An image flickers before them and seven stories of seven couples unfold before them.....
(Author's note: this is taken in part from episodes 14134, 14947, and 14949 by JH and WolfRun.)
"We wait," Fred answered. "Tonight is the night of the full moon. Being trapped here is the best thing for us if we're going to turn into savage monsters. But once the madness has passed, then we can plan our escape." Astra raised a brow, "Escape? Then you have no intention of cooperating?" Fred smiled wanly, "Not if they can't guarantee that I will be restored my humanity." Astra nodded with understanding.
Inside of a locked and barred room sat two strange looking creatures. One was Lord Fred D'Honaire. The other was Princess Astra of Aqualaria. They both stood only three feet tall and each had a bushy fox's tail. The similarity in their appearances stopped there. Fred looked like a strange little boy, his face (apart from his fox ears) quite human. The skin of his body though was anything but normal. It was a strange red color, very similar to the red hue of the fur which now covered nearly the whole of Astra's body. Her face was muzzled and had the features of a woodland fox. Her hands and feet were more like paws, although they had all the dexterity and nimbleness of human hands. The reason they looked different from each other apparently lay in the fact that Astra was pregnant, although the details in their differing bodies didn't really concern them very much. Muzzle or no, Fred wanted to be human again just as much as Astra did.
They had both been this way for almost a week now, ever since the night they were reunited with each other in a forest in the foothills of the Goth.
The dragoness, Malachi, had told them that they were werefoxes. The fact that the sun was shining in the sky above their heads when she had said this should have alerted them to the fact that this didn't quite make sense. But at that time they hadn't really cared about what they had become, they just wanted to be restored to normal again. But after meeting a group of like appearing creatures that called themselves demifoxes but had no connection to lycanthropy whatsoever, they once again turned their attention to the question of what it was that had actually been done to them.
After having been examined and questioned by an elder of these demifoxes, they had come to the conclusion that they had not been turned into werefoxes after all but rather had been changed into demifoxes who were cursed with lycanthropy. This was an odd thing though since the demifolke were quite immune to lycanthropy, and transformative magic in general, and the demifox elders found Fred and Astra's uncanny metamorphosis quite alarming. But once again neither Fred nor Astra were much interested in the specifics. They had come to the city of Walants for one thing and one thing alone, to regain their humanity. Everything else was unimportant.
Within the private room of the demifox elder Boshwyn Ringroot a group of demifoxes sat in quiet conversation. The arrival of Fred and Astra had sent shockwaves through their small community. For years now they had suspected that dragons had been behind the repeated abductions of demifolke throughout the area. They had heard rumors that one such dragon, Minestus, was attempting to create a new Race, a slave Race akin to the demifolke. But though magic could do many things, it could not grant an inhabitant of the mortal world the powers of Creation. Those were for the gods alone. Minestus could corrupt, torture, and exploit any Race he chose but he could not create a wholly new Race. At least, that was what they had always thought. But then came Fred and Astra, two humans who were now, however impossible it was, demifoxes. It seemed then that Minestus had actually succeeded in his mad quest, for if he could turn humans into demifolke, warp one Race into another, creating something never seen before certainly was not beyond his bounds. With power like that Minestus could enslave the entire world. But even more terrible than just slavery, his victims would suffer the loss of their very identities, that special binding that made them who they were. If that happened, his slaves would become just as mad as Minestus was.
But he was not the only threat.
There was another dragon, Moreau. The werebear Synizn had warned everyone high and low that this dragoness was bent on destroying Walants, indeed all of MalBoncton and the rest of Ryngaerd as well. The monster was delving into arcane sorcery, practicing sacrilegious abominations. The aim of her evil was in mastering the moon madness, the curse men call lycanthropy. This frightened the demifolke not at all, for only humans could suffer from lycanthropy. But Synizn claimed that Moreau would change all that and spread the curse across the world like a plague in which every living being would change into a murderous beast when the moon shone full.
