To My Friend in the North
My mind is bent to tell of bodies changed into new forms. Let Eli bless this venture.
All of my thoughts will appear in italics, as by the request of your last letter. And yes I will give my reflections on the events from how I see them now. I was planning on doing so anyway.
Some set up is required. There’s not much to say about what brought me to that valley, beyond my Father was meeting with someone. When your father is a perpetual opportunist and probably short sighted, you regularly end up dragged across the land. Sometimes going off on one of these excursions is not short sighted, but imbecilic.
But I digress; let’s focus on the day in question.
In Isenport if you go down to the docks you will smell the tide as it rolls in and see the ships as they unload their wears and sailors. If you go up the road, you will find yourself among the stews and the gambling houses. From there you may find the markets, the bear gardens, the inns and the town houses.
Far above it all are the manors. The grandest of them is the manor of Lord Leontes of Isenport, House of Dorothea, representative of Emperor Prætextatus Aegidius, loyal to the Sathmore Empire—as long as people are watching. It’s a wonderful city, where the Imperial Navy and merchants coalesce and where there is a brothel for every man.
Stories of this place you also will not be hearing. Instead I ask you turn your mind to the Midlands, near the Great Barrier Range and a small train of people traveling towards Metamor Keep.
I was wet that morning. Shaking too, though from the thought of what was coming. The area of Midlands we marched through was hazy with mist hanging in the air.
“Stop shaking.” My father said to me.
“I can’t help it.” I said. “I’m on a horse, I hate being on horses. I want to be walking.”
“Walking is slow. Think of the impression you give. You must look dignified.”
“I don’t care if I look dignified.”
“Is it just the horse that bothers you?” I shook my head.
“It’s many things.” The horse in question was a magnificent white stallion named Holofernes, a creature who I had grown to despise. Oh he was a wonderful animal; I just loathe riding on horses and always have. “I have plenty of dignity…”
“You must command respect to be a modern man.” My father said. “What we are doing is securing my legacy, you will be that legacy.”
My father was Lord Leontes of Isenport, servant of the Sathmore Empire. We didn’t actually have to say we are servants of the Empire, my father believed it to be a good idea. When you aren’t loyal, constantly tell people you are.
If there was only one thing in life my father could have, it was to be a modern man. Okay no, if he could have one thing it would be the title of Emperor, but second to that it was to be a modern man.
A modern man placed more emphasis on personal goals instead of loyalty to your Emperor. A modern man had secret meetings with people from other countries. Modern men dragged their sons across the continent without telling them who they were meeting.
As a future tip, if you’re going to meet with people in secret, you should send a representative. My father, though, said he had to go himself; why was beyond me. We weren’t even going in secret, we still had a small retainer of people with us and my wardrobe betrayed me as the son of nobility.
“I need to project an air of power.” My father said. “Whelps from the Sathmore Empire will not be able to negotiate. I want them to see me as strong.”
“I guess it’s good to be out of Isenport.” I mumbled. No it wasn’t good, it was wonderful. Or it would have been, had my father not been there as well.
“James what do you think of the changing landscape?” My grip on Holofernes’ reigns tightened.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean…James tell me what you think of where we are going, what do you know of it?”
“It’s cursed.” I said.
“I believe it’s more than that.”
“I don’t want to be near a cursed valley! It’s called cursed for a reason!” I swallowed. “You know everything, what’s it like? Metamor Keep and the cursed place?” My father ignored my disrespect and thought about it.
With every great event in your life, there are two things you remember. The first is what you hear before the event. Moments like this are so insignificant until you look at them in hindsight. Then you realize, this was the first time I heard about Metamor Keep
“It’s a land of freaks and monsters” My father said.
“You’ve been there?”
“You don’t need to be there to know they’re all monsters.” He said. “Everyone knows it’s true. They’re not human anymore.”
“Why don’t they remove the curse?”
“Obviously not smart enough to do it. But they’re still of note. In fact, I believe there may be something for us to learn from the savages and freaks.”
“If we step foot in there will we be cursed too?” I asked.
“Don’t you care about what we can learn?”
“I care about not being cursed!” I said. My father rolled his eyes.
“You again disappoint me James. You should concern yourself with learning how to be a modern man.” I resisted the urge to wince.
I don’t want to be a modern man. I didn’t vocalize those thoughts. I rode in silence, enjoying being free of Isenport and holding desperately to the horse.
Evening fell and we camped in a clearing in the shadow of the Great Barrier Range. Then again, as large as those mountains are many things are in their shadow. Living in a coastal city, I rarely saw the mountains so anytime I got the chance I appreciated it.
However I was having trouble appreciating them right now. It’s hard to do so when someone is pointing a blade at your face.
“And now you’re dead.” Nemo said. The silver blade of Qual gleamed against its ebony handle.
“I wasn’t ready.” My dirty blond hair was streaked with dirt and my eyes stung with sweat.
