When Life Begins Anew

by Hawl Enroygall

Claire decided to stop to see her husband, one of the assistants to the Hassan Family before departing to Lorland. Besides, if Cedric was going to meet her family he’d need to know the other half of Claire’s soul. The man who had taken his sister’s hand and kept it even when it morphed from a young lady’s hand on an animalistic shape. Of course if he lived here his took a shape as well. As he was thinking this over he realized some horrifying possibilities. “This Itamar fellow, he’s an animal like you right? He’s not a child or…” Cedric shuddered considering that other possibility. Claire needed to be protected by her husband, as her older brother and last living family member. Cedric needed to pass the torch, and he would not pass it to a woman. Women needed protection which they received from men, it was the natural order, women birthed children and men made sure they could do so. A woman needed to preparing their home to honor their family, not protecting another woman, that didn’t even make sense. Cedric was even disappointed that women were the primary defense protecting Metamor, he believed the honorable thing to do would have been to lay down their swords and embraced their new roles, so his expectations were already low especially when Itamar had already passed his pike.

“No he’s a red cardinal, see look.” Claire twirled the pike around and showed her brother the feather. “This is one of his feathers, that way I can think of him everytime I go into battle.” The ferret swooned for a second as she guided him through the halls of the castle. Much to her surprise she found Princess Malisa storming the halls as though she were in a hurry. This was convenient as Claire wasn’t actually sure where her husband is. “Your highness! Have you seen Jack?”

“I believe he’s tidying up in my room. I can’t stay to chat, I need to speak with Hawl right away.” Malisa said in a rushed voice. “Good day, and congratulations is your brother going to be becoming a new resident?”

“It depends on whether or not…” Cedric said, but Malisa cut him off.

“I hate to seem rude, but, well you were there, you remember his claims.” Malisa bowed. “We can continue this chat later, if you do stay I hope you enjoy what you become.” The Prime Minister and Princess of Metamor Keep said, glancing down at her body with a grimace before going on her way.

“What was that about?” Cedric asked, he had never known a noble to act like that in times of peace.

“She never got over being turned into a woman. I’m guessing she thinks Hawl can turn her back.” Claire said, frowning as she watched her Duke’s daughter leave. “For her sake, and the sake of many other here at the keep, I hope he can.”

Cedric nodded. “I understand, men are not meant to be women. They aren’t meant to be animals either, but it is preferable.” Not that this Itamar seemed to be much of one, letting his wife take his pike. The blonde warrior could just not let that go.

Eventually, after Cedric swore he passed the same exact hallway twenty times, he ran into Malisa’s quarters with a dust, dirt, and soot covered bird in the shape of a man. This must have been Jack, or Itamar, whatever Claire said his name was.

“JACKIE!” Claire said, running up to the red cardinal and planting a kiss upon his beak. “It’s good to see you, you’ll never believe the day I’ve had. It started when I ran into my long lost brother…. then things got out of paw.”

Jack looked over at Cedric and smiled. “Told you you’d find him sooner or later. This kind of thing happens to Keepers a lot.”

“And then we ran into this shapeshifter called Hawl, an honest to Dokorath shapeshifter! First he was a lutin then he was a chameleon, now he’s human and…” Claire explained. As she went on and on about the days adventure, Cedric looked over Jack, sizing him up, judging him. Not much muscle, if anything he seemed scrawny. It could have been chalked up to birds having hollow bones, but this was not really a detail Cedric knew. He was a warrior, not an avian expert.

“Sounds like this Hawl is a real jerk.” Jack noted nodding and thinking of his wife’s tale. It was interesting, but in a kingdom such as Metamor the events were pretty boring for a friday. “I hope the Prime Minister breaks every bone in his body! Still if Hawl can do what she thinks he can do maybe I can have hands again.”

“Eh, part of me hopes she can’t.” Claire smiled giving her most seductive voice as she rubbed a paw down her husband’s cheek. “You make a really handsome bird.”

