Where Life Begins Anew

Tales Of The Transblade

by Hawl Enroygall

Cedric saw himself in a strange clouded landscape, and saw a bearded old man with a bright kingdom behind him. The kingdom was glorious, like nothing Cedric had ever seen before. He saw the man standing in front of a Golden Gate, and before Cedric could say a word the man shook his head. "Earth still needs you Cedric. It's time to wake up. Something you ate did not agree with you," he said. Cedric felt the clouds he was standing on give way, and felt himself fall to the Earth, into his own body.

Cedric snapped back into reality, and saw a ravishing young maiden in a corset and a short skirt. She was monochrome in color as she appeared to be some form of skunk, or tiger maybe, as the stripes would reveal. Cedric wondered just how far they were from Metamor to see this creature. At first he thought the curse only made people into women, but apparently it did this too. Cedric stopped to say something to her, but vomited onto the dusty trail. Having the turnips he had eaten come out of him, he then stood up proudly, feeling far far better than he had before. He blinked uninterested at the skunk-tiger's ample bosom in his face as she leaned to get a good look at him, and wiped the vomit from his mouth before giggling and telling her. "I'm sorry; that was an impolite thing to do in the presence of a woman."

"Quite alright darling, I did just have to resurrect you. You were barely alive, so it was just a matter of pushing the poisons out. At first I thought you were just sleeping, but then when you would not wake up, I smelled the poison on you. I have smelled that poison before... twice in my life..." the beast maiden said as she looked to the left thinking to herself quickly. "Anyway we're very close to Metamor, Re... I mean, your cart seemed ransacked, the horses and driver must've left."

"That's impossible. By foot it's a fortnight, by cart a many days' journey. I'd have to have been out for three days at the very least. Gabriel, the rat who was here.... He was the one who chewed through that bit of rope by the tree over yonder," Cedric questioned as he pointed to a few trees nearby the road, focusing in particular on the one that had discarded bits of rope surrounding it.

"Ah yes, Gabriel, friend of mine, he likely had a spot of lunch at the Blind Pig or whatever it's called. Well, it is possible that the man driving your cart was from one of the Southland Mage Clans. Possibly the Cult of the Flesh, or the Flesinoir judging by the scent of the cart," the skunktiger said. "So how about you and I walk around the forests, Cedric?"

"Cult of the..... Wait, how did you know my name?" Cedric asked, originally wanting to ask one question, but found the second one more important. A strange animal woman was trying to seduce him, and although he wasn't buying into it, people seduce because they want something. It happened before to other men on many of his escapades as a mercenary, but he never let it happen to him.

"I read your mind and saw that your name is Cedric, you're a warrior with a dead sister named Claire, and you carry the Transblade," the woman said to Cedric. She seemed to list these things as opposed to say them with any clear sign of emotion. The lack of empathy in a seductress talking about a dead sister was a good sign of a novice, but that wasn't the only thing he noticed. He looked her over for any signs of weapons, but found none. He decided to tackle her and looked quite angrily into her eyes. She smiled at him. "You're a bit forward, I like that," she said with a large hint of lust in her voice as she stroked his dirty long blonde hair. She had some difficulty in doing this as it was quite knotted.

He breathed heavily. "You're not my type, Gabriel!" he yelled as loud as he could. "What do you know about the Cult of the Flesh?"

"I HATE YOU ALL! YOU ALWAYS SEE ME! What's the point of these powers if you can always tell......" Gabriel screamed before melting away her form into that of a young adolescent human male with light brown hair. "My name's Hawl Enroygall of Mugal, by the way. There's no Gabe, he's just a character I made up. Quite popular, see, I perform sometimes with my crazy powe...."

Cedric decked Hawl right in the face. Hawl wanted to cry; he'd been smacked around a bit, but not this hard. That was a full-on punch with full intent to kill. The dirty-haired warrior wanted to try again, but felt a deep sadness. It seemed to come from his bag as opposed to his being, but it pained him more than anything he had felt in his life, save for the seizure of his sister.

"I'm sorry, but, you do not joke with me about my sister.... I..." He shook his head and helped Hawl up. "What do you know about the Cult of the Flesh? I've heard of it multiple times, whispered as a rumor. You're the first person to tell me that it exists for a fact, not to mention you're a shape shifter. The legends spoke of that being their research's goal."

"I don't know what you're talking about. Those nut jobs have been bugging me for the past eight years, which is basically as far back as I can remember. I tried telling people, but does anyone listen to Hawl? Ha, is the Pope a Lothanasi? Does ice burn? Of course not. Fortunately they seem to be gullible and love experiments. For a pint of rat blood I got one to abandon the chase for Hawl and give Gabriel a ride to Metamor. Hehe, gullible little shit." Hawl laughed to himself as Cedric helped him up.

"He is less foolish than you may believe. Or did you not notice how he poisoned me and left you to die on a tree?" Cedric thought to himself for a second and found amusement in this. "Ha, a rat who doesn't think to chew through his bindings or a man who forgets that a rodent is capable of just that. I don't know which is more thick headed. Come, Hawl, if you will, I have no desire to remain in cursed territory for too long," Cedric stated as he looked at the cart and then walked into the direction it was facing.

Hawl decided to come with, not wanting to take his chances with any Lutins in the area. The two remained silent as Cedric looked very determined. They took no time to take in the scenery, neither the trees nor wildlife. Hawl did look around curiously, not enough for studying it, just for gazing about. Truthfully he was frightened and trying to distract himself.

The Cult of the Flesh. He had lived in their shadow and they had always been watching him. He never knew what they wanted, but it had something to do with him. Well, of course it did. If it didn't involve him they would not care about him and thus he wouldn't know of them. Hawl had asked about them, but he was ignored by all. They swore the infamous Innsmauz was just a children's story that he read far too much into, but Hawl knew there was more to it. Something between the lines no one else noticed. He would often transform just to get away from them. Were they friends? He did not want to take the chance that they were not. He thought to himself for a second and realized something he deemed quite important to the plan of his temporary bodyguard. "If you're going to Metamor to give them to the Transblade, shouldn't you go get Rergoez? I don't think it's worth the Duke's time or a curse to be empty handed, just saying."

Cedric smiled. "This is why we must smile upon small miracles. Young Hawl." Hawl looked at him strangely as Cedric got a crossbow out of his bag, deciding it best not to hold the weapon by its handle, something that struck most as evidence of incompetence, but his natural youthful mindset left him in a state of awe as he looked it over, or maybe it was something more. He wasn't sure why, but he knew he was meant to have this crossbow. This crossbow wanted him to have it; he would leave with it. Hawl was transfixed and nothing could pull him out of it as he snatched the crossbow from Cedric's hands and proceeded to run off with it.

Cedric did a double take as he realized what just happened. He tried to hold on to it, but he just felt it slip away. He felt no desire to hold onto it, even though his entire quest and his big shot at knighthood lay within it. He stomped his booted foot and gave chase, but Hawl had already shifted again, turning into an imperfect version of the forest's many lutins. The only person who'd truly believe that this was a lutin would be those had never seen them.

