by Hawl Enroygall a.k.a. Jessica Kylie Nichols-Vernon
Our tale begins in an old and simple village, back in the days of yonder, March 13th, 708 Christos' Reckoning, to be precise, when the people were ruled together by Lords and Ladies and lived in harmony with spirits and magical creatures, but also in fear of dark demons and blasphemers against the gods. A time of unity with nature and a time where men were men, women were women, children prepared to take their roles in society, and animals were not that important because they were wild creatures to be eaten, used as beasts of burden, kept as pets, or just killed outright. Of course in one such kingdom there was considerable leeway on that, but we'll get around to that. As that is not where our story begins!
For far outside the well known kingdom of Metamor Keep, on a warm spring day, there was a simple old village of a much lesser destiny known as Cornflower Village, and therein lived a variety of common folk ruled under a wise old Lord, Lord Frelick Aerolon, a soldier turned Holy Man turned lord through a bizarre twist of events that he did not fully understand, but ultimately he didn't question it, for the will of the Gods was simply not his domain for Inquisition. Lord Aerolon was a kind old soul, although getting on in years, a widower, and with no offspring to look after his town when he was gone, which could sadly be any day now. Though Aerolon was fair and well-liked by all his subjects, his town's Treasury was never exactly anything to brag about, and with far more powerful members of nobility having a sizable interest in the village and the fertile cornfields for which the town gets its name.
Currently he was tending to his pet seagull, and waiting for his Captain Of The Guard to show himself. "You're looking well today, Locket." he said, smiling as he scratched under the bird's beak, who flapped his wings in agreement. "I'll let you out for your daily flight after our meeting with the guard." Lord Aerolon let Locket out and held out his hand, which the seagull latched onto with his talons.
The old man turned to face another. "Captain Redblood, you surprised me. Say hello, Locket." Locket squawked in what seemed like a laugh. Aerolon had raised this bird from an egg that he had found a year ago and had been quite happy with the way he turned out. In many ways, Locket the seagull was very much like a young child to Aerolon.
A tall imposing looking man saluted. "Playing with the seagull again, sir? We have dire news, you have been inquiring about why Seladon has not left his tower in months. We've been able to confirm lately that he is no longer with us. The stench coming from his tower that the mortician believed to be from a rotted corpse is, sadly, just that. I'm afraid the rumors are true.... he is... no more."
"My good friend Seladon The Wise is dead? And you're sure about this?" The Lord asked. He was dressed in monk robes from the Order Of Ecclesia. Although it had been a long time since his days as a holy man, he kept his robes and liked to wear them in times of deep meditation; the church remained, in his heart, a special place. Fredrick was a balding old man with the smallest amounts of gray hair on his head. It was nothing really, not even a modest amount remained; the top of his head was quite visible to elements and subjects alike. He had a soft demeanor, but one could easily tell by his aura that although his face was heavily wrinkled, every single one had a long and rich story to tell.
"Yes, my liege, and we owe Mugal to the North East a great debt. Seladon was a wise man and a great philosopher, but he was also a very powerful mage. As such he must have had something with which we can barter to them. Even a trinket could be worth several stones' worth of gold if it's enchanted properly. Even if it just turns frogs into salamanders or flavors bread, it would be enough. As such I demand you give us permission to raid his tower and have his possessions placed in the treasury!" his captain of the guard said. He was a man in his middle ages, an angry battle-hardened demeanor and a wicked mustache that said, "I'm bad news, just try it!"
The old lord seemed rather taken aback by this. "I'd think you'd know enough respect for your elders to not demand anything."
"Apologies, sire, but the situation is dire. I grew up here and I fear seeing my home taken by anyone, for any reason. I was born here, and shed sweat, tears, and blood for this village. It is not much, but it is all I have ever known." The Captain Of The Guard stated, a hint of fear was present in his voice.
Lord Aerolon laughed. "Some would call that a problem, but we must respect Seladon, especially since we don't know what sort of arcane alterations he made. You may see a shiny bauble in there worth the world, but it could carry with it a three-day poison. It's both far too dishonorable to desecrate my friend's home and likely not worth the risk to tamper with a wizard's wares. There is not a single man in our village magically inclined."
"But what of the shapeshifter in Mugal, he could give us a proper appraisal! His talents defy all magical knowledge! No one can change like he can!" The Captain protested. Admittedly, though, he was grasping at straws, knowing that this person he was describing had a habit of being the village idiot.
The old man shook his head. "He is self-proclaimed, you forget. He is as powerful as he is fool-hardy and full of himself. He could easily doom us all with a simple mistake, a mistake he would be very unwilling to admit or man up to. I'm sorry, we'll just have to find another way."
The captain gritted his teeth. "But there is no other way. There's barely enough food to go around as it is."
"Things will pan out," The old man stated as he scratched his mighty beard. "I'm sure of it. God has a way of working things out to those who are patient and respectful of their elders."
The Captain gave up. He thought to himself that maybe the Elder Lord was getting on in years, but he would not let this old man doom the whole town, and so he went right to work on developing a plan. When he came up with a scheme, he smiled to himself. If the Elder Lord had no plans to raid the tower after all. He'd have no problem doing it without permission, he'd just have to be a little sneakier about it. Lying through his teeth, the Captain spoke. "As you wish, m'lord. Will that be all?"
"It shall. Please heed my words carefully, a wizard's belongings are not to be trifled with. You are dismissed, Captain Redblood," the Lord stated as he let his bird fly from his hand as he called after the bird. "Be back in an hour, Locket, you have to deliver the mail for the day."
The captain bowed and said, "Yes, M'lord," and turned around. He had a hot rookie this could be pinned on.
