The Storyboard of Ataniel Archives: The Shape of Things, Part 3
Name: Jonah Cohen Plotline: The Shape of Things Character(s): Carter Edison and, er... team name pending Title of Post: Once a Knight is Enough
When they entered, Carter assessed the inn as 3 star. A cozy bed and breakfast type. Not big amenities, but classy and with friendly service. Big picture windows framed the lobby, between them an iron pot sat on the hearth, a fire blazing under it.
But perhaps he was mistaken. Rhynwa rang the bell, twice, but no one came to welcome them. "I don't thinks anyone is home, Rinsaleer," Akron said.
"Don't rightly know where we should head next if we wanna find someone who might tell us whut the devil happened," Joe Fish conceeded.
"Must... not touch..." someone said in a desperate, rasping voice. Everyone looked across the room, where a... Carter had actually mistooken it for a hat rack, but it was a teenaged girl, desperately trying to pry her hands off a chair. Her skin was tan and had a lovely finished wood grain.
"Miss, stay calm," Rhynwa said, in that voice of hers that seemed so authoritative. "Let me try to help."
The girl was able to wrench her hands free of the furniture, her flesh starting to waver in a most unsettling manner. She stumbled backwards, tripped over the edge of the hearth and reached out to break her fall. Carter winced as one of her hands struck the cauldron.
She screamed, the other hand striking the stones next to the fireplace. It took a second for him to realize that she wasn't screaming from the pain of touching hot iron. Her body was changing again. When she stood up, she was broader, her skin the mottled color of the stones, and she stood over six feet tall. Her eyes were large pits that smoldered orange.
Crud. Okay, remember, she's an innocent civilian. Don't do anything that will permanently harm her. Got to just knock her out, or better yet restrain her---
The stony girl swung a heavy arm and caught Rhynwa right in the jaw, knocking the priestess down.
Oh man she's strong. Should I try super strength again? I've had some practice now? But she still looks hot. Cold powers? Water powers?...
The stone girl breathed fire that hit Akron dead on. Carter flinched at this sight, but the little goblin's magic armor saved him again.
Think fast! I need something to take her down before she hurts herself or us. Something like... a weapon. Powerful but something that can do non-lethal damage.
There was a small *pop* and a rod appeared in Carter's hands.
It was made of some kind of golden metal, covered with high-tech switches, and the end was hooked like a harpoon. "This might do." He raised it, pointed at the girl and fired.
The good news was that she was slow moving, an easy target, so the cosmic energy struck her in the torso. The force of the blast knocked her back into the wall, and left her stunned.
The less good news was that the recoil from the blast knocked Carter flat on his butt.
The bad news was that the bright flash from the rod left him unable to see anything except a twisted parody of the Main Street Elecrical Parade.
"It's always something," he muttered.
Name: Lora Redish Plotline: The Shape of Things Character(s): Heart Title of Post: Curioser and Curioser
Heart moved quickly to catch the girl Carter had stunned, who was already beginning to flatten out and look like the wall. She stopped doing that and started looking human again, albeit disconcertingly like Heart. Interesting. "Heart, no!" shouted Rhynwa. "Don't touch her--it could spread to us!"
Heart was unfazed. "Have you noticed it's only affecting animals?" she asked. The girl had solidified into a slightly smaller copy of Heart by now, which at least gave her a mouth to speak with, once she regained consciousness, and would presumably stop her from randomly attacking.
"T'ain't no animal, lass, that was the innkeeper's daughter!" Joe Fish protested.
"Animals and people," she humored him. "But not plants... and not inanimate objects. The grass didn't change to look like cows, the cauldron didn't change to look like a girl. This 'morphing' effect is only happening to creatures with minds to be corrupted."
Rhynwa frowned. "Some kind of mind-affecting magic, then... or psionics, maybe?"
"I'm no expert in magic, ma'am." The Heart-girl in her grasp seemed to be stirring to consciousness now. "Perhaps she'll be able to tell us more."
