“Thramuny?” growled the fanged monster.
“Druid Azurumene it is good to see you,” said Thramuny.
The form of the fanged monster dissolved, in its place stood a tall lanky older male, wearing flamboyant robes. In stark contrast to his monstrous form, he had smooth dark skin with a hint of sheen. The only hair remaining on his body, his long eyelashes and perfectly arched eyebrows.
“Oh my goodness, pukuta where have you been, I haven’t seen you in forever. Look at you, just dropping in. They were saying you were dead, but I knew better. You still look gorgeous, a little skinny. I just made a roast, here take a seat, we have a lot to catch up on.”
“Yes, we do, but I cannot stay long. I have some friends waiting for me.”
“I understand, you saw the state of our clan outside. And since you used the back entrance, I can also assume you know the Oskien and Pyoxien are fighting… again.”
“Yes, actually I made it just in time to partake in the latest raid.”
“That's unfortunate for them. You didn’t slap them around too much did you?”
“They should only have a few minor burns.”
“Perfect, I have some new ointments I need to test. So what would you like to know? They keep me confined to my house so I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll tell you what I can.”
“Why is your tribe experimenting with soul merging?”
“To answer that, first let me ask, do you know what makes someone a druid?”
“Isn’t it your advanced transformation abilities?”
“Not exactly, you see druids are actually Vacuoles. Vacuoles that filled the space with some other creature's soul, and then overtime assimilated that soul completely into themselves.”
“Wait what is a Vacuole,” asked Vlux through the ACORN.
“Who else is here?”
“It's my friend's voice coming through on this thing. Her name is Vlux.”
“I love this little hair piece, so she can hear me through this.”
“Yes, I can hear you, nice to meet you Azurumene.”
“Pleasure, now you asked about Vacuoles. A Vacuole is someone born with extra space in their soul containers. If that space is not filled, something malicious might move in. The way to treat this is to transplant a piece of another’s soul into the space. Then hope the Vacuole succeeds in assimilating that piece into their own soul. It works best if the Vacuole has a close bond with whoever they are receiving the soul transplant from. If the souls aren’t compatible, the transplanted soul will end up dismantling the body, destroying all. But in rare cases if a Vacuole is successful in assimilating a soul outside their species, they gain the ability to transform into said species no channeling required.”
“So there are dragon druids?” Said Vlux, with palpable excitement.
“No, dragons have dominating souls. We try to make druids, but it always fails,” said Thramuny.
“So druids are people called Vacuole, with the extra capacity to soulmerge, who successfully do with something of a different species,” said Vlux. “So what about the rest of us who don’t have that capacity. You can’t stuff more soul into a full soul container. I’d be like stuffing a full glass jar, you’d break it and all the contents would spill out. How does your tribe think it can pull this off?”
“Because they claim to have found a way to increase one’s soul capacity.”
“How can they do that?” asked Thramuny.
“I don’t know. I have been adamantly against the whole thing. Those men posted outside aren’t there for my protection.”
“Sounds like a scam to me,” said Vlux.
“I agree, but our chief is convinced it can be done.”
“Seems I’ll need to have a sit down with your chief next,” said Thramuny. Suddenly they heard a loud commotion outside.
“That idiot,” said Vlux.
“What happened, are you alright?” asked Thramuny.
“Its Drumya he followed us here and now he’s got himself caught.”
“That fool, I thought if we took Pukoo he wouldn’t try something like this.”
“Drumya, the clumsy pukoo boy, who always follows you around. He was looking fine last I saw him. He got all tall and muscular and ooh; you need to get him as soon as possible. They’ll probably try the experiment on him, the results have not been good,” said Azurumene.
“Looks like they’re dragging him into one of the larger temples on the far side of the city,” said Vlux.
“It’s the same temple the chief should be in,” said Azurumene. “You can rescue Drumya and have your little sit down, but you aren’t getting in there easily. Even Eio’s invisibility wouldn’t help you infiltrate that place, but I have an Idea.” He walks over to a drawer and takes out a pink collar. “I had plans to use this if I ever needed to escape, but I think it will look much better on you. The chiefs’ own Saberfang tiger comes to visit me from time to time. If I put this collar on you and say a few words, it will change you into an exact copy of her for about an hour. Hopefully, you don’t bump into her, and no one notices. The only issue would be your scent.”
