1. a shapeshifter
2. a person afflicted by therianthropy
3. a were-person: werewolf, werecat, werebear, etc
A paladin struggles to retain composure. Struggles and fails.
Her cheeks burn. Her face twists itself into the guilty grin of her long lost teenage self. The ground refuses to swallow her up. For the first time in forever, a paladin is completely and utterly embarrassed. Mortified.
The lady of the house struggles too. Laughter wracks her body. Laughter out of all proportion. She knows she should not. She knows its not funny, and still she cannot stop.
The laughter blows her open. Rips out years of pain. Loneliness. Sorrow. Washes her clean. Wrings her dry.
Its stupid and she knows it, but the laughter flows out of her, and tears roll down her cheeks.
And then she knocks her mug over and coffee runs all over the table and soaks into her jeans.
– – –
Toini smirked. Served her right. Then she stood up, and went to the bar to grab some napkins.
“Yes,” she said when she returned to the table. “It’s Roy… I know it’s stupid.”
Paivi just looked at her, struggling to keep her mouth shut, her cheeks still twitching.
“Here.” Toini rolled her eyes and handed her sister a napkin. “It’s okay, you can laugh some more.”
Grinning, Paivi took a few deep breaths. “I’m sorry, but that’s hilarious.” Standing up, she dabbed at her jeans, and then went on to wipe down the seat she’d sat on, soaking up as much of the spilled coffee as she could.
Toini sighed. “It’s not that funny.”
“It is.” Paivi lifted her head and winked at her.”Ek’s pulling your nose.”
Sure, having Roy on the team would be horribly awkward, but if that’s what Ek wanted, then that’s how it would be. “The vision very clear. To find a new member for my crew I need to meet my childhood friend.”
It had been twelve years. Everything else had moved on. Life had happened. He couldn’t still be stuck in the past.
“Childhood friend?” Paivi raised an eyebrow. “It’s got to be someone else?”
She wiped one last time at the seat and then sat down again.
“No.” Toini sipped her coffee, and waited while her sister refilled her own cup from the pot.
“I’m missing a close combat specialist, and you know Roy was always into martial arts. It’s got to be him.”
Paivi thought for a moment – very obviously struggling to keep her serious face on. “Could be Adrian?” And then she couldn’t contain herself anymore and started giggling.
Toini’s face went bright red. “Absolutely not!” She pulled herself up and pressed her lips together. “That’s completely out of the question. No! And I didn’t get to know him until I was a cadet.”
“Are you sure?” Paivi’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “Are you?”
“Shut!” Toini made a chopping motion with her hand and snapped her fingers. “This is serious. I’m not having the stupid prince on my crew. I need Roy.”
“Ooh…” Paivi pursed her lips and raised both her eyebrows. “I’m sure he would be delighted to hear you say that.”
Toini took a deep breath. “Seriosuly Paivi,” she said between clenched teeth. “Cut it out.”
“Aww, you’re no fun.” Paivi crossed her arms over her chest and pouted.
Groaning, Toini rolled her eyes.
Smiling once more, Paivi reached for her coffee and took a sip. She gazed down into the mug for a moment, swirling the coffee around, and then took another sip.
“Okay, so why do you come to me if you need to find Roy? Couldn’t your god just direct you to him?”
If only it had been that easy. “You were in the vision too. I need you to get Roy for me.”
“Seriously. It’s got to be someone else.” Paivi set down her mug and looked her straight in the eye. “It’s a mistake.”
Toini stared back, and her gaze did not waver “There is no mistake. Now stop messing around and tell me where I can find Roy.”
“What?” Toini’s mouth fell open.
“Tin Jian. You can find Roy in Tin Jian.”
“What?” Blood drained from her face and her heart grew cold.
“Tin Jian, I said.” Paivi shrugged, and sipped her coffee. “You heard me the first time. Roy’s in Tin Jian.”
Toini stared at her. Sweat broke out on her brow. Her lips quivered. “Yes… But…” This couldn’t be. Ek was never wrong. “Yes. I heard… But…” She clamped her mouth shut. Stop. Pause. Think.
Paivi leaned back in her seat, still holding on to her mug. “I told you. You’re mistaken. It’s got to be someone else.”
“No… I… But…”
“What happened? What’s he doing there?”
Setting down her mug, Paivi took a deep breath and clasped her hands in her lap. “He got upset and ran away and now he makes a living beating the crap out of people.”
“Toini…” Paivi sighed and shook her head, but a small smile – a friendly, sympathetic one – had found its way onto her face. “What am I going to do with you?”
“No. I mean…” Toini stopped herself.
There really was no point in panicking. There must me some misunderstanding, or there was something her sister had missed. There had to be some kind of rational explanation. Her god didn’t send her to the wrong end of the world for no reason.
She took a deep breath, swallowed, clasped her hands on the table, and took another deep breath. “Okay… I’m sorry, Paivi. This wasn’t… I’m with you now.”
“Okay.” Paivi nodded, a look of concern on her face “Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.” Toini forced herself to smile and gave a little shrug. In control again. “It was just a little unexpected.”
“Yeah. I guess so.” Something flashed through Paivi’s eyes, and she hurried to grab her mug and drink from it, hiding her face behind the rim.
