying to wake up. “In fact I’d recommend you explore this Keep, find places we could eat if needed.”

     “Can’t do that.” I said. “Busy today, you gotta do that.” Nemo raised an eyebrow. “I need money actually, not much. Going to see the whores.” I grinned. My caretaker did not.

     “James, we have a limited, shrinking monetary supply. You should not be wasting it on prostitutes while we have more pressing concerns.” My stomach grumbled in agreement. “This is a city, there is a market somewhere. Go find it.”

     “I know where the Market Square is.” I grumbled. “I’m not a complete idiot.”

     “I never thought you were.” Nemo said. “James, I think you can make this situation work—

     “I don’t want to make it work!” I yelled. Nemo closed his eyes, preparing for the onslaught. “I’ve tried making it work and I’m sick of it! I want a whore; I’m going to find a whore!”

     “I think you can make this work. But you have to address your priorities. James, we no longer have limitless money.” Nemo said. My stomach dropped. “You’ll have to change your lifestyle. You have to budget now.”

     “I don’t want to budget.” I wiped my eyes, trying to keep them dry. “I don’t…it’s not fair. I’m stuck in a city on the opposite side of the continent, might as well be the opposite side of the fucking world!” I didn’t notice it but Nemo put his hand on mine. “And it just…it sucks! I can’t fix it! I don’t want to fucking be here! I want to burn this place, this Keep and my fucking tail!”

     “I didn’t know you had grown a tail.” Nemo said. I spun around,

     “Excuse me?” He smiled.

     “I’d like to see you wear fewer rags. I bet your tail looks magnificent on you.” I make it look fantastic, if I may be so humble. At that moment though it was a dreadful reminder of my inevitable beastly form.

     “I thought I told you about this…” Nemo shook his head. “Well I did, I’ve got a fucking tail and no you can’t see it. You wanna see, grow one of your own.”

     “I would be so lucky. I suspect I am not though James.” He untied our money bag, at his waist as always, and pulled out a few shiny coins. Silver I believe maybe a few coppers. “James you need to learn to prioritize and I need to know I can trust you. I want to give you this money but I know what you will use it for.”

     “Yeah to go see the whores.” Nemo just shook his head and pulled out another two coins.

     “James, you are a stubborn individual. No matter my wishes, you will act on a desire you have set your mind to. So let me ask you this, if I give you money to pay for a whore will you purchase food for us?”

     “Why can’t you do it Nemo?” I whined.

     “Because you need to learn how to do things yourself James.” This was obvious in hindsight. “I won’t be here forever; you have to know how to do simple things like buy your own food or to visit the market.” I fell silent at this, his reasoning was sound. Even to an obstreperous eyas such as myself.

     “I can do that…” I mumbled. “I’ll get food…stuff I want. Your taste sucks.” Ah there’s the imbecile I was in my youth, grateful as always for Nemo’s help. “I’ve got a more refined pallet, I’ll find something good.”

     “You’ll have to readjust your pallet while living here James.” Nemo said with a sigh. He pushed the coins across the table. “I’m trusting you. Don’t disappoint me.”

     “Thank you!” I snatched the coins up. “I wont disappoint you, I’ll get us fresh cutlets, sweetmeat, veal” Now I was drooling, “Everything we had at the manor. You can cook it right? Doesn’t matter, the kitchen staff taught me how to cook, I’ll make something great.” Nemo just shook his head. “What?”

     “I admire your bravado. One thing I’m going to purchase today is a pot. We might need one.”

     “Yeah yeah.” I stood up. “Look thanks for the money, I won’t disappoint you. Promise.”

     And I did intend to keep that promise. I really did. Just…things happened.

      

     I decided the best thing to do was to go to the market square first and then find the prostitutes. And that’s what I did sort of. I went to the square but I didn’t actually go into the square.

     Instead I stood in the shadow cast by a cobbler’s shop. I watched the people coming and going occasionally, while keeping myself hidden. Because a scaled man in a skirt and clashing shirt won’t attract attention.

     “I can’t believe they even have a market here.” I mumbled, “How can they? Gods, they’ve been cursed. Why aren’t they doing something about it?” I slumped against the side-wall. “I’d have done something about it.” Oh my youthful arrogance, how I do not miss thee.

     “Is that lizard man wearing a dress?” I cocked my head up. A giraffe and a very small girl walked past me.

     “Possibly.” The giraffe said, “They’ve let some odd people into the Keep.”

     “Hey I’m the son of a Lord! I’m raising the value of this dirt by sitting on it!” was what I did not say. Instead I sat there in silence and hoped for the Earth to swallow me up. My anger grew and soon errupted.

     “They think I’m weird?” I snarled at no one. “They live in their own shit and they want to call me weird?” Now I was beginning to yell at the walls, nothing weird about that. I was in propinquity to insanity by now, yet I continued yelling.

     “I’m not weird, they are! Them and their city and their cursed valley and their…pants with tail holes!” Several faces peered almost coquettishly into the ally to watch the screeching eyas in a dress, as if they glanced something forbidden.

     I ignored them; I had some stupid screaming to do.

     “And I’m sick of the temperature, I’m sick of the food and I want to go home!” I cried, “I want—

     “Hey, I want something too. I want you to stop yelling.” The crowd was thrown open like curtains pulled open. I looked up.

     “What, what the hell do you want?” I was in a yarak state, focusing on my anger. I was going to rage no matter what people tried to do.

     “I want you to shut up ya jerk.” The speaker was a mottled gecko, blue scales with orange splotches all over her body. She had eyes colored like pea-soup with pupils that looked like knotted rope.