“I can help with that,” said Vlux. “After you turn into a tiger Kiliyi can hide in your fur. I can then cast a smell perception dampening field around you. It will contain your scent within a small radius, but don’t get too close to anyone or they might smell you.”
“What about the guards outside?” asked Thramuny.
“I love being an attraction. I’ll get them out of the way pukuta.”
“Thank you Azurumene, I’m ready.” He put the collar on Thramuny and said an incantation turning her into a large white tiger. Kiliyi buried herself in the scruff, just below her neck. Vlux began her chant. Once they had everything ready, Azurumene lit the stove, quickly mixing a few chemicals he caused a colorful explosion. Then he grabbed a handful of dirt and kicked open the door, a cloud of glitter billowing around him. Thramuny easily slipped passed and into the streets.
People crazed and malnourished covered in fang and claw marks, young and old wandered the muddy streets. Families huddled together, sleeping with their gaunt tigers. As much as she wanted to reach out, Thramuny kept her distance from everyone. The citizens seemed to know to keep away from the chiefs’ tiger.
“When did she get a pink collar,” she heard someone whisper. Thramuny suspected the color choice was Azurumene’s own personal touch. She made it to the entrance of the temple where two guards and their Saberfangs were stationed outside. She couldn’t see any way past them without the tigers getting a noseful of her scent. Then a dark shadow moved in overhead. Looking up, she saw the black birds descending on them. The guards left their posts and scattered around the city to defend it. The tigers at an obvious disadvantage against flying enemies. Thramuny used the opportunity to slip in through the thick black curtain unnoticed. She entered the large space. A grand throne embroidered with every conceivable predatory animal made up the centerpiece. Various taxidermied animals lines the edge of the room. A thoroughly grotesque sight. A large man creeped around sniffing like a dog on all fours. He had midnight black skin, and barely covered himself in a tattered patchwork fur cloak made of various animal skins, with a tiger head for a hood. He wore segmented metal braces imbued with long retractable claws. When she appeared in the doorway, he bounded over to her, a long line of drool hanging from his mouth. She stepped to the side and bit him on the cheek.
“Pukuta what’s wrong with you,” he snuffed.
Thramuny, crouched and snarled, ready to pounce on the disgusting man. He made an awful sound between a snarl and a snort, and jumped with his tongue hanging out. Thramuny jumped over him, and putting extra force into her back legs, slammed his face onto the dirty floor. He shot up and turned, a small bit of blood trickling down his forehead. He let out an ethereal howl that animated many of the taxidermied animals. Kiliyi cut Thramuny’s collar, changing her back. She took her staff in hand and twirled it skillfully.
“You’re not a tiger, you’re a dragon,” he said. “Kill her!”
The taxidermied animals attacked, Thramuny whacked the beasts near her and dodge rolled to a better position. Kiliyi jumped on a beast with the front half of a lion and the rear half of a donkey. She wrapped her silk around its neck and subjugated it, this magic similar to how she animates her exoskeletons. A jackal tried to pounce from above. She tackled it and tore its head off, finding it stuffed with black curly hair.
A griffon came down on Thramuny. She stuck her staff up to defend. It grabbed the staff and carried her up. She swung around the staff onto the griffons back. Boa slithered out of its grasp and bound the hind legs. Thramuny grabbed the griffon's head and steered it down. She jumped off and used a palm blast to impale it on the tusks of a mammoth. The griffon clawed at the mammoths face. The mammoth thrashed about the room, squashing the other animals, black stuffing spreading everywhere.
Kiliyi now faced off against a hyena, panther, and bear. The hyena lunged. Kiliyi swatted it. The panther pounced and bit close to the jugular. Kiliyi rammed it into the ugly throne, and dug her claws where its guts should be. The bear, got a firm bite on the lion’s neck, and thrashed violently, tearing it off. Kiliyi wrapped her silk around the bear and hijacked it.
