Where Life Begins Anew

Tales Of The Transblade

by Hawl Enroygall

Hawl walked back up into the tavern, learning from his mistakes of yesterday. Today he was dressed in less colorful and more casual garb. He was a he, not a she this time. Today he was blonde, a little less than handsome, and he had solid blue eyes. He was unimpressive and called no attention, until he sat near the front and spoke to Klaus.

"Hey there stranger, we normally reserve the front for friends of the royal family, but they haven't been around since Leo's team. Eh, I won't bore ya with those details." In truth, Klaus didn't want to remind himself that many of the men he was used to serving and calling comrades were lost to this world. "So can I get you anything? Food, beverage? We have a special on sandwiches today; they're the most popular item for food consumption here in Mugal. Other kingdoms don't know about our special method of preparing bread, but my dad, the Duke, knows people," Klaus stated, pouring wine for a couple, a woman dressed in purple and a man dressed in red.

"That sounds great, Klaus, can I get one with bacon, lettuce, and tomato?" Hawl asked.

"No, you can't, Hawl, get out," Klaus stated with a sigh and shook his head.

"What gave me away this time?" Hawl groaned, aggravated. He loved sandwiches and the Mugal Tavern was the only place with them that he knew of.

"First off, you sat up here, where you usually do; you called me Klaus, a true newcomer who actually didn't know would not have called me Klaus, but instead 'Your Highness', 'Your Worship', 'Your Majesty', or any other of those ridiculous pet names for nobility. Though the biggest give away was when you just told me." Klaus ignored Hawl. It was begining to become a game, who's Hawl and who isn't? The game was easy, but still had a charm to it he dared not admit. Though some guessed when he didn't have Hawl arrested, which he could have had Leo, who had left shortly after Cedric had, do at any time, that he actually tolerated Hawl to an extent. Many wanted to see him hung from the gallows for his trickery, though several, Klaus included, honestly didn't mind and decided to let boys be girls be animals.

Hawl was a shapeshifter; no one knew why, and he never gave a straight answer. It was a power he did not use well. Pretending to be beggars to steal people's coins, worrying the town guard by turning into a monster and scaring people around town, giving people a shock by impersonating notable persons of power and barking commands, turning into an attractive woman in order to get close to someone who had something he wanted, spying on people in the shape of a common squirrel...

Most distressing were the few times he attempted to commit acts of adultery by pretending to be husbands or wives of the town's more attractive citizens, although fortunately for him no one had anything outside of rumors to prove this; otherwise he would have been publicly executed, that was one game the transforming youth did not play often. Nothing Hawl did ever really exceeded the level of a boyish prank, not even the adultery he did not ever actually go through with; his conscience would not let him go through with it. The worst he managed to do was a stolen kiss and some light touchy-feely. He felt remorse for even thinking about it and went out of his way to make it up to those people. Even he knew that was a very wrong thing to do. Hawl was not a man of Eli, but even he sought forgiveness from the local church for the attempt. Several people's heads spun as Hawl had always been an opponent of religion.

"Oh come on K, why do you got to be like that?" Hawl asked. "I'm famished and my gold is good!"

Klaus sighed. "Hawl, you're a menace to society, your hatred of Eli disturbs many rational people, your tales of sexual deviancy are never in good taste, you never pay your tabs and still owe me much in coin, you don't stop impersonating people for personal gain, you're an annoying braggart who never shuts his trap, you've added onto other people's tabs by pretending to be them and ordering the most expensive things off the menu, which caused a rush of greedy people claiming that they were actually you when they ordered the good meat the other week, and the list just goes on."

Hawl gulped. "Hey man, I don't hate Eli, I just don't think he's the only path to spiritual enlightenment. Eli's pretty cool, I like reading the Canticle!"

The entire tavern turned and faced Hawl, whispering amongst themselves. The two heard one of them say "He's a heretic! I bet he knows daedra personally!" and another person respond with "I bet that's why he can change his shape like that, he must have sold his soul!"

Klaus raised an eyebrow. "Okay, what's your favorite teaching of Yahshua?"

Hawl stared dumbfounded for a second and after a few dull moments have passed, all eyes on him. The young, but grey haired barkeep just staring at him, sighing, before finally saying "We're waiting."

Hawl turned around and proceeded to exit the bar. "Thought so," the barkeep stated.

Hawl clenched his fist, which reshaped itself into a misshapen claw-like hand. Hawl couldn't control his power sometimes and it was prone to causing him to change shape when emotional. He slammed his fist and turned around again. "You know what! Your self-righteous bullshit about Yahshua, Eli, and the Canticle have taken its last toll on my nerves. I don't even know what I did to displease you people!"

Klaus looked down and shook his head in sadness, Hawl had been known for negative opinions on The Ecclesia, and didn't have much tolerance for Rebuilders either, but he never voiced them this loudly. He'd need to punish Hawl and do it now! Hawl made a fool of himself often, but he managed to pay his taxes and stayed mostly within the confines of the law; if he did break the law, the legal system of Mugal definitely wasn't aware of it. Though the claw and his distressing choice of word meant he'd have to do something. "Is that a threat?"