"RAT! I bet Gabriel was your true self!" Cedric called angrily, but as he chased Hawl he found himself attracting unwanted attention as there were other lutins hiding in the forest, these ones born that way. He was taken by surprise and was quickly tackled to the ground by one as he was chasing the thief. Two others walked up. Cedric looked at them; none were Hawl, but the one lifting his crude and short blade whilst sitting atop his chest was the one he took the most issue with. Cedric punched him in the face and proceeded to wrestle the sharp jagged dagger he had been holding from him, but he could not over power three lutins with this weapon as they proceeded to beat him mercilessly. He tried swinging the knife blindly, but to no avail. Cedric began to ball up in pain as even his hardened body was no match for their group assault as he began to kneel over and accept that he might not get up. The pain didn't bother him as much as knowing he had failed Cornflower, he had failed himself, he failed Metamor, and he failed his long departed sister, after overcoming poison and an elite knight, who was a woman, perish the thought, but a knight nonetheless.

Suddenly though he heard a female voice call out, "GET OFF OF HIM YOU REJECTED MUTANTS!" As an old battleworn pike was thrust into the skull of the creature, Cedric looked behind him as a being who appeared to be half woman and half ferret, having grayish fur, and both of her eyes a seperate color, the left red, the right black, pushed down on her pike's handle and threw the deceased behind her, quickly affixing the weapon towards the two remaining attackers. "I'm feeling generous today. Leave the human alone and go crying back to Nasoj or get maimed by a girl. An average day for lutins, I know. Sorry I can't mix it up a little," she said in a combination of anger and snide, holding her pike in an offensive position shaking her head, keeping her eyes on the two remaining.

The lutins paused for a second, feeling fear by this ferret's mere aura alone, the way she handled herself, and the death of their comrade. They looked at each other and nodded, springing themselves on her. "You chose poorly," she said with mock disappointment as she impaled one lutin through the stomach and kicked the one behind her.

Cedric, coming to his feet and gaining a second wind, shoved the one not impaled to the ground and began smashing his face in with his fist. "It's not nice to attack a lady. Especially if she's asking you to leave. Where is your honor, you filthy animal!?" he cried out. The ferret gave him a dirty look as she kicked the lutin off of her pike and went to ask Cedric something, but she turned around and threw her pike at the previously impaled creature who got up and went after her. Some creatures just can't learn, and now this one was dead; the ferret got him through the heart.

Cedric got up after he was certain he had beaten the lutin to death, and turned to face the ferret. "Thank you, Sir Rodent. I owe you a great deal of thanks and apology. I am most sorry for that filthy animal comment. I meant you no insult, the fight was in me and that slipped out."

The ferret smiled. "I'm not a man, as you can plainly tell from my physique." She turned around and grabbed her pike from the dead lutin. It had a few feathers from a red cardinal near the pointy end, which resembled a trident. The red cardinal's feathers seemed very large; Cedric pondered if they had came from a creature who was half-human, much like herself, only a bird instead of a ferret.

"I'm sorry, miss, I just assumed you were under the curse, especially since you fight so well for someone of your sex. You may want to leave before it claims you. I'd hate for your beauty to be tarnished," Cedric stated, smiling and looking the ferret over. He had to admit, this animal woman was kind of cute. Not his type, but still a pleasant thing to see after almost dying. "Can you point me towards Metamor Keep or, better yet, where the lutins are hiding out at? There's one with something I need to show the Duke of Metamor."

The ferret laughed. "What, you think all we do is change sex?"

Cedric tilted his head. "Well, I'm not entirely sure of this Metamor place, I don't know much about it. From what I had heard I assumed it turned men into women and women into men, and merely had a high population of were-rats."

The ferret shook her head, but couldn't contain her laughter. "I was never a man, but I was all woman at one point. The curse has me be a ferret from here to the grave. I don't mind it really. It does make me look cute and I do think that tail's a nice touch, but I would kill 50,000 lutins in a single day to be able to eat salad again. Carnivore, ya know. Anyway, I can take you to the Duke. He's a black stallion, since you're still human, male, and over 14 he'll take seeing you as a high priority. Sides, I've always wanted to meet him myself. Saw him a few times when he was human, but never really exchanged words."

The two began walking. "So the curse turns you into an animal, but I had heard from some people in town that people could, that men could become woman and..."

"Yeah and women men, like my folks. You said that already. There are three curses, one at the first gate that made men women and women men, the idea was to make our boys into sex slaves, and our girls into mad rapists. Gotta admit, that one amuses me quite a bit, but they don't think it's funny. Some say that's the worst one. Then at the second gate everyone became a baby, not many people like that still alive, at least, out of those who were here for it, but they've aged up a little since then. None past puberty though. And finally at the third gate, well, animals. I think the idea was food for the lutins and for Nasoj to ride the Duke of Metamor like the horse he became. So, don't call any more girls 'sir' unless they're adult humans or the apothecary... actually, no, I wouldn't call Pascal a sir." the ferret said.

Cedric nodded. "I think I got it. That sounds like it's hard to get used to. I take it you were born here, must have been hard getting situated into the new swing of things."

"I was here for the attack. I was born in the Northlands and lived there with my brother until I was kidnapped by bandits. An older couple, the man a knight, took me in. They didn't have any kids of their own and couldn't really have any either. So, they raised me like a daughter. I'm kind of glad I got separated from them during the attack. I'd rather not have been in the first gate." The ferret shuddered. "I don't want to be a man. I'm fine with the fairer sex, I think it's a good fit for me. Plus it doesn't help that shortly after we had a new lord, 'cause the old one got drunk and killed himself, and the new one, his former wife if you could believe it, was just completely obsessed with gender. I mean it's a good thing daddy moved us away from that lunatic or...." She noticed Cedric seemed uneasy and stopped talking. "Is something bothering you?"

"Yes..... You said you were kidnapped by bandits, is your name Cl--" He was interupted by two incredibly stunning female knights standing in front of a gate.

"Did you find this man out in the woods, Claire? He does not seem familiar, you told him about the curse already, right?" one of them said, as Cedric's jaw dropped.

"Yes, yes she did! I need to speak with your Duke, we need to launch a scouting party in the forest, the sword my Lord wanted me to sell to you was taken by a lutin...." Cedric said before the woman in front shook her head.

"Any sword you wish to sell could not possibly be more important than the Duke's men's lives. I'm sorry, merchant, please leave the cursed area before you become like us, or Claire here, or perhaps a toddler. Either way, it's not something you want, for you would never be able to leave Metamor," she spoke.

"Alright then, I need to speak with Claire anyway, in private." Cedric said, greatly disheartened. He hoped to himself with all his might that Hawl would have a change of heart and come back to return the Transblade, but he knew there was as much chance of that as of the two she-knights sprouting wings and singing a song in tribute to a muffin someone had dropped in a lake.

"Oh?" Claire said to Cedric as the two walked away from the entrance. "Well, what about?"

