The Snow-Black Fortress
Instead of studying barbarians, a fantasy anthropologist winds up joining them instead. Explicit.
Footsteps dented the snow without any feet to make them. The falling snow and gusts of wind would cover them up within minutes, and then there would be no sign that anyone had been there.
Edward paused, and the footsteps stood still. He crouched down, digging two gloved fingers into the snow and putting a clump of it onto his tongue. He was loath to chill himself any more than he already was, but he'd read in a book that it kept your breath from fogging up.
Ahead of Edward loomed the fortress, built out of greying stone, perched on the side of a mountain. Behind him was the less perilous peak he'd climbed. And beneath him, beyond the thick stone bridge, were thousands of feet of nothingness down to a rocky cleft between the two peaks.. Edward's heart hammered in his chest.
The tracks began to move again, dotting the snow with dark spots where the gray-black flagstones showed through. Edward grabbed the edges of his cloak and pulled them closer together against the cold. On his chest, sitting above his traveling robe, was an unevenly round disc of lead. Stamped on it in a puffy, bulbous way was the image of a half-closed eye.
Edward was not a mage. He didn't have the personality for something so overt. He didn't choose to devote himself to magical theory, either. He had brought two books along with him. The first was Varrian's Xenobasis, an ancient study of barbarian tribes. The second was blank--he was going to write it.
Edward was an anthropologist.
He stuck another mouthful of snow on his tongue as he passed the pair of gargoyles that stood at the very end of the bridge. There was slight relief on the other side, but only just. The danger was no longer falling, but being caught. The enchantment on his amulet only covered his person and clothes. He wasn't silent, nor were his traces hidden, as his trail of footprints across the bridge would attest.
The yawning gate of the fortress stood in front of him, like it was roaring into the wind. The iron portcullis barred any entrance, and a stone wall obstructed the view in to the fortress's courtyard.
While the main gate was inaccessible, there were other entrances to try. Edward's footless footsteps traced a slow clockwise path around the exterior of the fortress. He tried to stay close to the wall, away from the dangerous drop on the other side. The wind seemed to threaten to push him over, to drag his cloak down and him with it. It was a constant whirling force that kept him off his balance.
Edward found his way in at one of the watchtowers that rose up above the rest of the fortress. When he reached out and took the handle, the door creaked willingly. He opened it to find a snow-flecked, disused room, with rusted-over weapons and broken furniture.
Edward stepped forward to walk in. There was a pressure against the top of his boot and a faint click from somewhere. He froze, not even breathing, foot suspended against the trip wire. His knee began to creak with every slight motion his body made. He leaned back, looking behind him, then all at once scrambled down the short steps to the ground.
He looked above him and saw a fox, his body stretched like a piece of fabric, limp between thick wooden spikes browned with blood, and half-mummified by the cold.
Edward shoved his hand over his mouth and screamed against his palm.
A few minutes passed where he sat, crouched, against the wall, trying to overcome his own terror. He made it back to the steps, but then his stomach started churning. He stared at the ground resolutely, one hand on the outermost spike so that he could squeeze around the trap. Once inside, he made for the stairs immediately, not even pausing to look back.
On the third floor, with the frozen body firmly behind him, he realized an open door might be spotted. He wasn't going to go back down with that body, though. If anyone came to investigate, they'd think he was scared off.
The air was still cold and dry here, but Edward could at least loosen his cloak, pull down his hood, and shake out the snow. The black and white collie shook out his hair, then ruffled the gray fur cloak and his green-and-gold robe, making sure that all of the snow was gone.
After three more flights of stairs, Edward found a door into the fortress proper, stepping out onto the ramparts and looking down over the courtyard. Scattered among the stone and dirt were tents made out of hide and stone fire pits and the smell of sweat and cooking grease. He unbuckled his book and his portable ink and quill and sat and wrote. He wrote until his hand was sore and his ink was getting frozen and chunky.
Their emblem, a blazing white eye against black, hung from some of the tents, fluttered lazily against poles, and hung down as crude banners from the rear ramparts. White Eyes, Edward called them in his notes. Among the tents were tall, white-furred canines, lounging by fires and eating or smacking each other with blunted weapons or preparing furs to be made into armor. Every last one of them was a white wolf.