Name: Alyssa Gulledge Plotline: The Shape of Things Character(s): Rhynwa, Akron, Joe Fish, et al Title of Post: NOT the Andromeda Strain!
"Shay..*burp* Whatcha doing ta the *belch* girlie-girl? *hic*" The drunk staggered in, bringing the reek of a thousand unwashed masses with him. He collapsed into a chair, and passed out.
Joe turned to the girl, whose body had stopped fluxing so badly. "Isn't that Old Barley? I thought he had died years ago."
She whispered "nossir. that's barley."
Rhynwa was staring at him. "Um, guys? He's a people... not a chair, not a tankard, not a piece of cloth." Rhynwa took a deep breath and stepped near to Barley. When she stepped out of the radius of his personal stench she said "Well he is looking a little like cloth but with all the dirt caked onto him it's hard to tell." She turned to the girl "Don't you ever throw him in a horse trough or something?"
"once a year. at the fair. throw ball. dunk the drunk."
Akron walked behind the bar. He looked up at the rack of drinks and said "Well, I think we should have a drink! On the house, maybe?" He climbed onto the stool, but leapt off with a yelp when it moaned and struggled.
"Quick Akron! Touch him again. We have to get him into a form which can talk."
"No way! I am the only me there is! I ain't givin my beautiful features to no one else!"
"Do it!" shouted Rhynwa
"Make me!" shouted Akron
Rhynwa drew a deep breath and counted to ten. She did it again. Akron stuck his toungue out at her. She leapt over the bar, grabbing for his throat. She never got there, as a pseudobody rose from the barstool on her side. "Help. Us. Please." Rhynwa sighed, looked at Akron with a glare partially composed of exasperation, and rolled up her sleeves. She laid her hands and arms on top of the stool and slowly a man, looking odd with female features intermingled, reformed.
"We were drinking. The new batch of. Young ale. We all felt. Odd. We melted. And turned into. Furniture. And clothes. The pile by the. Door to the. Kitchen is. Goodwife Alina."
Name: Lora Redish Plotline: The Shape Of Things Character(s): Heart and friends Title of Post: Something in the water...
"Hey!" Akron suddenly stopped reaching over the bar to help himself to free drinks. "Da beer did dis to 'em? Maybe dis stuff is poisoned!"
"Not unless they feed their ale to the cows," Heart sighed. "The cows changed shape too, remember?"
"Course I remember. Whaddaya think I am, brain-damaged?" Akron glowered at her fiercely. "Just cause I'm a goblin don't make me a half-wit, toots!"
Rhynwa restrained the urge to smack each of them in the back of the head. "Cows do drink water, though," she said instead, with all the forced sweetness of a woman used to supervising playdates, "and water is used to make ale. If you'll recall our friend Joe here's story, he saw the thing from the meteor disappear into the river, and later, the children in his village started disappearing after playing in the creek. That sounds to me like whatever is affecting these people and their livestock is hiding in the water somehow, wouldn't you say?"
"Could be," said Heart. She was less interested in the shapeshifting business than her teammates' reactions to it, truth be told. "Are you all right, Carter?"
"My... eyes..." muttered the hapless superhero.
"Somethin' in the water," Joe Fish nodded. "Well, that sounds sense to me, lassie."
"Dat's what I was sayin'!" complained Akron. "Sheesh, you all listen when cleric-lady sez it..."
Everyone ignored him. "The question," said Carson, wincing blindly, "is what we're going to do about it."
On that count, the newly formed team had rather less to say.
Name: Alyssa Gulledge (with assorted approval) Plotline: Shape of Things Character(s): Rhynwa, Heart, Carter, Akron, NPCs Title of Post: Rallying the troops
Rhynwa sighed. "OK guys, we need to stop drinking the water, as well as stop foraging AND eating anything fresh. We can only safely eat dried fruits and veges since they will be older than the contamination. More disturbingly, no bathing either."
