New Account Registration re-enabled - apparently the extension we use for ReCaptcha service had a configuration change and to utilize the more secure form it needed different parameters. We did not notice this when it occurred. Sorry folks!

User:Arrow Quivershaft/Birds of a Feather

From Shifti
Jump to: navigation, search
Icon
3P story universe

Birds of a Feather

Author: Arrow Quivershaft

The next day, we all got up early and made our way out of the grove, heading back to Corinth. The morning was uneventful, though we made better time now, because Blossom had been the shortest, and thus slowest, of us four. Now it was just Alex, so we had less trouble The morning was mostly uneventful; me and Alex walking along, with Dawn flying ahead at low altitude, doing spotting duties. Nothing too big. Minor hazards, distant stormwings. A part of me was hoping against hope that the stormwings would miss us coming back and I wouldn’t get shaken down for the other 500 Euros. It’s not reneging on a deal if the other person never shows up to claim it.

About 2PM, Dawn landed up ahead a ways to rest. Alex was slowing down a bit, and stumbling as his legs finally got their displeasure known through the endorphins, so I figured we should take a break soon. We hadn’t been talking much since lunch, but Alex finally broke the silence.

"All this walking makes you truly appreciate cars," he said.

"You get used to it, man." I said. "I keep to a gym regimen when I'm off duty, just so I'm always in top shape."

"And now I know why. My legs are sending me death threats." he joked.

I evaluated that a bit. "We may want to take a break soon, then. Just to keep you from collapsing. Need you tomorrow to finish the trip...after that it’s a boat ride and we can all relax."

Alex glanced around nervously. "Hmm, maybe, I'm okay for now."

"Ok, then. We'll keep going. Just stay hydrated and keep working." If he was alright with it, we’d cover more ground with less breaks.

Alex nodded. "Will do." He took a drink of water.

When I turned back to the road, Dawn was barreling towards us at high speed. She was in yelling range faster than I’d ever seen her, calling out “BEHIND!” I whipped around to see two stormwings approaching us, already swooping in for a landing. Damn! I should’ve been checking behind us more often! I grabbed my crossbow off my pack and readied it, yanking back the lever so that it drew a bolt out of the mag, and priming it to fire with a satisfying CHLUNK.

"Oh shit!" Alex yelled as he realized the situation. He jumped a bit, and promptly started hiding behind me.

As they approached, I could see that it was the same pair as previously. I relaxed a bit. I’d already measured out the money in a pouch, so this should all go pretty smoothly. I didn’t reach for it yet, though, because I had my hands on the crossbow. Dawn landed on one of the interspersed trees nearby to watch, and the two stormwings flared their wings, scattering sunlight everywhere as they landed, one to either side of me.

The male nodded towards me as he stood back up. “G’day.”

“Good afternoon,” I replied evenly, lowering the crossbow towards the ground. Alex stayed silent behind me. "You want the other half of your payment?"

"Huh... Looks like you lost yer little gal. Wasn't nothin' nasty, I'm hopin?" the male observed.

I shook my head. "No. Nothing nasty."

"Good thing. I'd hate to think I hadn't kept up my end of the bargain, eh?" he stated.

"Your end of the bargain has been maintained thus far, yes." I agreed.

I heard some Hellenic from the female stormwing to the male, although I couldn’t understand it, and then a chuckle.

The male smirked back at his partner, then looked to me. "Well, we're expandin' the offer just a little bit, y'see. We didn't know till t'day that you'd brought us some VIPs, yeah? Shoulda maybe clued in from the foxie, but yeh, I'mma bit of a doof that way. Was thinkin we might be of a bit more help to ya."

More Hellenic. I really need to learn to speak it. I kept an eye on the stormwing male, quirking a brow and waiting for him to continue.

The male made a placating wing gesture at his partner. Then he looked back to me. "So y'see, I think it'd be terribly rude of me to withhold my rapid transportation services to the local sights before we see ya off, yeah?"

"Oh, fuck." Alex said from behind me, groaning.

I looked at Alex for just a second, seeing him start his change as he collapsed to the ground. Fuck. "You wish to...offer us a sightseeing tour?" I asked, slightly incredulously.

Some Hellenic came from behind me again. The male stormwing stepped in a little bit closer, knife-wings flashing in the light again. "Sounds like fun, yeah?" Then he responded to the female. I didn’t like this one bit, but I was two to one against razor blade factories.

Alex was breathing heavily. I needed to get us out of this situation, and talking was the only realistic option here.“I don’t think we’re interested. That would be Alex’s call, and he’s indisposed.”

"No! ... thanks..." Alex shouted, between some ragged breaths.

"Just take your money and go,” Dawn advised. “You're going to run out of 'customers' to extort if you keep coming on this strong."

