I felt a wave of disappointment as she tossed me away. Why did it always have to end like this? Why did she always give me to others? Didn't she know how what I could do?
Apparently not. Once again, she gave me to others. I felt the touch of rough gravel on my fur. The humans stopped. I could feel their shells. They were weary, possibly confused. I didn't really know. What I did know, was that they really, really desired what I could give them.
I will make you powerful. I spoke to the nearest one. His shell was the weakest, the ones at the front always were easier to convince.
I will give you strength. I whispered again, not to his ear, but to something deep inside him.
He grabbed my loose form. Yes, give me power. He thought.
Now the second question. How much?
All of it. His response was instinctive. For some reason, the ones with the weakest shells always wanted it all.
That was all I needed. A question answered. I could not act without it. I shattered his shell, scattering its fragments in every direction. Then I felt him. I felt his body, arm first, of course, that was where he touched me. I knew he was human, but his features felt like an insult. He was so clumsy, having to rely on his blade to do the slashing because his claws were so short and blunt. That's why I fixed that first.
I made them nice and long, retractable of course. His hands had to be changed to properly suit his new weapons, but I did that quickly why would he need to grasp his blade if his claws were always attached?
Then I noticed his skin. It was far too soft and squishy. Scales might have offered better protection, but he would need the warmth offered by fur in the winter, still much better than bare skin.
Then his fear hit me, slowing me down. My progress up his arm was reduced to a crawl as he resisted my influence. This confused me. He had asked for power, why was he now not willing to accept it? Perhaps he had too much self-doubt. That was what the others had had. It was an easy fix, all I needed to do was get to his head.
I pushed the fur up his arm, improving it in the process. He wasn’t horrible in the strength department, but he could be much better. I made him much, much better. His new arm would have the strength of ten men, plus a little bit more. Unlike most, I was actually a good authority on that subject.
Nevertheless, his shoulder had a few problems. First, it’s range of motion was woefully small. Sure it was better than most animals, but I intended to make him perfect. That also meant adjusting his shoulder blades, but that was a small detail.
I pushed up his neck, taking the moment to add more flexibility. I briefly contemplated the advantages and disadvantages of a long/short neck, but as usual, I went with something in between. Compromises had to be made. I wasn't delusional. His environment was important. If he were at sea maybe I would have given him gills before moving onto his head.
Speaking of, his head was a disaster. Teeth that tried to be good at everything, and so they were good at nothing, ears that could barely hear, and a brain that was afraid to do anything.
I pulled his face out into a muzzle as the fur spread up his head, making every sense stronger in the process. I added more taste miss, a rough tongue for cleaning his new fur, and most importantly, a massively improved sense of smell. His teeth also got a makeover. I grew them into long points, much more specialized.
When I finished with his mouth I moved on to the ears. The weird blobs were so complicated, yet so lacking. First I moved them up to the top of his head. There was no sense in keeping them down on the sides. Then I made them long and triangular.
Then his eyes. I made them slitted so he could see in the dark, as well as slightly larger with more rods. He didn't need to see too much color anyway. It was much more efficient if he could see infrared, all the better to track down his prey.
However, his brain refused to use the tools I gave it. It rejected them. I would have to fix that. I smoothed away his fear. This was good. Couldn't he see that? So I helped him out a bit. I told him how to use his claws and nose and ears, and gave him the ambition to use them. I gave him motivation. A drive. He would no longer pause when a blade was drawn, no longer be slowed by his rampant emotions.
That spurred him into motion. His claws raked out with wild abandon. I felt them impact flesh, slicing through it like tissue paper. Just as I had intended. However, there was a problem. He was unbalanced.
I pushed the fur down his arm again, this time it took no time at all to reach his hand. His fear was gone. I could finish my creation without his interference. Another set of massive claws and big strong paws to hold them. I made them study. I wanted him to last.
I noted the improvement in his performance, scoring cleaner hits and more. However, I still had work to do, so I turned my attention to his chest.
The fur was spreading down his torso even without my influence. I pushed it down to his hips, pulling his chest out larger along the way. When I reached his hips I discovered I had a lot of work to do. I had given him the weapons, but not the mobility to use them. That’s why I pulled a long tail from his rear. The improvement to his balance would be massive. Then I reconfigured his hips. He needed to be able to properly use his claws, which were meant to be used while on two legs, but I also wanted him to be able to race around on all fours, mobility was important. That was what made his hips tricky. They had to be flexible.
While I was doing this a blade was rammed straight through his heart. I fell off of him with disappointment. It always ended like this. Why did it always end like this? Whenever she was around I never got to finish my creations. Was she the problem? No, she couldn't be. She appreciated my work too much.
A hand touched my fur, which was now matted with blood. I would have to get her to clean me off. Would you like my power? I asked her.
Not right now. She said, once again disappointing me. It was sad really. She was fearless, and always seemed to respect my work.