Hawl looked at his scaly pink hand. "No, I can't always control my powers. I don't really know why I have them. It's just something that's been with me all my life.... but I meant everything I said. This mysterious force that I, and I alone wield makes me a far better messiah than Yahshua ever was. Really, you should all bow down before me. I can just make myself younger and live forever. I've done it before and I've lived for thousands of years." Hawl was of course lying about this. He couldn't back this claim up at all, but he was counting on no one in the Tavern asking him too.

Klaus raised an eyebrow. "That is a very disconcerting thing to say, and most unfortunate. I'm sorry, Hawl, but the penalty for sacrilege, blasphemy, and treason, are all the same...." he said in a grim depressed voice, almost swallowing his tongue as he braced for his next two words.

Hawl was grabbed by two guards. They weren't pretty like Leo; they were gruff men decked in armor and gave him a dirty look as they did. Many people were staring at Hawl. Several were spitting their beverages and dropping things on the floor; a tavern wench actually dropped a stack of plates and just froze there.

Prince Klaus put his left thumb down and gave the guards a very serious look. "...Public Execution. May Eli have mercy on your soul, for when noon comes tomorrow, our guillotine will not."

Evan smiled and laughed as he got up from the bar with drink in hand. Few people hated Hawl more than he, and he took great pleasure in the news as he waved a pint in front of his face. "One last drink, old friend?" he chugged the beverage in front of him quickly before he could answer and wiped the froth from his face. "Too bad." He sat back down after gesturing over his neck with his finger.

"Is this real life? Right now?" Hawl pondered this for a bit out loud, clearly worried for his health. He had screwed up countless times, but never this much. Thinking of something, he smiled and finally said, "I can turn to steel and dull the guillotine's blade. How about instead I prove my divinity?"

The whole crowd gasped again. Evan just laughed and drank from his mug, shaking his head. Klaus, however, smiled. He liked Hawl's charm and felt he was nothing more than a misguided youth throwing a temper tantrum. He would see how this played out; the worst case scenario was the same as the best case scenario. Hawl would buy some time and give Klaus one last comedy performance he could remember him by. The crowd was even more shocked by Klaus's next words.

"I'm listening," he said as he gestured to the guards to let Hawl go.

Hawl held up his mutant claw hand, which was now two claw hands. They looked very much like rat paws, only for a much larger and more human-looking creature than a rat. "Alright everyone, I offered to cure Leo, but she refused. I truly am the cure to the blight that no mage has ever been able to remove. The Curse of Metamor. There wouldn't be anymore Metamorphing going on over there. I'd dare say they'd even want to change the name of the province to Metaless!" Hawl was good at jests, he needed to tell one here to reassure his own mind, not just to win people over.

Everyone just looked, and pondered this. "What do you mean she refused?"

Hawl simply explained it. "I told her I could cure her; she said that she was fine being that way. I guess she has a man she fancies or is a little too fond of putting on small skirts and skimpy outfits and playing games in a mirror. I mean, who that can turn into a sexy babe isn't? Of course, the man thing could be valid. I've had sex as both genders and let me tell you. Sex as a woman is like the hammer of Suspria shocking pure bliss into your very being." He could and should have explained it simpler than that. A lot of people looked disgusted, Klaus actually banged his head on the bar in response to that interesting imagery.

Hawl would have to quickly turn things around if this farce was to work, and grossing the crowd out any further was sure to make heads roll. The young man was very visibly sweating and clearly losing the crowd. "I mean, how about that Leo?" he feminized his features, but not too much, that shapeshifting ability was a big drain on energy and he had done it a few times more today than he should have. Hawl had large exaggerated feminine breasts and a girly face as he jiggled his bosom. "Look at me, I'm Leo, and I'm so manly and strong!" Hawl leaned forward, showing a little cleavage as his size changing shirt allowed. "Teehee."

Many in the audience found this in poor taste and those that did find it funny were holding their breath due to Klaus' new house rule he had announced earlier today. Regardless of Leo's behavior, he was beloved by the people and insulting him was almost as bad as insulting Eli, plus the boob act was off-putting to most, especially after Hawl implied he used to it to participate in acts of bisexuality as many in the town, and the land in general, did not believe same-sex relations was that good of a thing.

Klaus was beginning to regret letting Hawl defend himself and was about to have him taken away when a miracle intervened. A random man in the audience asked him the one-hundred-gold-coin question. "Why should we care if you can cure the curse of Metamor Keep? We're in the deep Southlands, and Metamor is so far to the north, it would take a week on horseback to get there! That curse can't touch us. It is of no concern."

One of his mates spoke up with him. "Yeah, just haul Hawl off to the stockade and let those freaks be."

Hawl laughed. He couldn't help it, as Hawl and haul were pronounced the same, but he quickly stopped and told them something alarming. "True, Mugal is in the Southlands, which are these lands, and they happen to be located in the south, while Metamor is so far to the north that it's even north of the Northlands. Which is a lot of north I know, but I'm hearing that some people in the Northlands are looking a little younger than they were the other day, and it's not the snake oil salesman finally peddling a ware that works. That families have lost a kid, but gotten a new pet, that siblings have different mothers and father, but I'm not talking about divorce or re-marriage."

