RHIDDYL WAS EXCITED. She knew she probably shouldn’t be, since her days were mostly full of frustration at the moment. Her first change had come as a complete surprise – but a very welcome one. She’d begun to fear she’d never start her Change Time and would be trapped in one form forever, a failure of a Skystorm, more suited to the company of lesser dragons. So when she changed that first time, she’d been delighted despite the burning pain as her bones snapped, shrank and reformed. The feeling of her scales sinking into her skin, then pushing back out as feathers felt like a hundred-thousand needle pricks all at once. But her joy at taking on another form had swiftly washed the agony away.
She could change!
She only wished each one still wasn’t as big a surprise as the first, and that she might have gained a little control by now. A half-moon had passed, but she was no closer to choosing when, how or where she shifted than she had been before her Change Time began. And feeling just as big a failure.
Not that a half-moon was long by dragon standards. If she’d been back in the Cleansed Lands, close to her Clan home of Storm Heart, they’d probably still be celebrating her ascension to the next stage of her long life. But she wasn’t at Storm Heart and she wasn’t in the Cleansed Lands. She was in the Overworld, travelling with Rift Riders and living at a human pace. A half-moon was a long time for a human to learn something new, and both Reglian and Goryal had switched her to a human timetable without warning her.
“Control, control, control,” she muttered, as she drifted high above the Illuminai in the pre-dawn. Reglian drifted somewhere off to her left, keeping an eye on her from a polite distance. Since she’d snapped at him two days ago, he seemed to have eased off the pressure a little. He and Goryal still told her she needed to get control of herself, but they saved their lectures for twice a day now instead of every time she changed. Although their arrival in Etheria might have had something to do with that, since Goryal spent almost all their time plotting and planning with the humans, while Reglian was doing his best to stay out of sight as much as possible.
That wasn’t an option for Rhiddyl. Nothing ever was.
“Control, control,” she chanted, feeling her wings sag. She’d never been good with control. That was what had caused her to be exiled to the Storm Wash border in the first place. Her lightning was powerful and unpredictable – was it any wonder her Change Time was proving to be the same?
A cool breeze tickled her nose and she breathed in deeply, relishing the scent of rain. It seemed to rain a great deal in Etheria, but it was autumn. She wondered if the soggy weather was ruining the harvest. Levelling her wings, she looked at the world gliding by below and shook her head. Forest, forest, forest, with the only an occasional farmstead carved out between the trees. The upper slopes were bare enough for sheep and goats to graze, but too steep for growing anything but grass. There wasn’t a lot to harvest around here, but Etheria was a vast, sprawling land, the biggest of the four Greater West nations, so it likely had fertile lowlands and lush valleys tucked away somewhere.
Warmth tickled the back of her wings and Rhiddyl closed her eyes, humming at the touch of the rising sun. The warm sensation spread, turning to prickles as it fanned out from her wings, forward and backwards along her spine. Shooting down her limbs and tail, she sneezed as it zapped her nose.
“Oh no.” Not the rising sun at all.
Her joints locked and she jerked. Fire raced through her bones and she curled inwards in a burst of silver light.
Her body began to twist and shrink, the pain seeming to extend the change on and on and on. Her mind shrieked in wordless agony, but even through her hurt Rhiddyl chanted, control, control, control.
A vast swell of power drew closer – Reglian, diving in preparation of catching her.
She didn’t want to be caught. She didn’t want to need rescuing. She wanted to care for herself.
Wings. She needed wings.
Control, control, control.
The change released her with a snap that burned the inside of her nostrils and made her head reel, but instinct took over. She flapped her wings.
Pain made her weak and the cool morning air didn’t help, but Rhiddyl was determined and somewhere deep inside she knew she was strong. She was a dragon, Family take it!
Straining and squawking, she got her wings in line and flapped as hard as she could. Reglian drew close, golden claws reaching for her.
Rhiddyl shied away, flapping manically and finally, finally, began to rise under her own power. She carolled in triumph and it emerged as a bacock.
Squawking in dismay, she looked down – and wished she hadn’t. Bright pink. She was bright pink.
The bloody chicken. Again.
All the forms in all the world that her wretched power could choose and she became a chicken. Not just any chicken, but a violently pink one, with all the grace and flying finesse of a rock in a river. No wonder she had to keep flapping so hard.
“Need a hand?” Reglian rumbled, sounding oh so very amused.
“Bao-bock-bock-bock bacock!” Rhiddyl swore at him. “Bacock! Bacock!”
Something must have been lost in translation because the wretched Thunderwing laughed, long and hard, thunder rolling across the peaceful morning.
Rhiddyl narrowed her eyes and wondered if any chicken had ever successfully shot lightning out of their claws – hopefully, she would be the first.
Sadly, all that happened was that her wings grew really tired and she began dropping again. Seeing a tree coming up fast, Rhiddyl folded her wings and dropped into the soggy canopy, squawking and cursing as every single branch seemed determined to hit her on the way down. She’d always rather liked conifers for their jolly green foliage all year round and the way they grew in such tall, straight lines. She may have to change her mind.
Finally getting her puny chicken claws to grip, Rhiddyl found herself swaying upside down, studying the shadowy forest floor with its padded bed of decaying needles muffling all sound. Such as the footsteps of a lean fox that snuck up to sit beneath her tree, studying the best way to spring twenty or so feet into the air to gobble up the breakfast that had just presented itself.
Rhiddyl bock-bocked indignantly, flapping her wings in a warning fashion.
The fox licked its lips in anticipation.
She had never felt so humiliated in her life.
~ Next Chapter ~