Redblood made his way to the barracks where he encountered several muscle bound men. These men were the small, but well trained army of Cornflower. Currently they were keeping up that training by exercising in various ways. Most were doing stretches and had sweat dripping from their bodies, all trying to wind down from a worthy session. All men present were decked out in full armour ready in case anything went down. Everyone looked the same all dressed up like that. This was good; the similar outfits created a pack mentality. The army was one, and together they would triumph over any enemy that dared threaten the good village of Cornflower. Two holding pikes near the entrance immediately saluted. Although the barracks were small and only contained around twenty five, almost thirty men, they were serious about security, and twice as much so on keeping the troops in shape.
"Jamar, Jerrod, have you seen Cedric lately? I have a top secret mission for him and him alone, straight from Lord Aerolon!"
"The new guy? He's not even technically a soldier. Nut bar doesn't even wear anything past chainmail. What, is he not man enough to wear armor? What could our lord possibly want with him?" Jamar spoke with a voice that was deeply inquisitive, but still quite gruff. He and his twin brother Jerrod looked almost identical; both were very strong, very tough, and the very picture of masculinity. The one difference outside of personality, which were still both similar, was that Jamar had a beard and no mustache, while Jerrod had a mustache and no beard.
Captain Redblood shrugged. He was a very convincing liar, especially when it came to playing dumb. "Not a bloody clue, he said it was something important that came to him in a dream. Personally I think it's another wild goose chase. Our Lord sadly is getting on in years; just the other day he told me a rumor he heard of a Follower Priest who was no older than 10. I fear for his declining health."
Jerrod spoke out. "I think someone already told him about it. Cedric went on patrol around a half hour ago."
Reblood groaned. He had ordered no such patrol, and obviously this news from Lord Aerolon was a sham he had just made up, but clearly he couldn't reveal this to his guards, for he was the captain. If he just casually admitted that he had just told a lie it would be all over for him as being the Captain is quite an honor and a very high position, even in a one horse town like Cornflower, especially if it was also an admission of placing words within their ruling lord's mouth. Why, he would be exiled, or worse!
The Captain nodded and played off the bad news as he decided to go looking for Cedric. "Wonderful, I expect a full report from him upon his return. He might just prove his worth yet." He turned around and left with an annoyed look and a furrow to his brow that he quickly got out of.
Meanwhile, outside of Seladon's tower, there was a somewhat aged and battle-hardened-looking man in chain mail armor, wearing nothing but chain mail and brown linen pants, and on his head laid only dirty unkempt blonde hair that smelled of sweat. This man brought with him a satchel of a few supplies and had been doing nothing but training all day. Presently he was cycling through weapons trying to find one that suited him. He was undecided on a weapon specialization; he was okay with several, but an expert in none. Though Cedric's persistence in becoming a true knight was vast and devoted, he had but one problem: a lack of a testament to his honor, a true chance to prove himself. He had traveled from town to town, but everywhere he went he found nothing, but peace. Peace was wonderful, but not for proving oneself a truly heroic individual. Cedric looked around on Seladon's lands which were empty and barren, his lands weren't that big merely just a few acres on the outskirts of town, as he saw that he was truthfully and honestly on his own, but he had to be sure and there was really only one way to do that.
"The Royal Guard is present, everyone outside!" Cedric yelled, he waited around for a bit and scanned the area. After seeing no one, he correctly concluded that he was all alone and then went inside. "Good, I'm not too late," he said to himself. Cedric had heard that the wizard Seladon had finally passed, and that the guards were planning on ransacking it and taking the trinkets for themselves before the Lord Aerolon could sell Seladon's belongings. He was no match for the guard and the morality of selling a Wizard's Belongings, even if the village was having financial troubles. They were Seladon's belongings after all, and being a wizard surely he had a will. However, if they were to be looted and sold off, there was no reason why Cedric shouldn't get first dibs.
With much caution Cedric looked closely at the doorknob, checking for runes. The doorknob was very expensive-looking; even though the tower was old and decrepit, the doorknob was nice, too nice. This doorknob alone could pay off the town's debts. The doorknob had several unique looking carvings and was made of pure crystal. Cedric put his hand almost on the doorknob when he noticed it began to glow as his hand drew near. Cedric quickly withdrew his hand, he wasn't about to let some curse overtake him. Seladon was a very powerful wizard; whatever this doorknob did to intruders, it would be rather nasty.
Cedric looked around and saw an open window, if he was going to live a curse free life he would take no shortcuts. The wannabe warrior came prepared; he reached into his satchel and took out a grappling hook, whirling it around carefully a few times before letting it go with a mighty toss. He missed at first, but on his second try he got it and scaled up the wall, closing his eyes and trying to focus as he carefully worked his way up the tower.
He had to focus and see if he can feel any magic radiating from the tower. Cedric was not a mage, but in his years as a mercenary turned guard he had learned to open his senses and see into the ethereal world. He was by no means a seer, but it wasn't blind to magic entirely.
He came in through the window and saw something that caught his eye. He appeared to be in a circular bedroom with a green sheeted bunk bed that looked like it had not been used in days, but the bed was of no importance to him. What was of importance was the presence of a fine sword that seemed to be made entirely of silver and literally just bursting with magical essence. Cedric's eyes bloomed up and he was in awe of its sheer beauty. Cedric was not a vain man, quite the opposite; he infrequently bathed and his hygiene was not perfect. The warrior often stank of dirt and sweat, something he'd been meaning to work on as it made nobles unsure of him. Though this sword was something else; it was the kind of thing that screamed "You're in for a great destiny".