     She wore a blue tabard and cloak with a lantern on it. She carried a short sword and length of rope, both attached to her belt. “I don’t wanna arrest another scalie so I’m given you a chance, be quiet.”

     “What do you mean arrest me?” She laughed.

     “I will have you know, I am a proud Warden of the Metamor Keep Watch and I will arrest you if you act like a jackass. Now shut up and move on.” I stood up, rage ready to erupt from me and responded the only way that I could.

     “Yes Warden, please don’t arrest me.” I was many things and a coward was one of them. The Warden watched me as I rejoined the crowd. People parted to let me through.

     I turned around to see the Warden join another lizard in a similar uniform. Her partner? Probably. The other lizard was almost solid blue with just little specks of color. Her tail was so massive it dragged the ground. It came with a huge sailfin growing out of it.

     She’s got a nice tail…bet it hides a nice ass… My grin disappeared as fast as it emerged. “She’s an animal, what is wrong with me?” I turned away and moved on through the crowd.

     Anger and confusion coiled within me, fighting to get out. You need to head back to the market for food.

     “I’m not going back there with everyone looking at me. I don’t want them…looking at me.”

     You’re a changing lizard wearing a skirt, where else are they supposed to look? A sign caught my eye. I smiled.

     “This a mercer’s shop.” My eyes drifted from the mercer’s displayed bolts of fabric and my atrocious skirt. “I need something better, something with some actual color. How can they stand to wear all of this brown?”

     A mercer as you know sells textiles. Textiles were one of my issues with Metamor. Everyone seemed to dress in shades of brown and I had yet to interact with someone well dressed.

     Other than myself of course. No one is quite as well dressed as me.

     A bell rung as I entered the mercer’s shop. I was greeted by shelves and boxes filled to the point of bursting with fabric. All light came from candles mounted on the wall, a questionable choice when you sell flammable goods.

     This place is shit. The floor had a carpet of dust, I kicked up little clouds with every step. The fabric boxes were used as bollards, creating a path that lead me up to a filth encrusted counter.

     “Hello” The counter was empty aside from a ledger also coated in dust and a hand bell. I picked it up and rung it. “Anyone here?”

     “A customer?” There was a sole door behind the counter. This door was….big, tall and wide, as if meant for a giant. When it opened I could see why. “Welcome good sir to my shop!” My eyes went wide.

     From the back of the store emerged a lion man, one who absolutely towered over me. He had a reddish mane that stuck out in every direction, golden eyes and a jolly smile. He wore an ill fitting verdant tunic with a waist belt. And no pants, of course no pants. But there was a reason why.

     “You got four legs!” I cried. The lion man looked at his legs and then nodded.

     “Yes, yes I do. I have a taur form, I assume you do not?” He cocked his head. “Wait…you’re not done changing yet are you? Oh simply delightful!” He laughed and his massive body shook. “What are you becoming?”

     “What makes you think I’m becoming anything?” I snapped.

     “I’m guessing lizard good sir. Wonderful, we could use more scalies.” I rolled my eyes. “Well as a morph like me, you have the potential sir! The potential to gain for yourself a second set of legs.”

     “If I leave now, can I not grow more legs?” I asked. He chuckled again. Stop laughing at things that aren’t funny you goddamn freak.

     “You may not gain a taur form, or you may. It’s not my place to decide, it’s the joy of the curse.” He laughed yet again, causing his massive body to jiggle all around. “We can gain a second set of legs, we also gain another…form.” For just a second the lion’s face froze but the joy lept back again. “So how can I help you?”

     “You can choose to have four legs?” I asked. “Why then? Why are you a taur? Why would anyone want that?” The liontaur shrugged.

     “I’m kind of…form locked.” He said. “It’s actually a fascinating story; I would love to share with you.”

     “Yeah no interest.”

     “It happened about a year after I was first cursed,” The lion’s eyes drifted away from me, “Shortly after the Battle of—

     “Shut it!” I snapped. “I do not care! The only thing I’m curious about at this point is how you go to the bathroom.”

     “Well if you’d like to know—

     “Not that curious.” I said. “Question, why is it every fabric you’re selling here is so…drab? It’s all gray, which I thought was the dust at first. Why is it so dusty?”

     “I don’t get many customers.” He said, “I don’t need them though, I have money from other sources.” I frowned.

     “If you have money, why are you running a store?”

     “I like to interact with people. It makes me happy.” Of course, that reason. I shook my head. “As for the lack of color, I used to be partnered with a dyer but he…well died.”

     “And…you decided to just embrace gray?” Smooth, jackass. The lion’s smile wobbled for a second.

     “I’ve not had time to find a new dyer and there are others who sell fabrics besides me. They even make money, as I said this is just for fun.”

     “And let me guess,” I said, “You sell your stuff at discount also?” The lion-taur shrugged.

     “I could. We’ve been talking now for a while, you do realize you’ve not asked my name once right?”

     “Why would I need to know your name? All I need to know is what you’re selling and how much can I get from it.” The liontaur scratched the side of his head as he observed me.

     “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that. My name Jez, full name—

     “How much is this?” I asked, pulling out a bolt of hideously ugly fabric. “I mean, I don’t want to buy it but I want to know what you’re thinking.” The liontaur laughed.

     “You have such a frank way of expressing yourself, has anyone ever complimented you on that? Even if your language is foul good sir, you say what you mean. One can’t help but respect it.” I winced.