Edward wanted to know whether they acted like a large pack, or whether they each considered themselves head of their own kin group. It would be great to answer some of the questions about the role of instinct in barbarian cultures.
Edward needed to get down there himself. He knew it was going to be dangerous, but he couldn't do all his studies from up here. He would use the tower as a base of operations, but he needed to get down close enough to hear what they were saying.
Edward held his cloak tightly to keep it from blowing around and moved with smooth steps, heel to toe. Seeing the barbarians close up was fascinating. By one fire, a scuffle had broken out over the most delicious bit of meat, and now one of the parties had slunk off with a chunk bitten out of his ear.
Edward was proud of himself for not vomiting at the sight of blood.
Around another firepit, he crept up closer, to look at the way the barbarians dressed. He could make out two classes of dress: warriors, with thicker, more colorful furs and heavier use of leather; and hunters, with lighter furs, closer to their own pelts, sometimes speckled, with nothing thicker or more restrictive than hide.
The 'hunter' wolf he had been peering at let out a grunt and opened his eyes. Edward shuffled back quickly before he was clipped by a broadly muscled shoulder. The wolf was looking straight at him and he wondered, frantically, whether the enchantment had failed.
The wolf blinked, then pulled his lips back in a wide yawn. Edward afforded himself a small sigh of relief.
“Ulfgar," the wolf said.
He rolled his back and settled his paws behind his head. One of the other wolves, a bearded and scarred one, raised his head.
The hunter looked at the older wolf. “You smell something?"
Dread bubbled into Edward's lungs. He hadn't thought about that. A soft, cultured canine like himself didn't think too much about smells. But for a barbarian hunter, being able to scent prey was their lifeblood.
Ulfgar's nose twitched lazily as he sat up.
Edward's gasp made both of the wolves perk up their ears. He took off running, dropping any sort of cover his invisibility afforded him. Ulfgar and the hunter tore after the sound of boots slapping against ground and ragged, desperate gasping. Edward had his eyes on a door into the fortress. Searing pain burst into his leg, a sudden heat against a painful chill. He staggered past the door, slamming it shut against the thuds of arrows in wood.
He knocked the wooden bar down against the door and started to limp away, feeling a burst of pain with each step. He had to stop, propped against a wall, tears rolling down his cheeks as more pain than he'd ever felt throbbed through his calf. An arrowhead stuck about an inch out from his leg. The shaft ran clean through to the other side.
Any touch made whole new worlds of pain erupt into his mind. He couldn't think clearly. He wanted to run to the university's physician, but he wasn't at his university, he was crouched against the wall in a cold, dirty fortress. He cried out loudly as he broke off the arrowhead. He'd rather lose the leg than go through this pain, he thought, delirious. His trembling hands only made it hurt more as he twisted the shaft back out, sliding it back through his flesh and feeling the sickening texture of his innards.
Edward gasped as the arrow fell to the ground. It hurt so much he could barely walk, but he had to. Who knew when the barbarians would find another way in? He searched among his pouches for the linen wraps he'd brought, in case he needed to wrap up his feet or hands to keep them warm. Instead, he tied the wraps with a piss-poor knot around his leg. If he didn't bandage the wound, his blood would only make tracking him down even easier.
Edward had to run. He couldn't leave the fortress with the wolves right on his tail--tracking him would be trivial out in the snow. He had to wait until they wouldn't be watching for someone invisible sneaking back over the bridge.
He took a limping step down a spiral staircase, winced, then did it again. He'd lose them in the catacombs.
The catacombs were a terrible idea. Edward had never been in a real dungeon before. These were musty and the air was so stiflingly still that it felt like he might suffocate even with enough air to breathe. His leg hurt terribly and he kept moving because he heard echoes--though they could easily be the echoes of his own footsteps, much as he tried to move quietly.
It was only a psychological protection, but he found himself crawling into one of the cells. He could slink back into a dark corner, curl up, and wait it out.
He looked up at the chains on the wall and stared into empty eye sockets, a skull covered in fur faded to dusty moss, a skeleton still wrapped up in a shriveled pelt.
Edward couldn't take it any more. His leg burned and his lungs ached and he was going to die and his body would be a warning to future anthropologists. He pulled his knees up to his chest, laid his brow on top of them, and whimpered into his blood-stained traveling robe.