Taking caution again, he shifted his focus to the parchment on the desk just next to the splendid marvel that was the cutting instrument and began to read. Many people in Cedric's age could not, but before becoming a guardsman at Cornflower Village he was a traveling mercenary and that kind of work demands literacy so he picked it up as a survival trait and began to give it a read. The date he couldn't make out, but everything else was clear as day.
"Date Feburary 14th, 709 CR
Today I have truly been blessed as I have in my possession the Transblade. There are dozens of rumors about it and all of them are equally true as they are equally false. Which is to say there are many exaggerations, but also several understatements as well. Many contradicting origins, some involving the Eastern Country of Yamoto, one involving the ghost story of Shattered Mountain, some involving an undiscovered land in the south, and even some involving Nasoj's Citadel, ..."
Nasoj. Cedric was filled with glee upon reading that word. Killing Nasoj would be quite the feat, Cedric did not know much about him admittedly, just that the world would be a better place if he was dead. He did learn one new thing about seeing his name in written print, that Nasoj is an anagram of Jason, but he didn't see how that helped him in any way at this juncture at time. Cedric earnestly continued reading.
"... which, as disturbing as they may be, appears to ring false, as the blade only seems more suited to helping Nasoj's enemies, as the blade will only listen to a particular kind of person, the kind of person you find in abundance of in the distant region known as Metamor."
This pleased Cedric more, a weapon that could defeat Nasoj? Now that would grant Cedric quite a chance to accomplish what he had always dreamed of doing ever since the day he lost his sister forever, become recognized by one of noble birth for his efforts in cleansing the land of evil and wickedness and become an honorable knight. Knight nothing, nay, for such a feat he might be made a Lord, a Count, an Earl, or even a Duke.
Duke Cedric. That had quite a nice ring to it. All he'd have to do was go to this Metamor place and tell one of the people there to get the sword to obey him. He honestly didn't know much of Metamor, just that the kingdom was supposedly cursed and yet at the same time that neighboring kingdoms, although loathed that place and made it a point to never go there, or if they had to, never for more than a week, would pay a considerable number of coin for stories graced by the quill of their esteemed Writer's Guild. Cedric, or Duke Cedric The Valiant as he was humming over in his head, read onward.
"Unfortunately, I have my own curse to deal with: this affliction the fates have struck upon me. I'll be lucky if I don't drop dead, so obviously, I cannot make the trip to Metamor. A shame, I have had this plague upon me for months, and so far it is only getting worse. It pains me to even write. I fear that without a miracle cure soon, I will drop dead. If only I had realized the seriousness of this ailment when I was still ready for travel. The curse of Metamor has a penchant for healing incurable diseases, and I'd love to be restored to my youth. Even if I was forever a child, it would be worth it to smile and enjoy the sun again. Aerolon, my friend, if this is to be the last journal entry I ever write, I ask you to arrange for the Transblade to be sold to Metamor Keep, and to keep all of your men from staying there longer than three days. You may stay longer if you like, but for God's Sake, staying for any more than a week is begging to be cursed. It is not a curse to be taken lightly, although I am wise and powerful even beyond my many years. Better mages than me have tried and failed to lift that curse. The blade is of no use to anyone but the Keepers as they call themselves, and the gold it would bring in would be enough to make an entire to-scale replica of Cornflower with. Way more than what is needed to pay off the town's debts. I knew their Duke, briefly in my younger years, before he became what he is now. He will give you more than a fair price for anything that can free his people, even if not from the curse, but from Nasoj. If I die before I present this, forgive the man who stumbled in my abode if he presents you this note. For it will be my last request that the blade be sold to Metamor, and the profits used to save the village.
Grand Wizard Seladon, Cornflower Village"
Selling the Transblade would have him knighted by Aerolon for sure; the town would be able to expand three times its size if the sword was truly this valuable. Cedric had two missions to decide upon: sell the sword and go for the sure thing, or have a Keeper force the sword to obey him and take the head of Nasoj for his new province of Cedrale.
Cedric weighed his options: on one hand, if the sword had such a power Cedric would become like a god, but Cedric shook his head. Seladon was dead now, and since this document was his last journal entry it could be legally deciphered as his last will and testament. Now he could always discard it and claim he found the sword in a mine somewhere, and none would be the wiser. Regardless of the glory and justice it would bring to march into Nasoj's Citadel and be crowned a Duke, Cedric couldn't live with himself if he did a deed as dishonorable as tossing aside the wishes of the dead. He would present this to Aerolon himself and undertake the mission as Cornflower's First Ambassador to Metamor.
With a nod and a song in his heart, he climbed down the tower the same way he came in, and with the sword in one of the two sheaths on his back, and the scroll with the journal entry written on it, back to Castle Cornflower.
Aerolon was lost in prayer when a palace guard came to him. "The Rookie Cedric wants to see you sir. Shall I tell him you're busy?"
Aerolon opened his eyes slowly and without turning around to face him, the lord stepped out of trance to tell him. "Send him in," he said as he got up onto a small staircase as Cedric came in, with an unfamiliar sword on his back. The handle looked plain; maybe he had brought it with him from town. Aerolon was getting old, maybe his memory was failing him.
Cedric was rather formal as he kneeled in respect. "My Lord, though I am new, I must request that I be allowed to partake a mission of goodwill to the distant province of Metamor."
Metamor, now there was a name Aerolon had not heard in quite some time. "I used to live there, this was before the curse. Seladon used to be obsessed with that place, he always wanted to visit and exchange notes. We cannot afford transportation to send a man there nor have we reason, with his passing we have even less reason."
