User:Jetfire/A Fire in the Sky Book2

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A Fire in the Sky: Book 2

Author: Jetfire
This story contains adult content.

Author's note This story contains scenes with adult encounters and descriptions.

This is the second story following the griffon named Skyfire

A Fire In the Sky: Book 2 (Formerly Big Sky Country)

Saturday, November 11

Remembrance Day was always an important day in my family. While none of us were directly involved in the military, respecting those who paid the ultimate price was always important. So I found myself up a bit early on Saturday to make sure I gave myself an extra attentive preening, and dressed in the nicest clothes I had now.

By 8:00, I left for downtown. There was a few centimetres of snow on the ground now, but the day itself was clear with a cold northerly wind I found invigorating. I scanned the skies over the city for other griffons, but I didn't see any. Michelle and I had stressed to our group that there would NOT be a griffon focused event for the morning; we wanted to keep the focus on the ceremonies. Instead, we encouraged the other griffons to do what they would normally do, and to otherwise stay in the background. Going to the ceremonies at the cenotaph outside city hall wasn't really my normal routine, but it was what I felt I wanted to do.

I landed on the roof of a downtown shopping mall a few blocks from city hall. The mall had set up a landing area for griffons on the roof to give us an area we could land on without causing a disturbance. Access into the mall wasn't available yet, but it would be done by spring. In the meantime, the roof gave us a spot we could pause at before dropping down to ground level.

For me, I took advantage of the landing spot to pull out my slippers and tug them on, and to adjust my clothes. Footwear for paws was still being worked out, especially with how important traction was for us. But having some covering to keep the slush and snow off was appreciated, and it felt more polite for the ceremony.

I looked over the edge of the roof to figure out how I would get down. There was a broad sidewalk on this side of the mall, with signs warning people to watch for incoming griffons, but it was more crowded than I expected. I figured I might need to make a couple of passes before enough sidewalk space was cleared.

I swung off the roof and spread my wings, catching the gusts and stabilizing my flight level. I dropped down and flew over the crowd roughly level with the second and third floors, letting out a short sharp screech to catch people's attention. I didn't like going the animal noise route, but the screeches tended to be easier on my throat and could catch attention better than any number of "Make ways!" I could shout.

At the end of the block, I came up short and twisted around in midair, dropping to just above head level. I heard some impressed gasps and smiled inwardly. I spotted an opening forming on the sidewalk. I backwinged again and dropped down. At the last moment, I realized the opening was due to an icy puddle, but I managed to scoot a bit forward and just miss it without too much of a stumble.

I pulled my wings back in tight and waved to the crowd, hearing a smattering of applause. I carefully cut my way across the walkers to the mall entrance, and joined the flow heading to the food court, intending to get a snack before the ceremony.

Shortly before ten, I left the mall and walked with the crowd to the cenotaph outside of city hall. There was a decent sized crowd there, already larger than the post-COVID ceremonies held last year. I picked a spot at the back of the crowd, and out of line of sight of most of the cameras, and waited. On the other side of the crowd, I saw a familiar flash of blue feathers. Michelle caught my eye and lifted her wing, but stayed where she was.

The Ceremony went off without a hitch. I was surprised to recognize an osprey-cheetah griffon marching in with one of the military groups. I knew Stephen, but had no idea she was military. Her uniform was obviously still a work in progress, but matched the rest of her squad close enough to work. The group had obviously been practicing the march with her, giving her just enough extra room for her wings, and keeping perfect step.

At the end of the ceremonies, there was a chance for the general public to place poppies and have their own moments. I joined the line and waited, feeling eyes on me but stayed focused on my own goals. When I got to the front of the line, I placed a poppy among the others on the cenotaph, and stepped back. I clasped my talons in front of me, and relaxed my wings a little. I lowered my head and closed my eyes, taking a personal moment of silence. I could hear the clicking of cameras around me, and ignored it.

"Thank you," I said quietly when my moment was done. I turned away and walked back along the line until it dissolved into a crowd. I found Michelle again and pushed my way through to her.

"It was a great ceremony," I said, "Good to see the crowds again after so long. I hope I wasn't too disruptive. I could tell there were more cameras snapping my way."

"There were, but I don't think anyone would say you were a disruption. You were clearly there to have a personal moment like everyone else had," Michelle reassured me.

We started to walk away, having no particular destination in mind, other than maybe to get far enough away to take off without being disrespectful.

"What about Stephen? I never realized she was in the military," I said. "She looked great in the uniform."

"Yeah, she's been stuck on medical leave since September, but she wanted to participate today. She's been working with her squad since Thanksgiving to make sure the march would work."

"Well it showed, and I'm sure it's giving people ideas. I hope she comes out tonight."

After our big turnout at WestEd, we'd almost been tempted to cancel the weekly gathering this week. But with the second heats just past for many of us, the cold weather coming in, the offered therapy sessions and a lot of other things coming to a head, we decided to hold it anyway. It would be a good chance to touch base with a lot of people, and to make sure they had what they needed for the coming season.

We reached the far end of the square, with the public library and LRT station ahead. It was as good a spot as any to take off. Practically in unison, we claimed a bench to take our slippers off and pack them away, and stretched our wings out.

"See you tonight!" Michelle called out, taking off ahead of me. I waved and watched her for a few moments, before taking off as well and heading home.

Later that evening, we gathered at a hall in the north east corner of the city, not too far from Michelle's apartment. With the holidays fast approaching, finding weekend gathering spaces was getting more and more difficult, something Michelle and I were planning on addressing in the coming week. For now, a hundred local cat-birds showed up, along with a gaggle of human supporters.

Once everyone had a chance to attack the snack trays, Michelle went to the front of the room and waited a moment to catch everyone's attention.

"Good evening everyone, and welcome. We don't have anything in particular planned for tonight, so feel free to hang out, chat, and do whatever you want. It certainly won't be as exciting as last week's visit to the mall, but I think we've earned a moment of calmness."

She paused a moment for some chuckles and nodded to me. "Skyfire does have an announcement she'd like to make, so I'll pass it over to her."

I set my drink down and nodded back to her. "Thanks Michelle. First, to touch on last weekend, I do want to thank West Ed for the warm welcome they gave us. And to make it clear that we're welcome there any time, within normal business hours of course. Visits like that help make everyone realize we're just like everyone else, and hopefully will help open more doors for us in the future."

I paused for a moment to sort out my thoughts before going on. "The past few months haven't been easy on us; some are having a rougher time than others, and it probably isn't going to get easier in the months to come. I know I can come across as someone who has it together, but trust me, in private I've gone to some very dark places, and courted some dark thoughts. So what you may not realize, is that I've been seeking help for that. I've been seeing a therapist for a few weeks now. And it has helped me, helped me a lot with coming to terms with all this.

"One subject we've talked about is how to help us, to help you. The help is available, but it hasn't really been tapped, at least not yet. At my session last week, I got some news; the doctors are going to be a bit more proactive for us."

I scanned the room, recognizing some confused looks but also some thankful and knowing looks. "In the days and weeks to come, everyone we have on record will be reached out to. You'll have a chance to schedule a session. I urge all of you to go to at least one. It really does help, and it is completely private, or as private as you wish to make it. We've been through a very traumatic experience. No one expects any of us to come out of it unscathed. These therapists want to help us, and it really does help. So please, take advantage of it when you are contacted. If you might be worried about costs, it is all covered by our provincial health plans, so we're good there. So please, go and talk. And even if the one you talk to isn't a good fit, let them try to find someone else who might be better. We all need help, we should be using what's available."

I gave the room another look, catching the eyes of a few people I hoped would take up these offers. I nodded mostly to myself and stepped away from the podium and the room dissolved into chaos.

The rest of the evening passed in a blur. A number of griffons approached me to ask about my experiences, and I was as honest as I felt I could be. I doubted all of them would take up the offered help, but I was satisfied that most of the ones who attended tonight would have at least one session.

During a lull, I managed to track down Stephen. She was alone and out of uniform, but she was practically glowing with pride. Her march at the ceremony had caught a lot of attention, and she was obviously milking it.

"Great presentation today," I greeted her. "You clearly put a lot of work into it."

"Thanks Sky. We did our best. Not like we didn't have a lot of time to practice since I've been cooling my wings."

"I'm sure you're giving lots of people ideas," I noted. "Are you the only military up here?"

"As far as I know. There's a few dozen of us in the Forces, but most are in Hat and Calgary of course."

"Good to know. We are quite the diverse bunch. Feel free to reach out if you need anything."

"Of course, thanks Sky."

Sunday, November 12

Sunday morning I almost literally fluttered around my house getting ready to receive guests. Rob and Neets knew me enough that I didn't care much about my home's appearance when they came by; but this was the first time Michelle (and Brian) would visit. So I found myself cleaning up, while also establishing a certain degree of mid-decorating chaos.

By noon, the decoration containers had been brought up from the basement, two trays of shortbread cookies were cooling with the third in the oven, and TransSiberian Orchestra was playing through the house. I was starting to distribute candles and silhouettes to each upstairs window when I heard a car pull into the driveway. I glanced at the map on my phone nervously; Michelle's icon showed her on the way but still a few minutes out. I started walking to one of the front windows, getting there just as the doorbell rang. I saw Rob and Juanita's van outside.

"It's open! Come in guys!" I shouted through the open window.

I closed the door to my bedroom, intending to finish those windows myself later, and listened as my friends came in, stamping their feet on the mat outside.

"Don't worry about your shoes, we'll be in and out all day anyways. Thanks for coming guys. I appreciate your help, especially this year. As I discovered over Halloween, monkey fingers are better than bird talons for stringing up lights."

"Any time Simon, we're happy to help. Make sure you keep your schedule clear for our place in a few weekends," Rob said, heading to the kitchen to load a pack of beer into the fridge.

"Michelle should be here soon, and Brian will be with her I'm sure. There are fresh cookies in the kitchen, including a batch that should be coming out of the oven about.... .... now," I paused, hearing the oven start beeping.

"I've got it!" Rob shouted, killing the alarm.

"Just put the tray on the racks and toss the last sheet in. Set the alarm for 10 and it should be good," I shouted back. I saw Juanita staring at me, and looked down, brushing my furred front. "Did I get flour on me? I wore an apron when I was making the cookies."

"No, no flour that I can see. And I can see a lot," she said, turning away to hide her reddening cheeks.

I looked down again and realized what she meant. I'd been puttering about just in shorts. I hesitated, reaching back to the stair rail to swing back upstairs. "I hadn't really thought about it. It's just habit now...."

"It's okay. It's you, and your house. Go with what feels right." She started pulling the cover off one of the containers, revealing bundles of lights. "So where do we start?"

"There's a power bar next to you, spot check the sets as you unpack them, make sure none rotted away since last year. Then we'll start untangling them and figuring out what goes where."

Rob wandered back, carrying a plate with cookies and a half eaten one in hand. "Excellent as always Simon. Glad your change didn't affect your baking skills," he proclaimed, putting the plate on the coffee table. "Smart move turning the heat down too. No sense in heating the neighbourhood since we'll be in and out so much."

"But I didn't.... Damn, I'm doing it again, aren't I? With the oven going, I'm finding it a bit toasty here to be honest. Christmas with the family's going to be fun."

He gave me a strange look, then shook his head. We tackled the light sets with gusto. This wasn't the first time they'd helped me set up, so we knew what would go where eventually.

We were partway into the second bin when I heard another vehicle in the driveway. From the front windows, I saw a sedan park and Brian climbed out. He waved to something in the sky, and a blue griffon dropped down next to him.

I grabbed a couple of sets we'd checked and headed to the door. I opened it before they got to the stairs. "Welcome! Welcome! Thanks for coming to the Great Decorating!" I greeted them, stepping out and to the side. I dropped the lights on the edge of the porch to be strung up later. "I hope you didn't have too much trouble finding the place."

"Not too much trouble, until Google tried to send me down a bike trail," Brian said.

"Yeah, we've bugged that many times but the AI just won't learn. How are you Michelle?" I noticed she'd come griffon style as well, with just her flying shorts on.

She gave me a hug and rubbed beaks. "Good, but you weren't kidding about this place being tricky to find from the air."

"Well, after today for the next two months, it will be easy to spot. With roads on three sides, I make sure all four sides have something to see. Come on in, there are fresh cookies, milk, beer and other drinks. No eggnog yet."

"Ugh, good. Never cared for the stuff. But I'll take some cookies," Brian said.

An hour later the bins were unpacked and sorted, and lights taken out to various staging areas around the yard. The five of us gathered in the driveway as I prepared the marching orders.

"Neets, you and Brian can start on the front deck railings with the garland and lights. Neets knows how I like it, so go at it. There's lots of zip ties and clips, and the stapler is on top of the stairs.

"Rob, you can start on the garage eaves, and work around from there. And be ready to give Michelle and I a hand if we need it."

I paused and looked up at the roofline. "Michelle, you and I will cover the roof eaves. There are permanent clips to hold the lights up all around there." I laughed eagerly at the thought. "That second floor roof was always a nightmare to do. All the ladder climbing and being worried we'd hit an icy patch and go flying. Somehow, it doesn't seem that bad this year."

Rob tugged my wing. "I can't imagine why it would be different," he said sarcastically.

I grinned at him and lifted my wing away, while tapping my phone to start the next song. "More seriously, be careful up there Michelle. It is icy and snowy up there. Land at the peak and work your way down, and jump off if you feel yourself losing your balance."

She nodded and reached for one of the light sets. Juanita stopped her, watching me. I had one hand up while the other directed a phantom orchestra. The introduction to Christmas Eve Sarejevo was coming from the speakers. As the first booms of the main chorus came out, I lowered my hand and pointed forward. Juanita and Rob jumped into action.

"It's tradition," Neets called out to the puzzled cousins that were left behind.

I took a few more moments to enjoy the music, before grabbing a couple of sets of lights. "Come on, Michelle. Let's get up top and I'll show you where we start."

The afternoon passed quickly, the many hands and talons making light work. My Christmas playlist, founded off of the records and CDs I'd grown up with, kept us entertained, rolling from TSO to Bonny M, to Dolly and Ken, to the Beach Boys, to Elvis, to the Muppets and beyond.

Michelle and I only slid off the roof a few times as we placed the lights. We quickly realized that laying flat on our fronts was the easiest way to work with minimal risk of sliding off. We developed a rhythm with one person pulling the lights taunt and hooking them in place while the other moved ahead to pick up the slack and start on the next section.

As I waited for Michelle to move to the next position, I looked out over the neighbourhood, thinking back to previous years. Standing on the top of the ladder, reaching to place the lights used to be one of the most terrifying parts of the decorating. I'd always been scared to death that the ladder would slip and I'd be sent falling to the ground. A few years had had heavy early snowfalls and I'd reluctantly had to go without the upper level lights. Now, I was spread out on an icy, slanted roof, hanging over the edge of it, and instead of worrying about falling, I was trying not to think of jumping off on purpose..

By five, we were finished. We packed up the tools, and Juanita took the van to pick up dinner from Swiss Chalet on my dime. We'd been spot checking the lights as we went, but for now they were all off, waiting for the big reveal after dinner when it was darker.

"I'm surprised you don't have any inflatables. I saw pics of your Halloween set up," Brian said.

"It's the snow. They'd be buried with the amounts we tend to get, and the wiring would be frozen to the ground, so I don't bother. Just the lights and window decorations," I explained, leading everyone back inside.

Brian started to unzip his coat and quickly zipped it back up. He looked at me, then at Michelle and back at me. "Damn, you two really are birds of a feather."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"He means the african apes are cold in here," I said. "Despite the fact that we were the ones laying topless out in the snow on a frozen windy roof all afternoon." I tapped on the thermostat controls and raised the temperature of the first floor.

"You two volunteered for the job. I would've had no problem climbing up the ladder like we used to," Rob said, heading back to get some beers.

"If you'd done that we'd still be outside, and only have half the roof done," I countered.

"True, but I would have done it willingly."

After dinner, I was cleaning up in the kitchen; sorting the garbage and loading the dishwasher. Brian brought a load of plates in and set them on the counter next to the sink.

"I see you kept it," he said, nodding to the other side of the sink.

I followed his gaze and froze, seeing the fiery egg shell. I'd left it there after washing it, and it had slipped into a blindspot until he pointed it out to me. It made me extra aware that its mate was cooking in my gut as we spoke.

"Oh... right. I forgot about that," I said weakly. "I'm not sure what I want to do with it."

"Well, in this African ape's eyes, it is pretty. But to you it probably means something else. Still, most griff's I've spoken with have kept their first one so far." He nodded towards the dining room where everyone else was chatting around the table. "She's kept hers, in a similar spot in her kitchen."

"I really shouldn't have called you that. I'm trying to avoid that sort of thinking, but sometimes it is so easy to slip into it." I picked it up, finding the shell had dried and it felt lighter, more fragile, but the colours were still vibrant. "In any case, I only have one of these so far. So it is unique, and will always be unique. After next week when the second one comes, I dunno. Do we want to celebrate this type of first? Or will it be so common we should just dispose and move on?"

"Well, that's something for you guys to sort out. You're establishing your own culture now, for you and your children and all your future children. It'll be interesting to see what way you jump."

"I suppose," I studied the shell. A griffon's first egg would be a big moment, the sign that a kid had reached adulthood, with all that entailed. It scared me a little to imagine a kid experiencing their first heat and everything else that would come. We were years away from that mattering, but it was coming towards us, as unavoidable as the male-female track I was on now.

"I'm surprised Rob and Neets didn't notice it," I said, trying to shake my thoughts to a different subject.

"They probably did but didn't realize what it was," Brian noted. "I've spent a lot of time among you guys, so I tend to notice things other humans are likely to skip over. They probably figured you picked that up at Michaels or some other craft store."

I carefully put the empty shell back on the dish towel.

"That does bring up an interesting thought. You have spent a lot of time with us. You have a lot of griffon relatives. So knowing all you know of us now, with the heats and the flight and everything.... If you could go back to last September, would you be in Elkwater?"

He gave it a serious thought, then shrugged. "It's hard to say. Part of me would say I'd be there in a heartbeat. And part of me would say I'd be trying to get Michelle and the others out of town beforehand.

"How about you? If you could go back, would you spend an extra day in Hat? Would you have cut over to the other highway and avoided the Fort Parker area entirely?"

"Knowing what I know now.... Simon would probably have never left Edmonton until well after the Change happened, customers be damned. Skyfire on the other talon, would probably want to be more proactive in helping people out, especially in the early days when no one knew what was going on. So I don't know what I would do. Thank you for giving me another suitcase for Doctor Fullerton to unpack."

Brian chuckled, "Sorry, it seemed like an innocent enough question. If you don't mind me asking, how are your sessions going?"

"They're going well. Only two so far, but I'm feeling better, more settled. Simon and Sky are starting to make their peace."

"I noticed, today especially. This is probably the ultimate mixing of the two. Michelle and me on Sky's side and your old friends on Simon's side. You're doing a very Simon thing, but you're doing it with Sky's flare. I haven't noticed any conflicts; you seem to be balancing them both quite naturally."

I suddenly felt exposed and self conscious of how I'd been acting all day. I finished loading the dishwasher and closed it up to give my thoughts a moment to settle. "Thanks... I think. If I didn't know better, I'd think Adam had asked you to keep an eye on me."

"Nah, I'm just a new friend who's happy to see you getting things sorted out. Especially since you're such a good example for Michelle. Her first appointment is next week."

"So are we going to light these things or what?" Rob called out from the dining room.

"Hold your horses. I let everyone know it'd be happening around seven." I looked at the microwave clock. "Crap! We're late! Everyone outside. Kill the lights as you go."

I shooed everyone outside to the end of the driveway, where a dozen of my neighbours were already gathered. My house lighting was a neighbourhood tradition, so I tried to warn when I was about to light up for the first time each year. Many of them gave Michelle a double take, and looked curiously at me, but I tried not to react. For most, she would be the second griffon they'd ever seen.

I unwrapped a box of mini candy canes and started passing them around.

"Thanks for coming, everyone. Welcome to the annual Farrell House Lighting. Sorry for the delay. I'd like to thank my friends for helping me get everything set up this year. It's always a bit of a challenge to do the whole house. This year, as you may have noticed, would have been easier and trickier than usual. So thank you Rob and Juanita, as well as my new friends Michelle and Brian."

There was a round of polite applause, and I turned back to look at my darkened house. It wouldn't be this dark again until the end of January.

"Druh-" I started to say, only to be interrupted by the staccato beat of a drumroll. Juanita held her phone up as it played. "Drum roll please, thank you," I finished my thought. She winked at me.

I preferred my lights to turn on and stay on through the evening, so the smart system I had everything plugged into was overkill for my needs. But I did have one program I used each year, one I activated now. "Five!... Four!... Three!.. Two!... One!"

At one, Neets triggered a cymbal crash and we all looked forward expectantly. I had my annual brief panic attack that something was wired wrong, until the candles in the windows flickered to life. A few seconds later, the silhouettes in the windows lit up. Santa, Elves, a snowflake, a star, a tree and other lit shapes glowing in the darkness.

There was a thirty second pause built in there, and then the main lights started clicking on. The porch railings first, lights twisted around green garland. More lights turned on around the first floor windows and doors. Icicle lights lit up hanging off the porch roof, the lights 'trickling' down each icicle. More icicle strands, without motion this time, dangled from the eaves of the garage. After another pause, the upper roof lit up in its multicoloured glory, complete with even more icicle strands hanging from the straight sections.

Finally, the star lit up. Dad had built the star decades ago, where it had lit up our family home until they retired and moved to a smaller place. Not wanting the star to be thrown out, I had them ship it out to me, where it now lit up the space between the two windows of my upper floor every year. The scale was a bit big for my place, but I didn't care.

The crowd oohed and awed softly and clapped once it was all lit up. I turned and bowed, spreading my wings a little. "Thank you everyone. Enjoy your evening, and Happy Holidays!"

I chatted with my neighbours a bit more as the crowd dissipated. Finally, just the five of us were left. "Thanks guys, it looks fantastic. I'd never have gotten it done without your help."

"Any time. But you do owe us. We'll let you know when to come out," Rob said.

I chuckled and studied the house. I walked along the lawn, feeling the snow crunch under my paws.

"Simon?" Juanita asked. "Damn, I recognize that look. He wants to do more."

"What? No! It's perfect.... Well almost perfect... Don't you think the second floor windows are a bit plain? The star lights up the front but the back and sides could use something...."

"Every year... Every damn year," Juanita groaned, shaking her head.

Brian and Michelle watched, amused at my friends' reactions.

"To be fair, he's wanted to do something on the second floor for years. Usually after messing with the ladder all day, he's too laddered out to want to go on, but this year...," Rob explained.

"Don't worry, it's too late to do any more tonight. I need to get some more light sets and clips anyways, and a few extension cords...." I started to wander around to the side of the house, mentally planning where the cord would extend from and how many sets I would need to light the windows. I felt something tug on my wing, pulling me back.

"Welcome back," Rob said, letting my wing go. "Figure you might want to say goodbye before your head went into the clouds again. Figuratively and literally."

I laughed and followed them back to the driveway. "Right, sorry about that. Thanks again for all the help. If you need me for anything, just ask."

The humans loaded up into the cars and took off, leaving Michelle and I alone in the driveway, lit by the mutlicoloured glow of the house.

"So were you listening to Brian and I earlier?" I asked.

"Just a little. He's right though, you are improving."

"Thanks, Adam would be pleased." I motioned for her to follow me as I started to walk around the house. "He also said your session is this week. What are your thoughts on it?"

"I'm fine with it. It certainly wouldn't hurt. I didn't break as much as you did, but I'm recognizing that I cracked. In fact, you're the one that made me see the cracks I had; seeing some of your rougher times made me realize that there are two Michelles in here. So getting some help to pull things together wouldn't hurt."

"What about Brian's other question? Knowing what you know now, if you could go back to September and stop yourself from going to Elkwater, would you? Would you try to get everyone out of there?"

"Yeah, that question made me realize just how much I've cracked. On the surface, hell yeah I'd stop myself. I'd stay in the city and avoid all of this crap, and try to get everyone out of the change zone on top of that.

"But then I thought more about it. Wondering what if I didn't change. I would still have lost my job. They'd drum up some other bullshit excuse, but I was leaving that office one way or another. And in that case, I wouldn't have the feathers to lift me up. I'd be alone, with Brian and a few other friends, but basically alone. And I wouldn't have had you guys to focus me over the past few months. I'm a bit scared to think of where I'd be if I wasn't feathered. So from that point of view, I'd probably still get changed."

"Deep thoughts," I said. "I'm still not convinced Brian isn't working for our head docs now."

"Well, when you think of it, his job and their jobs are similar. They ask the tough questions and pick the gems out of the pieces. He's on our side, so he's thinking of our health too, like the docs. So I'm not surprised he's hitting similar beats."

We reached the front of the house again, and I had an idea of what I wanted and needed both for now and for later. When dad came up in December, I planned to put him to work, making a new star for the back of the house to balance the front. Until then, I'd be wrapping the windows in lights.

"Race you to 500?" I asked, tapping on my phone.

"Why? You planning on getting something now?" she asked.

"Nah, just being polite mainly, but I do want to scout the place from the air before heading inside."

"In that case, you're on."

My company was more hardware focused than software, but we had a solid group of programmers, most of them on my team. I didn't think to tap into that resource at first, until after the first few meetings with the local flock. I realized that we were a competitive bunch, eager to challenge other griffons on just about anything, and the seeds of an app idea were planted. I ran it past Greg, and used it to start forming a Griff-tech team inside the company. We weren't sure where it would go in the end, but the Griffon Racing app idea was catching on like wildfire. The data we were gathering would make the scientists down in Fort Parker drool, but we hadn't figured how best to share it; a bone that Legal was gnawing on.

On my version of the app, the race criteria was set. Ground to five hundred feet, two racers participating. The invite to the second racer was still pending. Michelle's avatar popped in as the second racer and we were set to go.

"Good luck," I called out. We separated a few steps apart and I began to check my footing. I'd already lost a few takeoff races because I hadn't realized there was ice under my paws.

"Same to you," Michelle called out, getting into her own takeoff position.

I triggered the race, and the app asked if we were ready. Once we both acknowledged it, the screen began to flash. A countdown started, and I felt my pulse increase. At GO! we both leaped into the air, wings coming down in unison.

We flew and trained together often, so our skills and flight styles had become very similar. Once we cleared the roofline, we began to circle as we climbed, staying level to the other. We didn't speak, focusing on our breathing and our flapping, trying to eek out a bit more height from each wing flap.

