The Price of Power

An unkempt old man looked at the altar of his evil, and almost forgotten, god.  He had found scriptures dating back before the birth of Christ describing the practices of old.  On a trip to Egypt, made decades ago, he found an original statue, bearing what was supposed to be one of the more common visages of the god Dk'laykos I'mal.  He had spent thousands of dollars and a few years of his life to create the smaller altar before him-and he was about to find out how closely his own copy truly was.

For months he had searched through an old tome that happened to come into his possession.  He practiced the rites of passage for those who would follow his dark gods' path.  When his training was complete he felt younger, he felt complete, and most of all - he felt powerful.  He created his own tome, an empty book with pages of bound leather. 

After deciphering and reading the old tome for so long he had become quite intimate about its contents.  He was especially fond of the part that described the tokens his ancient god granted its disciples in exchange for their services.  Most of that section was unreadable, being worn with age, but he was able to find one page that described a token that peaked his interest.  The former owner of the tome was very precise on how to ask for this token; he learned that each time a novice asked for any token, it would be as unique as the owner-and the actual knowledge to create one could only be obtained through a ceremony in front of the altar.

After a week of preparation the old man was ready.  He strode naked into the room set aside for his altar.  Candles flickered around him, bound animals fidgeted near the altar.  Purposefully, he knelt before the statue.  He closed his eyes and started to chant the ancient tongue.

"Dom marte, ces duncya, keb rata.  Li-mon-eags.  Dk'laykos kabal, I'mal tonce.  Anrakis bol ikab.  Tohn.  Dom marte… "

His head rocked back and forth as he repeated the words; he could feel the power around him.  Knife in hand, he slit the throats of the animals around him; he felt detached from his body as he performed the ceremony.  Finally, he wet his hands with the animals' blood and smeared it over his own body.  He could feel the dying warmth still contained in the blood-it invigorated him.  The small ceremony completed, he opened his eyes and saw the two eyes of the statues' goatlike visage were glowing.  He knew this was the time to ask for his gods' favor.

"Dk'laykos I'mal, I wish a favor for a loyal follower of yours.  I ask for the eye of K'mal-the eye of change.  Grant me this and I shall forever spread your favor, I shall work your will, I will create an empire in your name."

The glow in the eyes faded, the old man sat waiting.  Seconds passed, he exhaled deeply-he had failed.  Scratching noises filled his ears; he looked down at the blank tome created by his own hand.  Writing appeared on the blank pages, and it was in English.  The words became sentences, the sentences became step-by-step instructions.  It was directions for how to make his prize.  The man grinned to himself, he had succeeded!

Almost a full year passed before the old man had succeeded in gathering all the ingredients.  Some of them were difficult; he had to decipher the instructions as if they were an ancient riddle.  He finally reached the end of the list, it didn't say how he should go about finishing the product; he finally decided it was time to return to the old altar.

He again stood naked before the altar; burning incense clouded the small room.  The mist and the flickering candles gave the room an ethereal presence, but the statue was not difficult to spot.  The small items were lain in front of his altar, the old man knelt before the statue, head pressed against the cracked hard wood floor.

"Oh great lord!  I have brought together the items you have told me of.  I now need your guidance to create an eye."

A cool breeze made him shiver, more from fear-there weren't any windows in this room and the only door to it was closed.  A minute passed, and the old man chanced a glance.  The diamond he had acquired was turning a deep red, while the bowl full of human blood he had stolen from a hospital was draining away.  The yellow feather was nowhere to be seen, but when he looked again at the diamond he saw that the feather was inside it!  It was looped in on itself-making it look more like the iris of an eye.  Finally the bowl was empty, the diamond looked more like an eye-it was much smoother now, a perfect sphere.  The man laughed and then clapped his hands together, he had his prize!

He grabbed the eye quickly; it felt more like a glass marble.  Gripping it tightly, he stretched out his arm and closed his eyes.  He tried to imagine himself flying, wind flowing smoothly across his feathers.  He opened his eyes…nothing had happened.  He tried another approach.  He looked through the eye, onto a world of blood red.  He again tried to imagine transforming.  The promised change did not come. 