Was she the dragon behind the abductions? Was the race of the Demifolke being used to test her evil powers? Worse yet, was she in league with the mad Minestus? The two vile dragons working side by side?
Ringroot did not know for sure. But according to Fred and Astra Minestus was now dead, killed in battle with yet another dragon. The dragon Malachi. And why? Because Malachi had wanted a small, glass figurine called the Crystallic. With it she had claimed that she could undo what Minestus had done to Fred and Astra. Simply put, with the Crystallic she would have had the power of the gods, the power Minestus had craved for and finally usurped. But she died instead and with her dying words she had commanded Fred and Astra to give the figurine to Synizn. Synizn the werebear. Synizn the dragon's pawn. The demifolke of Walants had long suspected that Synizn had been carrying on a dark game of subterfuge in the service of dragonkind. They had been ever vigilant for any sign of his dark deeds, keeping an eye out for any compatriots he might have and keeping him under surveillance when they could. But Synizn had some skill in the mage arts and within Walants he was a man feared and shunned. His comings and goings were almost never out in the open and they dared not confront him themselves. But they never stopped watching. And then Fred and Astra had come.
There was no doubt now that Synizn was a dragon-slave and an enemy to the demifolke. But it was the demifolke who now had the Crystallic. And they would keep it. Safe from their enemies, safe from Synizn, safe from the dragons. But was it already too late?
Even though Minestus was now dead, there were still other dragons, and there was still Moreau. If she indeed had been in league with Minestus then it seemed quite certain that Fred and Astra were infected with lycanthropy as Malachi had claimed. And that meant that none of them was safe.
Darkness descended over Walants and a full, bright moon rose up over the countryside. The howls of wolves and other creatures echoed in the night air. The demifox elders rose up from their seats and made their way to a locked and barred room. Their hearts were heavy for they knew what they would find when they reached that room. Two snarling half-beasts clawing at the door, or ripping each other apart. It was therefore a complete shock when they looked through the small window cut into the door and saw Fred and Astra calmly playing chess with some rocks and pieces of wood. Fred looked up and smiled, "Good evening elders. As you know the moon is in the sky and guess what, I don't think I'm a werefox."
"Demi-werefox," Astra corrected him and took out one of his pawns.
"Or maybe were-demifox," Fred countered and trapped Astra's mage.
"Whatever," Astra replied and moved her rook. "So do you think they'll let us out now?"
Fred looked back up at the barred hole in the door and at the faces that peered through it. "Well Elder Ringroot, it seems we were all wrong about our supposed lycanthropy. And I can tell you I am quite relieved. Werewolves, or werefoxes for that matter, in my country end up gutted and burned on trash heaps. Though to be honest we don't have much of a problem with it up there. I think our reputation scares them away. But that's neither here nor there. Now, would you kindly please let us out of here?"
Ringroot conferred with his fellow elders...
The elders moved far enough away from the door to ensure that they could not be overheard by Fred and Astra. Then they conferred. "I confess that I don't know what to make of this," Ringroot said. "Whatever else they might be, they are clearly not werecreatures." "Is it possible that we have a new kind of lycanthropy here?" an elder called Quince asked. "One where the victim's form is stable rather than dependant on the phase of the moon? On their own admission, this dragoness Malachi told them they were lycanthropes. She might have lied, I suppose, but to me it seems clear that the female must have infected the male. This theory could tie in with the rumours we have heard about what Minestus was working on. We had assumed that if he could change a member of one Race into another it would be done solely by means of magic, but perhaps once initiated it could then be spread in a similar fashion to traditional lycanthropy? This might also tie in with the rumours concerning Moreau, if the assumption we have been making that lycanthropy must be tied to the moon is incorrect. That would mean that Synizn is wrong - or lying - of course, but that should not surprise us."