A few moments later, our phones chimed, letting us know we'd reached the goal. I stretched out into a circular glide and looked, but from Michelle's screech of joy, I knew the results. She'd beaten me by half a second.

"Next time, Gadget! Next Tiiiiiiimmme!" I shouted, shaking my talon at her.

She laughed, parallelling me in the circle. "Sure, keep telling yourself that, Turtle. Someday it might even be true."

We did a few more loops to catch our breaths and recover from the sprint. I studied my house from above, liking what I saw. There would be no problem finding it in the evening now.

"Have a good week, Sky. We'll talk later," Michelle called out, waving as she broke out of the circle we were in. I waved back and watched her until she disappeared in the darkness.

Monday, November 13

Work was getting busy. Between the Griff-tech team, the advertising campaign and my normal tasks, I was juggling a lot of balls, and I was having a blast. The Griff-tech team also gave me an excuse to keep an eye on griffon news on the clock, to brainstorm ideas for other apps. I was toying with the idea of a cycle tracker, but I wasn't sure how useful that would be, nor how comfortable I was bringing it up with a bunch of mostly male human developers. I planted the seed in Greg's mind to recruit another griffon or two if we could find some, even if they worked remotely.

After work, I stopped off at Canadian Tire to start looking for supplies for my next phase of decorating. The store was huge, one of the biggest in Canada. It was two stories, and big enough for me to fly in, where the signs and decorations weren't cluttering the airspace. I'd been in a few times since changing, enough that I wasn't drawing as many looks any more.

I walked in confidently and grabbed a basket. I waved to the greeter and the workers at the customer service desk and headed directly to the seasonal section. A worker was straightening up the shelves when I got there. He did a double take as I walked past him.

"Evenin' Skyfire. Is there anything I can help you find?" the worker asked.

"Not yet, I know what I'm looking for," I confirmed, starting to check over the light displays.

He nodded and let me be, walking to the other end of the aisle. I twitched my ears, listening curiously as he called a manager to seasonal. The timing seemed suspicious, but I put my thoughts to the side and continued shopping; The mysteries of commercial retail were something I left to my sister.

"Hello there, Stranger. I wondered when we would meet."

I looked up, and the basket slipped from my fingers. A cardinal red griffon stood at the end of an aisle. Red feathered with a black 'beard' of feathers around her beak and eyes.Her beak and talons were pinkish red. Her feline half was the classic tiger pattern. She wore black shorts, a white blouse and a red vest. The name badge on the vest identified her as "Cardi (manager)".

"Hello.... Uhm... Wow, sorry. I didn't expect to see another griffon around here," I stammered out, picking up my basket.

"We do seem sparse in this end of the city. Too expensive and too close to the airport I guess," She came forward and held out her hand. "I'm Cardi. Just transferred here from The Hat."

I shook the offered hand. "Skyfire, though I suspect you knew that. When did you get here?"

"This is my first week. Moved up over the weekend. I'm settled in the Central Tower apartments. Only place I could find with balconies high up."

"About the only apartments nearby with any height at all," I added. "Have you hooked up with the group yet?"

"I have. Michelle gave me the warm welcome. And invited me to the park this Saturday."

"Yeah, the weather's supposed to be good, so we're just going to have a hangout session outside. Snack, chat, meet others, maybe do some racing, that sort of thing. Nothing serious."

She nodded and smiled, "Well I look forward to seeing you there. And in meeting the rest of you. I've gotta get back to work. Enjoy your evening, I'm sure I'll see you around."

I left the store weighed down with boxes of Christmas lights and other supplies, and weighed down with my thoughts. As I took off, I thought back to her. She was in my area, in my territory. Part of me bristled a little at the invasion, but mainly I was happy; I was no longer alone around here. When people spotted a griffon, even a red griffon now, it wouldn't always be me. As I dropped down to my house, another thought hit me; Cardi had obviously picked a new name post change. I had no idea if she was male or female before the change.... And I was fine with that. It didn't matter now.

Wednesday, November 15

Tuesday passed by in a blur of work and expectation. I knew what was coming, and I was better prepared to handle the urges. I filled up on cheese and yogurt and killed a few jugs of milk over the day.

Wednesday morning, I woke as usual, but I lingered in bed, waiting for a sign. When my radio clicked off with no change, I began to worry I'd misjudged. My worries were unfounded; the moment I rolled out of bed onto my feet, I felt the first cramp in my gut, hard enough to make me double over. It held for a long moment before letting go, letting me straighten up. My eyes were watering from the pain.

I felt a wetness at my loins and looked down, seeing the fur of my inner thighs wet.I stood next to my bed, waiting, unsure about what to do next. Before I could reach a decision, my gut clenched again and I gasped, leaning against the wall at the head of my bed for balance. When the muscles relaxed, I looked down and rubbed my belly; I thought I could feel the egg my gut was finalizing and pushing out.

I straightened up and rushed to the bathroom in the moment of respite I had. I grabbed some towels and paused to figure out what to do next. The next contraction hit me there before I decided. I gripped the edge of the sink and panted, pushing down with the contraction. I was sure I could feel something moving now.

I stayed in the bathroom and dropped the towels to the floor. Once I'd set up a bit of padding, I knelt down, legs spread a bit. I reached between my legs, feeling my damp nether lips. They twitched at my touch and I hesitated, feeling the next contraction building. I braced myself and pushed with it, definitely feeling something moving this time. The contraction faded, and I could feel pressure in my loins, not quite painful but an ache of something bigger than the tube it was going through trying to get out.

I felt down below again, slipping my taloned finger into my moist opening. Deep inside, I found my cervix, something I'd been getting more familiar with but not quite in this way. I could tell it was open, but I couldn't tell if it was open enough. I pulled my finger out and braced myself, taking some deep breaths and anticipating the next contraction.

It came soon enough and I was able to push down with it. The mass reached my cervix and started spreading it wider. I let out a squawk of pain and stopped pushing. The contraction faded and I could feel the egg pressed hard against my cervix, muscles straining and stretched around it. I whimpered and tried to push but without the help of the contraction, I couldn't will it out. I stayed crouched there, panting and waiting, begging my body to get it out.

The next contraction came and I pushed as hard as I could, just wanting it to be over. I felt like I was being split in half, but the egg didn't move. I worried something was wrong, until finally it shifted and the pressure vanished. The egg was through my cervix, but still in me, filling and stretching my vagina.

I lowered my hand to my groin again and could feel the shell of the egg against my labia. I was still panting and tried pushing a bit, feeling the egg shift and stretch me a bit, but it wasn't as bad as before. The wet egg came out a bit further and soon enough it plopped onto the towels with a heavy thump.

I groaned and slumped against the counter, wings twitching behind me. The grapefruit sized egg lay between my furry legs on the wet towels, its shell drying quickly. Like before, it was primarily red and black, matching my colours, but swirled together. My insides were still spasming a bit, but the contractions weren't as strong and were further apart.

I weakly pulled myself to my feet and stood there, checking my balance and looking at the soaked fur on my legs. I lifted my tail feathers and shook them a bit, making sure they were still clean.

Once I felt I was stable on my feet again, I got a face cloth and started running the water. I scrubbed my furry legs and my genitals, eliciting a shiver of pleasure despite the work they had just done. One hand drifted to my chest to squeeze my breast. I found my nipples were a bit swollen but to my relief they weren't leaking.

I dried and brushed myself and made myself presentable. I went back to the bedroom and got dressed before retrieving the now dry egg. It was still warm to the touch and felt heavy, but otherwise seemed like a normal egg. I carried it downstairs and left it on the counter near its first one, trying to decide what to do with it while I made breakfast.

By the end of my meal, I made my decision. I got a bowl out and used the back of a big knife to crack the shell. Aside from the colour of the shell, it looked like a regular egg, but with a much thicker shell. The inside was also a normal egg, just much bigger, with a huge yolk. An egg that had come out of me.

I shuddered a little and took the bowl to the bathroom and flushed the egg down the toilet. Back in the kitchen I rinsed out the bowl and looked at the shell. Before my hoarding instincts got the better of me, I smashed the shell into smaller pieces, and dumped it into the garbage can. I felt better after that.

A few hours later than I usually was, I took off for work, feeling normal despite my morning exertion. I tried not to dwell on the thought of that becoming a monthly thing for most of the rest of my life.

Saturday, November 18

Just after ten, I set off for Hawrelak Park for our weekly gathering. Previously, I flew to our meetings on automatic, my mind often pondering what we wanted to do that day. Today was different. I found myself watching the skies and especially the apartment tower, looking for Cardi. I knew she was in the area, but our flight paths hadn't crossed since Monday.

I began to think I had missed her, when I heard a screech cut through the air behind and beside me. Looking over, I saw the red griffon climbing up from the Canadian Tire store, heading my way. I saw her hands moving and zoomed in. She was signing something at me, but I had no idea what she was saying. I turned and faced her, and made an exaggerated shrugging motion, and circled until she got closer.

"Morning!" I shouted to her once we were in easy ear shot. "Almost thought you weren't coming."

"I wouldn't have missed it for anything. But I had to take care of something at work. We're all good now," she called back. "You don't sign?"

I stopped circling and started northward, flying next to her practically wingtip to wingtip. It made me a little nervous, but she seemed comfortable with it.

"Nope, I recognize it, but never learned it."

"That's funny. You're the one with all the Fort Parker connections; I would have figured you'd be all over that trend. They're developing GSL so we can talk in the air without using our minutes or screaming ourselves hoarse. We've got hands and super vision, it's a natural combo."

I chuckled a bit. "I guess I'm losing touch. I think I saw some chatter about sign language, but I never looked into it. It does make sense. Is it just normal ASL or what?"

"It started that way, but some of the letters and signs don't work so well at all angles, so they're still defining things. I'm not that great at it yet, but I can cover the basics if you guys want."

"Beware of griffs bearing gifts," I said, smirking. "No seriously, that sounds like a great idea."

She nodded and looked ahead. I followed her gaze and saw a dozen griffons over the park already. It was still quite early, but they seemed to be having fun racing through the air.

"So what's your thoughts on Edmonton so far?" I asked.

"Bigger than the Hat of course. But it feels so empty, at least the skies do. There are so few of us here; that was something I hadn't really thought of when I put in for the transfer."

"Yeah, we're rather sparse in the air up here, especially compared to Hat. You've practically got a full village of griffs down there. We barely have a tower worth." I pointed down and led her to a cluster of concrete picnic tables we had claimed. The snow had been cleared off, and some snacks set up. I saw Brian manning a camera, following some of the flyers. I let out a squawk of my own to catch his attention. Once he had turned our way, I finished dropping down, doing a jogging landing in sync with Cardi.

"Nice, very nice. Did you practice that?" he asked. He was wearing a heavier jacket and gloves and a Global TV tuque. A travel mug of coffee was in a holder on the tripod.

"Nope, completely improvised. Good morning Brian, this is Cardi, a griff who just moved up from The Hat. Cardi, this is Brian, Michelle's cousin and one of my new best friends."

"Good morning, welcome to the city," Brian greeted her, shaking her hand. "Michelle's upstairs somewhere. I lost track of her in the crowd, but I'm sure you'll find her soon enough."

"Thanks. Nice to meet you too. I've really enjoyed your stories."

"Well stick around long enough and I'm sure you'll be featured in one soon enough.Have a good day guys."

I led Cardi to a table where some snacks were set up. This week's semi-official sponsor was Tims, so there were donuts, muffins, TimBits, coffee and hot chocolate; pretty much a Canadian gathering standard.

Cardi chomped into a donut and looked around, taking in the gathered griffons, both in the air and on the ground. "You haven't done any close contact events, have you?" she noted.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Look around. Look at your spacing. It's not so bad on the ground, but in the air, you've got way too much space. You guys make Covid spacing look crowded. You could be flying a lot closer together. Have you tried any trust falls yet? Done any wrestling? Dancing even?"

I blinked at her silently. I knew the words but I wasn't sure what she was getting at. She laughed and stepped closer to me, well inside my personal space. It made me uncomfortable, but with the picnic table behind me, I had no escape. I could see others looking our way, both on the ground and from above.

"I'm not sure I know what you mean..." I stammered out, eyes darting from side to side, looking for an escape route. We were almost beak to beak now.

"Just what I said. Incidental close contact. Being close to strange griffons and humans, bumping into them, flying near them. Not to mention actual contact. Like preCOVID crowds. Have you done anything like that?"

"No... Not really, not intentionally," I said. Three years of engrained social distancing had carried over after we changed, and no one seemed eager to get closer with strangers. "It didn't seem needed I guess."

She stepped back and I relaxed. "Maybe not needed, but not something to ignore. It's been two months now, eight months for the Titans. We need to be moving on, accepting this is who we are now, and start learning what we can do." She spread her wings. "We have different strengths and weaknesses than humans and Titans have, so we should start learning them. There are a hundred thousand of us, and seven billion of everyone else. We're just a bit outnumbered, and not everyone will be friendly to us."

I nodded in agreement. Luckily, the Canadian griffons hadn't had any major incidents yet, but down in Montana there had already been a dozen deaths, half of them due to human-griffon 'encounters'. It was something I tried not to think too much about.

"So what are you thinking of?" I asked. I saw a flash of blue land nearby.

Michelle strode towards us, her body language very clearly reading mother hen. Cardi turned so she could address both of us.

"I'm the newbie here, but I'm coming from a bigger flock. I've seen, experienced some of the growing pains we're having down south as the shock wears off and people start testing the limits more. Human Griffon fights, Griffon Griffon fights, mid air accidents, on ground collisions. It's all starting to happen, and it will happen up here eventually too."

"So what are you proposing?" Michelle asked, glancing at me while trying to get a read on the situation.

"As I tried to demonstrate with Sky here, I'd suggest some close contact events. Get you guys used to bumping into others, so you don't flinch when a stranger bumps you in the street."

She sighed and looked around again. "You guys are a few weeks behind the Hat I'd say. When the Change happened, we were all the same way, we had no idea what we were, what our limits were. That tends to make us treat ourselves as fragile crystals, something that may break if you look at it wrong.

"But we're not. We're living, breathing, healing beings. We can take the hits and we can dish them out too. We just need to get used to doing that."

"Please, spit it out Cardi. It's not getting any warmer around here," I said.

The cardinal's confidence seemed to start failing under our gazes. "Look, I know I'm new here, but I'm just calling it how I see it. You guys need to start doing some more close quarters things. Arrange a dance, maybe some wrestling training. And more close formation flying and trust falls. Learn how to catch someone who's falling. Maybe start a Quidditch league."

The last one caught me by surprise. "A what league?"

"Quidditch. It's the only flying ball sport out there, so it was a natural one to start with. You left FP before the first teams really formed but it's really catching on."

I groaned and shook my head. "I thought I was doing so well, being the local expert and everything. Now I'm finding out I really dropped the ball, or the snitch or whatever it is. Feels like I've missed so much."

Michelle put her hand on my wing. "It's okay. We all have our strengths and our blind spots. That's why it's good to shake things up occasionally, to reveal those blind spots." She looked back at Cardi with an expression I knew well. Cardi flinched back a little. "As for you, you have some great ideas and I'd love to subscribe to your newsletter. Wrestling, Dancing, Quidditch, Sign Language, and Flying Formations.... Where do you want to start?"

"Wh-What? Me?" Cardi stammered.

I smirked, feeling my own confidence coming back. "We generally work on a 'You smelt it, you dealt it' rule here. And you just dropped a stinker. We'll help you as much as we can, but you're our new expert."

"Bu-Bu-...." Cardi blinked, struck wordless.

"It doesn't have to happen all at once, and it isn't all on you, just mostly on you," I said. "It's a busy time of year so most of this will probably have to wait until after the holidays anyways. But the dancing... well we were planning a Griffon Christmas party in a couple of weeks, so that could work there."

"And a self defense course would be good. Both to know how to protect ourselves and to know how to pull in our claws and talons too. Reach out to Stephen; she's military and working with her squad, they might be willing to work with us and to offer some bodies and some safe training tips," Michelle suggested.

"Trust falls will probably be a next-year thing. We'll want to get some dummies, real dummies, to train with, and we'll have to figure out how to get them high enough for us to catch. It'll be good to build up our carrying strength too. Maybe reach out to the Red Cross and the SAR groups? See if they'll help us train and suggest what would be good to know," I said. I tapped on my phone to add a bunch of reminders and notes.

"I've gotten a lot of feelers already from them. They're clearly thinking of how we can help them in emergencies, so I'm sure they'd be willing to help with training, and they'll surely have their own suggestions." Michelle said.

"Uhm, wow. You threw me into the deep end, and then you pulled me right out," Cardi said.

"Nah, we just threw you a bunch of life preservers. You'll still be the one doing most of the lifting. We'll just give you the right contacts," I said. "Now, there's still the matter of GSL. What do you want to do for that?"

"I honestly have no idea. I could start teaching here, but I'm not sure how useful that would be."

"It is short notice. But next weekend we don't have any firm plans. We could make that an official GSL class for anyone who's interested and it'll spread from there? It'll get people into the right mindset for learning too," Michelle said. "So brush off your powerpoint skills."

I could feel the seed of an idea sprouting and added some additional notes to look into later. I turned off my phone and stretched. "Right, then I think that's enough new business for today. Let's head upstairs and I'll introduce you to the rest of the flock," I said.

Monday, November 20

I walked into the meeting room and looked at the GriffTech team. Four men and three women made it up, six developers and a QA person. Every Monday we met to go over the past week and to plot out the next week.

"Morning everyone," I greeted them, taking a seat on a bench near the head of the table.

"Morning Sky," they replied. Being Skyfire in the office still made me feel weird, but for this team in particular it made sense. Adam and I had talked about it in depth, and I had mostly come to terms with it, letting Simon yield a bit of ground to the griffon.

"Well, to get straight to business, GriffRacer is a hit. We had a gathering at the park on Saturday, and the app got a lot of use. There are still a few glitches and usability quirks to iron out, but no big show stoppers. I've punted it up to Legal and Marketing to start formalizing the app. We're aiming for an early December public Beta, and a full release in January when everyone's back. Congratulations everyone, thanks for all the fast work."

I paused to let the team cheer, clapping with them.

"Now, we still have a lot of work to do to polish it up, stomp out the last bugs and so forth. I want us to basically be release ready when we open the Beta doors, so we can all enjoy the holidays in peace. But beside that, there is something else I want to start working on. Our next GriffTech app."

I noticed interest perk up and smiled. We'd been brainstorming ideas for our second app for a couple of weeks, but no ideas had really clicked yet.

"The idea for this fell into my hands this weekend. Apparently it's an idea that's taking off down south, but it flew under my radar, until Saturday." As I spoke, I carefully signed the three letters I'd practiced all morning. G. S. L.

"G... S... L..," Marcel said slowly, eyes on my hands. "Griffon Sign Language?"

I pointed to him. "Bingo. Congratulations, you're on the new app."

"Thanks... I think? What is it?" he asked.

"That's for us to work out. Seeing as how that was about the limits of my own sign knowledge, I want an app to help me, and other griffons, learn it. Maybe a translator app, type in what you say and it shows what to sign. Or type in the signs you see and it tells you what's being said."

Marcel nodded and jotted down a few notes. I was glad he had basically self volunteered by recognizing sign language right off the bat.

"Anyone else interested in helping Marcel to start? Our main focus is still GriffRacer, but I want two of you to be on this GSL app now, so it's ready to take off as soon as we can."

I sat back, wings bracing against the wall and let the team chatter. I had my preferences for who I wanted to stay on the active app and who I wanted on the language one, but I preferred to let the team hash it out themselves. Happily, they broke up the way I wanted them to.

"Right. Marcel and Joanne, start some preliminary brainstorming this afternoon. I'll send you some links to the sites the flocks down south are setting up. Come to me if you have any questions and I'll try to answer as best I can. Tomorrow afternoon, I've invited a new friend of mine who can go over the basics and help us get some designs done."

The pair nodded and I shifted my focus to the entire team. "Just a reminder, I'll be out on Wednesday, and late Thursday afternoon, but I'll be around the rest of the time if you have any questions or ideas.

"Now, let's start reviewing what we need to do with GriffRacer."

Tuesday, November 21

Cardi was reading some of the framed magazine articles about my company as I walked into the reception area. Our receptionist was completely unphased, talking on the phone while indicating where I was to sign her in. I scrawled my initials on the line and got the guest badge.

"Welcome to Innovative Solutions," I greeted her. "Thanks for coming. You planted a seed for an idea, and I'm hoping you can help nurture it a bit."

"Thanks, I'm happy to help. But I'm not sure how I can help," Cardi said, following me to a meeting room. "I looked up your company and got completely lost."

I chuckled. "Yeah, you're right. At our core, we're the IT department for small businesses; too small to run their own systems, but too big to not have one. So in that respect, we don't need you.

"Still, we're always looking for new angles to grow. And when I got back, I saw a new angle we could tackle. It's a bit out of our wheelhouse, but we had the spare resources, and even if it eventually fizzles out, it will have helped us, the griffons that is."

"So you're behind that racer app that everyone was talking about on Saturday?" she asked.

I nodded and offered her a bottle of water. "Guilty as charged. It started as a pet project, but we'll probably go live to all the griffons in a few weeks."

She sipped the water and smiled. "Good, the rest of us will need the holidays just to catch up to you guys. I don't know if it's because of that app or what, but you guys are fast. You can't fly in formation worth a damn, but you guys sprint like the devil's on your tail."

I felt a moment of pride at that. After hearing on Saturday about how much the bigger flocks were doing, I'd felt a bit down. Now, there was something we had an edge on the others on. "You're not just saying that to cheer me up are you?"

"Not at all. Back in the Hat, I was one of the faster flyers in town. But on Saturday, you guys left me in their dust. Take offs, dives, landings, sprints..." she shook her head. "I had a big helping of humble pie by the end of the day. Especially considering what I heaped on you and Michelle."

"Don't feel too bad. You were right too. There's so much going on, we lost track of some of the balls. Which brings me to why I asked you to come out today." I saw Marcel and Joanne outside and waved them in. "Cardi, this is Marcel and Joanne. They're going to be building the GSL app you're about to help us design," I said.

She shook their hands, then looked at me. "GSL App?"

"Something simple, to help us learn how to sign at first. I figure we can enter what we want to sign, and it will show us what to sign. But first, maybe a basic lesson would be good to start? Consider it a dry run for Saturday."

She nodded and relaxed. "That makes sense. Sure, I'll help."

"Mind if we record this?" Marcel asked. "Given how visual this will be, being able to refer to the video could be useful."

"Go right ahead."

A few minutes later, Cardi stood at the head of the table, the camera pointed her way. Marcel kept an eye on the video feed on a laptop screen, while Joanne and I sat on either side as the audience. When Marcel indicated he was ready, Cardi started.

"Griffon Sign Language is the solution for a problem we realized soon after we took flight. How can you talk to someone who's halfway across the sky from you? While most of us have phones, we don't have phone numbers. And screeching is hard on the throat and impolite to everyone around you. You could always fly closer together, and that's what we normally did, but it tends to be a lot of work just for a simple question.

"A week or so after we took to the air, some griffs realized the obvious solution. Sign language. With our eyesight, watching someone sign is almost trivial, even from far away, all you need to do is make sure they're looking at you.

"They started with ASL, since that's what most of the early signers knew, and discovered two problems fairly quickly."

Cardi wiggled her fingers, showing off her talons. "One, these things make some of the symbols ambiguous or hard to make. And two, angles are important. You have to make sure you sign towards who you are talking to, whether they are above, below, in front or behind you.

"So they got together down there, and worked out some better symbols. It's mostly similar to ASL, but different, to be clear from a wider angle, and to work with our talons."

She paused a moment and took a sip. "Do any of you know ASL?" she asked.

Joanne and I shook our heads.

"I do," Marcel said. "But I'm rusty."

"Well hopefully this won't be too confusing for you. Let's start with some of the basics so you know what to look for, and then we'll talk about this app you want to make."

By the end of the afternoon, my head was spinning, trying to hold onto the new language. I left Joanne and Marcel to clean up the meeting room and do some of their own coder talk, and escorted Cardi out. We paused in the elevator lobby to chat before summoning the car.

"Thank you for your help. I've already forgotten most of what you taught, but it was a huge help," I said.

"No problem. Your app idea sounds like it will help spread the word." As she spoke she signed, though I still missed all but the most obvious letters.

I reached out and stilled her hands. "I'm sorry, my head can't take any more right now."

She laughed and lowered her hands. "Sorry, I thought it would be good practice. Are you okay? You seem extra tense."

"I'm fine," I said, trying to sound fine. My male peak was looming in the back of my mind, and felt like it was trying to wake early in her presence.

She gave me a long look, before her eyes widened. "You're close to your peak, aren't you? Male?"

I nodded. "Tomorrow. Shit, sorry, I didn't even think of that. You should be close to yours too."

"I was on Sunday. Probably why I was a bit more wired than I usually am on Saturday. But we're opposite cycles. No wonder you're so tense."

My feelings were beginning to make more sense. I couldn't tell if a griffon was on the male curve or female curve, but my subconscious seemed to pick up some cues. "I'll be okay. The male peak wasn't so bad, and I'm better prepared for it this time. Just need to get home."

She shook my hand and pressed the elevator button. "Well, I won't keep you any more. Try to have some fun."

"Thanks," I said as the doors closed on her.

Wednesday, November 22

The icy goddess returned, floating among the clouds. I hadn't seen her since Thanksgiving, but I welcomed her return. She flicked her wings and lifted her tail feathers, her back turned towards me in a way I found particularly seductive. She turned her head towards me and winked and I felt a surge in my groin, my member swelling to full mast.

I growled happily, feeling a primal urge building in me. The goddess lifted her tail feathers again, pulling them to one side, showing her furry rump and her aroused vulva. My own body heated up in excitement, my pulse pounding.

I let out another growl and lept at her, my hands on her wing shoulders. She shuddered under me as I wiggled, feeling her feathered back against my furry chest, my nipples rubbing her back. I bucked a bit pressing towards her rump, my penis seeking her opening. I pushed into her and began to buck.

I jolted awake, panting hard, laying face down on my bed. I was hugging a pillow, and could feel my swollen member rubbing my bedsheets. I groaned, the dream still vivid and rolled to one side. I could see a wet spot on my belly fur and the sheets where I'd cum, heralding the arrival of my rut. Despite my release, I still felt horny as hell.

