|A day shy of a week ago Robotech Master was out on his e-bike when an SUV struck him and drove off. According to the most recent news available, he passed away from his injuries at around 2:00 this morning. I have kept some news up on his user page and, at this point, ask that anyone wishing to leave messages or tributes do so on either his talk page or another page that can be used for such things. His account here and all of the stories he has gifted the Shifti community with will be preserved in memoriam, as we also did for Morgan.|
Rachel stood at the edge of her known world, looking pensively into the woods beyond and fingering the small knife she had brought with her. There was a narrow path leading onward through the trees, somewhat overgrown from disuse but still quite passable. Her master rarely used it, but every other week or so a man from the town would bring a cart of supplies up to the Manor. Rachel always looked forward to his arrival, meeting him excitedly at the gate; he wasn't a very interesting person, but he was someone new to talk to. She didn't have much experience with new people.
Rachel had lived in the Manor with her master, a mage named Julius, since he had rescued her from a trash heap as a newborn baby. She had grown up in luxury, serving him but also being raised by him. Not exactly like a daughter, though; She was only a companion, someone to engage in idle conversation with and to appreciate his work. She had read much in the Manor's huge library, one of her favorite pastimes, and had begun to realize that there was a lot that she was missing.
People, for one thing. Julius rarely had guests, and when he did they weren't terribly interested in talking to Rachel. She was just a servant in their eyes. She served them with great eagerness, however, since any new people were terribly exciting to her even if she couldn't talk freely with them. Freedom, for another. Though she was given the run of the Manor and its grounds, except for a few rooms full of dangerous or expensive magic and equipment, Julius had absolutely forbidden her to go farther away than that. In fact, he had used his magic to restrict her; something he hadn't done with any of her other rules.
Rachel tugged slightly on her collar, the instrument of that magic. It wasn't physically uncomfortable; she had worn it for as long as she could remember since it couldn't be taken off. But as she had reached her teen years it had begun to chafe psychologically. In her slowly awakening rebelliousness she had tested her boundaries, still afraid of Julius' vague threats of awful consequences but daring to challenge them.
Rubbing her buttocks, she wished for the umpteenth time she hadn't been so bold about her first attempt. She had simply tried walking beyond her boundary, and almost immediately her collar had electrocuted her. Gritting her teeth and walking onward, she had then been hit with the beginnings of some sort of curse. She had begun to grow a tail. Though she had immediately run back into the Manor, the little stub that had sprouted remained; only a few inches long, but quite solid and real. She had kept it a shameful secret from Julius, apparently with success, but from then on the strange feeling of her altered hind end whenever she walked or sat down was a constant reminder of her blunder.
She took several months to rebuild her resolve and carefully think through what to do next.
Now, afraid but with slightly more confidence than fear, she was ready to try again. She had decided that she wanted freedom, even though she didn't really know what it meant, and was willing to risk giving up her life in the Manor forever to get it. She once again fingered the small knife she had stolen from Julius's workshop, careful to avoid touching the edge. It was enchanted to be able to cut magically protected things, dispelling the protection as it went. Based on her limited understanding of magic it should be able to cut her collar fast enough to prevent it from cursing her any further; the destruction of the collar might even cause her already-present tail to disappear. But there was no way she could mend the collar after it was off. When she returned to the Manor, she would simply have to face Julius' anger.
Taking a deep breath and sweating slightly, she slid the blade between her collar and neck. With a sharp jerk, she cut it. The collar fell away.
Rachel let out a sigh of relief and rubbed her newly bare neck in wonder. She was committed now, but also liberated. Excitement burst in her heart, mixed confusingly with trepidation; she was in unknown territory and everything would be new. Even the feel of her neck was amazing and new; she'd never been without the collar before. She traced a finger slowly down its side, relishing the new smoothness, the silky fuzz...
Rachel's excitement vanished as she clutched her neck in horror. There was fuzz on her skin that hadn't been there before; even now, she could feel it thickening under her palms. She jammed a hand down her pants and felt for her tail stub, and then groaned when she found it. It was an inch longer than it should have been, and growing. She dropped the knife and grabbed the fallen collar in a near panic; something was clearly wrong. But the collar was half-disintegrated from decay, its magic clearly dispelled; even with her limited knowledge of how these things worked, she knew it shouldn't be able to do anything to her.
Not knowing what else to do, Rachel turned toward the Manor and began running back toward it. She was within her boundaries, but perhaps not far enough within them. She got about halfway there when the increasing pain in her feet became too much; she stumbled and fell, clawing at her boots. With all her strength she managed to pull them off, gasping in relief and then with horror. Her feet were getting longer, and her hands... She held them in front of her, panting in fear.
The backs of her hands were covered in fur the same color as her hair. Her fingers were getting shorter, stubbier; even now it was difficult to grip things. Her nails were turning into claws, thick and black, and the skin on her palms was also thickening and darkening like leather. All these changes were slowly getting worse before her eyes.
Moaning, Rachel struggled to her feet and staggered onward toward the Manor. It was becoming harder with every step; even standing on her tiptoes as she was now, her legs were becoming shorter and she was having difficulty keeping her balance. Not to mention the distracting itch as fur sprouted all over her body, the reducing flexibility of her arms, the pounding in her skull, and the uncomfortable pressure as her tail grew inside her pants.
The pressure was suddenly relieved with the sound of ripping seams and Rachel yelped in surprise, stumbling to her hands and knees. She looked back and was stunned to see a long furry tail protruding from the back of her increasingly-baggy pants. She struggled to stand back up... and failed. Groaning and panting, she could only crawl clumsily as changes rippled and ground through her body. At last she collapsed, exhausted and numb.