"Listen, Claire, I used to live in the Northlands, but I left the day my sister was kidnapped by bandits and taken further north. I always thought she was dead, but.... I know there's no chance in the world that you could possibly be her, but a part of me would like to think that it's too big of a concidence that two girls named Claire could go missing in the same part of town," Cedric said, looking Claire over.

A tear was forming in Claire's eye as she threw her pike down, and hugged him, as hard as she possibly could. "Oh please, oh please, tell me your name is..."

"Cedric Bariclauph," he said as he looked down at Claire with a smile.

Claire began crying her eyes out and burying her head in his chest. "Oh brother, please! Don't leave me! I can't lose you again.... Oh, by the Gods, if this is a dream, don't wake me. PLEASE tell me you're cursed, please tell me you're slowly turning into, I don't know, an aardvark or something. So that we can be together again, just like before our mommy and daddy died." With a little extra strength she practically squeezed Cedric in half, but that was okay with him as he brushed down her headfur and smiled. He was re-united at last, something he never thought would happen till he died.

"Claire, it's tempting. You are all I have ever wanted to find. But I cannot. I am trying to become a knight, and if I allowed myself to be turned into a woman or a child, it would never happen. You're a ferret, though. Maybe you can give me the pike, help me track Hawl, get the Transblade back, and you can write to me when the Duke uses it to beat Nasoj and turn you back to norm..." Claire's tears stopped and she became angry, Cedric's words were halted with a shove and a slap, leaving claw marks in Cedric face, which bled a little.

"YOU WHAT? GIVE YOU MY HUSBAND'S PIKE, WHICH HAS BEEN IN HIS FAMILY FOR GENERATIONS? JUST SO YOU CAN WALK OUT ON ME!" Claire yelled, folding her arms. "I can't believe it.... I hope you get lost in the woods looking for your damn Tradesblade or whatever and become as childish on the outside as you are on the inside. Little Brother!"

"You're overreacting. Does your husband know that you have his pike? I don't know what the laws and customs here, but weapons are intended for men. Your nose is more well-tuned. If you let me have the pike, I could use it better. If you sniff for a rat or a skunk-tiger thing, we can find Hawl, bring him before the Duke, and I can sell the transblade, become a knight, and I'll come back up to visit you, maybe show you around my new hometown?" Cedric tried calming Claire, but this only made it worse.

"Visit me? So you are just using me, your ONLY LIVING RELATIVE so you can leave again. I think I deserve my own brother. I learned to use the pike to get revenge on those foul things for keeping you from me. Before the curse I was planning to go back to our home and look for you, but then I got all fluffy and people down south aren't exactly open minded! I don't mind being a ferret, I actually kind of enjoy it, but I do mind being kept from the ones I love! I deserve you, Cedric. please don't lock your only sister in a Keep." Claire pleaded.

"Claire, you're being selfish and unreasonable. You and your husband can come live with me in my new hometown when I become a knight and we'll be together forever! Just help me find the Transblade, and when this is done, you and him can come with me, and you will apologize for taking his pike." Cedric pleaded, half ordering.

"I'M BEING SELFISH AND UNREASONABLE!?! Well, isn't that just the pot calling the kettle black? You don't seem to realize that I'd be burned to a stake for being a 'demon' or 'devil'. Plus, you're actually considering leaving me here, just so you can get a fancy title and laugh about your ferret sister, just another freak in Metamor!" Claire screamed. "Bye, Cedric, I don't want you to turn into a child. But I don't want to see you again, just leave and never come back. I know you wouldn't anyway."

"Claire, I'm begging you." Cedric stated, his voice sounding stressed "Look, Lord Aerolon said that if I became cursed he'd let me live in Cornflower; the same would apply to you. Besides, it was his best friend's last request that I sell the sword to Metamor."

Claire looked down at the ground and scratched her arm. "Aerolon? Cornflower?..... Grandpa.... Alright Cedric you win, my dad would be devastated if he found out I didn't help out his father when I had the chance. Alright, Cedric, I'll help you...."

Cedric smiled. "I'd stay if I could.. but wait..." Something clicked about her words. "Lord Aerolon is your..... grandfather?"

"Yeah, Dad says he hasn't spoke to him in years, it probably has something to do with him being a woman now.... He doesn't like to talk about it." Claire picked up her Pike. "Look, Cedric.. I..." she shook her head. He was still willing to abandon her for a title, but then again, this was her only brother. "Nevermind, I still need time to think." She beckoned Cedric to follow her.

Cedric and Claire walked back into the forest, but they didn't get too far before Claire stopped for a second. "Okay, yeah, I definitely smell a bunch of animals, and a lutin, or no, something lutinish, but, definitely alone." She sniffed the air. "Wolf, Skunk, Tiger, Rat, Lutin, and some sort of lizard. I'm going to hone in on it. Take my pike, not because I believe in your sexist policies." She sounded very condescending near the end there. "But because I can't hold it in my other form."

Cedric took the pike and looked confusedly at Claire. "Other form?"

Claire was in the middle of shrinking and becoming more feral in appearance. "Yes, it will be easier for me to track, keep the lutins off of me if we run into them. Though I doubt we'll find many." She said. "Why not?" Cedric asked "I thought they attacked all the time."

"From the North!" Claire assured. "There aren't too many in the South anymore. I'm thinking any real lutins you ran into had gotten lost. They're likely dead by now anyway, we usually have a lot of guards in this area."

"Alright...... And this other form?" Cedric asked.

"Yes, well, when I'm fully a ferret I won't be able to talk, but I can still understand you. If you need to speak to me, just say so," she said before a small feral ferret poked out of a pile of her clothes on the forest grounds and ran forward, Cedric following behind.

Meanwhile, around the ruined cart where Cedric and Hawl were bound, the black hooded Regorez could be seen groveling before two men, one dressed like a noble and the other of a dark complexion, shorter than the noble, and dressed in a beige garb. He had the clothes of a commoner but the demeanor of a monster. He gave Regorez a mean gaze that the man fearing for his life tried desperately not to look at.

The man dressed like a noble kicked dirt in Regorez's face. "Look, I'm normally a very calm person, but, you know we needed a shape shifter unspoiled, and you brought him to Metamor Keep. Do you even think Regorez? Did it not for one second occur to you that he could be anyone or anything? This thrice cursed land is the Hide and Seek capital of the world."

"Well, look we've been tracking Hawl for some time, he doesn't know anything about blending in. Just find the weirdo and ya got him," Regorez re-assured.

The noble buried his face in palm and breathed heavily. "Regorez, Regorez, Regorez. I'd expect this level of incompetence and stupidity from Hawl. But you? This is unfathomable." Yhe nobleman walked back and forth, pacing as he thought. "Well, you're just going to have to find Hawl."

"You got the Transblade, that's all you need, right, Prince Malakai?" Regorez asked, trying to find some way to remedy the situation and avoid punishment.

