The universe is a vast place, and there are primal forces at work within it. Some of these forces are unique in that some of them have sort of coalesced into a being that is responsible for overseeing that particular force. Of these forces, the three that work most often with the Balancers are Destiny, Death, and Time.
There are numerous other Avatars. Fate, who often works with Destiny, for she is his partner and his mate. Love, who changes appearance even more than Death. Prophecy, who often works with Destiny and Fate. Life, who is Death’s twin and just as fluid in appearance.
Working beneath them to keep the universe in check are chosen beings from various worlds known as Balancers. These beings have unique powers with which they travel from world to world, attempting to right the balance on various individual worlds.
The Avatars’ view of time is circular rather than linear. To them, past, present, and future are all one in the same. They exist in a state where they simultaneously have no Balancers to work with, all ten Balancers, and any possible number in between. Because the Balancers must work under these beings that govern the known universe, and because of the way the Avatars view time, there are certain rules the Balancers must follow. The most important of which are recounted below.
First, Balancers must themselves remain balanced. Above all else, Balancers must strive to keep their hearts in balance. There is darkness in each one; there must be, else they could not properly do their job. However, they cannot, not even for an instant let that darkness overwhelm the light. Balancers are so powerful that they could cause unimaginable harm to the universe were they to fall into darkness. The Balancer that does fall is instantly destroyed, erased from existence.
Second, interference in the natural development of a world and its societies is to be avoided if at all possible. The only world a Balancer has the right to interfere in developmentally is his or her own world, the world from which he or she came. The Balancers are, first and foremost, guides that are there to lead the population into fixing its own world. This is the extent of the Balancer responsibilities. Therefore, overt interference is not tolerated and may carry grave consequences.
Series by Nicole Hubbard
Volume I: Shapeshifters
Dalan stared around, an odd, concentrated look on his face. “Why does this place look so familiar?” He asked no one in particular.
“You fell into my memory of it as it was nearly two thousand years ago. It hasn’t changed all that much,” Corvo answered very quietly. His hands shifted forward, and his fingers tangled into Dae’s mane.
Galin, Corvo’s beloved, was riding just barely behind Corvo on Rae. She wasn’t a petite woman, though she wasn’t overly large either. Her height was rather medium, though her warm, honey-brown eyes had a kind, thoughtful look to them. And the way her short cropped brown hair framed her face gave her a somewhat wild look the way it stuck up in some places. Her hands were rough, as if she were used to hard work. The way Corvo looked at her whenever he glanced her way, however, betrayed how smitten he still was.
She hadn’t said much during their journey. For now, she was allowing Dalan to take everything in. Dalan still very much had the look of a boy. His amber eyes flashed gold in the sunlight as he continued to take in his surroundings, wide-eyed. His longish black hair was in an untidy ponytail at the back of his neck. Oddly, it had a bluish sheen to it no matter what lighting it was exposed to.
“Memory...” Dalan was walking again as he muttered to himself, as their pace had slowed in close proximity to this settlement.
Dae shifted uneasily, walking sideways until he bumped into Rae, his twin sister. When she snorted at him, he looked at her imploringly, then shifted his head towards Corvo. Rae’s tail swished as she contemplated their master. It was clear that his body language and the way he was sitting in the saddle had caused Dae’s restlessness.
Corvo was practically slouching in the saddle for a rider of his expertise. Still, he was sitting a good deal straighter than someone who’d never ridden a horse would have.
In his current form, his long, spikey hair had three shades that faded into each other, a base of black, sapphire blue, and silver at the tips. Though it was a good deal neater than Dalan’s, regardless. His eyes often shifted between various shades of blue depending on his emotions.
His wings weren’t folded in place at his back. Instead, they cupped the air around him rather tightly, as if he were trying to hide. Dae swished his tail and stomped his hoof, clearly uncomfortable with the whole situation. He did not try touching Corvo’s mind, as something about his thoughts made it clear Corvo wouldn’t welcome the intrusion. After several moments, Corvo touched his heels to Dae’s side and the stallion started forward once more.