“Which is why I killed you. You wanted to try fighting with a glaive in close quarters, I agreed. I never said I’d wait for you to be ready.” Nemo looked almost bored. His green eyes were half shut, like fighting an opponent wasn’t worth his attention.
“What’s the point of learning if you just kill me?” I asked.
“You might learn not to die.” Nemo helped me back up to my feet. My glaive lay in my puddle. “You shouldn’t use your weapon like this.”
“You told me it could be done.”
“It can be for someone with experience. I have that, you don’t. You will die.” I pointed mine at him. Nemo sighed and we began again.
While my physical form was…generous in proportion, Nemo had a military build. He was tall, solidly muscular with short black hair and gray temples. Unlike others he was always clean shaven.
When Nemo moved he seemed to glide. I thrust only to pierce the air. He would appear and send my glaive flying. I cursed and we began again.
I’ve never been good with swords. Or axes. Or arrows. Or really any weapon, they tend to fly out of my hands. Naturally father was upset by this; a good Lord knows how to wield a sword. Even if you never lead anyone into combat, it’s important that you look competent.
And a modern man cares very much how he looks with a weapon.
The only way I was going to wield a sword was if the sword was grafted onto my arm. Axes were even worse and my last attempt to fire an arrow ended with it in my foot.
Best not to dwell on how.
The only weapons I was not dreadful with were spears and polearms; hence why I was instructed by Nemo, my man and glaive fighter.
His weapon of choice Qual was a beautiful thing. The shaft as solid ebony black and the blade a gleaming silver. Beyond that, there was something about this weapon, something that drew your attention and held it. Nemo claimed it was a runic weapon; I had yet to get a good look.
The only time I did was when it was pointed at my face.
“You need to stop attacking the hands and start attacking the legs.” Nemo said. “You also need to remember if your enemy comes at you with a shield, get away.”
“Why? What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
“You’d be killed. That’s bad.” Nemo said. I rolled my eyes.
My man started his career as a mercenary but my father took him into his full employ pretty quickly. Nemo demanded though that if he worked for us, he be allowed to speak his mind without fear. My father agreed.
That was a bad idea.
The next match ended the same way, my weapon knocked away and my rear in the mud. I mumbled all the profanities I could think of as Nemo helped me to my feet.
“That’s enough for today.” Nemo said.
“I would have beaten you.”
“No. These matches are monuments to your ineptitude.” Ass. We started back to the main campsite. Around knights and soldiers I felt nervous, a problem I had with being in Isenport. Not a problem around my man, though. “Why are you nervous?”
“I’m not nervous. Making deals with people is an important skill for Lords or other nobles.”
“If you say so.” Nemo said. “I’ve been in Metamor Keep. When I visited the people were more uniform.” He smiled. “It’s quite nice.
“I’ve heard the people are monsters.”
“Absolute drivel. Those people are not monsters, no matter their appearance.” That was all he said. Nemo was a man of few words and always big words.
“Whatever.” I mumbled. “Have you been there since they were cursed?” Nemo smiled.
“No. Wished too. Just never…been occupied.”
“Your entire life?”
“As you grow older you find plenty of things to keep you occupied.” Nemo said. “Come on, let’s acquire sustenance.”
I ate dinner that night outside away from the knights, instead of inside my tent. Father was taking dinner and other entertainments with a serving girl he brought with us. Someone I chose to neglect would share dinner with me though.
“Ja-Ames.” I sighed.
“If there are any gods out there, I ask you to relieve me.” I looked up at the stars. “Please! I am begging you!” No response.
The fact that I only prayed to them when I needed something didn’t help.
A mass of golden curls with a fat girl growing out of them plopped down beside me. “You’ve been avoiding me all day.” I forced a grin.
“What in the world gave you that idea…uh…” I seem to have forgotten something.
The fat girl was my fiancée. I didn’t know her, something I’ll elaborate on in a minute, but I knew my father wanted me to marry her. He believed such a marriage would be throwing off the shackles of tradition and another step towards being a modern man.
You see this girl was…unique. Rather than being nobility, she came from a wealthy merchant family. My father believed money would be power in the future and merchants would supplant the nobles.
I suspect he’s right.
Unsurprisingly this lead to an arranged marriage to a girl I barely knew. Somewhat more surprisingly, I did not know her name.
You see, this girl was of no importance to me. The doublet I wore held more value. So I learned little about her and in time I had forgotten her name.
I would learn it but that’s a story for another letter.
Well I couldn’t refer to her as trollop, so instead I took to calling her by a pet name.
“Of course I’m not avoiding you Muffin.” I said. “Why would I ever do that?” Muffin’s eyes lit with joy. “I’ve just been busy with other things.”
“Like what Jay-Ames?” I winced. At the time this girl had a way of speaking that made me despise my own name. I don’t mind it now.
“I’ve been busy planning for the meeting tomorrow.” I said. “We’re meeting with someone for…something. I don’t know; I’m more concerned with being so close to a cursed valley.”
