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Summer Days in Styria
Slowly putting foot over foot, trying not to move the rope, he crept up. On the windowsill he paused for a moment. He silently dislodged his grappling hook, and slowly rewound his rope, always careful not to make any sound. Then he examined the window. As was promised in the plans he had gotten, the window was simple wood and glass. He could see no reinforcement, nor any visible alarms. He carefully took the small talisman out of his shirt, and ran the tiny eye all over the window. It didn't glow, nor close. Good, no magic.
He smeared the fingertips of his left hand with glue. Pressing them against the window, he deftly cut a circle out of the windowpane, removed it gingerly, reached in, and opened the window. A soft creak escaped the hinges. He stopped moving immediately. No further sounds, good. He opened the window further and slipped into the tower.
As soon as he touched the floorboards, he paused again, all senses straining to hear, see, smell any sign of an alarm. He sighed silently. This was going too easy.
The room was spaciuos, the desk and the shelves along the paneled walls were fine, yet a bit spartan. 'I'm probably the youngest thing in his office', Mauritz thought as he sat, waiting to find out why he had been summoned to the central bureau of military intelligence. The door clicked open.
"Leutnant Mauritz von Gneis."
Mauritz came smartly to attention. "Jawohl, Herr Major."
Major Markhof looked the young man over. He looked splendid in his cavalry uniform. A good tailor, but then of course, the uniform of the k.u.k cavalry was designed to make young men look splendid. The major chuckled softly at the thought. Then he looked away from the young man, to the papers lying before him.
He slowly scanned the room, almost unmoving, breathing ever so shallow. A study, so it seemed. The walls were covered with american bookcases, the glasspanes clean and sparkling slightly in slivers of moonlight. A large leather easy chair, a low coffeetable. He moved forward cautiously, testing each floorboard.
Something caught his eye. Beside the chair a small object lay on the floor. A circle of dull black, almost invisible. He advanced slowly. The thing was out of place in a room where nothing was out of place. On deliberate step after the other brought him nearer to the object. his shirt started to glow. The talisman. Magic. And yet, he stepped closer. As he neared, the object gained definition. About half an inch wide. An unclosed circle. He stepped nearer, almost eager. He dropped to one knee. He could see it closely now: a collar, made of dull leather, with a black steel clasp.
"You have been trained in covert actions." More a statement than a question, yet Mauritz answered. "Yes, Sir. Covert action and intelligence, Sir." The Major mustered him, then returned his gaze to the thick folder in his hands. "You have also had alpine training." As Mauritz started to answer, he held up a hand, "No need to answer, the file on you is rather exhaustive. I take it, that your experience is not limited to nature's steep surfaces?" Mauritz only nodded. "You also have demonstrated a natural ability at the more occult arts, yet have not had any formal schooling in these matters." Before Mauritz could answer, the Major continued, "That is as well. A schooled Master of the arts may be at a disadvantage in our situation."
"To get to the matters at hand." Major Markhof put down the papers and sat down behind his desk. "Take a seat, Leutnant. You have been recommended to me as a young man with promise and discretion. You may by now have surmised, that we have a problem on our hands, which - in our judgement - you may be able to deal with. You are right. Frankly, We are a bit embarassed about the situation. We are faced with a rogue mage. Now this is not at all uncommon in the more remote parts of the empire, and there we usually allow it, unless the person in question does more than simply care for its own needs and desires, outlandish as they usually are.
In this case though, the mage in question has taken up residence in the Radma, a small valley in Styria, only three days away from Vienna, and even nearer to the Semmering, our beloved emperor's vacation resort." Major Markhof looked up from his desk.
"He has dug in well. Previous attempts to dislodge him have failed. He has reshaped the valley according to his tastes, and from what little we have gotten out, it may not even be recognizable anymore. He has also erected a strong barrier, which is only surmountable by considerable force. We are of course reluctant to deploy such force. A threat that near to Vienna has to be dealt with by more discrete means if at all possible."
"The barrier is simple, yet insidious. Anything living can get in or out without any hindrance, any non-living matter is simply annihilated." The Major paused, again examining Mauritz's face.
"We want you to go in nude, find and kill Freiherr Lanz von Herzenger."
Mauritz thought for a moment.
"Herr Major, I am ready and willing."
Oblivious to the glow of his talisman, he reached out to the collar. Tenderly he touched it with his fingertips, slowly ran his fingers around its circumference. With both hands he picked the collar up. He held it in his hands, examining every inch with his fingers. Then he brought it to his neck. Slowly he pressed it against his adam's apple, sliding his thumbs along the leather, he brought the ends together behind his neck. The clasp closed without even the softest click. Still careful not to make a sound, he slowly stood up. With slow, deliberate movements, he stripped. He carefully folded his clothes, and put them in a neat stack on the table. Finally nude, he lay down beside the chair, curled up in a comfortable position and closed his eyes.
Mauritz sat in the evening light on the soft grass, watching the slight glitter in the air, that told him where the barrier wasa. He tried to review the past few weeks. It was a hectic time. Immediately after he had accepted the assignment, he was whisked to the k.u.k Hofakademie. A few select spells where hammered into him. He could not take anything with him, but they hoped he could make eyverything needed with the right spells. Not too many though, or the magic in him would shine like a beacon to von Herzenger.