"Nay, a grand purpose and the solution to our money problems exists within Metamor Keep. I went into Seladon's tower and..." Lord Aerolon shook his head, he thought he had been clear with the captain. It was painful to do so, but with a heavy heart he beckoned to a nearby guard.
"Arrest him! I told the Captain no one was to go in Seladon's Tower. I'm sorry this had to happen Cedric, the day you had arrived was one of the happier days of these nearer the end of my life. We seldom get visitors, especially one as hard-working as you." Aerolon stated. He seemed legitimately upset at having given this command. Cedric looked uncomfortable, but not too concerned as a man in more elegant armor than the ones that the guards in the barracks were wearing held a spear up against his throat.
"It is by Seladon's will that I'm here!" Cedric exclaimed moving the spear away from his throat carefully. His lack of concern was simply in the note he had obtained at the tower as he handed the journal entry to Aerolon whose eyes were aglow as he took it. Aerolon began to read every single word in earnest, overjoyed to feast his eyes on the quill markings.
"When I had heard you had died, old friend, I was worried that would be the last word I'd hear out of you. Even this, your last will and testament makes me feel elated, as though you were by my side once more. Thank you, Cedric. You are pardoned as Seladon requests, but I'm afraid our Treasury cannot even secure transportation and supplies for a distance as long as Metamor. I'm afraid we must ignore this request." Aerolon looked quite upset; his heart was heavy as he sat down and began to think. "Apologies, Cedric, but if only a Keeper could use it as the letter says, this Transblade is worthless to Mugal or any of the other towns nearby."
Captain Redblood came in suddenly. "My lord, Cedric has raided the tower! One of my men saw him come out of the tower with a grappling hook and some trinkets. I must return them to the tower at once!" he burst forward and complained Cedric went before he gave the order and likely took everything for himself. He was going to put Cedric in jail and relieve him of anything he took, sell it, and pocket most of the cash. It was foolproof. Redblood dared all others to prove to him that a fool could not do it.
"I'm aware Captain. Cedric was just pardoned by Seladon's last will and testament, which Cedric was so kind as to recover. Though if he has anything on him outside of the Transblade, he should relinquish it over to the captain now." Aerolon looked toward Cedric. "Do you have anything else Cedric?"
"Nay sir, just the Transblade. It was the only thing I knew for sure that Seladon wanted out of his tower. Not to mention the only thing I was sure that wasn't going to turn me into a newt," Cedric half-jested.
"Seladon was not even a journeyman of Transformation Magic. If that had happened, I am most certain you would have gotten better," Aerolon laughed to himself. Cedric and Redblood looked at one another wondering where the joke was.
"Sir, if it is alright with you, I wish to fund the journey to Metamor out of my own pocket for the benefit of my Lord Aerolon and the town of Cornflower." Cedric saluted as he did so. He was not going to let the chance for a quest worthy of a knight to slip through his fingers. After all, not only were the prizes grand, but the danger involved was too. That's a long distance to travel with highwaymen and cutthroats patrolling to road for victims from here to Metamor. To make matters worse, once he got to Metamor the curse would give him only five days, more if he was willing to push his luck, to reach Duke Thomas, make the sale, and get out. Simple enough, if the lutins, brutish monsters who were minions of Nasoj, did not take his life.
"If you think you can afford it, we will make accommodations for you should you suffer the curse. Provided it isn't contagious. Though if the curse should leave you unable to battle, you will be forced into retirement, although honored for your efforts and the sacrifices made." Aerolon nodded. "Captain, get Cedric a map and any backup willing to go with him."
Redblood pondered this for a bit. It could save the town if he was successful, but this curse business sounded rather nasty and he'd rather avoid it.
"Sir, what are the chances someone outside of Metamor Keep could use it?" he spoke as he grabbed the sword from Cedric's sheath. Cedric had a look of fear in his eyes as the Captain took the blade. Redblood tried swinging it, but the blade lengthened and become very difficult to keep straight as he looked like a fool trying to balance the damn thing. The blade became wobbly as the Captain shook and walked around, looking like a dancing fool until the blade resumed its normal size and shape, but this time it changed in texture. The Transblade was now a far darker color, but more importantly wedged into the floor as Captain Redblood tried in earnest, but ultimately succumbed to the futility of trying to lift it. The sword became hot and orange glows spelled out words, a taunt to the captain who tried to wield it.
"'Nice Try Human'," Cedric read aloud, Nice and Try red and hot on the hilt, whilst Human was written on the blade. The sword returned to its natural state and Cedric sheathed it. "Well, I guess that answers that. Sir, I shall take it to Metamor post haste!"
"Curious, Cedric, are you perhaps some form of Changling? Or an ex-woman from Metamor?" Redblood pondered, stroking his rather long beard. He thought Cedric was pretty handsome, could this handsomeness be from lost fertility?
"Nay Captain, I am a man as you are and it has been that way ever since my birth. The only womanhood missing in my life is regretably my sister, who was captured by bandits when I was but a lad. We had no father or mother as Dad went off to war and Mom died of a plague, with only me to watch my sister. The burden of her loss was terrible, and that is why I am a guard today, sir." Cedric was serious, the determination in his eyes and the clenching of his face showed only the surface of the depths of his loss.
"So melodramatic, and so obvious a lie. The sword obeys you, Cedric. Cedrina, was it?" Redblood sounded serious. He was going to find an excuse not to send any of his men to Metamor nor have anything to do with that cursed landscape and its equally cursed people.
"I know not what you are getting at, I was born Cedric, and Cedric I will remain," Cedric stated, "The sword obeys me only because I give it no orders." He tried to maintain a heroic posture until his quest became official, but truth be told, he was getting a little tired of standing at attention, especially since he had been working out all day. Though still, to look impressive for his lord he would maintain a firm and tense posture.