Disappointed the man looked up at the statue.  He wondered if this was a joke, maybe this "god" was just toying with him.  He looked back down on the eye, then at his wrinkled old body.  Anger swept through him and he looked back at the statue.

"Well?!  How does it work?"

Cold stony eyes stared back at him.  Something started to drip from the things muzzle, then it began to flow.  It came from the statues' left eye; the man touched a finger to the liquid.  Blood.  The statue was bleeding out of its left eye.  Realization hit him quickly, he shivered at the thought.  He stood there for a few minutes; finally, he left the room.

A moment later he returned, the eye in one hand and a letter-opener in the other.  He held the "knife" over one of the candles' flames, turning it over every few seconds.  After a minute he returned to a kneeling position in front of the altar.  He held the knife with both hands before his face.  His hands started to shake, "Can I do this?" he wondered.  He was losing his resolve.  Without thinking further, he shoved the knife through his left eye.  The pain was almost unbearable; he started to carve away at his eye until it fell out.

He gripped the bloody remnants of his eye in one hand.  The realization of the mutilation he had just done, coupled with the pain, took its toll and he passed out.

He awoke, minutes…maybe hours after he had passed out.  He lifted his head off the sticky floor, he could hardly think with all the pounding going on in his head.  He tried to blink; searing pain hit him like a wave, he started to shiver uncontrollably.  Finally, he remembered what he had done.  He could have cried if he had a moment to think about it.  His hand felt around wildly for the eye, his sight was distorted and he had trouble telling where the thing was in all this mess.

Finally he found what he was looking for.  He gripped it tightly; it almost slipped out of his grasp.  He lifted it up to his face and quickly shoved it into the bloody socket, rewarding himself with a fresh bout of horrible pain.  His left hand still clutched the socket, as if he could somehow stop the pain by gripping it.  The worst of the pain subsided eventually; it still hurt but was bearable.  The old man got up, his legs quivered under his weight-they felt like jelly.  Gone was the strength and youth he felt when he had first knelt before the statue. 

He left the room without looking back; he didn't notice that the statue was no longer stained by blood.  The old man managed to fall on the couch in front of the television.  He let his head fall on a pillow and immediately fell asleep.

He regained consciousness sometime during the night, a clear black sky shown through the windows.  He got up; a flashing spasm almost forced him back down again.  His whole body was in a world of hurt, but after a few minutes he managed to stop shivering.  Blood and fluid covered his body; he must have lost control of his bodily functions when he had passed out.  He suddenly felt like the mess was strangling him, he had to get it off!  He stumbled towards the shower, managed to get in and turn it on.  The warm water eased his pain somewhat, and he started to scrub the mess off of himself.  He left his face for last, making sure that the water didn't hit him straight on.  He gingerly washed little by little of his face, his finger touched the eye-it felt cold, glassy, and dead-he couldn't see through it like he had thought he would.  He pressed his head against the wall, what had he done?

His whole body jolted, a second later he felt and realized that the hot water had turned cold.  He grabbed the shower handle as quickly as he could and turned the water off-but then realized that he had only felt cold for a second.  He should still be freezing.  He looked down at his body; from his neck down, his body looked bloated and distorted.  Somehow he managed to get out of the shower; his body moved awkwardly, he couldn't see his feet to see why.  The mirror was now in front of him and he looked on with surprise.  His once thin frame was now bloated, covered in a dark rubbery looking hide.  His face looked almost the same, but his chin was non-existent and his right pupil was a dark mass, the left eye hadn't changed.  He suddenly realized that he still couldn't see through his left eye, but somehow that didn't really bother him anymore.  He looked down at his hands, they were more flipperlike than anything else-but he didn't really feel the difference.  He touched his body, it felt tough, inflexible.  A slight exultation filled him; the pain was completely forgotten and seemed to disappear without his noticing.  He felt like celebrating.

Getting out of the bathroom seemed easier said than done, especially when he felt like skipping and dancing with every step.  After trying to squeeze through the door without success, he decided to test his newfound powers.  He relaxed his mind; pictured himself as he was…no wait, try a younger version of himself.  There it was, firmly in his mind.  He could feel his skin relaxing, a heavy weight was lifted from him, he could feel individual fingers again.