     “Shut up! What’s wrong with you?” I stuck the fabric bolt back into the bulging crate, though it didn’t fit all the way. I took a second to really jam it in, which caused an even ugly mustard yellow bolt to pop up.

     “If you want that one, you can give me whatever you think is fair.” Jez said, “The money isn’t that important. I bought all this fabric on discount from other merchants.” I frowned.

     “How exactly does that work?”

     “It didn’t get sold before so merchants got desperate. I took it from them,” Jez said, “They needed the money anyway.” He sat down on his hind legs and in doing so his stance reminded me of a pillar. “So do you have your eye on anything?”

     “Just…you are a terrible merchant.” This finally got that smile to drop. “Isenport, where I’m from, it’s a real city. We sell shit there and no merchant would act like this.”

     “How would they act?” I turned back to the box and began sorting through the mess. Finally I found the least horrible selection and pulled it out.

     “How much is this?” Jez shrugged. “No! No no no, you set a price, you set a high price and you stick with it!”

     “But I might lose customers or bother people.”

     “You take that risk! You need to sell shit or you can’t be a good merchant.”

     “I don’t want to be a good merchant!” Jez cried, “I just wannt to meet people and make people happy.” I rolled my eyes.

     “Fine, well if you’re going to be like this, I guess I will buy something. Do you have—

     “I’m not selling to you.” Jez smiled. I froze.

     “Excuse me?”

     “You’re a mean person. I’ll sell you stuff when you’re nicer but I don’t want to.” He laughed, “I’m terribly sorry sir.”

     “You think I’m mean?” I asked, “Who gives a crap, I have money!”

     “I told you, I have no interest in money. Never have.” I screamed. “Please refrain from doing that again, thank you.”

     “Fucking idiot! Fine, can you at least tell me something?”

     “I can try. Please avoid profanity in my store.” I grit my teeth and my tail stuck out in frustration.

     “Just tell me, I’m looking for a place. How do I find the Jolly Collie Inn?” Jez gave me a bemused smile.

     “I’m…intrigued now. Why do you want to go there? Do you know the state of the Inn right now?”

     “I do not care. I want to go see the hookers.”

     “The what?”

     “The whores!” I said. “I know there is a brothel in this damn place and I want to find it.” And again the liontaur laughed. He laughed until he almost fell over, his tunic straining to hold his jiggling mass. “What?”

     “I know the…owner of the Jolly Collie, or rather I met him once. I do so hope you tell him all you have told me.”

     “Why?” My tail lowered in confusion.

     “Oh no reason. Yes I can give you directions.”

      

     Fun fact, I had come to Metamor three months after the Assault. Why does this matter you may be asking?

     Because the Assault had left the Keep very broken, very burned and very much in need of repair.

     “This is the brothel?” I moaned out loud. “This place wouldn’t pass as the worst whore house in all of Isenport!” Maybe because it wasn’t a whore house twit.

     The Jolly Collie stood in front of me. Or rather, the soon to be re-opened Jolly Collie. For now it was a burned out, roofless shell, with many different forms walking around it.

     They’re repairing it, it’ll be back soon. I moaned again. Relax, be glad they’re getting fixed up.

     “What’s with this place?” I collapsed against a wall. “Every place is burned, all the buildings need to be fixed up. This place is a shit hole.” I began to work my claws against the wrappings on my feet. “I need out of here.”

     People walked around me without a glance. It was as if the crowded streets and burned buildings were not enough to deter them. I sat down (careful to avoid sitting on my tail) and watched them.

     “What keeps them going?” I asked myself. “They’re all doomed. They should abandon this place.” A coyote and a rodent of some kind stopped and looked at me. The rodent looked like they wanted to say something. “Oh get lost!”

     The rodent looked taken aback while the coyote just glared at me. He whispered something into the saucer shaped ears of the rodent, not that I could hear, and the two walked off.

     A predator and prey, interacting together. Not the kind of thing you’d see in Isenport. I pulled my knees into me. Lightbringers and Followers in the same city. Something you definitely wouldn’t see in Isenport. I curled my tail in as tight as possible. Aren’t you supposed to be doing something?

     “Yeah. I need to be going home.” I closed my eyes and opened the past. My thoughts took me south, far south of everyone here. “Home…” I whispered as the memory washed over me.

     Now I was human, well dressed in my doublet and tights. Now I strolled the streets of Isenport.

     I was on Pudding Street, one of the winding streets that came into existence due to the ill-lined houses. The buildings were a collection of wood against white wash stone, thatch roof and poorly cleaned windows.

     “And I’m home.” The ache in my heart lessened, but it stayed with me. I pushed it aside and began to stroll about my streets.

     And these were my streets. This city was my city; I would rule it one day in the name of the Empire. “I am home. I am home.”

     Pudding Street was the street of bakers, confectioners and others who’s trade lay in preparing delicacies. The scents wafted about me, leaving me light headed. I steadied myself against the wall.

     “I am home.” The people milled about him, a variety of colors and body types mashed together. Yet they were all human. Not a claw or feather in sight, not any children lecturing grown men. All human.

     All was right again.

     “Stand back, stand back!” My guards yelled out. Everyone knew who I was, their future leader, their protector and guardian. And the people followed.

     “I am home.” I whispered as the masses parted for me. The people’s eyes were filled with admiration and respect. I waved at them and they cheered.

     “Excuse me.” I pushed this voice out of the way.

     “I am home.” The sun burned into my scales. “No, no scales. I am home. I am—“

     “Excuse me sir!”