"Hmph, what reason would you have to believe you can go to cursed lands and be allowed to return just fine without its grasp?" Redblood inquestioned.
"Actually Captain, I have already told Cedric that our town would accommodate for him should he become cursed as best we could. The final decision rests with Cedric and Cedric alone." Lord Aerolon calmly answered on Cedric's behalf.
This was true, it did just occur and all parties were present for it. Cedric saluted. "If it is alright with my superiors, I shall be off to Metamor to make the transaction."
Lord Aerolon smiled and nodded. Truthfully told, he knew that it was highly unlikely that Cedric would return, but if Cedric felt he needed to prove his loyalty and Seladon felt the blade belonged to Metamor, he wasn't going to stop him. "Cedric, Redblood, you two are dismissed." He sat back down on his throne and began to recite a prayer under his breath. "I shall pray for your success and safe return, Cedric. I wish you luck and may Eli be with you. Oh, and do me one favor, Cedric. I had a son who lived in Metamor, before the curses, he was a battle hardened knight in service to a good man named Lord Alvarez Loriod. I left before Three Gates and he remained behind. Do try to find out what happened to him," Aerolon pleaded much emotion in his voice.
Cedric saluted a second time. "Yes sir, how will I know what he looks like, how may I find him?"
"That's the hard part. As I said, we lived there before the curses and I took a pilgrimage in the name of Eli before the battle in which Nasoj put them there. He could be a child, he could any manner of beast, a mighty dragon, a mere mouse, a cunning fox, a cold-blooded reptile, or even my curvaceous daughter. So it is hard to say, but he may answer to the name of Yariv Aerolon. It is a shame you might not see him in his youth, as he could show you quite a thing or two about combat," Lord Aerolon said as he continued. "I have heard no word on if he perished in the Battle Of Three Gates. I have sent a few notes back when our town was richer, but I have heard nothing in response. I am getting on in years. I want to know what happened to my son. I think I am owed this answer. Seladon is dead, and in a few months I may follow."
Cedric nodded. He took family in a somewhat passionate manner mainly because he never knew his family. But he thought that it must be nice to have one. "As you wish, my Lord."
"Get on the road then, Cedric. From here to the top of the Northlands is quite the journey," Aerolon said, dismissing his buff youngish warrior and re-entering a deep prayer, this time, for the soul of his dead friend, for the success of his living friend, and that his son, in whatever life the curse and the Keep provided for him, was happy, healthy, alive, and, maybe, if not too young for it, married to someone who brought joy to his life.
Meanwhile, outside of Cornflower, was the town of Mugal, and it was an average day in Mugal Tavern. It didn't have a fancy name like "Dragon's Blood" or "The Ocelot's Prowl" or anything like that. It was just simply plain old "The Mugal Tavern" and Klaus was serving up drinks to his patrons as usual.
A man with glasses and a green linen shirt sipped a tankard of Ale in the midst of sharing a story he had once heard. "I'm telling you, there's a hedgehog that can control the lightning, looks like a Keeper he does!! With his arms and his legs like a man's!"
A woman was laughing at this tale, dressed like a knight with a sword on her back, her spear resting in the corner. "I've been to the Keep, as you can plainly see, and there is nothing quite like that there, Evan," she said to him.
"I've never been myself, Alea, thank Eli! Those furries or whatever ya call them creep me right the hell out!" the man apparently named Evan said.
"Hey, it's still me Leo in behind this curvy breasted woman's body and don't you forget it!" Leo commented, half joking, but half serious as well.
Klaus, the bartender, a younger man, older looking than Evan, but younger looking than Leo, with white hair and noble's garments, sighed. "Guys, come on, this is the fourth conversation we've had about Metamor in just as many days, give it a rest. This is why I don't mind it when Hawl gets in here sometimes, he at least changes the subject every now and then.... Even if it is about how 'great' he is."
Evan laughed. "Sorry, K, but I swear I've seen this hedgehog and he's not from Metamor, said so himself. So anyway, Leo, is it true that the fairer sex can sense things with Women's Intuition?"
"No, at least not as far as I've noticed. Of course, today's my first day as a complete woman. My most precious, shall we say dagger, became lost to me just late yesterday, if you get my implication," she said, referring to the curse of Metamor. Leo was with a group of knights in Mugal's special service. Mugal was a rich and industrious town obsessed with expanding far beyond its humble beginnings. It was quite obsessed with making deals with smaller towns to ensure that it could grow. Mugal had a special service of knights that was sent to look wherever there might be treasure. Leo was a sole survivor of a group that had a run in with the lutins that prowled near Metamor. Leo or Alea was quite lucky to only be missing her gender and even luckier that Mugal would allow a woman to be a knight, though it was only a special case as Leo was invaluable and dangerous with spear regardless of his or her sex. This fact alone made it stupid to bench Leo, especially after surviving a lutin encounter and making it back mostly intact.
"Hehe, that's outright wild!" a voice from the back sprang forth. Adorned in a blue outfit with black pants came forth a busty young lass, a brunette with green eyes and a forked tongue. She ran her fingers through her hair as she sat down next to Leo. "So tell me all about this encounter. I'm sure being a woman hasn't quenched your appetite for other girls." This lass put her hands on Leo's slender armor clad leg and had her cleavage on full display.
Leo and Evan looked at each other, and then stared at the woman with a look of absolute annoyance. They said nothing, but the woman coming onto Leo was getting a little uncomfortable herself.
