Slowly up the rough, stoney path I trudge. The frigid mountain air sears my lungs and throat. The perfect stillness of the air amplifies all sound and clearly defines each of my footfalls as they crush gravel and pebble underneath. I am near to my destination, so I leave the well-travelled trail in favour of the alpine forests sprawled all about me.
Veering left into the trees, I disappear. The many different hues of brown and green robes break up my outline and not a twig crunches under heavy, buckled leather boots. The air is closer here; I concentrate on all the smells around me - loam, pine sap, and a vague sense of something older. There is power in this mountain. I can feel it.
As I move forward, the trees thin out into a small clearing on a cliff edge. I become semi visible, changing from a dark spirit hidden by the forest to be, once again, a simple man in brown and green robes. Silence and a sleek grace follow me. This is my element.
I am familiar with this place. It is a nexus of nature's power.
To my left, a pristine glacial lake. It is deep blue and inviting, and also very cold. To my right, the land rises softly into a small hillock shrouded with more trees; the same hulking conifers that hid me so well before. Between the lake and the hillock, in front of me, is snow-mantled ground that falls away sharply into a steep cliff. This is my abode. Where I come to do my work. I stand perfectly still, in the midst of it all, allowing my senses to balloon outwards and feeling the power in the air. I take a large breath through my nose, but the air doesn't smell quite right yet. I lower myself to the ground, unconcerned by the snow beneath me, and unbuckle my heavy leather boots. My feet feel wonderfully light and free without them. I sit, cross-legged, contemplating nothing. Seconds stretch into minutes, and minutes into hours.
The sun has gone from glaring down upon me like an angry goddess, to hiding some of her face behind the mountains in the distance. All in one motion, I uncross my legs and rise smoothly. Another deep breath through my nose, now it is time. The last of the sun's light kisses my face. I now stand naked at the shore of the small lake, my robes and boots piled messily at the foot of an age-old tree stump. It sits like a wizened patriarch watching over his young family, making sure that I, the mannish interloper, don't do anything untoward.
Without any hesitation, I wade into the lake until my head goes under. My breath catches in my chest and my muscles begin to seize. I cannot survive this for long. After about ten seconds I trudge out again. I am freezing cold, but being doused in the waters of this pure lake is an integral part of the ritual. Doused in pure water and pure power.
I stand in the clearing, shivering and trembling. I try to relax my muscles, but my body rebels against this uncouth treatment and I remain painfully tense. I stretch my arms wide, stretching them as far apart as I can while I let my reason and purpose filter throughout my body. My muscles become languid again as I sink deeper and deeper into the deep well of my own mind. I begin retracing steps through the past. Not steps I have taken as a person, but steps we as a people have taken, to become what we are now.
I seek within my head the link between myself and the great bear, Ursus. Deeper and deeper, further and further back into great vestiges of ancestral memory. I am no longer aware of my human body or my environment, just a great blackness surrounding me, so dense it is almost palpable. I feel a pulling sensation, almost like a nagging in my bones. It builds and builds, until it becomes a physical pressure throughout my whole body, strongest wherever two bones meet.
Sharp, jarring pain begins suddenly, shaking me from my deep meditative state.The pain builds and builds, going from a superficial stabbing in my joints, to a deep, wracking agony that burns within.
The ancient arcane magic prepares my body for change. My heart beats quickly, like a racehorse within my chest. It is a truly nerve wracking experience. The pressure builds and builds, I can't move for fear that my body will simply come apart at the seams. Veins bulge across my arms and neck. Eventually I can take no more of these rending forces on my body, and I fall to my knees. For an instant, everything becomes clear. For an instant, I am much more than man or beast. No time passes in this instant, yet it seems an eternity.
I hear the soft crunch of every snowflake beneath my weak knees. Everything slows down to the point that I can contemplate it all, if I want. This is the power of the mountain. This is why I am here. An insect hovers near, and I am captivated by it. Captivated by its sheer beauty and uniformity. It is in every way as perfect as nature intended for it be. It is coming closer now. I see the clustered compound eyes. I see the veins crossing it's lattice-thin wings. Everything goes black, and I fall forward. I feel cold snow on my face, as strange sensations run all over my body. I try to push myself up, but my arm is much heavier than I remember. I must yield to this power, but I am afraid.
I relax completely, and cease to notice the icy freeze cushioning my body. Contrary to before, the change begins and it is nothing like muscle-clenching pain. It is smooth. Like liquid spilt across a tabletop. I feel the bones changing. Some widen and thicken, filling out my form, others shrink or contract. I feel it all with a peculiar sense of detachment. Coarse hair sprouts from my skin, slowly at first, then lengthening and thickening. Huge amounts of muscle mass from seemingly nowhere snakes its way under my skin. I feel the huge rope-like ligaments forming in my elbows and knees. My palms lengthen and widen, as my fingers flow backwards into stubs. I know pain again as my fingernails and toenails lengthen and thicken massively until they feel as if they can rend flesh with ease. The changes in my face begin now. My entire skull changes proportion as the lower half of my face pushes forward into a snout. Massive muscles sit on either side of my jaw. I feel my teeth change into a purely predatory set. I run my long tongue across them all.
It is over.
My mind comes back to me, subtly changed from what it was. I hold all my memories and thoughts, but my human mind wars with the instincts of the great beast. I lie motionless for several minutes, in a silent battle with a mind in many ways as powerful as my own. I must win, lest I lose my sanity and reason to the purely predatory instinct of the beast and lose all trace of manhood forever.
I have it. This form is mine to control. I rise.As I fill my huge, new lungs a thousand scents dance across my nose. My arms are massive and covered in thick fur; they feel hugely powerful. My legs are short compared to the rest of me, very different to the human legs I am used to. The bones within them are thick and sturdy. I even have a small tail, I can feel it. It feels like it has always been there. Triumph slowly filters into my brain. I have done it, I have succeeded in transcending the human form. My hulking new body takes one massive breath of freezing alpine air, throws it's head back, and cracks the cloudy night sky with a great, bestial roar. As if beckoned, the moon is suddenly revealed by the passing cloud, and I am bathed in his pale light. I drop to all fours and marvel at the sheer power I feel. I almost know with certainty that I am invulnerable. Utterly fearless, I barrel into the forest, huge pawprints destroying the pitifully small bootprints in the snow from earlier.
The trees seem to part for their new master as the robes and boots lay forgotten.