Shifting Form

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Keldon grabbed Tarian's shoulder and spun him around. In the blink of an eye, Tarian closed the distance with his friend and shoved him into the wall. Keldon's brow furrowed as he took in a deep breath and rammed his finger into Tarian's chest. "Tarian, you can't keep bothering the scientists."

"Caleb secured their shifting monstrosity," Tarian retorted. He brushed Keldon's hands off and straightened his jacket. "Didn't you listen to Caleb? We have to defend ourselves!"

"I know," Keldon responded, lifting his palms. "But you're not helping them."

Tarian took a deep breath and rubbed his temples, "If that monster had approached either you or Engrim, we wouldn't be having this conversation." His hands gripped Keldon's jacket and pulled him closer. "So, if my constant visits help expedite their work, then it's worth it."

"But they don't," Keldon protested as he shouldered out of his friend's grasp and faced him. "And that's exactly what I'm trying to tell you. Your trips blow everything up, and it takes forever to settle down once you leave."

Tarian's face scrunched as he stared into the sky as his hand gripped the doorknob. With a twist, he shoved the door open, muttering, "They'll get over it. Caleb required ten darts to secure his doppelganger."

Keldon groaned as he followed Tarian inside. "I was there. I remember Caleb's report."

"Francis, have you made any progress?" Tarian inquired as he stalked into the room.

The scientist turned, hugging his clipboard into his chest. He ran his index finger under his nose as his eyes drifted back to his work. "Well, we've unearthed some remarkable discoveries about these creatures."

Tarian peered at Keldon, saying, "Really, that's fascinating."

"You better face him for this conversation," Keldon muttered as he dropped onto a crate. "It's the last time I listen to these guys."

"Elaborate, Francis," Tarian commanded.

"Well, as you've seen, they have a rather malleable cellular structure."

"I remember," Tarian replied as he stared at Francis's head. "And while I'm sure the science that backs that fact is fascinating, I am more concerned about the ability to neutralize them." Tarian jostled the man's shoulder. "Have you made any remarkable discoveries there?"

Francis released his grip on the clipboard and thumbed through the pages, sucking on his lips. "Well, we're about to perform our latest experiment on the creature."

"Let's proceed," Tarian said as he marched towards the shapeshifter.

"Saul, are you ready to execute the procedure?"

The taller of the two men snapped his fingers, and a dart was slapped into his hand. He loaded the rifle and aimed at the creature's midsection. While Saul steadied himself, the white skinned monster shrank and became a small fox. It darted for the gap between the bars, but its maw couldn't penetrate.

"Does it change shape a lot?" Tarian asked.

As Saul lowered the weapon, the animal jumped backward, transforming into Saul's double. With wide eyes, Saul bobbled the firearm.

"It's still the creature," Keldon barked.

"I'm aware of that," Saul stuttered as he aimed at his duplicate's stomach.

As the monster backed up, it altered its form into a Dwarf.

Keldon's hand flew to Tarian's arm as he exclaimed, "That looks an awful lot like Fitik!"

"It does," Tarian concurred. "Back away, Saul," he ordered, emphasizing the command with a snap of his fingers. Tarian strode to the cage and took a sharp breath. "There's a similarity to Fitik, but I also see subtle differences."

"It's an adequate copy to fool me," Keldon murmured.

With a scoff, Tarian spun to face his friend. "This must be how the enemy infiltrated our defenses and planted all that evidence." Tarian's finger crept towards the shifting creature. "There isn't much else they're good for."

"I can't think of another way all of this could have happened," Keldon said as he rubbed his jaw. With a sideways glance, he muttered, "It makes perfect sense if you consider it."

The monster shifted form yet again, assuming the shape of a small tunneling animal. With a flick of its eyes, the clawed fiend tried clawing through the base of the cage.

"It won't be able to tear through the enclosure, will it?" Tarian asked, reaching for his rifle.

"That's not the first burrowing creature it's become," Francis replied. "Saul, please show Tarian the effect of the modified serum."

The scientist nodded as the monster transformed into an Elf. The moment the body snapped into the borrowed shape, the dart flew from the rifle and embedded itself into the thing's abdomen. It unleashed a howl while pulling the projectile out. But its legs buckled as its form rippled back to the white-fleshed being.

Tarian gripped the bars and stared at the still creature. "Are you able to mass produce this concoction?"

"It's possible," Francis replied.

"Excellent," Tarian proclaimed. "Keldon, our former allies, need to be educated about this thing and its capabilities." He spun around and grasped his friend. "Do you believe you can find the elves?"

Keldon grimaced and buried his face into his palm. "Is it safe to assume that you'll ask Caleb to search for the Dwarves?"

"Yes," Tarian responded. He gripped his chin as he observed the creature. "Though as you're tromping about the forest, be extraordinarily loud proclaiming the news about this alien threat. I don't care if they ignore you as long as they hear about it."

Keldon nodded and returned his rifle.

Tarian released his friend as he faced Francis, "Start manufacturing this compound immediately. Before the sun sets, I expect enough of that drug to ensure the safety of this settlement." With a clap to the scientist's arm, Tarian grinned. "Send whatever surplus you have to the Dwarves and Elves."

"I'll see to it," Francis mumbled.

He spun on his heel and headed for the door. "Francis, make sure you work with Lloyd to devise a way to combat this menace. And continue the research, I want to know everything about these beings before we re-encounter them."


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