     The daylight shattered. Once again I was far from home, locked in a strange land. I glanced up, to see something I hadn’t seen in a long time.

     A human woman, blond and with green eyes. Her face was wracked with concern. I forced a smile.

     “Uh hi. I’m okay.” She outstretched her hand, in a thick work glove I noted. I took it and she pulled me up. “Wow, you are strong as an ox.”

     “I work as…well I suppose a lumberjill is the term now.” She smiled, “My name is Aaryn.”

     “I’m James.” I mumbled. She nodded and gestured at my face.

     “Any idea what kind of reptile you’re becoming?” I shook my head. “I personally like snakes.”

     “I don’t like any of them.” I mumbled.

     My hand trembles now as I write this but I’ll continue none the less. I can never fully repay you Aaryn.

     “Well you’ll adjust.” She smiled. “I adjusted to being a woman. But I know that look.”

     “What look?” I asked.

     “The look of a man who could use a drink.” She said. “Come on, I’ll take you to the Mule.”

     “The what?” Aaryn laughed.

     “You’ll see.” She took my arm in hers and led me away. I didn’t pull free until we entered Keeptown.

     “You used to be a man didn’t you?” Aaryn nodded.

     “I did. But that was a long time ago.” She shrugged. “The male form never suited me anyway. I can still swing an ax, that’s all I need.” I nodded. “What about you, what brought you here?”

     “I…I was…brought here by my father.” I gripped my skirt. “Self-absorbed son of a bitch. I uh…got injured…” It was all my fault. “And I ended up unconscious for so long, the curse got me.”

     “So what was your Father? A merchant?”

     “Something like that.” I muttered. We passed under the shadow of a badly damaged building. I paused for a second. "What’s with this?” Aaryn frowned. “This, why are so many houses burned and stuff?”

     “It was the Assault.” I shrugged. “Yule time Assault? Some people call it the Winter Assault?"” I shook my head. “You’ve not been here very long have you?”

     “Just about three weeks.” I said. Aaryn sighed and nodded. “What?”

     “The Assault, oh Gods I don’t know where to begin.” She rubbed her temples. “Where are you from?” We resumed walking.

     “I’m from Isenport, in Sathmore.” I said. “I was…I didn’t leave Sathmore much.” Aaryn nodded.

     “What do you think of Metamor so far?”

     “I’ve not had the best introduction. It’s just—YOW!” A passerby stepped on my skirt and by extension, my tail. I leapt up into the air, briefly causing the scarf around my neck to come free. Aaryn’s eyes went wide.

     “So that’s what you’re becoming.” I scooped the scarf up and rewrapped it. “There’s no shame in that.”

     “So says you.” I snapped. “I’m becoming a monster. I don’t want this! This…” We stopped again. “This form, I want it to stop and I want to go home.”

     “You poor sad thing.” Aaryn said. “They messed you up badly didn’t they?” I frowned and took off walking again. Aaryn scrambled to keep up. “Relax, relax I’m just asking.”

     “They didn’t do anything to me.” I said. “Never mind, tell me about the Assault. Why would anyone want to attack this place?”

     “You do know who is to the North right?” I shook my head. “Nasoj? Great evil? End of your way of life?” No I had no clue who that was. I truly was that ignorant in my youth.

     “Is Metamor valuable?” I asked.

     “Beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

     “And someone tried to attack it?” Aaryn nodded. “I assume you guys won?”

     “As best as this can be called winning.” Aaryn said. I looked around at the twisted and burned street.

     “I wish this place would be burned to the ground.” Is what I didn’t say. I wanted to say it but I couldn’t do it. These people can survive anything.

     “I’m glad you won.” I said. We resumed walking in silence. I fell into a haze and only emerged when Aaryn was shaking my shoulder.

     “We’re here.” The building we stood in front of was not a building. It was smashed pieces of a building, held together by hope and a tent over the top. I looked over at Aaryn.

     “You’re joking right?”

     “Not at all. This is actually great.” Aaryn said. “The Mule was smashed to pieces but they’ve started to rebuild.”

     “As this?” I asked.

     “You’d be surprised.” Aaryn said. She frowned. “I wanna get a drink too…but I’m needed somewhere else.”

     “So you brought me here and just dump me?” I asked.

     “I brought you here because you need a drink.” Aaryn said. “Get a big one for me lizard boy.” I smiled. She’s actually really cute, isn’t she?

     I waited until Aaryn had walked away until I went into the Deaf Tent.

     The Deaf Tent was deafening. Yes, shocking. It was what you would expect from a bar (people, drinks, mazers, bar) but without certain things, like chairs and tables. People were crowded around whatever they could set a drink on, talking and laughing.

     The tent was smoky and dim, crowded despite the time of day. I walked forward slowly. They’re all looking at me. I need to get out of here. I pushed these thoughts away; I did need a drink after all.

     When you don’t know who runs a bar or how much a drink costs, there are many ways to find out. This was my way.

     “Hey, hello!” I grabbed the arm of the first passer by and pulled out a couple of coins. “How drunk will this get me?”

      

     The answer is pretty drunk.

     I had four empty mazers littering me and three others had been taken away. It was about that time the music entered my brain. I was gripping my chair because the room had begun to spin out of control. I was pretty sure I was no longer attached to the Earth.

     What is that? Something sailed into my ears, silken and rich. It nestled snuggly into my mind, then into my heart.

     A fire ignited inside of me, sending heat through my blood and into my muscles. I sunk into my chair. It’s music. I know it’s music. My eyes sank shut as the strings played up my spine.

