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Shady Stoat



Joined: 02 Oct 2005
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Posted: Mon Nov 07, 2005 1:15 pm    Post subject: Shadows Chapter 5  

It was decided (narrowly) that Keli would say as little as possible, trying to keep Shakal talking. Chapter 5 follows that decision.

Chapter Five

Keli hesitated, teetering on the threshold of telling Shakal everything.

It only took a moment to realise that she couldn’t allow herself that luxury. If her own people had turned on her, knowing the truth, what more could she expect from this inscrutable stranger?

“You were supposed to be answering my questions,” she said, covering her moment of confusion with a retort.

Shakal was silent for a long moment. Keli began to fear that she had opened an even larger gulf between them. Then the wolf began to speak.

“These past few years, temples have begun to spring up among your people. Itharien spreads, like a pox across the lands. Only in the last year, though, have they openly spoken of it as the Cult of the Beast.”

Keli blinked, following Shakal as she tried to make sense of the information.

“If you know anything of their teachings, you will understand that they seek to make war on magic. Sorcery belongs to the beasts, they claim. We use it to spread misery and deceit throughout the land.” The werewolf looked disgusted. “They spew their poison to their congregation. They preach that we are nothing more than demons polluting the earth by our very existence; that we should be driven away and killed.”

“But what has that got to do with…?” Keli stopped herself, abruptly. “I mean, they don’t just attack… Werewolves… do they?”

Shakal seemed to consider her words carefully.

“They attack magic, wherever they find it. The teachings of Itharien see my kind as the beast. Only the beast has magic. If any human has ‘unholy’ powers, it stands to reason that they have communed with lower creatures for their own gain. The human part must be saved, the beast must be purged.”

Keli was suddenly finding it difficult to breathe. She felt like there were tight leather straps around her heart. She had wanted answers. Now that she had some, she wondered if she could stand it! How the Cult claimed to save the human part, she didn’t know – but she had no doubts at all about their methods of ‘purging’. Her death sentence had already been issued, and if they caught her, it would be carried out. She couldn’t afford to doubt that any more.

She trudged down the hillside and into another patch of woodland. Shakal walked alongside her, regarding her rather too intently. Unnerved, Keli blurted out a question before she could stop herself.

“If your people are the source of magic, how come humans could throw you out of the City?”

“You believe those lies?” For the first time, Shakal let her anger show through. “I told you, that is what Itharien wants its followers to think! My people have different magics to the apes. We have different strengths, different weaknesses. We are no more the source of magic than you are – and we cannot defend against overwhelming odds. We left while we still could.”

The wolf subsided, obviously feeling that she had said too much. They covered the next few miles in awkward silence. Keli was developing a limp. A couple of blisters were ripening to pop on her left foot. This was the farthest she had walked in years. She wasn’t sure if she were dreading or looking forward to arriving at the City. At least she might get a comfortable bed and a hot meal there, but she might also be walking straight through the gates of hell!

The afternoon was bleeding away into evening when another thought began to nag at Keli. How much would Shakal guess for herself, if they had to camp out together, tonight? Would Keli suffer her usual nightmares? Would she talk in her sleep? If this creature was magical, would she somehow know?

Feeling more nervous than ever, she broached the subject.

“Shakal, how far are we from the city?”

“We should make camp not far from it, later today.”

“Oh. Can’t we just keep going until we get there?”

“You seem very eager to arrive, considering what awaits.”

Keli shot a sideways glance at the wolf, wondering what she meant by that. Before she could respond, though, Shakal answered her question.

“We stand a better chance of getting through the gates at dawn. Then there will be many traders and travellers passing through. We may find obscurity in numbers.”

“But if you became invisible…”

“If I could slip into the City invisibly, I would not need you. The gates and walls are protected from sorcery. We make camp tonight.”

“And what happens when we get inside?” asked Keli, carefully watching the Were’s reaction.

Shakal met her gaze levelly. “I will do what I was sent to do. You, presumably, have aims of your own in the City. You note that I have not asked you your business.”

This was going nowhere! Now that Keli knew a little more about Shift City, she was certain that she didn’t want to be there, alone and friendless. Shakal obviously didn’t trust her, and she had given the wolf no reason to. Maybe if she told her a little. Not the whole truth, but fragments.

