Aqueal

By Wolphin.


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.