     At home we had musicians to play for us. I could spend my evenings serenaded by the sounds of violins. My father paid them too much and frankly they were only okay. But I still loved their music.

     Now though it was completely forgotten. All music to me was forgotten except this. I opened my eyes.

     The tent was warm, smoky maybe? Lights and figures blurred past my eyes as I looked for the source. What is that? I tried to stand up and found myself sitting again. Don’t have control over my legs…

     “Hey.” The blurs ignored me, “Hey!” Speaking came in forced bursts, like a weight was wrapped around my chest. “Whosssse playing that music?” The blurs ignored me, or maybe I wasn’t talking.

     “Hey! Damn it I’m talking here! I’m talkin’….” I swallowed. Now some of the blurs drifted closer. The music kept playing also. I tried to grab at a blur. “Hey who’s playin’ the music?”

     “Let go of me.” The blur slipped through my fingers. Not that easy. I tried forcing myself up only to stumble and slam into the table. Mazers scattered around as I collapsed onto my back.

     Well the music stopped. The light was halos around me. Fuzzy faces crowded my field of view.

     “Excuse me; I believe you were asking about the music?” A hand came in front of my face. Hairy, black fingernails and thick fingers. Only two fingers though? I grabbed it and let the person pull me up.

     That accent…Pyralian? Oh like you can recognize accents. The hairy arm poured me back into my seat. The other blurs resumed their activities as the other person sat down.

     “Did you like the music?” My head rolled to the other side.

     “Yeah…it’s nice…” I focused on the speaker, trying to keep the world from spinning. Right now I could see three of them. “Isssa…uh…” I swallowed and rubbed my head. “You play the viola?”

     “I do. You know what a viola is?”

     “I’m the son of the-the lord!” I waved my hand at him. “I was trained in music.”

     “That’s wonderful. Music is a beautiful art.” The three became one at last. My gaze focused on the complete speaker. “I am Sir Yacoub Egland.” The voice belonged to a fuzzy brown face with sympathetic eyes.

     He’s a knight…and a deer. That figures… Sir Egland sitting towered above me, he was a tall fuzz colored brown figure. He was in green, a doublet maybe? I don’t remember, I know something was on his legs but I was too drunk.

     What stuck out to me was his face and head. His face was like that of many deer I’d seen, but more. It was happy, his black eyes were inquisitive. His head sported two massive antlers, giving him a majestic look.

     He had a viola resting on his lap. His arms almost rippled with strength and his big antlers looked like they could gore me. They were actually too big, like they were about to fall off. Beautiful. This was where the music came from?

     That was how he looked then. How would Sir Egland look now? Does he live? We were both so young then. I wish I knew how lucky I had been then.

     “You’re a deer.” I said. Master of the obvious, that’s me.

     “I am an elk.” He said. “A kind of deer in this region. And you?”

     “You’re also a knight.” I sneered, “I don’t like knights, go away.” Sir Egland’s face remained blank but his ears flicked. Irritation or confusion? I’ll leave up to your judgement my friend.

     A musician, a knight and he seems happy? Interesting. I tried to keep my countenance from betraying my thoughts.

     “We have only just met, good sir. Do you dislike me already?”

     “If you keep talking I will.” I said. Still the elk sat there and watched me. “I dunno what I am, I don’t care. This damn curse…”

     “It’s not fair but we adjust.” Sir Egland said. “I have. I never planned to be an elk. I doubt you planned to be…a lizard?”

     “I’m not a lizard.” I stammered. “I am James of…uh…” My family history slipped from my memories. I was really drunk. The elk sniffed the air and his muzzle contorted into a frown.

     “You’ve had enough to drink, don’t get anymore.”

     “You can’t tell me what to do.” I stammered, “I am James of House Dorothea, son of the Lord of Isenport and…some empires too!” Sir Egland gave me a bemused and almost pitying look. “Don’t you laugh at me!”

     “I did not laugh. I would not laugh. I am listening to you and deciding how I should react.” His voice was strong and confident. Mine wavered back and forth.

     “I don’t care how you react. I’m a noble…” I belched, “Nobles don’t care. They don’t care about that music…I’ve got a bodyguard! He’ll stab ya.” What was I talking about? What was I thinking?

     “A noble? I don’t see anyone noble here.” Sir Egland said. “To be honest, you look pathetic.” I barked a laugh.

     “Coming from the elk? At least I can clear a doorway without having to duck under.” Sir Egland didn’t respond. He just fixated upon me. “What?”

     “How long have you been in Metamor? A few weeks?” I scowled.

     “Too long. Long enough to…get stuff…” My head began to spin again so I gripped the chair.

     “What do you know of the Keep? What have you seen?” I shrugged. “Nothing? Nothing at all?”

     “Nothing.” I snarled. Sir Egland shook his head.

     “If that’s the case you are a very stubborn man and you are choosing to see nothing. Because this place is full of beauty and magic.” I started to laugh but Sir Egland cut me off. “It is James of House Dorothea.

     “You say you have seen nothing? I can’t believe that. I came here temporarily and stayed permanently after…” Sir Egland’s gaze drifted away for a second, “After the death of the Patriarch, my comrades and…and I was hurt. Not just in the body, but in the heart also.

     “And here I healed. James Metamor is full of wonder and magic, things I had never experienced before. It helped me; I don’t feel shame for my beastly form.”

     “And being here did that for you?” I laughed, “What a load of crap.” The rest of the Deaf Mule tent fell away from us. Now there was only Sir Egland and I, sitting in the void. “How can you not feel ashamed? You’re a giant deer thing!”