"This hunk of metal? It's worth a few scraps of silver at best." Malakai threw the sword of Cedric's, blade first, into the ground where it stuck much like the sword in the stone from some legends. "We need the father and the son for our little 'party', we have neither," Malakai responded as he began humming to himself. "And with the curse, the son may become damaged goods like his father."

"He could be anywhere though." Regorez pleaded. "Please, ya gotta let me go, this place is cursed."

"Yes." Malakai hummed to himself some more, as he closed his eye in a brief meditation. "But that's not my problem. Besides, you've only been here a few minutes. The curse takes a week, plenty of time to remedy your mistake. I cannot believe you actually drove all the way out here, and in the most conspicuous garb imaginable. My wrath upon you shall be great."

"Oh, please, your highness, I'm begging you to spare me. Give me some test to prove I'm not a failure," Regorez begged.

"As you wish." Malakai smiled as his humming stopped and with a sudden motion with his palm held out and exclaimed, "i' umartempla amin yamen' lle tenna' i' nessa wanwa."

Regorez saw a bright flash, and suddenly all colors trailed before him. In his mind's eye he could see the glowing shackles placed upon him. When he came to, he looked about and, to him, it appeared as though the province was sealed in a glass dome-like structure. He ran a few feet until he saw the edge. He banged on it for awhile and started looking very worried, then confused, as Malakai and his assistant passed through it like it wasn't there. "Impossible! How did you... I'm dreaming. You did not just summon a shroud of glass and then pass through it."

"Quite possible, I'm afraid. The curse is an interesting piece of work, were it not in effect this spell would not be doable. Leave with Hawl, I've got dues to pay. If I find him first, I'll lower the shields." Malakai The Noble walked towards the Castle in the distance. "Stay out of sight. The shield plays into my gambit. The dungeon will be a good place to look for him."

"Follow to the Keep and no further, remember I don't know you and you don't know me," Malaki pleaded. "And modify your garb. You're incognito, so don't look like it."

Regorez tugged on his robes which immediately took the appearance of simple commoner's clothes. He had thought about disguising as a soldier, but he just did not believe he'd have the curves or youth for it.

Malakai did something similar, though his nobleman's garb was now a pretty dress, very lovely, a red one with a short pink skirt. The assistant, Zhyx, following his master's cue had turned his robes into a purple velvet dress with a long green skirt. Regorez laughed at the two crossdressing men. "Do you realize how ridiculous those look on you?"

Zhyx shot Regorez a cold look as Malakai smiled. "To you maybe, but to the Metamorians I'm just another innocent woman afflicted with Cursed Maleness, just like any other woman with Suspria's Spell upon them... Besides, in a week, I may have the figure for it."

As they approached the gates, they noticed a couple, a male human and a female ferret, go into the woods. Regorez recognized the man as Cedric and had a panicked look to his face. No, he wouldn't make things worse for himself. Just keep his mouth shut, and Malakai might not be as lenient as he was, after all. If the Curse of Metamor was the absolute worst, his prince was going to do. Than he was going to count his blessings; in the Cult Of The Flesh, there were far worse things to become than an animal. "So you're... going to take it then?"

"Yes! Me and Zhyx both! We're Prisiroe. A little change is nothing to be afraid of. Besides, it'll do wonders for my studies."

"Yeah, but into a woman?" Regorez said, looking uncomfortable.

"Please, I live in a cave with a bunch of psychopaths. Why should I even care? I could be a toddler and it'd still be great for my research," Malakai assured.

"Good point," Regorez said as he reflected on things. He wasn't all the way in with the Cult Of the Flesh, or Flesinoir, as they called themselves. Really he was just a fetch guy, an average joe who knew too much and found himself in the way of indentured servitude disguised as membership. He knew little of the spells and almost none of the philosophies. Driven primarily by fear... well, fear and a good number of --

Human brother and ferret sister ran through the forest. No lutins were in the area; the lutin corpses from earlier likely made good warnings for the others. Lutins were blood thirsty, but not as stupid as several Keepers took them for. They knew to stay out of a place where it was more likely than not that they'd die at the hands of a powerful warrior or mage. Cedric kept his eye on the ferret, and kept telling himself that this was indeed his sister. The half-human he could almost grasp, that didn't matter as long as she was Claire and of sound mind, but this ferret? No matter how you look at her, this was a beast, an animal, a thing crawling on all fours driven by pure instinct. And yet, this was his flesh and blood sister. Cedric got the feeling that by the time this day was over, he'd see more in just one day than he'd ever had in his entire life. He had so many questions for Claire. What of this insane lord, did he still rule? How did it feel to be the way she was now? Were her second pair of parents treating her right? Why did the son of Lord Aerolon hide from his father for so long? These and others he wanted desperately to ask, but now was not the time nor place, especially since in her current state there was no way for Claire to answer.

Eventually the two came across an empty campfire. Cedric was curious as his animal sister came to a halt and held up a paw, signalling "stop". She sniffed in the air for a bit and shook her head, growing and becoming more human in size and shape, forcing Cedric to cover his eyes. "Claire, you're naked! Can't you go behind a tree to do that?"

Claire laughed and turned to face her brother. "Fur-coat. I'm never naked....." She appeared to be right, after taking another look Cedric noticed that Claire's gray fur covered most of her naughty bits, save for her rump, which was likely why she turned around. "There are more shape forming clothes.... but they're very expensive and usually saved for Long Scouts."

"So you always expose yourself? Oh sister... I think this place is bad for your head." Cedric said, sounding heavy-hearted. "Okay.... well.... now what?"

"Oh, come off it, Cedric. What kind of harlot do you take me for? I just didn't think I'd change today, that's all. Now listen, I took human form..." she said, sounding anxious.

"Human? But I see a ferret still. Is there something I'm missing?" Cedric said, closing his eyes, not wishing to see a naked sibling. "Or are you still....."

"Close enough to human. Look, the point, brother dearest, is that whoever I'm smelling should be up against that tree, but there's no one there." Claire said walking up to a nearby tree. "Yeah, all my senses tell me they should be right here." She rubbed against its bark. She felt something odd, but she was also pushed back as a large lizard-like man wearing leggings, a solid gold ring upon his finger, but no pants, and a vest that exposed his bare chest to the elements, had suddenly materialized in front of her.

Cedric instinctively reached for a blade. Upon remembering he didn't have one, he rushed at the creature who was already climbing up the tree. The creature looked toward the nude Claire with a perverse smile. "Nice ones, mam!" he called out to Claire who covered herself with her arms and glared at the bipedal reptile. Upon closer inspection he appeared to be some kind of chameleon.

The human began to angrily climb after the chameleon, though found no way to do so with a pke in his hand. An annoyed Claire did the climb effortlessly and with a righteous ferret fist she knocked the lizard out of the tree onto his back. "Okay, I didn't think this through as well as I ha.... eeep." The chameleon noticed there was a pike pointed at him by a very angry man. "Cedric! Buddy, it's me, Hawl! I saved you from the poison, remember!?"

"That's the reason you're still alive," Cedric warned. "On your feet, and don't think about re-forming yourself to get out of this. I will pierce your flesh and have your heart impaled and this pike, it's stolen, so I have a good mind to pour the blood of a thief to restore its honor."