His wound throbbed and he grasped the bandage and he sobbed. Could he even make it out of the wilderness with a wound like that?
Edward was tired. He didn't want to do anything any more. He just wanted to sit here until everything was okay.
Edward felt too heavy and too clear-headed. He closed his mouth, breathed in and out, and looked back up at his skeletal companion. He stretched out his legs before pushing himself up to his feet. He accidentally put too much weight on his injured leg, but there was no jolt of pain. The wound had stopped bleeding.
He was also too hot. The dungeon was just as cold as the rest of the fortress, so there was no reason he should be feeling hot. Unless he was going mad from the cold, he thought. He seemed lucid, at least. He unclasped the broach that held his cloak around his neck and draped it off to the side.
Traveling robes were good, he reflected, as he tugged his robe around him just a little to make up for the lack of the thick fur. You could almost use them as blankets if you needed to, and they never got tight or uncomfortable.
He reached down the baggy sleeve and scratched at an itch that had cropped up along his arm. Beneath the soft green fabric, his patches of dark fur were turning lighter, and the light fur as a whole was growing thicker.
A soft growl caught for a moment in his throat. It was a satisfyingly rough noise that surprised him just a little. He hadn't thought he could make a sound like that.
He leaned down toward his toes, stretching to fight a slight burn in his thighs from having spent so long sitting down. He reflected that he wasn't entirely sure how long he'd been sitting. Though there was a tiny sliver of light coming in through a barred window at the top of the cell, so it was day, he couldn't be sure if it was the same day or not.
Edward bent down and tugged on his boots, having to twist them a bit to get them loose, then finally tugging his paws free and laying the insulated boots down on the floor. His paws spread wider, with thicker pads and thicker fur and larger claws that had gotten caught on the inside of his boots. The stone floor was chilly, but didn't bother his feet the way he thought it might.
Another of those surprising growls slipped out of Edward's throat. He drew his claws across his chest, scratching through the robe and through his light undergarments. Fur was pouring out of his chest, thicker and heavier in a proud tuft between a rising, thickening set of pectoral muscles.
Edward unfastened his belt for a moment, so that he could take off his robe and deal with the itch. It slumped to the floor, and he tugged the robe off over his head. The grayish-white underclothes he wore sat tightly against his toned thighs and squeezed around his shoulders in a way that kept bothering him when he had to move.
The bleaching of his fur continued at a steady pace, sucking all the pigment from his fur and leaving it a soft, creamy white all over. He still had his dark nose and brown eyes, but his pelt was white, and it was only getting thicker.
His biceps bulged slightly as he grabbed at the collar of his undershirt and tugged it off, freeing his broadening shoulders and thicker chest from the uncomfortable confines of his undershirt. He took a deep breath of the cool air and his chest swelled out, thickening pecs spreading, his chest hair rising up and then falling.
Edward felt better. A lot better, in fact. His mouth hung open and his tongue rolled out, letting him pant softly. His tail even wagged slowly behind him. He felt good, and strong. That was weird since he didn't usually feel strong at all, but he didn't feel like he could pay too much attention to that. Instead, he watched his white-furred biceps tense as he flexed his arm.
He felt like there was less to worry about now. He'd been getting himself nervous all that time, when there was nothing to be afraid of. He'd just say sorry to the barbarians, and then he'd be on his way.
His thumbs hooked at the waist of his underpants and he kicked them off, leaving them spread on the floor while he wandered toward the cell door, his shaft flopping with an unmistakable weight against each leg as he moved.
Or maybe he'd ask if they were looking for recruits?
“Ormr!" the older wolf, Ulfgar, called out. The clack of claws on stone echoed through the dungeon as the hunter jogged up to meet the other half of the search party.
Edward was sprawled on the floor, a bit of foam at the corner of his lips, eyes open but glazed over. In a poisoned haze, he had taken off his robe and amulet and kicked his boots off his feet.
“Shit, out like a fucking light," Ormr growled, pushing his hand in front of the delirious dog's snout. “He's still alive. Let's get him back and get him fixed up."
Edward's jaw swung open as Ormr tossed him over his back. He mumbled something about recruits into the wolf's shoulder.