“Corvo?” Dalan asked with a glance at him. He wasn’t overly fond of riding horses, so he’d followed them, sometimes with his wings out so he could move effortlessly over the air drifts just above them. Now, however, his wings were shifted away, and he was walking along beside the horses. He hadn’t had any real problems keeping up. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t like it here,” Corvo whispered. When he briefly met Dalan’s gaze, his eyes were a blazing sea green. He had a slender, elfish face that made him look even younger. Currently, he was stuck in a form that didn’t look much older than Dalan, even though there was no real comparison in their ages in reality.
“Why not?” Corvo’s turn in mood surprised Dalan. “Weren’t you the one who was always telling me about the shapeshifters on your world? I’ve never met a live one for real, you know.”
Dae sidled sideways. “I like them fine in small groups. I don’t like their settlements. Especially when I can’t shift.” Dae broke out into a trot for a few steps before settling back into a walk.
“Oh, right, I forgot about that,” Dalan said. “You’re at least going to introduce me, aren’t you?”
“Yes, to the current head elder. Then I’m leaving. I’ll be in the area though.” Corvo shuddered. “I don’t like how they treat me.”
“Okay...” Dalan said slowly.
“You’ll see,” Corvo whispered. They were nearly at the heart of the settlement, which was centered around a huge meadow that was set in the heart of the forest itself. There was no evidence that this space had ever been filled with trees. It seemed that magic or some other force had simply prevented any trees from growing in this place.
As he watched Corvo, Dalan began to feel nervous himself, more than he’d been already. His stomach was already in knots. *If Corvo is acting like this, how would they react to me?*
Corvo stayed mounted on Dae, thought the stallion came to a halt not far from the edge of the meadow. Then Corvo waited. He didn’t have to wait for too long. A group of three men and three women, all showing some signs of age—at least for shapeshifters—approached them. There was silver in the golden hair of the man who took the point. He stopped, locking gazes with Corvo, though Corvo soon looked away.
Even though Corvo had broken his gaze, the shapeshifter had seen the sea green color of his eyes. Then the man bowed, low. “You do us the honor of gracing us with your presence, exalted one.”
Corvo shifted uncomfortably, and Dae tossed his head. The stallion was well behaved enough that he didn’t rear, though Corvo’s discomfort was making him want to lash out at the shapeshifter.
“Leave it, Malthenaer,” Corvo said quietly, a subtle hint of a growl in his words. “If you don’t knock it off, I’m out of here.”
Malthenaer rose from his bow and signaled to the others who had followed him that they should rise as well. “Forgive me your—” he swiftly changed what he was going to say at Corvo’s glare. “Forgive me, Corvo.” The way Malthenaer said Corvo’s name made it seem like it was almost painful to speak it.
Corvo was inspecting Dae’s neck now. “Is it so hard to speak to me like the friends we are when there is an audience?” he asked softly.
Malthenaer didn’t answer.
Corvo sighed. “Malthenaer, this is Dalan Raymer. He’s a shapeshifter from another world. The shapeshifters on his world are all extinct. He’s...he’s like me in that his genes chose him. Give him the test, see if anyone here can teach him, though I think only Cellaeron will be able to teach him.”
“I see...” Malthenaer said slowly. “Was there any particular reason why you brought him to us, beyond the fact that we are distant kin?”
Corvo shifted very uneasily on Dae. Then at last he answered. “He’s the son of my soul.” As soon as he finished speaking, Dae reared up, spun completely around, and took off at a gallop. He was much faster than any horse bred by humans, so the meadow rapidly grew smaller and smaller as his legs seemed to eat up the miles.
All this time, Dalan could not help but avert his gaze. He did not particularly enjoy being scrutinized or even being the center of attention, really. As Corvo took off on Dae, Dalan looked helplessly after him.
