Artificer's Gambit, by Jon Sleeper

Story name: Artificer's Gambit
Author: Jon Sleeper
Date: Late summer, 704 CR
Location: Metamor Keep

Overview

Jon's old mentor and fellow artificer Smithson is visiting Metamor Keep; Jon, Brian Coe and Bryan set out to meet him, unaware of the danger that follows them.

Summary

Brian and Jonathan search through Jon's collected artifacts for one particular artifact: a stone tablet with two well-known ancient languages on it, and the fragment of a third. He has only translated a few words of this third language; he suspects that a letter recently arrived from his old friend and mentor Smithson will help him with the rest. He has not heard from Smithson for 6 years; 4 years ago he sent him a letter describing his change, along with pieces of his antlers and a sketch of his current form.

Taking the stone and the letter, he goes to the Mess Hall to eat while reading. He and Brian sit beside their friend Lance, and read the letter. Smithson apparently spent the past years staring at Jon's letter and articles, struggling to write, but he is finally ready to return to Metamor Keep with the other half of the stone tablet. He is travelling two weeks behind the letter itself, but Jon knows that recent events have delayed this letter by a week and a half and a few days more, and in fact Smithson will be arriving tomorrow.

The next day, he equips himself with weapons and armor, in case any hunters should show up, and sets out with Brian. Bryan is waiting for them, to their surprise, but they are happy to bring him along. The three of them shift into nonmorphic forms and set out for the Tened ruins where Smithson mentioned he'd be waiting.

As they travel, Jon and Bryan pick up the scents of three other humans who followed Smithson. Brian leaves to take care of one of them, while Jon and Bryan focus on the other two. As they reach the clearing where Smithson is sitting, the wind shifts and Jon smells one of the strangers. As he prepares to nock an arrow, another assassin sticks a knife to his back. Jon tricks him into opening the bag where Bryan is waiting. With his deadly venom, Bryan kills the man, and Jon fires an arrow at the man he'd been watching, striking him through the heart. Brian returns with the third human, hands bound and tied. Jon leaves them to interrogate him while he meets Smithson.

Smithson is astonished to see Jon in person, and warmly greets him. He presents his half of the Keystone to Jon, to his great joy. Smithson is eager to get to work translating it at the Keep, but he is unprepared for the possibility of becoming cursed. As he thinks it over, Jon learns that the three men were hired by Side Show Moe, a man looking to capture animal morphs for a circus.

Smithson finally decides to join the Keep. Over the next two weeks, in between translation work, Smithson interrogates the other Keepers to learn what possible changes he'll have to deal with. One morning, Smithson knocks on Jon's door to eagerly show off his new features growing in: a pair of goat horns, pointy ears, and the beginnings of a muzzle.

Characters

Main Characters:

  • Jon: A quartermaster of the Keep. He collects several artifacts from ancient times, and is working on translating their inscriptions.
  • Smithson: A former tutor of Jon's, whom he has not heard from in six years. Smithson is eager to continue his investigations at the Keep, even if it means accepting the Curse. He becomes a goat morph at the end.

Supporting:

  • Brian: The Keep healer, and one of Jon's closest friends. He has accompanied him on many "quests" to the point of being a "sidekick".
  • Bryan: The Keep mad scientist, and a cobra morph, though he prefers the term "naga". He is nearly 20 feet long in his morph form, with no legs and tiny arms. Bryan has only been on a quest with Jon and Brian once before, as a human. He has only recently changed.

Cameo:

  • Lance: A friend of Jon's, a moose morph.
  • Jennifer Powell: A gender morph.
  • Duke Thomas: Ruler of Metamor Keep.
  • Posti: The Prime Minister of Metamor Keep, also known as Bob. He gets a report on Side Show Moe and laughs at it.

Mentioned:

  • Fox Cutter: The Keep librarian. He is still finding some books that Jon has requested.
  • Side Show Moe: A circus owner who is seeking animal morphs to capture for his circus. He is not good at hiring henchmen. His two sidekicks constantly foil his plans — a bald guy who laughs "nyk nyk nyk", and another man with odd hair.

Points of Interest

  • Jon's history at the Keep is as follows:
    • Eighteen years ago, at the age of 15, Jon bought his half of the Keystone at a town fair, and traveled to the Keep upon learning its origins. He has lived here ever since.
    • Ten years ago, Smithson and Jon discovered the ruins where the Keystone originated.
    • Four years ago, Jon mailed his letter to Smithson.
  • The Tened people flourished 5000 years ago, and are said to be bird-like. Their artwork shows reverence to the Keep; the Keep would have been prominently visible from the ruins of their city, if not for the trees.
  • The Caladonians were a civilization that lived 3000 years ago.
  • There is supposedly nothing in the Keep library older than 500 years, although there are possibly older books in the lower storerooms.
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