|The Transformation Story Archive||Strange Things and other Changes|
The small wooden cabin in the woods reverberated to the sound of loud voices.
"What do you mean, you lost it?", shrieked a woman, apparently very upset.
"I mean I lost it, of course. What else did you think I meant?" The reply came from a man, and he sounded both defensive and apologetic.
"You IDIOT! Do you have any idea what that potion could do? It took six months to develop, and we still don't know its full potential."
"Well, I'm sorry. Can't you make some more?" There was the sharp sound of breaking glass, and he yelped. "Hey! You nearly hit me with that!"
"Oh dear, did I?" She sounded coldly furious by now. "I'm sorry. I'll try this instead." Another crash, more muffled this time, was followed by a howl of pain. "You stupid bastard. Why the hell I let you carry it is beyond me. Yes, I could make some more. It will only take me three more months of hard work, and in the mean time the other potion is somewhere out there, waiting for some poor sod to stumble over it. The gods alone know what the results will be."
The argument continued for a long while.
Five miles away and two days later, Bill Howard was hiking through the woods. He had been walking for a couple of hours, just enjoying the sunny day in spring, and had penetrated about three miles into the national park and bird sanctuary. In his early thirties, he was a tall slender man, who enjoyed long walks alone. They were a welcome respite from the bustle of day to day life. He was carrying a pair of binoculars, and stopped at intervals to look through them when he saw an interesting bird or other animal.
Rounding a bend in the trail, he descended a gradual slope that led to a medium-sized pond fed by a small stream. The outlet of the pond trickled into a swampy area that gradually dried as the terrain ascended again a couple of hundred yards further on. The trail skirted the pond and led through the swamp, over a causeway made of split logs floating on the quagmire. He slowly wandered along, stopping at one point to watch a heron on the other side of the pond grab and swallow a large frog.
Just as he stepped off the end of the causeway, he looked down into one of the innumerable tiny streams that crossed the swamp, his eye caught by a stray glint of sunlight reflecting off something shiny. Peering into the shallow water he made out the form of an odd looking bottle, apparently made of dark glass, and with leather straps wound around the neck. He knelt down on the logs, heedless of the dampness soaking through his jeans, and reached for the bottle.
He had to stretch, and nearly slipped in, but managed to snag the neck of the bottle with thumb and forefinger. Standing up he examined his prize. The bottle was quite small, about eight inches high, and he estimated it would hold about a quarter of a pint if full. Sniffing at the open end, he wrinkled his nose at the faint acrid smell coming from inside. He tipped the bottle up and the water inside poured out, tinged with a faint pink colour. Kneeling down again he searched the small watercourse with his eyes for a couple of minutes, wondering if the bottle had possessed a stopper and if so whether it was still in the stream.
His search was eventually rewarded by the finding of an intricately carved metal plug, which fitted into the neck of the bottle perfectly. It seemed to be made of lead, judging by the weight, and had a very baroque feel to it, what with the cabalistic symbols and miniature monsters engraved into the surface. Bill looked at it and thought, "I'll bet some wizard is really pissed off he lost this." The thing had obviously belonged to a magic-worker of some sort, and he decided to keep it and hand it in to the local wizards guild on his way out of the park. The dark glass he recognised on closer inspection as the anti-magic synthetic material often used to contain powerful magical potions and the like, and lead was commonly used for the same purpose because of its high magical inertness.
He recalled reading that such bottles were very expensive, and thought it likely that if the original owner turned up he might even get a reward. Placing the bottle in his coat pocket he wondered what the bottle had contained. The stopper must have come out when it was dropped, and the contents washed away in the stream. Turning to look in the direction the water was flowing, he squinted at the trees and bushes fifty yards away on the other side of the swamp. They looked slightly odd, and he lifted his binoculars for a better look.
The plants he could see just at the edge of the swamp looked... strange... , but it took a moment for him to work out just why. Suddenly, he thought, "They're a really weird shade of green. That's what looks strange." He came to the conclusion that the spilled potion must have had some odd effect. Curiousity overcoming his natural caution, he decided to get a better look and walked around the edge of the swamp to the strange plants, pushing his way through the undergrowth. Off the trail the going was considerably harder, but he persevered, and finally arrived at the point where the small stream soaked into the ground.
The plants here definitely seemed strange. The colour, while green, was a peculiar shade he'd never seen before on a plant. In addition, many of the ones he recognised were considerably larger than normal, and he spotted a number that were totally unfamiliar to him. Cautiously making his way through the shorter bushes at the edge of the mire, he penetrated deeper into the patch of oddness towards the taller trees a little way further in. He headed for the tallest one he could see, a beech tree about fifty feet high.
When he arrived under it, he looked up at the leaves. They were the same strangely virulent green as the other plants, and the overall growth of the tree seemed more vigourous than he would have expected from one in this rather wet environment. He felt the bark carefully, and was surprised to find it considerably warmer than he expected. It felt much like the sun had been shining directly on it for hours, but he was standing in a shady spot which ruled that possibility out.
Running his hand over the bark, he winced in pain and whipped it away. Sticking in his palm were a number of small fine thorns, which he pulled out carefully with his teeth leaving small beads of blood in half a dozen places. Inspecting the trunk closely he saw that it was covered in the thorns, which all lay flat against the bark in a downward pointing position. They would be safe if you ran your hand down the trunk, but run it up and they would break off and stick you. This was beyond odd. Beech trees in his experience didn't have thorns. Looking around he saw that a number of plants seemed to have thorns or bristles that were alien to them under normal conditions.
Feeling that his curiousity didn't extend to being punctured by excessively agressive vegetation, Bill turned around and retreated towards the trail, giving the strange plants a much wider berth than on the way in. The spilled potion was most likely responsible for the odd growth, and he resolved to report is to the park authorities on the way out. Interfering with any living thing, even plants, in the park was forbidden without a license. Even accidentally spilling a magic potion was likely to get the offending person in trouble. He grinned wryly. Perhaps he wouldn't get a reward after all. The bottle could probably be used to trace whoever had dropped it, and the guilty party would almost certainly face a heavy fine. They were unlikely to thank him for that.
