Brian W. Antoine
April 9, 1995
"Are you all right?"
I actually had to think about the question for a moment before I tried to answer. I didn't feel bad, but then I wasn't sure what feeling good in my current form would be like. When I tried to answer Kalindra and tell her just that, all that came out of my muzzle was a strangled growl. *Oops, I think I left my vocal cords in the other body.*
"Well," she said with a grin. "At least it will be quiet around here for once."
I reacted completely by force of habit when I tried to turn and swat her. Given that I'd only been solid in my current form for a grand total of five minutes, I was lucky that I didn't bruise anything when my coordination failed and I landed in a heap on the floor. *This is going to take some practice* I 'pathed to my mate as I lay there feeling silly. *Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all ...*
For the last couple of weeks I'd been kicking an idea around in the back of my mind. I'd already proven to both Kalindra and myself that I could shapeshift into forms I was at least partially familiar with. My latest idea had been to try a form that was born of my imagination. Now my second attempt at a cross between a wolf and human lay painfully on the floor of the private workroom Kalindra and I maintained in the bottom of our home. I did have one small thing to be thankful for. This attempt hadn't immediately fallen apart as non-viable within seconds of forming.
"Would you like some help?"
*No, I might as well find out now if this shape is too badly defined to be useful. You might though move anything with a sharp corner out of my way.* While I tried to lever my arms beneath me to raise myself into a sitting position, Kal began sliding the furniture away from where I lay struggling. It was a good thing I'd asked because I proceeded to flail around for a good ten minutes before I managed to get my legs beneath me and balanced so I wouldn't tip over again. The only thing that kept me from being a mass of bruises was the heavy layer of fur that covered every inch of my body. *Ok, I think I've got it. Would you drag the mirror around so I can at least get a look at myself.*
When she finished moving furniture, she spun me around instead of dragging the mirror, and I got a good look at the results of my little experiment. The only way I could describe it was, interesting ...
* * *
*Come on slowpoke, it's only another couple of miles into town.* What I got back in reply wasn't coherent, but managed to express extremely clearly just what Kalindra thought of running all the way to town. I chuckled to myself, adjusted the harness of telemetry gear that was giving Naldantis a running picture of my performance, and continued on at a steady pace. Somewhere a couple of hundred yards behind me I sensed Kal give up and slow to a stop to rest and I tried to keep her from detecting how smug I was feeling. No really, I did!
After a couple of weeks of experimentation I was getting used to my morphed form and I'd managed to prove it capable of just about everything I'd set out to do. With one exception of course, I still couldn't talk in this shape. A fact that tickled the entire family no end and made me glad I'd been learning Velan style magic the last few years. I still wasn't nearly as good when I couldn't sing, but I was far from helpless.
In the time it took that thought to rattle around in my head, I'd hit the outskirts of town which was my stopping point. I really didn't want to get chased all the way through town again by a crowd that didn't know who I was. Once was quite enough, thank you anyway. What I did want though was to check my vitals, so I leaned against the bridge railing and unclipped the monitor from my harness.
The slowly dropping readings confirmed what I was already feeling and what Naldantis had wanted to verify. This form was built for endurance, endurance and more endurance. When I'd challenged Kal to a 'race into town', she'd grinned and taken off like a burgundy lightning bolt. In less than two miles though, I'd caught up with and passed her and I was barely breathing faster than at rest state even after running the rest of the course.
What was going to upset her worse than loosing the race to me though was the fact that I'd make it to the Inn before her. We'd called ahead about dinner earlier in the day and I was going to be well through the plate of sugary snacks that we knew was waiting for us before Kal even got there. The mental picture I had of Kalindra trying to look like she'd keel over dead from lack of candy was enough to set me to chuckling to myself as I ducked into the nearby woods to shift back to being Human again.
Once I was sure I wasn't going to scare the locals again I ducked across the bridge and headed towards the Inn. I figured I had about twenty minutes before Kalindra showed up. She had started jogging slowly after resting and was a couple of miles behind me as I checked on her location using our link. She felt me doing it also, and made a point of grumbling just for effect. I was about half lost in thought as I made my way towards the central clearing and almost missed hearing the first greeting that one of the townspeople gave me.
"Huh?" I stammered as I pulled back from the link. "Oh, yeah. You're welcome" I answered to the back of the young female who'd greeted me in passing. Then I stopped and looked more puzzled than normal. "Uh, thank me for what?" She had to have been ignoring me because I know just how good a Velan's hearing is. I was still trying to figure out what I'd done that might have been made public lately when one of the males in a group I was passing did it again.
