"The library at the School of Thought is totally radical, chica," Edminster commented. "However, although there is a fair selection of books useful for grokking common techniques, the more obscure things I reckon will require you to dig up elsewhere."
"Where might I find more?" Rantex wondered, glancing up from the book on Seeking that she was skimming through.
"The Library Tower of Sheenvale, on the world of Lezaria, is an old and gnarly place to find knowledge and information," Edminster replied. "The Obsidian Tower, on Glassandia, might also be a possibility if you don't mind dealing with Conclave. They ain't so bad, certainly, but you might run into a snag or two getting them to assist overmuch."
"Hmm, worth a shot, I suppose," Rantex said. "Certainly nobody around here has been able to tell me what my inborn talent might be, aside from the fact that there's clearly something there..."
"It is also possible that it may not have manifested fully yet, dudette," Edminster pointed out. "You are, after all, only sixteen. Usually, totally cool magical powers will develop during the years from puberty to adulthood. But if you reckon you might find something, go and break a leg."
"Thanks, I think," Rantex replied with a smirk, closing the book and putting it away. "I'd like to think I'm more than just another ordinary human girl..."
"Sometimes," Edminster replied, "the best way to avoid being 'just another' anything, is to make it that way yourself." With a reassuring grin at her, the brown rabbit nodded to her and hopped out of the room, leaving her to her own devices.
"Hmm," the teenage girl said thoughtfully, grinning a bit to herself as well at the thought before heading for the Nexus.
"What are you looking for precisely?" asked the helpful library assistant, a dark-skinned Albrynnian woman in a green robe.
"I'm not too sure exactly," Rantex replied, walking slowly down a shelf and peering over the titles displayed. "Maybe I'll know it when I see it."
"I'm afraid that isn't particularly helpful, sorry. If you don't find whatever it is here, there's more books on magical techniques down the hall and upstairs."
Rantex muttered to herself about the subject matters of the books along the way. "Weather alteration. Transmutation of liquids. Conjuration of clothing. Memory restoration. Reanimation of the undead... Is there nothing here about technology?"
"Oh, we don't deal with such lesser and crude forms of power here," the assistant said, waving a hand dismissively. "True mages have no need for such petty toys."
Rantex rolled her eyes a bit and sighed. "You would still say that even after seeing all that the great Suzcecoz Ilawi has done with it?"
"One peculiar mage," the woman replied. "With a peculiar and perhaps foolish obsession with devices and machines. No, magic is what is truly important. Magic can accomplish anything, and far more than the rough forms of technology could ever hope to accomplish. You would do well to dismiss and abandon that path."
"Sorry, but no. I happen to like my technology," Rantex said with some disgust, straightening. "Nor do I think that they need be mutually exclusive."
"Your own mistake," the assistant said. Rantex just shook her head with a sigh and turned to leave the tower. It had always been difficult enough to get through that sort of attitude. She had hoped that things would have been a bit better with regards to that after she had left her own backwater home of Anda, but if anything she had found attitudes toward technology to be even worse elsewhere. It was extremely frustrating at times.
"I haven't really had any luck," Rantex muttered dejectedly, fairly put off by the anti-technology spiel that she had been given.
"Prithy you should consider attempting to contact Suzcecoz yourself if you reckon she might be able to help?" Edminster suggested helpfully.
Rantex shook her head. "No, I'd never know where the hell to find her anyway, and even if she were willing to help, I wouldn't want to bother her anyway. I'm sure she's doing far more important things than to pay attention to me. And aside from that, I'd much rather figure it out myself and do my own thing rather than just copy what everyone else has done. Seeing what has gone before may be a useful place to start sometimes, but I'd much rather make my own path and perhaps stumble upon something that has never been done before."
"Suit yourself," said the rabbit, shrugging. "If you require further assistance, drop me a line." He turned to head out.
Some days later, she ran into someone she hadn't seen before passing through the school. A quick look at his aura revealed him to be a Warder, and a shapeshifter, although he had the appearance at first glance of a human with shaggy brown hair. There had been a good many shapeshifters around where Rantex had been from, although with a couple exceptions they were generally not too interested in technology themselves. The exceptions, though, were fairly inspirational ones to her. The werewolves Rettah and Ylanwad had always encouraged technology at every turn.
"Hello," Rantex said to him hesitantly.
"Oh, hi," replied the man. "You're a student here? I just dropped in here for a while as a substitude Security teacher while Sidan is out of town for a bit. My name's Billie."
"Really, wonder what she's doing," Rantex said absently.
"No idea," Billie replied. "So'll you be in one of my classes? What's your name?"
