|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
A Gift of Dreams
(NOTE: This is another role-playing game experieince written up as a short story. The background of the game leading up to this point is too complex to get into here. However, the story holds up fairly well on its own.)
A nudge woke Paudie from strange dreams, and he cursed himself for falling asleep as he struggled to clear muddled thoughts and vision. The young apprentice had finally managed a private chat with Almaden here in the ship's hold yesterday, hoping that the old but mischievous Wizard would share some secrets, and perhaps, his power.
Still tired from battling a pursuing warship, Almaden had confirmed the awful truth. Magic was fading, and would be gone long before the former thief's dreams of becoming a wizard himself could be realized. However, he had listened to Paudie's request for some 'special' spells with an amused smile, and promised that the boy would "feel the magic" this morning. Paudie lifted his head groggily. Right now, all he felt was thick-headed and awkward.
Dim sunlight was already shining down through the hatch covers. It was morning, though probably still quite early. Another nudge prompted him to twist his head around to see the group's burro standing over him. Her scent was comforting, and also prompted a sudden wave of hunger. Rising up on wobbly legs, he followed part of that scent to her teats, where questing lips eagerly pulled in rich milk.
The need to nurse banished all other thought until he was close to bursting. Even then he lipped the swollen teats absently, alerted to an intruder only by a quiet chuckle. As he tried to focus on the person standing next to him, he realized several things at once. First of all, he had just gotten breakfast from a donkey. Second, he was standing on four legs, not two. And lastly, the visitor was grinning down at him with Paudie's face.
Paudie's exclamation of surprise came out as a high-pitched wheezing. Despite distorted vision, it took only a glance at himself to see why. He was a burro, probably not more than a day or two old! Even the odd dullness of thought couldn't dampen his delight. Though he would have preferred the real changes to his human body that made up his initial request, Almaden had chosen to give him his second wish, temporarily turning him into a jackass.
Now that he was aware of his new form, he realized that he did indeed feel very different. Scents and sounds had been much more intense ever since he woke up, though he hadn't noticed until now. Everything was new and different, yet being an animal seemed completely natural to him. His elation was marred only by the presence of his own human form. If he was now a burro, then who...?
"Almaden, my furry little friend." The ugly youth grinned and stroked Paudie's muzzle. "I would prefer not to be recognized by some of the elves we will be dealing with, and assuming your appearance solves several problems at once." Almaden picked up a grooming brush and ran it through Paudie's rough coat. "You wanted to see what it was like to be an animal. How were we to explain your absence to the others? Or did you want them all to know?"
There was another chuckle. "Oh. You can't answer, can you? Should have used the same spell on myself that I used on you last night. I suppose you found out that burros are not much for conversation, even when you do understand them." He sighed. "Well, there isn't time for it now."
"This way, I can cover for you. They may wonder about my whereabouts, but Max already knows that I am not anxious to show myself. He'll probably even think that -I- am the extra donkey. And it gives me a convenient disguise, as well as a reason to tag along with Max. No one will pay any mind to the boy lugging his books and bags."
The gentle grooming felt wonderful, and Paudie felt himself relaxing into a dull stupor. Listening to Almaden was getting harder now, requiring some effort to recognize the sounds he made as words. Still, he concentrated as best he could.
"I was surprised at how good this body of yours really is. Quite fast and coordinated, and a bit stronger than I expected. Of course, being 19 instead of 14 makes a big difference." Almaden paused in the grooming and pulled at the bright red of hair on his head. "No hiding this mop, though, and I must admit that you were more than passing ugly. I suppose it would be even worse in a few years, as your age started to show more."
The wizard's words scraped open the raw wound of Paudie's greatest fear, and even the growing dullness couldn't eliminate the slight bitterness he felt. Constant starvation had stunted Paudie's growth. His small size combined with protruding teeth and a prominent nose to give the appearance of a very homely young boy. As a street rat struggling to survive on the docks, and later, working for the Thieves' Guild, he'd put this false youth to work. Even Master Shultee, or Max as Almaden called him, had been fooled until Paudie himself had confessed just as they boarded this ship.
The masquerade couldn't last much longer, anyway. Being treated as a child had been bearable for a while, but the knowledge of his true age gnawed at him every moment. It was more than fear of discovery. Master Shultee had accepted it with barely a murmur. What he hated more than anything was having to start his life over at an age where most apprentices were going off on their own. Almaden had started his apprenticeship at age 8. At best, Paudie would be well into his twenties by the time he had learned the merchant profession that was his only recourse.