"It's not stolen..." Claire commented.

Hawl thought about assuming a form with skin so thick the spear-like weapon could not pierce him, large and powerful, like a dragon. Then he realized nothing was stopping him, so he tried ordering his body to sprout wings, but his flesh refused to obey. He tried to force it, but it only gave him a headache. He simply had used his ability too many times. He should have realized from how tired he felt; he had been up against the tree for a quick power nap.

"Where is the Transblade, young trouble-maker?" Cedric demanded with a harsh and serious tone as he grabbed the chameleon tightly by the wrist.

"I don't remember," Hawl responded. A lie; Cedric could tell by the way Hawl's eyes shifted to the right as he said it. As such, the unable shape-changer received a mighty blow to the stomach, causing him to wince in tremendous agony, nearly tearing up from the force. Perhaps the human put too much strength as he nearly ruptured the poor reptilian's stomach. Cedric needed Claire's help to get Hawl to his feet.

"Oh, don't worry, I'm sure the Dungeons of Metamor Keep can help you remember," Cedric said, jabbing Hawl a bit with the bussiness end of his sister's pike. "You're not going to escape me this time or the next time I catch you, I'm going to make sure you require a medic to mend your broken back in addition to a sentence."

Hawl was quite worried and understandably so, as the big blond wall of muscle was painfully jabbing him with a very sharp stick. He was not sure which jab was going to be the one where Cedric lost control and broke the skin, and so was quick to comply as they walked towards the part of the forest where they started tracking Hawl. Claire resumed her ferret form and climbed up a tree, from which she jumped down and hitched a ride on her older brother's shoulders. This action uneased him, though he was too focused on Hawl to let it do so for long. A smile was actually brought to his face by this, as he began to ponder the adorableness of having a sister that was also a ferret.

Hawl looked back and decided to make some pleasant conversation. It was pure luck; sometimes talking won people over, and others, it just made things worse. Hawl knew how to guide people, and at the same time he also knew how to pick the wrong things to say. "Huh, you know, it'd be very easy to take that rat of yours and pretend she's trained. Maybe put on a show, make some copper. Know what I mean? It's money for nothing, let's go try it out!"

Cedric put on an angered scowl and smacked the brownish lizard over the head with the business end of the pike. "This is my sister we're talking about!"

Claire smiled; although no one was looking, it was one of the most cherished smiles for as goofy and forced as it appeared to be. The mind behind the smile had conjured forth the images from her childhood, where she dreamed of seeing her brother again. A Valiant Knight on a horse who had risked life and limb to find her again and fulfill the vow he made to their birth mother to always protect her. Though he was accusing her of acting out of turn, it was simply from being unaware of the customs of this land. After all, only Metamor was anything like Metamor. It was a small act of compassion, but enough to quell her anger.

Cedric grabbed Hawl's arms as he saw a set of clothes for a young woman, knowing these belonged to his sister. Cedric pushed Hawl towards a nearby tree and used his large body to block any view past him that Hawl might try to gaze at.

"What's the big idea, blondie?" Hawl said, somewhat in jest. "Are you trying to kiss me?"

"Claire... please get dressed, and then I'll..." Cedric thought about his next few words carefully, and thought that if he wanted to salvage any relationship with his sister, he'd say a few words he really didn't want to say. "... give you the pike back....."

With some excitement, Hawl struggled to watch Claire get dressed. He'd never seen a furry babe before. He'd been one, true, but it was different when the view was the form of another and not his own. His eagerness to see Cedric's altered beast of a sister in her most natural state was ended when Cedric nearly broke his nose, or apparent lack of one, with a well-placed punch square in the middle of his reptilian face.

"GAAAHHH... what the hell?!" Hawl cried out as he grabbed his face as his cold red blood trickled down his face.

Eventually the trio found themselves at the gate to Metamor, returning. "Lady Knights, it may please you to note that I have found both the Transblade and the fugitive who took it from us. Now may we see the Duke?"

"First off, the proper title for my rank and status is Dame, not Lady. That would be as if I called you a Lord if you were a knight," the more serious of the two knights stated. Her hair was the color of the snow that in Metamor was still beginning to melt, in wonderfully sharp contrast to the more friendly and far less professional attitude of her black haired companion.

Cedric nodded. "I'm sorry Dame Knight, I'm not exactly used to military officials of your, persuasion."

The other of the two amazon knights, this one with black hair, laughed. "Yeah, we get that a lot. I think the only thing we hear more often is, 'What's it like?' then just stare awkwardly and run up the curves of an imaginary maiden. It's a drinking game at this point!"

Hawl had his interest piqued. Though he had used his powers to become one multiple times, he never had the perspective from another on this, and he was certain that the other male in the group was curious. Though most of all it was a good distraction from him to give some additional time to think and recharge his powers. "So, what IS it like?"

Cedric gave him a look and stated the facts as he knew them. "You've been a woman before. I've seen it...."

Hawl shrugged. "Yeah, but it's always nice to get a second opinion. Different strokes for different folks ya know."

The more chipper of the two knights laughed, grabbing her head as she shook it. Quickly regaining her posture after receiving a stern look from the other knight. "Sorry Mam, it's just we've heard that question three times today! And two from people who've been women before. I think it's a record!"

Cedric and Hawl exchanged looks upon hearing this. "Describe them!" they said simultaneously. Claire was thrown off by this.

The bubbly raven haired Knight scratched her lack of a beard, likely a force of habit that never quite managed to die down. "Well, they looked like Southlanders, one was a mysterious looking guy dressed in linens, and two former maidens of Metamor. Said they had lost touch with their roots. Well, one did, the other was very quiet."

"As for the Duke, well, ordinarily you'd have to make an appointment and then wait in an inn for a summons," the more serious of the two Knights suddenly spoke up. Cedric was about to raise an objection when she added on, "Even with our enemies to the North in decline since Calephas' death, he has no shortage of work and is usually very busy. But please take comfort in the knowledge that he always makes it a point to get to any outsider business before the curse claims them. Daughters becoming sons is not a good way to raise our reputation with the rest of the midlands," the She-Knight said. Cedric looked at Hawl and then looked down. He was about to open his mouth to talk when the woman continued speaking. "However! Since you have a prisoner on you, he will need to be sentenced. Sooner rather than later. My associate shall send for Dame Seranima and she will escort you to the Duke's Chambers so that this criminal may be properly sentenced."

The more friendly of the knights, saluted in acknowledgement of the order and was off to fetch her sister in arms.

They waited around, Cedric keeping a stern eye on Hawl, Claire ready to strike with her pike the second he thought about taking a hike. Cedric had felt like asking the guards, who clearly knew Claire seeing as they had hailed her as such earlier, if the pike was a usual thing. He was certain it was, but a part of him still wanted to hear that it wasn't. Maybe if he stuck around long enough to meet the husband... but to ask now when Claire was just starting to trust him again would seem foolish. He'd rather his sister take a man's profession, than to despise her older brother who had done his best to protect her when they were children. To think that she would still be human if he was successful. If he was a philosopher he would take this moment to ponder how every action or inaction, failed or otherwise can have permanent and unthinkable consequences.