"Erm. Rantex," she said. "Rantex Sporc of Needew."
"I'm sorry," Billie said. "You considered doing something about that?"
"Oh, yeah, if I think of something," Rantex replied. "It was only my birth name, after all. Most people where I'm from don't continue to use their birth names after they come of age."
"Suppose that's more convenient than having to explain to your parents just why your name sucks and you want to change it," Billie commented. "My mother apparently had a weird sense of humor, though."
"Oh, why's that? What's wrong with 'Billie'?" Rantex wondered.
"Well, you see," Billie said, "Allow me to demonstrate." He proceeded to shift form and sprout fur, horns, and hooves. "Baa," said the goat that had appeared in Billie's place.
Rantex blinked for a moment and said, "I... see."
Billie shifted back into human form and said, "Yeah."
"I'm afraid there weren't any were-goats around where I grew up. Are they particularly common around here?" she wondered.
"Nope, not particularly," Billie told her. "Just me and some relatives of mine. That's about it, as far as I know."
"Oh, I'm sorry that your race is dying out," Rantex said.
"Dying out?" Billie said, chuckling softly. "Oh, no, not at all. My grandfather was the first of our kind, so far as I know. Back during the Age of Rogue Winds, a ritual was discovered that would allow a person who was not born a shapeshifter to become one. A number of people used it during that period, but it didn't prove as popular as it might have because someone using it can't choose what they will become. Some people went in hoping to become werewolves or dragons or some such." He chuckled lightly. "They were in for quite the surprise."
Rantex blinked for a moment at that. "They went in expecting to become werewolves and turned into goats?"
"Well, usually the ones going in with the high expectations and arrogance ended up dead or severely mutated," Billie told her. "The ones willing to accept whatever it would give to them were the ones who succeeded in the ritual. Not one wolf or dragon among them. There was a duck, a goat, a platypus, a frog, an emu... quite the variety of critters."
"I see," Rantex said thoughtfully. "That's very interesting. So why haven't I seen more shapeshifters around Torn Elkandu then?"
"Oh, it didn't end up proving very popular among the Elkandu in general," Billie said. "Most people weren't willing to risk death in order to become a were-sheep or something."
"I don't see why," Rantex commented. "Didn't you say it was only the ones who were arrogant and power-hungry who bad things happened to?"
"Yeah, and how many Elkandu do you know who are selfless, tolerant, and accepting?" Billie said.
"Well, they aren't that bad," she replied, snickering softly. "But I guess I see your point."
She didn't think much more of it at the time, amused a bit by the novelty of it, but the possibility of it got her to start thinking, and at night she began to dream of it while she slept. Although she could not remember the details of it, she imagined that there was some hint of technology in them, and the movements of an animal, or perhaps an insect, through it. Such dreams had hardly been entirely that uncommon over the years, but usually they only came rarely and in snatches. However, this time, she felt like she was being drawn to something or being told to do something.
"Edminster," she finally asked one day after class. "Billie mentioned to me a ritual which allows a person to become a shapeshifter. Do you know of it by chance?"
"I reckon I might have heard of something of that nature," the four-foot-tall bunny replied. "I believe I may be able to locate details thereof if you desire to grok it."
"That would be much appreciated, thanks," Rantex said, smiling at him.
After some searching, Edminster located a small book detailing information on it, including what Billie had already told her and more, as well as the specifics required to perform the ritual itself. It even went into an entire chapter on warnings of what could go wrong and how to best avoid those common pitfalls. Rantex had to admit that she was a little nervous about it, but certainly wasn't interested in it because of being greedy or power-hungry or anything.
"Hmm," Edminster mused as he read over the ritual with her. "I daresay this somewhat reminds me, if anything, of the gnarly spell used to transform oneself into a djinn. I ain't figuring out what actually manages to initiate the transformation, however."
"What do you mean?" Rantex wondered. "You can't tell how it actually works?"
"Exactamundo," Ed said. "Indubitably, it clearly must work, however. Do feel free to perform it if you so desire, dudette."
"Thanks," Rantex said, chuckling softly and taking up the book from him. She wasn't too sure why, but it felt like the right thing to do. Perhaps it was what was merely meant to be in some way.
Rantex had carefully studied the information given in the book and made the necessary preparations for the ritual. She had returned for the moment to her own home for the purposes of performing it and obtaining the components required for it. The Sporc clanhold on the outskirts of Needew was not the largest of the holds in the town, but it had most of the items listed. The candles and a silver bowl to be partially filled with water were listed as requirements. The book also mentioned including items of particular importance to the one performing the ritual, so she brought along her laptop as well.