A quick stride to a mirror confirmed that he had indeed become human again, even better, he was young!  He felt his body, taking immense pleasure in the soft feel of his skin, tight muscles replaced old, worn out limbs.  He faced the mirror again, with more determination, and spoke.

"Finally.  I, Ronald Walker, state that from this point hence…I will control my own destiny.  I will do what I want, when I want-and no one will stop me!!!"

A broad smile stretched across his face.  He couldn't wait, what could he do first?  So many choices!  He had to try the three major ones: land, sea, and air.  Images of what he could do, and be, flashed across his mind. 

His bones and skin felt like they had a mind of their own.  He saw his reflected face warble for a second, and the next thing he knew, he was lying on his back.

Getting up was impossible.  In fact, moving was not working out too well either.  His head felt extremely heavy, his arms were restricted in how they could move, and his feet, well, he couldn't feel his feet.  A loud grunt escaped his lips as he found how impossible it was to move from his present position.

Several loud thuds resounded from the floor; a high-pitched screech followed them. 

"Shut the hell up you old shit!!!" screamed Mrs. Johnson from the floor below, and she smashed her ceiling a few more times with a broom handle to make her point felt.

Walker squirmed a little more; he managed to look down the length of his body.  Astonishment, fear, exultation, and excitement flooded his brain all at once.  Past a large clump of thick feathers that covered his chest, he could see a large amphibian tail where his legs should be.  He relaxed his body and mind and envisioned his human self.  He felt a slight ripple flow over him, and the next thing he knew, he was controlling long remembered arms and legs.

A smile crossed his lips, and a split second later he raced back to his room.  The small backpack filled quickly with his meager possessions.  He'd have to come back for the statue later.  It took him longer to clean up the mess in the room set aside for his little temple, both because of disgust and lack of cleaning products.  After he felt satisfied that everything was in order, he called a taxi and locked the door behind him.  The room had been fully paid for the next month-and what he had in mind couldn't take place in the city.

His plan was simple; he needed to find a secluded base-somewhere in the countryside he figured.  He needed to become better acquainted with his artifact…and then, then he'd have some fun.

Five hours later the taxi dropped him off a few miles outside some small hick town that he'd never heard of.  The fare was pretty hefty, but he had no qualms about adding a large tip to it.  He started to walk into town, his watch told him it was about mid-morning.

He arrived in town a couple hours later, it was in full bustle now.  A few stares made him question whether this was a really close-nit town or had he just mad himself too damn handsome.  He searched for someplace to eat.

After breakfast he received directions to a cabin just outside of town under the pretense of buying it off the local family.  As soon as his bill was paid he started off towards the cabin.  He reached it around mid-afternoon.

The place was almost perfect.  It was several miles outside of town, offside a long barren road, next to a large forest, and it even had a small pond nearby.  A rusty truck was parked near the house, and Walker stealthily stayed near some trees.  When he was sure that no one was watching, he went over his plan a couple of times in his mind.  When he was satisfied that it was flawless, he went to the front door and gave it a couple well-placed knocks.

Seconds later a large bearded man dressed in a plaid shirt opened the door; he gave Ronald a once over with narrowed eyes and then spoke.

"Whatcha want?"

Walker gave the man a grin and asked politely if he might be allowed inside to talk.

"Listen mister, I sure as hell don't want any trouble, but I also sure as hell don't want any hobos.  I tell you this, if you don't get offa my property in two shakes, well, I'm gonna make your ass sorry."

 The smile disappeared from Ronald's lips, and he gave a small frown.  "Couldn't do it the easy way, could you?"

He looked up at the large man and gave a feral grin.  A look of horror stared back at him as his clothes ripped off from the Change.  Walker had imagined the best werewolf guise he could remember from all the late night horror movies he had seen on TV, he just realized how handy a b-horror movie might be.

The man had just come out of shock when Walker reached for him with a large furry claw.  The door started to close, but was easily forced back open as Ronald pushed his way in.  The man was about to turn and run in the opposite direction when the other claw grabbed, and dug itself into his shoulder.  Blood squirted from the open wound, and the man let out a terrified cry.  This was of course cut short when the large jaws closed on his neck and ripped out most of his windpipe. 