     “I have committed many sins.” Sir Egland said, “This is not one of them.” My anger roared inside me but the alcohol kept it inside. At the same time though, a different feeling stirred.

     I’ve done nothing wrong. If I can’t get home it’s not my fault. It’s the world that punishes me for being a reptile. I tried to squash those thoughts. I didn’t want to think that. Of course being a lizard is bad.

     “You said…” I swallowed, “You were here after…someone was killed?” Sir Egland frowned.

     “I cam here as part of the guard watching over the Patriarch. I failed to protect his holiness and he was slain.” Sir Egland swallowed.

     “The Patriarch that’s…gotta do with the Followers?” I had actually been instructed on this by my tutors. Of course I wasn’t paying attention, why would I be?

     “The Patriarch is the leader of the Ecclessia, yes.”

     “I never usssed to talk to Followers…” I slurred, “I…my family is Loth…uh pagan” I giggled, “Uh I ain’t.”

     “What are you James?” Always a difficult question. I shrugged.

     “I’m a noble. I’m more noble than anyone here!” I think I shouted the last part, I don’t remember.

     “You’re not noble.” Egland said

     “I said I am a noble!”

     “I know what you said, James, but you do not live up to the word. James, in the short time we have spoken, you have been rude, arrogant, capricious, and a fool.” I grimaced at this.

     “James, I had to survive the deaths of my friends and my Patriarch. I came to Metamor Keep after my greatest failure.” Sir Egland leaned foreword as his ears pulled back. “Do you think that was easy?”

     “I don’t know.” I said. Sir Egland sat back in his chair, very calm and very still, despite his massive antlers. By comparison I was beginning to shake, though with fear or frustration I can’t tell. “You’re a knight; you’re supposed to be tougher than me.” With those big ass head decorations, he looks like a hat rack.

     “You said you were going to lead a city.” Sir Egland said, “Is what I do more difficult than that?” He was right, even the bastard in me knew it.

     “I…I don’t…”

     “I was more than scared.” Sir Egland said, “I was petrified. I was cursed, everyone in the outside world thinks I’m dead” My eyes grew wide, “and I’m trapped in a strange city. But I’m still here.” I swallowed.

     “How do you deal with it?” My voice held firm, for a second the effects of alcohol dulled in me. “You’re so strong…you have to have something.”

     “I have my faith.” Sir Egland said. “I know this is where Eli wants me to be for now. I have love.”

     “And you just survive?” I asked.

     “Day by day.” Sir Egland said. “It’s not always easy but I’ll make it.” He smiled at me. “And I think you can too James.” I shook my head.

     “Can’t do it. I’m not strong enough.”

     “I don’t believe that.” Sir Egland said. “You’re not acting noble, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be. So I’m going to challenge you James.

     “My challenge is for you to become noble. Instead of whining about your life, do something. Find something to believe in, a reason to keep going, and use it to push yourself.”

     “You really think I can do that?” I laughed. “What makes you think I can rebuild my life?” Sir Egland glanced around.

     “You want to transform? You’re in the right place.” Sir Egland said. “We’ve survived the curse and the Winter Assault.”

     “You’ve rebuilt…” My thoughts returned to Lita, what she had said to me earlier.

     Outside of this tent were crisscrossing streets and damaged buildings. Surrounding this valley were people who would love to see Metamor wiped out. Yet they rebuilt. Armies attacked them, yet they survived.

     When I looked up again, Sir Egland was thirty feet tall. It took me a moment to realize I was five inches tall then. He’s been through so much, even worse than me. Yet he survives.

     “You think I can change?”

     “I’m sure.” Sir Egland said. “It’s not impossible.” He stood and I stood with him.

     “Wait!” Sir Egland smiled at me. “I want too…uh I mean…” The effects of the alcohol came roaring back. I began to sway. “I want to change. I can change.”

     “I know.” Sir Egland said. “I’ll be watching.”

     In a story this would be the big profound moment, the moment the character makes a vow, cuts his hair and changes. Except this isn’t a story. Two things were still to happen. First my stomach had to lurch.

     “Oh God!” My stomach flipped and I vomited all over Sir Egland’s hooves.

      

     I don’t remember much of the trip back home. Sir Egland helped me walk because I was really drunk. At some point we were back at my door and he was knocking and I was trying not to vomit again.

     “Coming!” Nemo called out. The door opened. Nemo’s smile morphed into a frown when he saw me. “I’m going to assume you didn’t buy any food.”

     “Does this man live here?” Sir Egland asked. “He says this is his home but I didn’t trust him to walk.”

     “Yes this is his dwelling. Come on in.” Nemo sighed. “Thank you for bringing James home mister?”

     “Sir, Sir Yacoub Egland.” He ducked down when entering so his antlers didn’t get stuck in the door. I slurred some protest about needing help. “Your…ward? Whatever he is, I found him creating a ruckus. He over indulged in alcohol and vomited on my tunic.” Nemo winced.

     “Yeah he does that. Sorry.” Nemo took my arm and lead me over to our table. He poured me into a seat. “Thank you again. Do you have a viola with you for a reason?”

     “I couldn’t leave it behind. Carrying him with one hand and this with my other was not easy.”

     “You’re playing is sh-shit!” I stammered. Egland ignored me.

     “You could have left James there.” Nemo said.

     “I am a knight. A knight is obligated to help people, even when they don’t want it.” I didn’t want it. I wanted both of them to go away. My head was beginning to pound. “Anyway, it wasn’t so bad, was it James?”