I sat up and tried to calm my hardon, looking down at the fully erect dark barbed penis. It was a sight I still wasn't used to seeing, since I usually used it under the cover of darkness. I finally gave in and started stroking myself again, feeling my pulse quicken and the shaft twitched in my scaly grasp. I let out a few grunts and felt it spasm, releasing more seed onto my belly.

I slumped back against my headboard, propped up by a wing. I still felt horny, but spent for the moment. Before I recovered too much, I got onto my feet and stumbled to the bathroom. I washed up a bit, trying to cool the rut's heat. It only aroused me further and I found myself pumping myself off once more.

I washed up again and filled a cup with water. I downed three glasses before I felt somewhat normal, even as my loins called for attention. I looked at myself in the mirror, seeing a frazzled griffon looking back. I flicked my ears and looked at my chest. My breasts felt heavy, nipples already hard. Reluctantly I cupped the orbs, feeling their weight. I squeezed one of the nipples and shivered. Nothing came out at first, but soon I felt the thick white cream on my talons.

"Fuck. Not again," I groaned, my mind blue screening for a moment.The hormonal roller coaster was still hard to ride, and lactating on top of that was still hard to handle.

I forced myself to lower my hands and wash them off. I did another mental check and decided that while the rut wanted attention, I had some time before answering the call yet again. I scooted downstairs and made a quick breakfast.

After eating, I could feel the urge building again. I rushed back upstairs. In my bedroom, I grabbed one of the toys from the bedside table and squirted some lube into the tube. I pushed into it and fell onto the bed, squeezing the toy and beginning to thrust into it. I bucked and let out a squawk of pleasure, feeling another release before I slumped onto the bed, in a sex crazed daze.

The rest of the day passed in a daze, moments of intense release, followed by a longer period of exhaustion. Some times I would go and clean up a bit, or sate my thirst from the bathroom. My body ached, my shaft sore from the attention, and my nipples aching from the lack of attention. Despite my attempts to stay clean, my chest fur and belly, along with my bed sheets were soaked with my cream and my seed.

By mid afternoon, I released again and collapsed on the bed, the toy slipping free from my shaft. I dozed off again, feeling completely drained and exhausted.

Hours later, I half woke up. The sheets were sticky from the drying seed and cream. Like a zombie, I stumbled to the bathroom and gulped down water, feeling parched despite how large and full my breasts still were. I could tell the rut had passed for another month.I washed my belly and groin, but left my breasts alone, despite how swollen my nipples were. I ran my brushes through my fur and feathers a bit, feeling a bit more presentable.

Stomach growling, I went downstairs and grabbed a banana while nuking some leftovers.I took my plate to the living room and turned on the TV. Feeling exhausted, I ate and watched some television without really seeing anything.

At the end of the evening, I turned off the TV and the lights and went back upstairs. I looked at the mess of my bedroom, and decided I didn't want to deal with it yet. I closed the door and went to my spare bedroom and collapsed on the bed there, wincing at the pressure on my chest. I quickly fell into an exhausted, dreamless sleep.

Saturday, November 25

When we suggested self defense training to Stephen, she was all for it, and took charge right away. She suggested keeping the group small for the first session, so for the first time, we had a sign up page for one of our Saturday gatherings. Everyone else was invited to hang out with Cardi and learn sign language, or just hang out in general.

Stephen rented a gym in the northern part of the city, within spitting distance of the military base. Only twelve of us were signed up for this session. Michelle declined, leaving me to be semi officially in charge. I showed up early, partly at Stephen's request, and partly because there was a light snow storm happening which made it trickier to find the place.

Inside, I found Stephen and her squadmates had been busy. The gym floor was covered in old padding. In the middle of the gym a mannequin was set up, dressed in thick leather padding. Dog bite suits were on a rack near one wall, and the soldiers were relaxing on some bleachers. Stephen waved me over and introduced me.

"Thanks for showing up early. I want you to be part of the demo at the start," she said once we were settling.

"Sure. What do you want me to do?"

She flicked her wing at the mannequin. "When I give the signal, I want you to dive down and attack that. Do what feels right, but take it down."

I tilted my head, puzzled, then looked up. The roof was high enough to fly in, if I was careful. "I guess I can do that. But I'm not really a fighter. Maybe you should do it?"

She shook her head. "I'm doing the talking. And there's a method to my madness. Just channel your frustrations into the mannequin and do what feels natural."

I shrugged, not sure what she had in mind. While we waited, I did some test flights, jumping up and making sure I didn't crash into basketball nets or the ceiling or otherwise have problems.

An hour later, the other eleven griffons had shown up. Stephen lined us up in two rows along the wall, while her squaddies put on the bite suits.

"Thanks for coming, everyone. This sort of training is good for all of us, but best done in small groups. We should have been doing this before, but life's life." Stephen opened. "First things first, I want to make something clear. This is NOT about learning how to fight. We might cover that later, but it's not the goal here. What this session IS about is learning what we are. What we can do. And most importantly, how to control what we can do. Because we are very dangerous creatures. Sky? Care to demonstrate please?"

I was a bit surprised at my cue, but nodded and stepped back. I jumped into the air, having just enough room for a circle around the gym. I focused on the mannequin, channeling my annoyances and frustrations into it. At first it was just simple things, bad fitting clothes, awkward work schedules, a faulty circuit at home. But as I opened up, I felt a dam release and more frustrations started coming out. I flexed my talons and toes, feeling my claws extend, making the mannequin the personification of the Change, the force that had turned me into this beast, the one that cursed me with the heat and the peaks. My vision turned red and I let out a primal screech.

I dove out of the air and tackled the mannequin, talons digging into its shoulders. My legs landed on its thighs and I dug my toes in and began to kick, claws tearing into the leather. I began to tear with my hands as well, talons digging into the chest. For good measure, I lowered my head and bit into the padded neck, jerking my head and feeling the leather tear in my beak.

I vaguely heard someone speaking, but couldn't make out the words, too focused on destroying my target. Someone touched my wing and I lashed out, the wing hitting a padded chest and sending the body flying. After that, everyone else kept their distance as I bit down and tore off a few more strips of padded leather.

Finally, my rush faded and I collapsed, chest heaving, wings limp on the floor beside me. I had a taste of old leather in my mouth, and my toes ached from the pressure I'd put on my claws.

"It's always the quiet ones," one of the squaddies said from one side. I glanced and saw them gathered around one who was sitting on the floor, recovering from getting the wind knocked out of him. Without moving my head, I flicked my eyes around the room. Stephen's stance was neutral, but the other griffons were a mix of surprise and shock and a good amount of fright.

"You good Sky?" Stephen asked once she was sure I was done.

I nodded and lifted my wings. I rolled to one side and stared, shocked at what was left of the mannequin. The leather padding was gone, stripped away, and the framework had snapped in multiple places. The padding over the gym floor also had large strips torn from it.

"That is why I want to do this in small groups. We are dangerous creatures, and most of us have no clue what we can do. Much of the self defense we need to learn is mental defense. We need to make sure we stay in control even in the most dire circumstances."

"Fuck... What the hell did I do?" I asked, mostly to myself. I sat up and brushed the flecks off.

Stephen smiled, "Maybe I shouldn't have encouraged you to focus so much rage. You might want to talk to your therapist about some destructive therapy; blow up against some inanimate things before you risk hurting someone."

I nodded and backed up to my spot in the line. The closest griffons looked at me and shuffled a half step away. I didn't blame them; I had no idea that was in me.

Stephen continued. "As you just saw, all parts of us are dangerous. Feet, hands, beak, even wings." The man I'd wing punched waved from the floor. My own wing was aching a bit from the unusual strain I'd put it on. "They can all be deadly if you aren't careful. The trick is to make sure you control them."

She pointed to a griffon at the far end of the line. "Dan, you first. Come on up please if you don't mind, and we'll start with some basics."

Dan stepped forward, a cougar-eagle type. She eyed the humans in the padded suits warily. "So what do you want me to do?"

Stephen dropped into a ready stance, arms spread, wings slightly spread as well. "Come at me. Not as hard as Sky did, but try to knock me down. No scratching, no biting, no feather pulling, but anything goes."

Dan nodded and dropped into a similar stance, though she clearly wasn't thinking of her wings. She started to circle Stephen, looking for an opening. I couldn't tell if Stephen picked Dan on purpose, or just lucked out, but Dan obviously had some experience.

The pair circled slowly for a minute, until Stephen paused for a moment. Even I could tell it was intentional, giving Dan the opening she was looking for. The eagle darted in, leading with her left talon curled in a fist. There was a rush of feathers, and the osprey's wing came down out of nowhere, sending Dan spinning.

She stood up and made sure Dan was okay before looking at the rest of us. "First rule, we have wings. Very strong wings. Protect them, but use them too. I've got these grunts too well trained to pull off a trick like that. But against most everyone else, they won't expect it. Or they'll over expect it. Be ready to figure out which your opponent is and use that to your advantage."

She then flexed her hands and showed her talons. "Second rule, we have talons. We're slashers and grapplers, not punchers. Throwing a closed fist punch is probably going to do more damage to your palms than to the other guy. While we won't encourage slashing here tonight, if you need to defend yourself, you want to be swinging with your talons out. Use your wings to batter, and your talons and claws to slash, and most people will probably back away really quick. Or you'll have an opening to escape yourself."

By the end of the day, we were exhausted and banged up, but otherwise in good spirits. Stephen and her squadmates showed a lot of patience with us, teaching us the basics, while making sure we didn't go too far. We even got some impromptu first aid lessons, learning how to deal with scratches among feathers.

I stayed back at the end to help with the cleanup. I took a closer look at the wreckage that was the training dummy, and shook my head.

"Sorry about that. I don't know what came over me," I said to Mark, one of the squaddies.

"No problem. This is all donated gear. We expected it to get wrecked. But I'll admit, we didn't expect Bob to get that wrecked."

I blushed a bit and helped pick up the pieces of Bob to dump in a bin. "I'm not a fighter, honest to god. I'm not a pacifist per se, but long ago, when I was a kid, I got put in timeout for hitting another kid, and decided not to fight from then on."

"I think Stephen noticed. It was probably one of the reasons she picked you. Just like she picked Dan to start with. Dan's facebook page shows her highschool wrestling and football teams, so she was a good pick to start the demonstration with."

I nodded towards the osprey. She was facing away from us, but one ear was turned suspiciously towards us. "She certainly seems to have things worked out. Glad to have her around. I'm sure you guys are too."

Mark closed the lid on the bin and nodded. "Yeah, she's made things interesting. Officially, Stephen's on medical leave until the new year at least. Unofficially, we've been working out how to integrate you birds into our systems. This sort of training we're giving you helps us just as much as it helps you."

"Glad to help, and hopefully we won't be too hard on your equipment, donated or not."

He chuckled and wheeled the bin to the door. I wandered over to Stephen while adjusting my gear, getting ready to head out. I stretched out my right wing and shook it, feeling an ache there where I'd overextended. I felt I could fly home, but I'd probably be paying for it in the morning.

"I'm heading out. I'm sure you can handle the rest," I said. "Thanks for doing this. I'm looking forward to the next one."

She shook my hand. "Thanks for coming out. And giving such a good demonstration. I hope it didn't spook you too much."

"It did spook me a bit. You managed to tap into something that predates my griffoness. But I'll talk it over with Adam and be fine."

"Good, good...." We paused and watched as the pads were loaded on a cart to be taken out to their van.

"This was a really good session. Even, or maybe especially, for a non-fighter like me. But small groups are the way to go. We'll have to figure out how best to spread the word and handle the demand next year."

"Yeah, we're learning so much as we go, I don't want to teach the wrong things to a lot of us, just to have to undo it next time," Stephen said.

"We'll figure out something. And if you get any ideas, let us know. Angela's pretty generous with our funding for now, as long as it's reasonable. So if you want to bring up some guests, I'm sure it could be arranged."

She chuckled, "Well, there is one big wish list item I have, but I doubt it would fly. I'd love to get a few Titans up to spar with. We can teach Griffon v Griffon and Griffon v Human fighting here, but the Titans are an unknown for us. They outmass, outmuscle and are more durable and flexible than us."

I smiled and shrugged. "Start looking around. It's too late in the year to do much, but if you have someone in mind, we might be able to get them up. Remember, I got the Calgary herd up a few weeks ago."

"Sure, I'll reach out and see what I can find. Have a good one, Sky. Thanks for coming."

I gave a final wave to the squad, and left. The sky was cloudy, lit from below by the city. Thick flakes were coming down, adding to the piles already on the ground. I took off and circled a bit to make sure nothing hurt too much, then headed home.

Saturday, December 2

I was only in my third month of being a griffon, but I was beginning to look forward to the two week stretch between the rut and the heat. It was the period of time when I felt the most normal, and didn't have to worry as much about the quirks of my new biology.

These two weeks were proving to be a very busy time, as everyone rushed to get their projects done before the end of the year. We rolled the beta of GriffRacer out to the community and it was proving to be as popular as expected. Work was otherwise busy, checking in with clients and making sure they were set up for their own end of year needs and planning for the new year. Some clients would need personal attention during the slow time, but that was off my plate. I had more than a few sessions in front of the camera, helping create some promotional shots for marketing. I had no idea what they did, but they seemed pleased with what they were getting.

On the griffon side of things, we scheduled our flock's Christmas Party for the middle of the month. I left most of the planning for that to Michelle and a few of the other volunteers, but I was looking forward to it. My own work's holiday party wouldn't be until January, a tradition we had started years ago partly by accident when our social committee realized they had waited way too long to book a location.

By Saturday, I was looking forward to our gathering. The threat of my Heat was looming for the week ahead, but on Saturday, it was a chance to relax, shed a lot of the work and other obligations and just have fun. We were falling in an inside/outside gathering pattern, so this gathering was outside, at a forested park on the western edge of the city. Once again Cardi was going to be leading a session, this time teaching us some of the basics of Quidditch.

I took off just before noon and circled the neighbourhood a bit, stretching out my wings and assessing the weather. The skies were clear, but cold, with an arctic breeze coming from the north. I figured it was at best low double digits below freezing, enough for me to notice it, but not to be uncomfortable. A layer of snow covered the city now and the rivers were freezing. The snow reflected the sunlight, looking especially bright to my eyes. The extra visual range we had into the ultraviolet apparently would make us better adapted to the winter climates, though I didn't know how exactly. But the experts said we wouldn't need snow glasses like humans.

I saw another red figure take off from a nearby apartment tower and waved to her. I pointed northward and we set off, gradually getting closer as we went.

"Good morning, Sky," Cardi signed, going slowly and exaggerating her hand movements as she went.

"Morning," I signed back, close to the limits of my own knowledge. Going to Stephen's lesson last week had been good, but it did mean I had missed her lesson to the rest of the flock. I was picking up more from the GriffTech team, but it was slow going.

"Ready for today?" I asked once we were in earshot.

"I hope so. As long as Brian could get what I needed."


She shook her head, her beak twitching in a griffon smirk. "Not really, not now that I know you all better. Last weekend I was scared eggless, but now it's just a friendly session."

By the time we crossed the Yellowhead highway, we'd picked up a couple more griffons. Our target today was a Provincial park just outside of the city. It had a number of lakes and ponds and marshes, popular with birds and birdwatchers. This time of year it was pretty frozen, and its trails were taken over by cross country skiers and similar winter sports enthusiasts. Michelle and Brian were already on site when we arrived, set up in a small parking lot at a trailhead that wrapped around a larger lake.

I recognized Brian's car in the sparsely populated parking lot. Brian was talking to Michelle, sipping from a steaming thermos. There were a few other cars there, most belonging to friends and allies of griffons. Humans and griffons alike were playing in the snow around the parking lot, or watching the griffons in the air. There were a couple of metal barrels set up with small fires burning to help people warm up when needed.

"Morning guys!" I greeted them, doing a superhero landing in the snow on the edge of the parking lot. My wing beats lifted a flurry of lighter snow, while my paws crunched through the older layer of snow under it. "Is it warm enough for you?" I said to Brian, smirking.

"No where close. I'm envious of you guys," he said. He was dressed in a heavy jacket, toque and heavy mittens. While his camera was set up, he didn't seem particularly eager to get much footage.

"If you think this is cold, you should feel the winds a few hundred feet up," Cardi countered. She'd landed a few meters behind me.

"Yeah, I'm starting to feel it in my claws. Might need to order some gloves for Christmas," I said.

Brian shook his head and sipped his coffee. "Next time, I'm confiscating the hot drinks for those who really need it," he grumbled.

"You sure you want to get between a griff and her coffee? You heard what Sky did to poor Bob last week right?" Michelle taunted. I bristled a bit from embarrassment; the stories from the training session had spread before we'd finished packing. I was glad Brian hadn't been there to record it; we would do a proper video when we had a better grip on how we wanted to show off griffon fighting styles.

I snagged a bagel from the bag on the hood of Brian's car, and tore a chunk out of it. Tim's wasn't 'sponsoring' this weekend, so we had snacks from a local shop instead, a better choice in my private opinion. "So what's the plan for today?" I asked once I gulped down the first chunk.

Michelle nodded to Cardi. "Quidditch training. Or at least some practice in close flying and other things to do in the air."

"Did you bring the things I asked for?" Cardi asked, looking from Michelle to Brian.

He nodded and reached into his pocket, popping the trunk of his car. A number of balls were there in a net bag, most brand new.

"Help yourself to some snacks. We'll give people a few minutes more to show up and then you can start."

"Sounds good. Do you know, is the pond safe to walk on?"

"It is. I checked before coming out," Brian confirmed. "And I checked with the park rangers too." he nodded across the parking lot where a jeep with Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park on the side was parked. A couple of park rangers were watching us.

"Great. That will make things easier."

A short time later, there were about fifty griffons at the park. Cardi grabbed the bag ball and led us out onto the frozen pond. There was enough snow on it that it wasn't slippery, not that we would have noticed with our paws.

"Hi everyone. It's me again. I promise this weekend will be more interesting than last weekend," Cardi started, addressing the crowd. She sounded a bit nervous at first, but warmed up as she relaxed into her role.

"How many of you have been following the Quidditch league down south?" she opened with. Many of the griffons raised a wing, and some of the humans raised a hand.

"Well as a quick overview for those who don't know, Quidditch, Griffon Quidditch that is, is an aerial ball sport, the first of its kind, based off of the one from Harry Potter. We'll leave any issues with the sports creator on the message boards and just focus on the sport we've developed."

There were a few nervous chuckles at that comment while Cardi moved on quickly, picking up the rubber coated foam ball the size of a volleyball. She squished it a bit in her talons..

"For us, this sport is all about keeping the balls in the air. If a ball hits the ground, the other team gets one attempt to claim it, then it's free for all. There are seven players per side, three chasers, a keeper, two bludgers and a seeker.

"The chasers are the forwards. They have the quaffle; this green ball;, and will be trying to score points by throwing it through their opponent's hoops. Similar to basketball, they have a carry clock. They can only hold this for five seconds before they must either shoot at the hoop or pass to someone else."

"The keepers are the goalies. They can't be knocked out while at their team's hoops, and if they bounce a quaffle to the ground, their team can immediately claim it. Once official goal hoops are set up, they will be allowed to perch on them but for now they must stay in the air like everyone else.

"The beaters control the bludgers." She picked up a bright red dodgeball, also made out of rubber covered foam. "If you are hit by one, you must go back to your side of the field before you can continue. If you have the quaffle, you must drop it or pass it to the other team depending on how charitable you're feeling. Beaters can catch these bludgers in midair and not be out. If a bludger hits someone then drops to the ground, it can be reclaimed by the team that threw it.".

She picked up a tennis ball in a long yellow tube sock. "And finally there's the snitch. Catching this is worth a lot of points, but only the seeker can catch it. Seekers go out on the field after twenty minutes. The snitch will be carried by a neutral griffon, or by a drone piloted by a neutral person. The goal of the people controlling the snitch is to keep it from the seekers for as long as possible.

She looked around the crowd and dropped the snitch. "In any case, for today, we're not going to worry about the rules or even be playing a real game.... Mainly because we don't have anything we can use for goals. But what we can do is start practicing flying. Throwing and catching the balls in mid air, turning on a dime, snagging things off the ground, even recovering from midair contacts.

"So if you want to practice with us, feel free. We're going to leave the balls on the ground for now, and work on mid air maneuvering. Thanks to GriffRacer, you guys are speed demons, but you turn like aircraft carriers. A Hat or Parker griff could fly figure eights in the space you need to do one loop. So first thing we're going to do is go upstairs and practice our turns, get you used to turning on the tip of a wing. Then we'll throw the balls into the mix."

For now, watch me. Most of you can turn tighter with ease. To get really tight turns, you need to lose some height, but that can be useful as well, once you get used to it."

She took off, and flew a short distance away. She approached the mass of us head on, then pulled in a wing and turned in midair. I could see how she did her tighter turns, her wings twisting in ways that didn't look right. As promised, her tightest turns cost altitude, but made it seem like she reversed direction almost instantly.

She landed after her demonstration and looked at the crowd. "Now you guys try. Get in line and fly directly towards me from the south. I'll indicate which way I want you to go, and your goal is to turn as fast as you can in that direction. And then I'll give you some tips if I see any areas to improve.

The first few griffons took to the air and circled back to the parking lot to set up their approach to the cardinal griffon. I stayed on the ground, watching from the side to see what happened. She started easy, lifting her wing to indicate if she wanted them to go left or right. She shouted various tips and kudos as they flew past her and circled back for another attempt. When the first few griffons had done a few laps, she started getting fancier, indicating they should turn around tighter, or dive lower or higher, or not indicating where to turn until the last moment. The first few attempts were awkward, but we were quick learners. More and more climbed into the air, forming a steady stream of flyers heading towards Cardi. I joined by the third round, slipping into the line.

When I got to the head of the line, Cardi motioned for me to turn left. I tried to follow the tips she'd been giving and pulled in my left wing while pushing down harder on the right. I twisted my tail as well to move the tail feathers, and the world seemed to spin a bit as I twisted in midair. I lost more height than I expected, but I was suddenly going west just before I reached Cardi.

"Good job Sky. You're a natural. Just tighten up your tail feathers a bit so you don't spin as much, and keep your arms in tighter." Cardi shouted from below.

After a few more rounds, most of us were turning on a quarter. Cardi got some helpers to set some balls out on the frozen pond and we shifted our practice, trying to snag things off the ground without landing. It proved to be harder than we thought. Almost everyone missed, or beak planted into the snow.

For my first attempt, I chickened out. A few metres above the ice, I pulled up and away; too scared of hitting the ground. I cursed myself and circled around for another attempt. On my second try I managed to fight my instinct and get down to ground level, but I misjudged where the ball was and my claws grabbed at it too late. The third time, I slowed down a lot more and snagged the ball, but kicked off the ground to start climbing back up.

"Not bad Sky, but that would be a foul in an official game. Ball carriers can't touch the ground, even when snagging them from the ground." Cardi called out.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Habits are hard to break," I responded, dropping the ball back down for the next griffon.

For the fourth try, I missed again. And my fifth was my most embarrassing. I managed to snag the ball, but I misjudged my momentum, and my wings hit the ground when I tried to climb back up. The ground grabbed me hard, sending me tumbling through the snow. I ended up on my belly, panting hard, more than a little rattled.

"I'm okay!" I called out, lifting a wing. "Just had the wind knocked out of me." I picked myself up and tossed the ball back to the others. I looked down and started brushing the snow off my furry chest.

I retreated to the sidelines to recover and get a drink, and to make doubly sure I was fine. Nothing was wounded but my pride. I was pleased to see we gradually got the hang of snagging things from the ground. Some of the griffons shifted gears and started practicing throwing and catching the balls in midair, whether thrown by other griffons or thrown up from people on the ground.

Before the last ball went into the air, I got back in the line and did another attempt to grab from the ground. This time I managed to judge the distance right and plucked the ball off the ground before going into a steep climb. I let out a happy screech and dropped it back to the ground for the next griffon's attempt.

The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur, as we all practiced mid air throwing and diving and other maneuvering. It was exhilarating, but exhausting at the same time. Twisting in the air like that was a lot harder than the simple gliding and flying we were used to, even with the sprinting we did. I was surprised at just how maneuverable we were. I couldn't throw worth a damn, and could catch only slightly better; but other griffons were able to practically stand on their tails and fire the balls right into the talons or paws of another griffon.

When the shadows grew long and the sun kissed the horizon to the west, we called it a day. We were all exhausted, most of us just laying in the snow to catch our breath while our human friends collected the balls and cleaned up the site. Even though the balls had been partly deflated, half of them had ended up popped from various claws or talon catches; it would be a problem the league was working on, but the foam ball alternatives we would need were still being worked on.

"Great session today," Michelle called out, sitting on a concrete picnic table. She somehow sounded more energized than she looked. "We'll probably do a few more practice sessions in the future, and if anyone wants to organize a team or two, we'll see about both a local league and maybe a league with the other cities too. But that probably won't be until the new year."

There were a few weary cheers from the crowd, and we started to disperse. I pushed myself up with my wings and staggered to my feet. Brian, Michelle and Cardi were talking near Brian's car.

"Get some good shots?" I asked Brian.

"Lots of them. Both from the ground and air. I ran out of disk space for them all," he said, tapping his camera. "Should be a good show once I edit it together."

"Good, glad to put on a good one," Cardi said. "Is there anywhere good we could stop for dinner? I'm starved and not sure I can make it back down to South Ed."

"Good point. I'm starved too," I said. "Is the Roadhouse open yet?" The Roadhouse was a restaurant and bar I knew was nearby. There was a lot of buzz about it in the flock because its owner was renovating and expanding it to make it griffon friendly and open to everyone, no matter how they were changed.

"Not yet. Last I heard they might be open next week. They just ran into a few issues wrapping up the renovations," Michelle said.

"Damn, then what else is around? Cardi asked.

"All sorts of things, even if you ignore West Ed," Brian said. "What are you in the mood for?"

"Spice," I said confidently. "Lots of spice." Michelle nodded in agreement. We'd discovered we both had gotten the pepper taste after our changes. Cardi tended to prefer more tart flavours, but still handled our spice levels well.

"There's a Thai place I've heard good things about. Care to give them a shot?" Brian asked. "Just on the other side of the highway."

"Sounds like a plan. Do they have room for us?" Michelle asked.