Edward walked alongside the two wolves he'd escaped from. While they still stood easily a head above his own height, he didn't feel quite so scrawny compared to them, and that made him much less intimidated.
“Sure, we're always looking for recruits," Ormr said, slapping him across the back. It was a stiff jolt and it made Edward's voice drop an octave.
“Rrnh. Great! I never trained with weapons though," he said.
Edward felt like those years of anthropology were a bit wasted now. All that time with his head in books, writing about people he'd never seen before, and he'd never even bothered to pick up an axe and swing it around a bit?
Edward staggered for a moment, and the other wolves grabbed him quickly. Other, yes--his ears had perked up now, his muzzle longer and narrower--he was a wolf just like they were. Just about as tall as they were, too, once he got his balance back.
“Sorry about that," he growled, enjoying the gruff rumble in his throat.
“Don't worry. Great to hear we've got another warrior on our hands," Ulfgar said.
Edward grinned, showing his big fangs and his thick black lip. He had only had training, never having fought in an actual battle, but he was sure he could pick it up quickly. He spread his thick shoulders, wrapping an arm around both of the wolves.
Edward, the burly wolf, walked more steadily now, getting used to the weight of his frame.
“So, you got any bitches in your camp?" he asked, scratching at his chin, quietly admiring Ulfgar's braided beard. He felt the change in language was appropriate. He knew how to handle himself around civilized folk, and how to handle himself around barbarians.
Ormr snorted softly. “Like any of them would want a new recruit for a mate."
A sudden rush of anger ran through Edward's body and he slammed Ormr into the wall, towering over him, veins throbbing against his taut muscles and chest rising and falling quickly as he stared down into the shorter wolf's eyes.
“You want to keep me from a bitch?" he growled.
Ormr snarled dangerously back at him, but Edward was too quick. He had the wolf pinned up, armor torn away, his shaft buried tight into the barbarian's body. Edward was going to show him who was really in charge.
“You fucking hold him," Ormr growled.
He tried to pass the scrawny scholar over to Ulfgar's shoulder while they climbed up the stairs to the courtyard level.
“You're the young one, you carry him," Ulfgar grunted.
Ormr snarled and shook the mumbling dog.
“He's trying to grab my armor, little shit."
Edward ducked through the doorway, stepping out into the courtyard triumphantly. The cold wind blew through his fur, sending an invigorating feeling through him down to his bones. Ormr and Ulfgar, their ears folded back and tails tucked between their legs, followed the giant wolf out of the door, looking neither at each other or their new master, but at the ground.
The barbarians stared in awe as the massive, gleaming white-furred paragon of masculinity strode across the courtyard, straight for the chief's tent. He pushed aside the flaps, ears nearly touching the tent poles, walking right up to the fur-armored wolf and throwing him to the ground. Under a heavy paw, he crushed the chief's cheek into the ground, demanding that he step down immediately.
A foul smell made the scrawny Edward kick and squirm against tight leather bonds. He blinked through a haze of half-remembered dreams and overwhelming instincts and swallowed to wet his dry throat.
He looked above him, where his hands were bound at the wrists to the central pole of one of the barbarians' tents, then down, where his feet were tied to the same pole. He jerked himself one way, then the other, but only wobbled back and forth. The leather was strong and the pole was dug in deep.
“Let me down," he groaned.
Edward pulled hard against the bonds and arched his back.
“I'm your chief, let me down!" he barked.
The collie drooped, hanging against his arms and closing his eyes, dozing fitfully and rousing for a moment whenever his arms would get a kink in them and start to ache.
He rolled his eyes up at Ormr, who had stepped into the tent.
“Bow before your chief," he said, tired and angry and groggy and confused.
Ormr snorted softly. He pitched the pot he was holding toward Edward, dousing him from head to foot with the warm oil. He spluttered, spitting at the musky, meaty taste. By the time he had shaken the oil out of his eyes and away from his lips, Ormr was gone and he couldn't curse at him for disrespecting his chief.
The oil slowly seeped through his fur, giving it a glossy shine, and soaked into his skin, moisturizing and softening it against the cold, snowy air. Edward hung there, trying to dispel the clouds from his mind, uncertain now who he was or where he was.