“I’m excited Jay-Ames. What do you think the cursed people are like?” How in the world would I know, I’d never met them.
“Not a clue.” I said. “I don’t want to meet one.”
“I bet they’re fuzzy.” Muffin said. “I’ve heard they’re monsters.
“They are monsters.” I said. “They’re not human anymore.”
“I don’t know.” Muffin said.
“Ya don’t know? How can you not know this?
“In Isenport, I watch people.” Muffin said. “They always act like people, no matter what they look like. Even if the cursed people look like monsters, I don’t think they’ll act like them.”
“And how exactly would you know how a monster acts?” I snapped.
“You’re upset.” Muffin said. “Tell me why.”
“I don’t want to be here.” I said. “I mean…I like being out of Isenport. I even wanna see this Keep! It’s the cursed part; I am scared of cursed places. Maybe that makes me a fool, but I think the smart thing to do is avoid curses.”
“Is that all?”
“Is that all!?” I cried. “To me it’s plenty. I don’t want to be out here, especially when I don’t know why I’m here. I just know something’s going to go wrong for me.”
“What?” Muffin asked. “You think they’re going to kidnap you? Or kill you?” No I think they’re going to marry me to you. “Oh Jay-Ames, you have a silly imagination.” I rolled my eyes
In my mind, I knew what Metamor Keep was. Every stranger too it knows it is the great unknown, a cursed gateway into the more unknown North. The unknown is dangerous and everything I heard about it frightened me.
“So where’s your father?” Muffin asked.
“In his tent with a serving girl.” I said. “She’s providing…moral support to him.”
“Maybe we should head too our tent then.” Muffin grinned. My manhood shriveled.
“Thanks but I’m not feeling…up to it.” I had three mistresses at home who I planned to remain loyal to. I would do this by not touching Muffin with a glaive, much less a part of my anatomy.
“That’s okay; we can sit here and talk.” She leaned in closer to me as I prayed to gods I didn’t believe in for a miracle.
Without warning it began raining. Sometimes the Divine can be quite kind.
March 3rd, 707
While dinner I ate alone, breakfast I shared with my father. Or rather, he ate and I sat in misery.
“Do you know what we can learn from Metamor Keep yet?” My father asked.
“No sir, not yet.” My father frowned.
“You are my legacy; you will have to be sharper than that.” My father sipped and continued. “Why do we Ecclesia and Lothanasi priests on the pay?”
“Because we’re probably going to one of their hells and trying to get out?” Was what I did not say.
“I don’t know sir.”
“Religion is a tool.” My father said. “Always has been, all nonsense and all a tool for those who can use it. Metamor Keep has the next tool, the tool for the modern man.”
“I thought you said they were too stupid to fix their own curse, how can they teach us anything?”
“Even morons have flashes of brilliance.” My father said. “In this case, the tool of tolerance.”
“Different religions.” My father sipped, “Different species. Some are human, some are animals, I’ve heard all of this. Yet they still hold together. Why?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Because their leader has realized how stupid all these divisions are. He has come to realize no doubt that so long as he puts his desires above all else, as long as he never shows favoritism he can control the people.
“We practice their religion to show we are like them. We show no favoritism, they trumpet us from the hills as great rulers.” My father smiled.
For a moment I saw the fangs of a wolf in his grin.
“That is how we become modern rulers. Not like these lords and Lords stuck in the past!” I stood up. “Where are you going?”
“Need air.” I pushed my way through the tent flaps and managed to not vomit. Only a few minutes with my father and I felt like I had been in a pig sty.
“Breakfast as usual?” Nemo walked up beside me, Qual strapped on his back. “You always exit looking ill.”
“I feel ill.” I mumbled, sitting down on a rock. “I don’t want to be a modern man.”
“What do you want?” I swallowed.
“I don’t know.”
“When you decide, I will give you my countenance.” Nemo said.
“My father pays you. You’ll do what he says.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way.” Nemo crouched down. I stood.
“I need to…I need some time alone.”
“Your father will want to leave when he is done.” Nemo said. “I can give you an hour delay, possibly two.” I paused.
“We all need it sometimes James.” Nemo said. “Have fun.”
There was a bite in the air and the ground was slick. The underbrush and colors of the trees crackled against the gray clouds. I stole away into the woods, grateful for the few minutes I had.
I can remember every time I’ve gone into the woods. There is something liberating and terrifying about them. These I felt even more that way. Lovely and dark, the water dripping off branches created a cacophony. I hopped up onto a long and tried balancing on it.
“I wish I could stay out here.” I tried walking along the top of the log, only to stumble. I hopped down again. “Why do I have to do this? I don’t know….”
A bird shrieked above me. I glanced up in time to see a red-shouldered hawk take off from a branch and fly away. “Ulysses could catch you. You may be bigger but he’s faster. I’ve got my glove…”
Ulysses was my red-tailed hawk. Much like Holofernes, he was named by Nemo. I didn’t know the name but I liked saying it.
