Loa had the potential to Shift, to take another creature’s form as her own. However, acquiring another creature’s form was a process that was fraught with danger, especially if your chosen Shift was that of the Griffin. (Genre – General, Genre – Action, Genre – Fantasy, Rating – 12, Full Story) Image credit – Carole Raddato, flickr
Picking your Shift was described as one of the most terrifying and exhilarating moments in a Lastborn’s life. It was the chance to put all the hours of training and learning into practice, where a Lastborn could choose the form that they could change into for the rest of their life.
It was said that the Lastborn’s powers were granted from the Goddesses on top of the Itolwa Mountains in the north. Legend stated that the Goddess Bevra chose the youngest sibling from a family to wield the power of the Shifting according to a predetermined chart that was written in the stars. Not every youngest sibling was found to have the ability, but records stated it was about 1 in every 5 families whose youngest would be found with the Signs when they reached puberty.
Loa’s signs had been the typical blurring of the edges of her Aura, accompanied by the flashes of bright white light that signalled that the aura wishes to take another form. Ever since that day, Loa had been enrolled in the Institute to learn about her powers and her responsibilities to the Empire as a whole.
Picking a Shift was a long and arduous process, complete with numerous essays to your Captain Commander about different forms and their advantages and disadvantages to the Empire’s stability and prospects. Loa had been lucky, CC Vermonta was renowned to be one of the kindest Commanders to be taught underneath. Whilst she was strict and expected highly of all of her students, she always ensured that they were truly ready to pick their Shift before allocating the relevant permissions. The rumours that accompanied CC Benwit were enough for Loa to count her lucky stars, apparently one of CC Benwit’s students had returned from picking his shift barely alive having been mauled by the wolf he had chosen as his Shift.
Loa felt a flicker of doubt reach across her mind about her choice of shift. Normally, you would pick something that could help the Empire, either in battle or through information gathering. Those who were full Shifters ranged from a variety of bird species, dogs, cats, rodents, wolves, and one was even a huge mountain bear. Loa’s best friend, Jacc, had chosen a mouse Shift so he could join the information corps, and picking his Shift had been as simple as setting a mouse trap with substantial amounts of cheese and poison in it.
Loa’s shift, however, would need more than cheese and a simple trap to capture. Nestled in between the trees, covered with layers of camouflage and various pieces of plant to cover her hideout, she had a perfect view of the clearing below her. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, light dappling across the undulating hills of the southern plains that swept out below her. Lush green grass grew around the lake that sat in the bottom of the valley a mile or so south of her. The green of the grass was punctuated with purples and pinks of the native Alowa flower that spanned across the entire Empire. It was a hardy plant, Loa had even managed to grow a small specimen in her tiny room back at the Institute despite her lack of gardening knowledge.
A cry from the sky above caught Loa’s attention. Looking up, she could see huge wings silhouetted against the clear blue sky, circling hundreds of meters above. Her hands instinctively went to the sword at her hip, these creatures were dangerous when tamed but even more deadly when living in the wild.
They were griffins, magnificent beasts that the Empire used as a combination of messenger scout and aviation attack battalion. Hundreds of years before, the first Emperor Taqio had demanded that the huge creatures be harnessed for the benefit of the Empire. Since then, they had been bred domestically to form legions of units with unrivalled power and strength.
However, saying that the Empire would frown upon Loa for killing one of their home grown beasts to choose as her shift was a severe understatement. Each beast could easily set one back four thousand Empire coins, which was the same as the amount of wealth in many of the small towns circling the outskirts of the empire.
So instead Loa had searched out the wild griffins in their natural habitat, down along the south coast of the Empire. They were private creatures, easily startled and could kill a person with one swift swipe of their deadly claws. Even though Loa had approached the trained griffins back in the Institute, those beasts had been firmly handled by their trainers before Loa would approach and learn where the best places to incapacitate such a beast.
These creatures wouldn’t stand patiently when Loa sliced her sword across its skin. It only took an exposure to the blood of the creature to steal its form. Even though the process of stealing a form would kill the creature anyway, the Institute taught that it was best to kill the creature before stealing the life force so you didn’t stop half way through the process.
Loa had seen the pictures of those who had half-stolen a form. They were suspended between this world and the spirit world, completely oblivious of the present world and unable to move or interact with it.
The griffins circled down towards the clearing below. It was a small herd, led by the matriarch of the group. There were a couple of younger griffins, who flocked about their mothers, as well as a few single griffins who brought up the rear of the pack.
Loa picked her target as soon as it had landed. It was female, from the bright red feathers that adorned its face, and about the same size as the griffins she had been taught with back at the Institute. From her hideout, it was a good few hundred meters of open ground before Loa would be able to attack her target. She needed to be fast in order to bring down the beast before it flew away.
If that happened, it would be another three weeks or so to track down another herd.
Loa unwrapped her hand from her sword hilt and instead picked up her bow and quiver. She wasn’t the best shot, but accuracy didn’t matter when she was just attempting to lure the griffin towards the spot where she lay in wait.