She began to talk, hesitantly.

“A few days ago, a Lord Justice came to my town. I think he was part of the Itharien Cult. He started talking about Trial, and how everyone would have do go through it. People seemed scared of him. One of his servants – the boy out of the portrait - gave me the talisman you saw. He told me to go and find his brother. I took the talisman. I was leaving anyway.”

She added the last comment and immediately wished she hadn’t. It was a lie, and an obvious one at that. Nobody, with time to plan their departure, would have come to the werewolves in the state that she had arrived.

Shakal must have noticed. However, all she said was:

“I hope you have some idea of where to look. Shift City is not small.”

“I think…” Keli trailed off. She didn’t want to mention her premonitions, but it was hard to nail a story together without them. She tried anyway. “I think he’s been taken by Itharien.”

“Then he is dead. Or lost.”

“Lost? What do you mean?”

“We do not know. This is one of the questions that…”

Shakal stopped abruptly. “We must move more quickly if we are to make camp near the city tonight.”

Before Keli could open her mouth, the wolf had lengthened her stride. In between nursing her tender foot and trying to catch breath, Keli was given no further opportunity for questions.

It didn’t stop her from wondering.

---------

By the time they stopped to make camp, Keli was exhausted again. Her toes and heel were bleeding and she was covered in gorse scratches. She ate her provisions gratefully and tried to get comfortable on the hard hillside beneath her.

The city was in their sights. They were less than half a mile from the main route in, so a campfire was out of the question if they were to stay unnoticed. There was a slight chill in the air and rain was beginning to fall lightly again. It was going to be an unpleasant night for camping out. Still, Keli had no doubt that she would sleep. And dream.

She wondered if last night’s strange vision would return. She wondered if Shakal would learn too much from her while she slept. She wondered if getting into the city would be as easy as just wandering up to the gates.

Most of all, she wondered whether she dared go through with it – and whether she dared not to.

Shakal had not spoken a word to her since the pace had quickened. Even as they sat together in the rain, neither of them seemed able to break the uneasy silence. Their secrets sat between them like an impenetrable wall of rock. The only sounds were those of chewing and swallowing what they ate, and the occasional rumble of a cart as it passed by on the road below.

Keli felt her chin beginning to fall to her chest. She started, waking from a brief moment of dozing. It was time to get some sleep.

She curled up tight, huddling into her cloak. Wet grass began to soak through her clothes from below, rain from above. She tried not to care.

A couple of minutes later, she heard Shakal breathe out a sigh. There was the sound of a body shifting, then Keli hitched in a breath to scream.

“Be quiet,” growled the wolf, pressing her body against Keli’s back. “Go to sleep.”

She breathed the words into Keli’s ear as she flung an arm over her. Keli lay rigid, eyes wide open in the darkness. It was just a sharing of warmth. She told herself that, then tried telling herself again. Even so, she felt like a mouse, trapped under the paw of a playful cat.

It only occurred to her later that maybe Shakal had been making sure she didn’t run away in the night.

As the minutes slipped by, warmth started to spread through from Shakal’s lightly furred torso and legs. Despite the discomfort of having a wolf at her back, she started to succumb to sleep. Finally, she slipped into the shadows of her mind.

---------

She stands in the golden hall again. The scene is exactly the same as it was the night before. This time, though, it mocks her with its serenity. The cat statues seem to leer at her, reminding her of the chaos that will come.

She drifts towards the mysterious figure on the throne. Although she tries to run, the motion is dreamlike, impossibly slow. The doors are forced open behind her. Defenders run in from the far end of the hall. They join battle behind her.

Keli forces her way through the pandemonium. She is closing in on the stranger, although she feels like she is wading through shoulder-deep treacle. The screams of the wounded echo through the halls. She sees blood in her peripheral vision. And still, the dais gets closer.

The shadowed figure stands. Everything is a dark blur, but Keli gets the impression of effortless grace as it begins to walk towards one of the open doors.

There is something compelling about the stranger. It lures her on, turning to see if she still follows. Somehow, it seems like the most important thing in the world for her to comply. Step by step, inch by inch, Keli trails the creature, until she can catch a glimpse of what lies beyond the door.