I had my hawking glove with me, not with me at that moment but at the camp. There is nothing quite like the thrill of watching your bird lift off and from there rise to a high pitch into a steep stoop.
“Ulysses will be released soon.” I mumbled. “I wish he could take me with him…”
When you live your life as I do, being alone may be a blessing or a curse. Mostly it depends on if you can block your own thoughts out. If you can’t, you spend the time surrounded by beauty you can’t take in because your worries are pounding away inside of your head. If you’re lucky you will get small distractions to block out your thoughts, before they come crashing back.
The hawk was one such distraction. As it took off, my gaze stuck with it. “You’re lucky. You don’t have to worry about anything do you?”
I sat down on the log. Now my mind turned to the cursed valley itself. You’d never have to leave would you…
Isenport is a lovely place, a wonderful port and a place where goods and information pass through regularly. It’s a place where people die in bar fights and sailors kill the hookers they’ve knocked up. From there, I could know about the rest of the world by listening to rumors that came through.
I had actually heard of Metamor Keep, though what I heard made no sense. The people turn into animals. No they turn into children. No the city can’t stay the same size. No it’s under assault and there’s a magic snow storm.
All nonsense of course. I knew it was.
“Are we meeting with someone from the cursed city?” I mumbled. “Well if that’s the case, why does this meeting have to be a secret? What could we even offer them?” Money. “What could they offer us?” Lots of things.
I hopped back up. “What is my father thinking? He’s going to get us killed.”
I started walking along the edge of the log again. “I’ll just tell him I’m not going on…and then what? I have to go back eventually.” A hawk screeched again. I looked up to see it fly against the sun, framed by a break in the trees.
“Beautiful.” I whispered as I watched the bird fly above the trees. “I want to go with you.” I looked away, back to the long. I walked to the edge and pause.
The log stuck slightly over the edge of a ravine. A large rock jutted out of the water soaked bottom. The log wobbled when I stood on the edge.
“I want to go with you…” I stood on the edge, contemplating. “What do I want?”
Let us go to the next scene. Now, gentle reader, comes the strange part. I know you’re questioning all the detail; it will make sense later. This section though I’m not sure how to explain. I’ll just tell you about it as it happened.
I awoke to find I was laying on my back. I was very warm and now in a room of white stone. Alabaster.
“My name is James.”
“So you say.” I glanced over my body, no blood or torn clothes. Slowly I stood up. I looked around. The room was circular and smooth, clean white alabaster. Behind me was one entrance way.
In the center of the room was a massive table, covered in crystal figurines. They shone in the light, hundreds or maybe thousands of them. Maybe tens of thousands, every time I looked I couldn’t see the size. Some were animals, some were people, all were exquisitely carved. “It’s a wonderful collection. Not mine; it does not belong to anyone.” I looked up.
Sitting behind the table was a…figure in a massive coat, hat, gloves and scarf, all raggedy looking. This pile of rags covered the figure so well, I couldn’t see their face. They held a large flute and had their chair positioned in front of the second entrance way.
“I’ve been waiting for you.” The rag man said. “You took a long time, very rude.”
“I’m sorry?” I slowly approached the channel, still glancing around. “Where am I? I fell and hit my head…”
“You are in a place.” I frowned.
“Wonderful answer. Why am I here?” I picked up one of the figures from the table. A fox, looking worried. It had something human about it.
“That one’s not yours.”
“I like foxes.” I mumbled. The crystal radiated warmth. With some reluctance I placed it back. My hand was drawn to another figure, a child holding a pointy stick. Along the neck of the figure was a thick crack.
“Getting closer.” The ragman said. “Still not for you.”
“It’s cracked.” I said. “It’s gotta…gotta get fixed. Wow I’m tired.”
“I’m not surprised. It’s not easy for you right now. If you want to fix it I’d suggest trying later.”
“Don’t know how to do, uh, do you forge crystal? Or…okay how do you fix crystal?” The ragman laughed.
“Wow you don’t know many things.” I put the child down and took a closer look. Now I could see many were flawed with cracks over the eyes or missing ears. Some had cracks over the eyes or seemed to be a mesh of genders. Why do they look so beautiful?
My hand reached out again. Finally I picked up a small one that seemed…odd.
It was a lizard man, maybe a dragon man with a massive frill along the neck. It held in its hand another pointed stick.
“You have found yourself.” The ragman said.
“I hit my head.” I said. “Is this real?”
“Could be.” I sat down in a chair that appeared under me. “Uh thanks.”
“I wouldn’t want you thinking me a bad host Jack.” The ragman said. “Mostly I brought you here because I wished to meet you. We will speak more later, before the unpleasantness.”
“Still not my name.”
“Let me ask you something Jack, what do you want to be?” I frowned.
“That’s a stupid question.”
“Is it? Do you want to be transformed?”
“I want to be someone who’s not got a head injury and talking to…what do you call them? People who aren’t there?”
