Andrew was feeling stuffed. He had just finished a long day at uni and now he had four hours of pizza delivery to get through. What he really wanted to do was go home and crash. Unfortunately he was to honest, so at five thirty, he rolled up at work. He didn't know what was happening in that day, but there must of been an awful lot of pizzas eaten. It was the busiest day the manager could remember. Andrew himself, delivered over a hundred pizzas to almost fifty addresses. By closing time, he never wanted to see a pizza or hear the words "Got another one for ya" again. However, there was one bonus. At one of the addresses he delivered to, the people were just moving in. Outside the front door was a pile of stuff they were getting rid of. While they were fumbling for change (so much for having the money ready) he noticed one box packed with books. He asked them what they were going to do with them and they replied "Oh, those? They're going to the tip." He didn't even know what types of books they were, but Andrew, being an avid reader asked if it would be all right if he took them away. The couple looked at each other for a moment, before saying "Yeah, that would be fine." Andrew, half dragged, half carried the box to the car and threw it in the back. As he pulled into his driveway, he remembered the box and lugged it to his room. Then he crashed on his bed and didn't move for the next ten hours. Sometime, approaching lunch on Saturday a comatose figure on Andrew's bed began to move and moan slightly. A short while later, the figure had transformed into a slightly more awake human in desperate need of coffee. Andrew stumbled out of bed and into the shower, emerging later in his dressing gown. However, it wasn't until the caffeine from his first cup began to kick in that he felt almost human. "Boy, what a week," he thought. "Three assignments due Friday, all handed in - on time too. Sixteen hours of pizza delivery and about the same of sleep. No wonder I didn't feel like moving. Well, that's all that done. Veg time!" Like most uni students, Andrew was an expert at veging. The local student paper had defined veging as "The art of doing nothing, while keeping yourself busy." Actually, that is a bit of a lie, their full definition took up half a page, came with examples, illustrations, methods on how to achieve a successful veg and was extremely funny. Anyway, for Andrew, this meant basically lazing around doing nothing in particular. He had the stereo cranked up, spent some time logged in to his favourite chat channels, added to a couple of illustrations he was working on, then he remembered the box of books. Curious as to what the box contained, he decided it warranted a closer look. The box was where he left it, dumped in the middle of his room and he excitedly started pulling books out of it. Talk about a mixture of tastes, there were the thirty cent romances, hard cover first edition thrillers, some engineering stuff, a few fantasy paperbacks and right on the bottom this leather bound tome. He slowly pulled this book out of the box. It didn't really seem to fit with the others. Then again, it didn't really seem to fit with any book he had ever seen. It looked like one of those things they use in the movies. A large book, bound in dark leather, with no writing on the cover at all, just an embossed symbol. The pages were brown from age and slightly frayed around the edges. Reverently, he opened it and started to brose over the pages. It was a collection of fantasy stories, seemingly based around a transformation theme. Andrew was thrilled, it was just the kind of thing he needed. With no hesitation, he began to read. This was not the kind of book which was read from cover to cover. Andrew felt it was better to flip from one story to another, letting lady luck decide which tale to read next. There were certainly enough to choose from, there was one about a page boy turning into a dragon to save a village, another about a princess and a magically appearing unicorn, quite a few about centaurs. However, it was a story about a magical bird which really caught his attention. This story was set in another world where there was a race of people called Papya. From what he could gather, they sounded a lot like the Aztecs. Every year, they sacrificed the most beautiful maiden on the city to appease the Great God of the Skies, known only as Aqueal. Andrew liked the name, most of his characters were known as Aquile, so the name thing seemed pretty cool. The crux of the story focused on poor Melista who had been deemed the most beautiful woman in the city. For the past six weeks, the priests were preparing her for sacrifice. The only problem was Melista didn't want to die. She was betrothed to Aulus, who was also not keen on seeing he die. "My L..Lord," stumbled one of the acolytes. "We caught her again." "I'll will speak to her," replied Chancos. Chancos clicked his tongue in frustration as he walked to he room. Will that girl never learn! She was to be sacrificed to Aqueal, to be his personal handmaiden and serve him for eternity. It was a great honour. Of all the people in the city, she was the only one chosen. Why couldn't she take it like a good girl and just face the fact she was going to be dismembered in a matter of hours. When he arrived at her door, he waved the guards away so he could enter. "Guards," he thought to himself. "What was the world coming to. A few years ago, the girls were lining up to be chosen. We had to throw them away it was so many. This year, how many people applied to be sacrificed? Three. One was almost fifty and the other two weighed more than he did, they just weren't suitable. Eventually, Melista volunteered herself. Well, that was what one of the lesser priest had told him. She denied it and claims she was kidnapped, but a priest couldn't lie to his superior, so she must of volunteered." All this was weighing in his mind as he looked upon Melista, bound and gagged upon the bed. They couldn't leave her loose because she kept running away. Similarly, Aulus, her betrothed was confined to the dungeons because he may disrupting the ceremony. At the sight of him, Melista began struggling and making noises beneath her gag. "Be still, my child," said Chancos soothingly. "In a short time you will be at peace That really got he moving and Chancos decided it was time for the handmaidens to prepare her. He left the struggling form and told an acolyte to begin the preparations, before he, himself began to get ready. Andrew was not feeling too good about Chancos. The doddery old fool meant well, but could not see the truth. The underling priest were obviously corrupt, as well as greedy, while Aulus and Melista were