Staring back at her, seeing her as neither the invaders nor defenders seem able to, is a familiar figure.

Shakal.

For a moment, Keli feels dizzy. Is she awake? Is she dreaming? Is any of this real?

Keli glances back at the blurred figure, only to see it standing with its arms spread wide. One arm is opened in Shakal’s direction, the other is aimed towards Keli. As she watches, the arms come together and the hands clasp straight out. Keli feels a deep, unreasoning fear, yet she still cannot move.

Instead, she stares as the shadow begins to walk away. It heads, graceful and erect, into the thick of the massacre. Within moments, the savage human invaders have cut it down.

Its blood mingles with the many fallen, seeping into the cracks and crevices of the floor. Keli watches the pools turn into streams, and the streams rivers. She turns her gaze away at the last moment, to find that Shakal is almost upon her…

---------------

Keli woke up, rigid and shivering. The rain had stopped and the sky was streaky with the first light of the sun. She knew that she would never get back to sleep again now. Shakal was still spooned against her. Somehow, she got the feeling that the wolf was not asleep either, and she instantly wondered if she had given herself away.

The feeling of dread was still overwhelming. It filled her stomach and her chest, and she longed to wriggle out from beneath the wolf’s embrace, if only to pace aimlessly back and forth.

What did it mean? What did any of it mean? If it was a message, how on earth was she supposed to interpret it? Was Shakal a danger or a bringer of hope? Was this a power from within her, trying to send herself a message, or was she simply going insane?

If it was a message, what hope had she of interpreting it, or indeed changing the outcome in any way? From the time that Lord Garth and his wife had arrived in Great Lake, she had stumbled from one mischance to another. She had been so busy trying to stay alive that there had been no time to think of what lay ahead. Even getting into the city had been a vague thought, defined by nothing more than the need to run and keep running.

Unable to bear it any longer, she wriggled free of Shakal’s embrace. The wolf simply rolled onto her back and lay without speaking.

For want of anything better to do, Keli started to dig out some of the stored meat in her pack. She nibbled without appetite and stared down at the city road.

Already there were a couple of carts, spaced along the road and travelling steadily towards the gates. No doubt there would be queues of traders passing in and out in a few hours’ time.

Maybe the two of them could slip in unobtrusively, while it was busy. It had a chance of working, if Shakal was to be believed.

Or maybe, thought Keli grimly, it was time to start taking control of her own destiny. Time to start planning more than a few moments ahead.

All right then. She had to get into the city, no matter how dangerous. There was no future in wandering the wilds forever. Moreover, she was stuck with Shakal, at least for now. She couldn’t run, and she couldn’t afford to draw attention to herself at the city gates by turning the wolf in.

The first thing to do then, was find a good way of getting into the city. Her eyes scanned the road. It ended abruptly in the distance; a vast wall, at least twenty feet high rose like a cliff. There was a wide gate, arched across the width of the roadway. The river seemed to have followed the path all the way from Great Lake to this large population centre. It, too, disappeared under the wall a little way to the East. It was hard to see details at this distance and in this light, but it seemed to Keli, as the time passed, that some of the traders were travelling through the gates without stopping. Maybe they were not being challenged.

She tried to think of the best thing to do…
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Suneila
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Posted: Mon Nov 07, 2005 1:32 pm    Post subject:  

YaY! First post!

Good chapter, Shady. Hard to think of something to do, though. How many gates are there to the city? They should either use the most common one, or try to get in without using a gate. They could follow the water supply in somehow, if it's a river or a well (I'm kind of thinking of something like the well in Jerusalem that David used). If that's possible, of course.

Once they get in, she should try to change her appearance somehow, cut her hair or something. Then she won't be so noticeable. She might even try to attend one of the Itharien services/rituals, to learn more about the Itharien and possibly the boy. You could probably write a whole chapter just on getting into the city, though.

~sunny
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Shady Stoat
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Posted: Mon Nov 07, 2005 1:49 pm    Post subject:  

Sorry Sunny :D

It's too late at night for me to have put this straight up. I missed the last section out. Feel free to re-read and criticize. Hope it gives you some more to go on.

And sorry again! o-)
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DukeReg
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Posted: Mon Nov 07, 2005 3:10 pm    Post subject:  

First she should ask Shakal in more detail how she was planning to get in. If that doesn't help...