About an hour later he was slowly wandering along the trail, which was taking him in a gradual curve back towards the entrance to the park, when he felt a sharp pain in his lower back. He stopped and rubbed the small of his back with both hands, thinking that he had pulled a muscle or something. The ache got worse, and he groaned and leaned against a nearby rock for a moment. With a final sharp burst of agony the pain abruptly ceased, and he breathed out a sigh of relief. Walking over to a log by the side of the trail he sat down, but got up again when he apparently sat on a lump. Looking down at the log he saw nothing untoward, and sat down again, a couple of feet further along. Once more he felt something hard pressing into the base of his spine, and he stood up again.
Inspecting the log carefully while wondering why it was playing tricks on him, he bent over and felt something pushing against the seat of his jeans. Reaching back he felt his lower back and discovered to his amazement that he seemed to have a hard object fixed to the end of his spine. He felt it all over with both hands. It was a roughly cylindrical object about an inch and a half long, and an inch in diameter. Pressing and wiggling it he determined that it was either stuck firmly to him or actually growing out of him. He stuck a hand inside his jeans and pants and felt it again. The thing was very hard and felt slightly rough to the touch. The base of it merged smoothly with his skin, and when he pushed on it he could feel the bone at the end of his spine move very slightly. The thing was definitely growing out of his body.
He was feeling both surprised and rather scared by now. A sudden growth from your body isn't what you expect to find while hiking, and such a rapid development was really strange. Feeling it again he realised to his horror that the thing was slowly getting longer. It was at least two inches long by now, and beginning to press against the inside of his jeans quite hard. He was very worried, and decided that he'd have to get to a doctor as soon as possible. Walking fast, he could make it to the park entrance in an hour or so. He set off at a rapid pace, sweating a bit.
Ten minutes later he was forced to stop again. The strange protruberance was nearly eight inches long by now, and he had no choice but to remove his jeans and underwear since they were being pushed off by the thing. Reaching back he felt it carefully. It was about an inch and a half in diameter, and when he stood it extended rigidly straight down. He craned his neck around and tried to get a look at the thing, and finally managed it. The growth was a green-brown colour, and he abruptly realised that the rough dry surface texture was exactly that of bark, as was the colour. He shivered, remembering the strange trees and the spilled potion. Was that what had caused this? There didn't seem to be any other likely explanation, and he guessed that the thorns that had stuck him were ultimately responsible.
There was no telling what the end result might be. He had to get to a wizard, rather than a doctor, and he had to get there fast. Picking up his jeans, he felt around in the pockets until he found his jacknife, and carefully cut a hole in the appropriate place, then did the same for his underwear. He had no choice if he wanted to wear the garments, and he didn't fancy walking through the woods nude from the waist down. He pulled the clothes on with difficulty, finding out in the process that his peculiar tail was over a foot long by this time. The rate of growth seemed to be gradually accelerating.
Half an hour later he was walking slowly in a bent over posture, his neck aching from having to look up to see in front of him. His plant tail was nearly six feet long and over four inches in diameter at the point it joined his body, and the end of it was dragging on the ground with a scraping noise. Effectively having a six-foot fencepost growing out of the end of his torso forced him to bend over, since the thing was completely rigid and wouldn't flex at all. Bill was leaving a furrow in the ground behind him, and was in considerable discomfort. He had begun to have feeling throughout the strange appendage a few minutes earlier, and could feel the bark being slowly abraded by the friction with the ground.
Eventually he had to stop for a rest. He was still a mile or more from the nearest source of help, and at the slow rate he was managing would take at least an hour to make the distance. Turning around he let his wooden tail drop into the ditch at the side of the trail, finding it was sufficiently deep that he could stand nearly upright with the end of the tail pushed a couple of inches into the soft earth. Bill rested for ten minutes or so, conscious all the while that his new appendage was steadily getting longer and pushing itself further into the ground. Finally he felt able to continue, and bent over to pull his tail free of the ditch. Or tried to, at any rate. With a shock he found he couldn't move the thing. It was firmly embedded in the earth, and no matter how he struggled he was unable to extricate it.
Looking between his feet into the ditch he realised with a sinking heart that the end of the tail where it entered the ground had taken on a different, but familiar, appearance. Roots were sprouting sideways from it in several places, raising the earth into small hummocks. He tried to release himself again, but was unable to even rock from side to side. His tail had taken root, completely and irreversibly. A few minutes later he was standing on tiptoe, his tail still getting longer and thicker. It was definitely speeding up, and within another half hour he was dangling helplessly with his feet two feet off the ground. There was no real pain, but the odd position made his back ache a little.
The tail was over eight inches thick by now, and he realised it was in fact now his trunk. Shortly after this he stopped getting further from the ground, but the wood and bark began spreading up his body, while his trunk slowly thickened. The seat of his jeans had long since split wide open, leaving the legs attached to his belt which was by now stretched tight around his trunk. Reaching beneath his clothes he found his groin was hard and smooth, his genitals having been absorbed into the wood. After a little while longer he discovered that he was having trouble bending over, and felt his lower back. The bark was spreading up his spine, and when he pulled his coat and shirt up he saw it was slowly covering his stomach.
As time passed his bark had darkened and roughened, and now looked very like the bark of the beech tree that had gotten him into this situation, minus the strange thorns. After a couple of hours more his transformation had apparently ended. His trunk had grown up his body incorporating it into the tree to just below his shoulders at the back, then split away to continue up. This left his upper torso, head, and arms free and unchanged. His legs from the hips down were unaffected by the change as well. From the nipples to the legs his body merged with the trunk seamlessly.
The trunk had grown another fifteen feet above his head, splitting into a number of large branches which curved gracefully out forming a perfect canopy some twenty feet in diameter. A thick growth of leaves had sprouted, casting him into shade speckled with light from the late afternoon sun. Bill had been rather surprised to find he had feeling throughout his strange new body, human and plant alike. He could feel the light breeze ruffling his leaves, and the warmth of the sun on the upper ones. When a stronger gust rippled through his branches, rustling and blowing his leaves, he shivered from the peculiar sensations.
Bill's trunk had grown into a slight curve forward, due to the angle his tail had taken root at. It bent outward about a foot or so from vertical just below where his upper torso sprouted from it, then curved back to a more upright position. This left his torso, what was left of it, nearly upright, with his head about eight feet from the ground. He had been calling for help since finding himself rooted to the ground, but realised fairly early that it was unlikely that anyone would hear him. This early in the year relatively few people hiked in the park, and it might be days before someone else came past.