“You believe me to be a hallucination?” The ragman shook his head. “Well I suppose you can’t know I am. Everything I’m saying could be a lie, especially the lies.”
“Is there a point to this?”
“To force questions.” The ragman said. “Transformation is a wonderful thing. It allows us a chance to become who we want, to change who we are. If you never learn to question, the effect shall be lost.”
“I’m not interested in transforming.”
“Aren’t you?” The ragman tilted his head. “Strange. I suspect this too shall change.”
“Why are you dressed as a rejected series of swatches?” I asked. “I could sew better clothing than that.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be the masculine, modern son of a lord, not interested in feminine arts.” I frowned. “I’m just observing. I’m amazed. You’ve been allowed to learn a skill of your choice.”
“What does that mean?”
“Just that I question if you’re an actor in your own life.” The ragman said. “Well it’s really of no matter. If you’re not, you’d best learn how to be.”
“Let me out of here you freak!”
“I also wouldn’t use that terminology. You can hurt people’s feelings you know.” The ragman’s blew into his flute, creating a high pitched whine. I grabbed my ears. “It’s still out of tune.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Nothing much. It’s time to go.” The ragman reached out and tapped the wall with his flute.
Instantly the room began to tilt. The table and chairs and figures didn’t slip. I did. I grabbed at my chair as I began to tumble out.
“What do you think you’re doing!?”
“Helping you along.” The ragman said. “If you don’t get a little push you’ll never move forward.” The room turned until the table was suspended sideways. I held onto the chair for dear life.
“I am.” The ragman grabbed a crystal figure from the table. “Bye-bye.” The figure smacked me between the eyes. My fingers slipped free.
My scream echoed as the lizard figure and I spiraled into the abyss.
March 17th, 707
“Is he awake?”
“I think so.”
I could hear voices. I scrunched my eyes closed as hard as I could. Wait, how can I feel this? I had been in a room with a ragman, now I felt like I was waking up.
“Yep awake. Let’s say hello.”
“You’ll scare him. Let him wake up naturally.” Two voices and I recognize neither. My sleepy brain filled in the blanks for me. Obviously, I’d been kidnapped and was being held hostage by two people for reasons I did not know.
Now when you think you’ve been kidnapped, there is an easy way to tell. If for example, you are laying in a soft bed with your head wound treated, you’ve probably not been kidnapped.
Statements like this are what qualify me to control a city.
I could still feel my arms, but not move them. The two voices were talking but I felt a barrier between us.
If you think you’re qualified and your kidnappers are torturing you by putting you in a warm soft bed, you have several options. You can scream for help, that’s always a popular one. You can try to escape. Or you can stealthily throw your arm around looking for something to hit them with.
“What is he doing?”
“I think he’s looking for something to hit you with.”
“You’re a three hundred pound green monster Cope.”
“He doesn’t know that! His eyes are closed anyway.” I think I felt something. Nope, just the side of the bed. “Maybe we should wake him up.”
“Eh let him have a few more minutes.” My hand hit a wooden nightstand. I felt along the top for anything I could throw, to catch the two kidnappers off guard. “It’s a good thing I didn’t leave a glass of water, that would make a mess.”
I felt the urge to open my eyes but tried to suppress it. Hot breath rolled across my face, I scrunched my nose. The urge to see what overwhelming. Can’t keep the world out anymore. I opened my eyes.
“Hi.” A massive green scaled thing stared back at me. Okay, no need to panic James. Just react the most calm and rational way you can.
“Die!” I threw up my arms and rained blows upon him. I put all of my energy into every punch, making sure he felt my pain. “Feel the agony!”
The green lizard man looked at the other figure and shrugged. The other figure was a raccoon man. He looked bemused and pitying. “Why won’t you die?”
“A few reasons.” I pounded away at the invincible lizard man. “You can stop now.”
“Never! I will escape this kidnapping!”
“We’re not kidnapping you.” The lizard said.
“Why would we want to?” The raccoon man asked. I tired pounding the lizard’s face now. My problems included having no energy to fight, no plan of attack, no experience in fighting and no hope in general. “Cope knock him back down, he’s going to hurt himself.”
“Alright.” The lizard placed one finger between my eyes and pushed me down. I struggled valiantly under that finger.
“Do not touch me!”
“He’s a grateful patient.” The second speaker came closer, this one a raccoon man. I think he’s the easy one! I can take him.
“Why am I so weak?” I asked. “Did you two poison me?”
“If we had poisoned you, you would be dead.” The raccoon said. “You were initially. You took a bad blow to the head and must have been laying in the woods for close to an hour before anyone found you.”
“This was the closest place you could be healed.” The lizard said. “You’re not kidnapped, you’ve just been resting.”
When someone has done something nice for you like say, healed your nearly fatal head wound, there are several ways to react. The right way is to show gratitude. The wrong way is to follow my example.