"Thank you for your help" he said with a grin.
My answer was a staggeringly eloquent "No problem." Of course there was just a bit of a problem. I had no idea what I was being thanked for. Given that the family could use any good publicity it could get because of how ugly some of the editorials were getting. I'd have liked just out of stubborn curiosity to know what I'd managed to do right lately. My curiosity bump was developing one hell of a rash by the time I finally got to the Inn, especially after being 'thanked' twice more by people I was sure I had never met before.
My treatment at the Inn just made things even more maddening. The moment I walked through the door, the entire family that ran it had come boiling out of every room to hover over me and make sure ...
"Is the table ok?"
"We don't have a Bard tonight, but we could find one if you would like some music."
"Would you like some Ale?"
"I made an extra batch of candy for when the Klizan arrives."
My curiosity was well on the way to becoming anger when Kalindra practically kicked in the front door. "Would somebody tell me what is going on?" Obviously, she'd gotten the same treatment once she'd reached town. Instead, the owner of the Inn took Kalindra by the hands, 'thanked' her, then led her to the table I was sitting at. I didn't actually see Kal sit down though. I'd closed my eyes to avoid seeing the expected bloodshed when I'd heard the 'thank you'. The claw tapping on my shoulder and the lack of screams let me breathe a sigh of relief.
"Is this some kind of joke?" Kalindra whispered as we both watched the chaos going on around us.
"If so, it's a good one. I don't have the faintest clue what the hell is going on" I replied. "I assume that everyone has been 'thanking' you?"
"Yes, and the last one that said it almost got 'ported into the river" she grumbled.
Then we both quieted down as our table was cleared off and piled high with a feast that would have cost us a small fortune. I knew we were in trouble when I heard Kal choke on the lemon candy she was toying with when one particularly large platter was placed on the table and un-covered.
"Ok, enough is enough" I grumbled as I signaled the owner that I wanted to talk to her. "Dasvalen, I'm not sure what to say about this feast you're forcing on us. I don't even recognize half the dishes here, but my mate keeps making odd gurgling noises that I assume mean she does and they are fairly rare." While I was talking, Ketvalen had stepped from behind the bar to stand next to his mate, so I aimed my next comment at both of them.
"One thing I am completely sure of though is this. Neither my mate nor I know why you are doing this and neither of us is going to enjoy the smallest bit of this meal until we know what the hell is going on!" I've been on this world long enough that I recognize enough body language to get by. The expressions that rippled over both of our hosts left me clueless. Then I think they realized just how lost I was and after looking at each other for a moment, decided to take pity on the poor Human.
"The people of this town were asked to thank you for the honor you showed one of us. Such was the stature of the one asking and so obvious was the result of your own honor that we agreed." And with that, they both smiled and turned to leave us alone with our meal.
"Kal, did that make any sense ..." and I caught the expression on her face that said it had. "Would you like to give me a hint?" For just a moment she ignored me, and I saw her staring at Ketvalen. When he stopped polishing glasses and turned to look back, then nodded, I heard her let out a sigh.
"Wythdantis has been to town."
Suddenly things started falling into place. "She agreed not to say anything."
"She didn't, or at least not directly. Ketvalen just told me that she was in town a few days ago along with Rasindra" and she chuckled slightly as she explained to me what had happened. "Everyone was talking about how much better she looked and joking that having a male around was doing her good."
"Funny, that isn't what she said when I explained what my idea was the first time. I distinctly remember something about having another useless mouth to feed."
"With age comes wisdom" snickered my mate as she swatted me with her tail. "Anyway, while she was here some child managed to sneak away from his parents long enough to get himself hurt. Wythdantis, with Rasindra supplying the energy needed, fixed him up as good as new."
"And then she broke her promise to us."
"No, she simply said that any thanks due her should be given to us instead. Since she hadn't done anything to hide what Rasindra and she had done, it didn't take long for everyone present to figure out what had happened to who had probably figured out how to do it."
"So now what?"
Kalindra reached over and pulled me to her so she could hug me. "I should think that would be obvious. My mate had a idea that helped someone who has been a friend of our family longer than the family has even existed. In her own way, that friend has made sure that everyone knows it."
"So, we stuff ourselves so full of food that we need the services of a healer to keep us from exploding?" and I started to grin.
"Then while that healer is distracted, we grab her and tickle her till she screams for mercy" laughed my mate.
And that's just about how things worked out ...