Presumably the traders have wagons or carts, some covered. It might be possible to stow away in one, as long as the trader who owns it doesn't notice and think they are thieves.

Dressing up as traders wouldn't work without goods to show, but perhaps they could dress as peasant farmers or make up a plausible destination that they are just "passing through" to as travellers.
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Ingrothechundyer
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Posted: Mon Nov 07, 2005 5:03 pm    Post subject:  

Very nice chapter :D
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Smee
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Posted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 12:03 am    Post subject:  

Good chapter,

I think she needs to come clean and tell Shakal everything.

The werewolf wouldn't have needed her warmth during the night, so she must have been doing it purely for Keli's benefit.

This is the first time she definately recognises someone from the dreams - maybe it'll mean more to Shakal, and gain her trust even more.

Happy Writing. :)
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ethereal_fauna
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Posted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 3:06 am    Post subject:  

Trust doesn't come easily, especially when it comes to discussing something that has made you a prisoner in your home, an object of ridicule...something you have been and continue to be persecuted for. She isn't going to discuss her visions with Shakal.

She isn't going to try to ditch her yet either. There are ways through every barrier besides the obvious, and she should try to find one. Following the river in might work, but that way is most likely barred, at least to a considerable depth. As unpleasant as it sounds, it's doubtful that the people of this city live inside the wall with their sewage. It's piped out of the city somewhere, and with a walled city of considerable size the pipes should be fairly large. Sewage pipes are less likely barred (as material gets caught and clogs the pipe).
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Smee
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Posted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 3:17 am    Post subject:  

Would probably have a grate across though. A criss-cross of metal bars, allowing nothing larger than a rabbit through. It's doubtful they'll be a way though.
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Chinaren
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Posted: Tue Nov 08, 2005 8:25 pm    Post subject:  

Does Keli know what the gates will be like?

I mean, does everyone get stopped and questioned going through? Or are there just guards on the gates and people enter and leave without hinderance?

If the later, it should be relatively easy to slip in with a crowd. For the former, slipping into a wagon (or under?) may do it of course. Otherwise... er, I have nothing. :?

Very well written, as usual, Shades.
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Shady Stoat
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Posted: Wed Nov 09, 2005 3:32 am    Post subject:  

Lots of question. Lots of good suggestions too :D

At the moment, all Keli knows of the City is what she's seen in the distance. This isn't to say that she won't decide to wring more information out of Shakal, or go and look more closely at any part of the City defenses that she chooses to.

Shakal, whatever her own notions might be, is in Keli's hands here. The werewolves' main idea was to simply walk in at dawn, leaving the human to talk and draw the attention away from the disguised wolf. She might argue about any other plan, but in the end, she'll want Keli's help and will be prepared to compromise to get it.

What I'm getting at is, if Keli decides to spend a chapter finding out a bit more, doing a circle of the city, climbing in and out of sewers - whatever, then it's her call :-)

To answer Chinaren's question about the gates - Keli's already seen that some of the wagons appear to be passing through unchallenged. It's no guarantee, but the City doesn't appear to be in a state of open warfare, from the look of it - whatever the wolves might say to the opposite...

If I've missed anything out, let me know. Also, I'm interested in continuing thoughts about Keli's relationship wtih Shakal and how it should develop. I may not be able to include it in the poll options, and it will make a difference to the way that chapter six is written...
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Suneila
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Posted: Wed Nov 09, 2005 10:21 am    Post subject:  

That last paragraph really clears things up. I don't think the sewers would be a viable possibility because Keli and Shakal know little about the way the city works. They wouldn't know where to find the sewer system outside the city, and it's possible the sewage just drains into the river.

Also, the river probably isn't that great of an idea because as Ethereal said, it's most likely barred to a considerable depth. They could check it out and hope it's not, though. Maybe the builders of the city never thought that someone would try to swim in.

If they hide in a wagon or cart, they have a better chance of getting into the city, but if they are caught, they would probably get punished worse.

They should wait and try to enter during the busiest time of day for sure (probably around noon), but other than that, I dunno. Maybe they have time to check out the river, and then go back to the gate if it's impassable.

