394 Shapeshifter

    1000 hours: Turtle House in Ionova

    For once, the ten o'clock sun wasn't able to shine directly into Nix's face through the bedroom window.  Because of this, the Inferno guild leader slept peacefully, hours after Hyai was up. It was the smell of a late breakfast that finally motivated him to open his eyes.

    Hyai sat on the bed, she wore the comfortable work clothes that Nix made for her when she was the Inn Keeper in Cyphix, nearly a year earlier.  "Didn't you have a long list of things to do hun?"

    Nix rubbed his eyes, covering a yawn while she placed a breakfast tray on his lap. "I already knocked out the first two items on my list."

    Hyai looked skeptical.  "Really?"

    Nix opened his personal hud with his free hand and showed her the days itinerary.

    [Nix's List]

    1) Catch up on sleep.

    2) Catch up on sleep.

    3) Meet with Farmers.

    4) Meet with Merchants.

    5) Talk to Nebs.

    6) Visit the Infirmary in Nescari.

    7) Examine dragon puppet with Muncie.

    8) Pack for trip.

    9) Make sure to tell Hyai how wonderful she is before I leave.

    10) Spend the evening at the Fire Palace before heading to Solomon City.

    "I stand corrected."  Hyai scanned the list, stopping at her name. "You're going to be very busy."

    "I know it. Thank you for making breakfast." Nix drained half the glass of orange juice before sitting it down and licking his lips.  "So good."

    "Welcome. I packed you a box lunch since you'll be busy."

    Nix paused, his fork full of eggs hovered in the air. "You heading back to Haven when I leave?"

    Hyai shook her head.  "Nope, staying here.  I invited Mina and Nansu to visit while you are away.  I can take the time to level up my chef skill."

    Nix sighed at the mention of Nansu, for a few weeks it seemed like she and Chael were on the path back to being a couple.  Sadly they split permanently, deciding to remain friends. "If I'd only been quicker in realizing that Chael was being controlled..."

    Hyai ruffled his hair with one hand. "You aren't at fault.  It can't be easy being attacked by the person you care about."

    Nix considered her words while finishing his breakfast.  "Fajii stabbed me in the chest with a spear while we were in Shangri."

    "What?"  Hyai's reaction made it clear that she hadn't heard the story.

    Nix nodded in confirmation.  "Actually, I deflected it and it went through my shoulder.  It was a damned butterfly that enchanted her."

    "How did Fajii react?"

    "I haven't really talked to her about it.  From her reaction, I assume she felt some guilt."  Nix waved the topic off. "She was able to recover."

    Hyai smiled, without a doubt that recovery was aided by him.  "And then you picked up Morti, and she found Eron."

    "Yep."  Nix jumped out of bed and grabbed the tray.  "I love breakfast in bed, thanks!"

    Hyai intercepted him and relieved him of the tray. "Get cleaned up, I'll take care of this."


    Nix summoned his Shadow Daikon and instantly took to the air.  Originally he intended to head directly to town for a meeting with the area farmers, but instead, he decided to take a few minutes to check out the crops.

    /Inferno: Bali: Hey Boss!

    [Dragon Eyes]

    Nix spotted a single figure waiting standing next to the trail that leads to the quarry. Although the distance was a bit too far to make out features, he could tell it was Bali.  Three figures were running towards her, the one in the lead was much faster than the other two.

    /Inferno: Nix: Ranger training? Is that the Trams?

    /Inferno: Bali: Yep.  Gotta have endurance.

    /Inferno: Nix: The one in front seems to be kicking butt.

    /Inferno: Bali: Aye.  That's Ginger, the girl runs like the wind, pretty good with a  bow also.  Reminds me of myself.

    /Inferno: Nix: Keep up the hard work.

    /Inferno: Bali: I want to bring them to Oasis in a few weeks, Loki forests have a lot of training opportunities for young rangers.

    /Inferno: Nix: That's your call.

    Nix took a few minutes to circle over the farms, the crops seemed to be coming in nicely. He patted the Daikon's smooth neck and turned back toward town.  Since there were no clouds in the sky, he could see all of Ionova. "Hold on..."

    Even from a height of three thousand feet, the north bank of the river that bordered the Hanza farm was painted red in his thermal vision. His mount banked toward the river in a shallow dive before leveling off at ten meters.