He nodded, already taking out his phone. "Yeah they have a decent sized dining room. I'll call and make a reservation. How many of us will there be?" He looked around to see who was left. Most of the flock had already flown the coop, but a half dozen were still hanging out, some tossing the last ball around or just chatting with friends.

"Sure, we'll come along. If you don't mind," Ike said. She was one of the better throwers, and was hanging out with her sister.

"There won't be a dress code issue, will there?" I asked, realizing most of us were going griffon style.

Brian finished counting heads and shrugged, placing the call. "I'll check. Six griffons and four humans.They might bend the rules in this case just for the big group, if they have a problem with it."

We busied ourselves with the rest of the cleanup while he chatted on the phone. When he hung up, he gave a thumbs up. "We're good. Reservation is at 5:30. That should give us enough time to get there."

"Sounds good. We should take off now. Everyone know where we're going?" Michelle asked.

Most of us shook our heads. "I figured I'd just follow you," I said.

She laughed and looked around one last time. "Right then, I guess we should get going. See you over there, Bri."

She leapt into the air, and was quickly joined by five more griffons. It was telling how tired we were that no one even thought of setting up a race; after all the practice we'd been doing all day, it was all we could do to fly in a straight line.

Michelle led the flock across the city, with the sun disappearing below the horizon behind us. The city lit up below us, roads and building signs providing the guidance an urban griffon needed to find their way around in the darkness. Our destination was a commercial district a few klicks east of West Ed. A Safeway grocery store anchored it, along with a Rexall pharmacy. The rest of the area was filled with smaller stores and restaurants.

The parking lot was a quarter full as we circled over it, mostly focused on the anchors. We circled a couple of times over the parking lot before dropping down, landing in a few empty spots. Michelle pointed to our goal, a place called Thai Manao. There were a couple of cars parked in front of it, and we could see a few tables were filled, but it didn't seem too busy.

"Should we wait for the others?" Ike asked, glancing around the parking lot.

"Nah, let's head in. Help them get the tables ready for us at least," her sister, Nadia, said.

Michelle nodded and started towards the door. "Good point. They probably only think they know what they're getting," she said, chuckling. She went inside while the rest of us waited outside.

Inside, I could see an Asian waitress rush up to the entrance. Her body indicated surprise, but she seemed to handle the situation well. She talked to Michelle for a moment, then grabbed a pile of menus and indicated for Michelle to follow her. The jay griffon glanced back and waved a wing, urging us to come on in.

The restaurant was silent as a half dozen cat-birds walked in and weaved their way between the tables. I waved to some of the other customers, while following the flock to a back room. A half dozen tables had been pushed together and pulled back from the wall, leaving enough room for us to slide in, and not leave wings or tails hanging out in the way of the waiters. We had to flip the chairs around so we could sit somewhat comfortably. I found myself in the middle, with Cardi on one side, and a hawk-snow leopard Griffon named Scott.

The waitress seemed a bit uncomfortable taking our drink orders, despite reassurances that we could handle the glasses. After a few minutes, we had our drinks and were perusing the menus while waiting for Brian and the rest of our human friends. I tried not to notice the furtive looks we got from the workers and other customers.

About ten minutes later, the rest of our party showed up. They came right back to our table and took their seats, providing a bit of a shield from the glances we were getting. The waitresses got their drinks and gave us a bit more time to make our choices.

I decided what I wanted fairly quickly, so while the others were choosing, I picked up the chopsticks and started practicing. Before changing, I could handle them decently enough. Now I had to work around my talons to figure out a good position to hold them. A few others watched me curiously before picking up their own chopsticks.

"Damn, now you're just showing off," Brian commented from the other end of the table.

I smirked and shrugged my wings. "It's not too bad, once you figure out how to get the talons out of the way." I plucked a packet of sugar from the bowl in the centre of the table and waved it around.

"If you say so. I can't even do it without talons," Brian said, shaking his head.

The waitress returned and started taking our orders. She seemed a bit doubtful over the numerous requests for extra extra spiciness, but made the appropriate notes.

"So what do we need to do for this Quidditch league?" Scott asked once the orders were taken.

"Enough interest, and maybe someone to help organize it," Michelle said. "Unless Cardi wants to volunteer." Cardi shook her head quickly. "I've got enough on my plate as is, but we'll certainly help out where we can. Regardless, we probably won't do much until the new year."

"Don't look at me either. I've got enough going on too, and frankly, it doesn't interest me that much. But I appreciated the training we did today. It helps shake us out of our comfort zones and learn what we are really capable of," I said quickly.

Ike nodded and looked at his sister, "Well, it was fun so far, and sounds like fun. We've got some experience helping her kid's soccer league; we could probably grab the snitch and see what we can do."

"You have a kid? I didn't realize it," Cardi said then clamped her beak shut. "Sorry," she mumbled.

"It's okay. He's off in college. I was an empty nester before I had to make a nest," Nadia explained. "His father and I divorced a long time ago too."

"How'd he handle this?" I asked, curiosity trumping the social norms a bit since the conversation had been broached. "If you don't mind me asking."

Nadia sipped her water before responding. "It's okay. He's taking it really well, and he's been a huge help for me and Ike so far."

We were interrupted by the arrival of our food. A big plate of steamy rice, vegetables and beef was put in front of me. I inhaled deeply, taking in the smells and getting a bit of a hint of the spiciness to come.

"Damn, that's making my eyes water from here. Are you sure you guys can handle that?" Susan asked. She was one of Ike and Nadia's friends who had accompanied us.

"I'm having my doubts, but I'm willing to try," Scott said, using his fork to stab a shrimp piece on his own plate of noodles.

I grabbed my chopsticks and moved the food around a bit to mix things up before scooping up my first taste. The food was hot and spicy. Even with my diminished taste and sense of smell, it still hit like a hot brick wall. I had to pant around it for a moment before swallowing. "Woo-ee, that's a spicy meatball." I gasped out before chasing it down with some pop. The pop did little for the spice but helped cool the heat. I dug in for another bite.

The waitress returned with a jug of water to top off the glasses. She looked around the table, trying to assess how we were handling the food. "Is everything all right?" she asked as she poured the water. "It's not too spicy is it?"

"Everything's great," Michelle assured her, while the rest of the table nodded or gave thumbs up.

"Most spice I've tasted since the fall," I assured her. "And that's a good thing."

Scott waved a piece of shrimp in the air, "This is great. Perfect spiciness, maybe a bit more. You might want to note some griffon spice tiers for the menu because this could become popular."

She seemed relieved and backed away to let us finish our meal.

Once we'd made a dent in our plates, Nadia picked up the conversation again. "So a league, what are we going to need for that?" she asked.

"For a city league, we'll want four teams at least, but we can field as many as we have interest. Start recruiting now, and we'll see about starting in the New Year," Cardi said. "If Michelle's fine with it, we'll commission the goal rings and figure out where we can rent field space for practicing and for games."

"Not really my call, but it can probably be done easily. If you are serious about this, reach out to Calgary, Hat and Parker, see what they're doing; they can probably guide you on the details," Michelle said.

Cardi nodded again. "That too. If we want to do an intercity league, you'll need to figure out who the team will be. From what I've heard, the groups in Hat and Parker want to get something semi-official going by February, so if you want to be involved you should move quickly."

Nadia nodded slowly, seeming to become doubtful about what she'd volunteered for. Ike nudged her with a wing and smiled. "Sounds like fun. I'll start reaching out when I get home. Anyone in particular I should contact?"

"Sarah McLellan in Hat is one of the big organizers down there. Bruce Tobias in Elkwater too," Cardi said. "I don't know who's running things in Parker or Calgary, but they could get you in the loop. I'll send you their contacts when I get home."

"Perfect. So who's in?" Ike asked, glancing around the table.

"Not me," I said quickly. "You saw me this afternoon. I can't throw worth a damn, and I catch even worse. But I'll certainly come out to watch the games."

"I'll try out," Scott said. "Today was fun and it seems like it will be an interesting sport once we work out the details."

"I'll pass," Cardi said. "But when you're looking for sponsors, I can put in a good word at my store."

Michelle nodded, "Yeah, getting some sponsors is probably a good idea. We've been leaning heavily on the GoFundme pool, and while it isn't close to being empty yet, we should make sure we're using it for those who really need it. Funding your initial setup shouldn't be difficult but once you get going, having other incomes will probably be wise."

"That's fair. Once you get things sorted out, you can count on my company as a sponsor. I can get you that much at least," I said.

"Phew, that's a lot to think about. I'm having second thoughts," Nadia said, chuckling nervously.

Michelle nodded and smiled back. "It is a lot, especially when you want to do it right. Don't worry, we've got a lot of contacts who can help make sure you do it right so it won't all be on you. And it certainly doesn't have to be done by tonight. I'll hook you up with some people I know who should be good for some tips, if not outright willing to help."

"Good, something to look forward to after tomorrow," Ike said. Most of the griffons winced a bit in sympathy, the implicit reminder of the coming peaks not welcomed. My own heat was still days away but many of my tablemates would be riding it tomorrow.

"Anyone want dessert?" I asked, changing the subject. I passed my empty plate to the waitress while looking around the table.

"Yeah, that cheesecake looks delish," Michelle said.

Wednesday, Dec 6

We floated among the clouds, a white skyscape lit from above with no land in sight. The icy blue god smiled at me, wings spread wide behind him. I looked at his muscular body, from the strong wings to the perky breasts to his furry hips and sparkling wings, and felt my loins get moist. I wiggled my tailfeather and spread my wings in response, eager for him. In response, I saw his sheath swell, his penis swelling quickly, even as he slipped around behind me. I spread my legs and twitched my tailfeathers to one side, feeling him grip my wings from behind.

He nuzzled my neck and pulled on my wings as his weight settled on my back. Before I knew it, I felt something slip between my legs and suddenly he was in me. I clenched down on him and spasmed. I bounced on the bed, gasping and shuddering as the dream faded away to reality.

I laid on my bed, panting hard, my loins still quivering from the intense wet dream. My room was dark with the barest hint of dawn. I had felt the heat coming so I hadn't bothered to set my alarm, hoping to sleep through the start of it. My body had other ideas.

I mentally took stock of my situation and decided the first wave was done. My loins still yearned for attention, but the wet dream orgasm had satisfied things for the moment. I rolled off the bed and stood up, taking my moments of peace to rush downstairs and grab a quick snack and some juice. It was the start of my third time around the track, and it was becoming frustratingly familiar.

During my meal, I almost fooled myself into believing this heat was easier to handle. I could feel it building again, but it didn't seem as urgent. I took my time eating a solid meal, and even began to clean up, before the surge hit me again.

I dropped a pan into the running water and gripped the edge of the counter, feeling the waves of arousal pulse through me with the increasing beat of my heart, shattering my concentration. All I could focus on was my loins, yearning to feel something, anything in me. I clenched my eyes closed and reached down, rubbing between my legs. Very quickly I felt a surge of pleasure come from my loins and I moaned, the arousal easing a bit but not completely fading; I still yearned to feel something within me.

Growling a bit in frustration over my new body, I finished washing the pan and set it to the side to dry. I went back upstairs, forcing myself not to rush. Back in my bedroom, I pulled out some of the toys and laid back on the bed, partly propped up by my wings, sitting on my tailfeathers. I lubed up the vibrator and flicked it on. I ran it along my sheath a bit; in the midst of my heat I didn't harden, but it still felt really nice. When I got lower, I ran it over my labia. And nearly came again The griffon was fully in control at the moment. I pressed the toy deep in me and felt my loins clench tight around it. Very quickly the waves of pleasure rolled over me again, pushing the heat down for a moment. I closed my eyes and rode the waves, growling happily in pleasure.

When the peak passed, I pulled the toy out, and rested, chest heaving. It was tempting to just keep playing until the heat passed, but I knew I had to start getting control of this. Instead, I tried to force the thoughts and feelings to the side and tried to think of anything else, various work projects, upcoming Christmas plans, and generally any unsexy thoughts. It worked for a bit at first, but biology reared its ugly head again.

Even with the urges rising, I kept trying to fight them, but soon enough I had the toy rubbing between my legs again. This time I also added a hand rubbing my breasts, squeezing them again. Soon enough that hand was wet with my cream even as I clenched on the vibrating toy and rode to another climax.

That cycle continued for most of the day. After the first few times, I gave up trying to resist and instead used the downtime to try and rest a bit. The rest didn't seem to help much, only bringing the icy god back to pull me back for the next round.

By the time the heat finally broke, I was exhausted and worn out. One of the toys had broken and the second was in bad need of recharging, but the urges were finally fading. I was tempted to just roll over and go to sleep, but I felt too gross. The front of my chest was wet and sticky from the cream I'd milked out, and the bed sheets were in desperate need of changing.

Drawing off the last dredges of my own energy reserves, I rolled off the bed. I could tell my feathers were a mess, especially my tail feathers as I'd been sitting on them. I stumbled to the bathroom and turned on the shower, letting the hot water roll over me and start cleaning me off. My body tingled with arousal but the need had faded, even if my nipples were still swollen. When I felt a bit cleaner, I dried off a bit and did a quick brush, but left my feathers mostly alone.

Like a zombie, I stumbled downstairs and rummaged in the fridge, downing a few slices of lunch meats and some apples and bananas. I grabbed a roll and a glass of juice and tried to relax. I could feel my body returning to normal, the hormonal rush spent. Getting food in my gullet and cleaning up had helped. I grabbed my phone and caught up on the day's events and my game dailies while I had a bit of normal energy left. I knew this little surge would fade fast so I was making the best of it while it lasted.

The last thing I did was to change my bed. I tossed the bedding into a basket to take to the washer later and added fresh sheets. I was surprised they survived my exertions, but I was getting better at controlling my claws and talons. I made my bed and plugged the toys in to charge, tossing the broken one in the garbage. With the last of my energy fading fast, I set the alarm and crashed face first into bed. I barely had enough energy to kill the lights before I fell into a dreamless sleep.

Thursday, December 7

It was a cold, sunny day out, great for flying. I landed on the roof of Doctor Fullerton's building and took in the scenery; I had a bit of time before my appointment.On the roof I could see more paw marks from myself and other griffons. Adam had gotten permission for us to land on the building once he started seeing more griffons. We still had to enter from the ground floor, but we appreciated friendly roofs to land on.

When my appointed time came, I dropped down to the sidewalk and headed in. The outer office was empty when I got up there, with the door closed, so I sat down on a padded bench to wait. A few minutes later, the door opened and Adam came out.

"Hi Simon, sorry to keep you waiting. My last appointment ran a bit long and I had to finish the paperwork." He motioned for me to enter the inner office.

"No problem. I wasn't waiting for too long." I sat down on the couch and leaned back a bit, getting comfortable. "I know you can't say much, but I hope it's going well."

"You're right I can't say much, but it's going very well. The extra perspective from other griffons is very enlightening." He took his usual seat and looked me over. "How about you? How are you doing?" he asked. His voice hinted that he could tell something was on my mind.

"I'm doing... okay," I said, not quite wanting to get into the details that easily.

"Just okay? Yesterday was your third heat right? How'd it go?"

"Still as rough as the previous ones. I tried to wrangle it, but didn't have much luck."

"I'm sorry. Some are saying it is getting easier, but it may be wishful thinking. It does seem to hit you harder than others."

I sighed and couldn't meet his eyes. "Lucky me."

"Not lucky, just biology. Still, I've been hearing a few theories about the griffon roller coaster. I don't really want to offer any suggestions yet until I do some more checks of my own, but maybe in the new year we can try a few things. Do you think you can handle it until then?"

"Not as if I have any choice. My body has its own rules after all."

He nodded and glanced at his desk. "The next peak will be a rut, on the 20th right? Your family will be here then. Are you worried about it?"

"Terrified. But I'm trying not to dwell on it and hoping it will just work itself out. It will happen no matter what I do."

He frowned a little and shook his head. "Not the best approach to take, but I'm at a loss for any other suggestions."

"Well if you have any ideas, I'll consider them. It's going to come no matter what, so I'll just have to endure it. At least it won't be a heat."

"We can come back to that later. Aside from the Heat, how are you doing? Simon and Skyfire?"

"We're doing well. Still clashing a lot, but I think things are settling. That said, this might be Simon's last hurrah coming up. He's lost the home, and he's losing the worklife. The family's all he has left."

"And how does that make you feel?"

I shrugged my wings and looked away then back at him. "I'm not sure. I should probably feel angry about it. Or scared about it. But it's the way I'm going I think. Skyfire has the body, Sky's doing things now. Simon's just an older phase of who I was and it's something I'll have to get used to... eventually."

"Eventually. You will be you, whether it is Simon or Skyfire. Do you think you will have any problems with your family?"

I shook my head. "I hope not. They're coming around to Skyfire, and I am still Simon as well. We've been talking through all this, and they're helping from afar for a few months now, so having them local should be good. They really helped me with Thanksgiving after all."

"Excellent. Everyone should have a good support network. I'm glad yours has survived this change."

"So am I. I've heard so many other griffs have lost their family connections... If mine had turned me away, I'm not sure what I would have done."

"Best not to dwell on it. It didn't happen and it sounds like it won't happen. Instead, keep doing what you have been doing. Use their support to keep yourself up and lend that support to others who need it."

"I'll try. But you know my imagination can be active, especially when dwelling on What Ifs."

"As long as you are aware of it, and try not to dwell too much, it should be fine. Let me know if you feel like it is getting too much."

I nodded again and relaxed a bit. "I know. And I appreciate it. Thanks. Thanks for everything."

Saturday, December 9

I slept in late on Saturday. When I finally opened my eyes, the clock said just before 9, but my room was still dark. I flicked my ears and listened, hearing the howling of the wind outside. The first serious winter storm of the season was hitting the city. I yawned and spread my wings, pushing myself up a bit. Looking out the window, all I could see was gray skies and the swirling of snowflakes. I stood up and went through my morning routine.

I wasn't surprised to see a post from Michelle to our group, cancelling today's gathering. The storm wasn't quite severe enough to ground us, but travel in general was trickier and it was safest just to keep everyone near home.

I puttered around the house, doing a deep cleaning to get ready for the arrival of my family in a few weeks. By mid afternoon, the worst of the storm had passed, so I grabbed the snow shovels from the garage and started clearing.

Thankfully, the snow was a dry, light snow, so it wasn't too hard to move around. Just flapping my wings tended to cause a mini blizzard if I wasn't careful. I quickly cleared the back deck and my landing spot, then went to the front. It was tempting to skip the driveway since I wasn't driving; but I knew I had to clear it, both for deliveries and for my family. All around the neighbourhood I could see and hear others doing similar storm cleanup chores. So with a somewhat reluctant grunt, I started at the garage door and began pushing the snow to the sides.

An hour later, I set the shovel against the garage door and looked at my work. There were still flurries coming down, but the driveway and walkways were more than clear enough. I was panting a bit, and felt warm from the exertions, but it felt like it had taken less time than usual; a side effect of how active I was now I figured. Despite my activity, I still had a dusting of snow on my feathers and fur.

Not wanting to go inside yet, I put the shovel away and walked down to the street, shaking my wings to knock off some of the snow. One of my neighbours was near the end of his driveway, pausing to take a break. He was drenched in sweat, with his coat open to cool off.

"Hey Ron. How's it going?" I asked.

"Hey Simon. Going good, or as good as a storm dump usually goes," he replied, not even looking surprised to see me. My appearance was an accepted feature of the neighbourhood now. "Surprised to see you out shovelling."

"Gotta stay ahead of the mess. After all, I've got family coming up in a few weeks, and regular deliveries that need a clear driveway and path."

"Good point. Well, I best wrap up here and go inside to warm up. Have a Merry Christmas."

I waved and spread my wings, getting ready to take off. "You too. Happy Holidays."

I jumped up into the air, my wings raising a small blizzard in my wake. I waved to Ron, and climbed higher into the sky.

With the storm, the cloud cover was well below my ceiling. The world quickly disappeared from view, leaving me flying in a fog. I stretched my wings out to better glide and just get a better feel for this type of flying. Aside from up and down, I quickly lost my sense of direction. The winds were rougher than I was used to, but nothing that was difficult to handle.

The sounds of the city disappeared, leaving just the noise from the wind. Even the glow from the winter sun was more diffuse, I could vaguely tell where south was by it but that was about it.

In many ways it reminded me of my fantasies. The skies were greyer than my dreams, but if my icy goddess appeared from a cloudbank, I would not have been surprised. The thoughts stirred some feelings in my loins, making me aroused. I chased them away and focused on my surroundings, not that there was anything to really see.

Feeling a bit lost, I began to carefully drop down, until the cloud layer thinned enough for me to see street lights and buildings. I recognized a minimall at the far end of my neighbourhood and knew where I was. The lot was almost empty, but the lights were on in many of the businesses. I decided it was a good time for a bite to eat, and landed outside the steakhouse at the far end of the lot.

I opened the door and walked in and started brushing off the snow. One side effect of being so insulated from the cold was that snow didn't melt on me, but it did tend to stick.

"Be right with you," a waitress called from around a corner. I could hear the clinking of silverware that she was putting away. "Welcome to Goodfellow's..." her voice trailed off as she caught sight of me.

I gave my wings and tail feathers a final shake and looked over to her. I realized I wasn't exactly dressed properly for eating out. "Hi there. Just one hungry griff, looking for a bite to eat. Sorry, I'm not really dressed properly."

The waitress shook her head and got over her surprise. "It's okay. Not as if we've got a lot of people at the moment," she said, snagging a menu. "Uhm, well, take your pick."

I looked around the dining room. It was deserted as she implied. For my seat, I immediately passed on the booths; while I could sit on my tail feathers in a pinch, it wasn't all that comfortable and I didn't want to risk their durability. There were a number of tables in the middle which would be acceptable, even if I ended up blocking the traffic flow. Towards the back, I noticed a table against the wall, the perfect spot for me to set up and not have my wings or tail in the worker's way. I pointed my choice out and followed her.

"Can I get you anything to drink?" she asked as she set the table and placed the menu.

"A glass of water is fine to start," I said. I studied the chair to figure out how best to sit. Its back was too tall to just flip around, but turning it sideways would give me enough room. I took my seat and stretched my wings a bit to a more relaxed position.

A short time later, I had a big rare steak in front of me with all the trimmings, and a similarly loaded baked potato. A craft beer had joined my glass of water. I took my time cutting the meat up before the first bite. From near the kitchen, I could see the waitress waiting, watching both out of duty and out of curiousity.

"Is everything okay?" she asked after my first few bites. She had a water jug that she used to top off my glass.

"It's great, thanks. I haven't been out here in months," I assured her.

"You've been here before?" she asked, sounding surprised.

I nodded, and mashed the potato a bit before answering. "Yeah, it's been a favorite of mine for years, basically since I moved out here long ago. But I haven't been here since..." I vaguely motioned at my changed body.

"Oh! Of course. That makes sense. Well, I hope this is suitable for the new you and that we'll see more of you."

"It's great," I assured her again. "I'm sure you will see me more often. I might even try to send Cardi this way sometime. She's not too far away."

"Well, she'll be welcomed here as well, along with any other griffons. Enjoy your meal."

She retreated into the kitchen to do more restaurant work, leaving me to focus on my meal. I pulled my phone free and began skimming Facebook while eating, honestly enjoying the food.

The place was still empty by the time I finished; the storm and the early afternoon time keeping people away it seemed. I gulped down the rest of my beer while the waitress set up the debit terminal for me. I tapped my card and added the tip. The waitress tried to not stare, but I caught her sneaking a glance at my card's name. She twitched a bit in recognition. This steakhouse was one of my regular haunts before, and I knew most of the staff and they knew the old me.

I nodded to her, the edge of my beak twitching up in a griffon smile. "Thanks for the great meal. Hope things pick up a bit later. And have a safe trip home."

"Thuh-Thank you," she said, catching herself. "And you have a safe trip home as well. See you next time."

Outside, the storm was winding down. It was still cloudy with some snowflakes coming down, but visibility was much better. I stretched out my wings and wiggled my tail feathers before jumping into the sky. Below, I could see traffic picking up as the plows cleared the snow. Not having anything else to do, I flew home.

Wednesday, Dec 13

Knowing what was coming, I left my alarm off and tried to sleep in. It seemed to help a little, though my dreams were stranger. The goddess was back, but we just cuddled. He hugged me from behind and rubbed my belly which felt larger than usual. There were many pregnant griffons in the city now, but none were really showing yet. Before I could dwell on the dream's implications, I felt an intense spasm in my loins and jolted awake with the first contraction.

My eyes snapped open, wet from tears. My talons had torn into a pillow and were tangled in the polyfill it contained. The sheets were already wet between my legs. Before the next contraction could hit, I untangled my hands and rolled out of bed.

"Fuck," I grumbled, glaring at the remains of the pillow. I tossed it towards the garbage can and limped to the bathroom. I didn't have time to drop any towels before the next one hit. I grabbed the counter and pressed down, feeling the orb moving in my gut.

Being the third egg, I was reluctantly getting used to this feeling. Between contractions I tried to relax, kneeling over a nest of towels while waiting. I felt it reach my cervix and hesitated, bracing myself for the next phase. With the next contraction, I pressed hard and felt it move through the tight opening. A few hard pushes later and it dropped out and I slumped against the counter, panting hard.

Between my furry legs, the fiery orb dried. I was tempted to crack it over the toilet and flush it right away, but the science types demanded data. They wanted more stats on griffon eggs to help better establish our baselines. Once I felt I was recovered enough, I picked up the heavy egg and went downstairs.

There, I weighed the egg on a cheap kitchen scale I'd picked up, and measured how big it was. FInally I snapped a picture of it and could get the next bit of data they wanted. I cracked the egg into a bowl and poured it into a measuring cup. It was the most attention I'd ever given to my egg. I noted the amount in the egg and guestimated the size of the yolk. It looked like any other egg I'd seen, just a hell of a lot more of it.

I submitted the stats to the Parker databases, and flushed the egg away. The shell I crushed and tossed into the garbage, not even tempted to keep it again. My first egg shell was still on the window ledge in the kitchen, but I had no desire to keep the rest of the eggs.

Saturday, December 16

The first ever Griffon Christmas Party was being held where it all began, at the Castle Inn. While I wasn't involved in most of the planning, I still showed up early to lend a paw where I could. There were a dozen of us, griffon and human alike who were there early, helping decorate the ballroom we had rented and trying not to get in the way of the hotel staff who were preparing the buffet. Soon enough it was all done but for the waiting, so I found myself with a beer, mingling with the other early arrivers.

