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Volume 3, Issue 1, February 28, 2008
shape shifter
Image ©Cile Bailey
Diminishing Returns
by Lindsey Duncan

        Brioc studied her reflection in the stained mirror and couldn't ignore it any longer: she was thinner than she had been in the last town and shorter than she had been on the other side of border. At first she had taken it for anxiety and the many miles she had traveled since assuming her role as a Lioslaith spy, but there was no doubt now she was losing substance.
        She put her hand on the tarnished frame and leaned in, not sure why she couldn't cry. The weathered boards of the inn breathed around her, a thin barrier to the city beyond. She had to be careful now, could not shift her shape so frequently, but she could not stop--not when her home country had recruited her for just that talent, not when they were counting on her.
        Why didn't anyone tell me?" she asked the russet-haired blur in the mirror.
        She calmed herself with an aborted shiver. If every time she changed she grew a little smaller, then, well, she could ration her changes, plan for them, keep an eye on her size. It might even be a good thing, for she had always been far too tall and built like a boy. She had something to lose.
       She had everything to lose.
        Brioc moved to the window, working the rusty catch until it popped out. She pushed open the shutters and let in a gust of late summer heat. Vendors hawked their wares in a melodic, aggressive cant and a rich, steamy perfume drifted down from the Avenue of Flowers. The city of Tennetun was a place of impossible variety to someone who had been born in a town that consisted of two crossed mud-paths and one brick building for shelter from bandits.
        She leaned out the window until she could see the massive obsidian bulk of the Royal Archives. Deep within the twisting passages, a locked chamber housed the most secret portents of the House of Seers. Just the thought of holding it made her breath quicken. She would need to change once to get the key she needed, a second time to gain admittance to the chamber . . .

        . . . she changed a third time to evade the guards on her way out, the bulky sheath of pages held close to her chest. Cold black stone loomed overheard. Brioc ran her fingers along the parchment, feeling disoriented. How could these plain pages contain such importance?

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