Another of the elders - Hanfast - spoke: "Perhaps we can test your theory. One of the advantages of Walants is that almost anything can be obtained for money. I dare say that, for a modest bribe in the right quarters, some poor wretch from the condemned cell can be obtained. Then we will see what the effect is on him of a bite from one of our prisoners - preferably the woman, since it was she who infected the man and also from her appearance she seems to have undergone the greater degree of transformation. Or we could take some of her saliva or blood, and force the man to swallow it, for I assume that any sort of transfer of bodily fluid would do. Since our male prisoner supposedly transformed within a matter of hours, we should get a result fairly quickly.
"Assuming that the victim changes, then we will still not know whether the Folke are at any risk of being infected by this new form of lycanthropy, of course. But at least we will know for sure that our two prisoners can never be let go free, for if they should infect other humans then our people would be sure to be blamed, and we would be hunted down. If released, our prisoners might not go around biting people, but it would be unrealistic to assume that they would totally abstain from sex with anyone but each other. Especially as we know that the female, at least, is subject to going into heat. And no doubt her cubs would also bear the same curse."
"What do you make of this so-called Crystallic?" Quince asked. "Do you think that there is any hope of curing them with it?" "I'd be very surprised if it had the powers claimed for it," Ringroot said. "That is perhaps just as well, since anything that powerful would be rather alarming. But since it was found in a dragon's hoard, we can't dismiss it out of hand. As I told them,  I'd like to get the opinion of a trustworthy mage on it - though such are hard to find in Walants."
When the discussion had finished, Ringroot went back to speak to Fred and Astra.
"I am sorry," he said, "but for the time being you must continue to be our guests."
The next day found Fred and Astra still locked in their small room. They were not happy about it. If what Malachi had told them was true they had but seven more days until their metamorphosis into whatever they were became permanent. But they were at the mercy of these demifoxes and their prospects of escape seemed limited at best. They both therefore agreed that until an opportunity presented itself they would bide their time. In the hope that their captors might be lulled they also decided to pretend to be at ease with the demifoxes. Antagonizing them was obviously pointless.
As for Ringroot and the other elders, they had arranged for Shabot and some of his friends to pay a visit to the Walants prison. It was still unclear just what Minestus had done to Astra and which in turn had happened to Fred. Were they now for all intents and purposes a couple of demifoxes, or rather were they a new breed of lycanthrope? Ringroot dubbed it neo-lycanthropy. And if the two humans were neo-foxes was the Race of demifoxes in danger from them? Only time would tell.
Lester Macready was sitting idly on his dirty bunk smoking his pipe. There was nothing else for him to do as he waited for his killing day to come. Macready was a member of the Paine Gang and had been caught stealing horses, a crime punishable by death. Although his fellow bandits had managed to escape Lester had no illusions that they would try to rescue him. Nope, he had been caught and that was that. Come Saturday he would be hung on the gibbet in the square in front of the prison. And that was only four days from now. Four days to sit, to wait and to smoke his pipe.
But then he heard the jangling of keys and the door to his cell opened up. A surly guard looked in and told him he had visitors. With a nod of the guard's head four people entered the cell. One was Lester's barrister along with the lawyer's attendant. The other two were a couple of demifoxes. Lester wondered what was up. He'd never given cause for a one of those folk to lay blame on him.
"'Ere, what's goin on?" Lester asked suspiciously.
The barrister smiled, "It seems it's your lucky day. I told you when you first arrived what the price for your acquittal would be, but of course you didn't even have a bent copper to your name. Well, these two fine hairy folk do have a few coppers on them. And while it's too late for an acquittal I don't see why they can't buy you a sudden and mysterious escape. You'll be a fugitive from the law of course, so the next time you come to town don't forget you'll have to pay an extra fee. Now, off you go."
"With them?" Lester asked and stared at the two demifoxes.
"Or you can stay here," the barrister replied. "I understand that the weather on Saturday will be quite wonderful."
Lester grunted and left with the two demifoxes.