Galin had been watching Corvo as well. She glanced back to Dalan, then to Malthenaer. “I am sorry to have to take off so quickly,” she said, “but will you be alright with him? I need to go after Corvo.”
“We will take good care of Corvo’s son,” Malthenaer said with a bow. “By all means, go after him.”
“Thank you.” With that, she coaxed Rae into a full-on gallop after Corvo and Dae.
Dalan’ mouth was hanging open as he watched her go, his hand halfway raised.
Malthenaer walked up to Dalan and tentatively placed a hand on his shoulder. “Are you not happy to see us?” he asked quietly. “I realize you have been abandoned by your companions, but you are a long-lost cousin to us. More, if you truly are the son of Corvo’s soul.”
“I—they—” Dalan stammered as he tried to put his mind together, let alone his words. “I’m sorry, I really—I mean, that is...I really have been waiting to meet you, but I’ve never met a real shapeshifter before, besides Corvo. I—I guess I’m just nervous.”
“Would it be easier if it was just me?” Malthenaer asked gently.
“What?” Dalan was taken aback, not really sure how to respond. “I uh—no, I mean—” He broke off, rubbing a palm across his forehead. *I’m just making a fool of myself now.*
“Are you more comfortable in groups, or one-on-one?” Malthenaer asked patiently, showing no sign that Dalan’s bumbling had offended him in any way, which it didn’t.
Dalan shrugged. “Whatever’s fine with me, I guess.”
Malthenaer turned to the other elders. “I shall call you if we have need of you.” They nodded and disbursed. “Walk with me?” he asked as he turned back to Dalan.
Dalan nodded. He went with him.
“So, what kind of animal do you become?” Malthenaer asked curiously. “My most comfortable form is that of a golden eagle. I also can turn into a stag, a wolf, and an otter.”
“I’m uh—a bat,” Dalan said.
“Just a bat? How odd. Considering the depth of Corvo’s talents, I almost expected more.”
“Well, that wasn’t my first shape,” Dalan admitted. “That took a long time to achieve. My first shape was something halfway between a bat and human.”
Malthenaer just stopped, staring at Dalan, his eyes widening in shock. “What?”
Dalan felt himself reddening. “Corvo said I was messed up,” he said. “When it first started, I had no idea why I kept growing blue fur.”
“Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far, but you certainly seem to do things backwards from how we learn. The full animal shape comes most easily to us. It is only through hard work and training that we are able to incorporate animal traits into a humanoid form.”
“I am the last of my kind on my world. I had to figure everything out on my own.”
“I’m sure you did splendidly then,” Malthenaer said as he resumed walking. “Do you do physical shifts?”
“Uh, yeah,” Dalan replied. “Corvo did mention that.”
“Those are usually the easiest to learn. I know Corvo prefers to shift by changing his form to pure consciousness. He’s insanely fast at it. I wonder, did something happen to him? He seemed more uneasy than usual. I know the natural deference we have towards the strongest shapeshifters bothers him.”
“Oh, you should ask him about that,” Dalan said a bit uneasily. “That’s not my story to tell.”
“You are loyal, that is good. But come, Corvo said to give you the test, to see how strong your shapeshifting powers are.”
“It’s simple. You focus your power at a special paper and we’ll see what happens. The closer it gets to black, the stronger your powers. If you are as strong as Corvo, the paper will burst into flames. But shapeshifters strong enough to do that come around once a millennia and a half or so. In fact, a new shapeshifter that strong appeared fairly recently, though since she is half-elven, she’s aged slower. She looks to be around your age, but she’s already almost a hundred years old.”
“Okay. I guess I can do that.”
“Come with me then,” Malthenaer said as he led the way to a stone building that stood in the meadow. A building that seemed remarkably like a church. The shapeshifter elder pushed open the doors and stepped inside. “Try not to step on the lines of the magic arrays,” he said as he walked towards the other end of the building. He turned to a cabinet that stood against one wall and retrieved a slip of paper from it. Then he turned back to Dalan.