“Well… when we were attacked, you chased me all around our room. Trying to eat me.” Jack said, blushing a little, though since his face was red normally only he could notice. “I must say it was worth the effort surviving… you were cute as a human, but as a ferret you could pass for a handmaiden of Velena herself.”

“Oh… Jack…” Claire said, not sure how to respond to that. “Just… hold me…”

“Of course my darling.” Jack spoke softly as he wrapped his wings around his lover and cracking his beak into a smile. “That is my honor.”

Cedric spoke up, deciding now was a great time to butt in. “Okay, first off. Is your name Jack or Itamar I’ve heard both, second and more importantly… CLAIRE, you’re Lothanasi?!?!?!”

“Both, I use my last name professionally. I’m Jack Itamar, she’s Claire Itamar.” Jack clarified. “And well, her marrying me wasn’t going to work if she was a Follower. So naturally she converted, no big deal.”

“NO BIG DEAL!?!?” Cedric’s teeth were grinding. “The Aedra are false gods. I’m not having my only sister be denied Yashua’s forgiveness, because you are so weak willed you would have your WIFE hold your weapon for you.” He fumed, really laying into Jack who was understandably quite taken aback by this.

“Look at my wing, how can you even call this a hand? Back when I was human I was a legendary pikesman and now I take pride in being a great royal assistant!” Jack rebutted waving his wings in Cedric’s face. “Besides, Claire’s capable.”

“CLAIRE’S A WOMAN! She’s not supposed to fight. You’re supposed to fight for her. If you train hard enough you can use that pike just fine!” Cedric yelled, ignoring two guardswomen who were patrolling by.

“This again?” One said to the other rolling her eyes. “If it doesn’t bother us, why should it bother outsiders?”

“Hey buddy, most of our military are women.” Jack responded with pride. “And they’ve yet to let us down.”

“They should be retired, the warrior’s way is no way for a woman.” Cedric bawled his fist in rage. “They just don’t have what it takes, now man up and take your pike back before you get my sister killed.”

“I bet I could beat you!” Claire glared at her brother, brandishing her pike.

“Stay out of this Claire.” Cedric warned before continuing his debate with the bird. “They should be scrubbing floors, not fighting. The armor can’t possibly fit them anymore, if the curse was not halted by Eli, then it’s clear they’re meant to be women and should embrace the lifestyle.”

“By the divines Yariv is going to have fun with you….” Jack said to himself under his breathe so that Cedric could not hear. Knowing what he knew about Yariv he wished he could be there for that confrontation. “Oh yeah, Cedric was it? Why don’t you try telling some of our amazons to stop fighting, I guarantee that they’ll scrub the floors alright. With your face.”

“Surely you jest, a woman can never best a man in a fair fight.” Cedric laughed and turned around. “Claire, I cannot approve of your husband making excuses for himself. Let us leave.”

Claire exhaled in embarrassment. “Jack, we’re going to have dinner with my parents.. Maybe Dad can set him straight.” she said to her husband, before following behind her brother already marching out of the castle in a huff.

“If my father-in-law meets this brother of yours I think that will be the last we hear of him.” Jack laughed, but Cedric paid him no mind.

After a short ride they weren’t there yet, but they were at the forest before Lorland where Cedric admired the axe work of a man who although seemed a little on the small side was doing quite a number to a tree. “Whoever that is, they have excellent form.”

“That’s my dad. Sir Yariv Aerolon.” Claire smiled glad that her brother had grand first impression. “He never stops training, though he gave up the knight job ages ago. He wanted to keep it, but Lord Loriod fired him and he never really re-applied his services elsewhere.”

“I wonder why, any man who swings an axe like is invaluable to any military.” Cedric and Claire both hopped out of the cart to greet him, Cedric stopping to tip their driver, a very small dikdik morph with two horse morphs in feral form. Claire tried to do this as she had more money than him, but Cedric insisted that it was his responsibility as an older brother.