Thramuny landed near the man. He stood up and extended his claws. She fired a palm blast. He countered with his own. The mammoth ran between them. Thramuny jumped on its back. She jumped off with Boa overhead for a strike. The deceptively fast man sidestepped her staff. Thramuny narrowly blocked his slash with Boa. She used a palm blast to jump back, but it placed her in front of an inanimate jaguar. The man howled and the second wave of taxidermied beasts animated. The jaguar prepared to pounce on Thramuny but Kiliyi pounced first, tearing the stuffing out of the jaguar. The man charged Thramuny. Next to him ran a monster with the jaws of a crocodile and the body of a hippo.
“Thramuny jump high,” came Vlux’s voice over the ACORN. She blasted herself up, as Vlux and Pukoo dug through the ceiling. With a burst of blame, they flew into the scene just in time to catch Thramuny. The taxidermied fliers, gave chase but Pukoo out maneuvered them, somersaulting and setting fur and tail feathers ablaze.
Below they overwhelmed Kiliyi’s bear. She abandoned it just before the man slashed it in two. The carapace met her on the wall, and she attached a silver thread to it. With perfect synchronization Kiliyi and the carapace jumped back into the fray. Like bola they wrapped silver thread around arms, heads, torsos, slicing the black stuffing out of the beasts.
Thramuny and Vlux landed near the man. Vlux used the straps on Home to hold it like a shield, wielding Splinter in her other hand. The man charged, but Thramuny swung her hair around his legs, tripping him flat on his face. A giant scorpion approached from behind. Vlux turned in time to block its stinger with Home’s hard cover. The stinger lodged in the book, Vlux cut off the tip of the tail. The scorpion reared back but Vlux kept on. Jumping on its back, she slashed the head open and stuck Splinter where the brain would be. It tried to grab her with its claw but she slashed those off too. The scorpion fell limp as more taxidermied animals closed in. Pukoo made a flaming pass and landed next to Vlux.
“We got this Thramuny. Make that sicko, sit.”
Thramuny watched the man on the ground sprout hair all over his body. He grew actual claws that broke off his gauntlets. His head became a Saberfang tiger, but the rest of him turned into a nightmarish amalgamation of predatory beasts. His teeth, far too long, claws like curved needles, and fur a grotesque calico.
“I am the alpha predator,” he snarled, as he lunged for her, with rabid speed. Thramuny dodged his clumsy assault and slapped his wrist with Boa. It wrapped around his arm, holding it rigid, threatening to break it. He grabbed at Boa with his other arm and roared in pain. Thramuny spun her electric hair and shocked him, burning off most of his fur. She withdrew her braids and cautiously approached. He lunged, she punched his snout, breaking his long fangs. Turning back into a man, he fell back clutching his broken nose and teeth. Boa moved to ensnare both his arms like cuffs.
“But I am the alpha predator, not even a dragon can beat me,” he screamed.
“I am not a dragon. I am the breeze.”
He jumped to his feet and attempted another charge, but a white tiger pounced on him from behind and bit deep into his neck. He fell to the ground dying in a pool of blood.
“Well we can’t question him now, but even if we could, I don’t think we would have gotten any straight answers, he was far too gone, but maybe she knows something.” Vlux approached the tiger, she snarled at Vlux but then quickly composed herself before the friendly pixie, and allowed Vlux to commune. After a brief exchange, Vlux said. “She doesn’t know too much, but she heard a rumor that the Triphu may be planning to attack at dawn. I also know where Drumya is, we need to get him and get out of here to warn your village.”
“Right, where is Drumya?”
They ran behind another curtain and down a flight of stairs. At the base of the stairs they found Drumya unconscious and chained to the wall, with a strange rune drawn below him. Vlux approached and placed a hand on him.
“Just as I thought. There is no way to increase one's soul capacity. They’ve torn out a piece of his soul. That crazy chief, he tore his own soul apart and filled it with bits of other animals, Kiliyi.” She had already rigged the room and hopped onto Vlux’s head. They cut down Drumya, set the room ablaze, and ran for the exit where Pukoo eagerly awaited. They placed Drumya on his back, jumped on themselves and flew off through the hole in the ceiling. The birds still wreaking havoc on the city, made it was easy for them to fly off into the night, back to Thramuny’s home to warn her people.