“So, ehm…” Toini blushed a little, and she cleared her throat. “Can we back up a little? Why did he run away, and what is he doing beating people up?”
Paivi set her mug down, and then she just sat there. Her gaze drifted off into the distance, far beyond the bar, deep into the past – a different time and a different place.
Eventually she shrugged and turned her attention back to Toini. “Right, I’ll try and explain, but you may actually know more about the underlying reasons than I do.”
“Oh…” Toini felt her face go pale again, and a hard lump formed in her belly.
“Yes.” Paivi gave a slow nod. Knowing. “You guys had a fight, right? Just before you left for your tour of duty down south.”
Fight. Toini pulled her mug close and stared down into the coffee.
Black. Warm. Like a cast iron frying pan fresh off the stove.
“Mm…” Toini pressed her lips together and didn’t look up.
Paivi shifted in her seat. “Okay, I won’t pry, but it’s probably something you’re going to have to deal with eventually.”
“Yes.” Toini nodded.
“Anyway…” Paivi coughed and cleared her throat. “He dropped by here a few days after you left and said he was going for a trip – said he wanted a change of air or something.” She paused to take a deep breath. “And then he never came back.”
Paivi sat silent for a bit, her thoughts probably drifting too. She sipped her coffee and stared off into the distance. “I’m not sure what he did – probably travelled a lot. He called once in a while, sent a few cards from here and there, further and further away, and then after you died…”
Sniffling, Paivi hung her head. She rubbed at her nose with the back of her hand, and swallowed. “I’m sorry, I mean after you…”
“It’s okay,” Toini hurried to say. “I know what you mean.”
Paivi looked up, a wry grin on her face. After a moment, she nodded. “So, yeah. He went quiet, stopped calling, didn’t write.”
Toini’s heart sank. “Oh…”
She hadn’t meant for any of that to happen. Hadn’t wanted. Hadn’t known. She’d never realized the pain of those she’d left behind. They should have thought her dead, mourned, and moved on. It was the way of the world. People died. Almost everything died – sooner or later. It was natural.
Death was a part of life, and they didn’t see it like that, and it hurt them. She’d hurt them.
“Then about two years later he sent a letter. He said he’d moved to Tin Jian and started up his own company in the personal security business. It’s a rough place apparently.”
“Yeah.” Toini nodded. “I’ve been there.”
Paivi raised an eyebrow at her.
“Sorry. Go on. He’s in the security business?”
“No…” Paivi sighed, and the a tired smile grew on her face. “He says he is, but he’s really part of the pro wrestling circuit.”
“Yeah, you know how it’s legal for terries to fight professionally there.
“Therianthropes.” Toini scowled at her sister.
“Yes, yes. Whatever.” Paivi glared at her. “Anyway, that’s what he does, only he doesn’t want me to know, so he says he’s got this little business that he’s running.”
“Uhu…” Toini crossed her arms over her chest and raised an eyebrow. “And how do you know then, if he’s not telling you.”
Paivi grinned, and that sparkle of mischief appeared in her eyes again. “Because he’s been the stupid world champion – three stupid times. His face was all over the news the first time it happened. There’s no way you could have missed it.” The grin froze on her face, and she clamped her mouth shut. “Ehm… If you’d been here I mean.”
“Yes…” Toini nodded, and she tugged at one of her dreads. “I guess…”
She looked at Paivi without really seeing her. There had to be some kind of catch. The vision had been clear. This was where she had to go, and this was where she’d gone. It was right. That urge to go somewhere or do something that always came with a quest was no longer there.
The only thing that remained was the need to get in touch with her childhood friend to fill out the empty spot on the team.
“So…” Paivi set down her coffee. “Do you see now why I think you’re mistaken?”
“Yes. I see.” She did. Logically, it made sense. She knew how it looked from the outside, but she also knew what her vision had said.
Paivi raised an eyebrow. “So?”
“So what? I’m not mistaken.” Toini glared at her. “I’m just at the wrong stupid end of the world.”
“I’d call that a mistake.” Paivi let out a short laugh and grinned at her.
Toini sighed, but couldn’t quite keep from smiling. “No. It’s fine. We just have to go to Tin Jian and pick him up there instead.”
With a gasp, Paivi let her mouth fall open. “You’ll go to Tin Jian just like that? It’ll take weeks.”
“Yeah, well, what are you gonna do?” Toini shrugged and reached for her coffee, trying not to look too smug. “I need Roy on the crew, and if he’s not here, I’ll have to go where he is.”
Paivi snorted. “Heh, well, let me send him a message first at least.” She fished up her phone from one of the pockets of her jeans. “You’ll have to wait for your crew anyway. Perhaps you can meet somewhere along the way?”
“Ugh…” Toini groaned. No thanks. “Coordinating that kind of thing is always a nightmare. Easier if he just stays where he is.”
“Heh, yeah.” Paivi nodded and began fiddling with her phone. “You probably know that better than me. I’ll still send him a text though. It’ll mess him up real good.” Grinning, she chuckled to herself – her entire face glowing with mischief.
Toini drew in a sharp breath, and a cold lump formed in her belly. “Uhm… Perhaps that’s not such a good idea…” It was a really really bad idea.