Once that was over and done with they walked up to Sir Yariv, Cedric could see more clearly that Yariv appeared to have a youthful complexion, perhaps he had been turned into a teenager. Could that have been why Lady or Lord, whichever one did the firing, fired him? His youth could have brought immaturity or maybe reduced his strength. Probably the former if he had to guess, he was chopping wood like his father was a beaver. Well, not that he couldn’t have been if he lived here. Though it wasn’t until Yariv wiped the sweat off of his brow that Cedric noticed something. Yariv, he wasn’t a teenage boy at all, no instead she was a full grown woman. Though her aging appeared to have been slowed some by the curse, she looked rather young for someone old enough to be Lord Aereolon’s daughter.

“Why didn’t you tell me Yariv was a woman?” Cedric asked worried about what this means and if this had anything to do with why Claire thought it was okay for her to be a warrior. Well no wonder Loriod fired her, a woman can’t be a knight. Was this Loriod the only sensible person in the Keep?

“I did tell you that, before we caught Hawl! Not my fault if you didn’t listen.” Claire sighed, closing her mismatched red and black eyes and taking a deep breathe. “Look, don’t say anything to upset him, dad’s very sensitive about it.” she whispered to Cedric before speaking up. “Hey Dad, I’ve got someone here to see you!”

“So you do Claire… so you do… Speak quickly friend. I’m in the middle of training.” Sir Yariv spoke with a rushed voice.

“I see…” Cedric said to himself, now piecing together the primary reason that Yariv never told her father what happened to her after Three Gates. Quite frankly, if the place had made Cedric a woman he’d barely have the courage to admit it to Aerelon either. The best thing to do was definitely to make an attempt to be far more tactful with the woman who raised his sister than he was with his sister’s husband. “Sir Yariv….” He spoke up as they finally approached the former male. “My name is Cedric Bariclauph, a guardsman from the Village of Cornflower, on official business from your father Lord Frelick Aerelon.”

“My old man is still kicking? What a surprise. I thought he’d go to be with Eli before he found out what happened to me.” Yariv responded, taking another slice with her axe. “Well, ya got me, Sir Yariv Aerelon as she lives and breathes…. Cursed to forever take a beautiful young maiden’s shape...” Yariv’s hit was much harder than the last one as she said that last bit about her curse. Clearly still a sensitive topic that brought her much frustration and woe in her day to day life. “To what do I owe the pleasure? Mr. Bariclau….” In that instance she dropped the axe and took a closer look at the man addressing her. “Cedric Bariclauph… No… I must have imagined it.... You can’t be...”

“Yes daddy, he’s my brother, the one I was going to leave Metamor to find before the curse hit us!” Claire smiled really wide. “He’ll be staying with us a few days while Duke Thomas appraises a magic sword he brought. He’ll be leaving before the curse, but… isn’t this great?!?!” The ferret cheered, giving Cedric a sudden hug almost instantly forgiving his earlier statements. After all, he was her brother.

Yariv smiled wide looking over Cedric’s face. It was evident, there was different a little bit of Claire’s old self in him. Why they even both had their original mother’s blue eyes. Of course Claire didn’t anymore, but Cedric still did. It was a wonder to see these eyes, it reminded the former knight of a much simpler time. “My son! Eli has brought us together. Come you must meet my wife.” she said as she hugged her daughter’s brother for the first time. “I must say, it’s a shame you can not stay, but I understand why. Claire has told us everything about you. Always the adventurer, a damsel in distress in one hand and a longsword in the other. Hah ha ha”

The trio walked toward the Aerelon home. Cedric had insisted on carrying the logs. Yariv argued that he was the host and he should carry the logs, but Cedric couldn’t be moved. on the issue. Eventually a pretty nice house was stumbled upon, not too large, but not too small. It was definitely not the home of a peasant, so whatever it was that Yariv did these days it served him well.

Once inside the home things got weirder for Cedric upon being introduced to Claire’s mother who was currently setting the table. At first he thought this was a manservant of some kind, but Claire was hugging the male human and called him mom, a very good sign this was Yariv’s husband. Though he had shaved and used some makeup to appear to be somewhat feminine. It was betrayed by his very strong body, broad shoulders, large arms. He would either get used to this quick or it was going to be a long couple of days.