It was with a feeling of shock that he realised some while later that he wasn't breathing. Even so, he felt fine, not hungry or thirsty. He didn't even need the toilet. Looking down at himself he decided that the plant parts of his body must be drawing nutrients and water from the ground, and putting waste products back. He tried taking a breath and speaking, and found that with a conscious effort he could use his lungs normally. If he didn't think about it he stopped breathing again. Obviously his requirements for air were being met by his leaves, and it seemed likely that he was in fact 'breathing' carbon dioxide rather than oxygen, like any other plant. Presumably he was photosynthesising as well.
Running his hands over the trunk where his stomach had been, Bill wondered if he still had any other internal organs than the lungs. Feeling his wrist, he was unable to detect a pulse. His heart apparently wasn't beating any longer. A sudden sensation of movement in his branches made him look up, and after some searching he spotted a crow sitting in the top of his crown. A few minutes later a couple more landed, and he was somewhat upset to realise that they were roosting there for the night. It was getting dark now, and he was soon unable to make out the birds sitting high in his branches. Something with small sharp claws, probably a squirrel, ran up the back of his trunk, and he started violently at the odd feeling.
Bill was rather irritated at the thought that he was apparently going to be providing a home for the local wildlife, but there didn't seem to be a lot he could do about it at the moment. While thinking about how he could attract help in the morning, he fell asleep.
When he awoke very early the next morning it was to a chill and windy day. His branches were whipping around in the wind, and he swayed from side to side in a most unsettling fashion. It was a rude awakening, and for a moment he couldn't work out what was going on. A few seconds passed while he tried unsuccessfully to steady himself, his legs and arms waving frantically, until he recalled that he was now a tree. Coming to his senses he looked down at his legs uselessly dangling a couple of feet from the ground, and groaned. It was real.
The rest of the morning passed slowly, the wind being supplemented by a brief but heavy rain squall just before noon. He was soaked through, despite the shelter afforded by his foliage, but somewhat to his bemusement discovered that he didn't feel especially cold. The sensation of rain on his leaves was actually quite refreshing, and as he watched the water run over his roots and soak into the ground around his trunk he could actually feel it being absorbed by his body. The clammy damp clothes were very unpleasant, but dried quite fast when the sun came out a while later.
The worst thing about the whole situation was boredom. Not being able to stir from the one position was irritating him. He diverted himself for a while watching the various birds and animals that came out around him when the rain stopped, since he still had the binoculars around his neck. Remarkably the wildlife seemed to treat him as just another tree, not worth being wary of. He got some superb close-up views of a number of creatures, including a grey squirrel that climbed his trunk and stopped just inches away from his face to peer curiously at him. Its claws prickled his bark like an itch, and he reached out a hand to the animal. It scuttled up into his branches and looked down at him, while he rubbed the place it had been sitting moments before.
Several times an hour he called out, trying to attract attention, with no luck. The day eventually came to an end, and once more as it got dark he fell asleep. The next day dawned bright and sunny, and this time when he woke up he immediately remembered his predicament. Nothing appeared to have changed during the night; he was still firmly rooted in place. However, later on that morning a rustling in his upper branches was followed by the feeling of something quite large landing on one of them, and he looked up wondering what was up there.
Peering down at him, attracted by the movement, was a curious creature. It was the size of a housecat, which the back half resembled. The front was more like a medium-sized hawk, with a hooked beak and taloned front feet. A pair of wings were folded on its back, and it was covered in a mix of brightly-coloured feathers on the forelimbs, head, and wings, and orange fur on the back part. He recognised it as a lesser forest gryphon, a rare animal of magical origin. Staring at it in amazement he raised his binoculars and studied it carefully. They were seldom seen, and it was estimated that only about fifty breeding pairs now remained in the entire eight hundred and thirty square mile national park. A couple of hundred years ago they had been a lot more common, but were becoming increasingly less common for no apparent reason.
The animal moved around in his branches for several minutes, appearing to be inspecting them carefully. It eventually flew off, and he watched it go. However, about half an hour later it returned, and shortly afterwards was joined by a second, slightly smaller one with less spectacular plumage, apparently a female. The pair explored his upper reaches extensively, the feeling of their claws on his bark tickling unbearably. After some time the female squatted down in a fork in the branches, and the male left again. It returned very soon, carrying a beakful of dried grass. This was given to the female, and it left again.
The behaviour was repeated a number of times, and it quickly became apparent to Bill that the gryphons had chosen his branches as a nesting site. This disturbed him a lot, implying as it did that he was merely a part of the forest. The animals spend the rest of the day building their nest, which ended up as an elaborate construction nearly a yard in diameter. When they finished in the early evening they both climbed inside and he lost sight of them, although he could still feel them moving around for a while.
Next morning when he woke it was to the sound of the gryphons cackling and mewing above his head. The noise died down after an hour or so, and the male left. It returned several times during the day, carrying small dead birds and animals in its beak. The female didn't show herself, but he could feel the occasional movement from her. Considering the behaviour of the creatures he came to the conclusion that the female was either about to, or engaged in, laying her eggs, which typically came in clutches of half a dozen.
Several more days passed in similar fashion, until during the afternoon of the eighth day of his treehood he became aware of the sound of footsteps some distance down the trail in the direction of the park entrance. Bill called out and received a reply from a still unseen person. The man came into view a few seconds later, and stopped dead at the odd sight of the plant/human hybrid creature at the side of the trail. Staring agape for a moment, he finally closed his mouth with a snap and approached slowly. "What the hell happened to YOU?", he enquired in amazement.
Looking down at the man from his position halfway up his trunk, Bill introduced himself and quickly recapped the events that had left him stuck here. The man listened with an odd expression, and when he finished muttered, "Oh, shit." He had a very worried expression on his face, which rather puzzled Bill, since it wasn't him that was half tree. He asked what the man meant by that comment.
Dodging the question, the man introduced himself as Gene, and said, "Howard? You must be the guy everyone is looking for. A friend of yours reported you missing a week ago, and the park rangers have been telling everyone to keep an eye out for any sigh of you. They've been concentrating on the other end of the park, though, for some reason."
"That's probably because I changed my plans at the last minute", replied Bill. "I was originally intending to hike up there in the mountains, but just before I left I decided to come here instead. I told my friends where I was going to go before I changed destinations, but forgot to mention it when I did."
"Oh. I guess that makes sense. Do you want me to go and get some help?"
Looking at Gene in irritation, Bill snapped, "Well, what do you think? I don't have any desire to spend the rest of my life as a tree, you know. I need a good wizard as soon as possible, preferably one who knows about transformation potions."