The barrister and his assistant watched them go as the guard locked up the empty cell. And then the barrister looked down at his assistant and asked for the bill of receipt. "Well that was an unexpected windfall, eh Tarin?" Rift said. The dwarf nodded and replied, "What do you think the demifoxes want with him, Master Rift?" Rift shrugged. "Who knows. But if we ever see him again remind me to ask him."
Shabot takes Lester to Elder Ringroot....
Unconscious, naturally. The bandit would be unlikely to voluntarily go if he knew what fate was in store for him. A portion of Astra's blood (taken from her whilst she was unconscious during her initial examination during her capture) is introduced into his body. And so they wait. No regrets are given for what they are doing here. No questions of morality are raised. Shabot, in the demifoxes' eyes, is nothing but scum and unworthy of such. At least this way, something good can come from this otherwise waste of flesh. A few hours pass and......nothing.
"Well, that seems to answer that," Elder Ringroot sighs, truly relieved to see that the fears of lycanthropy are proven false. " Well, after a few more days of observation just to be on the safe side, combined with magical examinations...."
Whatever the demifox was going to say next is lost in a whirlwind of chaos and confusion.
A guard rushes in, reporting that several strange humans (or...something that LOOKED human) with silver eyes stormed in out of nowhere, magically overpowered the guards AND magically swept away the surprised demifoxes Fred and Astra! Off to parts unknown!
Search parties are sent out in a desperate attempt to locate and capture the fugitives, but it proves futile. They aren't around. However, during the chaos and confusion.....on groggy bandit awakens with a strange taste in his mouth...and figures now is the time to beat it.
A few days later he is disturbed to find increasing....changes in himself.....but is too much of the survivor to do himself in once the final transformation takes place. See, the problem with Fred was that *his* transformation was swift due to the rather unstable condition his Matrix was in when he met Astra on that one night encounter.
Needless to say, the former bandit soon....encounters and spreads the curse to others.....but that's a different tail....er.....tale.
(Author's note: this is taken in part from episodes 1930, 1931, and 1946 by Y, JH and Lots42)
The trio continued onwards; Lord Fred in front with sword in one hand and torch in the other, Velus in the middle, and Princess Astra at the rear. The cavern tunnel was cold, very cold, much colder than it had been closer to the Cave's entrance; they had been descending for the last quarter hour. The walls of the tunnel were rough, the floor equally treacherous. The torch made strange shadows upon the surface of the rock and earth. Then the trio began hearing a sound; it was like that of a drum, beating, beating rythmically, slowly, surely.
The sound transfixed the trio, what could be making it? They stood motionless while the beating drum continued its eery tune - and with it a new sound arrived: the sound of a voice.
"....mean, in your love, on bright days, you grew sun-blind, you thought me unkind, to remind you ...how winter kills."
The voice was soft, soothing - the voice of a man. Fred edged closer to the beating drum while Velus followed; Astra, however, remained frozen but for her mouth which had dropped open. She knew this voice, it was the voice of her lost love Sir John! While Lord Fred walked slowly forward, the drum beat on as did the wierd canticle.
"Lost, in day-dreams, you drove too fast, and got NOWHERE, you rode on, how fair, when you got too scared ...how winter kills.
They had me searching for weeks it seems....
Pain, in your eyes, makes me crawl, makes me SPITEFUL, tears are delightful, welcome your nightfall ...how winter kills.
I'll tear at you searching for weeks it seems..."
At that the princess-warrior shook herself free from the trance and ran towards Lord Fred. He turned, surprised at her demeanor.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"What's wrong?!!?" she responded. "That was the voice of Sir John!"
"WHAT voice?" asked Lord Fred. "I heard nothing but a drum."
The warrior-princess looked at Lord Fred and he at she. She was certain that she had heard the voice of the one who had wooed and lost her, Fred was equally certain that the only sound within the cavern was the beating of one lone drum. What they both did not know was that deeper within the Caves a smallish creature was chortling over its fine trick.