That despair had prompted his initial request of Almaden - to really be a boy again, so that he could start as a 'normal' apprentice, and finish up at a 'normal' age. And he had also asked for some help with his appearance. Almaden had pegged it with 'ugly.' Those who still thought him a child considered him cute, like an ugly puppy. However, it would not be long before the 'cute' boy was obviously a misshapen and dwarfish young man.
"You still there, boy?" Almaden's voice broke through Paudie's mournful thoughts, and he brayed in reply. The wizard patted his neck. "Your kindness to this beast is paying off now. She will care for you and protect you as you mature, and should prove quite a willing mate when that time comes."
Paudie's eyes went wide, and he brayed in alarm. Mate? He was only a few days old, at least as a donkey. Just how long did Almaden plan to keep him like this? Again, the wizard seemed to pick up on his thoughts.
"You said you wanted to see what it was like to live as an animal. I'm giving you all of that." There was a trace of pride in Almaden's voice, now. "Quite a clever spell, if I say so myself. You are aging at the rate of about one year per day. You'll be on hay and oats by dinner tonight, and fully grown by tomorrow. A jackass usually lives about 15 to 20 years. That's two or more weeks, plenty of time to take care of business with the elves. You'll make a handy pack animal while we are here, and we should be well on our way to the next stop by the time old age takes you."
Cold horror filled the dwindling human part of Paudie's mind, and fear and shock slammed into him like a massive weight. He was going to die of old age in two weeks? Almaden couldn't be capable of such betrayal and cruelty. Yet Paudie could tell that he was already larger, steadier than he'd been when he woke. Worse, the bastard actually chuckled as he saw Paudie's reaction!
"Calm down, lad. I didn't go through all this just to kill you. Much easier ways of doing that." He approached the shivering colt and started brushing him again. "This spell will end when your burro's body dies of old age. At that moment, you'll become a boy again. The boy you asked to be. And Paudie Lightfinger.." he indicated himself, "at least, this version of him, will vanish forever."
Paudie almost collapsed with relief. But his thoughts were suddenly sluggish and confused, as if the fear had evaporated into a heavy fog which clouded his mind. Almaden was still talking, though hard to understand. "There is a price for this, Paudie. Not large by most standards, but perhaps heavy by yours. The spells I cast on you are powerful, and took much energy and effort. A very small part of that energy was yours, but it was all you had. Even your precious Fireball spell is lost to you now. Perhaps you will find different energies to replace it, but magic is no longer within your grasp."
Almaden shook his head and smiled sadly. "You probably don't even understand what I am saying. Don't worry. You'll remember it all later. Just relax and enjoy yourself."
The human's soothing voice was comforting, even though the noises it made no longer meant anything. And the female was close by, with teats already full of milk again. Mother? The idea was human, but the concept universal. Comprehension was changing to that of a beast, memories fading as instinct and senses took over. The two-legged creature was silent now, ignored as the mare called her foal to nurse.
A nudge woke Paudie from strange dreams. He could feel the movement of the deck under him, and opened his eyes to see the burro staring down at him. The smell of her brought a rush of impossible memories and associations. Nursing, grooming, playing, mating. Even that last was somehow acceptable, for the image of them mating was of two burros. And it was a dream, anyway. He hadn't changed at all. Disgusted, he sat up, brushing aside the long, dark hair that fell across his face. It took moment to register, but then he plucked one of the offending strands and stared at it. Brown. Not red.
The dream images were getting clearer, not fading as such things normally did. There was a memory of talking with... himself? No, with Almaden. "At that moment, you'll become a boy again. The boy you asked to be." He scrambled up and stared at himself with a mixture of joy and dismay. He also remembered the price extracted, the loss of his magic.
For this? His new body made sense, especially considering who he had asked to make the change. And he had no doubts that Almaden had indeed made him a boy who was less ugly, a boy who was the right age to be starting out as an apprentice. There was no way to be sure, but Paudie was willing to bet that he was a perfect match to another starting apprentice he'd heard about - Almaden himself, at age 8.
(Please address all comments or questions concerning this story to Bob Stein at Posti@aol.com )
A Gift of Dreams copyright 1996 by Bob Stein.
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