made for each other. The preparations took about an hour hours while the actual ceremony only took about twenty minutes. Most of the preparations were deeply symbolic, however their significance had been lost over time. Now it was just a series of motions which needed to be completed before slicing somebody open. Melista was firstly lightly drugged to reduce her struggles, then bathed, anointed in sweet smelling oils and eventually half carried to a seat by the alter. Chancos too was anointed in oils, then his body was painted to symbolise Aqueal and he too made his way to the temple. Chancos made his way to the alter, flanked on both sides by the lesser priests, acolytes and novices. He began chanting as he entered the room and soon everyone in the room was echoing his words. It was a complicated ceremony, with offering being made to the statues of various gods, lots of singing and complicated hand gestures. Engrossed in the story, Andrew did not notice his hands grow numb, not thinking, he placed the book on the floor and continued reading. The drug was starting to wear off Melista now and she was beginning to understand what was happening. She was still bound and gagged, but she began to look for an means of escape. Chancos was slowly building to the climax of the ceremony and began reaching for the ceremonial blade. Meanwhile, back in Perth, Andrew noticed he was turning the page with his foot. This jolted him back to reality and he stared at his foot in amazement. His normal human foot had reformed itself. As he watched, his big toe stretched and curved into a long black talon. His second and third toes fused together and a curved talon grew from their union. A similar thing happened with his fourth and fifth toes. Andrew stared at his newly formed foot. Jumping slightly as he felt another talon emerge from his heel. Curiously he reached out and felt their surface, it was smooth human flesh, but as he probed it hardened into smooth scales. He flexed his foot, marvelling at the way in which the sharp talons neatly slid together. A glance at his other foot determined that it to, had undergone a similar transformation. He reached out to touch that one, but found his arm did not do as it was told. He turned to see what was wrong and was transfixed as his fingers lengthened into feathers. His arms stretched out, and more feathers began to sprout from his hair follicles, pushing his skin into small bumps, before emerging and growing into full feathers. Somehow unafraid, he relaxed and enjoyed the sensations. Instinct caused him to stand unsteadily on his new feet, just before his new tail feathers emerged from his lower back. Aquile winced as his spine re-aligned itself and he felt his head beginning to deform. His head pulled down closer to his chest. He felt his teeth flow together and push out to form a beak, fusing to his rapidly demonising lips as it did so. His nose also seemed to somehow fuse with his beak and he closed his eyes. When he opened them, he realised they too had changed. His poor human eye sight had gone, replaced with a much keener and superior vision. He also noticed that his body seemed to be still. Aquile turned his head to look over his new body, brown feathers extended down his back. His stomach was also covered with smaller feathers, alternating in white and brown. In awe, he extended his wings and gazed at amazement at their span. He turned to look at his reflection in the mirror on the wall and saw himself staring back with the cool intelligent eyes of a hawk. His head was tipped with a scruffy crest, while he stood on inch long talons. As he stared at his reflection, he saw the wall fade, to be replaced with clear blue skies and miles below, a patchwork of green fields. Somewhere deep within, he felt the injustice which was about to occur and knew it must not be allowed to continue. Chancos's chant was building to its frenzied climax and he was just about to bring the blade down when a large winged shape swung out of the air. A dark shadow few over ensemble mass, followed by a blast of air from a strong wing beat. Several of the priests lost their balance and fell in a heap. Chancos continued for a moment until a piercing scream snapped him out of his trace. Slowly looking around, he noticed the silent chaos in the temple. Without moving his head, his eyes travelled upwards and fixed on the fearsome sight before him. His God stood in front of him, and if the cold glint in the avian eye was anything to go by, he was a little angry. Chancos fell to one knee. "Mm... mmmy.. L... Lo..", he stuttered.
screamed a voice inside his head. Aquile paused, Chancos and the priests remained silent, he went to say something, then his eyes glinted as he thought of a more fitting punishment. For a moment there was silence in the temple and some of the more brave priests began to move about, then one of them cried out in pain. The others watched in mute horror as the priest moaned and shrunk into his white robes. In a matter of seconds, all that remained was a small mound of cloth. As the crowd watched, the mound twitched and a small dove emerged from within the tangled mess, looked around in fear and headed for an open window. Then a second priest cried out and began to shrink, followed by a third. In a few minutes, the majority of the priests had been transformed into a variety of small birds, all of which headed for the open skies in terror. Aquile turned to face the few remaining white robes, cocking his head in gratification. he spoke. He then turned to the distraught Melista, only now emerging from her induced coma. With that he gently ran an wing tip over the frightened girl's body. As he did so, she too also shrank, feathers sprouted from her naked flesh and as he removed his wing, the newly formed Peregrine Falcon stood unsteadily on her new legs. Then with a burst of speed, headed for the open skies. Simultaneously, on the other side of the city the guards outside Aulus cell heard an unusual noise, but when they opened the cell door to investigate they found only a dark feather from a falcon stuck between the tight bars on the window. His work completed Aquile turned to face the crowd. They had heard only some of his words and were somewhat confused. He decided that this was not his business to interfere any more and launched himself into the air. Heading for his roost in his land above the clouds, he was gratified to see a frolicking pair of Peregrine falcons giving him an escort... Back in his former reality, the wall slowly solidified back to normal brick and the book on the floor seemed to sigh and close itself. The symbol of the cover glowed bright then it suddenly vanished with an audible pop.