"Wha are you playing at daemon?" a woman with a thick accent asked. "Wha's zat got to do wif anythin'?"

"What I'm saying is the curse isn't staying put, it's expanding and growing! If you don't reverse a curse, the curse gets worse and sings a new verse in which you now carry a woman's purse!" Hawl explained, gesturing with his paw-hands, bringing them to a ring and moving the ring outward. The rat-handed, large-breasted young man of course had absolutely no idea if this was true or not. He had merely read a story once in which curses got worse the longer you went without correcting them, but it was a story, not a book by a mage. Authors tend to have a knack for getting details about magic wrong or sensationalizing it to make stories seem more exciting. For the most part he assumed it false, but ultimately did not know, nor did he care. What mattered was how much did the possibility of a town full of people like Leo bothered the people who had his fate in his hands.

Evan elbowed Klaus and snortled. "Try saying that five times fast!"

Klaus chuckled along with Evan as the whole Tavern erupted in panic and argument. So many voices.

"He's bluffing! He's got to be, Duke Thomas has court mages to keep the curse in line! That's why they ain't all fully animals and tots! There's no way he'd let that happen to outsiders!"

"He let it happen to Leo, I bet he's had a cure the whole time. Probably keeps it in a vile of pure emerald he dangles from his equine neck! Just to taunt people with! I bet his subjects kiss his hooves just to beg him for it! He didn't cure Leo as a warning to the rest of us! All love the Horse King or be forever cursed!"

"What man would stay such an abomination willingly?"

"A cruel vicious tyrant who likes the monster on the outside as much as the monster on the inside! He probably had his way with Leo before she left!"

"Nonsense, Leo came back not realizing the curse was on him. Once it starts, it finishes, you know."

"Maybe that's how he got her to agree, made it a partial cure, one that wears off after so long. That's why he came back a man and slowly reverted back to what that jackass made her, but only to ensure she'd get her way back to his bedside. I mean, where is she now? Does anyone know? Making her way back to ol' Ass-Grabbing Tom most likely. I spit in his general direction for this."

"Well, good for him, he can be a blackmailing rapist stallion tyrant if he wants, but we've got to get Hawl to end that curse once and for all. I don't want a damn tail!"

"Hey, no worries, with as much of a pansy as you are, I think you'll wind up like Leo."

"Is this really the time for jokes? The forces of hell could be crawling at our doorsteps!"

"WE'VE GOT TO MOVE MUGAL FURTHER SOUTH! There's no way Thomas would let Hawl cure the curse if it's all true."

"I bet he's lying! Just kill that boobied boy and be done with this!"

"We've got to try! Something, anything!"

They bantered on and on for what seemed like hours before Klaus screamed at the top of his voice, causing Hawl to cover his ears, as he always detested loud or high-pitched noises. "ENOUGH! ALL OF YOU! Stop! We cannot make empty accusations about their Duke or any foreign diplomat, it reflects poorly on all of us as a whole! No matter what has happened to the province, we must still respect it as a nation with its ideals, especially since they aren't attacking us."

This answer did not satisfy as a man from the crowd burst up immediately with a protest. "Not yet they aren't! I say we issue a preemptive strike and not give them the chance! You know damn well other towns will thank us for it!" There was applause from one half of the room and dead silence from the other.

Klaus groaned. A true man does not promote war, he arises to stop wars, and he needed to quell this now before anyone got any bright ideas. "However! I am prepared to send Hawl there to see if he can dispel the curse. If he is successful, all charges against him will be dropped. He is in temporary exile until such a period of time has passed in which Metamor is cursed no more. Even if we could attack Metamor successfully, Nasoj would focus his attention towards us instead." Though he was proud of Hawl for finding a clever way to save his own skin and prevent the prince from having to issue his first real execution order, he was still reasonably concerned, especially since his father was a very greedy man who was known to attack others for their gold.

Evan sat back and sighed, taking smaller sips from his frothy mug. He was smarter than people gave him credit for. All everyone needed to do was shut up, forget about the curse, and go home while Hawl was killed, and the world would be a better place for it. He could see this nonsense for what it was. Hawl was just finding ways to beat around the bush and avoid punishment. No one else was being reasonable, and he just had to scratch his head at this idea of the Duke of Metamor being a tyrant, as he had heard several stories before Leo and his now-deceased crew went to Metamor in search of glory, and they all seemed to paint the stallion as a reasonable noble who was always just and fair.

Another one of the men in the Tavern screamed, "Bullshit! Hawl's basically a child and obviously lying! I bet he's cursed right now. How do you explain how he knows Nasoj's old spell is growing stronger? Look at his hands, or should I say paws? If that's not him turning into the dirty rat he really is, I'll eat my hat!"

Evan looked to Hawl and scratched his head, eventually asking, "Yeah, why do you have rat paws anyway?"

