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Twitch stood outside the impressive townhouse of the late Shaila. He had been feeling somewhat guilty since her demise- after all, despite the fact that she had been in the late stages of her life, the fact was that she would still be alive had they not approached her with the journal from the sawmill. And in this case he felt there was something he could do to rectify the situation.

Smiling as he confirmed his memories from the previous visit that the walls were indeed solid stone, his form blurred briefly as he employed his powers, and his half-elven form was replaced by that of a small badger-like creature composed entirely of rock and earth. He hesitated for a moment, then stepped through the wall.

Resuming his normal form inside the house, Twitch made his way from room to room, searching for valuable items. While stealth was not a strong point for him, he had no reason to expect any occupants on the premises, and as such was slow and thorough in his search. He soon found a small secret cupboard containing coins and jewellery. Happy that Shaila had relied more heavily on concealment than security (finding things he was good at, picking locks not so), he quickly pocketed the contents and made his way back downstairs. He returned to his earthen form, to again move through the wall and out of the building to reduce the risk of detection as much as possible.

Has he made his way to his destination, the druid reflected that looting the house of a murder victim was probably not generally seen as the best way to make restitution for his contribution to her death, but was fairly confident that she would approve. And he needed to get the funds for this undertaking from somewhere.

Arriving at the Cenotaph, Twitch made his way through the earth to Shaila’s resting place, only to find that her body was no longer there. She must already have been buried, he surmised. A complication he had no anticipated, but not too critical. It took him perhaps an hour of searching to find her grave, and only a few minutes to make his way down to her coffin. However he was then hit by the realisation that he could not move through the wood housing the body, and if her were to return to his natural form here he would simply suffocate underground.

Returning to the surface, he resumed his normal form, before again using his powers, this time to summon the likeness of a real badger. Again calling in his abilities to speak to the animal, he instructed it to dig down to the coffin, where it then used its long claws to tear through the wood, and its sharp teeth to remove a finger from the woman’s corpse. Twitch retrieved the grisly trophy, leaving the badger to fill the hole back in as he left to get a decent sleep. What he would be attempting in the morning was beyond anything he had tried before, and he wished to make sure he was fresh for the task.

***

Twitch took a deep breath as he opened his eyes, relieved finally to be done; while the casting had only taken around ten minutes, it felt far longer, and he was feeling both physically and mentally exhausted. He was unsure whether that was the normal consequence of using such powerful magic, or whether it was simply that this would be beyond his normal ability level. Probably a combination of both, he thought, considering how much easier his existing talents had become with practice.

The scroll that had allowed him to channel such a large amount of natural energy lay beside him, now a shrivelled scrap of parchment, useless now that its energy was expended. Beside him sat a jar of rare scented oils, and floating within it was the grisly trophy he had brought from the Cenotaph; a finger of the late Shaila. Both the scroll and the oils he had purchased with funds from the sale of the valuables he had removed from the townhouse the previous day, the remaining coin (of which there was little) stacked neatly on the bedside table. Much of the oil was also spread over the surface of Shaila’s bed. It would make a mess of the fine sheets, but it seemed best to do this is a comfortable environment.

With nothing else to do, and wishing to see firsthand this magic in progress. The druid sat on the floor by the bed, crossed his legs and waited.

With no sign of anything occurring at first Twitch began to wonder whether he had failed in the casting, however small sparks of green light soon appeared, whizzing around above the bed. More and more lights appeared, weaving back and forward until a glowing green cocoon of energy pulsated on the bed. Twitch tried to peer inside but the effort was in vain; the light was far too bright to stare at and confounded efforts to pierce it. So he waited.

Over the space of an hour the cocoon continued to throb with energy, sometimes varying in hue, sometimes giving off strange humming noises. During this time the druid reflected that the cocoon seemed a little small, but then the same could be said of the chrysalis of a butterfly before it emerged; likely the form within was tightly curled as within the womb. Finally the glow slowly faded and Twitch leaned forward in anticipation, the figure created on the bed slowly coming into view as the enchantment surrounding it faded.

“Oh.” He mumbled to himself. “That’s not quite what I expected.”

The figure on the bed was not, as he had anticipated, tightly curled in a foetal position. He had believed that the new form would be young, but a young adult, not a child. Looking closer though (and not too long, for respect for the woman’s modesty) he realised he had been correct teh first time.

“Oh.” He said again, quickly throwing a blanket of the form as the eyes began to flutter.

The eyes opened again, and the head turned toward him with that innate awareness that someone else was in the room. The startled expression on the young woman’s face, initially reflecting fear at this visitor to her room, quickly turned to puzzlement.

“How are you feeling, Shaila?” Twitch quickly asked while she was still coming through her confusion. “I don’t know if you remember me; I am Tientrich, we met briefly when my companions and I brought a journal to you for translation.”