"What's the matter chaps? Never seen a woman before? Leo here must have been terrified when he grew her pair," she spoke, but her words were half-hearted as she chuckled nervously. "Hehe... what's... what's going on?"
Klaus sighed, he was cleaning out one of the mugs. "We know it's you Hawl. Evan and Leo are just taken aback by today's performance. I know you're not one for subtlety, but come on."
"My name isn't Hawl it's.... grrr," the brunette clenched her shoulder and quickly shrank her hair and her boobs. She became more youthful, but far more masculine until she became not a woman, but a man; well, barely a man, he appeared to be just under eighteen. "What gave me away this time?" Hawl sighed. His clothes were of a special material and shrank to accommodate his new form.
Klaus sighed. Surely no one could be this stupid. It should have been obvious to anyone, even those unaware of Hawl's powers that he was not legitimate. "Okay, where do I begin. Outside of Leo when she does that 'bimbo' thing, no real woman has knockers quite that ridiculous at least none without severe back problems. Additionally, your hair and eye color weren't any different from your usual appearance. And finally, the most obvious one is that you were openly discussing lesbianism. Which is frowned upon pretty much everywhere especially here where most of us are Followers." No sooner than he had finished cleaning out the mug that he began to fill it with his finest brew. "Wow, Leo, I don't know where you're putting it. You'd think this little number," whirling a finger in the shape of her curves, "would have taken down your tolerance."
Leo laughed. "Oh come on, you know me better than that, this is my third pint. I'm not even a wee bit tipsy." It had been known that Leo as a man could drink anyone under the table. As a woman this appeared to remain true, and if it hadn't, Leo was going to work hard to make it true, much in the way she was proceeding to tear up her liver by chugging that pint and wiping her mouth clean, much to Evan and Klaus's delight. Hawl seemed unimpressed, but then, by people who were not himself, he usually was.
Klaus smiled, and then turned to Hawl, who was holding his finger up wanting to be served a pint. "Get out, I've kicked you out at least fifteen times in the past two months. I thought we made it clear you weren't welcome at the Mugal Tavern."
Hawl laughed. "You're so funny, Klaus, and why would you not want me here to brighten up your day? One pint, I'll re-feminize myself and we'll see which chick can really drink!"
Leo brought her eyes to a close and began rubbing the space between them with a delicate hand covered by an old blood-stained steel gauntlet. "Hawl, I don't want to have a drinking contest with you. I don't want to swordfight you. I don't want to play darts or pool. I just want you to go away and never bother me, Evan, Prince Klaus, or anyone else at this establishment, in fact." Leo pointed her blade at Hawl. "I don't even want to see you outside of the tavern either!"
Hawl smiled and instantly took the form of a stone version of himself, grey and hard as a rock he pounded his fists together. "Bring it missy!"
Klaus pointed the sword downward, being careful not to cut himself on the blade. "Hold it you two! I'll have no bloodshed, or whatever it is golems bleed in my tavern. As Leo pointed out, I'm the Duke's Son and she should keep in mind that I WILL report a murder to the authorities, even if it is Hawl's!"
Hawl laughed as he slammed his rock hard fists on the bar, accidentally breaking part of it. "I'd scrub the floor with this bitch!"
"You? Against the greatest knight Mugal has ever seen? You can be made of pure mithril and we'd still be celebrating your funeral." Evan seemed serious, as he was laughing so hard he almost spilled his ale.
"Careful Evan, just because I'm an aristocrat doesn't mean I can afford free refills," Klaus warned before turning to Hawl. "Out, or I'll order Leo to place you under arrest for trespassing."
"Well, I WAS going to share with him the glorious cure to his condition. I'm the only one qualified to lift curses of that nature after all," he laughed as his form slowly melted away to the woman he came in here as, and pointed both of her index fingers at Leo. "Unless you like menstruating of course, ahaha, I'll see you guys and Leo tomorrow when she no doubt begs for me."
Leo went back to her drink as Evan and Klaus stared at her, even many other patrons at the various tables who wisely chose to stay out of Hawl-related affairs and ignore his presence starred at Leo. She looked up at them and just calmly said, "Fill her up, K." They continued to stare, ignoring her entirely. "What?" she asked.
Evan tugged at his shirt's collar. "Leo, do you like being a girl?"
Leo slammed her mug down silently yet noisily demanding that refill. "No, I miss being able to drown fire ants when I come across them with my stream of justice, I also hate having to have my armor refitted at great expense to my own, practically begging the duke to let me stay a Captain, and seriously. Have you ever tried aiming a bow with these.... things?" Leo motioned towards her chest, even aside of her Fully Cursed Form she was a little on the round side. "It's not easy. I'd go back to being a man in a heartbeat. I miss my balls and I miss my beard." The captain rubbed at her chin before rolling her eyes in annoyance. One could tell she was thinking, "Damn Nasoj and his unorthodox methods, but at least I'm alive.... That's something to be happy about and what I'm going to be celebrating every day."
"Hawl's an idiot, but the way he goes back and forth through forms seamlessly, I think he might actually be the one who could reverse the curse," Klaus pointed out as he refilled Leo's mug.
Leo scoffed. "This is Hawl we're talking about. Better people than him have tried and the closest they got was turning a bloke into a beaver shaped kilt. Plus with the way he burns up his mana supplies, he could likely only get me half way there before collapsing, and what good does that do anyone? At least my new bits work, something they wouldn't if Hawl messed with them. No, better leave me this way. This body is a woman's body, but it can get me, the real me inhabiting it, from A to B. I can count on it for that," she said as she poured yet another pint down her mouth hole.