Ronald was quite enjoying himself, the adrenaline made all the action seem much slower and everything appeared in almost unreal clarity.  The blood ran down his throat and filled him with ecstasy.  He couldn't stop himself from taking a few more bites out of the already dead man.

It was because of this that he didn't notice a woman had entered the room until a large screech filled his sensitive ears.  He looked up, blood and meat dripping from his jaws.  She gave one look at his face and started to race back into the room she had come from. 

Walker lunged in her direction, and promptly had the door slam in his face.  Anger made him claw at it uselessly, until he remembered his powers.  He moved back to give himself some more room, and then forced himself to change into a powerful rhinoceros.  A few powerful strides and he cracked the door almost in half with his horn.  Another charge brought the door down, and just as suddenly, pain erupted on the side of his face.

He looked angrily at the woman, who had a shotgun in her arms.  She was trying to reload it when Walker charged her, in a human-rhino form, and speared her with his horn.  Her mouth moved soundlessly, spitting out some blood for a few seconds; finally her body went limp.  He pulled her off his horn and went to the mirror.

He had to wipe all the excess blood off first, but it appeared that she had been using buckshot-so his wounds weren't that deep.  Seconds later he stood amongst the gore as his old human self, completely unmarked by cuts or bruises.  He walked carefully through his new home, finally deciding to place the bodies in an old shed near the side of the house. 

A few days later he was wiser about the extent of his gifts' powers.  There was a slight restriction on size; he couldn't seem to change into anything smaller than a rat, or larger than about the size of an elephant.  He could change into real animals or fantastical creations-the limit was completely up to him.  He couldn't have more than two eyes however, and the eye of K'mal was always one of them.  No matter what he tried, that blood red eye always stared sightlessly back at him.

Clothing was at first an annoyance to him.  The man's spare clothes ill fit him, and whenever he wanted to change he risked damaging them.  So, he finally decided that he didn't need them.  If he was cold he'd grow a furry hide, he reveled in the freedom of exposure no other human could enjoy.

Hunting was at first an impossible task, he just didn't have the instinct for it.  He consistently found himself misjudging the distance to his prey (which he constantly cursed the loss of his other eye for), or he'd just forget to approach from down wind-and alerted whatever it was long before he could pounce.

With time he became a much more successful hunter, which was good because the previous owner's freezer was getting a bit empty.  He found himself enjoying all the possibilities that this gift gave him, forgetting that with the gift came responsibilities.  Instead, he found himself spending more and more of his time in the forest; it was on the fourth night that the dream came to him.

He stood amongst tall grass, obviously much smaller than he was when he went to sleep.  It was clearly not the forest that he had bedded down in the night before.  Everything was way too big and he didn't see any trees, so he examined himself-bony paws, a thick hairless tail, whiskers, and sharp teeth-he had clearly become a rat.  A quick check told him that he wouldn't be changing hides anytime soon-and a cool bit of fear tickled the back of his neck.

There was something else with him as well.  All senses went on high alert, until he found what was watching him.

Slanted eyes peered through a break in the grass.  They looked unblinkingly at Walker, and suddenly his fight/flight instinct kicked in and he raced in the opposite direction.

It was completely unreal, time slowed down for him.  He knew whatever it was was just behind him, any second now it would have him.

And it did.

Huge padded paws came down on the rat and forced him onto his belly.  The pressure was so great; it was all he could do to breath.  Finally, the pressure relaxed slightly and he found himself turned around and looking straight into the eyes of a large tiger.

It spoke in a voice Walker had thought he had escaped long ago.

"We are most displeased with you, initiate Ronald Walker."

Walker was shaking when he responded; his voice came out as a whisper.  "Papa?"

The tiger stared at Walker so long and hard that he thought he was about to be ripped in half. 

"You have been granted the eye of K'mal, you had only to build a following.  You have played with this gift as if it were a mere toy!!!"

