[Vfw-times] MK Pennance and retribution 1/?

Oren Otter bevary at atcjet.net
Fri Nov 12 01:33:18 CST 1999

Penance and Retribution
Chapter one: Evil endured
by Oren the Otter

	Oren was thankful for being furry.  The chill which hung in the autumn air
had bitten the otter's nose all through the night.  The fact that she slept
in the form of a six-year-old girl did not help matters.  Twice during the
night she had gotten up and warmed herself by Gornul's oven.
	The dungeons, Oren pondered, had been dank, musty, and slightly chilly.
For an otter, it was perfect.  By comparison, moving back into his old
apartment with the dry air and bitter chill of oncoming winter seemed like
	Hoping that the added size would warm her, Oren concentrated on becoming
his old self.  It was difficult.  His natural antimagic made it very
difficult for him to exercise any control over his personal curse the way
others did.  But change he did, first becoming a teenager, and finally
becoming a man.  He observed his reflection in the water of the fish pool.
It was still frustrating to him that he was smaller, weaker and more
effeminate than he had been when he moved to the keep, to say nothing of
the fact that he would forever be half otter.  Still, it could be worse, he
supposed.  He had largely managed to control the speech impediment which
his first curse had placed on him.  Perhaps the second might in time show
reduced effects as well.
	Oren was just about to grab a fish for breakfast when he heard a knock at
the door.
	"Who could that be at this hour?" he wondered aloud.  He hastily put on
his vest and briefs to make himself decent.
	Opening the entrance door, he was surprised to see Caroline, looking wide
awake but not chipper as she usually was.  This was understandable,
naturally.  The bandages wrapping her hands were a constant reminder of the
horrible attack which had left more of the woman broken than just her
fingers.  The thick morning fog which framed her seemed to mirror the
greyness of her mood.
	"Hey... Sister..." said Oren, hoping to elicit a smile.
	"Hi, Oren." Caroline responded.  Her smile was less than enthusiastic.
"Something's happened that I think you should see.  Gornul, too."
	"What is it?  Is someone hurt or something?  Immediately, he regretted the
	"Not quite so drastic, but significant.  I think you'd better see for
	Feeling very curious, Oren woke his sleeping friend, enjoying the warmth
of the orno as he did.  The two of them then followed Caroline out, with
Oren stopping only momentarily to secure his cape and wrap it around
himself as protection against the cold and the fog.
	Caroline led her friends all the way to the main gate of the Keep and
beyond.  Her pace was slow and agonized, causing Oren to wonder what could
be so important that his battered friend would travel such a distance in
her condition to fetch him.  
	"Barney and Rashim had come to take me for an early morning stroll." she
began, as if reading his thoughts.  "They thought it might make me feel
better to get some exercise.  We had gone out to the river.  That was where
we found..."
	"Found what?"
	Caroline was silent for a moment.  "I thought I should be the one to fetch
you." said Caroline.  "I know how much you..."
	"How much I what?  What is it, Caroline?"
	The woman fell silent for a moment, looking as though she desperately
wanted to release some bit of information which was simply too painful.
Through the murky, almost tangible fog, the three strode up toward the
river.  There, they met up with someone Oren had not seen before.  "Oren,
Gornul," said Caroline.  "This is Light."
	"Light Carter." said the woman, a rather attractive Eurasian otter with a
sack full of herbs around her neck.  Her accent, Oren found, was amazingly
similar to his own.
	"Pleased." said Oren, kissing Light gently on the hand.
	"Light is an herbal healer." said Caroline.  "She sort of joined up with
our little lutrine club while you were in the dungeon."
	"Healer?" Oren repeated.  "Is someone sick?"
	"In a word, yes."  Light began walking in the direction of the river.
>From the fog, three shapes began to form.  One was the small form of
Barney, the fishkeeper.  The second was the large form of Rashim.  It was
the middle one that grabbed and held his attention, though.  A sixth otter,
a sea otter, portly, and yet somehow very shapely, lay on the ground,
clutching her stomach and moaning.  The face and the form were foreign, but
the clothing and the voice he knew all too well.
	The sea otter looked up.  "Oren?"
	"What happened?"
	"It was... the water."
	"The water?  The polluted water you brought from home?  You drank it?"
	"Yes, Oren.  I wanted... I wanted to be like you."
	The Hipoccian cast his gaze to the faces of his fellow otters, all
downcast, while his mind searched for the next question to ask.  "How much
did you drink?" he asked.
	"All of it."
	Tears formed in Oren's eyes.  "Help me get her up." he said to Rashim.
"We need to get her to the healer right away."
	* * *