Hawl looked at his hands and tilted his head confused. "You know, that's a very good question, the answer is....... Actually I have no idea." He really didn't know. When he was emotional, his powers activated, and there seemed to be no correlation between the specific emotion he was feeling and the form taken.

The man who promised he'd eat his hat spoke up. "Yeah, the curse is right outside our homes. These are our last days of humanity, manhood, or adulthood. Enjoy them while you can!"

Hawl laughed as Klaus began rubbing his forehead in sheer anguish trying in vain to think of a way to end this torment that he had so foolishly allowed to have started. "Don't fret, I'm immune to the curse. True I have picked it up, I didn't want to alarm you so I pretended it was nothing, but it's really no concern. Honestly! I liked how they looked! That's why I didn't cure myself." Lying as he went along, he put his hands in the air for all to see. "Hare today!" he said as he placed his paws behind his back and closed his eyes focusing the last of his mana on the paws. "Gone tomorrow!" Hawl had two human hands once again. Much to the bewilderment of everyone present in the Mugal Tavern.

"Well, I'll be damned," Evan said as he and everyone stared. "He.... HAWL CAN CURE THE CURSE, SOMEONE FIND LEO!"

Klaus whispered in Evan's ear, "Hawl was never cursed, don't be so easily fooled. Keep it under your hat, please, for my sake, at least.... also rabbits aren't rats... he knows that, right?"

"Actually, I'll tell him later, when I see him this morning. Let's let him have one last night of being a wench, give him sometime to reflect on this ya know.." Evan stated, unconvincingly, but the crowd seemed to buy it.

Some people actually threw themselves at Hawl's feet, bowing and thanking Eli for his presence. "Death To The Horse King!" a man yelled. "Let's have a feast in honor of Hawl, The Bastion Of Humanity! We can have him lead an army and wipe out those sons of bitches!"

Klaus wished he had never allowed Hawl to act as his own defense, if only he'd just killed him or if he had done this in a smaller area with less people to get all group-thinking. Word travels fast, and he didn't want people thinking or talking ill of other towns or provinces without evidence of misdeeds. It was a good way to die, but he had to throw a party for the hero. Especially since people lined up to start buying food and drink, some for Hawl. He told the man, "There will be no army, we have no proof outside of hearsay from a drunken teller of boasts and tall tales that there are any evil intentions from Duke Thomas."

The man who suggested Duke Thomas was of vile character spoke up, "They're still unholy abominations that walk the Earth against Eli's will!"

Klaus sighed as he had other workers take the rush of orders. He walked from behind the bar and stood next to Hawl. "What do you know of Eli's Will? Putting words in the mouth of the divine would be the end of us all. For all any mortal man knows, any curse expansion going on could be Eli's will. Maybe he's tired of humans like you running their damned mouths! Besides, like you said, they're unholy abominations. And before that they beat the all-powerful wizard trying to conquer the world with two thirds of their militia almost completely out of commission and the remaining one third more physically equipped to be prostitutes than soldiers. Do you really want to try fighting them now that they've got sharp claws and fangs? Could you bring yourself to slaughter a child, even if he was chanting a spell in the language of Nasoj?"

Hawl was laughing at Klaus' comments and his good fortune. He'd get enough R&R to refill his mana drive and then he'd be scot free. He loved psychology, now the entire town would be seeing him as some form of chosen hero, at least for a few weeks. Klaus beckoned him and stated something to the crowd: "I'm going to speak with the chosen hero for a while, you all just... party." His voice seemed to have a great deal of annoyance to it.

Klaus and Hawl entered a back room and the white-haired prince decided it was high time he punched Hawl square in the jaw. Which he did, Hawl reeling back in pain as he spat blood out. "Where the hell did you learn to punch like that?"

"Where the hell do you get off doing.... Whatever the hell it is that occurred tonight!?!" Klaus asked, sighing as he explained, "Look, I know you were just trying to save your own neck, but what am I supposed to do? These people are screaming for blood! I'm their prince! If I don't do something, my dad will, and even you know how he is."

"Well, when I get to Metamor....." Hawl started to say before he was interrupted.

"You're actually going? Yahshua's Beard! I thought you were going to transform and maybe take a new identity. You do realize that if you can't cure the curse, you may actually have to live there, for the rest of your life," Klaus pointed out, "amongst beasts and freaks!"

"I'll be back. Mugal is the only home I know. I'll be back after a while. I should be fine in Metamor, I mean, I'm a freak myself." Hawl's tone suddenly became serious, but quickly shifted back to normal. "But yeah it's fine, I'll just send a message stating my progress in Metamor and when my power CAN cure the curse. I'll be back. If I can't. Well, chances are it's not even expanding. I just have to wave my hand, say some hocus pocus and see if I can get a hoof-stamped letter declaring the Duke doesn't want to attack Mugal."

Klaus looked at him angrily. "Oh hell no! That's not how we're doing this! You're going to actually make a breakthrough. Come back here as your normal self after a month, with an escort from Metamor and a signed letter, and I'll believe anything you say. I'll arrange a cart to take you straight there. Return without these things and I'll not only grant you a full pardon; I'll do whatever you want."