"It wasn't meant as a transformation potion, it was supposed to be a plant growth one", Gene remarked absently, then looked very guilty when he realised what he'd said.
Bill stared hard at the man. "What are you talking about? Do you know anything about it?", he asked suspiciously.
Gene gave off an air of extreme embarrassment, and after a strained pause nodded sheepishly. "I think so. I work for a witch who lives just at the edge of the park, who has been working on a potion that would enable plants to be grown almost anywhere, such as deserts. It's very potent, but at the moment is a little... unpredictable... in it's effect, although it mostly works. Usually. Anyway, I was carrying some of it to our test site which is several miles inside the park boundaries, in a place no-one ever goes. It was in a magic-proofed bottle, and I was supposed to use it on our test crop and note down the results. Unfortunately, I lost the bottle on the way."
Glaring in wordless outrage at the man, Bill reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the bottle and stopper he'd found in the stream shortly before this madness had begun. "A bottle like this?", he asked rhetorically, already sure of what the answer would be. Gene glanced at it and nodded.
"That's it. It must have fallen out of my pack when I crossed the bridge, and dropped into the water. The stopper was a little loose, and presumably fell out, allowing the potion to wash away. It held enough of the concentrated potion for thousands of plants, and all of it ended up in a small area. I guess that the concentration must have been responsible for the odd results."
"ODD RESULTS!", shouted Bill, outraged. "You call this an odd result? Look at me, you bloody
I'm half tree!" He made grabbing motions in the direction of Gene's throat, and the fellow stepped back out of range with a nervous smile. Luckily for him, being rooted to the spot limited Bill's ability to cause the damage he desperately wished to inflict.
"It wasn't supposed to do this", Gene replied with an apologetic smile, which was largely wasted on the apoplectic Bill. "Like I said, it seems to have slightly unpredictable effects sometimes, which is why Irene, that's the witch, is still working on improving it. Mixing it with water that's quite possibly contaminated with all sorts of pollutants probably didn't help, either."
Slowly calming down with the realisation that strangling the man, even if he was able to reach, wouldn't actually achieve anything beyond a momentary satisfaction, Bill gave him a killing glance and said nothing for a while. The witch's aide stood in silence until he finally said, "Well, how do I get changed back?" Then Gene looked even more guilty and looked around as if seeking divine guidance.
No gods deigning to put in a timely appearance and save him, he gave up and admitted, "I don't know." The stream of vulgarities that emanated from the plant/man before him made him involuntarily step back, both appalled and impressed. When Bill had calmed down from murderous to merely furious, he continued, "I'll have to go and inform Irene what has happened, and see if she has any ideas. Do you want me to tell anyone else?"
Still fuming, Bill considered, then nodded. "Yes. I'll have to tell my friends and family what happened, even if only to stop them thinking I'm dead and eaten by bears or something."
"I'll tell the rangers back at the entry station where you are and what's happened to you", said Gene, while silently resolving to keep his part in this quiet. He began to back away, eager to get out of range before Bill started shouting again.
"Talk to your witch and get back with a cure FAST, or there'll be hell to pay", snarled Bill warningly. Looking down at the bottle he was still holding in one hand, he grimaced and chucked it at the other man, who ducked. Not fast enough, unfortunately, as the thing bounced off him with a thud. "Take that with you."
Wordlessly Gene retrieved the evidence and departed, rubbing the spot the bottle had hit him with a wince. About two hours later a park ranger appeared, and as Gene had under similar circumstances stared in amazement. Even having been told what to expect the man was shocked. "Are you all right?", he asked, unable to think of anything more sensible to say.
"What do you think?", replied Bill with heavy sarcasm.
Ignoring the question diplomatically, the ranger asked what had happened. Gene hadn't been particularly forthcoming with the cause of the odd incident. Bill once more told his story, and the man frowned. "It's illegal to interfere with plants in the park. This Irene woman is going to have some explaining to do." When Bill had finished the man told him that the friend who had reported him missing had been informed that he had been found alive and healthy, although not precisely what had happened. The friend had arranged to pass on the news to Bill's family.
Thinking it over for a moment, the ranger then said, "I'm going to go back and call for a good wizard as well. I'm not sure that this witch is going to be of any help, but I know someone who should be able to figure out a solution to this mess. It will probably take until tomorrow before we can get him here, though."
"I suppose I have no choice. I've been out here for more than a week so far, what's another night? I seem to fall asleep as soon as it gets dark anyway, even if I try to stay awake, so in an hour or so I'll be unconscious. I think it's got something to do with the plant parts of me. I won't wake up until first light, so you'll have to come back then."
The ranger nodded, and turned to leave. As he did the male gryphon left the nest in Bill's branches and swooped away, and the man watched it. "I'll be damned", he said, "a forest gryphon. I haven't seen one of those for a couple of years." He looked up at the nest, then at Bill, and shook his head. "Amazing." Turning away again, he left. Within an hour it had become sufficiently dark that Bill went to sleep.
The ranger turned up quite early the next day accompanied by a short dark-haired man in his late forties, who was carrying a large holdall. This person was introduced as the wizard Albert, and he reached up to shake Bill's hand. Apparently unfazed by the odd sight of a man growing out of a tree, he opened his bag and removed several odd instruments, which he busied himself with for nearly an hour and a half. Bill and the ranger, whose name turned out to be Don, chatted during this period. Don was fascinated by the fact that Bill could feel his plant parts, and asked what it felt like to be a tree. Trying to explain the sensations made the time pass quite quickly, although he wasn't really able to convey the feelings satisfactorily.
Eventually the wizard finished his tests, and announced, "You, my friend, have a problem."
"What do you mean? Can't you undo this?"
"Yes and no. It can undoubtably be reversed, but there may be some permanent side-effects caused both by the unusual type of transformation and the length of time you've been like this. The more pressing problem is that finding a way to counteract the potion may take several weeks at least, and quite possibly longer. It's a really peculiar spell, one quite unlike anything else I have ever come across. This witch of yours must have come up with something new."
"Oh, great", moaned Bill, holding his head in his hands. The wizard continued speaking, and he looked up.
"If I had a sample of the potion, or some information on how it was made, it might well be feasible to design at least a partial cure quite quickly. Do you know how we could get hold of this woman?"