A sinking feeling made Walker want to curl up into a small furry ball.  "I...I will build you a following.  Oh yes, a great and powerful following!  I, um, I was just becoming acquainted with this great gift so that I might better serve Dk'laykos I'mal."

The thing gave him a critical stare. 

"And if you do not…"

Walker suddenly found himself being held upside down by his tail.  The tiger held him dangling over open jaws.  He managed to give one strangled squeak before falling straight into darkness.

The tiger licked its chops and let out a loud burp.

Ronald Walker woke up. 

There was a cold sweat covering his body, and for some reason he couldn't stop shaking.  He ran to the nearby pond to wash away his fears.  It didn't help ease his mind to find a large ratty face staring back as his reflection, especially when he had decided to go to sleep as a wolf the night before. 

He started to wonder what the hell he was going to do now.  He certainly hadn't really thought about building the following, nonetheless the empire he had promised this foul god.  He didn't like staying in this rodent's body any longer, due largely because the dream was still fresh in his mind, so he morphed into a bipedal otter.

He began to pace back and forth; one furry paw scratched his chin as he was in deep thought.  He finally decided that a swim might help, and he dove into the water.  That didn't help at all, and he decided that a more strenuous exercise was called for.  He got out of the water and shook off the water, in a swift sequence of events-he let his legs stretch out to form the base of his own personalized centaur.  On top of this powerful equine body, he had a thick, apelike torso, which was topped by a magnificent eagle's head.  Now he was ready to think.

He raced out to the large yard near the house.  Something caught his attention and he stopped abruptly.  There was another truck parked in the driveway.  Thoughts started to race through Walker's head, calls for action screamed at him.

Just as suddenly, he saw a man stagger out of the front doorway.  He doubled over, and obviously appeared to be very sickened.  A curse escaped Walker's lips, he had decided that cleaning up the blood would be a waste of time after frequently staying longer and longer in the forest. 

He was tired of running, all through his life he'd had to run from mistakes.  Flashes of anger swept through him, surely dispatching of this nuisance would buy him enough time to decide on a true course of action.  He let out a piercing scream, and charged.

This horrible call to death was not lost upon the man.  He stared at the horror racing towards him for a numb-shocked second and then ran.  He managed to get in his truck and start the engine before Walker even made it to the house. 

Dust and small stones were kicked into the eagle-headed monstrosity's one good eye, and blinded it just enough time for the man to make his escape.  Following it was not the wise thing to do, he just stared after it.  Anger at his own stupidity made him prance around like a half-tamed jackass. 

Finally, cooler emotions prevailed; he had to decide what needed to be done.  Running was a tempting option, but any stranger who tried to leave through town

would surely be questioned.  He also had to think about clothing, all of his own clothing was shredded, and even if he did make himself fit into his victim's clothes-they'd look pretty suspicious being on him.  Maybe if he hadn't mauled the corpses so badly he could pretend to be one of them.  Surviving on the land as an animal was another option, but the idea only lasted briefly.  It was probably hunting season, and he surely didn't want to end up a trophy on some drunken redneck's wall.  Besides, his hunting skills were not something to be proud of, and he had little sense of direction.  A plan finally crossed his wicked mind.

He'd wait and see who that startled dimwit could bring back with him.  Surely they'd mistake him for a drunk, at best he'd manage to bring one or two of his friends back with him.  They'd be easy to surprise.  He'd then have a means of transportation, and he could easily drive out of here at night.  A quick Change allowed Walker to have lips and teeth that he used to grin savagely for his own amusement.

The moment he was waiting for came a little over an hour later, but it wasn't quite what he'd expected.  A police car pulled up in the driveway.  Seconds later, the front door opened and a man in uniform got out, a man Walker recognized as the earlier trespasser got out of the passenger side.  They both went into the house, minutes went by before they came back to the car.

Walker lay crouched by some shrubs; he had taken the form of a tiger.  Green and brown stripes camouflaged his body and he was sure neither person had spotted him. 

The policeman opened one of the car doors and began to speak into a CB, the other trespasser began to walk nervously around the yard-he glanced constantly towards the forest edge.

