|The Transformation Story Archive||The Other End|
<Greetings, Harold> The tiger-man froze, looking about frantically for a moment before realizing the voice was in his head. He cursed silently, remembering the unicorn's telepathic abilities. <Now, now. No need for such language>
"Bastard!" The word was snarled vocally, and blasted mentally. "You stole two years of my life, made me some damned animal trapped in your twisted world! You're mad! You change people into beasts or monsters, pretending that you are just helping them, but you're really building your own world without a care to what you are doing to others!"
There was silence for a moment. Then a feeling of sadness. <You don't understand, do you? Even after two years.> Harold felt a familiar sensation, and screamed as his body started to flow and change. But not into a tiger. The orange and black fur drew into his skin, and paws became hands. In moments, he was human again, his body as he remembered it. The change continued, and he saw years melt away, until he was a very young man or teenager. <Do you wish this? Your lost two years returned with considerable interest? Or would you rather be as you were the day we met?>
Harold shivered. The unicorn was nowhere in sight, yet he could affect changes even more easily than he had been able to before. <Yes. My powers have increased quite a bit. But despite them, I cannot ease the madness which lies within you."
"In me?" He spun around, shouting angrily in his higher voice. "You toy with people's very souls, and you call me mad? Look within yourself, Stein! It's your own twisted, sick mind that is doing this. Reshaping people against their wills, turning casual dreams into reality without giving them time to think if that is what they really want!"
<There is always time, Harold. And despite the evidence you have discovered yourself, you don't comprehend. I can't change anyone against their will. All I am is a reservoir of magic, a resource that people can tap into. I did not choose the tiger form for you, any more than I chose any of the other shapes people have sought.>
Harold spat. "And you think I wanted to be a tiger? Spend my life prowling the woods as a mindless animal?"
<You know the answer to that, Harold. Can you really cling to the idea that I have forced you into anything? Back in the compound, when you freed us, you had a glimpse of the truth. And just yesterday, when you changed yourself back from a tiger to the humanoid form, the answer should have been obvious. I had nothing to do with that. It was your will which made you humanoid. Just as it was your will which made you a full tiger before that.>
He blinked, getting confused. The strength of his anger was weakening. Damn! If he was back in his tiger form... And abruptly, he fell forward as his body twisted and reshaped itself. Harold snarled, fully a tiger again. But there had been no touch of the unicorn's mind this time.
<No. I did not do this. You did. As long as you remain within the influence of my world, the choice is always yours. You knew that once. Back at the compound, when you freed us. The same is true not only for you, but for all of creatures who live here. You were a tiger as long as you wished to be a tiger. Then you were able to become the humanoid creature again.>
<But I couldn't become fully human again! You did that with your magic!> Harold's words came out as growls and grunts, but his thoughts transmitted clearly.
Stein's thoughts were harder this time. <Perhaps you did not want to become fully human. And as for my turning you into a younger version of yourself, I simply fed magic to you. The shape was of your own choosing. And when you thought of becoming the tiger again, you changed again.>
<Do you wish to know the true threat we represent?> The unicorn's words had a touch of bitterness. <Within these woods, the magic which we provide releases the inner dreams and fantasies that all humans have. Some are buried deep within, others are just below the surface. I do not understand why a man would want to be an unborn deer, or a woman would dream of life as a minotaur. Yet I have seen both.>
<If the dream is strong enough, and deep enough, they remain in those forms with no desire to be restored. Once the interest fades, they may find another form. The minotaur got bored quickly and chose to become a nymph. Yet the man who was reborn and grew up as a doe had no desire to change his fate, even when he was eventually brought down bay a pack of wolves.>
Harold blinked in disbelief. <You murdered the doe?>
<No. The doe simply chose to remain part of the cycle of life which was natural to it. She left behind a fawn to carry on her breed. I have no control over nature. I can only help those who wish to rejoin with it. And that is the nature of our threat.>
<Mankind has always sought dominance over nature. In our headlong rush for technology and artificial progress, we have raped the planet, and almost certainly doomed our grandchildren, and perhaps our great-grandchildren, to starvation and other horrors. The Circe Treatment which created me is far more horrible than anything you imagine me doing. There, a person is transformed into a creature of the Government's choice. An individual's identity is redefined by bureaucrats.>
<Here, the change is based on what the person really wants. Can you honestly say that anything that has happened to you has been against your will? Is life as a tiger something you didn't want?>
Harold sat down and stared at a massive paw. As he did, the pads flattened a bit, and he felt himself shifting into the humanoid form again. The furred body changed yet again, becoming the young version of his human self. Each transformation was in response to his own thoughts. He shrank even more, becoming a child, then an infant. And finally, darkness as he floated within a womb. His mother was a doe, and he would replace her... No!
Harold shook his head, once more a tiger-man. He trembled, remembering the pure essence of being a fetus. This time, there was no change, but he found a seed of understanding.
<Neither you or those outside of this place can ever harm me or mine again. You see, it isn't us who have expanded the magic. It grows only because people want it to. Their hearts reach out for it, and feed it. And you cannot stop dreams.> The unicorn's thoughts softened. <If you truly wish to return to your past life, I can help you. And if you fear the magic, I can cut you off from it so that it will never affect you again. The choice is yours, as it is everyone's.>
Tears started to form in Harold's eyes. "I don't know anymore. What I want changes, and I don't understand so much."
Stein's thought was gentle. <We are always here. Just remember that everyone must choose for themselves. And that dreams can be denied, but never ignored.>
And then the unicorn's presence was gone. Harold sat in the clearing, staring at himself for a long, long time.
Hunter's Dreams copyright 1996 by Bob Stein.
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