And that’s when all hell broke loose. I heard movement from behind me. I swung around to the behind and saw the female stormwing moving rushing in to grab Alex. I lifted my crossbow to fire, and heard swishing noise, a TWANG, and felt pain on my left hand. The crossbow clicked, but no bolt ejected, the string hanging limp on either side. The male stormwing’s wing retracted, the job done. Fuck fuck fuck...Dawn was on a strike-dive towards the male stormwing. She’d get shredded against him!

I had bigger worries. The female stormwing had gotten a hold of Alex’s clothing and body and wrapped her talons around him, and now was flapping to take off. She was coming towards us, those razor feathers flapping on the downstroke. I dropped the crossbow and hit the dirt to avoid getting lacerated. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any other options. She took off and started to wheel away, gaining altitude and starting to leave. Alex was flailing, but he couldn’t do anything easily.

Dawn got a good clawing in on the stormwing’s face, but had to jump back when he tried to bring his wings up to block her off. He took a step back as I got to my feet, instinctively drawing the knife from my left boot, trying to ignore the pain on my left hand for now. Blood on my hand, and I’d just hit the ground. Dirt in the wound. Have to clean it. Why was I thinking of this?

"Whoa now! She misunderstood! Let's calm down!" the male shouted. "You don't want to fight me, walker. Not when there's nothin to fight over."

The female stormwing screeched in the distance, but I wasn’t focusing on her anymore.

"I understand that. I also understand that contrary to your claims, you just MADE something to fight over." I said threateningly.

"I'm already sparin' yer girlie, cuz that hurt like hell.” He was bleeding from the face and neck. “Only reason I ain't takin' off right now is so that I can explain this so you don't do anything schtupid."

"Then talk!" I demanded.

"He's just gonna pay a visit to a friend. You can come with him, or you can stay here. Either way, nobody's gettin hurt except for me," the male explained.

"Fucking press gang tactics!" Dawn shouted.

I didn’t have much I could do here. "I don't believe this was ever mentioned in the deal, for one, and two, I no longer have any reason to trust your word." I said, probably sounding pathetic. I was facing down a stormwing with a useless weapon, he’d just beaten me, and I was debating in legalese.

“You're right. I'll have to bring back a refund.” he said, evenly. “So you're staying here, then?"

"If I went with you, you'd drop me." I noted. I didn’t have any reason to believe him at this point.

"’f I did that, I'd be kill-on-sight for ya walkers. Just sit tight, alright? We'll be back, you get yer friend, yer cash... Do keep your Sheila here with ya, will ya? Ain't no reason to hurt anybody." he said, veiling his anger.

Dawn was wheeling in an attack pattern, waiting for another go at the stormwing.

"You took my client for forcemarking. Deal declined." I stated. I just didn’t trust him.

"Then I believe we're done here. Don't beat yerself up over it, happens all the time. You do what you gotta to survive. I do what I gotta." the stormwing said, stepping away, wing still up.

I let him go, keeping my eye on him. There was nothing I could do at the moment. When he left, however...he lowered his wing and made as though he was going to take off. Dawn swooped at him, but had to veer off when he took a slash at her with a wing.

"Hold, Dawn!" I said. I needed her intact.

And with that opening, the stormwing took off, heading due west after his partner...and Alex.


I was broken out of my thoughts just a moment later by Dawn yelling, "FUCK!" Same thing I was thinking, she just put it into words. I glanced over at her as I sheathed my dagger. The stormwings circled as they caught up, but I didn’t have a crossbow...I went to pick it up where I’d dropped it.

"This is why unarmed children should /not/ be allowed to come in here unarmed! Or at all!" Dawn shouted.

"I'm not disagreeing," I told Dawn. I needed to focus. "We probably don't have particularly long, come on."

Dawn looked at me incredulously. "Do you mean that you're actually going to Typhon's temple? Nathan, you can't make that in time. I can, but there's nothing I can do there..."

"I'm gonna do my best." I said, checking over my crossbow to make sure it was still in good order. Everything except the string...idiot.

She looked at me "What to you want me doin' hun? I don't know your plan here."

"Plan is to go and get Alex back." I dug a spare string out of my pack, and started restringing the bow.

Dawn paused, and looked at me with concern, seeing the blood on my hand. "You alright, hon?"

"It's just a scratch. I'll be fine. See, it's already clotting up." I said, showing her my hand after I finished restringing.

"Nothing we can do Nathan..." she said with resignation.

"I'm going to try. That's my job, and my code." I resolved.

"I hesitated too long... Again." she said, a bit angrily.

"I as well. Let's go make up for mistakes, eh?" I tried to buoy her spirits. I couldn’t do this on my own.

