“They didn’t chain you up,” the woman said in her gentle accent. “Quickly, I need you to do something for me. I think we may be able to get out of here.”
Dechar looked at her with suspicion. “What could I possibly do to get us out of here?”
“I need you to reach that little shard of metal on the floor between our cells. It’s been there for weeks, but the guards haven’t even noticed. It fell off a man’s armor in a struggle with… the person who was in your cell before. I know you can do it. There’s a chance you’ll be able to unlock the cell with it.”
Dechar held back a cynical laugh. “In case you haven’t noticed, lady, I have no thumbs. Even if I can reach it, how do you expect me to unlock a door?”
The woman’s expression grew concerned. “What do you mean? Shift to your other form. You need to hurry. They could come back any minute with chains, and when they do, they’ll block out your magic.”
Dechar’s face twisted with confusion. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m a greywolf. Not some magical creature.”
“Greywolf?” the woman’s eyes widened. “You can’t seriously believe you’re a greywolf! There’s no time for jokes; we need to hurry.”
Dechar’s patience thinned. “If I’m not a greywolf, then what the hell am I? I mean, everyone here seems to know something I don’t, and it’s starting to piss me off!”
“You really don’t know, do you?” she marvelled. “Greywolf is what the humans call us when we’re in our wulfen forms. Most of them don’t know our true nature; the king keeps it that way. But you have another form. We are of the Dechi, the shapeshifters. You can make yourself like a man, just as I am now a woman.”
Dechar’s heart galloped. “Bullshit! You’re lying. I can see why those men were afraid of you. Spare me your trickery, witch.” He turned away in his cell and bedded down.
“No! Please, I’m not lying to you! I need your help. It’s only a matter of time before they kill us both. Please, just try. What have you got to lose?” Desperation cracked her soft voice.
Nothing, Dechar thought. I have nothing left. He turned back to face her. “Oh, I don't know, my dignity, maybe. But for the sake of entertainment, I'll play your little game. How exactly does one shapeshift?” he asked. He tried to sound sarcastic, but he could not help but be chilled by the similarity of the words Dechi and Dechar.
“Well… for me, it’s very natural. You just will yourself to change.” She tried to calm herself and become patient. “Picture yourself as a man. It might help to close your eyes. It will happen very suddenly.”
I can’t believe I’m doing this, Dechar thought. He closed his eyes and braced himself.
“There! See, you’ve done it!” he heard the woman say.
He opened his eyes, then wider, in panic. Where his paw had once been, he saw pink fingers. He held out his hands in front of him. It felt natural and unnatural all at once. He began to hyperventilate, scrambling backward.
Even the woman wore a concerned look of surprise. “I can see this is all very new to you,” she said. “But you must try to focus now. Grab the metal.”
Dechar’s world spiraled around him as he used his strange new form to reach between the bars and grab a very thin, triangular slice of armor a few inches long.
“Good, that’s good,” the woman encouraged. “Now try to open the lock.”
His hands shook uncontrollably as he tried to slip the metal into the keyhole. He felt the shard settle deep within the lock.
A thudding sound rose from above the dungeon. “There’s someone coming!” the woman warned. “Just keep going. Trust me. Once these chains are off, I’ll be able to teleport us outside the city.”
Of course you will, Dechar thought to himself in fever. He unlocked his own cell, but before he could reach the woman’s, the dungeon door shrieked yet again. Dechar tripped to the back of his cell, barely able to walk on two legs.
A portly, whistling man spun a key around his finger. “Alright, wolfy. Suppose it's time for some grub.” He balanced two bowls on his other arm, one with scraps of meat and one with water. He made his way over to Dechar’s quarters at a leisurely pace and was greated by a swinging barred door, knocking him to the ground. Dechar scrambled over to him, holding what he now weilded as a blade over the man's neck.
The man cried out, horrified, but no one could hear him down in the dungeon. "P-please," he begged, "Let me go. I'll give you my clothes, anything you want."
"Just kill him," the woman insisted. "If we let him go, he'll run and tell the others. And then we could have a much bigger problem on our hands." Dechar released his grip on the man and demanded his clothes. "What are you doing?" the woman asked.
The man turned around and started to strip, or so Dechar thought. In seconds, the guard turned on Dechar, dagger in hand, and stabbed him in his gut. Dechar, surprised at his reaction, had lifted his own weapon to the man's throat. Blood seeped from the guard's neck as he fell to the ground. "Now look what you've done," the woman said. Dechar looked down at his own injury and saw the same crimson stream running down his naked flesh.