But I could make you beautiful. I could make you even more powerful than he had been.
You know that doesn’t work on me. She said, draping me around her shoulders. It was so intimate, yet I didn't even need to feel her shell to know it was strong. Far too strong for me to even crack without her permission.
I know… What are we doing today? I asked.
We’re going for a hike. She responded.
What’s a hike? I asked. The term was unfamiliar.
Basically a long walk, usually in the woods. She explained.
The woods. I knew what that was. I like the woods. So many lovely creatures. They all had flaws, but they were also much better suited for their tasks than humans.
Would you like some help getting there faster? I could make you faster than you can even imagine. I asked.
No. She responded, leaving no room for misinterpretation. It was too bad really. I was sure she would look lovely in fur, not that I could see or anything. It was one of the things I just knew.
I loved the woods. I could feel all of the creatures around me. They were all so lovely, much better than the human wearing me like a cloak. She was pretty, for a human. Don't ask me how I know that. I just do. She had washed me off in a stream. I did like being clean. Being unable to see was a hindrance. It was funny really. I could improve others, just not myself.
This looks like a nice spot. She said, stopping her troll through the underbrush.
What looks like a nice spot? I asked. We had been walking for several days.
This. She responded, using her arms to indicate the general area. I couldn't feel anything special about it.
I don't understand. I replied.
You wouldn’t. But I’m still thinking about it.
About what? I asked, excited. Was she considering letting me through her shell?
No. My mind is made up. I want you to improve my hands. Just my hands.
A small hole opened up in her shell, just big enough for me to reach her hands.
I didn't waste a breath, I didn't have any. Instead, I pushed through the hole and found her hands. Unfortunately, I could only access them. It was too bad really. They were slim, hairless, but good for grabbing things. That was a trait I would keep. However, they had no protection, and her claws were woefully dull.
As usual, I fixed those first. I couldn't make them as long as his had been. I wanted to keep the grabbing feature. Instead, I gave her short retractable claws, about an inch long. Satisfied, I gave her fur for protection and thick pads on her fingertips and palms so she could feel things. All through this, I sensed a tinge of fear. It was a problem I couldn't fix because her brain was not in her hands.
Then I was done. Her hands were the best I could make them. They had long, but not too long claws, a measure of protection from slashes and blunt attacks. Protection from the cold of winter. And she could still grab and feel, possibly a little better now.
Do you like it? I asked.
“Yes.” She said aloud. I was lucky. That meant she really appreciated my work. “Now change them back.”
But… why? I was confused. Didn't she like them? I had put effort into them.
Because I need to fit in with other people. They would notice me if I had these paw-hand things. She explained. She was always so patient.
Alright. I sighed. But promise me you’ll let me in again.
Yes, I promise, she replied.
I reluctantly turned her hands back to their boring human equivalent. There. Happy?
Thank you. Now improve my stealth. She opened a hole in her shell, a tiny one, but I could access everything. And don't touch my mind.
That was too bad. She would probably have trouble adjusting to the changes I had planned. However, the tiny hole was far too small to do anything at a decent pace, so I focused on her skin first. It was the biggest problem really. It was far too conspicuous. I started her coat at her feet. It was a good place to start. I grew the fur up her leg. It was slow going, because of the size of the hole she had given me.
Who are you hiding from? I asked.
After a moment she replied, humans.
That didn't make much sense. But humans rarely did. I changed the color of her fur to black. Then had an idea. Her coat paused halfway up her legs as I went back and redid her coat. This time, she would be able to change its color and pattern at will.
What are you doing? She asked.
Making you extra stealthy. I responded.
I started pushing the fur up her legs again. I was beginning to hate how confining the lack of power was. The hole she had given me was way too small.
Give me more of an opening. I can barely do anything. I complained.
I don't trust you. She responded.
Why not? I’m making you stealthy! You even asked me not to touch your mind, so I won’t! It was really annoying. Why didn't she trust me? We had been working together for so long. Well, granted I did most of the work, but that should have made her trust me more, not less.
Fine. She conceded. But if I tell you to stop you have to stop.
Ok! I replied happily as the hole grew twice as large.
She wasn't going to regret that I was certain. I pushed the fur up her torso. I also pulled a tail out. I couldn't resist, they were just too useful. The human’s lack of a tail baffled me to no end.
As the fur reached my form draped against her back I had an idea. It probably wouldn't work, but I had to try it. Unfortunately, there was a shirt in the way. It tore as I pulled myself tighter to her body. I shoved the pieces out of the way, attaching myself to her back. I modified my fur so that it could change colors as well before connecting it to her nerves. It worked wondrously.
What are you doing!? She exclaimed, trying to pull me from her back. It was no use, save for the amusement value. She was basically trying to pull her own back off at this point.