"Lead on." she said with a sigh.

I led onwards. "Just to keep you assured, the plan is in progress. But right now, there's alot of data I don't have that I'll need before I can figure anything solid out."

"Like what?" She followed as best she could, taking short flights when she needed to.

"Need to know how many people are there, for one. We also know the general direction, but don't have solid location data yet." I watched the stormwings as they went out of sight.

"There's a temple of Typhon that way. I guarantee that's where they're going."

"One piece of data, then." I nodded. "Preferably, I'd like to get in and out without alot of fuss. Of course, what I want and what will happen are likely going to be wildly different." I paused. "Unless you have any ideas?"

"I actually think that your plan will work just fine." Dawn commented flatly. "I've /seen/ it work just fine."

I took a deep breath...I was pushing myself harder, since time was of the essence now. No relaxed pace. "Good, then hopefully we can replicate that feat. Get in, rescue Alex, and get out, hopefully before they know what happened. Then we'll have to hide until tomorrow."

"It worked, Nathan, when it was me being rescued." Dawn said dryly.

Oh. Shit. I blanked off my face. "Ok." Hopefully I was a bit luckier than Dawn’s rescuers.

Dawn sighed, but kept pace.

"Any data you have that you can give me on Typhon? Followers, strength, anything else that I may not know? You're still the more experienced one here."

"Big ass dragon... He's basically Echidna under a different name. Another monster god."

"Hopefully we can avoid him," I said with a curse.

"He's like any other god, doesn't do much that we'll ever see."

"Gotcha. As for numbers, we'll have to figure that out when we get there, I guess?" I secured my crossbow and cleaned my wound, then got started doing a dressing and bandage on it. It was tricky, since it was on my hand.

"In all likelihood, we're heading for a stormwing rookery..."

I checked if stormwings were still on the horizon, and could see them glinting in the distance...especially in the direction we were headed. None of them were harrassing us at the moment, though. "Greaaaaaat." I sighed. "I'm wishing my crossbow had a larger magazine right about now."

"I'm wishing he'd just taken a mark."

"That'd probably have been best, but we can't do anything about that now."

We started entering what was...rough terrain farmland. Seriously. With naga farmers going on about their daily lives. I broke into a jog on occasion, detouring to avoid making anyone upset, but I kept heading due west towards the temple. Dawn kept up easily enough. As the terrain got rough in a hurry, I envied her wings. This was exhausting, even if I was still making decent time. Eventually, I told Dawn to stay down, so we didn’t tip our hand any earlier than necessary.

It took over an hour. But we made it up a ridge, finally, to look at the temple. It was down below the ridge, and the outside of the temple was made of museum components that had been dragged here, and built onto the entrance of a large cave system that went underground.

On the ridge, there was a well-armed naga that seemed to be expecting us. Oddly, this one was male. My heart sank. The ridge was such that it was impossible for it to have not seen us. It was heavily armored, and it wasn’t even wielding its short swords. Seemed too relaxed. I approached carefully.

After a moment, the naga asked, with a modified American accent. "You're with Alexss?"

I glanced away for a moment, then nodded. “Yes.”

"Thisss way, dude." He turned around and headed down the difficult trail toward the temple.

I eyequirked at this, but wasn’t going to look the gift horse in the mouth at this point.

Dawn looked to me. “I’m gonna go tophat, alright?” She was going to watch from altitude. I nodded to her, and she jumped off the ridge and started circling.

The naga led me on, as I expected to be ambushed at any time. After a short distance, he led me around and showed me a canvas awning. The two stormwings from before were there, hanging around in a shallow bowl-shaped depression...as well as a third one, about two-thirds their size...I looked upon it, and swore extensively in my head.


From the corner of my eye, the naga waved blandly towards the smaller stormwing with an arm, and then left to go about his business. They hadn’t noticed me yet, so they continued their conversation as I approached.

“So, what would it take for me to get myself back?” said the small stormwing, in Alex’s voice. DAMN IT ALL. My frame sagged a bit, not carrying myself quite as high anymore. I’d fucked up and Alex paid for it.

"Don't right know mate... Gotta be worth someone with power's while, roight? Long term service does that. Recruitin' does that... Ah, here's yer walker, come to get ya." The male stormwing said cordially. Jackass. The female turned and nodded towards me with a chirping sound.

Alex seemed confused. "Huh?" He looked over and spotted me, instantly cringing behind a wing.

After a moment, I broke the silence. "...I'm sorry."

"What happened?" Alex asked.

"We'll give ya some time alone. Shout if ya need anything, mates," the male said. He started to head off with the female to give us some talking room. They already did the dirty work, they’d get their reward soon enough.

I walked over towards Alex slowly, carefully. "You'll need to be...slightly more specific."