"Hold yer breath, Toots...er...Rinnie. Ain't nothing in da world like a ripe goblin. Not dat we bathe DAT often, but I am coming due soon."
"Yes, Akron, we know. Indeed, we know. However, just the limited exposure over the past few days might affect us a little, and we don't know how much it takes to be contaminated. Heck, sleeping on the grass could be a problem. On the other hand, we haven't become walking turf mounds yet, so we should be at least humanoid for a while. On the third hand... we don't know if this is permanent. We are nominally heroes, but this is not what heroes normally face. If you don't want to gain a strange and potentially permanent disability with perhaps little to no hope of success, you should go back to the Mithril Dagger and await the next group." Rhynwa looked at her teammates with a wry smile.
Heart said "If I were afraid of magic, I would hardly have come to the Mithril Dagger seeking it out," and smiled.
Carter looked up and said "I am still in. This isn't what I was expecting, but heroes have to be ready for anything, right? I am a hero."
Akron piped up "Yer just tryin to get rid of me, ain'tcha Rinnie? It won't work. I'm braver den ya tink, and tougher too. I'm stayin!"
As Rhynwa, stuttered out "No, Akron! I'm not trying..." he gave her a huge stage wink, and Rhynwa relaxed.
"Well, guys. My only suggestion at the moment is that we travel upstream and try to find out where the tainted water begins. Probably, the source will be there. Now what it is or how we identify it, no idea. But maybe this will do it."
Carter looked around at the people shaped like barstools, clothes, walls and tables. "We have to help these people! We can't just run off."
Heart looked around the room and back at Carter. "I think that if this toxin is in the water, it must be spreading. It will seep into the land and affect everything and everyone. We will save more people if we stop the contamination now, than try to help individual towns."
Akron chimed in "Yeah, we gotta save da people. How else am I gonna get a decent beer dat won't turn me into somethin' I ain't?"
Name: Lora Redish, back from Berkeley Plotline: The Shape Of Things Character(s): Heart, Rhynwa, and a river alligator Title of Post: Getting Rhynwa Wet
Heart rode upriver in silence, trying to hide her disappointment. Her conversations with Rhynwa and Carter had been interesting, but she hadn't come all the way to Nylevia to conduct interviews. As far as she could tell there was only one spellcaster in the group, and the priestess hadn't used so much as a healing spell since they set off. This thing with the shapeshifters wasn't really up her alley either. Heart still thought there was something to the fact that only beings with conscious minds were being affected by whatever was in the water--surely their own minds must be contributing to their susceptibility somehow, if not psychologically than physiologically. It was hardly thesis material, though. This was not turning out to be as productive a trip as Heart had envisioned.
Then a tuft of river reeds lunged up from the bank with a suspiciously reptilian movement, grabbed Rhynwa by the leg, and dragged her under the surface of the water, where she presumably couldn't cast any spells if she wanted to anyway.
"The minute you think a project can't look any worse," Heart sighed in her native Keltur, and pulled out her spear.
Name: Alyssa Gulledge Plotline: Shape of Things Character(s): Rhynwa, Carter, Akron and Heart Title of Post: The shape of things to come
Rhynwa lashed out, trying not to gasp in a lungful of water. The alligator-reed-thing was tangling her in its roots. She was struggling to get free, but only enmeshing herself further. Her weapons were no good underwater, even if she could reach them. Every time the gator rolled over and she came close to the surface she thought she could hear people coming for her.
A particularly tight squeeze and she lost her last bit of air. "Arawn. I think my time has come. I will be glad to see you and Jenny. I am sorry to have failed to help these people."
Rhynwa heard the faintest whisper "not yet". As her vision was fading, she though to herself "The problem with following a god of the dead is that when you die, you still aren't done".