Standing upwards slowly, Loa ensured she stayed in the cover of the trees. The prevailing wind from the sea ensured that her scent was not blown towards the griffins, who were now sniffing around on the floor looking for any carcasses they could find. Loa had set up one such carcass near her hideout, laced with a toxin that would induce a sleep-like state on her prey.
Stringing her bow with precise movements, Loa aimed her shot towards the ground between her target and the rest of the herd. Her prey was separated substantially from the rest of the herd who were making their way towards the watering hole in the bottom of the valley. Clearly, this griffin had a stubborn streak and liked to stray away from the herd.
Loa released her arrow, and the shot fell true. The blood that her arrow tip had been dipped in splattered across her arms as the arrow flew through the sky and hit with a solid thunk in the soil a few feet from her target. The griffin’s head immediately shot upwards, sharp eyes analysing the treeline. Loa held her breath as the griffin shuffled towards her arrow, before a long tongue shot out from its beak and began to lick the blood from the wood.
Loa repeated this method about three or four times, each time tempting the griffin towards the poisoned carcass. The smell of the rotting meat was strong, and as soon as the griffin licked the blood of the final arrow, it picked up on the scent and galloped towards the carcass with delight.
Loa watched in fascination as the griffin ripped apart the deer carcass with ease, snapping at the meat as it swallowed huge chunks of it whole. Loa had tracked this heard for long enough to know that this particular griffin was greedy, and wouldn’t alert the herd to its finding until it had eaten its fill.
The griffin was too preoccupied by its meal to notice Loa put down her bow and unsheathe her sword, even though it was barely fifty meters in front of her. The poison in the carcass was fast acting, and even though the griffin had barely started its meal, its movements were already sluggish and laboured.
Now is my chance, Loa thought. She almost felt sympathy for the griffin, but her desire to finally be able to Shift was too great for any doubt to settle in now.
With a roar, she launched herself from her hiding place, sword raised. She had practiced covering this distance at a sprint in full gear for months, and her feet quickly covered the short distance.
The griffin turned its head, uttering a battle cry of its own. Its beak snapped at Loa’s sword, but she was too fast for it to catch her. Instead, Loa leapt into the space between the griffin’s body and the carcass, sword easily swiping across the griffin’s throat.
The blood that cascaded down onto Loa was hot, but any initial revulsion was shoved aside by the rush of adrenaline in her success. The griffin faltered, collapsing on top of the remains of the poisoned carcass with a crash that broke the bones of the deer corpse with ease.
Not wanting to waste any precious seconds, Loa clamped her hand down on the gaping wound in the griffins neck and chanted the spell that would invoke the power of Bevra to allow her to Shift.
The spell’s effect was immediate. Loa screamed as she felt an invisible vice clamp down on her ribs, forcing the air out of her lungs. Her sight went hazy, colours bled into one another until all that Loa was left with was a kaleidoscope of shapes that flashed in a thousand different colours.
Do you wish for this power?
It was a woman’s voice, whispered with a deadly certainty in Loa’s ear. This was the moment, the moment that Loa had been training for ever since she had been taken to the Institute.
“Bevra,” Loa croaked, “I accept your gift.”
The world went white as a blinding hot pain soared through Loa’s body. She couldn’t scream, her voice was too raw and parched.
Loa fell to the ground with an almighty crash, legs weak and exhausted. She was covered in the griffin’s blood, her clothes were ruined with it and her once blonde hair was not matted and dark. The morning sunlight felt brighter than it had before, and the stench of the rotting carcass was almost overpowering.
Loa sat still as her mind tried to reconcile what had happened. Many people had different descriptions about what happened once you had achieved your Shift. Some described it as an awakening of the senses, where your human senses were augmented with the senses of your chosen Shift. Others described it as a quiet knowledge that there was something different about you, as if your body contained far more than the skin could contain.
I did it, Loa thought. Even though she was still covered in the Griffin’s blood, and tired to her core, there was the definite knowledge that her body had achieved what Bevra had destined for her since birth. Her skin felt tighter, her senses were more acute, and there was a part of her mind that held the knowledge to shift into her other form.
Loa stood up on shaking legs, stumbling away from the remains of the griffin. The remainder of the herd had fled, scared off by her target’s dying screams. Now the meadow was empty of life, it was as if it were her own playground.
Technically, Loa was supposed to return to the Institute so they could record the details of her new shift. However, there was no reason that she couldn’t have a little freedom in her new form first.
Let’s give this a try then, Loa thought, as she tentatively pressed the corner of her mind that she subconsciously knew held the knowledge to shift. Suddenly, the kaleidoscope of colours appeared in front of her eyes, but there was no hot pain this time. Instead, Loa felt her body changing with the aid of Bevra’s magics.
The kaleidoscope of colours died away, and Loa found herself staring at her new beak that was in place of a mouth. She rustled her wings, admiring the light blond feathers that was the same colour as her human hair.
I did it, Loa thought. She let out a triumphant call into the sky, before launching herself up into the clouds. Her wings beat at the air, and soon the meadow was falling away beneath her as she climbed higher into the sky.
I shifted, Loa thought, and if she had still held her human form, she would have been hard kept to keep a smile off her lips.