“I remember,” the woman replied, seemingly startled at the tone of her light, playful voice. “Strangely I had a dream about you; I had died, murdered, but then you were speaking to me.”

“That was no dream.” Twitch stated, before continuing with his usual level of empathy “You were murdered. I spoke to you while you were dead. I needed your help.”

“The journal. Ironthorn’s party. I remember.” Shaila said. She seemed shaken by, and somewhat disbelieving of, Twitch’s statement, but seemed to be clinging to factual statements perhaps to ground herself subconsciously while she was processing what he had said.

Twitch smiled enthusiastically. “Excellent. The fact that you remember that bodes well. Do you remember everything from before your death?”

“Well,” the woman said slightly acerbically with a raised eyebrow “If I don’t then I’m hardly in a position to know that, am I?”

“Well, no, I guess not.” The druid said sheepishly “But I’m impressed by your reasoning, it hopefully means your faculties are intact.”

“My faculties! I’m not sure exactly what is happening here young man, but I assure you my faculties are just fine. And now that you mention it, I do remember your lack of tact. Although if I can be as tactless myself, you look a bit more weathered than last time I saw you.”

“Well, I’ve been through a bit since I last saw you, but it’s probably the improved acuity of your vision rather than any change in me.” Twitch mused, almost to himself. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re feeling well. It’s just I’ve never brought someone back before, and I wasn’t entirely sure what effects death might have, other than the obvious.”

“Well?” Shaila said, again sounding puzzled “I do feel well. Much better than I have done for years. One would think one would feel rather like the proverbial death warmed over after being resurrected as you claim. In fact, I didn’t think you nature types were much for resurrection; more the domain of the priests if my knowledge serves me well. So, in fact, I am starting to believe you are playing some cruel joke.”

“Resurrected? Don’t be ridiculous.” Twitch replies “Why would you want to go back to your old body? It was rather the worse for wear already, and of course it is now very, er, stabby. And in the early stages of decomposition. No, what I did was channel energy to create you a new one.”

“Well that’s just not possib...” Shaila’s voice trails off as she looks down and sees the lump where her toes push the blankets up. Halfway down the bed.

“You gave me a child’s body? What has happened to the soul of the poor child who owned it?” Shaila said angrily.

“I said I created a new body, not gave you somebody else’s. And it’s not a child’s body, I assure you, though I made the same mistake myself at first.” Twitch explained as Shaila began climbing out of bed. “You’re a healthy young adult, it’s just that you’re a...”

“Halfling.” Shaila finished as she stood on the floor, stumbling a little as she misjudged the height of the bed, but recovering her balance much more quickly than she would have done recently, perhaps even ever before. The blanket had fallen away in the process, leaving no doubt that the body was that of an adult woman; from the small but firm breasts on her chest, down to the soft fur nestled between her...toes.

“Impressive.” She said, sounding somewhat dazed.

“I have a friend who would certainly think so.” Twitch muttered.

“When one reaches my age one tends to lose all need for modesty. Perhaps I’d best rediscover it.” Shaila said. She moved to a mirror in the corner and moved through a few poses to better admire her new form. “Then again, maybe not!” She said, throwing a devilish grin back over her shoulder.

Walking to her wardrobe, Shaila removed a simple linen shirt and put it on, buttoning it and placing a belt around her waist to from a crude dress.

“I suppose I will have to go shopping later.” She said, not unenthusiastically. “But in the meantime I will need you to explain some things to me. Like why I had no idea despite my extensive knowledge that you druids could do anything like this.”

Twitch considered a moment before replying.

“Well, I suppose one of the most commonly held beliefs, and indeed cause for mistrust of my brethren, is that we are extremely secretive. In this case that is certainly true. But think of it this way. There are few druids in this world. Fewer still who have reached the ability to perform a reincarnation. And of those fewer again who tend to mix among ‘civilised’ folk. And then this extremely rare druid would have to come across somebody they felt was deserving of receiving this gift. And keep in mind that we believe in the natural progression of life and death, so this would never be done simply to stop someone from dying of natural causes.

“And once this very rare reincarnation had been performed, we would expect that person to keep this knowledge to themselves. And again, we would not reincarnate someone if we felt they were unwilling to respect this. And finally, for an individual to prove they were reincarnated would be very difficult; after all, their original dead body remains.”

“I suppose then I should be very thankful. And I am.” Shaila says. “But why then did I deserve this? And why am I now a Halfling?”

“As to the first,” Twitch replied “Your death only occurred as a result of you aiding us, it should not yet have been your time.”