The man was staring in the opposite direction from his hiding spot so Walker took his chance and charged him.  He was almost on the man when the cop screamed a warning.  The man managed to turn his head and then he began to run desperately for the trees.  Walker was sure he heard the cop screaming something else, but he didn't care what-his eyes were on his prize, the cop would get his soon enough.

He pounced on the back of the man, who sprawled forward.  Large fangs ripped at the man's back, causing large gashes.  But before he could clamp on the man's neck, he was hit from behind and somersaulted almost 10 feet from where he had stood.

The cop had rammed him with his police car, but had naively took the tiger's prone body to mean it was unconscious.  He got out with a shotgun in one hand and knelt down next to his friend Harry. 

He shook the man a couple times, and was rewarded with a series of hacking coughs as Harry got his wind back.  Jack the cop had his full attention on his local friend, and so was unprepared as an enormous grizzly towered over him.  He looked up slowly and soon faced the ton of fur and fangs that stared back at him.

Quickly he pulled the shotgun up to his shoulder and prepared to fire-a powerful slash threw it from his grasp.  He managed to stand up and was about to pull out his revolver when the grizzly also faced him on two legs.  Jack stalled for a precious second, long enough for the grizzly to grapple him in a deadly embrace.

Walker could feel the man's ribs start to bend; they wouldn't stand much more before they'd break.  He had his full attention on this new annoyance-sure of himself that time was on his side.  But when he was sure the bones were starting to crack, something hard struck him on the back of the head.

White spots blurred the vision on his good side, and his ears were ringing.  Surprised, the bear dropped his almost dead dance partner.  He whirled around to find a bloodied man staring back at him in bewilderment. 

Harry clutched the shotgun as a club; he had managed to get this monster off Jack but for some reason, he couldn't think of what to do next.  He was terrified.  Nervous fingers suddenly tried to turn the shotgun around in time to fire off a round in defense-it didn't come.

The bears' claw raked the man's face; skin, teeth, and blood flew from its long nails.  Just for good measure, Walker decided to put his full weight on this man's head, this man who had caused him so much trouble.  He felt extremely pleased with himself when it finally crunched satisfactorily under his bulk. 

     

   After looking at the police car he knew that that wouldn't get him out of this rotten situation.  There was a large dent in its front end from where it had struck him, and a spray of steam rose steadily from the hood.  Suddenly, he wondered if the cop had managed to call for help before he attacked him.  He also started to wonder if there might be others on their way.

Quickly, he tried to think of some bird, some form, any form, that could get him out of here fast-nothing happened.  Fearful realization hit him, the blow to the head must have knocked the eye out!  Frantically, he scanned the ground with his one good eye-nothing!  The cop began to groan as consciousness returned.  The bear bared his teeth, preparing to deliver a killing blow.  It stopped, and turned its head…slowly.  A few dilapidated trucks were racing towards the house.  Quickly, the bear went back to scanning the ground, pain wracked its head, its vision was starting to blur up.  It jerked its head back to the oncoming vehicles, which were half-invisible by all the dust they threw into the air-they were almost here.  He could see men waving rifles and shotguns from where they stood in the backs of the trucks.  "What do I do, what do I do?"  The rational part of his mind was frozen with fear.  A sudden picture filled his mind's eye: a bearskin rug lying in front of a nondescript fireplace, bare feet trampling the fur in a dance of celebration.  A nervous bark of laughter escaped the bear's fearsome jaws.  Without really understanding why, it felt the warm trickle of piss wash down its right leg.  After a few precious moments, it grasped the only thought that it was still capable of.  "Run.  I must run."

Epilogue

Some time later, a man from the city drove up in his BMW.  He parked in a clearing near a burnt out corpse of a cabin.  He left his car, grinning to the bright sky and enjoying the invigoratingly cool breeze.  After a few minutes he went to the trunk of his car to fetch the rifle he had just bought the day before. 

A glint from a few feet away made him pause.  He walked over to it and picked up a glass ball.  He rolled it over in his hand-it was an eerily beautiful glass eye.  He had never seen one like this before.  After he finished admiring it, he pocketed it. 

His son had just picked up the game of marbles from some friends of his and had lost nearly his whole collection.  Maybe he'd have more luck using this instead.