“I’m done resting and this place smells like a barnyard.” Because you usually see lizards and raccoons around barns moron. “I want to leave and I want to leave now. Where is this place?”
“This is Metamor Keep, you—
“I do not want to hear anything else!” I snapped. “This is the cursed place!”
“Well yes and—
“You will escort me out now.” I said. “I won’t hear another word!”
“You’re going to have too.” The raccoon said. “My name is—
“Don’t care.” Now they both were looking annoyed.
“You may call me Coe.” The raccoon mumbled something else under his breath. “I’m a raccoon morph as you can tell, kind of a—
“Don’t care!” Coe grit his teeth.
“Your party will be coming for you soon thankfully. It’s rather fortunate you woke up.” I think that’s how things went…
“Are they here now? Why didn’t they wait for me?”
“This place is cursed.” The lizard said. “They didn’t want to be. So they left you and will be returning. Probably not today but in a few days. They didn’t forget you if you’re worried.”
“They also refused to tell us why they were here.” Coe said. “What is the Lord of Isenport doing not in Isenport?”
“I do not have to speak to you.” I said. Yep James, just keep working those people skills. That’ll endear you to many a reader. “I want to leave and you will escort me out immediately.”
“Okay your family will be coming here.” The lizard said. “You just have to wait. My name is Copernicus, yours is James correct?”
“James of House Dorothea, oldest child, servant of the empire and future lord of Isenport.” I said. Copernicus smiled. He was actually there for a reason, but we’ll get to that later. “You will not address me; I do not wish to speak to you.” I forced the covers off my body and gave a shriek. “What am I wearing!?”
“A tunic and pants.” Coe said. I gripped the bed to avoid passing out. The feeling of this rough, ugly and dull cloth made my skin crawl. “What?”
“Where is my clothing?”
“They were covered in mud and blood. We didn’t think you’d want to wear them after that.”
“This is terrible!” I said. “The stitching on these pants are wretched, I could do a better job than this. I have done a better job than this! And why will you not explore colors outside of the beige spectrum?”
“You had to be dressed in something.” Cope said.
“And I’d have rather gone nude.” I said, showing that gratitude I’ve become so known for. “I couldn’t have been that bloody anyway.”
“We thought you were dead!”
“I’d rather have been than in this place.” I said. They both visibly tensed up. This would not be the last time I’d utter those words, but I’ll get to that later. “I’m getting out of this bed now.”
“You’ve been unconscious for two weeks.” Coe said. “You will do no such—” I flipped my legs over the side of the bed. “Stop! You are going to hurt yourself. You will not be able to stand up.”
“Watch me!” By sheer force of will, I forced myself to stand up. I almost toppled over again.
Their eyes are on you James. Show them you are strong.
I forced one foot forward. Then another. One two, one two over to a chair against the wall. Finally I collapsed, panting hard. “Ha!”
“Was he supposed to be able to do that?” Copernicus asked.
“Not as far as I know.”
“I’m strong willed.” I said. “I want out of this disgusting room. I want to be doing something!”
“You know, if you want to get out of here” Coe said, “Cope sometimes gives tours of this place.” Cope shot the raccoon a death glare.
“Why would I want to spend more time in this place with either of you?” I asked. “Ugh, it’ll get me out of this room, I accept.” That’s so kind of you moron boy.
“Well I used to do tours.” Copernicus said, “Uh not had the time anymore. Besides, aren’t you too weak to be standing up?”
“Are you trying to avoid me?” I asked. “I just said I’d allow you to show me around this backwater stain.” Was I really this obnoxious?
“Can’t imagine where you got that I idea.” The lizard said. “Do you really think you’re strong enough?”
“I know it!”
“Alright I can show you around.” Cope, being far nice than I would have been, helped me too my feet and lead me out. He started talking I believe, I immediately blocked him out.
I moved through sheer force of will. Every step was labored and my muscles were virtually frozen. Can’t let them see me look weak.
I pushed on while focusing my gaze on my own feet. I willed the muscles too unclench.
Nope, still stiff. No matter how much will power you have, you can’t unhurt your body through sheer force. Not that I wouldn’t try. I was so distracted by this exercise in stupidity I failed to notice I was outside. I did notice Cope had stopped moving once I had bumped into him.
“I thought you weren’t listening.”
“I’m distracted.” I said, looking up, “Don’t worry about me, go a-uh-uhhh.”
With every event in your life, there are two moments you remember. The second is during the event, when you realize that your life has changed. At that moment I was struck dead where I stopped by the new world I was standing on the edge of.
Isenport is not small. I’m used to seeing buildings stretching out in all directions with people crammed into them. What I wasn’t used too was the image of a wolf on two legs and an utterly beautiful woman walking in front of me while discussing something.
“…wow.” I whispered. Cope smiled.
Animals and people of all ages and sizes interacted. Species I had never seen walked beside children who had an air of authority. The din of noise was unlike anything I heard in a marketplace or dock.