"Free drinks for life?" Hawl asked, tilting his eyes in sinister contemplation. "If I can cure the curse of Metamor."

"Fine! But if you can't, you are never to return to Mugal unless the fate of the world depends on it!" Klaus stated, finally taking time to catch his breath. "Leo will be coming to check on your progress when we find him again, so do not think you can ditch Metamor Keep, he can't be cursed twice. You are being exiled TO Metamor. And she will make sure you stay INSIDE Metamor until it is done."

"Fair enough. Odd request, though... prepare me a cart, I'll rest for a bit, to regain my power," Hawl stated. "I'll be out of your hair soon enough."

"Good. By the way, some strange men in robes were asking about you earlier," Klaus casually stated. "Said you owed them."

"What do they want now!?!?" Hawl asked, grabbing his biceps and shivering, as if he were cold. Carefully scanning the room, his eyes quickly filling with terror that few men have ever had the punishment of ever coming to know. He dared not blink, fully believing that anything in this room could potentially be the very instrument of his ultimate destruction.

"You simply must stop jumping at shadows. They're likely no one of any real interest or reason to get worked up about," Klaus re-assured, his own emotional state retaining at best a calm and patient demeanor. At worst, someone getting very annoyed with Hawl's shenanigans and very eager to see him leave to somewhere he was not likely to return from.

"Then what are they after? Did they say what they wanted?" Hawl asked, still feverishly looking around the cold dimly lit backroom of the Mugal Tavern. He had actually morphed away his eyelids to prevent himself from blinking, even by mistake. Until he was absolutely sure that he was carefully and snugly nestled into the purely figurative giantess's bosom of safety.

"I asked them because I knew you would react like this. The Flesinoirs are not real, Hawl. They're just a story. They don't exist. The man just wanted some money you owed them. I said I'd tell you when I saw you again," Klaus said, but quickly become flustered as he noticed that Hawl was continuing to ignore him.

"Look, I'll take care of it, I just want you out of here. If you see them, tell them I have their money," Klaus tried assuring, but Hawl still couldn't focus on anything except his own worry.

Finally he turned to Klaus and spoke with a calm, focused voice that had more thought in it than it needed to. "I need a disguise..... Klaus, let me rest up a bit, then I'm going out as a rat," Hawl said, recalling the rat claws he had earlier.

"Why?" Klaus asked with all frustrations gone, transmogrified into curiosity and surprise.

"Because if I look like I'm from Metamor, people will be interested in getting me back home and out of their hair," Hawl said with his confidence restored.

"Of course, that's the normal reaction to seeing a talking rat......" Klaus said, at this point having given up on Hawl, going so far as to muttering the following under his breath. "....You'll be dead within a week."

It was nightfall and Cedric was just given a few bronze coins in appreciation for his labor by the woman in purple and man in red from the bar. He insisted he was in it for the work and not the money, but they insisted he was at least worth a few bronze. The blonde haired man in his mid-twenties decided he would now go to the Oak Tree and wait for Leo, which he did, passing by several large lovingly crafted wood houses and guild halls. They were of fine quality, the finest Cedric had seen in quite some time.

Sightseeing would have to wait, though. He had to finish his quest into the thrice cursed kingdom and start upon a path that would lead to him becoming the very thing he wanted to be. The would-be knight eventually found the tree near the north-eastern edge of town. The tree was mighty and made of oak. Carved into it was a heart with an arrow through it that read. "Leo + Anna", a romance that had Cedric wondering if it still rang true.

He took out the map and sat down; he should have checked it sooner. There were markings in red pointing to various Lutin Hideouts, warnings about staying on the path, and special notes to help one recognize the difference between Lutins and Keepers. As far as Cedric knew all the curse did was turn you into a woman or a man if one was already a woman, so he was not sure what the negative stigma was about. True, a woman was meant for keeping house and birthing young while a man was meant for hunting and keeping safe his loved ones, but a curse could excuse one for acting out of turn. Cedric studied his map for some time, he estimated he could be there in a fortnight on foot, and a third of that time by horse. Eventually an hourglass figure clad in full metal gear walked forward, obviously Leo.

"So whoever you are, I hope you brought the Keeper's Blade," she said. "There's talk of a cursed sword that steals a man's very soul, but as I am no longer a man, I must help you transport this blade."

Cedric unsheathed the transblade, looked at it, put it back and unhooked it from his tunic, which hid his chainmail chest plate. "This is the Transblade, but Seladon's Letter said it was known by many names. Is this the one of which you speak?"

Leo beckoned him with her right hand to hand over the blade, to which Cedric obliged. Leo took the blade out of its sheath and felt a surge of energy flow through her. It felt so great that it literally sent a wave through her whole body, knocking her helmet off and making her long white hair stand literally on end.

"Whoa! This feels incredible! I've never felt a surge like this.... aaahhh." Her voice contained traces of euphoria and ecstasy as she began to glow blue. Eventually it died down and her hair fell facing the ground again. She rubbed her head. "That felt good. Ooooooh, felt a little too good." The blade had excited the curse.