~sunny
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The Powers That Be
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Posted: Thu Nov 10, 2005 6:02 pm    Post subject:  

I think they shouldn't try to get too fancy. Hide in plain sight - go in at the busiest time of day, as Sunny suggested. It would be nice if they could create a diversion (perhaps with some help from werewolf magic?) - get a couple traders fighting or something along those lines. Sounds like security's not that high, so even a small diversion might be enough.
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D-Lotus
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Posted: Thu Nov 10, 2005 7:40 pm    Post subject:  

Yeah, walking straight in is probably the best option. Either in the buisiest time of day, or in the morning when the gaurds are just waking up, or at dusk, when Shakal's werewolfnes won't be as obvious in the dark.

Great continuity and plot, Stoat!
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Random
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Posted: Fri Nov 11, 2005 10:04 am    Post subject:  

Great story Shady! Glad this was chosen or I might have missed it!

First thing they will need to do is devise a story. Chances are they can walk into the city unhindered, it's a large city and certainly there must be folks coming and going all the time.

However, they will need a story that they both know in case they are questioned. Perhaps they are cousins simply jounreying to visit a relative. Or to keep it even more simple, they are from another town and simply wanted to see the famed city. Whatever ruse they wish to concoct, they should both be on the same page with it.

I think trust in this case will be slow in building and will come through actions for each other rather than trading stories.
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Shady Stoat
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Posted: Fri Nov 11, 2005 12:40 pm    Post subject:  

Random wrote: Great story Shady! Glad this was chosen or I might have missed it!

Thanks Random. Welcome to my den :-D

Quote: First thing they will need to do is devise a story. Chances are they can walk into the city unhindered, it's a large city and certainly there must be folks coming and going all the time.


You could be right. However, the werewolf is only passable as a human as long as she doesn't talk and show all those wolfy teeth of hers. If it gets to talking, they're probably already in enough trouble! :shock:

THey could try and come up with some sort of story to explain the 'abnormalities'... but I think Shakal would be very dubious of such a plan working...

Quote:
I think trust in this case will be slow in building and will come through actions for each other rather than trading stories.

Well, the majority view seems to be with Keli and Shakal keeping the relationship as it is right now, so I'll probably write it that way (unless public opinion changes in the meantime).

The poll will be up in a day or two... :cool:
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Random
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Posted: Fri Nov 11, 2005 3:12 pm    Post subject:  

Quote: However, the werewolf is only passable as a human as long as she doesn't talk and show all those wolfy teeth of hers. If it gets to talking, they're probably already in enough trouble!

Easily explained. Pass her off as a mute.
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Smee
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Posted: Fri Nov 11, 2005 3:31 pm    Post subject:  

I like that idea.

Could you even get away with tying a piece of cloth over her mouth to indicate this? Maybe with a bandage if they have one.

That would make sure no teeth are spotted.
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D-Lotus
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Posted: Fri Nov 11, 2005 6:20 pm    Post subject:  

Maybe thats going too far, but it probably would be good a good idea to veil her mouth with something...that is reasonable. Like those veils the middle eastern women wear.
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DukeReg
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Posted: Fri Nov 11, 2005 7:10 pm    Post subject:  

I think the mute idea is preparing for the worst case scenario, and is therefore a good backup idea, not main plan.

They don't want to get into any kind of conversation with guards, and anything that makes them stand out (e.g. mute-markings) will draw some attention, even if not very much. As for the middle-eastern veil, it would draw attention as well unless it is common. If it is uncommon in the area, avoid it like the plague, because it will draw eyes. No better way to get a guard to look at your face than hide it in a manner that stands out.

Best to just keep her mouth shut, and walk through at a busy time of day.

If they're stopped, which they wont be if they do it right, then Keli can do the talking. In any pair, there will almost always be one who naturally takes the lead. If Keli doesn't hesitate, and answers for them both, the guards probably wont even notice that Shakal didn't say anything.

However, Shady Stoat, how old does Shakal look in relation to Keli?
If she looks significantly older, the above idea may not be so valid.
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Shady Stoat
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Posted: Sat Nov 12, 2005 12:18 am    Post subject:  

DukeReg wrote: As for the middle-eastern veil, it would draw attention as well unless it is common. If it is uncommon in the area, avoid it like the plague, because it will draw eyes.

