Unraveling the Veil – Talin, a Changeling

Release day quickly approaches. Liars and Thieves (Book 1) is available for preorder but goes live on August 29th.

I’ve introduced my goblin, Naj’ar. This snippet gives a glimpse of the main character Talin, a changeling/shape-shifter.

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Talin sat on the smooth stone and scratched. Other than the vermin infesting his coat, the afternoon had progressed with minimal effort. He’d shift into his familiar self and bathe, then seek a meal of roots or greens. Something edible that didn’t include voles and other Borderland rodents. He could do without ingesting any more hair, bones, and all the other peripheral disgustingness that accompanied the gobbling down of wild meat.

He raised his nose, nostrils twitching at a new scent. The scruff on his neck and shoulders bristled.

A cat. A wild one.

Changelings didn’t stalk changelings, and something big and stealthy lurked in the jungle. He leapt from the sunlight, slipped through a natural trellis of twisted vines, and spent hours evading the panther that had sniffed him out. Exasperation surrendered into a growing sense of urgency. Head down, ears alert, he bounded over a stream and between the stilts that supported the railway spur in its treacherous descent. Already too long in jackal form, he was overdue to shift. And shifting presented some serious drawbacks.

Nose to the ground, he found the path he sought, and by twilight reached one of the tree-stands that peppered the Reaches. The ladder would present a challenge, but if he could manage it, the stand would likely save his life.

He circled the base of the tree, seeking a cache of buried crystals, and found none. Another obstacle. With a huff, he scanned the shadowed growth and tasted the air for unwelcome predators. Langur monkeys crept along the upper branches, and a shy loris blinked at him with pooled eyes, but no cats prowled the area. Poisonous snakes slithering in the trees would be the greatest threat, but there wasn’t much he could do about them. He sat on his haunches and closed his eyes.

He called up his human pattern. A cold shiver accompanied the brutal constellation of pain that sparked deep in his bones. The transformation would require only minutes, but after so long in a borrowed form, it would feel like hours.

The skeletal changes came first. He sank to his knees as his oblong skull crushed inward at the muzzle and bulged in the cranium. His neck compressed. Shoulder blades and ribcage shrank while hip bones expanded and rearranged their connections to fibulae and spine. His tail withered into a pointed coccyx deep within his flesh.

The air around him froze as he drew mass from the trees and ground to accommodate his larger size. A ring of frost crept outward from his contorting feet. Arm and leg bones elongated, and he gritted his teeth as the bones in his front paws shattered, seven pieces reforming into the twenty-seven of his human hand. He curled into a ball, breathless, as his elbows, knees, all his joints and cartilage switched to accommodate altered movement. The intensity of his pain weakened as his skeleton took its final shape and the rest of his internal mechanisms rippled into alignment.

His skin shifted last. Hair altered its texture, fine on his bronze limbs, scratchy on his jaw. Long and dark on his head.

As the ache inside him faded and his sweat cooled, the air returned to its familiar sticky humidity. His heart rate slowed. Strength spent, he could barely move, unconsciousness luring him into a dreamless sleep. Naked, he rolled to his hands and knees and rung by rung, hoisted himself up the ladder.

“Death would be easier than this.” He chuckled like a tipsy drunk. At the top, he collapsed, his legs still propped on the ladder.

Good enough, he surrendered to sleep.