"You could just turn around", said a voice from behind the wizard. He looked around, one eyebrow raised, as the ranger and Bill quickly glanced in the direction the voice had come from. Standing twenty feet away was a tallish, quite good-looking blonde woman, and beside her was Gene. He still looked guilty, and Bill began to believe that was his normal expression. The woman approached them, staring at the odd form of the tree-man, then turned to her companion and snapped, "You see? I told you you were an idiot. Look what your carelessness has caused. I should have fired you years ago."
Turning to the wizard she put on a winning smile and said, "Can I help in any way?" He nodded, and the two of them began discussing the intricacies of the potion with great detail. The other three present could understand little of the specialised jargon, and after a while when it became clear that the discussion was likely to go on for some time, Gene turned to Bill and smiled slightly.
"See? I told you Irene would help." The glare he received made him gulp and retreat. Don watched him with a frown, which he then turned in the direction of the witch.
"When this matter is resolved those two are going to have a lot of explaining to do.", he mused. "They've probably managed to contaminate quite a large area with that potion, and we're going to have to warn people away from the place for however long it takes for the effects of the spill to dissipate, which could be years. We don't want what happened to you happening to anyone else."
Twenty minutes later the magic workers finally appeared to reach a conclusion. Turning back to the others, Albert said with some admiration, "Irene has explained her potion to me, and I must say it's something of a breakthrough. I believe I see why this has happened, and I think I see a way to undo it, but it's going to take a couple of days to arrange everything we need. As I said earlier, there is a slight chance that there will also be some minor aftereffects of you condition, which may or may not be permanent. The spell is very complex, and the counterspell even more so, and interaction between the two may produce some unexpected results."
"Such as?", enquired Bill with a worried look. The wizard seemed slightly concerned.
"We're not entirely sure. Plant/animal hybridisation is extremely rarely achieved, and I've never heard of a case involving a human. I think we're going to have to wait and see what happens. You don't really have a choice, anyway."
"I guess not", replied Bill, feeling slightly panicky. He didn't want to remain half tree, but all this talk of side-effects made him wonder off whether he was better off like this. Thinking it over, he eventually said, "Well, I suppose you'd better go and do whatever you need to do. I'm not going anywhere."
The wizard smiled slightly at this, and nodded. "All right. I'll be back on Friday afternoon, and hopefully we'll be able to cure you." Waving to Don, he left, Irene and Gene walking along with him. The witch was apparently eager to continue the discussion of her potion with a peer. Don stayed for a little while, but eventually had to leave. He promised to come back the next day to talk, aware that Bill was lonely and bored. Glancing up at the gryphon nest he paused, hoping to see the animals again, but they stayed inside. Resolving to bring a camera, he left.
True to his word he returned the next afternoon, and visited for a couple of hours. They talked about many things, and to his delight he managed to get photos of both the forest gryphons. He left happy, and that night Bill drifted off hoping that twenty-four hours from now he would be walking out under his own steam. He hoped he would still have a job to go back to. Being turned into a tree certainly seemed like a good excuse for missing work, but you could never tell.
The next day, quite early in the morning, he heard footsteps and looked up. Walking towards him were a pair of people, a man in the uniform of the park services and a youngish woman dressed in hiking clothes. They didn't seem surprised to see him, although there was the obvious interest in his condition. The new ranger introduced himself, saying that Don had informed him of Bill's plight. The woman seemed more interested in the gryphon nest in his branches, and barely gave him a second glance. Walking around his trunk she peered intently through a pair of large binoculars at the next, making small exclamations of joy whenever she saw one of them looking over the edge at her. After nearly fifteen minutes of observing and frantic note-taking, she put away her equipment and walked rapidly off, talking to herself.
The ranger appeared a little surprised at her abrupt departure, and quickly bid goodbye to Bill. He jogged after the woman, leaving Bill wondering what on earth that had all been about. The next few hours passed with excruciating slowness, as he awaited his release with anticipation. Finally, though, Albert and Don appeared, and were shortly joined by Irene. The two magic users conferred, while unpacking a remarkably large collection of equipment and supplies. Don dropped the heavy pack he had been struggling with near them with a sigh of relief, and came over to chat with him.
The preparations took nearly half an hour, but eventually they were ready. The pair started to assemble a complicated magical apparatus a few feet away, referring back frequently to a ring-binder of hand-written notes. Just as they appeared about to begin the counterspell, however, the woman from that morning ran up, shouting "Stop!".
A youngish man in a suit came into view behind her, and they briefly talked together while the others wondered what was going on. Don went over to ask them what they wanted, but before he got more than a couple of feet the woman came closer and said, "You have to stop what you're doing at once. I won't allow it."
"What the hell are you talking about?", snapped Bill. "Who are you, and what gives you the right to stop us?"
"This gives me the right!", she snapped back, turning to the man behind her and grabbing a piece of paper from his hands. He looked startled but said nothing. "It's a court order to cease and desist all activities interfering with a breeding pair of Lesser Forest Gryphons, a protected species."
"Who ARE you?", asked Don, mystified, while Albert and Irene looked at each other in surprise.
"I'm Andrea Silton, head of the Mythological Creature Preservation League. I demand that you leave those poor animals alone. Don't you realise how rare it is for them to breed?"
"Don't you realise how much I want to be cured?", yelled Bill, outraged at the gall of the woman. He glared at her.
"That's not my problem", she said. "I'm just concerned that those creatures aren't disturbed."
The pair started shouting at each other, while Don tried to calm them down. After a couple of minutes he succeeded, and the man who had come with Andrea stepped forward into the silence. "I represent the park legal services, and I must insist that you stop these proceedings at once. It is a federal offence to perform any act that would have a deleterious effect on any protected species. In addition, the interference with any plant or animal resident inside the boundaries of the park requires a special licence, which I feel safe in assuming you do not have. As a result, you may not do anything that would result in the destruction or disruption of the nesting site of those animals."
"NESTING SITE!", exploded Bill, going a remarkably lurid shade of purple at this description of his problem.
Once more a shouting match broke out between Andrea and Bill, with Don trying to mediate and the lawyer interjecting verbose legal arguments, which were largely ignored by the other participants. Eventually Albert, who had been talking quietly but intensely with Irene, walked over to the squabbling people and said "Excuse me." He was completely ignored, and frowned. "Excuse me!", he said more loudly, and muttered darkly to himself when no-one even looked at him.