The woman in her was beginning to surface; the lustfulness associated with the change had kicked in. Leo's willpower was not enough to contain it. She became dangerous and had an itching to appease the sexual tension gripping her, but there were other ways of exciting one's passion. Leo wasn't into men and she was by no means a rapist, so she looked towards her blood lust which had made her infamous on the battlefield.

"Thank you, whoever you are. Thanks for the blade," she said, gaining a big toothy smile as she swung the sword and had it instantly take the form of a katana, a sword from the east known for being quite sharp. She swung it down and then pointed it at Cedric threateningly.

The attacked ambassador thought about fleeing. "Nay!" he cried in his head. He had to get the Transblade back; his mission demanded it. In place of a fight or a surrender, he decided it best to go with beseeching her to retain her senses. He was not sure about fighting a woman, even if "she" was a "he" prior to this meeting.

Cedric brought his personal sword to her head, pointing it threateningly and being sure to speak in a clear firm voice. "Lady Leo, you aren't feeling well. In light of your condition, I am willing to accept your surrender, the return of my blade, and a refund with interest on the map you sold me as reprimand for your crime."

"Don't talk such rot!" Leo said as she smiled in triumph, twitching a bit as her breasts grew larger, her face more youthful, her hair much longer, and her child-bearing hips more ready for their intended new purpose. She was pretty before, but now with these and other not-so-subtle edits, she looked like a Fertility Goddess. It was the curse; the blade had brought out the worst of it in her. Cedric, however, had no way of knowing that and was left confused, though most others would have been more aroused by this display of enhanced femininity. There's an old saying men have about a woman's wrath and it goes something to the effect of "You're cute when you're angry". As cliché as it sounds, it was certainly the case here. Cedric could not see in Leo's face a warrior with a passion for battle, set off to strike, but instead the facial features of a young girl in her late teens, adorably annoyed. The curse wasn't completely disguising her though. One had to be observant and actively searching for it to see it, but it was there. Present only in the eyes of a man who had seen war, passions truly laid in the hearts of battle hardened men, the passion to live and die by the blade. Not the sort who rises to stop wars from happening. No. The kind who would go utterly insane from the idea of a world that would always remain at peace. The kind that would deny immortality as it would invalidate the need for courage or valor. The very man you would never want to trust or associate yourself with nor the kind even the suicidal would be afraid of having as one's enemy.

"I beg your pardon?" Cedric asked confusedly and taken aback somewhat by the sudden transformation. He blinked once before Leo lifted the Transblade and began to slash at him. Cedric blocked and parried with his blade and then kicked at Leo's leg, but Leo would not have it as she quickly regained her footing. Cedric was left on the defense as Leo's blows were very fast and very deadly, having already cleaved the nearby oak tree's branches considerably. Cedric was sweating; he did all he could do to defend himself as Leo smiled and swung like a madwoman, laughing as she did so. Something was very wrong with her and Cedric didn't have time to think about what.

He cried— knowingly in vain, but his main motivation was one borne out of fear— "Leo! You have no ill affairs with me." The panicked male cried out as he struggled to defend himself from the vicious assailant. He would dare not let up before she did, lest he wish to experience all the meat be carved off of his bones like a freshly roasted pork before a king's fancy feast.

"....." Leo said nothing as she continued to swing wildly. Cedric ran to the right, wishing he was the kind of warrior who put stock in shields. He managed to break away, receiving quite the shock when an arrow whizzed past him. When he looked back towards the direction of the shot he saw a Crossbow pointed at him. "I won't miss this time... It's going to be fun watching your brains leak out of that thick skull of yours."

Cedric whirled his sword around in front of him, spinning in a rotational direction. It was a risky move and very unlikely to work, though it did. The fates smiled upon him as this tactic worked long enough for him to manage getting close enough to grab Leo and push her into the tree, then pulling her close to headbutt her, knocking her out. He then grabbed the Transcrossbow which flashed the word "SORRY" on its loaded bolt. Cedric placed the crossbow in his bag.

"At least this makes you lighter." Cedric said, calmly.

At that moment a carriage passed by and halted containing a creature who looked like a man, if his father happened to be an albino rat. He was dressed in dark nobles' clothing. He smiled and spoke with a hint of an archaic accent.

"Halt Driver! I wish to congratulate this particular traveler on his conquest," he said as he turned to Cedric. "You have vanquished Leo. I was never noted as one who cared for his particular character."

Cedric swallowed. "I apologize...." He was very afraid of this creature and the soulless red eyes he was staring at him with. "But she had attacked me...."

The rat smiled. "You heard him, Driver. Our friend here is quite innocent of any charges of murder. Now, finish him companion of mine. Leo shall not bother anyone again. It is only just that you do to him what she tried to do to you."

Cedric looked to Leo and back to the rat. "I apologize Were-Rat, but I cannot kill a woman. However I must ask, from where do you hail? And where are you going?"