     “Fuck off!”

     “That’s his way of showing thanks.” Nemo said. The two sat down also, both ignoring me. “I can get you a new tunic, or at least pay to have that one cleaned.”

     “I’d appreciate it.” Egland glanced over at me. “It’s interesting how badly he’s taking his transformation.”

     “Did you handle it well?” Nemo asked.

     “I wasn’t thrilled but I accepted it as Eli’s will. I moved on with my life.” I laid my head against the table and clenched my eyes shut. “James if you want to survive, you’ll have to do the same.”

     “Don’t need your advice.” I mumbled. I couldn’t see it but I suspect Sir Egland rolled his eyes at this.

     “Well I’m glad I got him home.” Egland said, returning his attention to Nemo. “May I ask, who did you serve?” Nemo frowned.

     “I served James family as a body guard.”

     “That’s not what I meant. Who did you serve as a knight?” I looked up.

     “Nemo? You were a knight?” My man became visibly uncomfortable at this revelation.

     “How did you…acquire that information?”

     “I didn’t.” Egland said. “I just assumed you were—something about how you hold yourself or maybe a level of dignity you carry. You are a knight, aren’t you?” Nemo looked distressed but gave a small nod.

     “The man I was, he served as a knight. That man is dead. And it’s been an indefatigable effort to make sure he stays that way. So I was a knight, currently no I am not.”

     “Well then, who did ‘that man’ you were serve under?” Sir Egland smiled. “Before coming to Metamor Keep, I served the Patriarch as—

     “You served as one of the thugs of that deceiver?” Instantly all respect vanished from Nemo’s gaze. “That egregious false messiah? You damned cretin!” Now Sir Egland looked angry.

     “I protected Patriarch Akabaieth with my life. I served as a Papal knight with honor, I will not have it disparaged.” Nemo laughed.

     “With pride? You served the great devil with pride? How can you feed yourself that lie?” Now Sir Egland was looking really pissed. I was grinning, because I was a bratty little shit back then.

     “I want you out of my house.” Nemo said. “You will get no money from us, nor any more interaction. Now leave.” He pointed to the door. Sir Egland ignored him. “I told you to leave!”

     “If I’m correct, this isn’t just your home, it’s James’ home also, isn’t it? James, do you want me to leave?”

     “No way.” I laughed. “This more fun than I’ve had since I got to this shit hole.”

     “And I would love to keep you having fun but I do need to be going.” Egland turned to me. “But I have one last thing to say. James, you told me repeatedly today you are noble, you are the son of a noble, oh so noble.”

     “I am noble.” I said.

     “Then prove it. You claim to be noble, so be noble. Stand for what is right, accept the things you can not change and be noble. Change yourself James.” Sir Egland stood. His massive body and antlers were framed against the light of the fire.

     “I don’t need to change.” I mumbled. “Can’t, don’t want to.”

     “You can. I believe you can.” Egland smiled. “I’m cheering for you James. Your body has changed; your soul will also.” He nodded at Nemo and me. “Goodnight James and…associate.” Nemo grimaced.

     “Thank Eli that’s over.” Nemo said as soon as the door shut. “Don’t speak to that elk again. He can’t be trusted.” I shot Nemo a glare. “What?”

     “What did the Followers do to you?” He sighed. “Nemo, I am really drunk but you were being a dick there. Sir Egland was nice.”

     “Anyone who serves the Patriarch doesn’t deserve to be called Sir.” Nemo growled.

     “Yeah you’re acting like a jackass.” This is a rare moment my friend. I agree with my past self. Even Nemo seemed surprised by my bravado here. I ignored him and laid my head back down. “You think I can change?”

     “Excuse me?” Nemo asked.

     “Yacoub said I don’t have to be this me.” I yawned. “I dunno, need sleep. Night night. Nemo said something but I don’t really remember. I was asleep in seconds.”

      

     The next morning I woke up very hung over. I rolled out of bed and off of my aching tail. I had been so drunk that I had failed to notice my tail pinned under me. Now the blood returned to it.

     “Damn it! I need out of this fucking place.” I yawned. “I think I got an idea on that…” My rat friend greeted me from his crack in the wall. “Not you, I like you. I’d take you with me.” The rat squeaked and ran over to me. I smiled.

     “I was really, really drunk last night but I think I got a pretty good idea what I’m gonna do. Took me a while but I got it…I think.” I yawned. “What’s that smell? Smells like vomit…”

     My little rat followed me out, where Nemo sat eating breakfast. He glanced up briefly as I sat down. “Sir Egland told me I’d be killed if I traveled too far outside of Metamor valley. That sucks.” Nemo smirked at my statement.

     “I would agree it’s not good.” He said to me. I sat down, drooping my tail over the bench. My rat friend hopped onto the scaled appendage and ran up my skirt. He crawled into my lap and I started stroking his fur. “Are you okay? You drank lot last night.”

     “My head is killing me.” I said. “I don’t…I don’t want to drink anymore. Can I not ever again?”

     “I’d recommend.” Nemo said. “So James, you said I could trust you, you could buy food for us. You did not.”

     “I got distracted.”

     “You got into your usual mindset of feeling sorry for yourself. So you wasted money we needed on drinking.” I rolled my eyes. “Stop doing that! James, what do you think you’re doing here? You have to be able to take care of yourself; I have to trust you to do that. But I can’t even trust you not to spend the food money on alcohol!”

     “Relax.” I said, “I didn’t spend the food money on drinking. I spent my whore money, couldn’t find the brothel.” Nemo raised an eyebrow.