One the items were assembled, the ritual called for a location which she felt most comfortable with and which was open to the sky, so she set up the items on the roof of the Sporc clanhold. The book mentioned that it required a heavenly body such a sun or moon to be shining upon the bowl of water, and that which body and the phase of the moon might influence its outcome, although it was not certain in just what manner.
"Please make sure nobody disturbs me tonight," Rantex told her mother. "I will be on the roof performing a ritual in order to become a shapeshifter."
"That's nice, dear," her mother said distractedly. "How are you doing in school?"
"Fine, Mom," Rantex replied. "I learned how to use divination magic to distinguish between the subtle differences in hues in a person's aura for each magical ability they possess."
"Oh, that's wonderful," her mother said offhandedly, clearly not having understood a word of that.
Rantex snickered and headed upstairs before her mother could ask her to go to the store or something, to make the final preparations for the ritual she was about to perform. It was a clear summer night, and the crescent moon shone brightly down when it rose in the early hours of the morning. The house was silent, and barely a whisper of a sound came from the rest of the town. It was around three o'clock in the morning when she got everything arranged and in position, lit the candles around her, and made sure that the light was shining clearly off the bowl of water.
"Well, here goes nothing I suppose," Rantex murmured as she positioned herself within the circle. She certainly had no idea or preference of what she might become.
She had no idea what language the spell given was in, probably Tinean really, but diligently repeated it even if she didn't understand a word of it, carefully following the pronunciation given in the book. As she recited the words, the water began to glow and faint runes appeared in the air as a hazy mist began to surround her. She carefully held her focus and finished out the spell. As she spoke the final word, magic wrenched through her and images filled her vision as in a dream.
It reminded her distinctly of the dreams she had been having previously, like a continuation thereof, however this time it was far more crisp and clear, almost surreal in its clarity. She saw computers, a vast network of technology, but in an instant it was gone, replaced by twisted and forgotten ruins, only a remnant and a memory of what might have been. Then, through the charred and ancient ruins of what was once a great city, she saw movement. What might have survived whatever cataclysm had befallen this place? Cockroaches. There were cockroaches crawling through the ruins.
Who had survived when all else was ruins? Survivors against all odds in the wake of phenomenal change and destruction. A powerful jolt as of electricity ripped through her, the sensation, not entirely painful, blinding her briefly and knocking her unconscious. In the haze of her mind, she had delusions of crawling about her darkened family's home in the form of a cockroach, terribly frightening her mother, however all was in a fog at first and she could not tell if it was real or more of the dream.
She found herself laying on her back on the roof as sunlight touched her eyelids, stirring her from sleep. The candles had burnt out and the bowl had been overturned, spilling the water out in a damp spot on the cement that was slowly evaporating. She also had a bit of a headache, and felt dizzy as she slowly climbed to her feet, somehow managing to not fall off the roof in the process. Gathering up the objects again once she had stopped being quite so dizzy, she headed downstairs to put them away.
Her mother was downstairs in the kitchen with a can of insect repellant, staring intently around the floor as if looking for something. "Er, Mom? What are you doing?"
"I saw a cockroach in here! Nasty, ugly thing, would you believe? If I see it again, I'm going to give it a nice dose of this stuff!"
Rantex blinked for a moment and repeated, "A cockroach."
"Yes, would you believe it, a cockroach! In here! Did you see it?"
Rantex smirked faintly and replied, "Nope, didn't see any cockroaches in here, sorry." She shoved the bowl and candles back into the cabinets where she'd gotten them and quickly turned to head out of the clanhold.
Had it been real? Had it actually worked? She struck off past the farmland and into the woods that dominated the region south of Needew. Once she deemed it was a safe distance away and out of sight of the town, she paused to get her bearings, panting a little. She sighed to herself and concentrated a bit, attempting to see if she could transform, and found that it was not difficult at all. Her vision shifted drastically as she found herself suddenly much smaller.
It all felt so very strange and surreal to her at first, but after a few minutes of getting used to it, she began to experiment a bit to see just what she was capable of. She knew the werewolves around here were capable of taking on multiple similar forms, and she found that this was little different in that regard. In addition to the standard cockroach, she found that she was also able to take on the form of a giant six-foot-long cockroach, as well as a four-armed humanoid cockroach which she could only guess must look very bizarre to others.
Excited and thrilled, Rantex shifted back into human form and proceeded to Recall to the Nexus of Torn Elkandu to tell Edminster of how it had turned out and return the book to the School of Thought.