Dalan carefully stepped further into the room.
“Well, come on then. I’m getting on in years. No need to waste my time with your dilly-dallying.”
“Here, take this and step into the center of that circle,” Malthenaer said as he handed the paper over and pointed to the appropriate circle. Though calling it a mere circle was understating things, for it too was an array. “Then focus your power on the paper.”
Once Dalan was in place, he focused on the paper. As he did so, he reached inside himself for his power. It wasn’t hard to do, as he’d summoned it many times. He still wasn’t exactly sure if he was supposed to be aiming it at the paper or something else, until he noticed that the paper was rapidly darkening in his hand.
Then something odd happened. The instant before it turned black, it burst into flame. Blue flame. The flame was the same color blue in the center that his own energy usually was. Towards the edges, the blue became a very deep midnight blue.
“Well, Corvo was right, none of us here can teach you. You’ll need to go to Cellaeron. The elven-shapeshifter who taught Corvo.” Then Malthenaer smiled. “That doesn’t mean that you’re not welcome to visit us whenever you wish.”
The knot of apprehension was still in Dalan’s stomach, harder than ever, but he nodded.
Dae had run at a flat out gallop for more than ten minutes. With each step he took away from the shapeshifter community, Corvo gradually became a little more relaxed. It took a while, but he slowed from a gallop to canter, then finally to a walk. Dae stopped beside the small river that wound though this part of the forest, walking up to the water’s edge to get a little bit of a drink. He didn’t drink too much, as that would have been bad for him after his hard run.
A few minutes later, Galin stopped Rae next to Dae and dismounted. Slowly, she approached Corvo.
Corvo was still sitting on Dae’s back, and though his body was more relaxed than it had been, his gaze was still focused at nothing. Currently, his focus was turned more inward, his shapeshifter side complaining to the others for forcing him to be the one in charge.
::And when else will you take charge?:: his elven side was saying. ::For heaven’s sakes, they’re your own people.::
::But there were so many...:: the shapeshifter replied.
::Not interacting with us there weren’t,:: the elf retorted. ::Come on, buddy, you really need to work on getting over your crippling shyness.::
“That wasn’t very nice, you know,” Galin broke into his thoughts. “Leaving Dalan on his own like that.”
Corvo turned away. “I told him I was going to leave before we ever entered the settlement,” he pointed out quietly.
She shook her head. Even so, there was understanding in her eyes. Wandering forward, she absently stroked Dae’s nose. “You okay?”
::Why wouldn’t I be?:: Dae asked as he breathed in her scent. ::Rae and I can run a lot longer than we did without any problems.:: He rubbed his head against her chest, scratching an itch. ::I must say that it felt good to get out of there. Corvo was so tense I just wanted to attack everything that was troubling him. But at the same time, I knew that that would make him sad, so I was trapped into inaction.::
“I’m glad you’re fine, Dae,” she said, kissing his nose, “but I was talking to Corvo. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.” She smiled.
Dae looked at her out of one eye. ::Well, you did come up to my head to ask your question. If Corvo’s talking to me, he usually stands where you are.::
A sigh escaped Galin. “Corvo, are you okay?”
Corvo’s head jerked up. “Huh? Oh,” he said as her words registered, “I guess. Like I told Dalan, I really don’t like shapeshifter settlements.” His gaze flicked to the ground. “I’m just glad it was only the council of elders that approached us. Younger shapeshifters like to test their mettle against those of us who can do the whole mythological transformation bit. But I’m trapped in this form...”
“Yeah, I know it’s hard.”
For several long moments, Corvo remained seated on Dae. Then he slowly dismounted. He had to grab for Dae’s mane when his knees threatened to buckle. *I guess the stress of it all took more out of me than I thought,* he thought to himself glumly. Since his knees still felt a bit watery, Corvo slung his arm over Dae’s neck. His breathing was slow and deliberate even as he closed his eyes and leaned against the stallion.