	Healer Coe did everything he could for Ana.  In the end, however, there
was only one thing to be done.  He found it necessary to send for someone
better trained than he in the magic arts.
	Wessex rubbed his undersized hands together nervously as he delivered the
news to Oren and his friends.
	"I'm not going to sugar coat this for you." he said in a manner which
seemed very odd coming from the mouth of a little boy.  "The amount of
magic now in Ana's system is incredible.  Obviously, we've all seen what
just a little drink of this polluted water can do to someone who is
inherently antimagical.  An entire jar is going to do far worse.
Unfortunately, most remedies for problems of this nature would by canceled
out by Ana's own antimagic before they could take effect.  The only way to
fight these magical toxins is to boost that antimagic until it has a chance
of saving her on its own."
	"If we don't?" Oren asked, fearing the worst.  He was not disappointed.
	"If we don't, then within a fortnight, her human side will dwindle to
nothing.  In a week, she'll be a normal sea otter, both in body and mind.
After that, the magic will continue twisting her body.  In two weeks, she
will be dead."
	Oren put his hands over his face.  Tears came which would not be held back.
	"I WILL save her." he vowed.  "I will."
	* * *

	Rupert was a gentleman.  He had always been a gentleman.  However, he was
also a gorilla.  More than that, he was a gorilla commando in the Whales
marine force.  This meant to Oren that his calm and gentle demeanor gave no
reassurances whenever the great ape answered the door for his employer, Phil.
	Oren hesitated for just a moment before saying "I... I need to speak with..."
	Rupert held up his hand.  He made a pair of gestures which let the otter
know that Phil was speaking with the duke and should not be disturbed.
	"Actually," said Oren.  "It's you I need to speak with."
	Rupert pointed to himself, a mild look of surprise on his face.  He bade
Oren to state his business.
	"It's my girlfriend... Ana.  She's... she's very ill.  She's suffering
from magic poisoning."
	Rupert wanted to know what he could do, and so rolled his open hand around
to ask him to continue..  Oren only understood the question because his
conversations with Gornul, his mute roommate, had taught him the meanings
of gestures. However,  it was clear enough.
	"When you retrieved the evil urn from Loriod's castle, you disarmed it
with an antimagic powder."
	The ape's eyes went wide.  He shook his head insistently and explained
with a finger across his neck that the powder would most certainly kill her.
	"It wouldn't." Oren replied.  "She's Hipocci, just like me.  Her body can
handle the antimagic, and in fact, it may be the only way to save her life."
	After a long hesitation, Rupert led Oren inside.  He did his best to
explain that yes, he did have a very small amount of the powder left, but
it wasn't something which he would give out to just anyone.  It was very
expensive, and would be deadly to anyone without a Hipoccian's tolerance.
This took several very long minutes in which Oren repeatedly shook his head
in confusion before he finally got it.
	"I know how dangerous antimagic is, especially since Achin nearly died
from it.  And I promise to pay for it, whatever the price."
	"You couldn't." Rupert said with a shake of his head.  Leaving Oren in the
foyer for a moment, he went to his personal chambers and returned with a
small stoppered vial.  He handed this to the otter, explaining with his
hand gestures over his heart that if the powder could save the woman's
life, it would be worth the expense.
	Oren tearfully hugged the gorilla, which caught the butler off-guard for
just an instant.  With a smile, the ape pat the otter on the head.
	A voice drifted in from the next room.  "Oren?  Is that you?"
	The otter quickly went to the doorway, where he saw Phil and Thomas
huddled over a pad of notes.  With them, looking very nervous, was Vitra.
	"Your Grace." Oren responded.  For good measure, he added "Your Highness.
My lady."
	No one directed him to be informal this time.
	"Oren, please come in." said Phil.  "I believe that you can be of some
help to us on this matter."
	The otter obeyed and took a position by the others, being seated only when
he was bade.
	The Duke turned to Oren, his ears forward in an expression of urgency.
"Vitra has been telling both Phil and myself  what she knows of the enemy's