The oil trickled down into his body, soaked through his skin and sucked even deeper. Just like it soothed his skin, it softened and soothed as it moved through him.
His shoulders were bunched up, aching as they sat pulled together with his hands high above his head. The oils coaxed his shoulders to relax, soothing the tightness of his muscles by softening them, pulling his shoulders in closer together to make his body more narrow. He could breath a sigh of relief, as his shoulders no longer ached so constantly.
A relaxation passed up along his arms, moving as it following the slight curves and swells of his biceps. It accompanied an invigorating warmth, the feeling of his fur growing out thicker and fuller and fluffier. He let out a slow, uneven breath. The sensations were growing almost sexual and his loins were starting to stir. That Edward was naked had completely passed beneath his notice.
His paws hurt, both from the scrambling through dungeons he'd done and from how tightly they were now tied up. They, too, had gotten splashed with oil, and once the pads on his fingers were puffier and softer, his fur grew out thicker and his fingers shrunk down, smaller and more delicate and tipped with neatly kept white claws.
Edward could feel the sensation trickling down his shoulder blades, running down his ribs and dripping in golden drops through his torso. His chest rose in a deep breath, and he let it back out as a tender sigh. Though he was hardly muscular to begin with, the drops and trickles and waves sweeping through him washed what little he had away. His chest was soft, his waist was slim, and his fur was growing thicker all down his front.
As the feelings rippled down over his waist, things shifted and bumped inside of him; they squeezed and slid and rearranged, making certain that he looked trim, that his hips were wide, and that his package was nowhere to be found. Clarity was starting to cut through the haze in his mind, but as he opened his eyes again, he looked down at a gentle feminine torso. Neither side of Edward wanted to look like this.
His body was no longer his choice. And, as he realized, rubbing his legs together desperately, it was no longer his. It was hers. She whimpered and she struggled again but with her muscles fading away beneath soft, gentle curves, she couldn't free herself. Her legs bent gently underneath her, feeling as if they were being unwound by delicate fingers. She rose back up on thicker, fluffier, more insulated paws, a shaggy-furred collie with a desperate look on her face.
“Untie me!" she cried out, surprisingly strong. It was still her male voice sitting in her throat. She had that, at least, to prove who she was.
Then a gentle moan slipped from her lips. That feeling of relaxation was moving up her neck and dwindling her vocal cords, dripping all the way up into her skull and making thick curls fall over her shoulder and her lip roll out into a gentle pout.
With a delicate huff, the feminine Edward collapsed back against the pole, sulking quietly.
“I'm sorry for trespassing!" Edward called out. The tents weren't that thick; they had to be able to hear her. “If you just give me my things, I'll leave and I won't come back or tell anyone or anything!"
Her head was clear of the delusions the poisoned arrow had caused. She just wanted to go home now. Maybe if Ormr came back in, she could beg him to let her go. She assumed she looked cute like this. She hoped Ormr thought so. He was pretty big and handsome so…
Edward shook her head suddenly and her ears lost their floppy tips, pointing straight up like a wolf's. The color slowly pulled back from her hair and her head fur, as if it were draining out of the tips and being sucked back through the roots.
Her tongue flopped from her lips, as if it was too warm inside the tent. Her thickening fur protected her against the cold, making what seemed chilly now warm and balmy.
Edwyn tried to focus on the other wolf, Ulfgar. He was older, perhaps wiser, and he might be more opposed to senseless kidnapping and magical disfigurement for as simple a crime as trespassing. And he had that long beard. She could just imagine tugging it to drag him in close, or laying on his chest and snuggling against his soft fur while he told her all about his scars.
Edwyn jolted herself back out of the fantasy. She didn't want to stay around these barbarians any longer. She wanted to go back to the university and spend all her time reading about distant cultures and never have to see another piece of fur armor again.
The color of the fur on her torso slipped from black and white to simple white. She gasped sharply as she felt a rising sensation, soft and weighty and jiggling gently when she tried to move. She knew what it was, and she didn't want to look, but she did. Her breasts were swelling, thick and natural in the way she'd always dreamed of feeling...but no, that wasn't right, she'd dreamed of thick muscles and broad chins.