And yet they put something else in him, a "personality core" as they called it. "We have to assume that von Herzenger has put up some field to ensure acceptance of his reality," Prof. Dr. Birkhan explained. "He needs the peasantry to keep the place running. Besides," he added with a wry smile, "It's the usual modus operandi. Your personality core will make sure, that you never forget who you are, and why you are there. Under radically mind-altering circumstances, it may take a while to reassert itself, but we have not yet found a way to make it fail." He smiled again, reassuringly, yet Mauritz shuddered at the thought of the experiments that led to this assertion.
The sun went down early in the mountains, but the light lingered longer. Mauritz put his hands together, concentrating, he murmured a few words. The simple peasant clothes he wore fell off, transforming into leaves and twigs in the process. It would not do to leave any traces.
Then he boldly stepped through the barrier. The shimmering curtain tingled on his skin.
A voice woke from dreamless sleep.
"Wonderful, simply wonderful." A man had come in, slender and elegant, dressed in a simple house-coat and settled in the easy chair. "Wake up, my dear." The man patted his head. "Up with you," the man indicated some free space right before the coffee table, "just stand over there." Mauritz stod up, and lightly walked over to the indicated spot. There he stood, patiently waiting.
The man mustered him, studying his posture and his body. Then he called out: "Samiel, attend to me." A pink mass dripped from a hole in the air beside the chair. Slowly it coalesced into the shape of a prebuscent boy, with golden curls and an innocent face. "Sir?"
"Samiel, I have to congratulate you. This obedience collar was a stroke of genius. Another assassin has caught himself. Now, Samiel, what should we do with him?" He stood up, and walked around Mauritz who was standing motionless, waiting.
"Make him useful, Sir." The man considered, then sat back into the chair. "Samiel, you will sculpt him. As he already wears a collar, he might make a fine watchdog."
Mauritz awoke. Something itched. As he stretched and rubbed the sleep from his eyes, he took stock of his surroundings. He seemed to lie in some stable on a bed of straw. He wore some coarse trousers, nothing else. The previous days started to come back in shreds of memory. He was working as a farmhand. When he crossed the barrier, he must have temporarily forgotten his mission. He remembered walking to a small farmhouse, and asking for work. From the look of his hands, he must have worked hard. He remembered milking the cows. The cows, something bothered him about them, but he couldn't put his finger on it.
He put it out of his mind. He had a job to do. From his briefings he knew that von Herzenger had taken residence in the small baroque castle in the center of the valley. He took a last look around his rather temporary home, then he crept out of the stable. He took his bearings and walked on, further into the valley.
At noon this day, he saw the castle. It was rather small, more of a manor house. He hid in a little wood nearby, and prepared for the night. The spells they had crammed into his head came back to him. Out of a few fallen branches he spun black tightfitting clothing, a knife, some length of rope and a grappling hook. He caught and killed a rabbit. leaving the carcass, he took only one eye and fashioned it into a small talisman to warn him of traps and alarms.
Night fell. He had meditated for the remaining hours of light, emptying his mind of every distraction and anxiety. With deliberate slowness, every sense alert, he advanced to the castle.
"First, we'll correct the posture, Samiel"
Von Herzenger leaned back in his chair. He put his fingertips together and watched the boy. Samiel pushed his hands into the thighs of Mauritz. He reshaped the bones, breaking and pushing into the desired shape. A soft moan escaped Mauritz's throat, yet his face remained impassive. Running his hands inside the young officers body, he pushed thighs, ribs and shoulders into their new configuration. Mauritz fell forward to his hands.
"Feet and hands now."
An eager smile on his face, Samiel went to work. He pushed the heels up, stretching the footbones, trimming the toes to pads. Samiel concentrated, the tip of his tongue between his teeth. His hands kneaded and stretched, sculpting flesh and bones like clay. Von Herzenger watched smiling.
"The head now. Give him a short muzzle, and yes, take his voice, while you're at it."
Samiel crouched before Mauritz, studying his face for a moment. Then he softly kneaded the chin. He opened Mauritz's mouth, pulling out the jaw. He pushed the nose in, widening the nostrils and finally smoothed out the new muzzle, pushing the forehead a bit back, to get an aesthetically more pleasing silhouette. After a few last details, he reached into the muzzle, deep into the throat and twisted.
"Beautiful, Samiel. Now for some fur and a tail. He needs something to wag."
Samiel held up his hands. His nails grew into sharp talons. With lazy stroking motions he slashed the man-dog's skin to fine ribbons, which coalesced with the blood into coarse dark fur. Finally, he pushed his hands into the back of Mauritz and pulled out the spine, lengthening it and kneading it into a long supple tail.
Samile stepped back, to look over his creation. Noticing a missing detail, he took the almost-dog's penis. With a fingernail he slashed into the belly, stretching two flaps of skin. He pressed the penis along the wound, and closed the flaps, fashioning a sheath. Ha patted here and there, tucking in a few folds of skin here, changing a bit around the ankles. Finally he stepped back and with a flourish he presented the man-dog, still slightly recognizable as Mauritz, to his master.
"Thank you, Samiel. I always enjoy your creativity and skill." Von Herzenger rose, inspecting his victim. Then he crouched before the creature, looked into its still human eyes.
He stood up again and sighed. "I would love to keep this wonderful creation of yours, dear Samiel. But he has found the way here evne through the mind-altering fields of the valley. His mental protection has to be rather strong. He may even overcome your collar."
Von Herzenger turned to the door. "Eat him."
Samiel smiled wide, exposing many small, pointed teeth. He went to work enthusiastically.
Summer Days in Styria copyright 1997 by Thomas Hassan.
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