“So what now?” Galin asked at length. “We’re just going to leave him there like that?”
“I don’t want to go back,” Corvo whispered, turning his face so that it was hidden against Dae’s neck.
“Alright, I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Galin put a hand on his shoulder. “So what then? Are we just going to stay here?”
“We’ll go back eventually,” Corvo answered. “We have to. But maybe not for a few hours.” He turned towards her, his sea green eyes full of the need to be alone with her, to have her help soothe away his stress. “Hold me?” he asked softly.
“Come on then,” Galin said. She pointed to a grassy area under a nearby tree. “Let’s go sit over there.” Gently taking his hand, she started to lead him over to the spot she’d indicated.
Corvo trailed along behind her, the very air around him seeming to indicate a feelings of being...lost. This aspect of his soul was every bit as introverted and withdrawn as Galin, perhaps even more so. Unfortunately for him, his other sides weren’t allowing him to withdraw into the depths of their mind.
When they reached the tree, Corvo slowly settled to the ground beside Galin. He leaned up against her, resting his head on her shoulder. “I don’t like the others very much right now,” he murmured.
She put her arms around him in response, pulling him even closer.
He sighed and closed his eyes. “Thank you.”
They just sat there, Galin soothing Corvo. No more words were necessary as the time slipped by around them.
Dalan still did not know what to make of that test. He really hadn’t seen what the big deal was, what all the fuss was about. *Am I really that powerful?* he asked himself for probably the hundredth time ever since Malthenaer had started showing him around the shapeshifter settlement.
*The one time I felt truly powerful was because of the void.* He shuddered at the memory. He’d been forced to call on the void’s power since then, but it still made him uneasy, especially after Destiny’s warning.
Malthenaer peered sideways at Dalan. “I won’t mention the results of your test to anyone. You seemed...uneasy with the status Corvo has.”
“Right,” Dalan said, jerking himself out of the last of his dismal thoughts. “Thanks.”
Malthenaer gave a shrug. “And in case you were wondering, that test only examines the power to shapeshift. Nothing else. If an elven mage were to take the test, they’d most likely fail miserably.” He snorted. “So if you did have other powers, that test isn’t any indication of how strong they might be.”
Dalan gave him a brief nod to show that he’d heard, but that didn’t really reassure him.
“Was there anything in particular you’d like to see?” Malthenaer asked.
“Not really,” Dalan said. “Like I said, I’ve never been around real live shapeshifters before, except for Corvo. I’ve always been used to living alone amongst humans.” He shrugged.
“I see,” Malthenaer said as a naked boy who looked to be about five years old ran across their path. The child was laughing as he ran across the short grass. Malthaner’s eyes flicked towards the child, but otherwise he made no comment. A moment later though, a fox passed by, chasing after the boy. The fox was young as well, obviously a kit.
Dalan’s eyes followed the pair, an odd expression on his face. The longer he watched them, the more his eyes seemed to grow moist until he at last blinked, averting his gaze.
“Do our children disturb you?” Malthaner asked quietly. “At that age, they have not yet learned to keep their clothes on. We do not bother enforcing that rule until they are a little older.”
“What? Oh, no.” Even as he replied, Dalan seemed oddly distant. “They don’t bother me. It’s just—” He broke off, unsure he wanted to go on even if he could find the right words.
Malthenaer waited patiently for him to speak again, if he would. “Does it have something to do with the fact that you were all alone?” he asked quietly several long moments later.
“I guess you could say that,” Dalan said, swallowing. “I—uh, I had these genetic memories as my abilities grew, and, uh...”
Malthenaer’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Among our kind, memories such as those are very rare. Only the most powerful of shapeshifters have them.”
Dalan had trailed off as he noticed the reaction. “I—really? I never had anyone else besides Corvo to compare myself to before.”