"So Claire, do you like it here in Metamor?" Cedric asked, trying to drum up a conversation.

"It's alright. It's been different a lot different since Nasoj cursed the place, especially for mom and dad. I mean, wow, that was a head trip for awhile. We used to get more traders coming in before. They still come by, but they're a little scared of the place now." Claire responded, breathing deeply as she tried to remember the last time she actually saw one before remembering she saw some leave behind a few guys when the plague struck. Content in her thought, she continued, "Still, can't complain. Always a guard on duty when you need one, plenty of food, plenty to read thanks to our Writer's Guild. There used to be tons of lutins, but after the Winter Assault not so much. I miss killing them, but still, it's a peaceful life."

Cedric looked at her oddly. He was having a very hard time grasping that his sister was a pike wielding maniac.  "Right.... why do you hunt lutins Claire? It's not very womanly to kill people."

"Those things aren't people, brother. They stole from us, and what they took we could never replace." Claire said coldly, her eyes drifting downward. She looked very upset with her large frown, but smiled as she took another look at Cedric and suddenly hugged him, much to his confusion. He could become the Cedrina that Captain Redblood talked about for the rest of his life because of the curse and he was certain that he would still never understand the female mind.

The stern she-knight agreed. "You weren't here during Three Gates, Cedric. They killed everyone at the first gate. Everyone knows that infants can't defend a nation, but no one should see it first hand. The lutins are monsters! Taunting us with their curse immunity, killing people, kidnapping. Lutins never mate consensually and sometimes they breed with humans...." Claire hugged her next, seeing a single tear forming in her eye. All present understood what she had been implying. Even Hawl felt sorry for her as he reflected back on his attempts at rape himself. Though he meant to do so under false pretenses and not force, it was still wrong and he was ever so glad that he had changed his mind at the last second every time.

The chipper knight returned with another she-knight who was dressed less masculine than either of the other two, her leg armor resembling more a skirt and offered little in the way of protecting her long thick gorgeous legs. She graciously curtsied towards the trio. "Greetings travelers, I am Dame Seranima Eloniv. I assume the ferret and chameleon fell to the curse, and you, as well, used to be a woman, yes?"

"We're not royalty," Cedric said. "And that is the second time I have been accused of being a woman. I try to be humble, but what exactly about rippling muscle gives off this air of femininity?" Cedric realized he should probably bow before the soldier even if she was wearing a skirt. "Forgive my rudeness, but it is of great importance that I see your Duke before your statements of my womanhood ring true."

"And I live here.... I'm Claire Flameheart, was Claire Aerelon during Three Gates." Claire corrected.

"Oh, that's right, you're Itamar's wife. I was at his wedding. How's the old bird doing these days?" Seranima asked.

"Pretty good, gave me his pike and a feather of his for good luck. We should get moving, we do have a criminal to be sentenced." Claire suggested. Sera nodded and gestured that they move with her and with that they were through the Gate.

Cedric and Hawl's eyes lit up "Whoa!" they both exclaimed in unison. Claire and Sera smirked. "Newbies," they replied in unison.

Many had seen Claire before and called out to her. Claire waved back shouting "Hi", "Hello", "How ya doin'", "Chin up Kag" and "Say hi to Cheep for me."

"You know everyone? How? This place is huge!" Cedric asked in awe of his sister's popularity amongst the armed forces of Metamor Keep.

"Good thing it is too! You would not believe how often we get newcomers, it's almost like people WANT to get transformed!" Seranima added.

"Eh, well, brother, I go on patrol all the time, I got picked for it once, and then I just went out and volunteered after I found what a great stress reliever it was to jab the pointy end of a large stick into those... things. There's also a few humans out there. I don't like killing them as much as I do lutins, so I usually try to let others handle it." Claire said.

"Good Lord!" Cedric cried out. "You've killed your own species!?! Former species, I admit, but still!!" He didn't exactly like the de-humanization of lutins. He once had a lutin drinking buddy and believed him to be an alright bloke, if not a tad barbaric.

"Yeah, it's the law around here that every able-bodied individual regardless of who or what they are has to defend the Keep from bad guys. I was picked for patrol duty, and I really liked it. They've literally gotten everyone to do this, bakers, high priestesses, heck even the old Writer's Guild Headmaster. Of course it turned out he was a Sondeckis could punch through solid stone, but honestly who saw that coming!?" Claire informed. "They've wanted me to officially join the military, but I've turned them down. I prefer to be a freelancer Ass-Whooper!"

Cedric shook his head, so it wasn't Claire's decision to become a warrior after all. When he finished talking this over with the Duke, someone was going to require a boot remover for their poor royal stallion ass.

"So what are you folks here for? Besides the criminal." Sera asked, giving a glance to Cedric who seemed lost in thought and Claire who was jabbing Hawl lightly with the pike. To make sure they were following as closely as she believed they had been.

"My name is Hawl," the Chameleon corrected, standing still for a brief second before Claire smacked him on the ass with the blunt end of the pike.

"Move it, scaley!" Claire insulted in a raised force. Hawl closed his eyes, not being one for loud noises.

"Besides Hawl," Sera added somewhat cheerfully.

"I am an ambassador from the Southland town of Cornflower who wishes to sell the Duke a weapon known as the Transblade," Cedric boasted. "I have heard that in the hands of a Keeper it can ease your troubles."

"Transblade, eh? Lemme guess it's a blade, and it transforms?" Seranima asked before adding bluntly. "Neat, but as for 'easing our troubles', you'll forgive me if I have no confidence about that."

"How did you know the power of the Transblade, Dame Seranima Eloniv?" Cedric asked, looking dumbfounded. "Have you heard of it before?"

"Not really, and please, just call me Sera. It's a lot easier on the tongue." Sera pleaded. "It just seemed obvious. I mean, I'm a transgender and it's because I've been both sexes in my life. So I figured a Transblade would have to be a blade that transforms."

"Well aren't ....aren't... we smart?" Hawl asked, his fear evident too much in his snide for it to be appreciated by anyone, them getting much closer to the castle.

As they approached the Keep and guards of various genders, ages, and species eyed the group, they knew immediately it was an uncursed human. Cedric's demeanor was far too convincing and his garb betrayed any dormant feminine tendencies, causing everyone to be curious. Was the new guy going to stay? How would he transform?

A kid no older than 3 looked up at the rhinoceros Kag, "I bet you a silver he'll be young like me! I bet I'll have a new playmate! We're overdue for a new Age Regressee."

Kag shook his very large and gray head. "Naw, the curse has a sense of humor, look at his manly strut, I wager a silver to say he'll become a woman."

Sera suddenly looked determined, mainly because it was a good posture to have amongst royalty. Speaking up in a triumphant voice towards the ceiling, she made her requirement known. "Kyia! We need to see a throne room."