Finally the trio began their forward journey and followed the tunnel to its terminus. They entered into a cold, dark cavern. Within was one wooden drum upon a flat rock. The ceiling of the cavern was low, both Astra and Fred had to stoop a bit to enter. The ceiling was also moist with mineral water. The water, led by gravity, slipped and slid towards the left corner of the cavern and dripped down upon the drum: (drip) boom, (drop) buuuum, (drip) boooom, (drop) buuuuum. There was no musician, only a drum and dripping water.
Tired, the trio sat upon the ground and Fred began to wonder what he was doing here. He recalled the dubious honor the King had bestowed upon him - he was, after all, the newest of seven generations of dragon-slayers. He recalled his decision to take the left cave, and his meeting of the dog who was truly a boy. It was this Velus who had taken him through too many tunnels until he found himself with the cursed warrior-princess. Now here he was with a woman who was hearing voices, a dog who could only bark 'yes' or 'no' and a drum in dead-end cave.
"What is your homeland like?" asked Fred of the princess.
The warrior maiden looked upon him as if from deep thought, and answered: "The lands of Aqualaria are grand expanses of lowland jungle and beautiful heights. Our ports along the Bay of Tolomei are unequalled on the western side of the Sea and our inland cities are the envy of all."
Fred looked at the beautiful woman and recalled some of the legends regarding Aqualaria. "It is said that you live mostly in the jungle..." Fred stopped himself midsentence, but the princess would not allow the thought to remain unsaid.
"Finish your words nobleman," said the princess. "In the jungle where we hunt men and kill them upon our night-beds. Yes, 'it is said.' But many things are said. We are of Aqualaria, we respect the land and all that lies therein. You saved me without thinking, and if now you THINK that I shall harm you, do not worry. I am not one of the men-killers, you mistake me for the Oiorpata. They live far from us, in the north, across another ocean. We are NOT Oiorpata."
Fred had not intended to anger the woman and sought to change the mood. "Well, thank you...Astra. That is a unique name, I have never heard it before."
"It is not my true name, but one I have come to wear."
"Yes. My true name is Thessamar ix'latl. It has meaning in my own tongue, meaning that would be lost to the likes of you."
~~The likes of me?!~~ thought Fred to himself. ~~How dare this woman speak to the son of a grand duke so?! I am a nobleman of the Great Kingdom, a Lord in my own right!~~ Yet Fred kept his thoughts to himself, this was not the right time to voice such opinions.
"It is cold here," said Thessamar Astra. "If all there is is some water- logged drum, we should leave."
"And what of your voices, princess?" said Fred in a rather mean way.
"Leave them to me!" retorted the warrior. "If John is in these caverns he will find me or I him, until that time I will not allow ghosts to haunt me. I have a dragon to slay and a curse to banish, that is all I care about!"
With that she rose and walked out into the darkness of the tunnel leading upwards.
Fred ran after her, torch in hand, he wanted to tell her a thing or two about noble decorum, but he also realized she would be a valuable ally against the dragon.
There was no other way to exit from the cave but to retrace their steps. Fred caught up with Astra, and man, woman and dog continued up the tunnel in silence. Astra had much to ponder. She was of course relieved and grateful to have been rescued, but she could not avoid a spark of annoyance at the thought of being beholden to a man. Thinking about the inadequacies of men, not for the first time she wondered what she had been thinking of when she had allowed herself to become betrothed to Sir John. Being a wife was not a fitting status for a warrior princess, especially when her intended had not even been of royal blood. Could he have had her under some enchantment? If he had, she had broken out of it soon enough. That had led to his curse on her, of course. It didn't really bother her that much. There was no embarrassment at being seen naked by another woman, and who cared what men thought? Only when it was cold, as it was now in these caverns, was it a nuisance.
1/10/2001 5:49:31 AM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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