"I got kidnapped by those dudes right?" Alex asked.

I paused. "Yes. You did."

"And now I'm marked and a freak to boot." he stated.

"...yes. And I'm sorry..." I could feel the Typhon mark on him. He was taking it...rather well, it seemed. That said, it WAS my first time near a new forcemark.

"I shouldn't have been so pigheaded." Alex said.

"There's little that we can do about that now." I said, trying to keep him from beating himself up. We could both do that later tonight.

Alex sighed. "What now?"

"Well...we can continue with the original plan. Or you can choose to do something new..." I winced. "I'm...not sure you'll even be able to leave, honestly."

"Why?"

"Well...I can't say for certain, but I'm presuming that the metal feathers will get a lot heavier out of the realms." Fact is, I knew that they would. Stormwing forcemark is one of the worse ones for that reason.

Alex eyed his new plumage. "Oh."

"But that's one option. We could ask Dawn for input." I glanced up and nodded solemnly to Dawn as she wheeled overhead at low altitude. "The other is to...well, some other people just skip off from their old life after this happens..."

Alex nodded silently.

"It's your call. If you want to continue, consider the Athens fee waived." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Alex’s stuff was folded neatly on a nearby ledge...and the refund of my cash. Bleeding hell, now I felt even worse.

Alex shuddered a bit. "Let's have a stab at it."

I nodded. "Alright, then. Lemme get your stuff and I'll be ready to go."

Alex nodded as I headed over and collected his stuff and balanced it with my gear. Now I’d be the slowest one; this was bordering on more than I could reasonably carry. I’d be glad when I could offload some of it at the RI outpost in Corinth. Company money, and all that.

"What now?" Alex looked like he was brooding.

"You said you wanted to go?" I reminded.

"Yeah, of course ... " he paused. "It's just a bit ... much."

Hell of an understatement, there. I looked up to make sure Dawn was still there. "I would say I understand, but I don't. So take all the time you need."

Alex nodded. "Which direction?"

I pointed back towards the road.

Alex started that way, walking awkwardly. "I guess there's no way out of this except for thier way?" He pointed towards the direction the other stormwings had went.

Pretty much. "What did they say?"

"If I got influential enough I could do something about it." he recited.

“Not sure I'd take them at their word." I said skeptically. "I did that once and look what happened."

Alex nodded. "With a bit of luck Athene can do something about it."

"Maybe. You're already going to be asking alot, and it's hard to override a Mark." I explained.

"Yeah, but this..." He indicated himself.

"I know, Alex. I know." I wasn’t pleased with the situation, and it was clear in my voice.

"We'll ... We'll try to get Nick fixed first."

"Well, that's the best we can do. Again, don't worry about the Athens fee. It's complimentary."

Alex smiled weakly. "Thanks."

"Again. Not sure you'll be able to leave the Realms. Can I propose something?" I tried to be diplomatic again.

"Hmm?"

"I'll take that as a yes... Here's my suggestion. Since we don't know if you can leave the realms...you stay behind in Corinth, possibly with Dawn. I go back to Lecci, get the info and make the calls as fast as I can, return immediately, and then we go from Corinth to Athens. Or, alternatively, you and Dawn go ahead to Athens, and hole up in a inn, and I meet you there."

"Sounds like a plan."

"Which?"

"I think it's better if we stick together as much as we can."

"So...you and Dawn go to Athens?" Now I was confused.

He shook his head. "No, we wait in Corinth, that way we lose sight of you for the least amount of time."

"Ah. Ok, I gotcha."

"It's easier for one group to help the other if they know where the other is.”

"That it is." I paused and broached the next topic. "However, this leaves me with a bit of a quandry of my own."

"Yes?"

"I'm perfectly capable on the computer, digging news and finding updates, but contacting your friend and convincing him of my trustworthiness will be a bit more difficult without your word to assist... and by 'a bit more difficult', I'm meaning, 'Any codewords, special secret knowledge, or other things which can help would be greatly appreciated.'"

Alex nodded and looked thoughtful. "Well, my raccoon shifting thing ... you and dawn are the only locals who know about that."

Alex frowned a bit. "Oh, and maybe about steve ... he's an anubis who works in the embassy, I meant to play some video games with him." He eyed his wings and feet. "Not going to happen now." he said ruefully.

I winced. "Ok. Your name, and Blossom's..."

"Alex Iosif, yeah."

I nodded. "And hopefully, that'll be enough. If you come up with anymore, it'll be appreciated, but between all that, I'm pretty sure I can fast talk unless he's a real skeptic." Breathe. "In any case, I'll try and do things as fast as possible. One day, two at the most.”

Alex nodded. "I think I can survive that."

