Shape Changer Option A: Tower

Welcome back!

To recap, last week you were hired to track down the Westbrook boy, who was probably kidnapped by the Eastbrooks. The man who hired you wants the boy back before the Princes’ birthday, which gives you three days. Since you’re familiar with the Eastbrook castle, you debated whether they would hold the boy in the dungeons or the tower. Now you’ve decided to search the tower first.

Let’s see what happens next:

Shape Changer Option A: Tower

TowerAlthough the Eastbrooks are haughty, they rarely disrespect a person’s station. It would be beneath them to throw the Westbrook boy in a dungeon and forget about him.

Settled on checking the tower first, you shoulder your pack and hug your cloak tight against your sides. This pulls your pack, with all its weapons and tools, snug against the hollow of your spine.

Wind howls, swirling around you, and the night closes in until even the bellow of the wind is only a muffled murmur in your ears.

The change happens in an instant. To an outside person you blur and emit soft light and then, with no clear outline until the change is complete, the shift gives you feathers and talons in place of your human flesh from a moment before.

To you, it’s fire that melts from your head slowly down your body until it reaches your toes. When it’s finished, you give a screech and launch into the air.

The wind catches under your hawk-like wings and lifts you high.

HawkMost shape changers such as yourself work as assassins or spies. You decided long ago you weren’t thrilled with those two options and so you created a third. You retrieve things for people. Usually stolen items but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes people just drop an item in a lake or over a cliff and, although you’ve never killed someone in your work, the stigma of what you are still frightens people. They only come to you when the situation is dire.

Which works in your favor because by then, they’re usually willing to pay well for whatever item they’ve misplaced.

The usual day trek to the Eastbrook castle is quickly done within a few hours. You circle over the tower as the light of dawn starts to turn the shadows into gray sketches. There are no lights burning in the tower but at this time of day, that doesn’t mean anything.

Finally satisfied that everything is quiet, you land on the windowsill of the highest window in the tower. Bars cover the window, spaced too close together for your hawk’s body to slide between. You peek inside. The room is a small circle with a wedge cut out of the floor for the stairs down. Other than dust, there’s nothing else inside.

You fold your wings tight against your sides and fire melts from your head to your tail feathers.

MouseNow a mouse, you slip between the window’s bars and scamper across the empty room to the stairs. Little puffs of dust, kicked up by your tiny feet, tickle your nose and you pause to give a petite sneeze.

From beyond the door at the bottom of the stairs comes a yowl of interest. There’s a scratching as a cat paws at the door.

You squeak and scamper back up the stairs just as the door down below creaks open.

“What do you hear, Longtail?” asks a deep voice.

You’ve only moments before the cat shoots up the stairs. Changing into a dog would not be a good option. Most dogs don’t sneak into strange rooms to be found later. A cat might, however, have wandered up here for a good nap. Or a smaller bird might have flown through the bars into the room by accident.

Aa: Cat?

or

Ab: Bird?

Vote in the comments for whichever option you’d like to explore. Next Thursday we’ll see where the popular choice leads you. =)

Blessings,

Jennifer

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Shape Changer

Trees and snowChill wind howls through the mountain peaks and tall pines, calling in the cold like a shrill old woman. Darkness fell barely an hour ago but the warmth of the day is now long gone.

You huddle against the rock wall at your back and extend your fingers toward the warm fire before you. Its heat radiates off the stone, helping to stave off the chill.

Your contact is late. You’re expecting a grizzled old man who boasts bright red hair sprinkled with a healthy serving of white. Although you’ve never met the man, Vincent’s descriptions are usually exact, his attention to detail rarely failing.

It’s unusual for a contact to be late. You shift slightly sideways to let the fire warm your leg. If someone hires your services, it means they’re desperate and desperate people don’t tend to want to insult you by making you wait.

You shift to the other side and reach for the clay mug that sits on a stone next to the fire. A groan of appreciation escapes you as you sip the strong coffee. Half an hour longer, you decide, and then you’ll leave, just long enough to finish your coffee.

Trees and Night SkyYou’re swallowing the last of the coffee dregs when the snap of someone stepping on a dead branch echoes off the rock wall. Not long after, there’s a sniffle, probably from the person’s nose being cold.

A few seconds more and the expected, grizzled man steps from the dark line of trees.

He pauses, taking in your fire, your pack that sits beside you, and the weapons along with it, and finally yourself. He fidgets with the edge of his coat.

“Join me,” you say with a gesture at the other side of your small fire.

He bobs a nervous bow and sits. Like the warmth overrides all caution, he slides his hands free of his gloves and stretches them toward the flames. An ‘ah’ of relief sighs from between his lips.

“Quite the meeting place you picked,” you comment.

“Had to keep it remote.” He glances over his shoulder as though, even this far out, he’s nervous about being watched.

Not one to waste time, you ask, “What is the item you need retrieved?”

“Not what,” he says and leans closer, “but who.”

You give a questioning look.

“Arion Westfall was kidnapped a week ago by the Eastbrooks.”

You lean back against the stone wall and eye the man. You saw Westfall at the Winter Festival two nights ago. Is he playing you for some reason?

As though he notices your reaction, he continues speaking, “So far we’ve been able to keep the kidnapping quiet. We’ve used his double, the boy we have stand in at large speeches and such, to make general appearances. But Westfall’s supposed to attend the Princess’ birthday in three days and she’ll know it’s not him. If the princess finds out, she’ll name him an incompetent and choose another champion. The Westfall’s will be ruined.”

“The families kidnap each other all the time and, through ransoms, regain their children on a regular basis. What’s different this time?” you ask.

“No ransom’s been asked. In fact, no one’s claimed responsibility.”

“Then how do you know it was the Eastbrooks?”

He looks away and fiddles with the edge of his coat again. You simply wait for an answer. You’re good at waiting.

Finally he admits, “The Eastbrook boy boasted at the Winter Festival that he’d be the new Champion soon.”

“That’s your proof?”

He nods.

“Three days? That’s my time frame?” you ask.

He nods again.

“Deal,” you say.

Relief washes from his face, into his shoulders as they droop, and then down the rest of his body.

“Payment’s been delivered already?”

Fire

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots

“At the Morrowtown Inn,” he confirms, “Vincent was specific on the details.” During the conversation he’d relaxed, leaning closer to the small fire. Now, he backs up a step as though this last comment reminds him of exactly who he’s dealing with.

You grin and shove your mug into your pack. He takes this as the dismissal that it is and starts to back away. At the tree line he pauses.

“You can do it, right?” he asks.

Your grin grows wider, almost feral, “we shall see.”

He gulps and turns away.

You finish snuffing out the fire while you consider the options. The Eastbrook castle is familiar to you as it’s not the first time you’ve retrieved something from it, but the grizzled man didn’t have a lot for you to go on. The Eastbrook’s could be keeping Westfall in their tower because of his status or in their dungeons because they want him to disappear.

Depending on those locations, your infiltration method will be different. Do you decide to check the Tower or the Dungeon first?

A. Tower?

or

B. Dungeon?

Post in the comments which option you’d like to try. Next Thursday I’ll post the next part to the adventure and we’ll see where it takes us!

Blessings,

Jennifer