Suddenly she felt the bands around her loosening. There was still a lot of swirling, churning water, and it felt as if a current was trying to keep her down. She rallied her strength and realized it wouldn't be enough. She was going to die, despite Arawn. Funny. She wasn't all that eager to prove him wrong, and she didn't mind being imperfect for a little longer.
That's when she felt hands on her pulling her up.
"We have to get the water out of her lungs." Carter retracted his extremely stretchy arms, pulling Rhynwa to shore.
"C'mon, Rinnie! You still wit us?" Small hands pounding on her side finally made her release the water choking her up. "Oh Great. I saves yer life and you up chuck on my nice armor. I can't even clean it off with dat ting in da water."
A mewling, snuffling noise made her open her waterlogged eyes. Her aurumvorax was gently nosing her. "Bet he just wants dinner," she thought to herself.
Rhynwa raised herself onto her elbow to see Heart knee deep in the river, fighting to hold onto her spear. At the end of it was a watery, reedy thing. Apparently the gator had lost some of its reed qualities when it left the band, and had begun to turn into water. Heart finally flipped it onto shore, and stabbed her spear through it, pinning it to the ground. The thing made a few pathetic attempts to get away, it's body beginning to go reedy again. Then it laid still, half-gelatinous water, half river rushes sort of gator shaped. Heart stared at it waiting for it to turn back. When it didn't, she made some careful notes in her journal.
"Well, Rinnie.." she looked at Akron "I tink it's like dis. One. You's about to go all funny shaped. I recommend stickin' wit da black satin. Da goth-thing works fer ya. Da scythe look won't be good for ya; yer stick thin anyways. Two. Carter seems ta be havin some difficulty wit da stretchy thing. His arms snapped back to like 2 inches, and den dey started draggin on da ground. Ugly. And who knows if its his powers or da water. Tree. Heart is standing in it, and now she's pokin at dat water-ting. All in all, it gonna get weider before it gets better. Fortunately, I'm still fine. Looks like I will get ta be da hero in this little adventure. Oh, by da way, yer hat is gone."
"Well, at least in this one small thing I do actually know what to do," she thought. She looked at Akron and said "Who has the hat?" He gave her a weird look and just as he drew breath to answer her, she blurted out "I have the hat!" As it reappeared on her head, Akron's eyes got wide and round.
Name: Jonah Cohen Plotline: The Shape of Things to Come Character(s): Carter, Rhynwa, Akron, Heart - and a cute li'l Aurumvorax who needs a name Title of Post: Aqua Regia
When the alligator, uh, reed-gator, uh... that thing had dragged Rhynwa into the water, Carter Edison had reacted largely by instinct. Heart had grabbed her spear and waded in to shish-kabob the creature that had snared their leader. Akron had peered into the water, searching for her. "I tink I sees her - down dere!"
"If only I could reach her," Carter said, and then his arms started stretching. After they had pulled Rhynwa to safety, he worked on trying to get the hang of his new super-elasticity. Rhynwa was trying hard not to think of all the things Tila would say to a man with stretching powers.
"Dat's pretty weird, Kurt."
"It does take some getting used to," Carter admitted. Lightning fast, he stretched out both arms and grabbed a tree branch, yanking easily out of the trunk. "Neat." But when he tried to retract his arms, the right one returned immediately, but the left had to be reeled in slowly. It felt a lot like winding thread around a spool.
"Still, I've had worse. Hey, this might be useful for getting a look around!" He concentrated and his neck began to elongate. But at about seven feet long it became too skinny to support his head, toppling over until it hit the ground. "Ouch," Carter said.
"That battle staff of yours disappeared after the last fight," Heart said. "How long will this power last?"
"It varies," he replied, trying to shove his extra neckage back down into his torso. "It almost seems like some cruel omnipotent being controls the universe, and makes me keep a certain power only as long as it suits his purposes and amusement."
"I assure you," Rhynwa opined, "that's not how things work."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. Anyway, sometimes my powers are over fast, sometimes they last a few days."