No sooner had she said this had they suddenly found themselves at the end of a long hallways, much to the dumbfounding of Cedric and Hawl. "Every time!" Claire said, looking to the two men.

"What magic is this?" Cedric said, looking around the general area, having sworn he had just stepped into the Keep and yet had somehow found himself at the end of a long hallway.

"The Keep changes shape based on request and its own whim. Why do you think we call ourselves Metamor?" Seranima said in a bit of a show-boaty tone. "Before the curse I mean...."

"I can see why Nasoj was so into this place... I've never heard of such latent power." Cedric exclaimed as he continued to look around, seeing a table with a vase on it that he swore wasn't there a second ago. Not as impressive as a teleportation, but enough to keep him on his toes.

The throne room was large, luxurious, and full of the various court members, all of them easy to spot out in a crowd. There was a large lizard man, a she-hawk in enchanted robes, and a duo of a porcupine woman who appeared to be made of rubber and a smiling red panda chewing on a bag of candy discussing alchemy together. Though the most important people in this room were of course Duke Thomas Hassan the V, his crocodile aide Thalberg, and the Horse King's masculine-dressed human daughter Princess Malisa.

Though everyone seemed busy, Duke Thomas himself was lounging about whilst Malisa herself seemed lost in a book, though not a very good one, it seemed, as her eyes showed dull apathy. "Gee, it sure is boring around here....." she said, directed to her adopted equine father.

"Malisa, my boy," the Duke stated, raising a goblet of wine from his throne, looking rather uncharacteristically apathetic himself. "This peace is what all true warriors strive."

Malisa read further in her book, humming as she looked through it. It had been a spell book, but one that barely caught her attention, before looking up the black stallion and statingm "I just wonder what Nasoj is up to."

"I wonder what's for dinner." Duke Thomas asked, having a rare break from the constant worries and troubles that seemed to befall the Keep. He looked around the expansive throne room, admittedly feeling a tad guilty about his lack of tasks. Surely there was something somewhere he could do.

Malisa closed her book and smiled. "Wonderful, I'm so hungry, I could eat a....." However, she found her smile and sentence were interrupted by various gazes from the animal keepers standing around having suddenly dropped their conversations and wishing her the best choice in her words.

The former Prince Matthew looked around and without missing a beat said. "A very large and fair amount of food." The animals afterward returned to their business, and suddenly had it interrupted again by the opening of the main door.

In walked the knight Seranima, who curtsied shortly after waking in. "Someone from outside the cursed area has business he wishes to discuss with you. He is an ambassador from the Southlands."

Duke Thomas was taken aback, but regained himself quickly and nodded, "The Southlands? That's quite a distance to be seeing us. Send him in."

Seranima called them all in. Cedric bowed before the black stallion. Though he resembled a beast more than a monarch, one must always pay their respects to the King of a faraway land. Claire curtsied like Sera had earlier, whilst Hawl just stood there thinking. "Duke Hassan, my name is Cedric Bariclapuh and I have traveled a great distance and nearly died from poison in order to present you with Hawl, the thief who stole from me and attacked me and my sister, the cursed ferret Claire, in addition to offering a partnership between our people."

Tom scratched his chinfur and spoke with an elegant and regal voice, trying to put his best hoof forward. "Claire is your sister? You'd be honored to know that she has fought very valiantly for the Keep. I'd be proud to have such a good protector for our land for a sister."

Cedric seemed uncomfortable. "I wanted to talk to you about that, but that can wait. I wish to present you with a criminal and a legendary sword your people can use known as the Transblade. All we ask is that you help pay the loans that our village of Cornflower owes to the town Mugal."

The Duke's interest was piqued. "Transblade? I've never heard of such a thing. I'll have to ask some of our Southland experts about it, but consider my interest piqued nonetheless."

Claire spoke up, looking somewhat concerned. "Well, your grace, we don't actually HAVE the Transblade. Hawl here," she gestured towards the chameleon, "took it and isn't telling us where he hid it."

Duke Thomas gave Hawl a stern look. "Is this true?"

"You don't understand, Duke. You're very handsome by the way, always loved horses. Worked on a stable myself once. Kind of wish I was one myself." Hawl pleaded as he changed his form into a similar one to the one held by the Duke.

Everyone jumped back. Not since Jon had they see a Keeper change animal forms. Jessica the Hawk rubbed under her beak and said a single word. "Curious...."

"Spare his majesty the flattery and answer his question!" Thallberg the Alligator Steward coerced.

"No! I was just sight-seeing when this crazy muscle bond idiot and the ferret jumped me. I think your kingdom owes me an apology! I don't even know what a transblade is!" Hawl fibbed, gaining a few dirty looks from people who obviously did not believe him.

Thomas shook his head, now in sheer disbelief. "Claire is a trusted warrior of Metamor. I don't believe that she'd just outright lie. Though it is your word against hers, is there any proof of Hawl's misdeeds?"

Cedric spoke up. "How about the fact that me and Hawl traveled here and only now have I seen that golden ring he's wearing? Anyone whose body has been altered from their original shape can turn the Transblade into anything! I've seen it."

Hawl stepped away from Cedric in a panic. "My father gave me this ring! How dare you insult my family heirloom!" He found himself stepping away from anyone who could take the ring from him. He started to run, but he was grabbed by the red panda who was next to Pascal.

"Let go of me, you! I have powers you couldn't understand, you furry little bastard!" Hawl warned. The red panda shook his head and pulled him over to Duke Thomas, who demanded he remove the ring. To which Hawl responded, "But it's a family heirloom! Nothing magical about it! This is an outrage!"

The Duke pointed out something that seemed obvious to anyone paying attention. "If it's really a mundane ring, then I won't be able to change its form," he said as he held out his hoof.

Knowing that he just got himself in a corner, Hawl tried a desperate maneuver. Even he knew how stupid the words about to come out of his mouth were. "Umm... mwhaha! I am the evil overlord Nasoj come to conquer Metamor Keep! All shall bow before me! I stole the Transblade as only it could defeat me! You have no hope, Keepers!" Immediately he regretted these words as everyone gasped and had their eyes grow wide. Sera had the biggest reaction as she grabbed Claire's pike and pointed it at Hawl's neck.

"Why does everyone want to take my pike!?!" Claire pouted.

Sera looked upon Hawl angrily and gave the most angry looking smile she could muster. "No wonder you can shapeshift like that! You can control the curse! Well, the time for tomfoolery is over now, you monster! You shall die here where I was reborn!"

"Wait, wait! I am the great and undefeatable Nasoj, so I'm going to.... cure the curse!" Hawl said, realizing it was probably a better idea to be considered a thief. The one time someone believes my lie....

Thinking quickly, the Red Panda grabbed Seranima and held her back. "Sera, stop! What happened at Three Gates was tragic, but we don't know if he's the real Nasoj!"

Thalberg scowled, giving the evil eye to Hawl. "That doesn't matter! If he's dumb enough to pretend to be Nasoj in front of the Duke, he's too dumb to live anyway!"