plans.  I would like you to hear this, as well, as it seems to come very
close to you."  Turning to the Zorilla, he said "Would you begin again, for
Oren's benefit?"
	Vitra nodded politely.  "As you know, My husband, Ushka, was impressed
into service of Nasoj as fire-mage.  When he was killed, it was when trying
to recapture escaped darkling.  I find out from him that there are many
darklings Nasoj is holding.  He plans to release them into keep when time
is right."
	"How does that involve me?" asked Oren.
	"At same time, Nasoj is making allies in land of the south.  In place
called 'Devil's Strand'."
	"Hipocc's only neighbor." Phil added.
	"Their magic is very, very great, and very, very evil.  More great and
evil than Nasoj."
	Oren nodded.  "Up until now, it's been the Hipocci who have held the
Stranders at bay."
	"Until Hipocc destroyed." Vitra corrected.  "Now Strand is getting ready
to move out and conquer world, but they not do it alone.  That where they
need Nasoj."
	Oren sat quietly and waited for an explanation.
	"It like this: Devil's Strand has very powerful spell, but spell can only
be cast when time is right, and certain things must be just right.  Both
place where spell is cast and place spell is put over must be dark."
	"And Nasoj is sending in the darklings to 'kill the lights', so to speak."
Thomas surmised.
	"Exact.  Then when spell is finished, Metamor Keep has no more defense.
Walls become brittle like cracker.  Armor and weapon turn into dust.  Magic
no work for us.  Even will to fight is gone.  It spell so powerful and bad
it make even Nasoj wet himself."
	"The course of action seems clear." said Phil, twitching a foot,
nervously.  "We must prepare for a battle against the darklings while at
the same time, we send a force to Devil's Strand to prevent the spell from
being completed."
	"And you want me to lead the expedition, is that it?" Oren asked.
	"There are only four people in the keep who know the area.  You are by far
the most qualified to act as a guide." Thomas explained.
	Oren nodded.  "It would be an honor." he replied.  "And it happens that I
was on my way to Hipocc to begin with."
	"My dearest, Ana, lies in the healer's surgery in a truly awful state.  I
must bring medicines from our homeland or she will die."
	"What happened?" asked the rabbit, looking quite concerned.
	"At this moment, I have no idea why she did it, but she drank a massive
amount of water polluted by magic.  It is the same water which did this to
me." he gestured to his lutrine form.
	"I am sorry to hear that." said Phil.  "If there is anything I can do for
you and her, just let me know."
	Oren placed his paws in front of his face and attempted to interlace his
fingers, momentarily forgetting that his hands were webbed.  "I would like
you to come with me." he said.
	Phil blinked as if he had been slapped.  Thomas shook his head in
surprise.  Rupert appeared at the door and looked as if he were ready to
thump someone.
	"I'm... I'm needed here." said Phil.
	"I don't make this wut wut request lightly." said the otter.  He flushed a
little when his nervousness began to make his speech impediment resurface.
"My mission to chrrr Hipocc is twofold now.  If we are to prevent Devil's
Strand from casting their spell, we will need help.  We will need to Rally
the remnant of Hipocc to our side.  I believe that Phil will be able to do
this.  Despite his rabbity form, he is a prominent political figure, a
military leader, and overall, a charismatic person who can manipulate words
to achieve any desired effect."
	Phil was blushing, now.
	"Secondly, there is the Prince's safety.  We know that the keep is going
to be coming under attack by darklings.  These are nasty monsters which
will test the skills of many a keeper.  If the mission to Hipocc succeeds,
there will still be the darklings to contend with.  If we fail, anyone
still within the keep will very likely die.  Prince Phil will actually be
safest with me."
	Rupert grunted.
	"Of course.  You would come along as well.  I wouldn't have it any other
	Thomas flicked his ears.  "I sense that there is more."
	Oren nodded, but hesitated.  "I know that you are one who believes in
prophecy.  There is one from my homeland which I believe refers to Phil.
In fact, it was Phil himself who helped me to apply the prophecy."
	"I would like to hear this prophecy." said the Duke, ears settling in the
forward position.
	Oren settled back and quoted.