“Mrs. Aerelon…. I presu...presume.” Cedric stammered. He knew it was rude to stare, but of all the things he expected to see. A man in a dress was not one of them. It should have been considering the sights he had bore witness to along the way, but it wasn’t. Not that he’d have taken female Aerelon having an actual woman for a wife any better. “Forgive me for gawking, I’m from out of town and…”

“I take it you’ve never seen a woman before?” Mrs. Aereon laughed to himself. “I’m used to the gazes. A lot of the other men have made better effort to move on. It seems the women move on better than the men. If you ask me though stranger I say it’s because the idea of a woman holding a sword is just an easier potion to swallow than a man who keeps house. But I bore you with gender politics. May I make you a cup of tea?”

“Yes that would be fine.. by the by, my name is Cedric Bariclauph. You are?” Cedric was still very visibly uncomfortable but he had to continue making at least a token effort to be polite.

“My God… Forgive me Eli… Do my ears decieve me? Claire you found him...” The woman in a man’s body turned around and hugged Cedric who was quite squicked out by this touch. “My son, it is good to finally know you. Please you may call me Mom.”

“I’d.. rather not. We… we’ve only just met...” Cedric excused himself, sounding more and more uncomfortable with this situation.

“Oh okay… I’ll just get that tea.” The woman in a man’s body nodded. Not wanting to start off the wrong foot with Cedric, who in turn was trying not to as well. Though Yariv who had seen the whole thing and was already judging the lad for it. Still, he agreed to himself, that he would not show his discomfort.

Cedric excused himself from the house and went outside to take this all in. “No wonder Claire thinks it’s alright for her to be a soldier…. Yariv is setting a bad example for her daughter.”

“No he isn’t.” Claire said, having overheard.

“Claire. I’m not sure I can do this. The Canticle has given to us instructions on how to live and worship. A woman’s place in the house and a man’s,... is too rough for the fairer sex.” Cedric looked up at the sky and breathed inward a breathe of courage and thought as he continued onward. “The burdens on which he must take for her sake and what places she must take in society are for the good of herself and her family, how to appropriately raise her children. Nowhere does it say that a woman may take a man’s role. Curse or no curse, being an all knowing God Eli would have planned for such an occasion if he intended an exception. For that matter nowhere does it say you must permit your children to abandon Eli. Do they know you worship…. That false idol!”

“Dokoroth, the Lothanasi God of War. Yes, yes they do.” Claire said. “I pray for him for the strength to honor Metamor in combat.”

“And they accept you in your house?” Cedric said, swallowing a lump in his throat. The rumors of Metamor Keep and their barbarism seemed to ring true.

“Why not? Yashua preached love. He said that love does no harm, so let love be fulfillment of the law.” Claire protested, getting into Cedric’s face angrily.

“....Okay that he did. But he certaintly did not mean for that to apply to those who turned their back on Eli...” Cedric was in the middle of saying.

“Who says I did? I am merely following Eli’s instruction. My husband is the head of our household, so I am taking on his religion as part of our marriage.” Claire smiled.

“But you shall have no other Gods before Eli.” Cedric smirked, finally having caught his dear sister in a corner so that he may lift her out of it and guide her closer towards the light of Eli’s infinite mercy and forgiveness.

“True…” Claire bit her tongue, her brother actually took scripture very seriously. It would take more than a simple twist of words to bring Cedric around to the Metamor way of thinking and she knew that. Why had she even attempted to trick him? To be cute most likely as it was something Claire tended to do in their youth to throw him off. “...But… My point still stands. I honor Follower Traditions when I can. But what do you want me to do? Divorce my husband like some kind of childish Rebuilder? Hmm mm mm.” The ferret laughed, putting her paws behind her neck as she walked back to her house. “In all seriousness Cedric. The next time you want to tell me how to live my life. Have a courier bring me a list of which of my house’s taxations you’ll be paying this season upon my behalf.”