He thought briefly, then waved his hands a little while saying a short incantation under his breath. A second later there was a huge BOOM! from overhead, which shocked the arguing four into silence. As the echoes died away and the normal sounds of the forest returned, they all looked at him in startlement. He smiled winningly at them, and said "I just wanted a word, if you don't mind?" They all nodded rather numbly, their ears still ringing, with the exception of Irene behind him, who had realised what was going to happen and had wisely put her fingers in her ears.
Albert turned to look at the lawyer and Andrea, and said reasonably, "I must protest at your involvement in this matter. My client is the unfortunate victim of a magical accident, and it is imperative that we cast the reversal spell as soon as possible. I believe that the greater the delay the higher the risk of irreversible side effects of the spell he is under. It would be totally irresponsible to hold up the cure, even for the sake of an animal as rare as the forest gryphon."
"The LESSER forest gryphon, you old fool", snarled Andrea, perhaps unwisely. Albert stared hard at her with a look in his eyes that made her shut up on the spot, with a small shiver. She suddenly realised quite how dangerous the innocuous-appearing man actually was, the sense of barely restrained power radiating from him as he glared. After a few seconds he turned his attention back to the lawyer, and she relaxed with a feeling of relief. Resolving to be more cautious in her choice of words from now on, she listened to the discussion.
"I'm sorry, but MY client, ie. the park, cannot and will not allow this operation to proceed. The law is quite clear; without a licence you cannot disturb the habitat of a park-resident creature, and the animals in question are a protected species in any case, which would require a completely different, and if I may say, a much harder to obtain, licence. You have no choice in the matter."
"You're being unreasonable. This man is trapped here through no fault of his own, and it is totally inhumane to expect him to remain as he is indefinitely."
"As to that, I have been considering his current condition and I believe that the regulation forbidding the disturbing or interference with plants and animals in the park may well apply in this case as well." He looked triumphant at this example of legal logic, while everyone else, even Andrea, looked puzzled.
"What are you talking about?", enquired Don suspiciously. He had taken an immediate dislike to the man from the moment he laid eyes on him, and the more the fellow spoke the more justified in feeling that way he felt.
"This person, judging by what I can see, would appear to in fact be a plant. As such, he is a resident of the park under the regulations and it is illegal to remove him from his natural environment without a permit. Accordingly, I cannot allow you to continue with your efforts to release him, even aside from the matter of the animals referred to in the original order. If necessary, I can procure another court order making this completely clear."
The sheer effrontery of the man made the two magic workers, Don, and poor Bill stare at him in complete disbelief. Andrea gave him a look of admiration for coming up with yet another reason preventing these barbarians harming the innocent animals at risk, and smiled smugly at the others with her arms folded. "You see?", she said. "You'll have to stop. I guess you'd better pack everything up and go away."
They all glared at her, and she wilted a little under the combined weight of so many furious stares. The lawyer shot her an irritated glance, peeved at the way she kept saying things that distracted attention from his much more important arguments, then continued. "Mr. Harrison, as an employee of the park it is your duty to enforce the regulations and laws concerning environmental interference. I insist you bring a halt to these proceeding immediately." Don appeared simultaneously furious and worried. It was true that the man presented a convincing legal argument, but on the other hand he couldn't believe that Bill would be forced to remain as he was forever, just because of some regulation that was never designed to cover such a case.
Bill was gibbering in the background, waving his arms and legs so furiously that his branches were shaking and he swayed a little. The wizard was deep in thought, and Irene had wandered off to investigate an interesting plant a short distance away, while keeping a small part of her attention on the situation, which didn't seem to be developing well. She felt somewhat responsible for the fix Bill was in, but didn't yet see a way out of it, and was also trying to remain as far away from the park authorities as possible. This was understandable, given her own breach of the law in the potion experiments.
After a period of thought, Don reluctantly came to the conclusion that for the moment he would have to follow the instructions of the lawyer, which were after all backed up by the power of the law, unjust as it appeared in this case. Turning to Albert, he said, "I'm afraid that we're going to have to stop, at least for the present." The wizard nodded absently, and the ranger went over to where Bill was rooted and gave him an apologetic glance. "Sorry, Bill, but it looks like you're going to be stuck here for a while."
Briefly closing his eyes in resignation, Bill nodded. "I guess I understand that your hands are tied, butI REALLY don't want to stay like this. Isn't there anything you can do?"
Don shook his head, but Albert looked up suddenly and said, "There may be." He turned his attention to the lawyer and asked, "Your prime consideration is that the gryphons are not prevented from breeding, am I correct?"
The lawyer glanced at Andrea, who nodded sharply. She began to speak, but the lawyer cut her off in mid-word. "Yes, that's right."
"If the animals were not disturbed until they had bred and the offspring left the nest, would you have any objection to my client being cured at that point?"
"You would still need to get a permit to remove a plant from the confines of the park", the lawyer replied with a small frown.
"Yes, yes, I understand that, but IF we get a licence, you would allow us to continue with our operation here?", Albert asked impatiently.
The man thought it through, then reluctantly nodded. "I suppose that, given the condition the gryphons would be left to breed undisturbed, there would be no real purpose served by preventing you from curing your client. Providing that the necessary paperwork is completed correctly, of course."
"You mean that I'm going to be stuck here until those damn animals have their chicks or kittens or whatever the hell they are?", squawked Bill in horror and outrage. "How long is that going to take?"
Andrea gave him an unpleasant look and said, with some satisfaction, "About six to eight weeks, probably." His expression was difficult to describe, but was not a happy one. Don didn't appear much happier, but Albert nodded in grim satisfaction and shook hands with the lawyer. The man turned to leave, beckoning to Andrea, who followed with some reluctance.
When they were safely out of earshot down the trail, Albert walked over to Bill and said, "I'm sorry about that, but it seemed like the only way to get them to leave us alone."
Don asked, "Are we going to allow them to get away with this?"
"We don't really have any choice. I will see about getting a suitable licence from the environmental agency in charge of this sort of thing, but it will probably take a few weeks at least. I have had some experience with the government over matters of such permits in the past, and they tend to be very inefficient. The unusual nature of the case will possibly speed things up a bit. I consider it highly unlikely that we could get a permit to evict the gryphons before they leave of their own accord, though. The lawyer was right in that regard."
"So I'm just going to stay here for the next two months, am I?", asked Bill in disgust.
"I'm afraid so." Albert pondered, then continued, "I'm sorry to say that it's almost a certanity that you will suffer some aftereffects of the long transformation when we do finally restore you, but with luck these can be minimised. In the mean time, I have a couple of suggestions that may ease your wait."