“Well that is us, and you are you. Who am I to say how the shapeshifters you are descended from worked? Different world, different rules.” Malthenaer shrugged. “We have long known that there are other worlds. But I must admit, it came as a bit of a surprise to everyone when Corvo became a Balancer.” He glanced at Dalan. “Did he ever tell you in detail about the fulfilment of his destiny?”
“Huh? well,” Dalan had to think about that, “he told me a little, but I’m not sure if it was really in detail.”
“He kept ties with this community, even though the individuals he met when he first came have all since passed away. We were aware of his odd immortality. But at the end of that fight...no one actually expected him to come back to life. He usually bounced back rather quickly after dying but that time...” Malthenaer sighed. “A year passed before he came back to life.”
“A whole year?” Dalan blinked. “So how does that work?”
“From what he’s told me, it took so long because his soul was very nearly destroyed. He destroyed the soul of the man who murdered his soul mate, but nearly lost his own in the doing. It was a very long year.” Malthenaer suddenly cocked his head to one side. “How long are years on your world?”
“How long are they here?” It had never even crossed Dalan’s mind that worlds could be different in that regard, though now he was sure that Corvo had mentioned something like that.
“Days are twenty six hours long, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that already. As for our years, they are three hundred ninety six days long. Evenly divided into four seasons, with each season being ninety-nine days long. The fiftieth day is the equinox or the solstice, depending on the season in question.”
“That’s definitely longer than days and years on my world,” Dalan replied. It felt really odd saying that, as he’d always assumed that was pretty standard.
Malthenaer shrugged. “A year is merely the measurement of time it takes for a planet to travel around its sun. Our world is clearly on a longer trajectory than yours is. And the world’s rotation is obviously slower as well.”
“So how would that affect things?” Dalan asked. “How would a faster or slower rotation affect how everything works?” So far, he hadn’t noticed a whole lot of difference in the workings of nature, besides the magic and the fact that he had to wait longer for dark to come so that he could go out in bat form.
“Well, if a world rotates too fast or too slow, it probably wouldn’t support life as easily. Longer years usually indicate that the world is further away from its sun. Too far away and it is too cold to support life. Too close, which means a lot shorter year, and it’s too hot to support life.”
“So does that mean your sun has to be hotter if you’re further away?” Dalan asked. “This doesn’t look like an ice planet to me.”
Malthenaer blinked. “Have you noticed a difference in gravitational pull? It could be that our world is merely a bit larger than yours. Our sun could also be slightly larger and hotter. There are many different factors that determine these sorts of things. I do not have all the answers for you, as I have not devoted my life to this field of study. I know what I know because Corvo likes teaching.”
Dalan nodded. “Sounds like him.”
Malthenaer merely smiled. “Let’s see if we can’t find some youngsters to introduce you to...” he said as he looked around. “Ah, perfect,” he said as he headed towards where a young shapeshifter was perched in the lower branches. “Dalan, I’d like you to meet Ruinnen. He’s my great grandson.”
Ruinnen gave Dalan a cheeky grin. He looked a little younger than Dalan, but the shapeshifters of this world aged more slowly, so he was definitely older. His golden brown hair was drawn up in a ponytail. Sea green eyes regarded Dalan before that gaze was turned to Malthenaer.
“Is he really kin?” Ruinnen asked his great grandfather. “His eyes are all wrong.”
“Yes, he’s kin. But from another world.”
“Ah,” Ruinnen replied as his eyes flicked back to Dalan. “Never seen a shapeshifter whose eyes weren’t green. Except Corvo. His eyes are a bit too blue to be considered green.” He swung his leg over the branch and dropped lightly to the ground. “So, whatcha turn into?”
Dalan met his gaze briefly. “A bat.”
“Sweet. I’m an osprey and a leopard.” He tilted his head to one side. “Don’t you have a second form yet?”
Malthenaer turned his head to Dalan as well. Given how his test turned out, the head of the council of elders was more than a little surprised that Dalan had yet to acquire a second form.