Twitch filled the woman in about the activities of the Brotherhood and her own murder, as well as the events that had occurred immediately after: their discovery of her body, and the subsequent arrest of four of them at the scene while the fifth bravely fled on suspicion of just such an occurrence; the escape from prison and moral dilemma some (but clearly not all) of them faced over the proposed murder of the guard; their speaking to her spirit to gain the information in the journal, and the subsequent attendance at Ironthorn’s party.

“Also you demonstrated that your knowledge would be a great loss which, while not usually a strong consideration, helped to sway me in this instance. There are deep, unnatural mysteries at work here, and I believe your knowledge could aid in preventing a great catastrophe that would impact heavily on the natural world, though I have no real clue yet as to its nature.

“As for the Halfling.” The druid continued a little sheepishly “When I learned about this conjuration during my studies we were instructed that the spell could essentially create any humanoid form. I had understood this to mean that it would be effective on any race. Apparently, the true meaning was that the product, for lack of a better word, could be of any humanoid race.”

“So considering that, I should be very pleased to be a Halfling.” Shaila said with a smile.

“It will probably be easier to adapt to than life as a troglodyte.” Twitch replied seriously.

“So, two more questions.

“Firstly, how long will this new body live? Will it expire at whatever would have been my ‘natural’ time?”

“No. As I said, it is a new, young adult body. Being a Halfling you likely have at least another century ahead of you.”

“Wow.” Shaila replied, seemingly overwhelmed. “Now I can certainly understand the secrecy. We know of many people who try all sorts of things to prolong their lives. If they knew you could just give them another one it would certainly threaten your current way of life. Not to mention that most priestly organisations would be out to destroy you for what they would certainly perceive as sacrilegious. I mean, to take up a body other than that which the gods gave one!”

Twitch sneers. “Yes, for people who claim to be focused on your soul most religions seem to spend a lot of time and effort dictating what you can and can’t do with you body.”

 “Well, as to my other question then. How much of that century am I likely to enjoy before being murdered again?”

Twitch frowned. “On that I am unsure. The knowledge you were killed for, relating to Ironthorn’s party, is obviously now no longer relevant. Would the Brotherhood kill you again simply for a grudge? Possibly. However, in your favour is the fact that as far as they know you are dead, your body is rotting in a grave to prove it.”

Twitch noticed her eyes stray to the jar beside the bed.

“Except of course for that, which I needed for the conjuration.”

“I find that intellectually I can grasp all that you’ve said, but seeing that finger does make me feel a little squeamish.”

“I’ll burn it now, I wouldn’t imagine you want to keep it.”

Before Shaila could react, Twitch muttered a few words, creating a flame in the palm of his hand. He tossed the jar into the fireplace where it smashed, and followed quickly by throwing the fire from his hand after it. The oils seeping from the jar ignited, and the offending digit was soon shrivelling in the happily crackling flames.

Shaila paled and sat quickly on the bed. Twitch didn’t notice as he continued the previous line of conversation.

“You may wish to leave town though just in case. Or change your name; you’re a Halfling now, not Shaila the scholar. Maybe do both. It’s up to you.”

“I suppose I will have to try to find a way to keep my home and wealth. Perhaps a new will, I only had distant relatives anyway. Perhaps I could be my own protégé! And that will give me an excuse to continue my studies.”

Twitch frowned. “I hadn’t thought about that side of things, but I’m sure you’ll come up with something. But surely you will consider doing more than continuing your studies of lore and linguistics; you have an entire new life ahead of you!”

“Well, perhaps I’ll come up with something. Remember that until very recently I had no reason to consider a change in career. And besides, I do love collecting knowledge.”

“As you will.” Twitch shrugged. “I need to leave now.”

He walked over to the window and threw it open. The weather was turning, a late autumn thunderstorm building. He smiled.

“Where can I find you? If I’ve taken a new identity you won’t be able to find me if you need my knowledge again.” The Halfling asked.

“Near Sandpoint. I have a property just across the Soggy River. Send word to me there once you have established yourself. And try to find at least something other than study; even as a scholar I’m sure a Halfling would retain some of their frivolity.”

He stepped up onto the windowsill, then his form blurred once more, becoming that of an eagle. However on closer inspection the edges of the form were poorly defined, the dark grey feathers appearing wispy and cloudlike, and constantly subtly shifting. The eyes too were different, resembling tiny sparks of lightning rather than the usual piercing amber gaze. And it was true that in this elemental form his sight was less sharp than that of the eagle, but its flight would be far easier to control in the inclement weather.

 “Well, I guess I always did want to learn a musical instrument before the arthritis set in.” He heard Shaila say. Then, letting off a cry that was more the shriek of the wind than the screech of a bird, Twitch launched himself into the air and sped northeast, keen to return to his home as quickly as possible; as always, he still had much work to do.

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