Rise of the Thrall Lord
The Road to Vermoorden - Part 2
The birds were chirping their earliest greetings to the morning as Martan made his way from the campsite the short distance down to where a bend formed a pool in a nearby creek. He had a waterskin over his arm and held a pile of dishes that were not washed the previous evening due to the fading light.
Elistra was already there, seated on a large flat rock that tilted into the water. She was dressed only in two bands of black silk, strategically wound around her breasts and loins. Her bright red travel clothes were laid out on the dry end of the stone. She was slowly combing her long golden hair which was currently damp from washing. It wasn’t much less than she normally wore, but it made Martan pause in indecision as he came upon the scene. He had never seen her without her black head scarf and crimson hood.
“Good morning,” she greeted him with a small friendly smile, and not a flicker of concern.
“Morning,” Martan muttered in reply, averting his eyes and deciding to head down stream a little ways. It wasn’t so much her current state of dress, but the odd stare of the Seer’s violet eyes that unnerved him he decided.
Three strides were all he took before he noticed the second set of clothes; a pile of dark grey fabric folded exceedingly neatly was on the bank near the deeper part of the stream. A sword and dagger lay next to the clothes. He froze for a second, uncertain what to do. He of course recognized the outfit of the mercurial young girl Ruka, and immediately decided there was something that urgently needed his attention back in camp.
But it was too late. When he saw her head rise from the stream, his eyes went wide and his feet felt firmly rooted in place. Like a mouse that knew the cat was about to strike, he couldn’t move.
Ruka had a pair of fish in each hand and she was completely naked. Striding calmly past Martan, she laid her catch out on a stone. As she turned towards him, she raised one hand and sparks jumped across her finger tips.
“What’re you staring at with that look on your face?”
It was surprising the aura of menace the slight young girl could produce. Martan could feel the small hairs on his arm stand on end with the building static charge in the air as he desperately tried to keep his expression neutral.
“N… n… nothing” he stammered.
“Your hair,” Elistra said with an amused tone, “it’s ridiculous.”
Somehow this morning, Ruka’s hair had become a startling, garish pink color.
Martan felt an almost palpable release as Ruka’s gaze shifted to Elistra, he debated running while her attention was diverted.
“I didn’t get it right?” Ruka asked in a flat, neutral tone that sounded like a death threat to Martan.
“No.” Elistra chuckled and shook her head. “Horribly, horribly wrong… unless you were going for the carnival jester look.”
Martan tensed again, anticipating the explosion; he was still in easy reach of Ruka but didn’t want to attract attention by moving.
Ruka just sighed, her hand going to her hair. “I was going for red. I couldn’t tell from the stream reflection. That bad, huh?”
“I’m afraid so,” Elistra agreed sadly. “Also, I have it on good authority that a certain swashbuckler prefers blondes. Although he may go for the other enhancement you are working at.”
“What do you mean?” Ruka suddenly seemed like an embarrassed young girl for a second; then sighed again. “Never mind, it was a pain holding this change anyway.”
Elistra nodded knowingly and said “morphic resonance.”
“Huh?” Ruka looked askance at Elistra.
“It’s just a term scholars use to describe a common effect of shape change magic. Shape changing requires altering your spirit image and invoking the magic to match your physical form to that image. The maintenance of an altered form is primarily handled by the subconscious mind, and the more the altered aura is in synch with your psyche, the easier it is to maintain. Forms that are fundamentally in synch with your self are easier to assume, become familiar, and gain morphic inertia.”
“That was as clear as mud.” Ruka muttered irritably.
“I mean just be your self and let the magic determine the form for each creature type.”
“Myself?” Ruka laughed. “That is the one thing I can’t be in front of…” She paused, shook her head and said, “He sees me as just a plain little girl.”
“You are hardly plain, but you are just a girl child regardless of your form.” Elistra said quietly.
“I’m older than you!’ Ruka snapped. The crackle of electrical power was back in the air, and Martan took a step back into the stream.
“You might be surprised.” Elistra stated calmly. “But regardless, I was speaking of mental and spiritual maturity. The magic knows what it is doing; after all, it comes from within you. It manifests one of your true forms for that type. It would be a feat, but with practice you could overcome morphic resonance; you are a natural shape shifter and could make yourself appears as anyone. But what would it gain you? The greatest risk of shape shifting is the risk of losing yourself. Would it be worth it to get him to like you when you are just pretending and not being the true you?”
Martan was sure lightning was going to strike this time, but Ruka let out a long breath and said, “I guess you’re right…”
Her form blurred for a second, then Ruka’s hair returned to pale blond, and Martan noted one other obvious change.
“Hey, your chest is actually pretty small… oof!” The air was driven out of Martan by a little fist like a pile driver to his stomach. His feet were swept out from under as the world seemed to spin. The tin campware clattered on the creek stones as he landed in the deep part of the stream with a splash.
“He deserved that.” Elistra commented with a chuckle.
Martan righted himself in the water and decided the stream was a good place to stay for a while. He imagined he could almost see a small storm cloud gathering over Ruka as she glared at him.
Elistra looked towards the trail to camp and said, “Donatello is that you?”
With barely a flash of pale posterior, Ruka snatched her clothes and dived into the bushes.
“I heard a crash, is everyone alright?” Alana asked as she stepped onto the little bank area.
“Just Martan being a klutz,” Elistra said with a grin. “Apparently no one told him this is the girls’ bath time.”
“Well I think that is just stupid,” Alana said as she pulled her tunic over her head. “Aren’t we all comrades on the campaign trail?”
Martan was busy moving downstream and trying not to look back. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Ruka coming out of the bushes, and he doubled his pace.
“Good morning Ruka,” Alana said cheerfully.
Ruka stared at Alana’s half naked form for a moment, then blushed and ran off.
“What was that about?”
“I think you won this battle lady-knight,” Elistra chuckled.