"Well, it'll be a bit longer on your end."

"Because that's how long I'll take in Lecci. Plus transit time, you're looking at 4 to 5 days..."

Alex sighed.

"Again, my apologies."

"You couldn't have done anything about this."

"Yeah. I could have,” I countered. "I could've not trusted them."

"Yeah, but then they'd have taken me, and Blossom the first time round."

"...I guess that's true." I granted him.

"I should have been more carefull, I got careless and shifted."

“All they need to do is give me an excuse if I see them again...” I muttered.

"Hmm?"

"I said, I see them again, all they need to do is give me an excuse." I repeated patiently. This was a bad time to lose my temper.

"Sorry, my ears aren't what they used to be."

"Sorry, man. I don't look highly upon oathbreakers."

Alex nodded as he hopped over a rock. "I feel the same but I don't know if that's such a smart thing, they look nasty."

"They are." I agreed. "Still, give me half a chance and one excuse..." This wasn’t a productive line of thought. "...You'll probably do well to talk with Dawn alot in a bit. She can help you get accustomed."

Alex nodded. "Yeah, I will. I don't even know what I eat."

“Meat, mostly.”

Alex wrinkled his nose and groans.

"Something wrong?"

"Itch."

"Where? Lemme get it."

"My nose."

I walked over...carefully, and scratched his nose a bit. Least I could do at this point.

Alex paused. “I hate not having hands."

"...honestly? That was one of the things that led me to get marked in the first place...although that's probably not what you want to hear."

Alex nodded. "I can't imagine what it would have been like for Dawn.”

"...probably not particularly different."

Alex shuddered a bit. "I neglect to get myself marked, against your advice and this happens, I make one small slip of judgement... I neglect to get the cure immediately and I lose my identity." He muses.

"You have to make the best with what you have." Like I should talk.

"Yep. Only I don't have much this time round."

"Dawn can help you with the manual dexterity." I paused. "And...not sure if this'll help, but you're quite formidable in combat now."

"Yes?"

"The feathers are razor-sharp; you can harden them to metallic properties at will.”

Alex eyed his feathers. "Yeah, wouldn't want to run into myself on a dark night... though I'm not much of a fighter, never been in a real fight."

"I've been in some. It happens in the realms."

"It might have been a good thing that they got me so easily, they left you two alone." Alex said morbidly.

"Still makes me feel bad."

"Well, look at it this way, I'm still of the same mind and same gender so all is not lost."

"That's true." Wonder what Dawn'd say to that. I looked up to make sure she was still following along.

"One thing I can't quite get.” Alex asked. “Why did they do this to me in stead of all the other horrible things I can think of. My shapeshifting doesn't work anymore."

"Gods need power to operate. In order to get that power, they need Marked worshippers, willing or non. Which in turn allows them to get more worshippers, and more power. Vicious cycle." I explained.

"Yes, but I am ... I was a shapeshifter who operated outwith the influence of the gods. Someone should be curious about how I operate."

"Some of us were. Unfortunately, to Typhon, you were simply one more body."

Alex paused, nodding. "Which is probably a good thing. I really don't like the idea of some god experimenting on my arse."

"Fair enough."

"Like this I may turn alot of heads but I'm not really wierd."

"To a degree."

"Yep. Though I wish I could have been furnished with a more sensible body, no offence intended."

"None taken."

Alex breathed deeply and looked sad. After a moment, he perked up. He cautiously half-spread a wing and examined it. "So, any tips for when I confront Athene? Her priestesses or whatever." he corrected after a moment.

"Just be polite, I'd say. And ask, not demand... Explain the situation as best you can. I'll take notes from my convo with your friend and bring them back with me." "Dawn might have a few more pointers, but she's not as soft spoken as me. Course, you may have noticed that."

Alex smiled. "Yeah, but she's okay. I now know what it feels like."

"Well, that's obvious..."

"Yep, and I've been like this for less than a couple of hourse and I'm allready pissed off."

"I don't think I can say "I'm Sorry" enough, man."

Alex frowned. "Oh shut up."

"...sure." I said, uncertain what else to say.

"Whether or not you could have done something and didn't, or you didn't do it well enough doesn't matter anymore. I am a Stormwing right now and no amount of apologising will change that.” He said. "Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate what you have done for me but the past is the past. We have to look forward and find a way to fix this fiasco."

"You're right,” I agreed. What else could I do?

Alex slumped and sighed with relief. "Thanks man."

"Not a problem. I'll do my best."

"Me too." He paused. "If all else fails I'll have to try and make a deal with Bast."

"Maybe that's the last course of action you'd like to take."

"Alright, we’ll talk more later. Right now, let's keep going until you get tired, and then we can camp for the night."