What are those creatures? People with feathers. Lizards with faces shaped like knives. Creatures that were brightly colored things I had never seen before. It’s a desert where you could feel life swarming all around you. I swallowed.
“I wasn’t gawking.” I stammered. “Just wondering why we stopped moving. I don’t want to just sit on my ass doing nothing.” The smile was replaced by a frown. “Is there anywhere I can get very drunk while waiting?”
“You could show some gratitude.”
“Not to any of you.” What an ass. “In fact I can’t wait to leave this place. I bet you can’t too.” He shook his head. “What’s that for? You’re never going to see me again and thankfully I’ll never see you.”
“You were in a bed for two weeks!” Cope said.
“Yes we’ve established that.”
“We’ve been trying to tell you something—“
“I don’t want to hear it!” Copernicus sighed.
“Feel the skin around your eyes.” I didn’t want to do what he asked, but even more than that I wanted quiet. So I reached up and touched the area beside my left eye.
No no no no. I scrambled away from Cope, moving as fast as my frozen legs would carry me. Nononono. I stopped at the first window I could find and stared at my face.
“No…” And golden eyes stared back at me. “No!” Across my nose were scales, small pebbles, cool to the touch. “Oh no no no I can’t no no no.”
I asked for this.
“I tried to tell you.” I turned to see the lizard man approaching me. “We both did but you wouldn’t listen. You’ve been in bed for over two weeks, in and out of consciousness.”
“Am I cursed?” I asked.
“What am I?”
“I don’t know.” Copernicus said. “A reptile of some kind. You have scales, that’s all I know for certain. You are changing slowly—
I collapsed. The lizard man rushed over but I brushed him away.
“Don’t touch me. Don’t…damn it I didn’t want this.” Blood rushing through my ears blocked out the world and my head dipped between my knees. “I want this to stop, get me out of here.”
“Don’t talk to me!” I cried. “Don’t look at me, don’t talk to me, leave me alone.” Copernicus didn’t say a word but he did sit beside me. He put an arm around me and I couldn’t knock it off.
For that I am grateful.
My life is over. I sobbed. My life is over.
When your life goes into a stop, you have two options. To try to pull out back to your previous pitch or to ride along with it until you reach the end. Often if you do not decide, life will decide for you.
I decided too to crash. I spent my next days in a fugue, unaware of the world. I didn’t get drunk that day. When I next awoke the next scales had further coated my face.
The curse of Metamor Keep is a strange thing. For some it comes upon them like a wave crashing from the sea. To others it is the bite of a viper that leaves a slow burning poison.
I only remember the days after I discovered I was cursed as white noise. I was allowed to stay in the lodging of…someone. I don’t believe it was an inn, though it might have been. I feel regretful now; I can’t remember the individual I lodged with.
I ate but otherwise I didn’t leave where I rested. I prayed something I hadn’t done regularly in years. I asked for deliverance from this curse. As the scales rolled across my face, I felt they mocked me. When a second patch appeared on my right arm, I knew they did.
I don’t want to be here. I sat in a chair and stared. I could see past the wall, I could see what was coming. I knew and every day my family did not return for me my sense of dread rose. This is my fault.
I learned how the curse would work for me in this time. I’d be able to shift into an animal form and possibly a taur form. A taur form of whatever I was becoming.
I have noticed the morphs in the Keep are thrilled with their form after they have it. I believe many felt different while they were still changing. I didn’t feel excited at the prospect of a new form, I felt terrified at losing what made me human. Maybe a little excited at that.
Four days passed before the moment I dreaded arrived.
“Your family is here.”
March 22nd, 707
Why did they leave the edge of the valley? Why did they wait so long? I knew walking out into the day light I wouldn’t receive a satisfactory answer.
Please let them be wrong. I was led by someone into a courtyard, middle of the day. Warm today, I noticed it now more than before. Don’t be here. Don’t be you.
I recognized the small train of horses, my father, my step-mother, a few knights and Muffin. My father was the first to spot me. I could see excitement fall from his face. He knows. He knows what happened to me. Anyone save me.
Whoever lead me left me at this point. I had to walk by myself to meet them. The people around me melted into phantoms, none could see me. What’s that sound? No way, that’s my heart.
“James?” My father asked. I swallowed.
“Wow…” Muffin whispered. “Are you…James?”
Why is this a surprise? The curse can strike anyone regardless of where they come from. It cares not for rank or desire; it recolors all who are under it. Nemo finally got a glimpse of me. Instead of horror, he looked happy. Why you bastard?
“It’s me.” I said. “This is me…” No it wasn’t. It was a me half mutated and a flush with scales. This was not the me I had been.
“We-we-we” My father swallowed. “We weren’t we weren’t gone that long were we? This can’t be right.”
“He’s a freak.” I don’t know who said that. “A monster! Ha!” Now some of the phantoms looked toward us.
“This can’t be happening.” Father said.