I was contemplating stealing some cheese from a tray near the buffet when I saw Michelle heading my way, accompanied by a woman I didn't recognize. I put my hunt to the side and waved to them, waiting for them to get in conversation distance.

"Merry Christmas, Skyfire. This is Angela, our accountant," Michelle greeted me.

I tilted my head in surprise and took her offered hand. "Hello, Merry Christmas. And good to finally meet you, to put a face to the voice that's controlling the purse strings."

"Good to meet you too, and to meet the griffon that's been trying to spend like Santa, while I've been trying to save like Scrooge," Angela said, smiling warmly at me.

"Hey now, that's my sister's company's motto. Don't want to get dinged for improper usage," I teased back. "Seriously, thanks for all you've done and helped arrange. And sorry for the buses I've thrown you under when you weren't around."

She laughed in response. "No problem. I'm sorry I haven't been able to make it out to more of these gatherings to see how the money's going. But I'm glad to help. Michelle is an old friend, and you guys are a good group. I'm happy to help in any way you can."

"Thank you for it. Hopefully we won't be as stressful for you in the new year," I said.

"I doubt it, not with that Quidditch... sorry Skyball league starting up. And the training sessions Stephan's working on." The sport had decided to change its name to get some distance from any copyright or other conflicts that might arise.

"Well, we'll work it out regardless. Now I've seen you eyeing the same cheese tray I've been eyeing. So let's go claim it before anyone else does."

We decimated the cheese tray and went our separate ways and I wandered the room, eavesdropping on random groups.

"Do you think it's true?" I heard one griffon ask, the question catching my attention. I twitched my ears to listen closer but stayed back. "Is there really a market for griffon eggs and milk?"

"It wouldn't surprise me. I mean, we're going to be giving the milk to our kids anyways right? And the eggs look like eggs; not like the Titan eggs."

"Yeah but using those...." the first griffon said. I spotted the speakers and saw the griffon grimace.

"I know, it turns my stomach too, but considering what other things people eat, does it surprise you? Especially with how desperate some of us are probably."

"True. Still, if I ever see griffon eggs in a Chopped basket, I'm turning off the TV for good."

The first speaker laughed. "Well I don't think the FDA would clear it, at least not any time soon. But turning off the TV for good isn't a bad idea either."

I flicked my ears and looked away. I'd heard stories of griffons selling their eggs and their milk, but most of us found it distasteful. Having experience with both substances though, I could see either becoming an exotic ingredient eventually; but I hoped it would stay in the black and gray markets at least.

I moved on quickly to other groups chatting about sports. I knew nothing about sports but it was still a safer subject than the last one, and helped get my mind back into a festive mood.

An hour later the appointed time had arrived. We claimed seats at tables around the room, while Diana, a falcon-leopard griffon, served as the hostess. She waited at the front of the room for everyone to settle down.

"Good evening everyone, and welcome to our first Griffon Christmas Party. I hope everyone is having a good time so far."

There was a cheer from around the room. I was more than impressed by the turnout; it was one of the biggest local gatherings I'd seen yet, with a couple of hundred griffons and another hundred human friends and family.

"I know we're all eager for the food, so I'll get through this part as fast as I can," Diane said. "First, I wanted to thank our sponsors for this evening. The Kings Inn for hosting us and providing the food, along with countless people who have contributed to the GoFundme and similar pools to help all of us get back on our changed feet.These past few months would have been a hell of a lot harder without your help and support."

She paused as the room filled with applause and cheers."I'll highlight some of our other major sponsors later as the night goes on, but just as a quick overview here's what you can expect for tonight.

"First, we'll eat dinner. I'll direct tables to the buffet one or two at a time to load up. Please wait until all the tables have had a chance before going back for seconds.

"Towards the end of the meal, Michelle will come up to say a few words as well and to outline what we have in mind for next year. Just because the year is changing doesn't mean we're leaving you all out to dry.

"Finally, we'll have an evening of trivia games hosted by Unplugged. We'll go by tables and winning tables will get some drink tickets. We'll also have some random draws for griffons to pick gifts from the table behind me through the night, starting now."

I was seated at a table with Brian, Michelle and Angela. As the first names were called out, Angela leaned forward to better address us. "We should have something for every griffon that registered to show up," she said. "And they are all donated gifts, nothing from the pools. We had a lot of people doing wing work out to local businesses to gather them up."

"Impressive," I said. "Looks like a lot of gift cards, but really, that's what we all need the most I think."

"Yeah, and that helped us make some bundles so everything is at a similar price point while not needing to pressure any business to give more. And as you said, that helps all of you to go for what you really need."

"We probably won't be able to do that again next year, but I hope we won't need to do it again next year; at least not this way," Michelle said. "Some will always need help, but I hope most of us will be back to some sort of normal life, whatever is normal for us by then."

I nodded and sat back to watch the first few griffons make their picks from the gift table. The hotel had accommodated us by providing benches for us to sit at for dinner, instead of the usual chairs. Once the first set of gifts had been picked, Diane started sending tables to the buffet line. Our own table was going to be one of the last ones.

While we waited, I got up and wandered around to some of the other tables to mingle. I wasn't surprised to see Judy and Steve at a table. The Fort Saskatchewan couple didn't make it to most of our gatherings, but they had said they'd be here.

"Merry Christmas," I greeted the table. "How are you all doing?" As I took in the others at the table, I realized this was the Expecting table. Of the Eight griffons around it, I knew at least four of them were pregnant.

"Great, good to get out and do something festive," Judy said. "Even if it has to be a dry night."

"Right, how is the little one doing?" I asked, looking at Steve.

She leaned back a bit and put a hand on her furry belly. "Fine enough. Still a strange thought to think she's growing in me."

"Can you... can you feel anything yet?" I asked, hesitating before asking, not sure if it was tactful or not.

"Not yet, she's still too small. It's only been three months so far. But the next few months should be an exciting time," Stephen said.

"For both of us," Judy added, rubbing her own belly. "Her sister is coming along well too."

I tilted my head, eyes widening in surprise. "Congrats!"

Steve hugged her wife with her wing. "Thanks. And yes, it was planned. Since we're the only griffons out at the Fort, we were a bit worried about our kid being alone out there. So giving her a sister that's the same age seems like a good idea."

"Yeah, though we may come to regret that choice when the terrible twos hit," Judy laughed.

"She still has an advantage over me at least. She had an egg already, while I'm still waiting on my first," Steve said. The rest of the table winced a bit. "Yeah, I'm not looking forward to it, but that's the way it works out."

I saw Diane pointing to the next table. "Well, congratulations to all of you. We're going to have a bit of a griffon baby boom next year. But no offense, I'm glad it's you guys and not me. That's one aspect I'm not eager to experience."

The others laughed and nodded. "Most of us weren't I think, but it happened anyway. I think we're starting to get the hang of things though," Jim noted. Like Steve, she'd caught before her first egg.

I waved to them and moved out of their way so they could head to the buffet. My own table was called out soon after and I was finally able to get my meal.

As the meal wrapped up, Michelle joined Diane at the front of the room, waiting to get people's attention. She waved to a few people as Diane introduced her.

"Thank you everyone, I hope you are enjoying the meal," she started. "Three months ago, our world changed. Most of us were strangers, people who probably never would have encountered each other. But then our lives changed in ways we never thought possible a year ago. And that has brought us together out of necessity.

"These past few months have been trying on all of us. Thousands of us have had to rebuild their lives, sometimes from scratch. We've come a long way, and we still have a long way to go. We still have a lot to learn, including welcoming the new griffons into the world." She paused and nodded towards Judy and Steve's table.

"The new year brings new starts. But we won't abandon you. As long as a griffon needs help, we'll try to watch out for you. Our new community is too small to do otherwise.

"I would like to take a moment to highlight those among us who have been especially helpful. From my cousin Brian who has helped publicize our situation, to Angela who's made sure our finances have stayed steady and legit, to Diane and Jim and Syam and Rocky and many more who have helped out. And especially to my right wing griffon, Skyfire who's been an invaluable addition to our community. Thank you all of you.

"And now, let us celebrate the season and enjoy our company. Have fun everyone, and I'll see you next year."

The room erupted in applause again, while Michelle made her way back to the table, pausing to chat with a few along the way. Diane called out a few more griffons to pick out gifts.

The rest of the evening went well. A quizmaster from a local board game cafe took over and started a trivia contest for bragging rights mainly. The rest of the gifts were given out as well, and everyone seemed to have fun. My own name was drawn near the end, so I snagged a Second Cup coffee gift card from the remaining gifts.

Some of the attendees had booked rooms at the hotel so they could enjoy the full evening without needing to worry about flying home in the dark. For me, I took my leave a while after the games ended and the music was playing. I'd had a few drinks through the evening and felt heavy from eating too much at the buffet, but made it home without incident.

Tuesday, Dec 19

I checked the bedrooms for the third time in the hour, making sure everything was ready. The rooms were dusted, the beds made and everything ready for my family. I peeked in my room, triple checking that everything was neat and tidy, and that I hadn't left out anything that shouldn't be out. The fact that my male peak was tomorrow, and the hormone engine was at full throttle certainly didn't help my state of mind. I had no idea what I would do tomorrow, with a full house, though I was thankful they were avoiding the Heat.

I triple checked thermostats as well, verifying they were all set at human levels, albeit a bit cooler than normal room temperature. I still found the house almost unbearably hot.

I made my way downstairs and did a similar check, and paced. I opened the door to the garage and checked the car. The repairs made it look brand new. Last week, Rob had taken it out for a spin and to top off the tank. Keeping it insured while I didn't have a license was a bit of a nightmare, but after this visit I planned to finally sell it and get rid of that particular albatross.

I checked the map, and saw they were still around the airport. Bev let me know they'd landed half an hour ago on a very full plane. So I had no doubt they'd be awhile escaping. This time, I didn't argue with mom about them renting a car. With four drivers, having two vehicles available made sense.

Wanting to work off some of the nervous energy, I stepped outside and took off, my wings raising a cloud of fluffy snow along the way. I climbed up to the 1k level, and did a lazy glide around the neighbourhood. With one week until Christmas, the stores were packed, even for a Tuesday afternoon. Schools were winding down and many offices, like my own, were already on Christmas break. I paralleled Highway 2, and was glad I wasn't driving any more; traffic was bumper to bumper with no signs of letting up. I glided through the air, letting my mind drift as well, enjoying the crisp coolness over my feathers.

My phone chirped with a new message from my sister. We're here. Where you?

I squawked in surprise and lost a few hundred feet figuring out where I was. I sprinted home as fast as my wings could propel me. There was a strange SUV in my driveway, but there was no one outside. My parents had the keys and alarm codes to my place so I wasn't surprised they let themselves in. I dropped down into my landing spot in the backyard, and jumped onto the back deck. I'd left that door unlocked when I left so I was able to barge right in. The heat hit me like a wall, making me pant even harder.

There was a strange woman with dirty blond hair in my kitchen. She had just put down a glass of water and was looking curiously at something next to the kitchen sink. When I burst in, she yelped in surprise and jumped back.

"Hi.... Tracy...." I gasped out, trying to catch my breath. "Sorry.... Lost track... of time."

"Simon?.... Hi..." she stammered back, eyes wide. We'd spoken often on video calls, but this was the first time we met in person since I changed. The meeting being me charging in certainly didn't make it any friendlier.

"Sorry," I said, snagging her glass of water. I tilted my head back and downed it in a couple of gulps, feeling the ice cubs slide down as well. My breathing finally started slowing to a normal rate. I could hear footsteps racing down the stairs.

Mom came around the corner, and barely gave me time to put the glass down before hugging me. I hugged back, nuzzling a bit. "Hey mom, dad," I said, looking up as dad came around as well.

I gently pushed mom away and gave dad a hug, then looked at the fourth person. Bev had shoulder length black hair, and a tomboy build. "Hey Sis. Sorry I'm late," I said.

She looked me over, hesitating as she processed who I was. "Damn, it's one thing to see this on the screen, but in person...." She finally moved in and we hugged; I could feel her hesitation, not sure what to make of hugging a human sized bird-ca and how to work around the wing feathers. "Where were you? It's not like you to miss us."

"I was going a bit stir crazy waiting, so I decided to duck out for a quick flight. Work off some energy and cool off," I said. I turned back to Tracy and approached her, offering my hand. "Sorry to burst in like that. I was over the LRT station when I got your message, and sprinted back."

She took my hand, and I pulled her in for a quick hug before letting her go.

"You were out like that?" Bev asked incredulously.

I looked down and shrugged. I was in full Skyfire mode. I had intended to put on a top and get into Simon mode before they arrived, but it was too late for that.

"You're still not cold out there?" mom asked, unphased by my appearance. Even dad didn't seem as uncomfortable about it as he had last time.

"It is getting a mite chilly," I admitted. "I'm starting to think of looking for mittens or gloves maybe. But there's a long waiting list last I checked."

"Minus ten and he's thinking of gloves" Bev shook her head and I smirked.

"At least he remembered to turn on the heat this time," Dad said.

"It's not too cold for you is it? I feel like I'm roasting in here myself. Can I get you anything?"

Drinks were readied, and bowls of chips filled. We spread out in the living and dining room, with me perched on a stool, and chatted.

During a lull in the conversation, mom addressed the griffon in the room. "You're looking good, Simon. How are you doing? How are you really doing?"

"I'm fine," I said. "Not good yet, but I'm getting closer. Adam's been a huge help for me. It's all a matter of taking it a day at a time, and accepting the way things are now."

"And Skyfire?" Dad asked.

I hid a wince by taking a gulp of juice. It was the topic Adam and I often came back around to, and we were approaching a solution. A solution I knew wouldn't make my family happy.

"She's me. I'm Skyfire," I said carefully. "I'm Simon too, but... " I paused, picking my words carefully. ".. but as time goes on, she's more and more dominant and there's no avoiding that. She's got biology on her side after all."

An awkward silence fell over us. I took another gulp and glanced around, seeing the struggle I was having in the faces of my family.

"So who are you? What's your name?" Bev asked.

"Simon. Skyfire. Sky. Son. Bro. Sis. Call me whatever you want. You've known me literally for all my life; you've certainly earned that right. Go with whatever you're comfortable with, and we'll work it out in time."

Another silence settled over us, this one with a confused undertone. I glanced at the clock and stood up. "It's been a long day, and I'm sure you all are starved. What are you thinking of for dinner?"

"Swiss-" mom started to say.

"No! No chicken! We've got a turkey dinner coming up, and I didn't fly halfway across the country for something I can get home," Bev interrupted. "How about some place with steaks?"

I chuckled. "Sure, there's a sports bar nearby that's got some decent steaks for good prices. They have good burgers and stir fry too if you want something else. Look for Goodfellow's Pub while I clean up."

I collected some of the glasses and took them to the kitchen. Tracy followed me with the rest and hung out by the sink as I loaded the dishwasher.

"That's beautiful," she said while waiting. "Where did you get that?"

I looked up and realized my blindspot had hit me again. She was looking at my first egg, still in its towel nest, though I'd moved it up onto the window ledge.

"I.... I made it," I said, trying to be tactful while trying to think of a way to get her away before she realized what it was..

"Wow, I never knew you were that skilled. The colours are so pretty. Is that some sort of pottery glaze?" She reached for it, only to be nudged away by my wing.

"Please don't touch it. It's not pottery. It's shell," I said.

"Shell?..." Her eyes widened and she stepped back as she realized what I meant.

I nodded and closed the dishwasher. "It was my first. I'm not sure why I'm keeping it, but a lot of us have so far. I should find somewhere else to put it."

"Well, I think it looks good where it is. A nice little splash of colour, especially against your snowy backyard."

"Thanks, I guess. Just... Don't draw too much attention to it."

"Did your parents see it?" she asked curiously.

I shook my head. "Nah. They came up before my... well before that."

I swiveled my ears back, hearing dad coughing in the other room. "You okay dad? Need some water?"

"I'm good," he gasped out after a moment. "Just clearing the airplane air."

I looked at Tracy who just shrugged. I filled a glass and brought it out for him. "Did you find it, Bev?"

"Yeah, looks like it'll be good. I'm booking a table for us. Uhm, how do I book for you?"

"Book a table for five and In the note section, clarify that it is four humans plus one griffon. I've gone there a few times so they know my needs."

She tapped a bit more on her phone then nodded. "Okay, we're booked for half an hour. Should we go now?"

"Yeah, you guys head out. I'll meet you there once I get dressed."

"We can wait for you. We got the van so you could fit," mom said.

"Not with four of you in the van. Don't worry, I'll still get there before you. They just have a pesky no shirt, no shoes policy so I can't quite go like this." I smirked and swung around the railing to head upstairs. "GO! I'll see you there."

I purposefully wasted time doing some preening while I waited for the van to leave. Alone again for the moment, I could feel the buzz of the approaching male peak, and had some doubts about tomorrow. I shoved them to the side and finished getting dressed, tightening up my top and clipping my slippers to my belt. I locked up the house and took off.

Goodfellow's was in a minimall on the other end of my subdivision. It had a gas station with a carwash, a gym and a couple other restaurants accompanying it. Unlike the last time I'd been there, the parking lot was three quarters full when I dropped down to the sidewalk. I leaned against the fence around their outside eating area and pulled on my slippers. By the time I straightened up, the SUV was pulling in.

"Sky! We wondered if that was your reservation!" the hostess greeted me as I walked in.

"Hey Julie. Yeah, it was me. I don't think Cardi's come this way yet."

"But plus four? Are you finally making new friends?"

I laughed and stepped to the side as my family came in. "Nope, just really old friends. These are my parents, my sister and her wife."

Julie smiled at them and finished grabbing the menus. "Well, good to meet you all. Come this way please."

My spot was a table with a bench pulled away from the wall, so I could sit with my wings and tail feathers out of the traffic paths. A couple more tables had been pushed together, to give us enough room. After studying the menus, we placed our orders and soon had our drinks.

"So, what's the plan for the next little bit?" mom asked. "Do you have anything special you need to do?"

I shook my head. "Work's on our holiday break. Barring an emergency CS can't handle, I'm clear there. Adam's also on holidays, so my head shrinkage is on hold until the new year. And Michelle and I are both taking a break from griffon stuff. She and Brian are heading down to Elkwater to visit family once the Solstice lockdown lifts."

"Lockdown? What lockdown?" Bev asked.

"It's just a precaution. We don't expect anything to happen. But the Titans happened on the Spring Equinox, and we happened on the Fall equinox. So they're worried there might be a pattern and that something could happen again on the Equinoxes too. As a precaution, the Griffon and Titan areas are being closed off for those days. It's an improvement from what they used to do. Until we happened, the Titans were locked down every monthiversary."

"Should we be worried?" mom asked.

"Nah. They're worried about the territory, not the people. And I'm pretty sure it won't strike twice in any-"

Dad started coughing again, and tried to hide it with a sip of water. I saw worried expressions on the others, but dad waved us away.

"In any case..." I finished. "So yeah, you've got me for the next few weeks all to yourselves."

"We'll be sure to make the most of it then," mom said.

Our food arrived and we dug in hungrily. I could feel Bev and Tracy watching me as we ate and tried to ignore it. Mom and dad had gotten used to my new needs a month ago, but this was their first time with the full griffon experience. I'd ordered a steak, which I carefully cut into small chunks and swallowed. I made it halfway through before they asked and I had to give them the gizzard talk.

Jetlag caught up with them by the end of the meal. I settled the bill while they loaded up the SUV and left. To their surprise, I still beat them home, but only just.

We chatted on some safe topics for an hour or so, before mom and dad retired to bed. The rest of us stayed quiet, catching up on our virtual lives while we had a few moments of peace. When I was sure mom and dad were asleep, I focused my best eagle-gaze on Bev. "What's wrong with dad?"

She met it without flinching, but I could see the worry gnawing away at her. "I don't know. They haven't breathed a word. It may just be the canned air on the plane, but I don't know."

I looked away and nodded. "Maybe.... Hopefully. You sure you haven't heard anything?"

"Nothing at all."

We fell silent again, both worried about what we weren't being told. Tracy stood up and yawned. "Well, it's been a really long day. We should hit the sack."

"Sure, night girls. You should have everything you need in the room. Just shout if you need anything," I said.

I gave them time to settle down by tidying up downstairs. I killed the lights and went upstairs. The doors to the other bedrooms were closed and the lights were out, but I could still hear whispers from Bev and Tracy's room. I tuned them out and freshened up in the bathroom before retiring myself.

I could feel the male peak rushing at me. I was a little tempted to try and resist it, but figured it was better to head it off at the pass. Feeling like I was a teenager again, I carefully slid open my bedside drawer and pulled out one of my health aids.

Being as quiet and motionless as possible, I pumped myself to a release. I still grunted and spasmed in the bed. I panted and listened, expecting to have woken the others, but the house was silent. I pulled the toy free and wiped up, leaving everything on the side of the bed for the morning. The guilty pleasure I was feeling didn't keep me from dropping off to sleep.

Wednesday, Dec 20

The problem with being a mountain zone griffon in a house of eastern zone humans, is they always had the morning edge on you. In my dreams, the icy goddess showed up, but before she could do anything, the outside world intruded. I woke up to the sounds of a house already busy with people going through their morning routines. Not used to my home being noisy, I laid in bed my shaft hard from the interrupted wet dream and the oncoming rut. I flicked my ears, picking apart the noises. Mom snored in the spare bedroom, still fast asleep as usual; her natural time zone seemed to be somewhere west of the pacific zone. Dad, Bev and Tracy were in the kitchen, talking and making breakfast.

I shifted my focus to myself, doing a mental assessment. I could tell I was wired, my body already quivering in anticipation of something I couldn't really give it. I groaned softly, realizing it was going to be a long day; one I wasn't sure how I was going to handle. Trying to stay quiet, I reached down and began to rub my shaft, shivering when I stroked against the barbs on it. Very quickly I felt my pulse quicken and I bucked, releasing onto the sheets.

Filled with adolescent guilt, I braced myself in bed to stay out of the wet spot I'd made and listened for any changes. The cadence of the waking household hadn't changed. I rolled off the bed and sighed, thankful my rut was eased for the moment.

I grabbed some clean clothes, top and bottom and hesitated at my bedroom door. Considering my previous peaks had come with lactation, I wasn't sure a clean top was wise, but it felt better than the swollen nipples I was showing now. I looked at the wet spot on the sheets and decided to leave that problem for later, along with the toy I'd used before. With a bit of guilt, I flipped the sheets back over the wet spot to hide it and the toy, and returned to the door. I listened carefully and decided the coast was clear before bolting to the bathroom.

It wasn't until I had the shower running and scrubbed my fur that I realized I'd rushed in stark naked. The embarrassment drained away with the water as I cleaned up. I spent an extra long time cleaning up and preening for the day. Towards the end, I could tell my respite period was ending. I briefly toyed with the idea of trying to fight it, but decided this wasn't the time. I turned on the shower and the bathroom fan and looked at myself in the steamy mirror. My dark shaft was swollen to full mast again, yearning to be used. Reluctantly, I switched back to the tub and closed my eyes, summoning the goddess to mind as I reached down to my shaft. She wasn't as seductive as she normally was as my attention was too shattered to build up a proper scenario. But I quickly pumped myself to a fresh release, thugh she was clearly not pleased.

With more time bought, I finished cleaning the tub and myself. I gave the bathroom a final look around after I dressed, and declared it safe. I checked myself in the mirror and wasn't happy with what I saw; my nipples pressed hard against the fabric of my top, not visible but more noticeable than usual. In my shorts, the bulge was similarly noticeable to my eyes, not at full mast, but not hidden in its sheath either. It was going to be a long day.

Deciding I'd stalled long enough, I killed the lights and stepped out. Mom was still snoring in her room, while downstairs I could hear the chatter of everyone else over breakfast. I closed my bedroom door and went downstairs, feeling more exposed than normal even as I tried to act normally.

"Morning, Simon. You leave any water for the rest of us?" dad asked, munching on a bagel.

"What? Yeah, there should be water left," I said, my focus too shattered to recognize the teasing.

"It's to be expected, dad. You're in a house with four women and a guy. Bathroom time is nonexistent," Tracy taunted.

"Two guys. Very much two guys," I mumbled a correction while grabbing some juice.

"What was that?" Bev asked.

I ignored the question, chugging down half the juice container in one go.

"Whoa, easy there. Save some for the rest of us!" Bev added. "Are you okay Simon? You seem more frazzled than you usually are in the mornings."

"I'm fine!" I snapped. I grabbed a banana and orange and headed for the door. "I just need some air. It's too damn hot."

The chill outside did help more than I expected. It was cloudy outside with a light snow falling; enough that we would have to shovel by the end of the day. I bit into the banana, peel and all, and tried to calm myself. I heard someone step out behind me. She shivered and came up beside me.

"You okay Simon? What's wrong?" Bev asked.

I glanced over to her. She'd pulled on her boots, untied, but had left her jacket inside. She shivered, just in her pjs. I extended my wing and pulled her close to me. Part of me was a bit worried about being that close to a woman in my current condition. The bigger part of me kept the rut in tight control, the family connection keeping those thoughts at bay.

"Sorry. It's just bad timing. Not horrible timing, since there is a worse case scenario. But it's not nice," I said.

"What is it?" she asked again. I could feel her shaking against me, trying to warm up.

I wanted to be quick, so she could get back inside, but I wasn't sure how to say it. "Have you been reading up on me? On griffons?"

She nodded.

"So you've heard of our roller coaster right? Our cycles? Well, I just hit the male peak today. I thought I could handle it, but I don't think I can."

"Oh.... Oh!.... What can we do to help? Should we leave for the day?"

I took a breath and tried to keep control over my body. Biology still had the advantage and was gaining ground. "No, that might not be necessary. But I'll probably be away most of the day." I glanced back at the house, and saw three pairs of eyes looking out at us. Mom had woken up and joined the rest of the family.

"I need my phone, and its holder. Could you get it for me please? And get your jacket, you're freezing."

She gave me a light punch, "I still can't believe you aren't. I'll be right back."

While I waited, I waved to everyone. The urges were building again, but I hoped if I had something to do it would help me fight them. I turned away and bit into the orange, rind and all, letting the juice dribble into my beak. By the time I swallowed the last chunk, Bev was coming back out, tugging on her jacket. My phone and flight gear dangled from one hand. I snagged it from her hand and slid it on, feeling more comfortable with it in place on my forearm. I woke the phone up and placed a call, voice only.

"Hey Sky, what's up?" Cardi asked. In the background I could hear the news, so I figured she was home.