"As a fellow sufferer of the blight that is the curse of Metamor, I must please request that you kill her immediately. At her core she is all man, believe me. I have seen others like her," the rat requested. The driver looked at him and shaking his head. "Oh, don't give me that look. Klaus never said that Leo had to live."

The driver smiled. "Then Klaus can't keep tabs on you in Metamor. I like the way you think, kid. Cedric, hurry up and waste her already."

The rat panicked for a second. "Why would anyone be keeping tabs on me? I merely wanted to be with my brother, and that's it."

The driver laughed nervously. "My mistake, it's that exile who he's keeping tabs on."

"Right, yes, she was watching Hawl, I'm not Hawl." The rat nodded, though his face wasn't fooling anyone; he was very scared.

"Metamor!" Cedric stated. "You must take me with you...... Pardon, how did you know my name?"

The driver thought for a second. "Overheard your name in the tavern. You're transporting the Transblade, you were talking to someone else about it. Didn't see them though." he looked nervous as Cedric nodded in agreement. The driver breathed a sigh of relief quietly to himself though no one else saw of it. "You can come with us provided you kill the she-knight."

"If she were a man, I would consider it. She is not. I won't, and I will not allow you to kill her either. I will not take her back to town, but if she dies out here, it won't be by my hand." Cedric insisted. "Now will you offer me passage on your cart, or am I hoofing it? I have a map that can show us where the lutins hide."

"I had heard that they had gotten rid of them except around Hareford, but maybe I'm mistaken. Come aboard regardless. We could use a skilled warrior to deal with those green little shits if I am," the older-looking driver stated. He wore a black robed outfit much like the rat's. His voice was very cold, even more so than the rat's.

Cedric did so and handed the map to the driver— after, of course, stopping to take what he felt Leo owed him out of her bag, and not a shilling more. The rat and the man looked at each other and laughed for a bit, and then traversed forward after Cedric got onto the cart. "You two, your black robes and cold expressions. Are you from Sondeshara?"

"If we were, you wouldn't want to ask us that, free survival tip for you. But we're not regardless." The man driving the cart had said. "I'm just an innocent cab driver. Name's Rergoez. The rat's name is Gabe." Cedric thought the name was a little familiar.

The rat spoke up. "Gabriel Locke, to be precise. It is possible you may have heard of my brother, Gregg, a famous stableman, where I am from, which is Metamor. I am visiting him, I was away on business. Necromancer, you see, very dangerous, very secret. Try not to ask any more questions about me." He sounded incredibly shady and uncertain all the while.

"I'm Cedric Bariclauph, Ambassador from Cornflower to Metamor.... and I never asked, though if you are a Necromancer. I must ask if you can tell me something about the spirit realm." Cedric seemed eager now. "It's very important to me, and I'll give you anything you want!"

"Try getting the Transblade from him. Being a Keeper, it would be rather useful to you," the driver whispered to the rat. "It's supposed to grant powers to those of altered shape, and who knows. They say it has roots from Metamor, it may hold.... sentimental... value." The driver seemed to pause as he said it, keeping his face purely on the road.

"Excellent idea!" The rat stated as he closed his eyes and chanted for a bit. "What do you need to know Cedric?"

"....I can't give you the Transblade, but I'll share some of the bounty I get from selling it with you." Cedric stated. "But please, I want to know, is my sister Claire still amongst the living?"

"Simple, yeah Claire Bariclauph, she's totally dead... yes, very mystical diagnosis. Very powerful, very magical." Gabriel had stated, seemingly scattered brained. The driver said nothing to him and just shook his head slightly, but not enough for Cedric to see it. "Now, I can bring her back to life, but will cost exactly one Transblade." He noticed Cedric's heavy face and began speaking again. "We cannot put a price on our sisters now, can we? I have one back in Metamor, her name's Tiffany, delightful young hyena. I've had to bring her back once. Complicated ritual really."

"Alright, but not until I see her alive," Cedric stated. "Then and only then will I pay you." He folded his arms and gave Gabriel a very sincere look that let him know he definitely wouldn't budge on this. The rodent opened his mouth to say something, but placed his paw in his muzzle.

"Yes, of course......" Gabriel stated. "I would not dream of ripping off a brother in the large dream that forms the game of life. We are all truly one as they say. Rergoez, I'll be taking a little ratnap. Wake me up if I'm asleep when we get there."

"Yes Sir Locke, as you wish, Cedric..... will you be doing so as well?" Rergoez asked, not taking his eyes off of the road. Cedric was very tired as he had traveled so far and trained so hard, not to mention having just fought for his life, so against his better judgment he nodded and then nodded off. "Do you wish to have a bite to eat before nodding off? I have some turnips in my pocket."

"More of a meat man myself, but, a future knight must learn never to turn his nose at hospitality. I shall take your offer," Cedric stated as Rergoez handed him three turnips which Cedric downed before stopping to tell him "Thank you Rergoez. If we are attacked and I fall, take the transbla...ade.... and.... yawn. Run.... I'm more tired than I realized.... Good Night Rergoez and Sir Locke.... good night..." he said as he conked out.

Rergoez laughed to himself. "Nighty-night, sleepyheads."