“Sir!” Nemo spoke up. “No matter what, this is your son. Maybe with more scales then the last time you saw him, but your oldest son none the less.”
“My son is not an animal.”
“He is your—
“This is not my legacy!” Now everyone looked at us. “James go stand…somewhere else.”
“Do it!” He glared down at me. I moved back. Phantoms parted around me, a few giving pitying glances but none spoke. I sat down on the ground, hoping to sink into the dirt.
This is a disaster. My head spun out of control, I had to steady myself against the ground not too collapse. They’re not even looking at me. Why not? Why won’t anyone say something?
Back at home, my brother still was waiting for us to return. Would it be a dry day there? Would the market ring out with the sounds of throngs of merchants and sailors? In that moment I would have given all the years of my life for the chance to walk for a day upon those streets again.
“James?” I glanced up. Muffin smiled and knelt down beside me.
“Hey…” She said my name normally.
Muffin reached out and brushed her hand across the scales on my face. If they upset her she didn’t show it. “Yeah they’re real.” Muffin did it again, letting her fingers linger.
“You’re becoming a lizard.”
“Could be a snake.” I mumbled. That was no comfort. Still, at least I had my arms, assuming that snakes in Metamor Keep lost their arms. Metamor Keep is a place where you can do the math and end up with three halves.
“Does it hurt?” Muffin asked.
“No. It doesn’t. They feel normal. I-I mean!” My heart froze. This was normal. “I mean I hadn’t noticed them.”
“I like you more with golden eyes.” Muffin said. Why can’t I remember her name? She kissed me on my nose, or where my nose had been.
“I’m turning into an animal.” I said.
“You’re still human.” Muffin said.
“I’ve grow scales. I’ll grow a tail. What’s human about that!?”
“Depends on how you act.” Muffin said. “You’re made by your choices.”
“You were made my fiancé by our parents’ choices.”
“Sorry you think that.” Muffin said. With her other hand she slipped something over my right. I flexed.
“My falconry glove?”
“If you want it.” Muffin said. “I mean, I know you won’t see Ulysses for a few more days, I figured you might like it.” I caressed the leather. The glove obscured my reptilian hand.
“Thank you.” I said. “I’m still me holding this.”
“You’re still you no matter what.” Muffin said. “What’s Metamor Keep like? What are the people like?”
“Strange.” I said. “You wouldn’t like it. They’re rude and they don’t listen to you when you talk.” Muffin frowned. “What?”
“Just surprised. I think this place is amazing.”
“Oh what do you know?” I snapped. She sighed.
“Nothing Jay-Ames.” She stood back up. “I know nothing.” I glared at the phantoms until they turned away. Then I stood up.
“I hate this place.” Funny how we will transform, not just in body but in mind. One blue lizard gave me an especially lingering look and didn’t turn away no matter how much I glared. “Hate me, I don’t care.”
“James!” Time to face destiny. I walked toward my father, Muffin walking beside me. Turn around! Flee! My body wouldn’t let me. My father couldn’t look at me. Nemo came to stand beside me.
“Hold tight kid.” He whispered to me. I swallowed. All the phantoms had resumed watching this nightmare play out.
“So what is my fate?” I asked. “What are you going to do to me.”
“I don’t want to do anything to you.” He said to me. “I don’t have any choice. I can’t have a lizard for a son.”
“You don’t have much choice.” I said.
“Yes I do.” He swallowed. “My son was injured but the injuries were far worse than we thought.”
“When we found him, he was bleeding, near death. We got him to Metamor Keep to be healed but they couldn’t do anything.”
“No!” The crowd of phantoms took a step away from us, yet kept watching.
“My son died after eighteen days. His body was bloody and broken so we buried him on the journey.”
“I’m not dead!” I screamed. I lunged at my father but Nemo held me back. “Let go of me!”
“No. Consider this beneficence.” Nemo said. I squirmed futilely against the larger man.
“Nemo has agreed to stay behind and watch you.” He said. “He will protect you, I promise. We will leave you with a small sum of money.”
“I’m not dead!”
“You have to be.” My father said. “I’m sorry James.” I screamed at him. Primally and without any meaning, just my rage and my fear.
I yelled every obscenity I could think of. I screamed every curse I knew. Anything to stop them from leaving.
Father handed a bag to Nemo. Muffin gave me a lingering glance but left with him.
They walked out of my life and left me in a city of strangers.
My hand grows tired. I will stop now.
We have no control over our first birth but we do over the many little births that follow. We choose them. We have no control over the many little deaths in our life though, no more than the final one.
In front of people I would know, I experience my first death. This was to be one of the lowest points in my life, though not the lowest.
At the time I was terrified. Now it seems foolish of me. This place was perfect to tame an obstreperous, licentious youth.
I’ll close by wishing all readers luck and encouragement. Nothing is as hard as it seems, not once you’ve survived your own death. And to you my friend, thanks for your encouragement to write this. May the blessings of Eli follow you.
Your friend in the South