Lilley Thornhollow had been a bride six weeks when she died.
Four years earlier, the beautiful young half-elf had celebrated the return of her childhood sweetheart Kyren Thornhollow from his rite of passage, the Quest for the Everflame, in the town of Kassen by joyfully accepting his proposal of marriage in the midst of the festival. It would have to be a long engagement, however; Kyren, fresh out of his apprenticeship, was determined that he be able to provide a comfortable home for his bride-to-be and any children that might bless their union so while he worked and saved, Lilley traveled the Fangwood with the militia in which her human father had died some years earlier. She had never known her elven mother, and her father's comrades-in-arms appreciated both the sweet songs she sang and her soft-spoken way of defusing tensions with other groups of Nirmathi militia patroling the forest against incursions by Molthune.
At long last, Kyren had saved enough money to build and furnish a tidy new house in Kassen with a garden and sent for his bride. The whole town turned out for the wedding, when he put a golden ring on her finger depicting the holy symbol of Shelyn in chips of colored semi-precious stones, a symbol of his eternal love and devotion.
Six weeks later, she lay dying. Disease had spread through the village, ironically probably carried by a wedding guest. Relatively few had died of the pestilence, but Lilley was one of the the unlucky. Kyren sat by their bed in anguish, holding her slim and clammy hand and whispering professions of love -- and promises. "They say there's a druid in the Fangwood," he told her. "Whatever it costs, I'll get you back." They were the last words her ears would hear on this plane.
What followed next was cloudy and confusing in her memories. She was in a great cloud of whispering beings, none of which were clear to her, knowing she was waiting to be judged. When she sensed the call across the planes, her soul shot back like an arrow, joyful, knowing that her lover had kept his promise.
She opened her eyes in a dim grove, the grass soft and blessedly material against her back. There was a rustle and Kyren stepped from between the trees. His face was clear to her: pale and drawn but marked with a wild hope. Although she could see him clearly, he didn't seem to have seen her yet; he turned the beam of a lantern he carried, searching. The light struck her eyes, and she saw his face change in an instant, from eager to appalled. "Kyren, what's wrong?" she asked as he drew back and was immediately frightened and surprised by the sound of her own voice. Her voice was no longer high and sweet as it had been but low and rough, and the words were slurred and distorted by traveling around two tusks that emerged from her mouth. She had come back and was still half-human -- but her new body's other half was orc.
They traveled back to Kassen in stunned silence, her trailing after him in shame, her eyes on the ground. When they arrived, blessedly still in the dark and concealed from curious eyes, she turned toward the house she had died in, but Kyren had sold it to pay for her reincarnation. Even the house and all the furniture had not brought enough, and to raise enough gold within a week, he had indentured himself to a lumber merchant, agreeing to work for seven long years to repay the debt. He took her to a small, one-room house he had rented. He went in, looked at the bed, looked at the floor. "You take the bed; I'll sleep on the floor," he told her, without looking in her direction at all.
He slept all that night with his back to the bed. She knew because her yellow eyes could see in the dark and because this new body had only been alive for a few hours and wasn't tired. In truth, she was as attractive by the standards of half-orcs as she had been by human standards in the body that died; there wasn't an orc in Belkzen that wouldn't have been happy to claim her, a well-muscled, broad-shouldered, slim-waisted female with smooth green skin and near-human features apart from the exposed tusks. But Lilley was as repulsed by her new form as her husband was. She lay alone and awake in the bed, her skin crawling at its own existence. The awkward silence remained unbroken the next morning, as Kyren rose and dressed and Lilley huddled miserably wishing to be invisible. He stopped just before he walked out the door and spoke without turning around. "We work ten days and will be back the eleventh." As he shouldered his axe, he finally glanced at her strong, green arm clutching the sheets and gave a humorless chuckle as he walked out the door; she was clearly now stronger than he and would have made a better lumberjack.
The daylight stung her orcish eyes, and she desperately wanted not to be seen anyway. She closed the shutters before exploring the room her world had shrunk to. There was little enough; Kyren had sold everything of value -- with one exception. She found all of her own possessions carefully put away in a rickety wooden chest: her clothes, her shoes, her wedding ring. None of them would fit her new, larger body. Alone, at last she wept, a bestial howl that only deepened her despair.
The second night, she slept. She dreamed. Dreams of her old life in the forest, yes, but also dreams she had never had before: dreams of blood and death and destruction. She would have called them nightmares, except that she didn't wake in terror -- and that frightened her more than the dreams.
She couldn't hide forever. She was seen slipping out at dusk or before sun-up. She could feel the wave of horrified whispers wash across the town. No one spoke to her; no one knew what to say. Half-orcs were not unknown in the Fangwood, but half-orcs that used to be half-elf maidens were. They averted their eyes. She averted her own. On the eleventh day, Kyren returned. He walked in the door, his axe on his shoulder. He looked at her, his face a blank mask. He slept on the floor.
It was his fourth or fifth ten-day shift, when she slipped out of the house to walk in the forest before dawn, before the sun came up to burn her eyes, before anyone would see her. She had grown to hate that little room, full of the pieces of her past life which mocked what she had become, and she stayed out a little too long. Returning to town, she saw two women already out to draw their morning water from the well between her and the safety of her door. They were standing and looking at the little house. "Poor Kyren," she overheard one of them say. "He gave up everything he had worked so hard for, and for what?" "Yes," the other replied sagely, "he would have been so much happier if she'd just stayed dead."
She left that night, having forced her larger, broader hands to fumble a note to the landlady telling her to let the house to someone else so Kyren would no longer have to pay for it. She took her clothes and her ring and followed the trail into the forest, looking for the lumberjacks' camp. She had been forced to wear some of Kyren's clothes, all she could find to fit her, and pushed her wider, flatter feet into his old boots. In the dark, with her gruff voice, she could pass for one of the half-breed men who worked there. She found a watchman half asleep, asked which tent was Kyren Thornhollow's.
She intended to set him free, release him from his obligation to her, return her old belongings and the ring he had given her to sell to shorten his term of service. But when she quietly entered the tent and saw, in the dark, him making love to a camp prostitute in his cot, her orcish blood boiled. At once she knew what her tusks were for; she growled in outrage, tore at the woman's throat with her teeth and felt the hot spray of blood in her face. It wasn't until she saw through the darkness the gape of horror and fear on her husband's face that she realized what she had done and what she had become. She released the limp body from her jaws, dropped the bag, and ran, before lights could be struck or alarms sounded. She ran until even the strength of her half-orc body could carrry her no further. As she lay on her face, gasping and sobbing into the undergrowth, she opened her clenched hand to find her wedding ring still in it, the holy symbol of Shelyn impressed into her green flesh.
She made for the edge of the Fangwood, a pass through the Mindspin Mountains, for Kaer Maga. She had heard tales of a city so depraved that the strangest and most monstrous creatures could walk its streets without drawing undue attention and had never had any desire to see it until now. If there was anywhere a half-elf in a half-orc's body could hope to find anonymity and anything approaching a normal life, it was there. She kept the ring and her husband's name to remind her of who she used to be; she has the dreams of violence to remind her of what she is. The death of her husband's lover at the points of her tusks wasn't the end of the stirring of the orcish blood in her veins but only its awakening....