World's End: Chapter 9, Part 2

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THERE WAS SOMETHING strange and delightful in the air above Kaskad. Rhiddyl loved soaring amongst the flock of miryhls, learning how to fly with feathers instead of stretched skin. It was very different, rather odd, but so much fun. She loved how the tiniest adjustment of her feathers could completely change the way she flew. As a dragon it was all in the tendons, spreading and contracting, a matter of tension and lift. As a miryhl, it felt like she had hands spread across the wind, tickling it as it tickled her. Strange and glorious and wondrous fun.

Until she sneezed and turned back into a dragon, scattering her flock of playmates with screeches and squawks.

“Bother,” she remarked mildly, wincing as her bones ached and her wings burned. Every scale of her – from the tiny delicate ones around her eyes, to the cobble-sized ones on her back – hurt. The stretch of the wind beneath her wings was no longer fun. In fact it was really quite agonising, so she folded them and dropped back to earth.

“Well, well, look who we have here. A young changeling dragon with no control over her form.”

Rhiddyl hunched over, willing her disobedient body to cease hurting, as she looked cautiously around. She’d come down out of sight of the Kaskad base, into a shallow gully of fragile slate. The slightest flex of her foot caused the fragile rocks to snap and shatter beneath her weight. She winced. Some of the edges were extremely sharp.

“Nothing to say for yourself?” the voice rumbled, and Rhiddyl forced herself to straighten up.

There was no one else in the shallow gully – no one visible at least – but now that Rhiddyl had landed, she realised not all the strangeness in the air was to do with Kaskad. In fact, now that she was closer, she recognised it quite well. Just as she knew that voice.

“Estenarix?” she said warily, confident that she was right, but knowing she’d got such things wrong before.

The slates to her right shifted and cracked and a woman stepped forward. Or, rather, a dragon in woman shape. Tall, broad and bear-ish, she looked perfectly at home out here in the wilds, where even the most fragile rocks still had teeth to bite you with.

“Greetings, young Rhidystel. I see you’ve come west at last. I trust you had good hunting in the east.”

“Estenarix!” Rhiddyl bounced up and down, pain forgotten as the rocks shattered and cracked beneath her rippling weight. “You’re here!” It had been less than a year since Rhiddyl last saw the Boulderforce dragon, but so much had happened that it felt like a lifetime.

Laughing, the woman strode forward and wrapped her thick arms around Rhiddyl’s neck, pounding the side of one fist against her shoulder in rough affection. “So I am, youngster. But look at you, changing at last! Sibling Stone, I thought the day would never come.”

Pulling herself up proudly, Rhiddyl felt her belly scales flush pink as she said, “It happened a half-moon ago, but I’m already gaining control.” As if to prove her wrong, tingles gathered at the base of her tail. As the sensation rippled over her, she managed to croak, “look,” as if she’d intended the change to happen all along.

Magic swept over her, crushing her body and twisting her bones, folding her down and in, down and in. Not the chicken, not the chicken, not the chicken, she begged, reaching for something, anything else that her body might know. Preferably without wings, as that seemed a safer choice.

When the magic faded and the worst of the pain faded into aches, Rhiddyl cautiously lifted her head. No pink. Her whole body slumped and she looked down at herself in relief.

Not a chicken. She allowed herself a little dance of glee, leaping from one broad paw to another, plush feathers fluttering in place of the fur she should otherwise have had in this form.

“Well now, I am impressed,” Estenarix said, actually sounding it too as she bent down, rumpling her hands through Rhiddyl’s thick feather coat.

She sat back, preening under the attention, peering through one eye to try and work out what she’d turned into this time. Dark purple and deep blue blended together down her side, with occasional black circles and spots, all ending in a thick, stumpy tail. She flicked her ears.

Lynx. She was in her lynx form.

Phew. So much more impressive than the chicken.

“Have you mastered anything bigger yet?” Estenarix asked, sitting back on her knees and studying Rhiddyl from broad paw to tufted ear.

Unable to speak like this, Rhiddyl flicked her ear and twitched her tail.

Estenarix laughed. “That’s just one of the downsides of the change, youngling. But you’ll work it out.” She tapped the side of her head meaningfully.

Rhiddyl huffed and sank down to rest her head on her paws. If she was reduced to communicating in mind-speak in her second form for the rest of her life, she’d be in trouble. She wasn’t very good at it. Elder Narrawynd, leader of her Clan, said it was because she didn’t have enough control. Of course. When were her problems ever down to anything else? She huffed, raising a cloud of rock dust and sneezed —

Into a bright pink chicken.

Estenarix laughed so hard she fell over.

Which was, of course, when Elder Goryal and the rest of the dragons arrived.

“Ah, there you are, Rhidystel,” the elder chimed cheerfully, the cool strength of their power wrapping around Rhiddyl’s mind and pulling her back into full dragon form.

She was so embarrassed she barely even noticed the pain as she wilted beneath the amused, sneering and contemptuous eyes of some six dragons, mostly of the Sunlord Clan.

On balance, she decided, as Goryal began regaling the other dragons with tails of their joint adventures, today was not turning out very well. At all. Sighing, she settled down behind Goryal and wished her Change Time included an invisible form as well as just the embarrassing ones.


~ Next Chapter ~


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