"My testosterone levels," I replied, trying not to sound too stressed. "I've got a huge fav to ask."

"Sure, go for it."

"My fam is up for Christmas, and I'm at male peak. I don't want to kick them out, so would you mind if I crashed at your nest? I promise I'll clean up."

"Of course! Come right on over. I'm about to head out the door for work, but I'll leave it open for you. You know which one to land on."

"Thanks. I owe you. I owe you a bunch."

"Shut up and get your tail over here." She killed the connection and I smiled.

"She sounds friendly," Bev said.

"She is. Just moved up here a few weeks ago. She works at Crappy Tire too, a manager at the big store."

"Oh? Maybe I should plan to do a surprise inspection." Bev smirked. While technically she was just a general manager, for years now she had worked closely with some of the store owners as their fixer; someone brought into a struggling store with the goal to get it back on track. It meant she moved every year or so, but she loved it.

"You're on vacation," I countered, laughing a bit. I almost felt normal.

I looked at her and saw her staring at me. I followed her gaze down and saw my top was showing two wet spots. "Ah fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck," I cursed, not sure what to do.

Bev looked up incredulously. "Since when did you start swearing like a sailor?"

"Since I started leaking like a damn cow every two weeks. And I wish I had a sailor's vocabulary. Fuck!"

"Okay. It's okay. I'll run interference with everyone else. Do you need anything inside before you go?"

It was really tempting just to take off and head out, but without my health aids, it would make a horrible day even more miserable.

"Yeah, I need to get some things. Cardi's a friend, but we're not at the 'beak brushes at each other's homes' stage."

"No but you're clearly at the 'offer your home as a masturbation nest' stage.... Sorry, I shouldn't have said that. It's a lot to take in."

"It's okay. I'd have said the same if I wasn't so muddled up."

She gave me a quick side hug, careful to avoid any pressure on my chest. "We can talk more later. Give me a minute to get them distracted, then make your move."

I faced away from the house, but turned my head enough to watch the windows. Bev walked in and shooed everyone deeper into the house. I waited for what felt like an eternity, and walked in.

The wall of heat hit me hard, making me stumble. I gasped a bit and pushed forward. I ran for the stairs, ignoring mom calling my name. I crashed into my bedroom and slammed the door behind me much harder than I'd intended. The actual heat was getting to me as bad as the sexual heat.

I tore my top off, feeling a bit of relief from the rubbing on my nipples. I scanned the room, trying to decide what to take. The toys were already on the bed; I added a full lube tube, a set of brushes and a change of clothes for when I was done. The only thing I was missing was something to carry it all in. My bags were all downstairs. I cursed and tried to figure out what to do. It took me too long to realize I had someone who could bring one of them up. I sent Bev a text and minutes later, I heard her leave the bag outside the door and walk away. I cracked the door and hauled it in.

The bag was one I'd recently gotten. It was on the smaller size, meant to snug up under the breasts instead of squeezing against them like most packs did. It was basically our purse. I filled it up and strapped it on. It had shoulder straps and belt clips to make sure it wouldn't flap as we flew. After it was in place, I cursed, realizing I should've put on a fresh top first. From what I was feeling in my loins, my time was quickly running out. It was very tempting to go out the window, but I wasn't quite that desperate yet.

I put my hand on the doorknob and mentally braced myself. After a few breaths, I opened it and started running. My paws barely touched the stairs on the way down, and I barely kept myself from smashing into the exterior door. I didn't say a word to anyone on the way out. At the top of the steps, I leaped forward, wings snapping open and lifting me up just before my toes brushed the snow.

Doing something physical seemed to buy me some more time. I climbed up to my usual flying altitudes and headed towards Cardi's tower. When I felt I was stable enough to speak, I called Bev.

"Hey there. You're on speaker," she answered.

"Hi guys. Sorry for all that. I thought I could handle it... but I couldn't. I'm sorry," I said.

"What is it? What's wrong Simon?" mom asked.

"Nothing's wrong exactly. And it's nothing on you guys. Just bad timing. If you really want to know, Bev can explain."

"Oh no she can't. Check Wiki if you really want to know," Bev countered. "I'm sure you'll figure it out soon enough."

"Right. I just need some alone time for today. I'm crashing at a friend's place, so you guys have free reign of my house. Just stay out of my bedroom. This should break by the evening, and I'll be home then."

"Are you sure there's nothing we can do for you?" mom asked.

"Positive. This is the third time. I know what I have to do myself. I just need some peace to do it in. If you really want to help, haul the tree and decorations up from the basement. But don't start decorating until I get back."

"Of course. We'll see you tonight."

"Bye guys," I said, breaking the connection.

Cardi's apartment was in a somewhat isolated twenty story complex near her work. Her 15th floor apartment had a balcony with a griffon sign and a welcome mat. Actually landing on the balcony was tricky with the winds, the walls and the railings, but I managed it without too big of a crash. The door opened before I recovered, showing the cardinal griffon. She was dressed in her uniform and had her chest pack strapped on with her vest and shoes and other work gear.

"You're a mess. Get in here," she said, stepping to one side.

"Thanks. You should be at work," I grunted back, getting inside. The apartment temperature was warmer than outside, but still comfortably cool.

"They can wait. I figured it was only polite to greet you. The spare bedroom is set up, just down that hall, second door on the left. There's milk and juice and coke in the fridge, and a fruit bowl on the counter. Help yourself to whatever you want."

I began to wiggle out of my own chest pack and nodded. "Thanks. I really appreciate it. I was sure I could handle it this time, but..." I sighed in embarrassment.

Cardi took my bag and set it to one side. She faced me and rubbed my shoulders. "It's okay. We're all going through this. It's only the third time. We'll master it eventually."

I groaned and felt the next wave stirring. "Damnit, I was leaking in front of my sister. A big brother shouldn't be doing that."

"But you're not her big brother any more. You're her big griffon now. And we're wired and plumbed differently. I'm sure she'll understand. Just do what you can to cool those hormones and you'll feel better on the other side."

I nodded and weakly stumbled towards the spare bedroom. "Thanks," I said, blinking and staring at her. This was the first time I'd been around another griffon during a peak, and something felt different. I felt hyper aware of her, including the fact that she was very much on the female side of her ride. It gave the primal side of the peak a surge that I barely held back. "You... You should get going. You're just past heat and I can tell."

She gave me another look, then nodded, heading for the balcony door. "Call if you need anything. Good luck."

I waved a wing, not looking. I stumbled into the smaller bedroom and tossed my bag on the bed. It was sparsely decorated, a queen bed with a bed table and lamp, a dresser, a closed closet door with a full length mirror. I caught my reflection in it and could tell I looked horrible.

Still struggling to stay in control, I pulled the comforter off the bed and tossed it into a corner so I wouldn't have to clean it later. The bed sheets I pulled off but used to make a bit of padding next to the bed. I stripped off my shorts, getting some relief from the rubbing against my hard shaft. I got one of my toys out and slammed into it, my back to the mirrors. Very quickly I bucked forward and let out a cry of relief. I leaned against the bare mattress, panting and recovering. The next surge was already starting to build but my mental defenses were ready to buy me a bit more time.

Weakly, I pulled the toy off and wiped my groin. I was still fully erect but not quite ready to fire again. I stood up, turned and froze, seeing my reflection in the mirror. I had mirrors at home, but I didn't have any full length mirrors that I could use to see myself in my full phoenix glory.

My reflection showed a frazzled griffon. Her wings drooped from the normal at rest state, her tail feathers spread. My dark nipples were swollen hard on the round, furry breasts. My shaft, still wet and fully erect, should have been out of place on a body with breasts, but it seemed natural to me now. It was me now, whether I wanted it or not. I turned away from the mirror and sighed, cleaning up a bit and mentally setting myself up for the rest of the day.

Alone with my thoughts, all I could think of was the rut. I tried to distract myself a little, turning on the TV for extra noise and doing some net surfing on my phone, but all too often, the rut surged and all I could think of was the yearning from my loins. Sometimes I tried to summon the icy goddess; most of the time it was purely primal, pumping into the toy to get a release that my body demanded.

As the day wore on, I grew more exhausted. I made sure to stay hydrated and to decimate Cardi's fruit bowl during the quiet times. I noticed her first egg in the kitchen window similar to mine. Hers was more reds and oranges, matching her general colouring. In the middle of the afternoon, I pumped a fresh release, and slumped against the bed, dozing off.

A few hours later, I woke up, still exhausted, but the hormonal buzz was fading; the rut had broken. The urges were still there, but they didn't have as much force behind them. I pulled myself to my feet and looked at myself in the mirror. My fur was a matted mess, my nipples still glistening with the pent up cream. My groin was similarly matted, though my shaft had finally retreated back into its sheath. I turned away from the mirror and gathered the sheets and started cleaning up. I tossed the sheets into the washer and scrubbed the bedroom floor. The toys helped keep the mess mostly contained, but there was some spillage.

Once the bedroom was somewhat presentable again, I turned my attention to myself. I went to the spare bathroom and started working on myself. There was soon a pile of towels waiting for their turn in the washer, but I felt a little better, even if my breasts were still heavy. I retreated back to the bedroom to start preening, forcing myself to watch myself in the mirror. As I got my feathers and fur back into place, I felt better. I posed in the mirror, feeling that the fiery griffon in the reflection looked quite handsome, though exhausted. Little Simon was tucked away, content for a rest.

The only problem was my breasts. They hadn't gotten the memo that the peak was over. They still felt heavier than normal, the nipples still swollen. I gave them a squeeze and felt a little tingle and wetness in my palms. I cursed under my breath and tried to figure out what to do. Over the last peaks, I'd just let them be and they'd done whatever they did overnight, feeling back to normal by the morning. But the last few peaks, I spent alone. This time, I had company around; I couldn't go home like this.

I reluctantly returned to the bathroom and tried to center myself over the sink. I closed my eyes and tried not to think of what I was doing as I squeezed my left breast, massaging it and pinching the nipple. The thick cream coated my fingers and dripped into the sink. It felt like it took forever, switching from one to the other every few minutes, but eventually the leakage stopped and I almost felt like they were normal again. As normal as tits on a bird could be.

I turned the water on and started rinsing the thick liquid down the drain. I soaked a washcloth and washed my hands and my chest and wiped down the counter. I dried up and started brushing my chest, my nipples aching from all the rubbing and squeezing.

Feeling closer to normal, I went to the washer and moved the laundry around. I heard some thumps on the patio, and Cardi came in.

"Hey Sky, How are you doing?" she called out. "I've got ice cream."

"Thanks, I'm doing better," I called back. I turned the machines on and went out to the living room. "Sorry, I didn't get to the kitchen yet. But the bedroom and bathrooms are clean."

"Don't worry, it's not that bad. Mrrow, you certainly are a handsome griff," she flicked her tail and smiled, looking me over with a hungry look.

I glanced down, and realized I hadn't dressed yet. And that I was too exhausted to care. "It's probably just the leftover heat talking. I'm a mess and I'm exhausted, and I still have to figure out how I'll handle the family."

I slumped onto a stool at the breakfast bar. Cardi pulled the top off the tub of ice cream and slid it over to me, along with a spoon.

"Here, you're drained. You'll feel better once you start filling up again."

"Maybe. But if you saw what I was just doing, maybe ice cream isn't the best of ideas." I picked up the spoon and stabbed it into the frozen desert and started digging in regardless.

"Oh, you're a milker to? Damn, you mentioned that this morning. I'm sorry, it didn't click for me."

Lactation was a random quirk for griffons. Some didn't lactate at all. Others only did it during their heat. And about twenty percent were like me, going off both male and female peaks. There was no obvious correlation on what a griffon's breasts did compared to who they were before.

"It's okay. I cleaned it up. I just hope it doesn't make my body think I'm actually nursing. It was the first time I... That I actually milked myself. I hope it doesn't make them think I'm actually nursing."

"From what I've heard, it hasn't for anyone else yet. So you're probably safe. Have you thought about investing in a breast pump?"

"Amy suggested it last time I was at Intimate, but I didn't think I needed it then. Now I'm having second thoughts. It just feels so wrong though."

"Don't worry about wrong or right. It's your body now, and it's got its own demands. That feeling is probably a leftover Simon feeling, your old male mind rebelling against dealing with women stuff. Just remember, for us, there isn't women or man stuff, there's just griffon stuff."

I felt the spoon scrape the bottom of the container, and realized the ice cream was gone. I also realized that little Simon wasn't quite done, though he was hidden behind the breakfast bar.

"I should get dressed and get going. It's going to be a rough evening."

"Well, if you feel you need a break, you know where I am. My patio door's always open."

"Thanks." I didn't trust myself to get close to her in my current condition. I swung around and scooted to the bedroom to get my clean clothes on and to pack up. My top felt like it fitted like it usually did.

I stepped out with everything strapped on, intending to finish the kitchen before I left, only to find Cardi had done it. She finished wiping the counter and came around to hug me. "I'm serious, if you need anything, I'm here."

"I know. And thanks for being there." I stepped away and glanced out the window, my eye drawn to the Christmas decorations on the houses below. It reminded me of something I'd meant to ask before the peak interrupted me. "Do you have any plans for Christmas? You just moved up here, and you're obviously not going back to the Hat, so I wasn't sure if you were doing anything...."

"I'm good," she said. "Thank you for thinking of me, but I have plans."

"Right then, I guess I'm off." I stepped out onto her deck and climbed onto the railing. The metal was already well scuffed from multiple takeoffs and landings. "Happy Holidays! Thanks again."

"No problem Sky. Happy Holidays."

I took my time heading home, putting off facing them for as long as I could. I needn't have worried about it. When I finally thought to check the map, I saw they were stuck on the highway coming back from somewhere. So I had plenty of time to change my bed, put my things away and otherwise stew in my thoughts. I flopped on the padded bench I used for a couch and did some Netflix binging without really watching anything. I didn't even stir when the SUV pulled in, and the family returned, loaded down with bags.

"Hey Simon. How yah doing?" Bev asked, setting her bags down and coming around to face me. She had been the first through the door.

"Been better. Been worse. But it's past. Hey guys," I said, pushing myself up. "Did you have a good day?"

"It was good. We got a lot done as you can see. How are you doing?" Mom put her own bags in the pile and sat next to me, giving me the Mom Look. It was still effective.

"Better as I said. The worst is over, and I'll be back to normal in the morning. Today's just a rough day. I thought I had a better grip on things, but these hormone swings are just too much."

"Do you want to talk about it?" mom asked, taking my hand. The rest of the family busied themselves sorting the bags, putting some things away while carrying other bags up to the bedrooms to wrap for later.

"Not really. It's a griffon thing. I'm living it and I don't really understand it. I don't know how you could...."

"Stop that! Just because I'm not a griffon doesn't mean I can't understand it. We've been doing our best to learn about you since you changed, and trying to figure out the best ways we can support you."

I sighed and looked out the window, trying to piece together my thoughts. This was the sort of thing I'd spill out to Adam, but he wasn't available. He did leave his number so I could call in an emergency, but this didn't feel like the right situation.

"It's just so rough," I said. I was so mentally exhausted, my normal filters were failing. "To have my body warped this way to start was one thing. But then, the biology kicks in. For ten-twelve days, I feel almost normal, that things are going good, and I can get through this. But every two weeks, this kicks in, reminding me that this isn't my body, or at least my original one, and it has its own requirements. This damn cycle is exhausting and it's only been three months now."

"It's only been three months. That's almost no time really. Is it getting better?" she asked, still rubbing my hand.

"I don't know! I think it is... maybe it is... but it still knocks me out. I can't do anything without planning around these biweekly gifts. Two days a month wasted due to my fucking biology," I growled and squeezed my hands into fists, feeling the tips of my talons press against my palms.

"This is where you make some comparison to women's periods or something right?" I asked.

Mom shook her head. "No, not really. It's tempting, but it's not a good comparison. You're not a woman, and you're going through things I can't begin to understand. But know this, we're here for you. Whether you need privacy, or someone to run errands, or just someone to hold your hand, we're all here for you."

"Thanks. I know that, and I love you for that, even if I don't always show it well."

She stayed quiet and just held my hand. I leaned against her and sighed. Finally I squeezed her hand carefully and let her go. "I'm exhausted, but I'm starving. What do we want for pizza?" I asked, already bringing up the site of a local pizzeria on my phone.

Thursday, Dec 21

I finished my preening and checked myself once more in the mirror. I hadn't really paid much attention to my appearance beyond the needs of preening, but after yesterday, I had some second thoughts. I made a note to mention a proper mirror as a Christmas gift as I went downstairs. Mom was still dozing, but everyone else was up.

"Morning, Simon. You're looking good," Bev greeted me.

"Thanks, I'm feeling better. The roller coaster ride isn't too bad, but the turnaround kicks are the worst."

"Do you think it will always be that bad?" Tracy asked.

"No one knows. We're hoping it will be more manageable, but it's too soon to tell. There's just so many unknowns right now." I took a sip of juice. "Think of it this way. I had forty five years as a human, forty five years to learn what it means to be a guy, backed by seven billion people living right now at all stages of life, and thousands of years of history to define and redefine what it means to be human.

"Now, I've had three months to learn what it means to be a griffon, with a hundred thousand other griffons all at basically the same stage of life now, and with three months of history to build from. Sure we can crib notes from bird, cat and human behaviour. But I'm a griffon now, not those things, and assuming one thing could blind us to something else. Like the Heat."

"Well, glad to see some things didn't change about you, Simon," Bev said. "So what do we want to do today?"

I moved around to the sink and cracked the window open. The cool air against my back was divine, even if it would blow up my heating bill. "Well the tree is up, so we'll need to get it decorated. Dad, I want to build a second star for outside too. We'll need to get the wood, but everything else is here. Beyond that, I don't know."

"I'm sure we'll figure out something. If we go out, we'll take your car so you can use the SUV to get the wood," Bev said.

"Yeah, we need to move it anyways, so we can use the garage for construction."

After noon, the girls left to roam the city, leaving the decorating project to 'The Boys'. It felt good to do a project with dad again, something we could work on together, unlike the work we'd done over Thanksgiving. He only had a small heart attack when I jumped off the top of the ladder after verifying where I wanted it to hang and how big we wanted to make it.

Home Depot was as busy as any store this close to Christmas. Unlike normal times though, the customers tended to be mothers and children looking for 'Last Minute Dad Gifts'. My presence still caused reactions, but people were starting to get used to it. That we were getting lumber helped too; dads generally didn't usually get sheets of plywood and two by fours for Christmas.

Through the rest of the afternoon, we bickered over the implementation details and had a good time figuring out the angles and how to fit it together. I had to fly out for supplies twice and dad had to drive to get another piece of lumber before we worked everything out. We attached the lights to the frame and tested it, and declared it done.

As the sun was setting, it was ready to be put up. The hooks were already in place, so we were just waiting for the audience. Dad did have one coughing fit, but he blamed it on the sawdust we were kicking up. Considering the same dust was turning my black fur white, it was a justified excuse; I was sure I brushed more saw dust out of my fur and feathers than we swept off the floor afterwards.

We were relaxing with beers when the girls returned. "We're back! How'd you guys do?" mom called out, coming in like a lioness.

"All done, just waiting on you guys. No hospital visits," I said. "Come on, let's go out back."

I stopped next to the ladder we were going to use, while everyone else moved to my usual take off spot.

"It looks good," Bev said. "Very pretty."

"How are you going to put it up? Are you going to fly it up?" Mom asked. Bev and I face palmed in unison.

"I'm a glider. I can't hover.... " I sighed and shook my head. "Let's get this done."

I climbed partway up the ladder and dad passed the star up to me. There was no trace of the fear I used to have climbing the tall ladders, now that I knew I could safely get down by myself if it started to slide. It took a few tries to get it settled on the hooks, but soon it was done but for the power. I went down a few steps and leaned far to one side to reach the extension cord.

"Careful!" mom called out. I ignored her, even as I felt the ladder slide a little.

I plugged it in and was blinded as the lights lit up. I froze for a moment, closing my inner lids and glancing away. When I was adjusted to the glare, I double checked the connection and the position. Then I turned around and jumped, flying off the ladder. There were gasps from below as I climbed a bit higher and curved around to look. I was happy with our project and the house felt complete, at least for this year.

I dropped down and landed behind them. My paws crunched through the snow and I stumbled a little, but it wasn't a bad landing. I was a bit surprised at the expressions on Bev and Tracy's faces.

"You realize that was the first time we saw you fly?" Bev said. "Fly for reals that is."

"What? No. It can't be," I said, thinking back.

"She's right. You always left after we did and got wherever before we did," Tracy said. "Other than yesterday, but we were all inside then and didn't really see you take off."

"Dang, you're right. Sorry. Well, you'll see it more often I'm sure. Let's get back inside; you guys are probably frozen. We'll have dinner and start on that tree."

Friday, Dec 22

I turned my phone off and sighed softly, too soft for the others to pick up. We were all up, trying to figure out what we wanted to do for the day. The messages I'd just gotten gave me an idea, but it went against everything I held sane.

"I've got an idea," I said, loud enough to get everyone's attention. "Let's go to West Ed."

Mom and dad stared at me like I'd grown another head, while Bev laughed. "Are you feeling alright, Simon? You've hated going there since you moved out here."

"I know, I know. But I've got things to do there, and putting it off won't make them any easier," I said, lying a bit. I wanted to surprise them if I could. "So, let's go today. We can take both cars so you can leave early or go somewhere else if you want to."

"That seems reasonable," dad said. "Are you going to drive with us?"

"Cramped up in a tin can in this traffic? Hell no!" I checked the maps and let Google kick out some estimates. "Should only take you half an hour or so to get there. Park at the Bay end, it's usually quieter, even at this time of year. I'll meet you on the second floor outside the Bay. They've got Santa camped out there on the first floor, so watch for the ankle biters."

"Bro, that tends to be more your problem now, not ours," Bev noted.

I sighed and nodded, "True, true. Anyways, I'm going to get ready and head out shortly. If you guys decide on something else, just let me know. But trust me, today's probably the sanest day to go there before Christmas."

"Sure, we can go check it out at least," Mom said. "As you said, take both cars, so we can go elsewhere later, if you kids want to just hang out or something."

I waved and went back upstairs to dress for the mall. This time, I left before them, taking my time to head north.

The mall was as busy as I expected. Even the normally empty parts of the parking lots were filling up. Still, the upper deck of the Bay/Winners section was fairly empty. I texted to let them know where to go and landed on the pedestrian bridge linking the mall to the parking.

"Morning Claire," I greeted the guard. She was on break, vaping on the far end of the bridge. She had been on duty when we swarmed the mall a few weeks ago.

She jumped and nearly dropped her vaporizer. "Damn! Wear a bell or something!" she said, giving me a quick glare before smiling. "I should've known you'd probably be out today. You seem to show up when things go insane."

I held up my hands in surrender. "It wasn't intentional this time. I had no clue they'd be coming up. Do you happen to know where they are?"

"Last I heard, second level at the skating rink. There's a charity skate with the Oilers going on, so it's a popular spot."

I checked the map and saw my family had made excellent time, even with the traffic. They were about to turn off the highway and would only be a few blocks away from the mall. "Well I'll go see what they're up to, once my family gets here. They're just a few blocks away."

Claire nodded and took a few more puffs before pocketing the vaper. "No problem. They really aren't causing that much trouble, and everyone is welcome here. Enjoy your visit, and happy holidays."

"Happy holidays. I'll see you around."

She wandered back inside while I leaned against the bridge railing, enjoying the crisp winter air. I waved a wing at families coming in and out of the mall. Many of them drifted to the far side of the bridge while staring at me. Most smiled and waved back. I lost track of how many holiday greetings I gave out. It wasn't long before I saw a familiar group heading my way.

"Hey guys, how was the traffic?" I asked.

"Not too bad, but we nearly missed the exit to the mall," Tracy said. "We may have cut off a few people getting onto it."

"Who puts exits on the left lanes?" Bev grumbled.

I laughed and headed for the entrance. "I don't miss that. Come on. I figure I'll give you a quick tour, and then we can scatter to do our own things for a bit. Then find lunch somewhere and decide from there."

I braced myself and walked through the doors. The heat hit me first, not quite as warm as I anticipated, but still stuffily warm. The noise was the next wallop I endured. Thousands of people in a building doing their own thing generated a lot of ambient noise; nothing particularly loud, but for griffon hearing it was a lot to try and tune out. I pressed my ears back for a few minutes while I got used to it.

The second level wasn't quite as busy as the ground floor, especially at this end of the mall. But there were still a lot of people about, people who were usually surprised to see me. Most of the time they automatically moved to the side, making a path for us. More than a few times, I had to reach out and lightly nudge someone to make room. It usually gave them a small jump scare when they realized a wing or a scaly talon had touched them.

I paused outside the Bay, looking down on the central stage we had used just a few weeks past. Santa had thoroughly taken it over, with his throne for photographs. Families lined up around the stage and down one of the side corridors, waiting for the last minute pictures with the jolly elf. I stood at the railing and waved, seeing kids and parents alike looking up at me.

"Does this usually happen with you?" Bev asked, watching the wide eyed reactions.

"It's getting better, but there are so few griffs around, anywhere we go tends to surprise people. We're out of sight, out of mind, until we're in sight and they have to acknowledge us again," I said. "Still, the kids' reactions are the best. The natural surprise they tend to have, and the looks of wonderment and curiosity."

Most of the eyes were looking up at me now, and even Santa seemed more interested in me than the kids. "Spread out a bit, give me some room," I said quietly, glancing around to make sure I had space. My family moved away, giving me room to spread my wings wide and wave to the crowd below. The gasps of surprise and wonderment made it all worth it. I held the pose for a few moments, long enough for the cameras to get a good view.

"Happy Holidays everyone!" I shouted, giving a wave from a wing and a hand before pulling my wings back in and stepping back from the railing. I motioned for them to keep following as I headed down the central corridor.

"There's a charity skate going on right now, with the Oilers," I explained as we went. "So the rink is going to be busy too. Since I was surrounded by family, I squinted ahead, zooming in to examine the crowd around the ice rink. I didn't like to do that while walking because it killed my peripheral vision, but I had to know how to handle what was coming. On the closer side, the crowd seemed to be focused on the ice surface, or looking straight across. Zooming in on the far side of the rink, they seemed less interested on the ice surface and more curious about something further back. I spotted a distinctive flash of red among the people, as well as a grey blue flash and knew where to go.