“Still have your wit I see.” Cedric was somewhat glad, with as much as Claire had changed. Her profession, her religion, her status as a human being, there was still something to her that remained exactly the same inspite of all of this. This fact warmed Cedric’s heart.

After a few minutes of gathering his thoughts the human returned as Mrs. Aerelon had called him for dinner. A pleasant meal consisting mostly of a crop called a potato, a sizeable salad, and only the smallest portion of fresh vension. Cedric tried not to be rude as he stared over the meager meat, but couldn’t help but wonder why his portion was so small especially since this potato thing looked disgusting and he was having serious doubts about it. Eventually Mrs. Aerelon spoke up.

“Ordinarily we have more meat to go around, but we tend to eat more vegetables when Claire’s around to save her something to eat. Ferrets are carnivores afterall, she can mostly only eat meat.”

Cedric looked over to Claire’s plate and nodded, noticing her sniff at her deer meat with anticipation, though it bothered him somewhat that her serving appeared to be although seasoned with spices and cooked, it was still far rawer than human consumption could eat without getting sick. The family said grave, something Cedric wasn’t sure how to take as Claire joined in. It seemed dishonest as she wasn’t a Follower anymore, yet it still showed some respect for the religion.

Upon diving into the meal, one Cedric pretended to enjoy as he always hated vegetables, yet ironically, his sister always preferred them over meat. At least she did when she was human. Things were going well regardless especially once Cedric braved his baked potato and found it deceptively delicious along with his vension which he saved for last. There was not much of it, but there was clear quality over quantity and though it seemed disappointing at first, it all turned out wonderfully in the end. That was until Yariv asked a simple question. “Cedric, Claire has told us you’ve trained under various traveling weapons masters and are more than capable with nearly any style of any weapon. Impressive, care to show me in a friendly exhibition match?”

“I wouldn’t be comfortable with that. As a rule I don’t fight women.” Cedric said, he was about to ask if he could have another helping of potato when he decided not to as Yariv looked about to explode.

“CEDRIC! What did you just say to me!?!” Yariv screamed across the table, she looked like she was about to explode with anger.

“Well I could hurt your dainty little hands….” Cedric felt like an idiot having said that, but all he could do is blurt out the first thing that came to his mind.

“...I see…” Yariv breathed inward then out, calming down as her daughter and wife began to look at each other with visible worry emanating from their concerned and nervous faces. “May I have a word with you, in private?”

Cedric meekly nodded in agreement before saying. “I see no reason why not Dame Aerelon..”

Once outside, Cedric noticed Yariv had with her a box. “You have insulted me in my own house. I get it, it’s weird seeing a woman insist she’s a soldier. But I’m not a woman, I have been cursed by Nasoj to look like one. I am as much a man as you are. I can accept that you a stranger to our hexed lands and as such if you apologize to me now and refer to me as Sir Yariv or even just Dad. I will forget the whole matter as though it never happened.”

Cedric looked over Yariv’s frame. Though she was very masculine dressed and had a soldier’s stance, her shape was very much female. “....I’m sorry Yariv, I can’t. You’re not a man anymore, and you need to accept that.”

“You sound like Loriod. The Foul Lord who threatened civil war over the policy of taxing nobles, who forced us under the curse to accept a role of homemaker and our wives made into warriors, and selfishly spent all resources enacting idols in his image.” Yariv spat at the dirt in disgust. “May he rot.”

“He was your Lord, you were his bodyguard and you should honor him as such!” Cedric raised his voice.

“Alvarez Loriod was a great man! Altera Loriod is burning in hell and rightfully so.” Yariv screamed, though her voice sounded more chaotic rather than the directed anger she was going for. Another problem caused by the curse.

“He did what he did for the good of the land. Nobles paying taxes.. What anarchy is that!?! I can’t wait to get out of Metamor where things make sense and only the commoners are asked to foot the bill!” Cedric stated.