The three journeyed for a fortnight. Gabriel recalled tales of glorious feats, several of which Cedric doubted. Though he had to admit, true or false, the tales were still amusing all the while. Neither rat nor man could get Regorez to say too much of anything. At one point they were attacked by a man with a dagger who kept going on about how he was going to sacrifice Gabriel to the Lothanasi Gods. Cedric only had to reveal that he had a sword for their little zealot to run off screaming.

"Some people's mouths truly are better kept shut," Gabriel commented on the man fleeing back to his hometown.

"I'll drink to that," Cedric commented as he sheathed his sword. "Speaking of, is there any more tea?"

That night, the two slept for the final time before reaching Metamor Valley.

The two woke up with their cart stopped. Rergoez was nowhere to be found. Gabriel was tied to a nearby tree, thumping his tail against the bark. He panted a bit as he called out for help. Cedric appeared to be still sleeping. The rodent was beginning to think that the Cedric had died. "Well, I'm fucked...." he said to himself as he resigned to his fate, licking the roof of his mouth as it was tired of screaming for help. He had been awake for a few hours and screaming his head off ever since. "CEDRIC YOU LAZY LITTLE SHAVED MONKEY, GET THE HELL UP RIGHT THIS INSTANT!" he yelled one final time in vain.

Cedric did hear him though, but he could not get up. His mind was awake, but his body wasn't obeying even the command for his eyelids to open. He struggled, but it was hopeless. All of his strength focused on keeping himself alive. He was breathing, but barely. His organs desperately wanted him to slow down and shut off, like a tattered machine. He filled his head with pictures of shame. Lord Aereolon looking down on him with a frown; Captain Redblood shaking his head no and saying, "I knew the rookie wasn't up to the task"; and finally of the bandits who had taken his sister, giving him lewd gestures and smiling with their rotting teeth as they dragged his sister away. "Claire's coming with us, shithead!" they taunted. Cedric found it within him to pound his fist, open his eyes, and inch toward Gabriel. He was indeed still in his chainmail, which added a considerable amount of weight to him. But he did not care. He saw his young sister being dragged away as she kicked and screamed for her dear brother to help her, and himself unable to do anything but watch as they threw her into a fire and dance around as she cooked to death, flesh becoming charred and blackened as her tears mixed with blood and trickled down her cheek, drying immediately as they did so.

Gabriel shook and shook, but couldn't get free from the tree he had been tied too. On top of that he couldn't stop licking his incisors as he chomped in the air; the rat in him had been applied far better than he had suspected. "Damn it! And did I have to be THIS accurate....... Bloody fangs or whatever the hell these are...." he said, "Two problems and no solution for either... the rope, and the teeth...... Oh, decided to move, have we, Cedi?... What are you so down about? I'm the one bound to an oak and unable to relieve the suffering in my teeth with no obvious way out of either!"

Cedric groaned as he dragged his body across the ground with just one hand, the rest of his body unable to do much of anything. "Cla....." he managed to groan.

"Cla?" Gabriel stated as he tilted his head, and tried cutting at the rope with his incredibly long tail, smacking at the rope. "Very helpful.... Why did I have to become become a rat anyway? There was NO REASON to become a rat, could have been a woman. You wouldn't have laid there if I was a woman or, maybe better, a cat that could cut through this, or a dragon that breaths fire. Fucking anything but a rat! Oh for Eli's sake! GET UP CEDRIC!"

"Ire....." Cedric mouthed, moving towards where the cart was heading. "Must.... save... Claire..." he groaned. His body showed no signs of returning to life, but his spirit was burning bright.

"Gabe first, Mister Hero! I need to chew and I need out of this rope! Either untie me or let me chew on your arm. Whichever one you pick, do something!" Gabriel exclaimed, kicking at the tree with his hindpaws, scraping them against the bark.

"Chew..... the rope.... you.... idi...oit..." Cedric passed out for a second, his burst of courage no match for the poison that had been flowing through him at this moment in time. In a flash, Cedric was no more, gone from this Earth he was as he conked out, the last bit of life in him fading slowly. He was gone, not completely, but he was no more.

Gabriel looked annoyed, he pouted and turned his head sharply downward. "Right... I... knew I could do that, I just didn't feel like it... Because shut up! That's why!" he said as he went to town, chomping and chomping at the ropes, nibbling as they gave way and he was freed. Falling to the grass, he rubbed his muzzle. His teeth relieved and free, he chomped at the air and cracked his neck and jaw by paw. The rat smiled and giggled as he literally spun in place, feeling much, much better than he had before. He looked over to the now deceased bodybuilder, walking up to him and kicking him. "Cedric, please get up. Our beasts of Burden are gone and so is our driver." He turned Cedric over and began stomping on his stomach. "I need a bodyguard, you slothful bastard. I am alone, a single rodential soul lost in Eli knows where and you're the only pretty boy hero who can get me out of here. You're damn cute though.... hmm," he said scratching his chinfur. ".....If you won't get up for me, I know someone you will get up for, maybe even get it up for."

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