Veils aren't common in this part of the country. They're not unheard of, but there are no religious, racial, sexual or geographical reasons for wearing them.

A veil would be likely to make Shakal stand out... but it would also make her most prominent facial differences less noticeable. You've got to decide whether the trade-off is worth it or not. :cool:

Quote: However, Shady Stoat, how old does Shakal look in relation to Keli?
If she looks significantly older, the above idea may not be so valid.

Shakal is a couple of inches taller than her human companion (although a stoop or subservient posture might hide that). She's also thinner and the bone structure of her face makes her look slightly younger than Keli.

Looking at the two of them, an observer would probably guess they were the same age. Even if she doesn't talk, though, Shakal makes an unusual-looking human. Not abnormal, just... striking. As you say, it's best to get her noticed as little as possible. :)
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D-Lotus
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Posted: Sat Nov 12, 2005 9:24 pm    Post subject:  

They could wear masks and say they are attending a constume ball! :D
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Hyperion
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Posted: Sat Nov 12, 2005 9:40 pm    Post subject:  

Hmm... I was one of the first people to read this, I reviewed it every time... :D It is still great! Shakal is perfectly all right. Part wolf, honorable, part warrior of good, honorable. She'll trust you if you tell her the truth, then she'll tell you her secrets as well. Then you'll become friends, thus opening up more opportunities for the SG! Plus, there will be a battle inside, no doubt, which will bring them both closer together. :o
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D-Lotus
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Posted: Sat Nov 12, 2005 9:52 pm    Post subject:  

but that would be extremely too typical and boring and also not completely based on the personality of the character, but more on you wanting the story to turn out well.
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Hyperion
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Posted: Sat Nov 12, 2005 10:42 pm    Post subject:  

Nope. Keli needs comfort and reassurance, to have someone to lean on when times are tough. Shakal seems lonely and is a good person inside, so if you gain her trust, she'll be a friend to Keli. I thought it through thouroughly. :lol:
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DukeReg
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Posted: Sun Nov 13, 2005 12:36 am    Post subject:  

How does Keli (or for that matter, how do we) know that she is a good person inside? They met days before under strained circumstances. I respectfully suggest that you are trying to push their relationship too quickly, without enough basis.
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Shady Stoat
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Posted: Sun Nov 13, 2005 3:17 pm    Post subject:  

The poll's up for 5 days. I'm moving house on Thursday, so don't expect any miracles of speed on the next chapter :D

Vote well... and if you can't do that, at least vote :lol:
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Ingrothechundyer
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Posted: Sun Nov 13, 2005 3:34 pm    Post subject:  

Hope you enjoy moving :D

I vote for watch and plan.
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D-Lotus
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Posted: Sun Nov 13, 2005 10:20 pm    Post subject:  

I voted to slip in with a crowd, the direct approach. It seems opinion is split, however.
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ethereal_fauna
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Posted: Mon Nov 14, 2005 2:52 am    Post subject:  

Wouldn't hurt to spend a little time exploring other options, that might not be as risky.
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Chinaren
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Posted: Mon Nov 14, 2005 6:30 am    Post subject:  

I voted to spend a little time and scout things out. Seems the sensible thing to do.
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D-Lotus
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Posted: Mon Nov 14, 2005 11:15 am    Post subject:  

Well, I think the werewolves know more than you. They probably already analyzed all the options, and probably have been planning this for longer than you, so they must know what the best way is. They said it was slipping in through a crowd, so I think that should be what they have to do.
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Shady Stoat
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Posted: Fri Nov 18, 2005 3:47 pm    Post subject:  

The poll's closed. The decision was to check the city limits and plan further with Shakal.

I'll start this tomorrow. Since most people seem to want to keep Keli and Shakal's relationship on its current basis, I'll be writing it with that in mind.

Watch out for chapter 6... :cool:
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Shady Stoat
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Posts: 2950
Location: England

Posted: Mon Nov 21, 2005 8:33 am    Post subject:  

Shadows Chapter 6 is up. :D
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martpart
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Posted: Tue Nov 22, 2005 10:44 am    Post subject:  

kool chapter it's really kool! keep it up!
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