I just thought you might want some help after I changed you. This way, I can improve you whenever you want. I justified. It was cool, and she hadn't asked me specifically not to do it.
I pushed the fur down her arms, then up her neck and to her head. I pulled her ridiculous long patch of hair back and replaced it with my color changing hair.
The remains of her shirt fell off. She frantically tried to hold the scraps over her chest, but they did little to conceal her body. Not that I cared. I could feel her entire body anyway.
Humans and their clothing. I murmured as I moved back to her feet, adding pads and short claws.
I got a shot of embarrassment from her. Humans were weird.
Then I pulled her heels up off the ground. Those things were practically what made humans so noisy in the first place. Now she could step lightly and her pads would spread out the weight a little.
Why do you always do cats? She asked. Maybe it was a complaint, or maybe she was just curious.
Because cats are the best. Did I need further explanation?
Then I moved to her hands. They were good for grasping, but her claws would be enough to grip whatever she might want to climb, so I shortened her fingers and added pads to them as well. I liked the resulting paws, but apparently, she wasn't as pleased.
What are you doing? How does that help me be stealthy? She asked, her shirt beginning to slip from her less dexterous paws.
You’ll see in a moment. Don't worry. You’ll be just as good, if not better at climbing. Oh, and by the way, I’m going to improve your senses too. It’ll be easier for you to hide if you know where the people you’re hiding from are.
I pulled her nose out into a short feline muzzle, improving her sense of smell. But now her teeth were out of place, so I fixed those too, making them sharp and pointed. Then I made her eyes slitted so she could adjust to the dark more easily, along with giving them more rods and removing some of the cones. Night vision would be very useful for well, the night. Then I pulled her ears to the top of her head. They fit better there, considering that I had also pulled them out to points, which helped catch sound. I also added muscles around her ears so she could point them in any direction she wanted.
Oh wow. This is so different. She wondered at her newfound superpowers.
I took the chance while she was distracted and reshaped her chest, removing those weird most certainly not stealthy mounds of flesh and pushing her ribcage out so her shoulder blades could move into the correct position.
If she had noticed, she was too busy commenting on the weird noises the birds were making to notice. I shifted her hips, making them less wide and pointing her legs at a different angle.
She made one of those noises humans tend to make when they’re surprised or something. It was like a squeal, but more aah and less eee. She fell forwards, touching herself on her front paws, which I had subtly shifted to be more suitable for four-legged travel.
What have you done! It was more of an exclamation than a question.
I answered it never the less, I made you stealthy! This way you can slink around and nobody will see you.
It was her turn to stutter. But… But you… I …
I even took the liberty of making your fur change colors so you can blend in wherever you happen to be. I explained.
She was speechless, quite literally as I changed her voice box. There was no point in keeping it, it would just make her less stealthy. I also shifted her head slightly, mostly a cosmetic change really. Now she looked less derpy.
Meanwhile, she was panicking. She couldn't form a coherent thought to send me, so I just let her cool down. She wiggled out of the remained of her clothing and wobbled about for a bit. Probably trying to pace.
You wouldn't be so clumsy if you let me change your mind a bit. I prodded.
No. There is no way I’m letting you do that. Hay at least she could think straight again. Humans and their emotions. The hole in her shell suddenly snapped closed. It seemed a little weaker now. I wasn't sure why, nevertheless, it was far too strong for me to break through.
Ugh. My whole body feels so alien. She said.
Do you like it? I asked. I hoped so. I had put a lot of effort into it, even the ability to change color.
I… I do. But I want to change back now. Her thoughts were conflicted.
Why would you want to change back? It didn't make sense. Even if she was only optimized for stealth, she was nearly perfect.
Yes. Her thoughts became less jumbled. I want to go back to being a human.
Of course. Humans. I should have known she would be like this. They were always reluctant to accept the bodies I gave them. That was why I had to change their minds too. Could I get away with it? With changing her mind? The hole was small, but I could probably change her mind a little before she could close it. Besides, she would be more stealthy that way. That was what she had really wanted. The whole mind thing was secondary.
The hole in her shell included everything, probably because she didn't really understand what the inside of her head looked like. That gave me an edge. I began by training her in her new body, telling her how to use her new muscles and how to walk on all fours. Most importantly, I trained her to use her wonderful coat.
She seemed confused all of a sudden. Was she going to stop me? I would not be able to get back in if she closed the hole. I switched tactics. Removing knowledge is much harder than adding it unless they were sleeping. I didn't totally understand why. What I did understand, was that by the time she had forgotten everything about shells the hole was down to a pinprick.
Stop! The command rang through me. However, there was a loophole.
Stop what? I responded as I shoved a trickle of energy through the tiny hole. I started changing her surface thoughts, much easier to change than memories. I slowly began to improve her hiding instinct, making her more likely to choose that option over say, fleeing.
Unfortunately, I didn't get very far.
Stop doing anything.