"I don't know what I'm going to do after athene...."

"After Athene? Dunno, really. You'll have to see what happens there." I said, and then we fell silent and just walked for a while.

Eventually we made it back to the road. We trekked on for a few hours, and then we had to camp. It was only about 5PM, and we could’ve continued, but it time. Alex was having trouble walking with his new legs, and I was having trouble carrying that much gear. Best to call it for the night and take a go at it tomorrow. I’d be doing all the work at the camp anyways, as virtue of being the only person with hands.

Dawn did her final sweep and landed in the camp. She headed over to Alex, who was huffing in a ‘corner’ while I was getting the fire started. Had to cook the field rations and all. I listened in on their convo for the time being, but didn’t say anything.

“How you holding up, kiddo?” Dawn asked him as she approached.

"Aside from feeling fucking useless, okay." Alex grumped.

"You're doing not half bad..." Dawn noted.

"Yeah?"

"Better than I did, actually..."

“What did you do?" Alex asked curiously.

"I'd rather not talk about it... Have you jabbed yourself yet?"

Alex shook his head. "I don't have a clue how I'm going to sleep tonight."

"The body knows what it's doing. That's the one mercy they give us."

"Did they also call it a 'little' adaptation ...?" Alex asked out of nowhere.

"Huh?"

"The servants of the god that ... marked me talked about it like I was getting a filling..."

"Mm.." Dawn nodded soberly.

"Very annoying, but I'm getting sidetracked..." Alex sighed. "Yeah, I'm doing okay all things considered."

"I'd give you a hug, but uh..." Dawn trailed off.

Alex smiled painfully. "...I'm not that cuddily." He picked at the dirt a bit with a foot.

After the moment, I stood and headed over. I just stood nearby, not interrupting as they continued.

"I really would." Dawn said emphatically.

"Thanks." Alex said, obviously hurt by the sentiment. "Without you guys I'd probably have been dead in the water by now ..."

"Fact is, Alex... The faster you manage to learn what you've lost and what you've gained, the more you'll help your friends, and the less you'll be feeling useless like this." Dawn paused. "One of the first things is to learn flight. Flight, dexterity, and basic combat."

Alex nodded and swallowed visibly. "Okay."

"I can help you out with all three."

Alex sighed. "Yeah."

Dawn glanced over to me. "Nate, you can come over here, we aren't making out or anything."

I smirked slightly at that. She better not be! "Just wanted to say, food's ready."

Alex chuckled a bit. "I wish. So, what's on?"

"A little mixture he makes that we call The Usual. When he's feeling spontaneous, he makes Usual Surprize." Dawn said.

"Ooh, sounds tasty." Alex said sarcastically. "How do I eat by the way?"

"You'll figure it out; it's not that hard." Dawn said reassuringly. "In a way you're kinda lucky. Metal doesn't stain."

"Yeah ..." Alex said dryly as they followed me back to the prepared meal.

"But you can bet, Lex, that nothing's going to be scrapping with you anytime soon." Dawn encouraged.

"That's a good thing I guess... though not very comforting."

"Look kiddo... I suck at this, alright? Just... Try and find your own peace, and Nate'n'I will help as best we can." Dawn admitted.

"It's just hard..."

I remained silent as I dished up the food. I’d made extra tonight in comparison to the way down, since I figured everyone could use a bit more to cheer up, and we had less people eating, so we could afford the luxury.

Alex eyed his plate, and then Dawn. Dawn took her serving with a foot, then hopped over to a spot to sit down. She scraped off her claws on each other, held her dish in one foot, and ate with the other foot’s claws. It was much more deliberate than usual, so that Alex could examine what she was doing for imitation purposes.

"Use your teeth to carry if you don't trust your balance." she advised. "And use a fork if you want to... I don't bother."

Alex nodded, and picked his plate up with a foot, placing it between his teeth and heading for his own spot to sit.

I glanced to Dawn as she ate. "I should mention to you...Alex and I have decided to change the travel plans a bit." I said between bites of my own food.

"Figured."

Alex mimicked Dawn’s motions awkwardly.

"It's like using chopsticks, Alex; just gotta see what works and get used to it." she advised him. Alex nodded in response, ravenously and messily eating down his food. He must’ve been starving.

"The current plan is for you two to stay in Corinth and you help him adjust, while I go to Lecci and take care of the things we mentioned." I paused for a moment. "If you have no objections, of course."

"I can do that, yeah." Dawn nodded.

"Thanks." Alex said.

"Then I'll go to Lecci, do the work as fast as I can, come back, and then we'll proceed to Athens.” I explained. I watched Alex to make sure he didn’t cut himself on his new plumage or talons.

"You owe me a day off when we get there, though." Dawn said.