"The first problem is that your limbs, especially your legs, will tend to experience muscular atrophy over that amount of time, without exercise. When you are restored, you will have to spend several weeks undergoing physiological training to build up the muscles again. To prevent this, I could cast a spell that would include them in the transformation of the rest of your body. This would remove most, if not all, the risk."
"But I would then spend two months with no arms or legs at all. I don't know if I could stand that." He considered the matter, then looked down at himself. "I suppose my legs aren't doing anything useful, though. Could you change just them?"
"If you wish. In addition, I could give you the temporary ability to slow down your subjective time sense. This would make the time appear to pass much more quickly."
"I'm not sure about that. It sounds like a good idea in some ways, but I can't help feeling that something would go wrong somehow."
"It's your choice", the wizard responded with a shrug. "Would you like me to change your legs now?"
"I guess there's no time like the present", Bill said, feeling rather nervous despite himself. Albert nodded, and stepped back a couple of yards. Don quickly did so as well, and the wizard began waving his hands and muttering under his breath. Nothing happened for a moment, but then Bill's legs began to tingle. Looking sharply down at them, he watched as they slowly began to get shorter. They were apparently retracting into his trunk.
Within a couple of minutes the change was finished. His legs had disappeared completely, leaving only his upper torso protruding from the trunk. Reaching down he felt his bark-covered body, and could find no trace of his legs at all. Glancing up at the two men, he said, "There seems to be less and less of me left", and chuckled unhappily. Don gave him a sympathetic look, and squeezed his shoulder.
"Don't worry. We'll get you out of this."
In the end, it took nine weeks. During the first week, Don and Gene unexpectedly arrived with a stack of lumber, exterior ply, and other building materials. They constructed a small hut around Bill's trunk, placing it on stilts. It was large enough to enclose his torso, roofed and weatherproofed so it would keep the rain off his human parts. The front and sides could be folded back, as could the roof, so he could enjoy the weather on nice days. A couple of days later they returned, trailing a long cable that was unreeling from a huge drum on a trolley. This turned out to be a power and phone cable that went over a mile through the forest, to a ranger hut at the end of the trail. They installed a phone, electric lights and heating, and a portable computer with modem, so he could keep in touch with his work and friends.
He called his employer, who had been informed about his problem by the ranger several days ago. Bill worked as a CAD artist, and often worked from home, so it turned out to be quite easy to arrange for him to continue his job remotely until such time as he was restored to normal. John, his boss, was surprised but understanding about his problem, and wished him well.
Bill also called his family and friends, telling them what had happened and arranging for someone to look after his apartment and feed his two cats. Over the next few weeks a number of his friends, and his sister, came to visit him several times. At one point five friends turned up, carrying a large amount of food and drink. It was a nice day in late spring, and with their help he folded back the panels of his shelter and they had a picnic, sitting around his trunk and talking. It turned out he could no longer eat or drink normally, but one of them experimentally poured some vodka on the ground over his roots. A few minutes later he felt distinctly tipsy, and shortly thereafter was decidedly drunk. He drank nearly half a bottle of vodka via his roots, and had an uproarious time.
Another friend, carried away by the impromptu party, decided to climb his trunk and have a look in the gryphon nest. Bill gave him a helping hand to reach his lower branches, and watched as the man climbed around up in them The sensations were odd, and he giggled drunkenly. The fellow climbed highed, and eventually managed to reach the gryphon nest. Peering over the edge, he called down, "I can see eggs. Five of them." No sooner had he said this than the male gryphon shot out of the nest and flew straight at him, hissing in rage. The man jerked back, lost his footing, and fell out of Bill, bouncing from branch to branch on the way down.
Both Bill and his friend yelped in pain, until the guy hit the soft ground with a thud. He lay on his back peering dizzily up into the sky, while Bill and the gryphon stared down at him, one worriedly and one triumphantly. The gryphon squawked happily, and returned to his nest. As it turned out the man was basically uninjured, and the party resumed, but no-one else dared the climb after that.
Finally, nearly two and a half months after his transformation, the five forest gryphon cubs flew away for the last time. A couple of days later the parents left as well, abandoning their nest for good. Bill phoned Don, who contacted Albert. They came out the next morning, once more accompanied by Irene. It turned out that she and Albert had become somewhat involved, and were now working together. Gene apparently still worked for the witch on a casual basis, but was avoiding Bill.
After much preparation, they were ready. Albert fiddled with a number of arcane devices, moving a couple slightly until he was satisfied, then began the counterspell. It was remarkably long and complicated, and took more than an hour to complete. He and Irene were both looking washed out by the time they had finished.
A few minutes after they stopped, the spell began to take effect. Bill had been worried by the delay, but Albert reassured him that a spell this involved often had a delayed effect. His trunk began to tingle, then gradually started to get shorter. The branches waving around above him in the light breeze shook, and the leaves abruptly began to fall off. In only a few seconds the air was filled with leaves, which settled to the ground in a green blanket.
His legs reappeared, getting longer until they were fully restored and apparently normal. He wiggled his toes for the first time in over two months, feeling somewhat relieved. However, he still was not back to normal. His branches slowly shrank, while his trunk continued to get shorter and thinner. Eventually he was able to place his feet on the ground again. Nearly fifteen minutes after the beginning of his restoration, he was standing on the trail, completely restored with the exception of still possessing a plant tail some four feet ling, which was rooted in the ditch.
Leaning forward he tried to yank it free, impatient to be released. The tug on his roots hurt, and he stopped his efforts with a curse. The tail very slowly shrank, until the roots disappeared and he was able to remove it from the ground. He looked down between his legs and watched as the tail shrank down to just over three feet in length and a couple of inches in diameter, where it stopped.
A couple of minutes passed, while he waited for the change to continue, slightly bent over to prevent the tail dragging on the ground. It eventually dawned on him and the others that it wasn't going to proceed any further, and Albert stepped forward and began to check him over with several magical instruments. Frowning, he said, "Damn. I was afraid of this."
"What do you mean? Why do I still have a branch growing from my rear?", demanded Bill.
"I'm sorry to say that this would appear to be one of the permanent side effects I mentioned might occur", replied Albert. "If we had been able to restore you sooner it might not have happened, but as it is I think you're stuck with it."
"You mean I'll have this thing growing out of me for good?", asked Bill, horrified.