"Let go of me, Xhyz! Thalberg's right, he needs to pay!" Sera argued, trying to fight his way out of Xhyz the Red Panda's grasp. Cedric, Claire, and the others just watched, not sure what to do, completely lost at this turn of events.

Xhyz and Sera fought one another for awhile, no one sure what to do, when suddenly Cedric decided to speak up before someone got hurt. "He's not Nasoj! He's just an idiot. Trust me, I've traveled with him all the way up here."

Thomas and Thalberg looked at each other, confused about what to do. True, the real Nasoj wouldn't be dumb enough to walk in here unarmed and without an army, but at the same time, they couldn't take a risk that this might be the real deal. He got off the throne and announced, "Look, this is all really confusing. Keep Nasoj here in the throne room, me and Thallberg need to talk about this in private," and went into a different room entirely.

Meanwhile, Sera calmed down, and Xhyz thought it wise to let go of her, which turned out to be a partial mistake. The second she was free, Sera threw down the pike and jumped on Hawl, yelling in his face whilst punching the stallion-in-disguise over and over with gauntlet clad hands. "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU DID TO HIM!?! All the guilt you put me through!" she cried out as Cedric and Xhyz pulled the enraged Dame Knight off of the shapeshifter.

After a few minutes, the Duke and his aide returned to the throne room to see Sera fighting with Xhyz and Cedric whilst Claire removed the Transblade Ring from a bloodied up Hawl who laid on the floor. Everyone stared, people in the crowd murmuring, pondering whether or not Hawl and Nasoj were the same person and what the Duke should do. Some voted execution, some voted that they ignore the Nasoj bit entirely.

"Can't we leave you people alone for a minute? Stand down and stop your bickering," Thalberg barked as the Duke walked in behind him.

"What Thalberg means is that we've decided that we will surrender to Nasoj, if he can revert a Keeper back to one of our normal states!" Thomas announced.

Hawl smiled. "Smart horse! Alright to prove that I'm merciful I shall cure Dame Seranima!" He put on a dramatic pose with his hand on his hips as he cast his hand out, focusing his energy. He did possess the power to change others, but it wasn't very effective nor did he use it very often, but his own Kingdom? Hot damn, he'd have to try. The crowd was now at the edge of disbelief. The curse lifted? Nasoj ruling the Keep? It was impossible!

One of the Keepers, a kid, in the room cried out. "No! We need to kill him now! We're all doomed if he can do this. What is the Duke thinking?!"

The Horse King put up a hoof as if to silence the child. "Trust me on this!"

Seranima spoke up in refusal. "Get another test subject! I'd really rather that I stayed a wom........." Hawl ignored her entirely and put his magic to work and Sera began to feel tingly, all over.

Sera began to shiver and then suddenly made a grab for her stomach which she felt beginning to turn. Very rapidly, she became quite sick, the world spinning all around her until suddenly she puked out her guts for a few minutes. Many had been calling to get her some help, Duke Thomas had already ordered Xhyz to find a medic. "Oh for Eli's sake... someone help me..." She cried out before throwing up one more time. After a good puking session, she looked back up, having a thick full beard which she scratched curiously, only to have it fall off when she tried.

"Are you okay?" Pascal the Rubber Porcupine asked of Dame Seranima. "That looked nasty, but I think I have just the brew to fix you up..... If you don't mind having a frog tongue for awhile..."

Sera shook her head. "Thanks, Pascal, but no thanks. I think I just need to lay down for awhile. I'm already feeling a little better actually, thanks though. If anyone needs me I'll be in my room." She left the throne room, holding onto her stomach.

Thomas sat back down on his throne. "Do try to feel better," he said to Sera before turning and calling out to Hawl. "Well, it looks like you're not really Nasoj, after all."

Thalberg walked right up to Hawl and angrily looked him in the eyes. "Well, that's one charge you got off of."

Cedric rubbed his head, not sure what all had just transpired.

"He is a thief, though!" Claire said as she swung the ring like a sword, causing it to change into that shape instantly into a blade and then handed it to her Duke to have a look.

"Thank you, Claire. Cedric, we have never heard of the Transblade nor have we had much luck with Southland magic in the past. So if you want any negotiations to take place we must ask that you allow us to have our mages study this first," Thomas offered. "I realize this isn't ideal, but that's the best I can do."

Cedric pondered this for a second. He didn't want to risk a curse, but at the same time he was promised living quarters in Cornflower even if he was altered, and knew in his heart that he could not fail his quest out of fear of one measly curse. After much thinking he finally accepted the Duke's terms. "I don't have any other choice, your majesty. I've come too far to let the curse scare me from this much-needed union between our nations." he finally answered.

"Don't worry, we'll try to have the studies done before the curse can claim you. I doubt your hometown would be pleased if we allowed their ambassador to return younger than he left," Thomas assured.

Cedric bowed one more time before he left, somewhat troubled by his desire to study the blade, though he understood why. They were cursed once before, they wouldn't want to risk another one. Plus if the Duke's men could really work that fast then he would have nothing to worry about.

"Well I'm not Nasoj, so I'll be going now," Hawl said as he proceeded to try and leave with Cedric, only for two gender morphs to point blades at him, taking orders from a hoof gesture the Duke made.

Thomas called out to Hawl and his knights. "Maybe not, but you are still a thief, a liar, and have attacked an ambassador. We only have one place in Metamor for people like that. Take him to the dungeon."

"For how long? 'Cause I'm not actually cursed...." Hawl asked a little scared. He had never actually been in jail before, nor did he know what the curse would do to a shapeshifter.

"I wouldn't count on being out in time for the Summer Festival," Thomas said ominously as Hawl was dragged kicking and screaming by two of the amazon knights.

Cedric and Claire walked outside together, unsure what to make of Hawl's trial. "Well, that was something..." Claire said, somewhat dizzy from the whirlwind of the throne room.

"Well, that takes care of Hawl, I hope." Cedric said, also unsure what to make of things. "He's not Nasoj, but still, I hope the Duke does something to help him reform. He didn't strike me as evil, just very daft and lacking in good judgment."

Claire smiled. "Well, we've got a little bit of catching up to do, and the couple who adopted me have had a spare room forever," she said, before hugging her brother, glad to have calmer moments to spend with him.

"Thanks for the offer, but remember, I'm only staying until a deal is struck. I have no interest in being cursed. I'll try to visit though," Cedric warned. "I'm sorry for the drama earlier before we were chasing Hawl, I'm just amazed you're alive."

Claire shook her head "yes". "After that incident with the bandits, I was worried I'd never see you again. I'm just grateful for one more day. My new mom and dad live in Lorland, but that's part of Metamor and not too far from here if you'd like to meet them."

"I would love to meet the mother and father who cared for you after I failed," Cedric said. For once in his life, knighthood didn't seem that important to him. Though they had only one day to spend together, Cedric knew he was going to make the most of it.

The two siblings marched towards Lorland. He didn't think it possible, but Cedric had a family again. A cursed animal family, and only for a day, but a family nonetheless.

« Previous Part