“I see…” Yariv said, looking at the small wooden chest she carried under her arm and deciding to slap Cedric across the face with it who turned back to face Yariv.

Cedric desired to grab Yariv by her slim smooth slender feminine shoulders and throw her to the ground, but violence against women can never be excused. “What the hell was that?”

“A reminder to not speak of matters pertaining to things which you have no knowledge.” Yariv said before opening the chest, smiling at the contents and sealing it again.

“Look, you’re just being selfish. You want things to go exactly how you want them. For nobles to serve you instead of the other way around, to just be able to live anyway you want without being told you can’t. Well it doesn’t work like that, we must carry our burdens from birth till death.” Cedric explained, finding nothing but contempt for the woman who raised his sister. No wonder Claire was so messed up.

“I thought you’d say something like that. Which is why I brought my dueling blades.” Yariv said, showing Cedric the contents of the chest. Two blades, so sharp they could cut your eyes in half rendering you blind if you so much as looked at them the wrong way. Both identical in every which way except one hilt was painted green, the other was black. “Since you claim to be quite the swordsman, the man of God, and the person who knows what’s best for everyone. Maybe you would like to prove it?”

“I don’t fight women Yariv.” Cedric repeated. “I’ll drop this if you will. I was rude and I apologize. I’m just a stranger to these lands and to these customs.”

Yariv considered this counter offer and scratched the side of her head seriously considering it, she strongly wished she could. It would be wonderful to have someone she considered a son around in her presence, but that’s when it clicked. If Cedric had no respect for her or her house, she could have no respect for anyone the man proposed to love. It was risky and rough, but she had to do this. If it all went as she planned, Cedric would thank her. Maybe not next week, or next month, but he will and for the rest of his live. “Cedric you will face me like a man or I swear my family will have nothing to do with a man who will not honor a duel of his own cowardice!”

Cedric thought about this for a second. Though he was disappointed in his sister, the prospect of never seeing her again after doing so only once in many years if believing her dead irritated him greatly and made him sick to his heart. “Yariv… if I win. Please stop filling my daughter’s head with nonsense…” The blonde man opened his eyes which he had closed to help think and stared right into Yariv’s eyes. “If I win, you must abandon your knighthood and never touch a sword again.”

Yariv laughed to herself before pounded the ground with a booted foot in rage. “I don’t know where you get off asking something like that my son. It’s like you are TRYING to piss me off. Well it’s working!” She gritted her teeth as she gave him the evil eye.

“Does that mean you refuse Dame Yariv?” Cedric asked, intentionally trying to anger Yariv. Hoping it would make her accept the terms.

“SIR Yariv.” Yariv barked.

“I see no sir.” Cedric responded, getting fired up for this duel. It would take a lot to get him to hurt a woman.

“Cedric. I agree to your terms… but only if I get to name a prize myself if I win.” Yariv said, It was only being fair that she would name a prize for herself with such a big stake against her.

“Anything and I will grant it or be branded an honorless swine… Uhh.. Not literally of course...” Cedric added on recalling the various animals in human shape he had seen on his journey to and through Metamor.

“Now there’s an idea.” Yariv grinned mischievously before taking the Champion Sword with the Green Hilt and giving Cedric the Challenger Sword with the black. “Hold the blade carefully, it’s very sharp. We shall battle to the first drop of blood. By this I do not mean the first person to make the other draw blood wins. I mean the first person to draw blood loses, even if you do it to yourself by accident. This is the only rule of the duel. It is very intense and stressful, under ordinary circumstance I’d give you one last chance to back out. However this time I won’t. Instead I will conclude by naming my prize” Yariv pointed a finger towards Cedric. “You Cedric, must stay here and take the curse. Fully knowing it is impossible to break and there is no knowing how it will affect you, should you skimp out and leave Metamor before the curse has taken you. I will find you. But I trust you are a man of honor.”

Cedric bowed. “As you command.” Before coming close and holding the tip of the Challenger Blade to the tip of Yariv’s Champion Blade.