I relaxed my eyes and realized I was half a step from tripping over a bench. I barely managed to turn the tripping hazard into a slightly more dignified hop.

I let my family move to the railing to look down on the ice surface, while I hung back, hoping to be unnoticed. The hockey players were doing slow laps around the rink while surrounded by a mob of kids and teens. I tried to pretend I didn't see the raven griffon frantically waving at me from the back of a red Titan.

"Uhm Simon? I think someone wants your attention. Is that normal?" Tracy asked, spotting the movement.

"Not normal at all. Come on, I'll introduce you before Mike's waving breaks the no fly zone," I said, finally waving back and pointing to one side so we'd be less distracting.

Now that we were close, the two Titans were impossible to ignore. Mike rode on Rick's back, while a human I didn't recognize was on Alan's.

"What the hell are you guys doing up here this time of year?" I asked once introductions were done. The human was David, another of Rick's students and their driver. Rick had texted me earlier to arrange a meetup, but had been sparse on details otherwise.

"We're just borrowing some lab time from NAIT while things are quiet over the break," Rick said. "We've got some downtime until the next round, so we decided to hit the mall, and see if any of you guys were around."

I nodded, "Well a few of us are around, but most of us are smart enough to stay away from here. Michelle and Brian should be in Hat by now, waiting for the lockdown to lift."

"A shame, but I can see what you mean about staying away from here," Alan said.

"So this was your 'things to do'?" Mom asked. The family was still a bit stunned by the presence of the Titans, and even by Mike; they just hadn't met enough Changed yet to be used to casual encounters yet.

"Yup, sorry for the subterfuge. I wanted to surprise you."

"Well colour us surprised," dad said. "You've been developing quite an eclectic group of friends it seems."

"It comes with the territory. There are so few of us, especially in Edmonton and Calgary, that we tend to clump together. Birds and Horses of a feather and all that. Why don't we go grab lunch so we can talk easier? I know you two are always hungry, and I could use a bite."

"Not always hungry... but I won't say no. Same place as before?" Rick suggested.

"Yeah, they know how to handle us." I pointed ahead and started walking. Mike hopped down and walked next to me as we blazed the trail through the crowd.

It was that afternoon lull period after the lunch rush but before the dinner crush. So the hostess had no problem setting us up on the patio area. The Titans, Mike and I settled in on one side of the table, our backs to the knee wall that separated the restaurant from the rest of the mall. The humans lined up on the other side, David at Alan's end and my parents in the middle.

I studied my family a bit as we browsed the menus. Bev and Tracy seemed to be handling the strangeness easily enough, with a healthy amount of curiosity. Mom and dad were having a harder time with it, clearly uncomfortable, but trying to make the most of it.

"So how did you get up here from... Calgary was it? That's a bit far to fly or gallop or whatever right?" mom asked, trying to act like it was normal to have a meal with a couple of griffons and centaurs.

"Yeah, it's a bit far," Rick said. "We crammed ourselves into a horse trailer and David drove us up. Not comfortable at all, but you do what you have to do."

"Crammed indeed," Mike said. "I was worried my tail feathers would be permanently kinked by the time we got here."

"Surely there's a better way to move around?" dad asked.

"There are, but we don't have access to them," Alan said. "They've been rebuilding transport containers as basic Titan buses. Not as comfortable as regular buses, but better than squeezing into a horse trailer," Rick said while the rest of us snickered.

"I saw some of them at the J last fall," I said. "No windows, but they seemed nice enough."

"The newer ones have windows now, but we're having a hard time getting even an old one up here. The Titans down there are getting the travel itch. All our buses are on routes to Houston, LA, Vegas, Denver and so forth... not to mention the regular run to Parker and back. We've been pushing for government help up here to get our own trailer available, something to do a Hat-Calgary-Edmonton loop at least, but there's only 8 Titans so there isn't much pressure. Still if we're lucky, we might be able to get one by spring, especially since they'll be useful for the griffons too."

"Ouch, that is rough," Tracy noted. "I never thought about how difficult that would be for you guys."

"That's fair," Alan said. He pointed to Mike and me. "You see the birds here, and they flit around the city going from one end to the opposite end without a second thought. Even for Rick and I, we can get just about anywhere in Calgary we could want, almost as fast as a car. So that makes it look like we're as free to travel as you guys.

"But it's a lie. Going much further than the city limits, and we're stuck. We don't have the speed nor endurance to even make it to Red Deer in a reasonable time. We need wheels to be able to travel again, and the tech isn't there yet."

"To be fair, it hasn't been a year yet. It's rather impressive to see what's been done so far," dad noted.

Alan and Rick nodded. "That's true," Rick said. "And it's promising. But it's still frustrating to be so limited. Even when we do get wheels again, that just opens up the west to us. Going east, or going overseas, that's going to be damn near impossible. The airports are effectively closed for us. It'll probably be decades before we'll be able to think of just buying a ticket for a flight to London or Tokyo or even Toronto."

We fell into an uneasy silence for a moment as the thoughts sunk in. "I'm sorry. Clearly that hit some sore points," mom said. "Do you have someone out east? Or overseas?"

Rick shook her head. "Not me. My family's been around here for generations. My sister literally inherited the farm south of Calgary, leaving me free to follow my dreams of being a rock hound. She's been a huge help for us." She looked at Mike and Alan.

"My family is all in Montreal," Alan confirmed. "And... And they haven't spoken to me since March. No calls, no messages, they blocked me on Facebook...." she sighed and Mike took her hand, squeezing it.

"I'm from Peterborough and everyone's still there, and we do speak. But we aren't rich. It took all we had and a number of scholarships to get me out here. And with all the griffon costs since then, there's no way I could afford to go back, nor can they afford to come out here."

I inwardly winced a bit; I hadn't fully realized how tough they had it, though I wasn't entirely surprised by it.

Rick reached past me to squeeze their hands. "Don't worry about us. It's rough, but we're making the best of it. One way or another, I'm hauling pretty much the entire herd and as much of the flock down to my sister's farm for Christmas dinner. You're welcome to come, but I understand about the distance, and whatever plans you already have."

"That's fair. I'll take a raincheck and maybe we can work something out next year," I said.

We were finally saved by the arrival of the food. Dinner talk stayed on safer subjects like politics and sports. Towards the end of the meal I could tell my parents were nearing their limits. The generation gap and the Change gap were too much for them to handle.

"I know you two have a lot you want to get done, why don't you head out? You've got the rental. I'll handle your bill," I said.

"You sure? We don't mind staying," mom said, her eyes saying otherwise.

"GO! We'll be fine," Bev said, giving dad a nudge.

They stood up a hair too fast, and reached across the table to shake hands. "Fine, you kids have fun. It was good meeting all of you," mom said.

"It was good to meet you too," Rick said. "You raised a fine son. She's done wonders for the flock up here, even if she sometimes drives Michelle nuts."

"Thanks, it's good to hear," mom said. I could tell her English teaching background was having a fit trying to process that sentence.

I hopped over the railing and came around to give them a hug. "I don't know when I'll be home, but I'll try not to be too late."

"Take all the time you want with your friends," dad said. "We've got lots of time this trip."

Once they left, I took their place at the table and we got another round of drinks. "You two don't have to stay. You've got the car after all," I said to Bev and Tracy. They still seemed to be at the curious stage, but I didn't want them to feel pressured.

"We're good. As you said, we have the car so we can go any time. We don't mind pumping humanity's numbers up a bit for the day," Bev said.

I smiled at her and looked at the others. "So what are the plans?"

"Well, we had hoped to get a game, but that isn't until tomorrow, and they won't let our kind into their shiny new arena up here," Rick said.

"To be fair, the Flames won't let us in their junky old arena either," Alan said.

I chuckled, "Yeah, it's a league wide thing. They won't let griffons in yet either. It's on our list of things to address in the new year. How about the comedy club?"

"I checked, it's dark tonight. A movie?" Alan asked.

"If you want. There isn't really anything playing I want to see," Bev said. David and Mike nodded in agreement.

"Well the water park and Galaxyland are still blocked off to Mike and I. And not really pleasant for us to visit anyway," I said, thinking over the options. For the world's largest mall, we were quickly running out of things to do. I wanted to suggest the casino, but with the stories Mike and Alan told, it didn't feel appropriate.

"We don't have to stay at the mall, you know," David suggested. "I've got the truck and GPS so I can get them anywhere, you've got a car if you want to stay with us, and I'm sure Sky can lead Mike wherever she wants to take her."

I never knew griffons could snort water through their nares, but apparently it is possible. Mike let out a squawk of protest. David smirked while the rest of the table laughed.

"Well, in that case, there's a place on the other side of the Yellowhead. They just expanded and they are trying to be very griffon friendly since so many of us are up here. I haven't been yet, but everyone's been raving about it. Pool tables, axe throwing, a dance floor...." I looked at Alan, "karaoke."

Rick laughed and nodded. "Sounds like a good place to have fun. Should we warn them?"

"Mike and I will get there well ahead of you, and we can call you off if it's too bad, but I think it'll be fine. I'll send you the address. Maybe meet up around six to head out? The girls and I still have some Christmas shopping to do, but we'll be done by then."

We settled our bills and said our farewells, even though we were walking in the same direction. At the Lego store, we finally separated, Bev, Tracy and I heading inside to browse the sets.

"You've really changed," Bev said as I examined the latest architecture sets.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean what just happened. At home, hell all through this visit, you've been acting like my big brother. Sure you acted strangely, and I don't just mean what happened the other day. But I could close my eyes and pretend he was talking and not tell the difference.

"Today though. That set up, and how you acted around them, you were Skyfire weren't you? I barely recognized you, the way you acted around them."

I nodded and set the box down. Tracy was nearby, listening and being supportive, but letting us work it out. "Yeah, that was a Skyfire thing. I probably shouldn't have thrown you into the deep end like that, but I didn't want to leave my friends hanging either."

"That's fine. We appreciated meeting them, and I'm looking forward to this evening. The Changed are just images on screens for those of us back east. I never even thought I'd ever meet a Titan, and yet I met two today. It's good to know you're not going hermit on us. I'm sure even mom and dad were glad, even if it freaked them out.

"But what I'm saying is that it was also interesting seeing this other side of you. One you've never really shown us. You were so calm, and at ease among them, like there was nothing strange about it at all."

"It is a coping mechanism. But it is also who I am, so for me it isn't strange," I pointed out.

"True, and maybe it's because I haven't seen you around your friends as much, even before last fall. But still, you're different. Not my big brother any more.... I guess you're my big griffon."

I pulled her into a hug. "Well, whatever I am, you're always my little sister."

The rest of the afternoon went well. I basically became their bag-griffon as they picked out gifts for mom and dad and for each other. For the most part, the gifts had to be plane-transportable, which meant a number of clothes and similar knick-knacks. I'd never been very fashion aware before, and getting eagle eyes and an expanded visual range didn't help, so I found myself nodding and agreeing with whatever was suggested.

They eventually sent me back to the car to drop the bags off. It was obvious they were also looking for private time to shop for me. So I took my time, dropping the bags off and enjoying the cool air outside. There was no sign of the rental, so I checked the map, seeing mom was on the highway, heading home. Feeling cooled off enough, I went back inside and did some of my own personal shopping until the meeting time.

Griffith's Roadhouse was in an industrial area on the northside of the Yellowhead Highway. It had started as a simple restaurant, but when the spots opened up next to it, it had started an extensive expansion plan, taking up the entire building. When the owner discovered two of his waitresses were griffons, as well as how many griffons were flocking to the northern part of the city, he decided to do his best to make the place griffon-friendly.

Mike and I landed on a cleared patio built on one end of the building. In the summer it was extra seating for the restaurant, but now it was a handy landing area for incoming griffons. There were a half dozen cars parked in the big lot, making it look emptier than it actually was.

We walked in and looked around. The restaurant area was half full, with an even mix of humans and griffons. Open doorways led deeper into the complex where the bar, dance floor, pool tables and axe throwing sections were. A griffon hostess swooped over to us.

"Skyfire! Good to see you again! Welcome to Griffiths!"

"Happy Holidays Marissa. Good to see you again. This is Mike, up from Calgary."

She waved to Mike and nodded. "So table for two then?"

"Seven actually. We've got more coming. And probably not a table yet, we're just looking for a place to hang, maybe shoot some pool or throw some axes or something. Us, three humans, and two Titans."

Her eyes widened and I saw her glance around. The ceilings were more than high enough for the Titans, but the doorways would be a bit low. "Well, we welcome everyone here. If King Kong showed up, we'd do our best to make sure he was happy."

Mike chuckled, "Well, we don't have any kaiju, but the big centaurs will be happy to hear that."

"Feel free to find a spot in the bar area, or at the pool tables, and I'll send your friends along when they show up."

I glanced at my map and saw Bev was still stuck in traffic, not far from the mall. Holiday rush hour traffic was a nightmare I was glad to have escaped. "Well, they're still stuck in WestEd's orbit, but they should get here eventually. Thanks Marissa."

I led Mike through the restaurant, pausing to briefly talk to friends that waved me down along the way. The next two units were a combination of the bar and the dance floor. The stage was empty with no sign of anyone setting up for the night. Soft holiday music played, and a quarter of the tables were filled. The next unit had the pool room. A dozen pool tables were available, spaced out enough for griffons to move around comfortably. I booked two tables for an hour, and got a couple of beers.

I handed Mike her beer and racked up the balls. I saw her eyeing the table warily.

"I should've asked. Have you played?"

"I've played. Just... not since the fall."

I nodded and went to one end of the table and set the cue down. "Well, it's pretty similar. The talons even help a bit. Just don't put them point down on the felt." I demonstrated, making sure my talons wouldn't tear the felt. The balls scattered on the break, but none went in.

I stepped out of the way and watched her set up. I tapped her hand with my cue stick and corrected her position so the felt wouldn't tear. She took her shot, sunk a ball but missed on the next one. By the time we finished our game, I spotted through the windows, a truck pulling a trailer pulling in, followed shortly by my car.

We went out to meet them. The Titans almost seemed to be headless horses as they stepped out of the trailer,their tops laying on their lower backs. They straightened up as soon as they were on the slushy pavement.

"I know they sleep that way, but that just looks weird," I said. "Things just shouldn't bend that way."

"I know, but they don't mind it. Doesn't mean it doesn't freak me out a bit. I'm seriously considering filing a flight plan and winging it back to Calgary tomorrow," Mike said.

"Hey guys, I've got a couple of tables booked for us for the next hour or so," I called out, waving to Bev and Tracy. "There should be enough room but the tables might be low.."

"Don't worry, we'll figure it out. We're used to adapting," Alan said.

I led the group to the restaurant entrance and went in. The place fell absolutely silent as the Titans ducked through the door. I was well used to being on the receiving end of these surprised silences, but to see a flock of griffons be surprised into silence was somewhat new. Some of the people here had been at West Ed last month, but most seemed to be seeing Titans for the first time.

"Hey everyone, Merry Christmas," Rick said, waving. I pointed to the doorway to the rest of the complex. The room slowly came back to life, but we could all hear the confused whispering going on. I brought up the rear of the group so I could keep an eye on my sister and her wife. I was worried how they would take a larger group of griffons, and I was happy to see them handling it well.

The evening was fun, a nice relaxing time among friends old and new. After pool, we had dinner, and threw some axes. Titan strength was a sight to see. Griffon and human strength was similar, but the centaurs tended to start at our peaks and kept going. Rick picked their heaviest axe and, with the encouragement of the attendant, threw it at full strength down the lane. The impact shattered the target and shook the building. After that, they made sure to dial things back.

To close out the night, we retreated to the bar to chat and hang out. Christmas music played quietly in the background. It felt like every griffon around made an excuse to stop by and say hi. Some had met Rick and Alan before and were greeting old friends. Most used me as an excuse to get a closer look at the Titans.

Alan went to the bar to get another round of drinks, and I realized she seemed to be talking to the bartender for a long time. When she came back, I noticed the employees were moving things on the stage.

"You aren't... You don't have to do this," I said.

"I want to. It's the holidays, we should be caroling, or at least enjoying better music than the canned stuff." Alan had her phone out and was setting up a playlist.

I shook my head and saw my sister's confused look. "What's that all about?" she asked.

"You'll see."

A few minutes later, one of the waiters waved to Alan. She stepped up onto the stage and turned to face the small crowd. She made sure the mic was off and took a sip from a pitcher of water on a stool.

"Hello everyone. Merry Christmas! My name is Alan, from Calgary. And I want to share my gift with you. Feel free to sing along if you want," she said, her voice easily filling the room. She waited a moment, until the first bars of Blue Christmas started. Her voice dropped deep, sounding just like Elvis as she belted it out. From our table, Rick helped fill in the background vocals when needed. The dance floor and bar area filled as people heard the song and came to check it out.

Applause broke out as the last few notes played out. Alan held it until the last moment, until the next song started. Her voice jumped from the bottom of the range to the top as she rolled right into Hippopotamus for Christmas. There were a lot of surprised gasps, including from Tracy and Bev.

"How can she do that?" Tracy asked.

"Perfect pitch and a lot of practice. They got me last month at West Ed; I didn't realize she was a music major along with being a rock hound."

Mike chuckled. "Granted, perfect pitch only takes you so far. If you want to mimic, you need to master the accents and the tempo and stuff. That's what separates the likes of Galaxie and Aquamarine from a regular Titan."

Rick nodded. "We're trying to convince Alan to try a music career; You think she's good now, you should hear her in French. But we haven't been able to build up her confidence yet."

"A shame. I mean, Canadian Idol's been dead for years, but CGT is going again, and if she tried, I'm sure there are a bunch of American shows that would bring her in," Tracy said.

"Transportation is a problem. I'd hate to drive to Toronto in that," I said, pointing out the window to the trailer. "But really, if the studio wanted her, they'd arrange something one way or another."

Alan serenaded us for most of the rest of the night. The rest of the building fell silent and closed down as everyone converged on the bar and dance floor to listen. Her playlist was varied, a bit heavier on the fun songs, but with a nice mix of slower, soulful songs to break things up. She carefully avoided Last Christmas for anyone who hadn't been Whamageddon'ed yet. She wrapped up with Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer, and was mobbed as she came off the stage. She slowly got back to our table, and drained a pitcher of water.

"Great job as always," Rick said.

"That was amazing, especially hearing it in person," Bev said.

"Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Much better than canned music, amiright?" Alan sipped from a second water pitcher and smiled at us, trying to somewhat ignore the crowd trying to get closer.

Last call was made soon after that, making us aware of how late it was. We finished our drinks off, and started saying goodbye. The bar manager pulled Alan to the side, but the crowd was too loud to listen in. She tucked something into her pouch and rejoined us, looking stunned. We escorted her outside, the cold air providing a nice shock to wake us up.

"So how much did you get this time?" Mike asked as we headed to the trailer.

"A few hundred... and tips. I didn't count it all," Alan said, still a bit stunned.

Rick gave her a quick hug. "Nice, very nice. We keep telling you, you need to start doing this more professionally. Strike while the iron's hot."

"I don't know, I'm not a singer...."

"Hell yes you are. I can't carry a tune in a bucket, but you filled that place with just your voice and kept them mesmerized with Christmas carols. You've got the touch, you just need to use it," I said.

Alan shook her head and pulled the back of the trailer down. "Maybe next year, after I finish the school year. I don't want to waste my tuition."

"See what I mean?" Rick said, shaking her head. "In any case, Merry Christmas everyone." She focused on Bev and Tracy. "It was a pleasure to meet you. Have a good holiday, and a safe trip home."

"Thanks, it was a pleasure to meet you as well. All of you," Bev said, doing the rounds.

"It's been an eye opening experience for sure," Tracy added. "Out east, we just see the pictures and videos; what you guys are actually going through hasn't really sunk in much."

"It's rough at times, especially when there are so few of us around. But it's slowly getting better, one day at a time," Alan said.

"It does make you wonder what's next. Next year is going to be interesting," Bev said.

"Hopefully not too interesting. I wouldn't mind having a nice boring year again, like the mid teens. Way too much has happened over the past few years," Mike said.

We all raised phantom glasses to her implied toast, and broke up with a final wave of farewells. The girls got in the car and left first. David finished checking the trailer and on the Titans and left soon after. Mike and I left last, heading right to her hotel. With a final signed Merry Christmas, I flew home across the night-bright city.

The girls got home first for a change; light traffic and the slight detour to the hotel gave them enough of a lead to beat me home. They were unloading the trunk when I dropped out of the sky behind them. Tracy jumped in surprise and whisper-cursed me out. We gathered our bags, doing a quick sort and snuck into the house.

Only a few lamps were on inside, left on just for us. Judging by the steady breathing I could hear upstairs, mom and dad had retired long ago. I waited in the doorway while the girls shed their jackets and boots as quietly as they could.

"I'll get the lights. You two get to bed," I whispered once I could squeeze past them. "Night girls."

"Night Skyfire," Bev whispered back.I glanced at her, not sure if she had intentionally used my new name or not, but she was already going up the stairs.

Saturday, Dec 23

After dinner, it was time for The Wrappening. Everyone gathered up their gifts and a few rolls of tape and wrapping paper and retired to various rooms, wherever a relatively flat spot could be found. Mom, having the most to wrap, claimed the dining room, forcing the rest of us upstairs to the bedrooms.

I was slicing a strip of paper off with my talons, getting ready to wrap a bundle of puzzle books for mom, when Bev tapped on my door. "You decent?" she asked softly.

"Haven't been decent for years, but I'm dressed," I replied. I glanced around, making sure her stuff was still hidden in various bags.

She opened the door and stepped in, shivering a little. I'd turned the heat down and opened the window since it was just me. "I just wanted to see if you had another pair of scissors? I think mom's claimed three downstairs, and Tracy snagged the set in the office."

"I'm not sure. That might be it. I haven't really needed to use them much since I got these," I said, wiggling my fingers. "Maybe the bedside table, I think there might be a pair there, or a utility knife."

She nodded and headed for the closest table. At the last moment, my mind kicked into gear, but it was too late. "The Oth-!" I started to say as she opened the drawer.


I sighed, fighting the urge to dive onto the bed and slamming the drawer shut. The damage was done.

"Are you opening a store or something?" I was glad she wasn't reaching in, but she did open the drawer more to better see my health aids.

"Not exactly, but I'm pretty sure Cardi and I have made the local store's year."

"Wow, and you use all of that?"

"I do. Very enthusiastically. I've already had to replace half of those since October."

She gave me a strange look, concern and worry mixed with curiosity.

"Comes with the plumbing. And the hormone cycle is a bitch. You saw me on the male side of it, but that's a candle compared to the furnace that is the Heat."

"Damn, I never really thought of that. I've read about it, but I guess it didn't sink in."

I finally went over and nudged the drawer closed. "Words and reports and wiki pages don't do it justice. It's not something I'd wish on anyone else."

"Is it getting any easier at least? Are you getting used to it or something?"

I shrugged my wings and sat on the edge of the bed. "Maybe? I keep telling myself this time was easier to handle than last time. But it still knocks me out for the day. It's only been three times now, so maybe next year I'll manage to get control of it."

She sat on the edge of the bed, facing me and put a hand on my lap. "I... I honestly have no idea what to say. Well, I have some ideas, but I don't know if they would help or be wrong or what."

"It's okay. I'm used to it. When I talk to Adam we often hit points like that, where the griffon experience is just too foreign for his human background. It happens when I talk with Amy too for that matter. Just knowing they're trying to understand often helps me." I squeezed her hand. "And you trying to understand helps a lot. Thank you."

"I know who Adam is, but who's Amy? You've mentioned her a few times."

I smiled and nodded towards the drawer. "Well, in some ways, she's my dealer. She owns the local sex shop and helped kit me out. But in many ways, she's my sexual therapist. I swear there can't be anyone who knows more about Griffon, Human and even Titan sexuality than her. Every few weeks, I swing by to replenish my supplies, and just to chat about a lot of the things I can't quite get out to Adam, and it really helps."

"What does Adam think of that?"

"Same thing he'd think about the prying you're doing now. He doesn't like amateurs playing in his field, but if it is helping, he's fine with it."

Bev laughed, "Fine fine, I'll try not to pry so much. But Amy, she sounds interesting."

"Yeah, she's great. I'm pretty sure I've identified some of her online identities on some of the griffon sites, but I'm not telling. She claims her interests are just to keep her finger on the pulse of her industry, but between us, I'm pretty sure that's her kink. She's just fascinated with sex in all its forms, and she's found a good niche to use that fascination."

"Lucky her." Bev hesitated, debating on her next question. I rubbed her hand and waited, flicking an ear to listen to the rest of the house. Everything seemed normal. "You don't have to answer this, but I'm just curious, especially after what I saw.... Are you still Ace?"

I let out a laugh and quickly cut it off. "Sorry, I was worried you were going to ask something hard. Am I Ace? It's something we've touched on from various angles, and as far as I can tell, I am.

"I mean, the toys are one thing. I'm using them a lot even when I'm not at the peaks, and it does feel nice. But as far as doing it with someone else? I'm curious about it, but only in a practical sense. I want to know what it feels like, but I don't really want to get bogged down with the baggage."

I rubbed my belly. "And of course, there's this. This is a grenade I do NOT want to pull the pin on, and we're nowhere close to having any sort of protection against that yet."

She squeezed my hand again and let go. "Right, I think I'm on the edge of going too far. But thanks for telling me. Seems every time I turn around, I'm surprised by something else."

"Living it isn't much better, but life goes on. But speaking of surprises, did you notice what was on the window ledge over the kitchen sink?" I asked, figuring it was best to get another item out of the way while she was in the right mindset.

"That red and black egg?" she asked after thinking. "What about.... OH!"

I nodded. "It was my first. The rest I've thrown out but...." I shrugged. "Tracy knows about it. She noticed it right away."

"It's beautiful, but I'm glad you aren't hoarding them." She stood up and looked around. "What was I looking for?"

"Scissors. Definitely not in that drawer," I said. I leaned across the bed and pulled out the other drawer. It was half filled with safe random stuff. I didn't see any scissors, but I did see a utility knife that I snagged. "Maybe this will help?"

"It would, but I'll pass. I'll head down and swipe a pair from mom. Thanks for the chat."

"No, thank you. I can tell Adam I still had my weekly therapy session now," I grinned and decided to keep the knife; The talons weren't quite as good at slicing paper as I initially had thought.