Dalan shrugged. “I’ve got a halfway form. But I’ve never tried any other animals.”
“You should. Flying forms are great, but sometimes you just need a four-footed form. But bats...you can probably manage better than those of us with larger bird forms.” Ruinnen grinned. “You’re probably as maneuverable as heck, am I right, or am I right?”
“Yeah, you could say that,” Dalan replied with a small smile.
“So you tired of hanging out with the old folks, and wanna come meet some youngsters?” He shifted his gaze to Malthenaer. “No offence, grandad. But you’re old.”
Malthenaer gave a snort. “I still have another three centuries of life left, young scoundrel.”
Dalan looked at Ruinnen. “So, how old are you anyway?”
“Twenty-four,” Ruinnen replied with a shrug. “Why, how old are you?”
“Heh, I guess you’re older than me,” Dalan said with a snort. “On my world, I’m eighteen.”
“Well, you look eighteen, so you must not be aging more slowly. Or perhaps I should say you weren’t aging more slowly? Has your aging rate slowed?”
“I don’t know,” Dalan replied thoughtfully. “I did always look younger than I was though, by human standards anyway. And my height has little to do with that.”
Ruinnen looked Dalan square in the eye, as they were of similar heights. “Yeah, well, if you’ll look around, you’ll notice we—that is the shapeshifters of this world—tend towards two heights. Tall like grandad there, or short.” Ruinnen sighed. “I’m probably going to be short. Mum and dad are both short and their parents were short. You have to go back four generations on either side of the family to hit someone who is tall.”
There was a pause. “So, you were going to introduce me around?” Dalan asked. He still found it freaky that a kid who was older than him looked so much younger. The kid looked no older than thirteen.
“Right, let me introduce you to the gang,” Ruinnen replied as he started trotting away.
Malthenaer smiled at Dalan. “You’ll be fine with him. He can always bring you to find me if you want a break from all the youngsters.”
Dalan nodded. “I’ll be fine.”
“You comin’ or what?” Ruinnen said as he looked back over his shoulder.
“Yeah.” Dalan followed him.
Ruinnen wound his way among the trees that skirted the edge of the vast meadow. Only buildings that served the community as a whole were built in that wide open space. Every single shapeshifter home was set in the forest itself. Some of the houses were built on the forest floor. Others were built in the trees themselves, accessible only by air, ladder, or someone very good at scaling a tree with no low-lying branches.
“I’m taking you to see Duinor. He’s my best mate,” Ruinnen explained. “It feels like he’s home right now, so that’s where we’re headed. He might come out to meet us, since I told him I was coming with a guest.”
*So these guys can use mind speech too?* Dalan asked himself with an internal groan. *Wonderful.*
“I’ll come with you,” Dalan said aloud.
“Well, you should. You said you wanted to meet some of my friends,” Ruinnen said as he glanced back at Dalan. Then he stopped in front of a tree that had a house set up in the branches. “Yo! Duinor, my man, whatcha up to?”
The front door opened, emitting a tall guy with odd tufts of brown hair sticking up at angles, as if he almost never brushed it. “Hey, Ruinnen,” he replied, “what’s up. Who’s the new guy?”
“Grandad said his name’s Dalan,” Ruinnen replied. “I think Corvo brought him in.”
“Now you’ve made me sound like a stray,” Dalan grumbled good-naturedly.
Ruinnen snorted. “One look at your eyes proves you aren’t from around here. The only shapeshifter outside the community who’s been by, besides you, is Corvo. It is somewhat doubtful that you could simply find your way here without some sort of guidance.”
“Nice to meet you, Dalan,” Duinor said. He turned back to Ruinnen. “You introduce him to the others yet?”
“Nah. You’re my best mate. You first,” Ruinnen said with a huge grin.
“That’s right. So, what’re we waiting for?” Duinor said with a grin that matched his friend’s.
“Good question. Let’s go!”