I smirked a bit. "Sure thing, Dawn."

Alex eyed an offending talon after finishing his meal. "Babysitting is demanding."

"Damn rights." Dawn joked.

I collected the dishes from everyone and started to clean them. Wasn’t too big a deal, just some water and scrubbing and they could air-dry.

"Hey Nathan... Got about a foot of that thick cheap shitty rope you can spare?" Dawn asked.

"Yep. Gimme a sec." I stood and started rolling out some of the rope from my pack. “Need it cut?”

Alex stood up and jumped as he did. “Ow! Fuck!” I looked over to see that he’d nicked his face with a feather...and had just barely avoided trying to bring a ‘hand’ up to rub the new cut. I winced as he glowered at a wing.

"Careful Alex... Yeah, just fire off a foot or so, Nate." Dawn said as she stood up.

I sliced the rope off with my knife as Dawn hopped over. I offered it to her, and she took it, tossing it over to Alex.

"Practice with this. Sit there and tie a knot in it, then untie it. Try different knots, over and over. When you shred it, get Nate to give you another one." Dawn explained to him.

Alex eyed the rope, then Dawn, then sat down and started trying to tie knots in the rope with a sigh.

“Trust me, it helps.” Dawn advised.

Meanwhile, we had some water left from dinner. I took the opportunity to remove my dressing, clean my wound again, and then redress it with a fresh bandage.

Alex sighed a bit. He was having trouble even tying his first knot.

"Find little ways to practice everything. It won't take long at all to get practiced enough to do it all." Dawn paused. "Tie knots, scratch patterns, thread needles. Pretend that a shrub is your enemy, and slash it with a wing."

Alex eyed his feet incredulously, then shredded the rope on the third knot. He huffed and stood up, looking around for a bush. “I need to let off some steam.” he said.

I paused in my tasks to watch. This, I wanted to see.

Alex took a swipe at one of the bushes with his wing. I watched from a distance as his primaries quite literally shredded the near side of the bush, sending twigs and leaves flying and falling all over. Alex grinned and closed in on the bush and its friends, starting to go ballistic on them. Each was quite thoroughly pureed in just a few swipes, leaving what looked like a spilled salad on the ground all near them. Alex panted a bit and grinned back to Dawn.

"Try a tree." she encouraged.

Alex nodded and strode up to a young tree, trying to hack at it in a sideways slash. His feathers sank in and cut, but didn’t have enough momentum to carry through, getting lightly stuck in the thick wood of the bark.

"Armoured target, you have to shear it, not cut it." Dawn advised.

"Fuck." Alex said, carefully trying to pull his wing free. Dawn giggled a bit as he easily got out. I was just glad he wasn’t that pissed at me. "What do you mean by shearing it?"

"Heh, I'm not sure. It's all practice, Alex."

Alex nodded, and took another try, with a more cutting than hacking motion. He got several curls of outer bark to peel back...but he still got stuck again. He pulled his wing free again with a frown, and tried again, with more caution. “Yep, I notice.”

"You're doing good, Alex." Dawn encouraged.

After a few more slices at it, Alex stopped and leaned against the tree. “Thanks.”

"We'll get you up to speed."

He nodded. "Yeah... um, may I ask a personal question?"

"Go ahead.”

"Umm, how long have you been of the ... feathered kind?"

I browquirked and listened. I hadn’t asked that question myself, yet.

"Several years... Long enough that I'm comfortable identifying myself as what I am."

"Damn...”

"I've been... Seven years now. I was Nathan's age when I was taken, even if I don't look that old now."

Dawn shrugged a bit. "For simplicity sake, I just refer to myself as though I've always been this way." Alex shuddered visibly. "May as well, I'm going to be living the rest of my life like this."

I finished the rest of my tasks and sat down by the fire.

"It's actually sort of odd... When I think about turning into... What I used to look like...It just seems entirely disgusting." Dawn said.

"Why is that?" Alex asked.

"Dunno." Dawn said as she sat down, spreading her wings in a shrug.

"Maybe it is part of accepting what you are..."

"Probably. I just think about losing flight or being male or being welcomed back after these years with opened arms by the bloody clergy... And any of em make my ass cringe."

"Being male?" Alex inquired.

Dawn shrugged.

Alex looked to Dawn, me, and then back to Dawn. "I won't ask."

"It doesn't matter." she said. I contributed a shrug as well.

Alex wisely changed the subject. "What about that flying thing ...?”

"Your body knows how... It just doesn't know how /well/." Dawn explained. I was slightly jealous.

"So I basically just run around flapping my arms?" Alex asked. He spread his wings and gave a half-hearted flap.

"Right now? Yeah, pretty much." Dawn nodded.