"I see. Can you do more than one at once?" Heart asked.
"I don't think so, no."
"Can you use the same power again at some later date?"
"I'm not really sure."
"Hang on a second," Rhynwa said. She cast detect magic. "Nothing," the cleric continued. "However you do that, it's not magical."
"I'm a superhero. Hey - should the little guy be doing that?"
"Call me dat again an I'll---!"
"Not you, Akron. Him." Carter pointed towards the stream, where the baby Aurumvorax was contentedly taking a drink.
"No!" Rhywa shouted. "Stop, Airhglen!"
The baby finished drinking and walked back towards the group. Everyone winced, but the creature did not turn to turf as it walked across the grass. It rubbed up against Rhynwa's leg affectionately, but did not turn to cloth. Everyone watched... but no transformations came.
"Well this is a mystery!" Carter said.
"Why is your nose twitching like that?"
"You wants to talk mystery? What the heck is da deal with dat tunnel in da ground over dere?"
Name: Lora Redish Plotline: The Shape Of Things Character(s): Heart Title of Post: Karma Chameleon
"I notice the shape-changing doesn't go away with the victim's death," Heart commented, poking the alligator-sized pile of reeds with her spear.
Akron squinted at her. "What's dat mean?"
"Could mean a lot of things." Heart wasn't a detective, nor a pharmacologist. "But it does suggest the condition's permanent once you succumb to it. It's probably not going to just wear off like a virus or something."
"Great," sighed Rhynwa, whose pale skin was already starting to darken to the color of her robes.
"Maybe we can find a cure once we find the cause of the illness," offered Carter.
"*Burp*," burped the aurumvorax.
"Hey! Dem was my gold pieces, ya little rotter!"
"And why isn't the aurumvorax affected?" Carter mused, trying to rein in his own floppy arms. "Or Heart, for that matter?"
"I'm immune to shapeshifting," said Heart.
There was a long pause. "So what do we do now?"
Name: Alyssa Gulledge Plotline: Shape of Things Character(s): Team Vorax Title of Post: The golden fleece, er, pelt.
Rhynwa sighed. "I still think that the best bet is to go to the original site, and try to find this space creature. I hope we can find answers there." Airhglen waddled over to her, and snuffled her robe, hoping to get picked up. Rhynwa absent-mindedly scooped him up into her arms, and began petting him.
Joe Fish, looking less human than he did 2 days ago, spoke up. "If we go up along this stream for 1 day more, we will get to the spot where it jumped in the river."
Carter, looked up from his arms. "Well, I would like a little bit of time to get control of my new 'power'. I think that my arms got stretchy because of the need to help Rhynwa, not because of the water. Speaking of which, why isn't Rhynwa turning gold?"
Everyone turned towards Rhynwa, as she looked down on the aurumvorax nestled in her arms.
"Interesting," said Heart. "The aurumvorax isn't changing, is he? Well, it could be that gold is a defense, but that wouldn't account for Rhynwa not turning gold. It could be that the transformation can only be into something that is living..."
"But what abouts da chairs and mugs and clothes and tings at da bar?" asked Akron
Rhynwa said "They were all wood or cotton and linen, so maybe once living counts?"
Carter replied "What about the girl and the cauldron and the stone fire place? She turned into rock did she?"
Heart thought for a moment. "I'm not sure. I will have to work on it."
"Nonetheless, I and a whole host of people and animals are turning into different things right now. Why don't we take our thoughts and walk upstream with them. Carter?"
Carter was frowning in concentration, as his arms slowly retracted. He looked up, his arms still a little too long "Yeah. This will do for now. Are we going to go all the way there, or until it gets dark?"
"Let's go as far as we can before stopping. I am not enjoying being a walking piece of black sackcloth."
"But Rinnie! It suits ya ta be yer own suit! D'ya get it?"
Akron was never sure as he ran, whether the rising growl came from Airhglen or Rhynwa.