"I'm afraid so. There's nothing that I can do about it. My apologies." He did indeed look sorry for the mishap.
"How am I going to live with this thing sticking out of me?", asked Bill helplessly. "I mean, I won't even be able to sit down."
The wizard puzzled over the problem, finally saying, "I might have a partial solution." He looked something up in a reference book for a moment, then conferred with Irene. She nodded after a while, and he smiled slightly. Turning back to Bill, he proceeded to cast another spell, which made him tingle all over slightly. He looked at Albert, puzzled.
"What did you do?"
"I THINK I may have managed to give you a limited amount of control over your tail. Try moving it."
Bill stared at him, then looked down and back at himself. Concentrating, he attempted to do what the wizard had said, and was startled when his tail slowly flexed into a curve. Ceasing his attempts, he reached back and felt it. Oddly, it was completely rigid to the touch, feeling like a bark-covered branch. After some experimentation he found that he was able to move the tail at will, albeit fairly slowly, and place it into any position he wished. When he took his attention off it, however, it reverted to an immobile piece of wood. He had feeling throughout it, even so.
"I guess that's better that nothing. It would be a real pain to have a rigid branch sticking straight down between my legs all the time", he commented wryly.
"Quite", replied Albert with a small smile. He examined Bill once more, and frowned again. "Odd", he murmured to himself.
"What's odd?", Bill asked, suddenly worried again.
"I'm not sure", Albert replied slowly, still checking him over. "There seems to be some residual magic surrounding you, but I'm not sure why."
After several more examinations from both himself and Irene, they decided that whatever it was it must be harmless. They packed up their equipment, and after Don had handed Bill some clothes that he had brought for him, they all began to walk back to the ranger station. Bill was forced to cut a hole for his tail to protrude through, and had some trouble putting the trousers on, but managed after a struggle. He curled his tail up behind him so it wouldn't scrape the ground, and they left.
When they had nearly reached the station, his head began to itch. Reaching up with one hand he rubbed it, and yelped in surprise when it encountered dozens of small lumps on his scalp. The others turned around and stared at him, and Irene slowly said, "Oh dear."
"What? What is it?", he asked in a panic.
She approached him and examined his head. "You seem to be growing leaves out of your head", she finally said, sounding surprised.
"WHAT!", he yelled, and felt his scalp again. He felt hundreds of thin flat objects covering his head, and yanked on one. It came loose with a sudden sharp pain, and he yelped again. Holding the thing he had pulled off his head, he was startled to find himself holding a beech leaf. Irene rummaged through her pack, until she found a six-inch square mirror, which she handed to him silently. He held it up and looked at his reflection with amazement.
He no longer had any hair visible at all on his head. It was completely covered with hundreds of bright green leaves, which formed a three-inch-thick layer. Running his hand over them, he felt them move. The light breeze ruffled them with a rustling noise, and he moaned. "I suppose this is another aftereffect?"
Albert nodded slowly. "It would seem so."
"Are there going to be any more?", he asked angrily.
The wizard examined him for magic traces, then nodded again. "I think there might be. The residual magic around you had diminished considerably, but there is still some left. I don't know what else is going to happen, though."
They found out five minutes later, when Bill shouted in pain and sat down suddenly, grabbing at his feet. His tail hit the ground hard, and he fell over with a thud. Not having expected it, he swore violently, then moaned again at the pain in his feet. managing to move his tail into a position that allowed him to sit up, he bent over and quickly removed the hiking boots Don had let him. Staring at his feet in horror, he groaned.
The toes were lengthening and changing colour. The newest change lasted only about a minute, but when it stopped he was left with foot-long dark brown toes attached to rough dark brown feet. The colouration extended up to just above his ankles, and a further toe had grown from his heel, making his feet look a bit like enormous chicken's feet. The toes were clearly roots, and turned out to be sufficiently mobile they were effectively prehensile.
Even though he could move them easily, even to the extent that he could knot them together without touching them, he couldn't get his roots back inside his shoes. Standing up gingerly, he tried walking barefoot, or rather bareroot, and stumbled badly at first. He eventually discovered how to walk in his changed condition, and went over to Albert. "Well?", he demanded. "Is anything ELSE going to happen?"
Once more Albert examinied him, and this time shook his head. "I doubt it. I can't detect any magic now at all. I believe that this is all that will change."
"As if this isn't bad enough", muttered Bill disgustedly. "Oh well, I suppose I can live with it. Not that I have a choice."
They returned to the station, and Albert and Irene bid goodbye to the other two, and left. Don made them each a cup of coffee, and they sat down. Bill discovered he had to sit on the edge of the chair, to allow his tail to go over the edge, and made a face. Sipping his coffee for the first time in ten weeks, he smiled. "Thank god that's over", he remarked. "Even with these 'aftereffects', I'm damn glad to be able to walk around again."
The two talked for a while, then he phoned his family and let them know he was cured, mostly. His sister arranged to pick him up in a couple of hours, and he waited with the ranger until she arrived. Saying his grateful goodbyes, he promised to stay in touch, and finally was on his way home. His tail caused him some discomfort, but he put up with it. After a fairly long trip, he arrived back at his ground-floor apartment in the suburbs. His sister went in with him, and they talked about his experiences for hours. When she left, he climbed into bed, exhausted but relieved. It was finally over.
Of course, it wasn't quite that simple. Over the next few days he made the discovery that he had to sit with his leaves in the sun for a couple of hours each day, or he began to feel very tired. It came as an unpleasant shock when three days after he got home he fell asleep in the garden, sitting on a deck chair he had cut a hole in to allow his tail to stick through, and awoke to find his roots had dug themselves firmly into the ground. It took him several minutes to release them. Over the next couple of weeks he cautiously experimented, and discovered that he tended to take root if his bare feet were in contact with the ground for more than a few minutes at a time. This was an involuntary operation, but was fairly easily reversed when he wanted to get up.
An odd side effect of being rooted for more than a couple of hours was that it seemed to satisfy any feeling of hunger he might have. Eventually he began to eat less and less during nice days, subsisting off the nutrients his roots drew from the soil. He also discovered that he could get very drunk if he poured alcohol on the ground when he was rooted, and didn't suffer a hangover afterwards, which was a plus at parties.
His life settled down in the end, although in many ways it was completely different from anything he could have imagined.
He never went back to the park again, though.
Roots copyright 1999 by Changer.
|<< The Recruit||Sculptura >>|