The Shapeshifters
THE
SHAPESHIFTERS

    1
    I HAD no fear about
killing her. I’d planned her demise methodically over a number of
months and was confident I could pull it off. She was well guarded
of course. Her home being the Everard Manor, a colossal structure
built on land in the centre of Garkhorst Lake. No easy place to
reach. And no easy place to infiltrate. Though I managed it quite
well in the end. I swam the lake using the paste of a grounded
horned katydid, a secret method I’d picked up from my mother to
help one breathe beneath water. When I reached the island I leapt
lithely here and there to avoid being chomped in two by giant
crabs, and then scaled the tower. Again, to aid me, I used
concoctions of my mother’s devising; this time it were a draft
brewed from the rainbow fly to grant me spider-limbs and tiny
wings.
    She were at her looking
glass when I climbed silently through her open window. And she were
still there brushing her hair when I stood up behind
her.
    She shrieked when she saw
me. I grabbed her around the neck and clapped my hand over her
mouth. I dragged her back onto her bed and pushed my pig blade into
her throat.
    We sat there, she on my
lap, as she gargled to death on her own blood. A wonderfully brutal
sight it was... watching her reflection in her looking glass,
watching her suffer. She watched it too. I made sure of that. I
could see her eyeballs watching her neck bleed out. But it was not
a quick death. I had slaughtered many a pig in my time. A skill I
had acquired from my dear father. Thus I knew how to get it right,
either to make it quick or to let it draw out.
    In the case of the
Baroness I let it draw out quite a wee while.
    I chatted to her as she
spluttered and gargled. Not to comfort her. I wanted to introduce
myself. ‘I doubt you’d remember who I am,’ I told her. ‘My name is
Arrabel Grean. Daughter of Lanson and Florence, sister of Marietta
and Selena.’ I felt a need to explain why I had done it. Why I had
snuck in, why I had crept up behind her, why I had held her before
her vanity glass and punctured her neck. Under other circumstances
I am certain she would have understood, perhaps even appreciated my
cause if she had not had all that hot gummy blood gushing down her
nightdress, sticking it to her breasts.
    I sat there going over my
reasons. Not with any great sympathy. She had ordered the slaughter
of my family for “unpaid taxes”. I told her that in return, if that
is the way she wanted to play, then I was taxing her with her
life.
    After I made certain she
was dead I finished her off by hacking my knife through her neck,
her bones grating against the steel of my father’s swine blade,
until her severed head lay nose down against the wooden floor and
her neck was squirting blood. Some would think this a tad
excessive. But I had to be certain. There are beings out there in
the bleak corners of the world that have unnatural ways of bringing
the dead back to life. The Crones of Gremlock for example. Though
the Crones would be unlikely to do business with the Barony for
both parties had been at each other’s throats for many a year by
then. But I remained wary. For fear that some other race or soul
may have learned the reanimation secrets of the Crones and thus
answer any potential call by the Barony to have the Baroness kissed
back to life.
    Taking her head stuffed
unceremoniously in my satchel, I slipped out of her bed chamber by
the arched window. And dropped silently into Garkhorst Lake three
hundred feet below. I swam for shore and sat gathering my breath on
the sand, watching with fascination as the elephant crabs devoured
her ugly skull.
    I was on the run for five
days when the Bonekeepers found me.

    2
    I managed to cover
several hundred miles in that time. Travelling east across the
desolate lands of Skärradness. The region of Hampton was a far cry
from the lonely parts I now found myself. Nonetheless, the Barony’s
reach stretches far and wide, and I knew I would not be

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