A Twist in the Tail

The boy entered the chamber, padding on bare feet. Even his brown, homespun tunic made no noise as he made his way toward the temple shrine.

Mi-lan sighed from her place in the shadows, her nap interrupted by a presence in the room. It was her duty to guard the shadow stone, so she kept watch on visiting worshippers. This boy was no exception, and her eyes followed him from the darkness.

Mi-lan watched the boy closely, her eyes focusing in sudden attention. He had reached the shrine, and instead of kneeling as most patrons, his head swiveled from side to side and a skinny arm reached out to grab the stone. Mi-lan slipped quietly out of the shadows.

“Boy! I would not touch the stone; it contains powers that a thief such as you could not understand.” Two almond shaped brown eyes met Mi-Lan’s feline blue ones.

“Child”, said Mi-lan softly, “the stone will only bring death to those who do not know how to use it.”

“But lady, I do know how to use it.” Mi-lan’s eyes narrowed.

“Do not touch the stone. If you do, I will be forced to stop you.”

The shaggy brown head was thrown back and laughter echoed off the walls. With the sound still pounding in Mi-lan’s ears, the boy’s face and body began to change. Like wax held over a candle flame, his body began to melt and form again into a fully grown man.

Shapechanger! Mi-lan growled deep in her throat. Damn! Her eyes rested coldly on the creature before her. He returned her stare with a wry smile. “I was under the impression that the priests here believe in peace. They have no guards.”

“Even priests must protect what is theirs.”

“No matter, you are merely an inconvenience. I want the stone and you stand in my way, a problem I will soon rectify.”

He lunged at Mi-lan with razor sharp blades. All thoughts fled as she countered with her own swords. Blades clashed and scraped, and clashed and scraped again as the sound echoed tenfold. Mi-lan gained ground as she thrust and parried, forcing him backwards. As if sensing this, the shapechanger began to dodge around pillars and hide in shadows. A blade flew out of the darkness towards her; Mi-lan ducked and rolled out of the way.

“Perhaps this will be of challenge to you, temple guard.”

Mi-lan turned to find a large black wolf snarling and barking laughter. He leapt, his claws gouging deep runnels in the stone floor. Mi-lan twisted, turning her shoulder so the wolf overleapt. The blow reeled Mi-lan backwards, her blades clattering to the floor. Mi-lan swore under her breath, her hand grasping the dagger on her belt.

“Such a pity that this little game of ours must end so soon, temple guard. You have provided me with entertainment. I never liked to have things handed to me and without you, this foray of mine would have been all too easy. Alas, it is time for a more…direct approach.” The voice altered to a painful hiss. Where the wolf had been now lay a small green snake. The serpent’s black eyes glittered and its mouth opened to show fangs dripping poison. Yes, Mi-lan thought, it is time for a more direct approach.

A priest walked into the temple chamber and stopped in front of a pillow on the floor before the shrine. “Mi-lan, little mosquito, did you have a quiet evening while we were away?” The priest’s hand stroked her soft fur. Blue eyes closed to slits in a dark mask. A rough, pink tongue caressed the priests skin.

“Are you hungry, little one, or where you content to feast on the smaller creatures that invaded the temple tonight?” Mi-lan purred a long and contented purr, her dark tail thumping softly on the temple floor.
This was published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fanzine when I was in high school.

image by Victor Bezrukov

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