Klaus had an idea, but he'd have to wait till tomorrow to strike it up. In the meantime, he'd collect a King's Ransom like he normally does when Leo drinks. The curse took nothing from Leo outside of a sense of pride it seemed, but what would it take from Hawl?
The next day was upon Cedric, who had awoken and left Cornflower just this morning. He had stopped in Mugal for some refreshments and to see if anyone knew just where the hell Metamor Keep was. He had a map from Seladon's Tower, but he was not even the slightest bit a cartographer and thus could not make heads nor tails of it. Cedric was in the well-known Mugal Tavern where he sat down across from someone in regal armor. Cedric did not want to stare, but there was something off about this knight. He seemed small, devoid of anything resembling muscle, and a little too pretty to be a knight. It then hit Cedric, he was a woman.
"I am not familiar with Mugal's customs, but I was unaware that any kingdom employed female knights," Cedric pointed out, hoping to get an explanation. The entire tavern fell silent and gave him a look as though he had said something afoul involving the she-knight's mother.
Cedric could see a vein in her forehead as she looked him dead in the face. "Friend, you had best be rather simple, or new in town. Because the Duke made it pretty damn clear what happened when we went snooping around Metamor."
Klaus seemed quite taken aback. Two days ago marked the celebration of Leo's return. Nearly the whole town was celebrating her return and making jokes about her condition. She seemed fine then, even laughed along with them at some of them, she said so herself. Her exact words were, "Talk all the rot you want, I'm alive, I'm still a knight, and I'm back home in good old Mugal. Nothing else matters." So this reaction was unexpected.
"I meant no disrespect. My name is Cedric and I'm from Cornflower I know nothing of this town," Cedric calmly stated while putting his finger up for a pint. "Though if you know of Metamor, I must ask if you can take me there."
Leo calmed instantly, exhaling a sigh of relief. "I'm sorry I thought you were Hawl trying to call me out for a duel. I've had enough of his nonsense lately and quite frankly I'm ready to run him through."
"Do I look like Hawl?" Cedric pondered, upon saying the name he got the strangest vibes from the Transblade, but could not decipher them or explain to even himself why he felt them.
Leo shook her head. "No, but even Hawl doesn't look like Hawl half the time. He's a master of disguise, keeps coming in here and being a jackass, one time literally. So you want to charter an escort to Metamor? I'm the woman for the job, but last time I went there my crew died. Their funeral services are tomorrow bright and early. I wouldn't miss a chance to say goodbye to them for the world. So it'll cost you 50 crowns for a round trip."
Cedric almost lost it himself. "Fifty Crowns? That's half of what my entire village owes your duke! I don't have that much, I've never met a man alive outside of Penny Pinching Miser Tyrants in the guise of Lords and Counts who had such an amount to spare! You have got to be kidding!"
Leo smirked, "Well my men were important to me."
A drunk man in the crowd laughed. "Yeah I bet they are!" Leo ignored this; she was a woman in a man's world. They were going to make fun of her, even if they knew her in the past as a strong man. Unless Nasoj's curse was lifted, this was something she was going to put up with until the end of her days.
"Hit me, Klaus," Leo called out to him.
The Bar-tending Prince sighed. Leo was a good friend of his and the entire town owed her their lives. She deserved better than this. "It's on the house, old friend," Klaus abided by Leo's request as he yelled out, "I'M SPEAKING TO YOU ALL AS A PRINCE! Leo's been through enough, her whole squadron lost at the hands of the lutins! We'll have no more jokes about what the curse did to her or I'm cutting you off! It was funny when she got here, but let us leave this all behind! This is a New House Rule! We should be mourning the loss of her men, her comrades she fought side by side with to defend our way of living. Not laughing at her! She's a knight first, a gentleman second, and a woman last!"
Cedric was touched by the respect Leo's friend had for her, no what Leo's PRINCE had for her. Touched and yet enthralled, that's the kind of respect he longed for, the treatment from one of higher blood he so sought. True, it was a tad egotistical, but recognition from one whose blood was blood from Eli in assurance of the right to govern men. It must feel glorious.
Leo was tearing up. She wanted to tell herself it was the curse talking, a misplaced bout of emotion causing her to act out of character to how she truly is. She had to fix it, if her hormones got the better of her it would negate everything Klaus had just said. Leo wiped her eyes and swallowed. "Your Majesty, you did not have to do that," she said to Klaus.
Klaus went back to washing mugs and sighed. "Yes I did, Leo. You cannot let them walk all over you just because you're a woman now. Women have their place in society, and it isn't as a knight, but you Leo only look like a woman. People would do good to remember that and can all this Your Majesty stuff. When I'm working the Tavern, it's Klaus or Barkeep. Besides, it wasn't so much that he was making fun of you, but that he was speaking ill of the dead. That is something I would never allow in this establishment."
Leo looked off to the side. "I'll keep that in mind," she said as she downed another drink.
Cedric had to interrupt, he needed to find some way to get Leo to take him to where he needed to be. "Sorry gentlemen, I feel for your loss, Sir Leo, but it is of great importance that I find Metamor. Is there any way you could at the very least help me decipher this map?" he said as he took out Seladon's Map out of his satchel. "I can't seem to find Cornflower on here anywhere."
Leo scratched where her beard used to be, a force of habit, as when she was a man she was the proud owner of a great and fearsome bush of face fur. "Aye, I suppose I can give a few pointers. You in a hurry to become a lass? There are more reversible ways to become a woman you know, I mean not many, but they're out there," Leo warned half-jokingly as she leaned over to take a peek at the map and was astounded. "Well, there is your problem mate, this map is ancient! Cornflower nor Mugal existed back then. Where did you get this map? It belongs in a museum! Not an adventurer's satchel."