“I warn you, Metamor’s Knights were regarded as the strongest in the land before the curse made us despised. You should fear the woman who has trained all her life by only the sword, far more than I fear the man who has practiced multiple weapons once. EN GARDE!” Yariv said and started on the defensive. Doing nothing but countering Cedric in order to get a feel for his fighting style and lulling him into a false sense of security, making sure that she used only the most amateurish techniques that Cedric’s style could get away with.

What was noted that although Cedric was angry and determined, his hands were shakey. Almost as if he was heading right into the counters as opposed to make an actual attack on her, she blamed this on his obsession with chivalry. He couldn’t hurt a woman, not even if she was threatening his identity and existence as he knew it. “Cedric you fool. You need to try harder than this! I have been a soldier since before you were born! This isn’t going to work, you will need to be more direct. Like this..”

Cedric jumped back and found himself on the defensive as Yariv flung her blade wildly, at first he believed she was flaying the sword around like a child playing pretend, but a closer look and a few close calls with nearly losing a finger revealed she was using expert swordsman technics that he had been studying, but never got the hang of. These lovingly crafted skillful strikes of supremacy were merely being done at insane speeds. “Ho… how?”

“When you fight Lutins.. You can’t afford to let up, not even for a second. They battle without honor, they are savage murderers and brutal rapists. Do you think I’m letting my accursed womb go into use to birth one of their abominations!?! Do you think I would spare a single life of the monsters that cursed my home, insulted my family, and shamed?!? I feel constant pain from the curse and I use the flames within me. Do you have fury like mine?!!”

Cedric taking this advice recalled the day he believed his sister to have been killed and using his fiercest swing at Yariv’s blade creating a vibration so powerful she dropped it, Cedric immediately seizing the opprutunity to put his sword to her neck before she could pick it up again. “I win!”

“So it would appear….” Yariv said, backing away from the sword and turning around heading back towards her house. “Were I to let you claim your prize, the curse would become an even bigger thorn in my side… however.” she said before kneeling down and placing a hand at her ankle.

“However?” Cedric raised an eyebrow. “You aren’t cheating me are you?”

“However, the curse is now, a thorn in your side.. and so is this.” Yariv said having grabbed a sheathed dagger hidden in her boot, unsheathing and throwing it at Cedric’s, hitting him right in his side. “The only rule was whoever drew blood first lost. I never said it had to by the blade. In fact I specifically said it didn’t.”

“You cheated me…..” Cedric looked up in anger as he put pressure on his dagger wound, knowing better than to take it immediately like most would. “I will not honor your bargain…”

“No, I didn’t cheat you. You had an opening to draw blood, and you didn’t take it.” Yariv gave a cold stare as she shook her head at him. “And now, you will take the curse, you don’t have a choice. It’s going us a while to nurse that wound. By the time we succeed you won’t have enough time to leave Metamor from Lorland. So please make peace with yourself these last few days. You will soon be a beast, a child, or a woman.” And with that Yariv continued back to her house.

“....Damn it…” Cedric grunted, in incredible pain as he limped over to the house. Mrs. Aerelon, Yariv’s mate, came out with medical supplies and helped Cedric back in the house having “...Exact words… Yariv is a clever one…” He smiled, having found an upside to this situation of course it could have just been delirium from the blood loss.. “I insulted her…  him… and s...he taught me… the price of hubris… regardless…”

“Cedric, please, conserve your strength… This knife is in here deep.” Yariv’s wife said. “Don’t talk… try to get some sleep… this wound will be easier to take care of if you’re unconscious.”

Cedric knew one thing for sure as he passed out from blood loss. This was going to be a long life now that he was going to be an accursed abomination. There was a silver lining that wasn't brought on by his mind growing soft from his life fluids draining out of him. At least he would have at souvenir of the day he learned that his sister, still lived. One that it would be very difficult for him to misplace.

"When Life Begins Anew", copyright Hawl Enroygall