In times that shall come 'round once more
came a child-like warrior
orphan boy of mean estate
drink a drop and change your fate

"At present, I am very childlike.  My parents are believed dead, and the
last line must naturally refer to my original transformation." 

wander now to where you will
to the castle on the hill
seek ye there the ones who chew
with their secrets, one and two.

"The Castle on the Hill is, without a doubt Metamor Keep.  The 'ones who
chew' are a pair of rodents, of course.  Rodents with secrets.  Though I
won't share with you what I learned or how I learned it, I know for certain
that these two are Charles and Phil."

Ask your riddle, play your game
share with them your special name
secrets two and secrets none
now are three and three are one
sand and flame and zero score
quoth the child-like warrior

"The first two lines are instructions to me to relate this prophecy, which
I have.  The subsequent four lines I have very little clue about.  It seems
clear, though, that whatever I am to do, I am to do with them."

add to three another two:
painting-mind and heart-is-true
all return to evil's shore
with the child-like warrior

"Heart-is-True is my friend, Jesse Roo.  Painting-Mind is obviously Gornul.
 Evil's shore would have to be Devil's Strand."

darkest times shall come again
evil that was one is twain
by the rising of the sun
so shall darkness be undone

"Until just now, I couldn't figure out the meaning of that second line.
Now, I believe it must refer to the alliance between Devil's Strand and
Nasoj.  Darkness is mentioned twice.  We know this to be a prerequisite for
the spell the Stranders are casting."

Go back again when all is still
to the castle on the hill
sing and play and have your fluff
time will come 'round soon enough.

	"In this stanza, I believe that Fluff refers to Phil's little fluffy tail."
	"You what?" said Phil.
	"Okay, so I don't.  I'm sorry.  The tone was ppprrrrrr getting way too
serious in here."
	Thomas made a disapproving face.  Oren laughed aloud, and then dropped his
face into his paws and began weeping.
	"Oren?" said Vitra.  "You be okay?"
	The otter was shaking visibly, now.  "I'm sorry." he said.  "This is
difficult for me.  For a year, now, I've had no home outside Metamor Keep.
I never thought about home, not even when Ana came practically knocking on
my door.  I've known for some time that I would have to go back there, but
the very thought is more than I can bear."
	"You don't have to go." said Thomas. "There is always Blake or Felice."
	"Felice wants to go back even less than I do.  And Blake?  I'm sorry, but
Blake is not someone I have complete trust in, yet.  It's not that I don't
trust her penitence, but she's a moron."
	The horse nodded, emitting a chuckle that was devoid of humor.
	"I'll be all right." said the otter.  Now, if there is no further
discussion for the time being, I must take this powder to Ana.
	Bowing politely, Oren slipped out of Phil's apartment and into the
hallway, where he broke into uncontrollable sobbing.

-Oren the Otter
tlhaQ biQ Ha'DIbaH
The Changing Workplace: http://www.geocities.com/duster_skunk/strips.htm

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