"Well, if there's nothing else to it..." He runs down the path, flapping said wings. After a few moments, he lumbered into the air, and came around in a wide, unsteady curve. I watched for now, ready to duck for cover if needed.

"Relax! Don't overthink it!" Dawn yelled.

"Relax?" Alex shouted as he careened past us, narrowly avoiding the tree. Dawn jumped the hell out of the way. Colliding with Alex would be fatal, and not for him. Alex gained some altitude with a few powerful wingstrokes, and made another wide circle. "Sorry!" he shouted.

"This should help some." Dawn responded.

Alex circled a bit, looking down to Dawn. "What should help?"

"Practice!"

Alex nodded, and circled a few more times before coming in for a landing. Good idea, since the sun was starting to set by now. I didn’t notice it immediately, but he had a tailwind.

"We have a few days to work on it." Dawn said, as Alex suddenly faceplanted with a bad landing.

"Dammit!" He shouted, picking himself up.

"You ok?" I said as I hurried over, careful to remain out of range of the wing.

"Yeah, just a couple of bruises and scratches." Alex nodded. A few of his feathers had been stuck in the ground and pulled free of his body.

"Ok." I said, taking a step back. Rule One: stay out of wing-reach with the walking barbershop.

Alex shook a bit, trying to straighten his feathers. He eyed one of the discarded feathers and tried to pull it out of the ground clumsily with a talon. He got a good grip on it and yanked it out of the dirt, eyeing the bent feather carefully.

"We'll work on it. Good landings are tough to master, but easy to practice." Dawn said.

Alex frowned, then dropped the feather and walked over towards the camp again. "Yeah. Painful too."

"So's learning to ride a bike." Dawn pointed out.

Alex chuckled and spread his wings. "Can I get stabilizers for these?"

"They wouldn't work in the realms anyways." I noted.

"And the wings don't work outside the realms because I'm as aerodynamic as a brick or the space shuttle.”

"Bingo."

"Hmm...there’s an idea. We could be pioneers in trans-realm technology..."

"Kind of have different priorities just now." Dawn noted.

Alex nodded. "But it's a good idea for if we ever have a bit of time on our hands ... well /hands/ ...."

"Ours're hands once you learn how to use em right." Dawn encouraged.

"Though you'd be hard pressed to actually call em hands." He wiggled his toes. "Though they are /handy/."

"You won't even break any claws, with tals like that." Dawn noted.

Alex nodded, then started humming “Always look on the bright side of life.” I was kinda surprised he knew it, to be honest. That said, me and Dawn both chuckled a bit at the choice of song.

"I uh... Don't recommend sleeping in your tent tonight." Dawn noted after she was done.

"Hmm? ...ah, the sleeping thing. Wouldn't that be pretty .. chilly?"

"It's not particularly bad right now. We really...don't want to shred your tent." I noted kinda awkwardly.

"Oh, yeah, damn."

"I think we'll find out... You think the metal is heat-conductive?"

“Well, we have the fire going, so we have the ability to test if needed.”

"Umm, what ability?" He looked uneasy.

"Only if you're willing, Alex. Not gonna force that." I reassured.

He frowned. "Willing to do what?"

"Test to see if the metal is heat conductive."

"Kind of important once the chill of night sets in." Dawn noted.

"I'll have to find out at some point anyway... fire ahead." he said.

Suddenly, I got an idea. “One sec.” I went over to my tent and dug through Alex’s stuff a bit, digging out the lighter I’d seen him with in the past. After I had it, I brought it back outside. “You mind, man?” I said to Alex.

Alex shook his head. "Not at all. You keep it, it's not like I can use it."

I browquirked. Really? I’d have to discuss that with Alex more later...but, in any case... "Hold out your wing."

Alex extended his wing fully out to the side, slowly and carefully, shifting his balance to compensate. I found a feather away from the flesh, flicking the lighter on for a few seconds to ‘burn’ the feather.

After a few moments, Alex nodded. “It’s okay.”

I let the lighter click off. “Interesting. You sure you don’t want this back, Alex?”

"Well, I can't carry it and I'd be hard pressed to use it." he nodded.

"They do sleep outside, there's got to be some adaptation." Dawn noted with a nod.

I nodded back to Alex. “Well, thanks then.”

"Just don't flog it in the first town, it's kinda dear to me." Alex said as he refolded his wing.

I shook my head. "No, no. It'll be useful, if the flint and tinder get wet or somesuch. And a nice memento."

Alex nodded and took a seat near the fire for now. Dawn stuck near him to offer moral support. We chatted for a bit, then broke up our watches. Just me and Dawn, each taking a shift, and we all got some much-needed sleep.

Preceded by:
Selene's Grove
Three Pantheons Succeeded by:
Explanations