"I found it with a very old wizard's belongings," Cedric stated. "Do you have a more updated map I could borrow?"
Leo hummed to herself for a second. "Alright, five silver, should buy me a few more rounds."
Cedric pounded his fist on the table. "This is Highway Robbery! I could get one from the local Scribe's Guild for a few bronze."
Leo smiled and waved her finger, a very feminine posture for someone who had only been a lass for a few days. "Sorry peasant, but the one you get from the Scribe's Guild isn't specifically marked by the Lanceless Knight herself, the sole survivor of an elite force. You want to survive the lutins? They've got a truce with some of the tribes, monsters go hand in hand I guess, but a lot of them are still loyal to Nasoj. Easy enough if you're used to their brutality, but those that aren't? Let's just say there's a reason I'm alive at all. Five silver, and that's a discount. In the next five minutes it doubles in price."
Cedric thought it over. He only brought 8 silver, and he so wished he had saved more of his golden suns from his mercenary days. This was almost all his money, and he definitely could not afford 10 silver. Finally he groaned and took the coins out.
"Smart, why does a man like you, with next to no coin, need to go to a place like Metamor? I know their Writer's Guild is legendary, but with the muscle and grime on you, I don't take you for the reading kind. So I'm guessing you're looking for something." Leo pondered. "With a body as well taken care of as that one, I'm fairly certain it isn't wanting the curse to make you buff."
"I have a sword I want to sell them, apparently only a man, or woman I guess," Cedric looked over Leo with the very face of bewilderment as he added that last bit, "from Metamor can wield it. I hope to sell it in order to pay off Cornflower's debts," Cedric stated calmly as Leo handed him the map.
Leo grinned, and began to think. "I've been to Metamor before, I think I've heard about this..." she said sarcastically, gesturing towards her body. "Meet me tonight alone and bring the sword. It's very important. I'll be waiting at the Old Oak Tree at the edge of town. The one with the name of my fiance...." Leo looked at her body. She'd find the sight a wonder to behold, if it was not her own, and sighed as fond memories of her and Anna came surfacing. They loved each other deeply. Leo told her beloved poems she had heard from distant lands, brought her trinkets from successful voyages. They were to be wed after he, as she was at the time, returned from Metamor. But because of the burden she'd have to carry for the rest of her life, it was never meant to be.
Leo The Lanceless could hear the voice of Anna in the deep bowels of her mind where the alcohol could not reach, the armored female's entire estrogen-filled body shook as he could picture her long blue hair. Leo had never met another woman with blue hair, as she stood there staring her lover's old body in the face. "Oh Leo, let's never part, my love. Through sickness and health, I shall always be your woman, and you will always be my man, and I know you and your mighty blade will never let anyone take our joy away."
Another memory flooded back as Leo started to frown and sniffle a little. She remembered just a couple of days ago, a far more painful memory. "Anna, I'm sorry, the curse got to me. All my men are dead. You're the only thing I left." she said as she hugged Anna for the last time, the final touch she felt from her beloved. Anna was very uncomfortable and shoved her lover aside. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but merely walked off with a disappointed look on her face. As she saw Anna literally turn her back on her, Leo saw the shattered fragments of her soul blow in the wind, and for the first time since she was a young lad, she began to cry, "Anna, I know I look like a woman, but.... we can make this work.... My men are all dead, you and Mugal are the only things I have left in the world... Of my very being..." But it was too late; Anna was out of earshot. She clawed a loose-fitting gauntlet into the dirt, which became mud with her tears. Many onlookers shook their heads. She would have some explaining to do with the Duke.
Back in the present, Leo felt a single tear trickle down her soft cheek. She put on a war face and prevented any others from following from her eyes. It was the only part of her old self remaining, the fire inside of her eyes, the burning passion of a man in the middle of a battlefield. Her face looked like a lion ready to roar as she angrily lifted her tankard and chugged like she never chugged before. "THE TREE, WITH MINE AND THAT SOUL-SUCKING SUCCUBUS' NAME CARVED IN IT! MEET ME THERE!" she pounded her fist on the bar as she breathed heavily. Klaus and Cedric starring at Leo as she did so, everyone in the bar did so too.
Klaus shook his head with a concerned look on his face. "I think you need to go home and rest, Leo. You've had enough."
Leo looked up at the Prince, one of her last living friends, and gritted her teeth. "You're damn right I've had enough!" The half-mad, half-drunk woman left, wobbling a little as her new body wasn't as tolerant of her usual brew as the old one was. A few patrons stared at her armor-coated rump as she left for home. There was one thing she wanted to do and only one thing: get home and cry, cry her eyes out. Men didn't cry, but she was not a man, anymore. When she got home she cried so hard that it literally became difficult to breathe. She thought of something and smiled. She was NOT a woman, she was a boy and she grew up into a fine man. And men do not get sad, they get even.
Cedric decided to take this opportunity to order a to-go sandwich, a special they had at the Tavern, of two slices of bread with vegetables and meat between them -- a queer meal, but oddly refreshing and wonderful -- and to continue training and waiting for Leo. Cedric devoted most of his time to tuning himself mentally and physically to become a powerful warrior. He decided to jog throughout the town and then volunteer for some hard labor, helping plow the fields for the summer crops that would need to be planted soon. People were ecstatic for a hard-working man who works for little to nothing. Cedric found a couple in need, the man and woman from the bar, and got to work, insisting on using the most worn, difficult to use, and rusted tools. It was a rush for Cedric to push his body to its very limits. His body was something he was proud of, the very picture of strength and masculinity. If this Metamor place turned men into women, he hoped he would not have to stay long enough for such a thing to happen.