Edwyn tugged hard on her bonds and the tent post wobbled. As the warm, icy whiteness spread out through her fur, her muscles surged back with it--stronger than before, but more sinew and less bulk, leaving her still with a feminine figure despite her taut muscles.
“Let me go!" Edwyn demanded. She curled her thicker, darker lip as she tugged at the leather straps again. The wave of white fur pulled abs out of her waist, subtle swells that hinted at the strong muscle tightly packed underneath them.
“Let me go-oooo!" she repeated, breaking into a sudden howl.
The wave had hit her waist, and all of the thoughts about big barbarian wolves seemed like nothing to what she was feeling now. A switch was flipped, a fire sparked, and now she needed a mate. That was the word in her mind, not boyfriend or lover or husband, mate. This was different from lust, in some primal way. It was something her body needed, not something she wanted.
The barbarian wolf girl began to fight her bonds with a renewed ferocity. Her new needs were overriding her cultured background and education. It was becoming more and more of a distant memory as time went by. Her hips thickened with soft fat and her breasts kept growing and her eyes rolled back slightly as she panted desperately, rubbing herself up against the pole while tugging on the straps. She let out a high-pitched moan and a warrior's cry in one breath, tearing through the leather around her wrists and falling forward onto all fours.
Her tongue lolled out nearly far enough to touch the ground, her hindquarters instinctively raised up into the air. With her hands still bound together, she edged herself back into a crouch, and untied the knots that kept her feet bound to the pole.
She could hardly think about anything other than getting free to find a mate right now. She clenched her legs together with the handle of an axe between them, holding it steady so that she could cut her hands free on its edge. After a few hard thrusts, the leather sprung open and she fell to her hands and knees, grasping the furs spread on the ground and panting desperately. She had to find a mate. Mate mate mate mate mate. But she wasn't going out there nude.
She grabbed the boots nearby that were waiting for her, digging her paws into the soft fur. She tugged on the loincloth, decorated with the claws of killed beasts. She tried to exhale as much as possible before pulling on the top, a strap of fur-lined leather that wrapped from one breast around to the other, and covered the space in between with a woven leather string to keep it wrapped around her breasts. With a pair of hide bracers wrapped around her wrists, she felt like she was fully dressed.
Axe held in hand, still panting desperately even out in the cool evening air, Edwyn left her tent and howled to the camp, “I'll mate with whoever can beat me in a duel!"
Edwyn's legs were spread wide for the wolf above her. The gash he had scored across her collarbone still ached, but she bore it like a warrior--
Each thrust rocked her so hard it felt as if it could crush the thoughts right out of her skull. It was a shame that neither Ulfgar or Ormr had wanted to--
Edwyn didn't know him yet. His name was...Balfric? That sounded close. It didn't matter much. She wasn't mating with his name, she was mating--
Ah, fuck, she loved his beard, and the scar right across his muzzle under his eye, and the way he grabbed her hips so tight she felt like he would--
Edwyn loved him so much, she just wanted to get mated over and over and she didn't care, she couldn't think of anywhere she'd rather be or any thing--
A distant past life rattled around in there somewhere but she couldn't quite recall it, and she had the feeling that if she did she wouldn't want to go back--
Edwyn grasped the carpet and howled like a desperate bitch. She was strong like a warrior, but had the passion of a devoted breeder. Balfric couldn't have asked for a better mate--one he could both fight alongside and fuck.
The whole camp could hear their noise, but it didn't matter one bit. They were used to howls and moans and the sounds of life coming from the tents where breeding pairs slept.
Edwyn looked up from the blade of her axe, brought from its sorry blunted state up to a shining silver edge. Ormr laid out a sack cloth, in which had been bundled a fur cloak and a fine-woven robe, a leather belt, a pair of boots, a set of undergarments, and two books. None but the cloak would fit her, and she couldn't even read. She knew the items were familiar, but didn't give them any more thought than that.
“A present?" she asked.
She pulled the cloak around her shoulders and buckled the broach.
Ormr shrugged. “We were going to trade them. Thought you might like a look through them first."
Edwyn rose to her feet, starting to pant softly.
“Now what can I trade you for this cloak?" she asked, leaning forward against Ormr's chest.
In the end, Edwyn felt that she'd made an excellent bargain.