     “You couldn’t find the Jolly Collie?”

     “The Jolly Collie isn’t a brothel! Seriously, how was I supposed to know that?” I smacked my hands on the table. “Anyway, I want to leave Metamor.”

     “That obnoxious Ecclesia knight was right about one thing.” Nemo said, “Leaving is a bad idea.”

     “Yeah but we have to do it.” I said. “I have to get home, so I was thinking. What if we used the money we’ve got to hire guards and a caravan to take me home.” Nemo barked out a laugh. “What?”

     “How much money do you think we still have?”

     “Doesn’t matter.” I said. “When we get back to Isenport, we can pay them a lot more. I’m the son of a Lord after all and—

     “James stop.”

     “What? All I’m saying is—

     “James stop!” Nemo shouted. “Enough. No more. You’re not going home to Isenport.” My rat friend quivered against my lap in fear.

     “But I can’t live here anymore. I hate this place.” He sighed.

     “James, you don’t have any choice.” Nemo stood up. “I need to buy us food today.” I chose to ignore all of what Nemo told me. I didn’t want to hear it. I did notice something though.

     “Nemo…didn’t you used to have gray hair? Like on the sides of your face?” Now that I had a good look, Nemo’s hair looked better. Darker at least, younger even. Nemo paused for a second.

     “Oh my.” He swallowed. “That’s…something now isn’t it?”

     “What do you mean?” I asked. Nemo shook his head.

     “Just this curse. I had assumed I would join you with a more bestial form. Instead I will be losing my age. Quite unfortunate isn’t it?” My jaw dropped open.

     “You’re…you’re turning into a little kid? The curse does that?”

     “You didn’t pay a lick of attention did you? Yes it does. If what you said is correct I will begin de-aging soon.” My rat stood up in my lap and sniffed at Nemo. My guardian turned away from us, towards our fireplace. “This…it will be interesting.”

     “I got a question. How are you supposed to protect me if you’re going to turn into a kid?” Nemo shook his head slowly.

     “I don’t know. Don’t think I can, but I can’t trust you to look after yourself.”

     “Yes you can!” I said, “I’m a grown man.” Nemo laughed.

     “So you say. But are you?” He spun back towards me. “You pout, you whine, you make terrible choices, you yell when things don’t go your way. You’re rude, arrogant and short sighted.

     “I want to believe in you James but I can’t. You can’t even get through the day without making a scene. You really think you can live in Metamor Keep, a place I remind you that you despise, without someone like me protecting you? You’ll end up poor, homeless and dead as things are now James.”

     Ouch.

     Nemo’s words cut through my bubble of self-pity, if only for a second. Sorrow welled up now instead.

     “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

     “James I know very well. I know better than anyone here.” I turned away.

     “…Sir Egland…he said something to me yesterday…he told me I wasn’t…he said what you said but less mean.”

     “Good for him.” Nemo mumbled.

     “Yeah well he said something else.” I gripped my skirt, “He said I could change. He challenged me to be…to be noble.” I looked up “Do you think I can Nemo?”
“You don’t like knights.” Nemo said. “What makes you want to listen to this one?” I bit my lip. Images in my head came forward, back in Isenport. A warm summer day, my guardian Sir Tallis with me. A long steel blade.

     A splash of crimson.

     I shuddered. My little rat nuzzled my hand out of concern. I stroked him down to his tail.

     “I’m alright. I’m alright.” He squeaked with joy. “Nemo, Sir Egland isn’t like other knights. Besides you were a knight yourself!” Nemo nodded. “Well you want me to listen to you. You said I’m so terrible but…do you think I could change?” Nemo sighed.

     “Honestly? I hope so.”

     “I can you know!” I stammered, “I can change, I can…you watch, I’ll be the man you want me to be.” Nemo nodded.

     “I’ll be interested in seeing that James.” He smiled at me. “I hope this isn’t just bravado.”

     “No I mean it! I know I can do it. I can be better.” My rat nibbled on the edge of my finger. I turned towards him. “You watch also. I won’t let you down. I won’t.” The words sounded hollow to my ears but I said them anyway.

     I have to change. I can’t be like this anymore. I want Sir Egland and Nemo to see me change. Even as I thought this, something nibbled inside me.

     “But I don’t want to change…I wanna go home.” I whispered to myself.

      

     If this were a story, this would be the moment my character began his great change into a better person. But this is the story of my life and all the proclamations in the world do not make an event so.

     Internally I knew I was being a bastard. But I didn’t want to change my behavior; I wanted the world to change for me. I wanted to not be a lizard anymore and above all else I wanted to be home. Even with my father there.

     I was changing though, even if I didn’t want to admit it. I was changing because Sir Egland’s words had stuck with me. Here this elk had reacted to his changes with a degree of nobility and grace I was incapable of.

     When I looked at him and then myself, the differences were overwhelming. Sir Egland was noble while I named myself noble. For what would soon be coming, I would need to change.

     The next time I met Sir Egland was interesting but I’ll share that later. Instead for my next letter, it’s time to share the low point of my life, at that time. It was my first patrol and the first time I met Misha Brightleaf.

     Sir Egland was a good man and I wish our first meeting could have been more cordial. But he did something important for me. Sir Egland challenged me, so that when I heard Nemo making similar statements about my character I would listen to him. Sir Egland showed me my behavior was atrocious and my behavior needed to change.

     For that I am grateful. I hope he knows how much.

     From your friend in the South.

     J

"Trust", copyright Jack the Lizard