After a while, the changes finally stopped and Rachel reluctantly opened her eyes to see what had happened to her. It took a minute to fully register, and then she began howling in despair.
Julius heard the howling faintly from his study, but as it only lasted a few minutes he ignored it and continued with his work. After a while his concentration was again disturbed, this time by a more persistent knocking on the Manor door. "Rachel, would you get that?" he called out, not wanting to interrupt his research. When he was answered only by continued knocking he sighed and closed the book. She's probably off in the garden again, he thought to himself as he walked to the door. She spends too much time outside these days; perhaps I should reduce her range, keep her inside the house. Nah, that'd be cruel. He sighed again as he reached the door and opened it.
Sitting on the porch was a pathetic and ridiculous sight. A large yellow dog sat staring up at him with a pleading expression, holding the stick she had been knocking on the door with in her mouth and wearing tattered clothing that he immediately recognized. He sighed again, more deeply this time, and fiddled with one of his rings. "Rachel, is that you?" he asked the dog.
<Yes! Yes, oh please master recognize me!> he heard her think desperately as she dropped the stick and whined.
"Yes, yes, there's no need to go nuts. I'm wearing my ring of animal telepathy." He felt a surge of relief from Rachel, and also a surge of shame. She hung her head, ears and tail drooping.
<I... I...> she thought, tears dripping down her muzzle.
"Oh, come inside." Julius said with exasperation. "We've got some things to talk about."
Rachel followed Julius into the living room, clumsy both from unfamiliarity with her body and from the baggy clothing draped over her. She had already lost her pants on the way to the Manor, and Julius now stripped the rest off. She let him do so without protest, unable to become any more ashamed than she already was. He noted the missing collar.
"So, you got the collar off, eh?" he asked rhetorically, already sensing Rachel's guilt. "I guess I should have warned you more forcefully, it was for your own good after all. Oh, well."
<Can... can you change me back?> Rachel pleaded, looking up at him with wide, wet eyes. <I promise, I'll never disobey you again! I didn't know!>
Julius sighed again. "Transformation spells are extremely difficult, extremely unstable things," he said. "I've been researching them for decades now, and though I could give it a try I don't think it would work. Sorry."
<But... but...> Rachel blinked away her tears and sniffled, confused. <If that's so, how did you...>
Julius paused for thought before answering. Rachel waited tensely; she couldn't believe Julius' refusal. If he wanted to let her suffer as a dog for a while for her disobedience, she could live with that; she just wanted to know it. "I suppose I might as well tell you everything now," he said at last. "You're a clever girl; you'd figure it out eventually, and I guess you deserve to know." Julius paused again and Rachel watched him attentively; she recognized that he was about to give her a lesson.
"Transformation spells apply a distortion matrix to a living thing. They take its natural form and twist it into a new artificial one. They must do so with extreme care, however; moreso than any other type of changing spell, because life is fragile. The distortion matrix must also be flexible, to allow the organism to grow and change naturally, and therein lies the difficulty. The natural form is preferred, thermodynamically speaking; give the matrix enough flexibility to let the transformee live, and the matrix quickly allows the artificial form to twist back into the natural one."
<So... I'll change back on my own?> Rachel asked hopefully.
Julius continued, as if answering her question. "I have discovered that the younger a living thing is, the more easily it is changed; it doesn't have as much affinity to its natural form, since it hasn't spent as long in it. If an organism is young enough when it is changed, the new form can be maintained with a reasonable effort. But the natural form remains the preferred form; the spell is still unstable. If the spell is no longer maintained..." he trailed off expectantly, indicating that he wanted Rachel to tell him the conclusion.
<...Then the organism returns to his natural form... or her natural form...> Rachel's heart began beating faster as she realized the implications of what Julius was saying. <You mean...>
"Good girl!" Julius congratulated her. "You've got it figured out! Your collar was the focus for an active spellstone stored in my lab, holding you in human form. Hence the range limit."
<Oh my god!> Rachel began hyperventilating. <You mean I'm really a dog? Really, really a dog? And you didn't tell me?>
Julius spoke gently, trying to calm her. "I thought you might take it poorly, and besides it didn't matter until now. You were for all practical purposes fully human; you have been since you were less than a week old, when I found you as a puppy, abandoned in a trash heap."
Julius stroked his chin thoughtfully. "It was for research, of course. But I was also a bit lonely up here; I didn't want clumsy apprentices bothering me, and I don't really need servants. You made a wonderful companion. You even learned a few things about my magic, and I enjoyed explaining them."
Rachel tried to digest that for some time, but it was a bit much to take all at once. Her entire life had just been flipped upside down, and all bets were off. <What's going to happen to me now?> she asked at last, feeling small and scared.
Smiling gently, Julius reached down and patted her on her head. "Well, I'll have to summon an air golem to do the cooking and cleaning," he mused, "now that you're a dog again you won't be able to do that any more. I should probably pack away your wardrobe now, and I don't know what you'll want to do with your room. Other than that, what needs to change?"
Rachel looked up, somewhat stunned. <...I can't think of anything,> she thought at last. <Can I still... read books? And watch you work?>
"I don't see why not," Julius said. "In fact, I'd encourage it. I spent too much time educating you to let it go to waste; you may be a dog, but I still expect you to be a good companion."
Rachel sighed with relief. <If you can't change me back... I guess I don't mind too much.> then she laughed mentally, slightly delirious. <I'll need a new collar, though,> she thought.
Julius grinned. "I suppose you're used to it. Just try not to run off too far now that there's no reason to stay near the Manor, okay?"