    Nix wrinkled his nose in distaste when he was enveloped by a swarm of insects and a god-awful stench.  "That's nasty."

    /Inferno: Nix: Hey Bali, sending you coordinates.  Seems like something was killed on the Hanza farm recently.  Probably just a predator, but there's blood splattered everywhere.

    Inferno: Bali: That's perfect for training!  Thanks, boss.


    An hour later, Nix was standing with Nebs in front of the Ionova farmers.  As he noticed when he flew over, crops were good.  Ionova was recovering well from the Thornwood curse from a few months earlier. Three of the farming families petitioned to acquire land adjacent to their farms.

    "Let me consider the land requests, I'll get back to with an answer by next month." Nix had already considered that there were additional areas that could be farmed, he made a mental note to consult with Jaro later in the day.  There were a lot more farms in Nescarai, so he might offer some valuable input.

    "Hopi!" Nix called out to the young woman whose family ran one of the farms in Ionova.

    "Steward Nix."  Hopi gave him a friendly smile, she had the sort of natural warmth that Nix liked.

    "Keep any livestock on the farm?" Something had definitely been killed on their property, maybe a stray cow or hog.

    "A few milk cows and some workhorses. We do keep a small herd of goats, for clearing."  Hopi noticed his confusion, so she explained. "Goats eat everything, saves us a lot of work if we send them into an area that we intend to clear.  They'll eat brush, vines, small trees and every sort of weed you can think of."


    "That's gross." Ronnie wrinkled her nose at the smell.  Bali had brought the group in from the south so that the area was upwind of them.

    The petite ranger nodded in agreement.  "Theo... Why didn't we head directly there?"

    "You said it could be a predator. We want to approach so that our scent isn't picked up."  Theo was dressed in leather armor camo that Nix made for the three Trams.  His red hair was cut short like his brother Mik.

    Bali brought up track and showed them the interface.  "In a few months, I'll bring you to a trainer that will teach you the tracking skill. There is currently nothing dangerous within a few hundred meters of us, just a few rabbits and a raccoon."

    Ronnie summoned her rock pet and nimbly climbed onto its broad shoulders. "I'll cover you."

    Bali nodded and unslung her bow. "Just because nothing shows up on track, doesn't mean we rush in.  Single file, three-meter spacing. "

    The ranger breathed through her nose, even though the stench grew stronger as they approached.  She paused and looked back.  "Listen... hear that?  Lots of flies buzzing."  She pointed overhead where a half dozen birds were circling. "Want to find dead things?  Follow the vultures."

    Bali stopped again when they reached the river, part of a bloody hoof was wedged between two rocks.  She spent several minutes studying the area, her pretty face slowly growing grim.

    /Inferno: Bali: Not good.  Come on in Ronnie.

    "What do  you think?"  Bali spoke to her trainees.  She gave them ten minutes to study the scene, only Ginger managed not to retch.

    Mik spoke first. "Single set of tracks, we are looking for one predator."

    Bali nodded.  "Acceptable.  What else Theo?"

    "It kills for fun.  Most of these corpses are mutilated but now eaten."

    "Passable answer.  Anything you'd like to add Ginger?"  Bali smiled at the female Tram.

    Ginger considered what she'd seen for a moment before answering.  "Blood splattered and body parts everywhere indicates a frenzy, not rational behavior.  Also, the tracks disappeared a hundred meters from here, why?"

    /Inferno: Bali: I love this girl.

    "Follow me."  Bali took them to where the tracks ended and knelt on the ground.  "Take your time and tell me what you see."

    Mik traced the outline of the track.  "It's two-legged, missing a toe on the left foot."

    Bali nodded happily. "Walks upright, now we can identify it.  Anything else?"

    "Wait!"  Theo looked at the last track.  "Shapeshifter?"

    Bali clapped her student on the back.  "Why?"

    Theo ran his hand over the ground where the next track should have been, only a light scuffing could be seen before it faded completely. "Usually when tracks disappear its caused by changes in terrain, weather, or someone deliberately covering their tracks."

    Bali glanced at Ronnie, "my kids are the best.  It shapeshifted here, its size and weight changed dramatically.  With this hard ground, it was no longer heavy enough to leave tracks."

    Ronnie clapped her hands excitedly.  "It's a werewolf right?  Should I have some silver arrows made?"

    Bali's pretty face showed her confusion. "A were-what?  Why would you waste silver on arrows?"
Previous Index Next