Christmas Eve

I leaned against the wall, munching on a mincemeat tart and taking in the setting. Most of the lights were off, the only light coming from the windows, the tree, the TV, and a lamp. The presents were stacked under the tree, a surprising number of them considering four of the receivers had to fly home. The stockings were filled and lined up along the wall. Behind me, the mise en place for tomorrow's dinner was done and set up on the stove and counter.

Dad and Tracy were watching some black and white Christmas movie on TV. Mom was beside the lamp, doing a crossword puzzle. Bev was busy on her phone, but as I watched she put it away and slipped past me to get something from the kitchen. I stood still, just soaking in the familiar situation.

"Something on your mind?" Bev asked on her way back. She had a glass of milk and a couple of shortbread cookies.

"For once, nothing at all. Just enjoying how normal this is. It could be any Christmas we've had over the past few years," I said.

"Normal, aside from the five foot tall cat-bird in the room," Bev noted.

I winced and nodded reluctantly. "I guess there is that. It's easy to see everything as normal when you're the abnormality." I glanced around at the others. Tracy and dad were focused on the movie. Mom glanced our way, but the TV was too loud for her to hear us.

"It's okay. You're right, this could be any Christmas we've had before. I just get a bit of a mental hiccup when I think of that and then see you. I have to ask though, how are you feeling? Especially considering Thanksgiving?"

"I'm feeling good. Much better than I was back then. I'm not completely at peace with myself yet, but I'm pretty sure I won't break down. I realize now, back then, I was trying too hard. Trying too much to be Simon and to do Simon-normal things. Now, I know better. I want to be doing normal things, but I know I need to settle on my new normal."

"A Skyfire normal?"

I nodded. "More or less." I looked around again and saw mom watching us. She smiled a bit as I focused on her and looked back down at her puzzle. I suspected she had heard more than I thought she had.

"Right, it's late enough. Let's open our Christmas Eve present," I said, straightening up and heading for the tree. "Who wants which ones?"

Christmas Day

I was the last to wake up on Christmas morning. As my mind slipped into gear, I listened to the noises of the house. Mom and Bev were getting the turkey ready for the oven while Christmas music played. I could hear someone in the bathroom and couldn't decide if it was Tracy or dad. In any case, it was obviously time to get going.

I pushed myself up and stretched, shaking a little to settle my feathers. I did a quick preen to sort out the bed feathers and got dressed. I hesitated, looking at my tops before deciding to pull one on. This was still going to be a Skyfire day; her first Christmas even; but it felt more appropriate to be more fully dressed.

"Mornin' Tracy," I called out as I left my room. She was brushing her teeth in the bathroom with the door open. I saw her wave as I went downstairs.

Dad was watching another movie on TV while everyone else was busy in the kitchen.

"Mornin' sleepy head. It's about time you got up," mom taunted.

I snagged the chocolate milk from the fridge and filled my cup. "It's not even nine yet. Still plenty early. When are you guys going to get over your jet lag?"

"Maybe next week wence we're home. You're lucky you got up. Mom's designated me as the griffon wrangler and she was about to send me up," Bev said.

I waved a wing dismissively, taking up a position near the back door so I could crack it open and get some cooler air. "So how are things going? Need a hand with anything?" I asked.

"We're good. Just gotta get the bird in the oven and we're done but for the cooking." Mom stepped aside so Bev could load the oven. "And don't say a word about the bird already being in the oven. We can tell you're overheating already."

I made a zipper motion along the side of my beak. "I didn't say a thing."

I let the door close behind me and we converged on the living room to pass out the stockings. They were filled with little appetizer gifts, candies, lotto tickets, toiletries and other small things that would get lost among the bigger gifts usually.

After the stockings were cleared, I could see eyes glancing over to the tree. No one was saying anything yet, but they were waiting. My own position was on the floor by the tree, as the main distributor. Instead of passing out however, I stood up and headed for the kitchen.

"Anyone need a coffee top off?" I asked, getting my own mug ready. I could feel the glares from Bev and mom bouncing off my wings.

"Sure, I could use one," dad said, getting up and bringing his own mug out. I flicked my ears, listening to his heavy breathing but he didn't seem to be having any other problems. Tracy joined us, and we drew out the anticipation for a good half hour by brewing a fresh pot and just taking our time.

"Don't make us come out there and drag you back!" Bev called as the last drips filled the pot.

"Oh would you? It would save us carrying out your mugs," I called back innocently. I smirked and filled the cups as my sister let out a wordless grunt of frustration.

We passed around the dark elixir, and I sipped my own, standing next to the tree and studying it. It was surprisingly full of gifts this year. The big gifts were all for me, being the only local receiver. But there were a lot of smaller gifts for the four travellers; enough that I wondered how they would get it all back east.

I set the mug down and sat next to the tree to sort through the bigger pile at the front. "Trace, Bev, Mom, Mom, Dad, Me...." I said, starting to rapid fire slide the gifts across the floor to their recipients. Once everyone had a couple, I slid back to start on some of my own.

An hour later, it was all done but for the cleanup. There were still a dozen gifts and gift bags under the tree, mostly for my friends who would be by later in the season. I started arranging some of the bigger gifts around the tree.

"Thanks everyone," I said as I adjusted the box with a full length mirror. "I really appreciate all of this. You did so much more than I expected."

"You needed it," mom said, getting up to help organize things. "You need so much new stuff now, you were due for a big Christmas."

My voice caught for a moment and I focused on the boxes. They'd really focused on household needs for me. I'd been building up a list of annoyances since getting home, and used that to build my Christmas Wish List. And the family had come through in spades.

"Just remember that for next year. You're going to owe Trace and I big time when you come out," Bev said.

"IF I can make it out. It would probably have to be a really long train trip," I said. "But that's next year."

A while later, I retreated to the back deck to cool off.With the amount of cooking going on, I'd turned off the heat downstairs and opened the kitchen windows, but the building was still warming up more than I could handle. I stood at the edge of the deck and spread my wings, letting the cold winter air sink in while I took care of my daily gaming activity.

I heard the door open and glanced back, seeing Bev and Tracy come out. They'd slipped their boots on without tying them, and put on their jackets, but they were obviously cooling off fast. I pulled my wings in so they could get on either side of me.

"Damn, seeing you like that just makes me colder," Bev said. I smirked and spread my wings behind them, and used them to pull the girls closer. "Have you thought about summer though? It does get hot up here."

I pressed a talon into my feathery shoulder, lifting the feathers a bit to show my down. "Yeah, this won't be so good when we're looking at plus thirty temperatures, even if we're flying high.

"We don't know for sure what will happen, but we're pretty sure that in the spring we'll be having a molt. And man, won't that be fun."

I felt Bev wince in sympathy, while Tracy was confused. "What would that be?"

"You missed our husky years," Bev said. "When mom and dad had Triton. Beautiful Samoyed husky, loved the outdoors, especially in the winter.... But in the spring, when he poofed, oie, what a mess. Simon's saying he's expecting to do a similar poof in the spring too."

"At least I won't be struggling against the brushing too much," I said, nodding in agreement. "But yeah, all this down and underfur is probably going to come out at once and slowly regrow over the summer. I'll probably lose a bunch of the regular feathers too. I hope I'll still be able to fly."

"Ugh, that sounds like a mess," Tracy said.

"Yeah, I'm not looking forward to it now. But by then, maybe I'll be ready for it. The down is difficult to keep clean, even with proper preening. So by then I'll probably be ready to be out with the old and in with the new."

"And you're good with that?" Bev asked, watching me closely.

I shrugged my wings and looked out. "Not as if I have a choice. It's what I am now. Denying it doesn't do me any good. It's going to happen whether I want it to or not."

"I suppose so...." Bev trailed off for a moment, looking across the snow filled yard. Regular boot prints were obvious where the family had come out for various reasons. But the dominant markings on the snow were my big paw prints, along with the strange swirls on the snow kicked up from my takeoffs and landings.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small black box. "Trace and I have one more thing for you. It wasn't really appropriate to give it to you in front of mom and dad, but from what you told me, I think you'll really use this."

I had a suspicion what it was as she dropped it into my hand. I wiggled the top off, and saw a gift card nestled on some crumpled pink tissue paper. The business wasn't on the front of the card, just the image of a beautiful woman holding a present and giving a seductive wink.

"Amy says Merry Christmas," Tracy said. "And man, is she a good salesperson."

I chuckled and tucked the card into a slot under my phone. "Just don't use anything she talked you into buying until you get home. The walls here aren't that thick, especially for griffon hearing."

Tracy blushed while Bev laughed. I hugged them both, wings and arms. "Thanks, you're right, this will be very useful."

"I figured a gift card is more appropriate for a sibling gift than actual toys... sorry health aids," Bev said. "But Amy did make some very good suggestions."

"She's been helping me out for months now. She's got my number down pat," I confirmed. I could feel a bit of tenseness in my sister, like she was having an internal fight. I waited for her to sort out her thoughts.

"I'm a little curious," she started cautiously. "After all we've talked about and what I saw last night and stuff...."

"Careful, I'm part cat. Curiosity could kill me," I joked. She rewarded me with an awkward belly punch.

"Well, I'm still curious," she said. "About how it all works now... what it's like with both down there," she quickly followed up. I could almost cook a turkey in the heat of embarrassment she was making.

I gave her a comforting squeeze and tried to figure out how to answer it. The subject matter wasn't really a good Christmas topic, nor really family friendly. But after everything I'd put her through so far, it was a fair question. I could tell Tracy was listening closely, curious to hear the story first hand for a change.

"The simple answer is that it just works. But I know that's not what you mean." I sighed and tried again.

"Last September, I was in denial about it. I was a guy, and I didn't have things like that, so I mentally rejected it for as long as I could. And then the Heat came. That fucking heat." I growled and barely kept myself from clenching my fists. "Thankfully I had a bit of warning about what to expect, and Amy gave me a crash course to get through it. After that, it was hard to deny it. Probably my first big breakthrough."

"But how does it work?" Tracy asked. "I mean, how do you decide?"

"Could be a mental coin flip, or just whatever my mood is. If I'm closer to heat or closer to the rut that affects things a little. But sometimes, I might want to go the other way, even when near a peak. I'm still sorting it out; but other than the peak day and maybe the day around it, I can go either way. Or both ways if I want to put in some work."

"Uhm wow... yeah, maybe we should've just stuck to Wiki," Bev said.

"And deny me the opportunity to see you two squirm under a TMI barrage? I don't think I went too far, but if I did, I'm sorry. I know it's probably not the best time to explain it, but I felt I owed it to you at least."

"I'm the one who asked, so I brought it on myself. It just seems so strange, and you talk about it so matter of factly," Bev said.

"It is a matter of fact for me. It's what I am now, and I admit, the novelty is still fun, when I'm not riding those damn peaks. These transition stages, when I'm halfway feel the most fun, even if I have to deal with the damn egg half the time. It's probably the time I come closest to wanting someone else around to have fun with. But I'm not ready to make those commitments, and certainly don't want to risk setting off any grenades, either in me or in someone else."

"Okay, I'm freezing, but there's one more thing I want to know," Tracy said. "Any gay griffons? Or lesbian or... well you know what I mean."

I laughed and hugged her. "I don't think they even know what to go by, but there certainly are. I wish you had time to meet John and Daryl, but they're out of the city for the holidays. Probably one of the strongest couples I've met yet, and gayer than a pair of rainbows. But what and how they do it, I have no clue, so don't even ask."

Bev hugged me as well, "Maybe next time. They sound like a blast. And I'm happy for you. It's rough but you're getting through it, and if I were honest, you're coming out stronger because of it. You certainly seem to be making more friends out here than all the years you were here before."

"Maybe. Though it may be that my new friends are more obvious. Or I've got a smaller pool to draw from so I'm making the best of them." I shrugged and smiled.

"Just remember, if you ever feel the darkness again, if you ever need any help and support, we're a call and a flight away."

I squeezed them both a final time and nodded, clenching my eyes closed to hide the wetness. "Thanks.... We better get back inside. Even I'm feeling a bit of a chill now, you two must be ice cubes."

I pulled my wings in and saw them shiver as they were fully exposed again. We turned and walked into the house.

"It's about time. Dinner's ready. Girls, start setting the table please," Mom greeted us. "Simon, get the bird and mash the taters please. What were you talking about for so long?"

"Kid things. Internet, TV, video games, that sort of thing," Bev said, kicking off her boots and carrying them to the front. "Nothing you'd be interested in."

Tracy and I nodded in agreement. Mom's expression showed she didn't believe a word, but let it go.

Dinner was a quiet affair, filled with good food, fun conversation, and most importantly without an emotional breakdown. The trauma from last Thanksgiving still lurked in the back of my mind, but all it did was lurk. This time, Simon and Skyfire seemed to have made their peace, at least for today. Whoever I was, I was able to enjoy the time with my family, revelling in the familiarity, with just a twist of my new exoticness.

Wednesday, December 27

For the third time in less than two months, I found myself landing outside West Edmonton Mall, but this time didn't count. I wasn't here to shop after all. I waited outside a side entrance nodding to people heading in. Soon enough Bev, Tracy and mom showed up.

"You ready for a night of fun?" Tracy asked as the trio walked up.

"Hopefully. I haven't been since my trip was interrupted. I hope they won't be too picky about me," I replied, holding the outer door open for them. I followed them into the mall and pointed them towards the casino entrance.

The casino was on the smaller side, and not all that busy for the post-Christmas week. I stopped in the entrance and pressed my ears down and closed my inner lids, waiting to get used to the noises and lights. It wasn't as bad as GalaxyLand was, but it was louder than I remembered, and the flashing lights was more than I thought I could handle at first.

"You okay?" Bev asked.

I nodded and noticed a worker making his way towards me. "Yeah, just gotta get used to the noise level. And the light level. Good evening," I greeted the concierge.

"Good evening, Skyfire. Welcome to the Starlight Casino," he greeted me. "Have you been here before?"

I slid my player card from the holder behind my phone. "Many times, but not since September. Do I need to update anything? Is there a problem?"

He quickly shook his head, "No no, not at all. Your money is as good here as anyone else's. All we ask is that you be careful tapping the tables and the screens."

I chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, I've been getting used to being extra careful with these." I said, wiggling my talons in the air. "I'm mainly a blackjack player so it shouldn't be too bad once I get used to handling the chips."

He looked visibly relieved, "No problem at all. Is there anything we can do to make your visit more comfortable?"

"A stool at the table would be nice. Or I can just stand. But your regular seats with backs don't really fit me any more," I said, wiggling my wings.

"I'll ask around and see what we can arrange. Enjoy your stay."

"Thanks.... Oh! Is my old card still fine or do you want to update anything?"

"Your card should be fine, unless you want to change anything on your record. Your given name perhaps?"

I hesitated a moment, Simon and Skyfire waging a quick battle in my mind. Simon grudgingly relented after a moment. "Yeah, it might be better to update it; while my real name isn't exactly a secret, I tend to be more recognizable as Skyfire."

I saw mom give a slight twitch from the corner of my eye, but I tried to ignore it and followed him over to the customer service desk. Tracy and Bev joined me to get their own cards. A short time later, we had freshly printed pieces of plastic, mine with Skyfire Farrel on it, and we entered the casino proper.

I was a little surprised by the lack of attention I got as I walked in. A few people looked my way and did double takes, but most stayed focused on the slot machines. We wandered over to the table games areas and I started doing a loop, checking out what games were open and how busy they were. These players were slightly less entranced, so I saw more reactions as I scoped the scene out.

I picked a table near the far end of the tables, somewhat out of the main travel paths. The limits were in my range and there were only a couple of players there already, and the shoe was almost done. The dealer hesitated as I approached, making the players look up and tense a little. I indicated the seat at the end of the table, "Mind if I join the next shoe?" I asked.

There was a man and woman already playing, though they didn't seem to be together. "Not at all, please join us," the woman said as the man shook his head.

I motioned for the dealer to continue while I moved the seat out of the way from my position. I put a couple hundred on the table to change into chips along with my card. Beside me, Bev and Tracy took up their own positions; mom was a slots player and didn't care for table games so she just watched. When the hand finished, we changed our money for chips and I started practicing stacking and restacking them. It was a bit more awkward than I was used to, but I soon got used to it.

"You look like you've done this before," the man said between hands.

I nodded, keeping an eye on the cards and another on my chips as I stacked and restacked them. "Yeah, I usually came out once a month or so. Things have been a bit too hectic for me recently though."

"I can imagine it was. So this is the first time you've been out since...?" the woman asked.

"First time yeah," I confirmed. "Ironically, I was on my way to Vegas when this happened. Didn't make it there obviously."

"That had to be rough," the man said.

"Last hand," the dealer announced as he dealt the cards, sliding the spacer to the side. I noticed a couple more guys were hovering near the table waiting to join the new shoe, but they seemed to be hesitating.

"Grab a seat guys. Not sure if I'll be lucky or unlucky but we can find out together." They paused a moment longer then shrugged and pulled out the seats, filling the table..

The players finished their hands and the dealer started switching the decks. He squared up the freshly shuffled stack of cards and offered the table the spacer to cut with.

"Let's see your luck," the lady said, motioning towards me. The others nodded, so I took the offered divider and ran it along the stack of cards, slipping it in randomly.

"So have any other griffons come here yet?" I asked the dealer while he finished setting up the shoe. I moved my bet onto the table.

"You're the first I've heard of," he confirmed. "But we have been anticipating your arrival. Well not you, Ms Fire, but we've been waiting for any of your kind to show up."

"Well congrats on being the first to deal to a griffon. And Skyfire's fine. I'm still not used to the Ms label to be honest."

From the corner of my eye, I saw the others twitch as they figured out what I was implying, but no one asked for details. I held on a seventeen and watched the dealer.

"Seven... Eleven... Sixteen... Too Many," he said, busting out after giving the table a worry.

"You are lucky!" the woman said as we cheered our luck and the dealer paid out.

"It's only the first hand. Let's see how the night goes," I cautioned her, but was happy with the opening luck.

Things fell into a familiar pattern after the first few hands. I wasn't having great luck, but I was holding my own. The novelty of my appearance still caught people's attention, but those playing with me quickly got used to my presence. A waitress brought over a stool for me to perch on by the fifth hand, along with a bottle of water. Mom left to have her own fun first, and Bev and Tracy left a while later to try their luck on other games.

The only real incident I had was when I won a good hand after a bunch of splits and doubles. I let out a screech of joy and raised my arms and wings at the same time, almost knocking over an unlucky waitress who was scooting behind me. It certainly amused my tablemates and even the dealer grinned as she paid out my winnings.

The rest of the evening went well. I chatted with my tablemates and dealers, touching lightly on what it was like to be a griffon, and some of the things I'd been up to since the change. There was a bit of pity, but mostly it was curiosity; they wanted to know what had happened and what I was doing. My tablemates changed often as their own luck ebbed and flowed, but the table stayed full with a few people lurking, even if there were open spots elsewhere. Clearly they wanted a chance to play alongside the griffon.

By the time we were ready to leave, I was up a little and I'd had fun. At the end of the shoe, I coloured up my chips and left a tip.

"Thanks for the great evening, everyone. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year," I said as I left the table. "Good luck to all of you."

I gave a bit of a show by spreading my wings to stretch them out. After being perched for so long, I knew I'd need a good stretch before I took off. I cashed in my chips and found my family.

"Well, you sounded like you had a good time," mom noted, smiling at me as we left the gaming hall.

"I did; not quite the Vegas experience, but it was good. How'd you do?"

"I'm down a bit, but that's expected. Tracy did well."

"I did well indeed but Bev took much of it back. But as you said, we had fun, and we can afford it so that's the main thing," Tracy noted.

"You good for the drive home?" I asked, spreading my wings and stretching my arms to warm up my chest and back muscles. I wiggled my tail feathers as well and prepared for flying. I didn't usually need to do this routine in public, but this was one of the longest times I'd been sitting at a table in public in a long time. Usually I just had to do my warmup at home or in my office.

Bev and Tracy watched my routine, fascinated. Bev finally shook her head and nodded, "Yeah, we're good. Sure you don't want us to give you a lift? It's quite chilly out."

I laughed. "Maybe tomorrow I'll squeeze into the van to show you how bad an idea that is. I'm better off flying. Plus, I need the cool air to cool off; I was roasting in there."

"Sure sure, rub it in. See you home, Simon," Bev said, heading for the exit. I followed them out and made sure they got to the car. I wasn't worried for them, not around West Ed; but it felt like the polite thing. Bev honked the horn a couple of times as they started out, and I took off into the dark sky. I circled my neighbourhood until they got in, dropping down outside the garage as they got out, and we headed in to go to bed.

Thursday, December 28

The visit ended as it began, with a meal at Goodfellow's Pub. They had a late flight back east so there was no rush, but no one wanted to cook or even look at a turkey. In the middle of the afternoon in the middle of the fake week between Christmas and New Years, the restaurant wasn't very busy, so we had no problem lingering and chatting.

"Thank you all for everything," I said late in the meal as we lingered over our drinks. "I hope I didn't freak you out too much at times."

"No, no you didn't," mom said. "It was surprising I'll admit, but it's what you have to deal with."

"It was good to get a taste of what you are going through," Bev said. "Thanks for introducing us around. We barely get a hint of this strangeness back east."

"And you're going through it so well," dad said. "We were really worried for you after Thanksgiving, but you seem to be getting good help."

"Thanks guys, and yeah, Thanksgiving was rough. Not even a month in, I had no idea what I was or what was coming.... Now, well there are still some mysteries, but I think the day to day stuff is starting to settle."

"We feel a lot better about leaving you this time," mom said, taking my hand and squeezing it.

"Which is a good thing. We need to get home and save the Browns from Teddy," dad said.

We chuckled at that. "I'm sure it's too late by now. The little cutie has to have them wrapped around his little paw by now," I said.

"Yeah, no doubt. But we'll have to make the rescue attempt. They have New Year's Plans after all," mom laughed.

"So, Bev, I hear you're moving out of Ontario?" I asked, changing the subject.

"Yeah the Nippising store is all set but the new GM. I'll be recruiting them once I get home and let them get their legs under them. But I have to tell Troy where I'm going by the end of January."

"What are the options?" Dad asked.

"Miramichi, New Brunswick or Winkler Manitoba."

"You really get the fun ones, don't you?" Mom laughed.

I half listened while checking the locations on my phone. Population density ring maps had become very popular since the second change, going off the hundred klick radius and the hundred thousand population limits.

"Both look fairly safe," I said, sliding back into the conversation. "Not perfect, but both are in the 70% plus safe range as far as anyone can guess."

Bev nodded, "Yeah, I checked. Those population rings are becoming part of the problem since people are starting to empty out of the villages and smaller towns. But in these cases, either town is close enough to other towns and cities that they are pretty safe and stable."

"Miramichi looks like it's in the french area. Wouldn't that be a problem?" I asked.

"Nah, it's supposed to be very english, and if it isn't, well I'll work it out."

"Sounds like you've made your choice," dad noted.

Bev nodded and squeezed Tracy's hand. "I think we have. Winkler is close to where we are now, it would feel too same. And neither of us have been past Quebec. It feels like a good opportunity."

"A good opportunity to expand your reign of terror from coast to coast," Tracy said, making us all laugh.

"Winter travel sucks, but Troy and I are going to head out at the end of January and do a quick tour of the region, just to get the lay of the land. I'm holding Winkler in my pocket, but I think he knows where I'm leaning."

"Well, good luck out there. And now you're really making me hope they sort out griffon travel options soon. I'd love to head out and check it out sometime."

"You'll probably have lots of time. Troy's hinted that there are a number of stores out there he wants me to look at. So we'll probably be out there a few years."

"We'll certainly plan a trip out once you get settled," dad said. "That said, I think it's time we got going."

We all checked the time and started to finish up. "You guys go ahead, I'll settle the bill and meet you home," I said.

As I dropped down to the driveway, I saw the rental was half packed. Dad and Bev were coming out with another armload of bags. I waited for them to drop it off and shook my head. "You have thought about how to get all that on the plane, right?"

"We have actually. This is almost everything. We might need to condense a bit more but it should all work," Bev said confidently.

I eyed the trunk space and shook my head. "Well, that's between you and Air Canada."

We went back inside to meet the others. Mom was upstairs doing a last check, while Tracy waited. The tree had been decimated, but everything left was my stuff and for my friends.

"Sure you don't want to come see us off?" Bev asked. "I'm sure we can still squeeze you in the SUV."

I laughed. "You don't want to try. And the airport wouldn't like it. Best for me to stay here."

Mom came down with a small bag, and we knew it was time. I could feel my chest tightening in anticipation. I started with Tracy, figuring she'd be the easiest to say goodbye to.

"Thanks for coming out, and for everything," I said, hugging her. "Take care of Bev, and good luck with the move."

"Thanks," she said simply, holding me for a moment. It was a simple word, loaded with emotion.

I shifted over to Bev and gave her a full hug. "And for you, I'm sorry for everything I put on you. You handled it like a champ, but you shouldn't have had to handle it in the first place."

She hugged me back just as tight. "Anytime, for any reason, big griff. Thanks for trusting me to handle it."

I held her for a long moment, my eyes getting wet and blurry. I blinked quickly and let her go, letting them move to the door as I turned to mom and dad.

"Thanks for everything, from Thanksgiving and now, I don't know what I would've done," I said, hugging dad first.

"We're always here for you, whenever you need us," dad said.

I shifted to mom and hugged her tight. "I know you guys are, and I really appreciate it. Thanks for not trying to stay longer too,"

Mom sniffed and smiled, "You don't seem to need us this time. And we do have to go rescue Teddy. We'll be back out in the spring maybe. Or summer. I don't know when, but we'll be back out."

"I know you will. Thank you."

I reluctantly let mom go, and followed her out. I held the car door for her, trying to ignore the redness of her cheeks and the wetness of her eyes.

"We'll be in touch, and we'll call as soon as we get home, even though I know you're tracking us," Dad said.

"I know, I know. Have a good flight. Try to get some rest on the way," I said.

We stammered out a few more rounds of goodbyes before I finally stepped away. The rental shifted into gear and backed out. I waved until they disappeared around the corner. Wiping my eyes as best I could, I looked back at the house, realizing how empty it was, and at a loss for what to do next. I went back inside and started cleaning for lack of anything else to do, slowly switching back to my bachelor mode. The end of the year was fast approaching and I was glad to see it end. I really hoped next year would be calmer, but I had my doubts.

Separator f left.png End Book 2 Separator f right.png
Preceded by:
Big Sky Country
Paradigm Shift: Griffons Succeeded by:
A Fire in the Sky: Book 3